17 September 2016

A Letter From Atlantic City

For two weeks before the crowning night, young women from all over the nation, all fifty states, the District of Colombia, and Puerto Rico, converge on Absecon Island, more specifically Atlantic City, to vie for the title of Miss America. This annual tradition only recently returned to these shores after a brief stint out in the desert in that other casino city for a few years, and it was a welcome return of the prodigal daughters to the businesses and residents of the island. Their presence, along with all the pageant attendants, the support staff, the ABC television crew, the contestant’s families, the state delegations, and many of the past Miss America winners fill the city for and extra week, extending the summer season past what is, for the locals, known as the traditional end of the summer but known to the rest of the world as Labor Day. The hotels are booked, Boardwalk Hall, the pageant’s home since 1940, gets camera ready, parties and events are planned, the entire week is parsed down to the minute for everyone involved, including when you sleep, eat, speak, and are shuttled from one event to the next. It’s a well run machine of organization, a testament to the devotion of all the volunteer committees attached to the Miss America Pageant. They are as tireless as the contestants, keeping them on schedule and delivering them from one party to the next event. For the locals, the perks range from the extra week of work to spotting a Miss America hopeful in a hotel lobby or walking into a restaurant or filming a promo reel for the network. You hear them trading sightings like baseball cards, who was seen where, how nice they were, how pretty they looked, it’s all part of the local tradition. Even the families of the contestants are treated like stars, you’ll hear the locals talk about meeting Miss Delaware’s mother and how nice she was, or Miss Michigan’s little sister who was very pretty, too. But, while sighting a contestant has a certain thrill, many of the locals learn who they are and take great pride in choosing who will win, place, and show on the big night, the real star power belongs to those who have won the crown before. Those women who have already walked the runway to the sound of Bert Parks singing the pageant’s anthem, There She Is Miss America, waving to the throngs of pageant worshippers in the Hall hoping not to lose the wobbling tiara only just bobby-pinned to their teased and coiffed hair. They are the stars of the week, that is, until the newest is crowned on Sunday night. Much has changed over ninety-four years, for both the country and the Miss America Pageant, and many of the former winners who return each year are from many of those different eras of our country, each representing the women of their age, from the 1950’s debutante era, to the 1960’s and 70’s where social mores changed and the pageant resisted, to the glamorous 1980’s and the pageant’s first real scandal, and then the updates and upheavals over the following decades where rules were relaxed, formats changed, revolving hosts, and virulent backlash for it’s antiquated ideas of womanhood and beauty. Yet somehow, the pageant has soldiered on, it’s sorority of winners increasing by one more each September, and it’s still filling the boardwalk for the parade and the Hall for the show. It’s a tradition steeped in another time, that’s still trying to find it’s footing in the here and now, but it is fanatically maintained by a cadre of devotees from around the country, keeping it alive, if not all that relevant. The historic Claridge Hotel, one of the last remaining “skyscrapers by the sea” as it was known in the Boardwalk Empire-era of Atlantic City, played host to many of the former Miss Americas for the week. One of it’s dark panelled meeting rooms served as a home base for the state delegations to throw small receptions, where the state representatives could meet and greet the former winners and sit for the obligatory photo-ops and selfies, with free food and drinks available to all the invited guests. And it is exclusive, the volunteers ensure that no one gets into that room unless their name was on the list, always just enough people to make it a nice gathering, never too many to make it uncomfortable or stuffy. The state delegates are always so enamored of the Miss Americas, and they, to their credit, are gracious and delightful, even though you know they’ve heard the same fawning speeches and accolades year after year, their smiles are genuine and their enthusiasm, if a bit forced, is still pure. For them to come back each year, many of them for decades, shows a certain love for the pageant, a devotion to what the pageant means for all of it’s delegates and fans, a fealty to what made them compete for the crown the year they won. Whatever your opinion of the pageant, to be Miss America is entry to an exclusive club, and they take that title very seriously. And it is serious. There’s a lot of money at stake. It is, after all, a scholarship pageant that doles out millions every year in all the local and state contestants. During the week, the preliminary contests are run at the Hall, with minor, usually local, celebrities and pageant professionals judging the girls over three days. The show you see on crowning night is the same one they do for the preliminaries, with different hosts, and it’s where they narrow down the field of fifty-two to a more prime time slot friendly top fifteen. There is a break during all this hoopla, but it’s not for resting, because that’s when they put on the Show Us Your Shoes Parade, where each contestant is showcased in a fancy convertible car from yesteryear, and local high school bands march by wearing their tall hats with feathers and woollen jackets, drumming and piping and tuba-ing all along the way. The baton twirlers, flag wavers, and synchronized dancers all delight the packed crowds along the boards as they do their thing, to cheers and chants and appreciative applause. Unlike many parades, though, this one is interactive, where you can approach the contestants and get a quick selfie, or boo them if they don’t show their shoes, although now the girls make sure to have tricked out footwear just for the parade, usually highlighting something relevant to their individual states. Kentucky’s might have a Derby theme, Florida might showcase the orange, Nevada usually has cards and dice, all heavy on the sequins, naturally. The floats and bands are all judged but no one really cares, it’s a lovely night out on the boardwalk celebrating Americana in all it’s kitschy splendor. The energy in the Hall is amazing on crowning night, state delegations are packed all over the arena and loudly cheer and wave signs whenever their state contestant’s name is mentioned. You’ll hear chants, call backs, noisemakers, it’s almost as if it’s a sporting event. The top fifteen are quickly whittled down to the top twelve after swimsuit, which are then pared down to the top ten after evening gowns, when we get to see the talent portion. Although two of them have no idea they are not in the top ten until the moment their name isn’t called to perform. The losing contestants all put on a brave face, say the usual platitudes of how lucky they are to be there, lauding the newly formed sisterhood they found simply by being there together, and then the cameras focus shifts and they are quickly forgotten. The dreaded pop-quiz question and answer portion is last, where they each get a question from one of the judges and have to come up with something on the spot. The questions are usually hot button issues or politically tinged, and never something answerable in twenty seconds of time. Many of them are adept at the non-answer, circuitous, non-committal, saying a lot without really saying anything. A future Miss America needs to be everything to everyone and choosing sides, especially in the social media age, is a definite no-no! Finally, a winner is crowned and she makes her way down the runway, clutching a bouquet of roses, wiping away tears, and basking in the gushing adoration of all the pageant aficionados and fans in the audience. The television cameras are off and the show is done. Boardwalk Hall empties it’s patrons into the balmy Atlantic City night as everyone goes their way, to after parties, maybe a nightcap, or most likely home to bed. It is Sunday night and the kids have school in the morning. At the former Miss Americas party, going on until late into the night, all the talk is about their newest member. Knowing glances trade back and forth around the room as each of them knows the year ahead coming to their new sister, and that furtive smile of knowing they all survived it in their own way. The mood is laid back, the gowns have been shed for more comfortable clothing, shoes are tucked under chairs, daughters and granddaughters are running around, pizza is ordered, final photos are taken, and they all promise to keep in touch until they see each other next year. Miss America week has come and gone and the city is experiencing it’s first few days free of tourists (shoobies, as they are called by the locals), pageant queens, and little girls in tiaras. Parking is once again plentiful all up and down the island, the stores and restaurants are no longer bustling with excess patrons so the locals can shop and eat in blessed peace. The balmy air still holds the summer heat but for all intents and purposes, the season is over here. After three months of hustle bustle, everyone is breathing a welcome sigh of relief. Many of the hotels and casinos are now preparing themselves for the long winter ahead, booking small conventions, trade shows, and the other events and functions that will bring some business to the city over the months to come. Life, as the locals know it, has returned to normal.

08 March 2016

A Tale Of Two Meals (Part I)

Atlantic City Restaurant Week has finally arrived and as someone who knows this island inside and out, I look forward to this week (and the ‘surprise’ extended week) with a hearty anticipation. No matter what the newspapers and magazine articles and television shows can say about my troubled city, I know that there are some amazing eateries to be found all over it, from the hidden gems down side streets to the major casino tourist destinations, there is a lot of delicious food to be had and this is the best time to enjoy it all.
Rita and I quickly made a few reservations for some choice destinations and the first on our list was Gordon Ramsay’s Pub & Grill at Caesars, although she had been there before, this was my first time. As an anglophile, I have passed by Ramsay’s place many times looking longingly at the Disney-esque, Brit-themed restaurant that took over the former Mia’s in the main lobby of Caesars Hotel. The cute tartan outfits and mod-punk look of the wait staff was charming from a distance. But I never seemed to find myself going there for lunch or dinner, I had heard the menu was rather pricey, undoubtedly to pay the rent for that choice location, and as I said above, I know far too many places in the city where I can get great food without having to empty my wallet. But now I had the chance to give it a go and see what all the fuss was about. Our reservation was for 2:15p and we had arrived in plenty of time to check in with the hostess, who searched her computer to find our name and told us there would be a little wait time and for us to stand along the railing. By the looks of the restaurant, they were very busy, it was Sunday afternoon and the weather had been beautiful so the casino and the city was bustling with tourists. so we weren’t troubled by having to wait a few minutes.
And then a few minutes longer.
And then many more minutes longer.
By now, people were walking up and getting seated and my grumbling stomach was getting annoyed that we were still standing there.
Finally, the hostess seemed to look in our direction and realize that, oh, we were waiting to be seated and she asked our name, again, and looked over her computer screen, then she finally gave the seating hostess some menus and directions to wherever they had decided to finally put us. Finally.
By now, it’s nearly a half hour after our reservation but we were getting closer to getting fed. And getting a cocktail, if you know us, you know we’re going to drink.
Another five or so minutes went by, the two of us had already decided on our courses and were engaged in that pass-the-pepper conversation you inevitably have as you wait for your waiter to come over. By now we were getting a bit annoyed, this had become tedious and we were thirsty and hungry. Our waitress arrived, all bubbly and exuberant, took our order but had to tell Rita that the dessert she was looking forward to, namely the chocolate fondant, was sold out and everyone was getting the toffee pudding. We accepted our dessert fate and told her to hurry up with our drinks (Guinness for her, a dirty martini for me). Of course, we waited another interminable time to get even that bit of solace, and I was getting less and less enamored with our friend from across the pond and his Pub.
Now here’s where I have to note that the staff, and there was a lot of them, all seemed to be working very, very hard. They bustled to and fro, moving plates, cleaning tables, setting out tableware, punching the POS, rushing by our table, it was controlled chaos but I kept thinking, Bloody hell, all this action and yet we are STILL sitting here waiting and waiting for our courses to arrive. What could they all possibly be doing that’s more important than serving the paying customers? Especially paying customers who drink!
Our first course arrived, I had chosen the English Pea and Ham Soup and Rita chose the Scotch Egg, the presentation was impeccable and my soup was tasty but by the time our main course arrived, I had wished for a much larger portion to tide me over. Yes, once again we had to wait far too long in between courses. When it finally arrived, I was very happy I chose the hearty Chicken Pot Pie as my second and Rita’s Bangers and Mash looked really good, with three individual sausages made of chicken, beef, and pork over a bed of mashed potatoes and topped with a giant onion ring. I tried to cut into my Pot Pie but the dough topping was a bit tough/gooey, it was extremely hard to cut with a knife and I simply folded it over and pushed aside in the bowl to soak up the creamy chicken broth that contained the freshly cut and cooked vegetables. It was a bit bland, even with the fresh veggies, but it was filling and I was very hungry at this point. I did manage to break up the dough crust topping and eat that as well, but as before, it wasn’t anything special, especially with soaking up a bit of the aforementioned bland broth. Another wait and we got our dessert course, and as I said, we both had to have the only choice available, the Sticky Toffee Pudding. Surprisingly, it was really, really good! The toffee poured over the pudding (which I suspected was previously hot at some point before it got to our table) and the tasty bit of vanilla ice cream was a great finish to a rather ho-hum meal. After another long wait to get our check, we finally paid and hurriedly left to get an after-lunch cocktail elsewhere. We had no intention of staying there for another round, Prince William would be crowned king before we got it.
After watching Kitchen Nightmares (on BBC America most mornings), and seeing how hard Ramsay is on American restaurateurs, I have to say this foray across the pond is not his finest hour. I’m not sure if it was poor planning, over-booking the reservations, or incompetent staffing that contributed to the dreadful service we received, but I can guarantee you that if we had been paying the usual listed prices for our meal, I would have started a revolution all over again!
Thankfully, the happy hour at the Continental on the Pier/Playground (whatever Blatstein is calling it nowadays) helped us forget our regrettable and forgettable lunch, and ensured the day wasn’t a total waste.

Next up: Girasole, a bit of heaven, draped in Versace!

19 January 2016

Hello Brooklyn (Part II)

It seemed to be warmer out on the streets, even with the waning light. Although, that could have been the beer flowing though my veins. The streets were still full of people walking everywhere, in that brisk and determined pace you only see in a large city, and Rita and I linked arms as we walked up 3rd Street to the Duane Read. Finding a bottle of contact lens solution, we made our way back her car and I managed to give my lens a cleaning and it felt marginally better. We decided to get more food, to try something different, and Bedford Avenue seemed to be the place to find a meal as it was lined with all manner of shops and restaurants. We took our time, laughing and talking about this and that, window shopping and people watching, it was a Saturday night and there were people everywhere. Although, this being NYC, I think it would have been busy no matter what day it was. Knowing that there are at least eight million people within a few miles of us (that’s the population of Kansas, Oregon, New Mexico, and Montana combined), it’s nearly incomprehensible that so many people can be concentrated in such a way. Groups of young kids wandered by, more couples here and there, girls out on the town, mothers with young babies making their way to the corner stores, all of them passed us by as we casually walked down the street, arm in arm, deeply engrossed in our conversations, laughing at the stupid things only old friends laugh at. We decided we needed a drink, of course, before we found food, and our focus was now on finding a little bar somewhere. As luck would have it, we found Rosemary’s Greenpoint Tavern. Walking in, we were immediately struck by the riot of red that covered every inch of the place. Valentine’s Day had exploded in Rosemary’s and there wasn’t an inch of the place not covered by a heart or Cupid or red ribbons and red garland. Combined with the red lights, I felt like I was in a rather irritated vagina. There were two seats at the bar, but a young woman sitting there told us one of them was taken, and Rita and I shared the single stool left. The bartender had to be Rosemary, she looked as if she’s been bartending there since the place opened, many decades ago, tough as nails and still rocking the double teased, over processed hair. Informed that it was Happy Hour (four dollar cocktails!), we ordered our usual drinks. Rita had to use the ladies room so I sat minding our drinks when a rather hairy gentleman came in, promptly sat next to me without so much as a how-do-you-do, and ordered a beer, pulling crumpled ones out of his pocket and paying with that. I wondered if that’s who the young girl was waiting for but, when she pain him no attention, I was glad to see that she wasn’t that desperate. Rita returned and we decided to move to the little tables in the corner and we sat there, talking about how tacky/adorable Rosemary’s place was. Hairy guy left as soon as he finished his beer, leaving our girl sitting there alone and Rita and I mused that maybe she’d been stood up, and we decided we felt sorry for her. Rosemary poured a strong voddy and tonic, and I sipped it slowly as Rita and I gossiped over the patrons there, as if we knew their lives. Lonely girl’s friends came in a short time later, and that made Rita and I happy that she wasn’t stood up , and we decided we were hungry again and finished up our drinks and I took them back over to the bar, finally having to squeeze in between some patrons to put our empty glasses on the bar. It’s an industry/courtesy thing, anything to make the bartender’s job easier, that way Rosemary didn’t have to leave the bar to clean up after us. Back on Bedford, we passed restaurant after restaurant but couldn’t decide on a place. We ended up turning down one street and then making our way down Grand Street where Rita saw a dim sum place and we settled on eating there, even though I’ve never really had dim sum before. As with most places here, the restaurant was long and narrow, clean, with a modern look. The menus were hung on the brick wall at the tables and, before I could even begin to figure out what I wanted, Rita had pencil in hand and began furiously ordering our dinner. I deferred to her knowledge of Asian cuisine and her Asian heritage, and let her take charge. The waitress came over to explain things but when she saw Rita had already begun without her, she smiled, poured our water, and then took our order after a few questions from Rita about some of the items, all of which went right over my head. Actually, I was glad she took charge because my contact lens began acting up again and I was having a hard time concentrating on anything, let alone focusing on a menu. I decided to take care of this once and for all, and excused myself to use the loo in the restaurant to properly clean my lens. I had slipped the bottle of cleaning solution into my pocket when we were in the car, thinking ahead, something I’m usually not known for. The restroom was big and bright, with a nice big mirror, perfect for me to get this job done, and I cleaned my hands and took out my lens, scrubbing it in my palm, taking great care to get it clean and free of debris. I go to put the lens back in my eye, leaning over the sink and looking in the mirror when it fell off my finger. Ugh, now I’m half blind and I have to look all over the sink to find it. And I can’t. It’s not on the sink. Where did it go? In a panic now, I frantically look on my hands, my jacket, the sink again and again, when I face the realization that it must have hit the floor. Great. Here I am taking great pains to get this lens properly clean and now it’s on the floor of a bathroom in a restaurant in the middle of Brooklyn. Just great. On to my hands and knees I go, looking all over for this damn lens, and I can’t see it. There are water droplets everywhere, all looking like a contact lens, so I’m reduced to swiping my hands along the tiles, hoping against hope that I don’t rip the lens. Yes, the ironic grossness of the situation was not lost on me. Finding it, I place it on the sink. scrub my hands again, clean the lens again, and pop it into my eye, finally able to see clearly and cleanly, it was heavenly to not feel it in my eye anymore. Back out with Rita, I started laughing at the whole situation in the bathroom, but our close quarters with the other patrons in the restaurant held my tongue and I couldn’t tell her why I was giggling. The food began to arrive as it was ready, and everything was really tasty. My favorite had to be the soft-as-marshmallow dough balls filled with some sort of meat, it was so good I could have had ten of them. The spareribs were good but, with chopped pieces of bone attached to the meat, it was a little hard to eat without spitting out bits of bone every few minutes, especially with chopsticks. The dessert was delicious, warm balls of poppy seed pastries with a fruit center. I noticed my mobile had some messages, they were from Robert. another of my acting buddies from Boardwalk Empire, saying he was in Brooklyn looking for us. After a little back and forth, I finally determined he was at Radegast Hall so, Rita and I finished up our meal, paid the check, and made our way back. I was eager to see him, our days on the set were fond memories and we all bonded over that experience. Back in the Hall, it was still packed and still noisy and still fun, we walked around looking for Bob finding him right at the bar, where else. It was so great to see him, we hugged and I introduced him to Rita, and we ordered a round. Bob and I caught up, he was disappointed he missed Matt, who had gone on to some unknown place by then, we told him how great his band, the Sunnyside Social Club was and talked of Matt’s upcoming gig on the cruise ship. Bob and I talked about the other guys from the Boardwalk crew, what they were up to and what was going on, who we saw and how they were, what they were working on. We agreed that there was something about that time together that forged our friendships, even though we are such a diverse group, we will always have that shared experience to bond us. I told him I was jealous of all the work he’s been getting on Gotham but I’m truly happy he’s been working so much. By now, though, Rita and I decided it was time to go home, we had a long drive ahead of us and Bob was ready to go, too, we all finished our drinks and walked out together, said our goodbyes to Bob and walked down to our car. We still couldn’t believe we lucked out getting such a great parking spot. The navigation took us on a different route out of the city, one that took a half hour off our time, and Rita and I talked about this and that before my car-quiet took over and, with apologies to her, I passed out for a bit. Well, along with that last beer, I was feeling rather sleepy and couldn’t keep my eyes open. But, once I heard ‘Teenage Dream’ from the Glee soundtrack, I woke right up and we both sung it at the top of our lungs in our own version of Car Pool Karaoke. Perfect ending to a great day.

17 January 2016

Hello Brooklyn (Part I)

Radegast Hall was heard long before it was seen, the music was pouring from it’s walls and windows as Rita and I walked down 3rd Street, where we lucked out getting a parking space a short block away. We crossed over Berry Street, dodging the busy traffic and weaving through the young couples and groups of friends all bustling about on this unseasonably temperate day. Entering the Hall, we were both carded, the doorman giving me the usual extra long look of surprise when he glanced at the date on my ID. I smile at him, knowingly, and follow Rita into the bar, and was immediately overwhelmed by the crush of people everywhere. Waitresses and busboys dashed by with determination and skill, darting in and out of the crowds with practiced ease. Rita and I took a moment to orient ourselves and try to make sense of the ordered chaos going on around us. I grabbed a waitress and asked her if we had to be seated but I barely heard her answer through the noise although I did catch the ‘sit in any open spot’ part before she ran off to take care of her customers. Anxious to find Matt, the reason we were there, I began to follow the source of the music into the next room and saw him with his band, The Sunnyside Social Club. smack in the middle of a rather cavernous hall, lined on either side with large, rough-hewn picnic benches, each full of boisterous twenty-something frat boy types, and young families with infants and toddlers, gay couples, and the occasional hipster. Beer steins and pitchers were in abundance, cluttering the tables, and the smell of food was intoxicating, more so than the promise of alcohol. I couldn’t get Matt’s attention from where we were and our way was blocked by the crowds milling about trying to find a seat so Rita and I made our way back through the bar area to try our luck at the other doorway towards the back of the room, closer to the band. My years of working in the casinos and the Studio Six gave me an edge, as I easily made my way around the bar with Rita in tow. As soon as I got to the entryway, Matt and I caught each other’s eye and he waved, I loved seeing the smile on his face. Since he was still in the middle of his set, I figured our priority was to get seated, get to the bathroom, and get some of whatever they were cooking, we were close to the open kitchen and the pans full of sausages and bratwursts were creating a rumble in my empty stomach. An adorable waitress with a red Mohawk saw the confusion on our faces and, through a half-screamed conversation, was able to find a seat for us at one of the picnic tables in the back, next to three pretty young girls to the one side, and two guys on the other who were intensely engaged in a conversation. We ordered drinks, me an unpronounceable dark beer and Rita a voddy and Sprite, and we looked over the food menu to see what they had. I settled on one of the brunch menu fares, and Rita decided to get her own from the little open kitchen behind us and we were both very satisfied with our selections, delicious and fresh. The sauerkraut was really excellent and it took a lot of willpower for me to not dive into Rita’s plate to eat all of it myself. Whilst we were eating we both had a chance to absorb our surroundings, watching all the people around us and listening to the band. Rita and I agreed that it was nice to get out of South Jersey and do something different, I know that personally needed another getaway to recharge my batteries, so to speak. It’s always good to go and see other faces, look at different buildings, be in different spaces, changing your perspective every once in a while gives you a new look on your life at home. Soon, Matt finished his set and came over with a pretty friend with her long dyed green locks piled on top of her head, and we hugged and said hello and introductions were made all around. I teased him that it took so long, and his going away party, for me to finally hear him play the accordion. He used to have it with him occasionally on set when we filmed Boardwalk Empire but wouldn’t play it for us, no matter how much we begged. We chatted about his upcoming gig on the cruise ship, what he was looking forward to and when he would be leaving, and for how long. He’s rarely been out of NYC and this is an exciting adventure for him. Rita and I complimented him and his band, they are very accomplished and you can tell they have spent some time together, they are tight and raucous, a good combination and they seem to be having fun even with the smattering of attention that this particular crowd was giving them. He and his friend ran off to talk to more people and Rita changed her mind and decided to have a beer, a proverbial when-in-Rome moment since we were in an urban biergarten. She tried to decipher the menu and chose one of the beers and I ordered another round and we cheered to our little New York adventure. Eventually, a couple was seated opposite us, he had a vaguely German accent (or Germanic in origin) and he asked what we were drinking and eating. We told them and they ended up getting the same beers as us but slightly different food, they both opted for the open-kitchen fare. Of course, the smell of their sauerkraut made me crave it again. We made small talk with them and the band started their next set, another bluesy-swing band-New Orleans tinged collection of songs and they sounded great. I noticed that the guy sitting next to Rita bore a resemblance to Steve Buscemi, he was short and wiry like Buscemi, and had on all black. I jokingly declared that he was Buck Buscemi, Steve’s son, which had Rita and I laughing. At one point, some of the toddlers began to dance in the aisle, delighting not only the crowd but the band as well, and they nearly stole the show. Rita and I were amazed by how many young kids and small babies were around us, her doctor instincts taking over and she fretted about such young ears being exposed to this loud music. But many of them were blissfully sleeping and didn’t seem to care one way or the other. Conversations and beer flowed continuously over the next hour or so, the Sunnyside Social Club started their third set with Matt back on the accordion and Rita and I watched the people around us, although my gaze became a little more hazy with each glass stein. Compounding my hazy vision was a little bit of what I call ‘contact drama’, my right contact lens began to bother me relentlessly. I must have gotten something in it and the irritation would not stop. I managed to pull out the lens and use Rita’s drops to clean it a bit, reinserting it with care since I would definitely lose it on the floor of the room, especially with all these people milling around us. I had thought to use the men’s room for my little emergency cleansing, but after my last visit there, the open trough for the gentlemen to pee in (reminded me of the Brass Rail a bit) made me think that the beer hall was an ever-so-slightly more hygienic option. It worked... for a few minutes. I ended up pulling it out and storing it in my pill case until we could hit the Duane Read and get some proper cleaning solution. Now I was truly hobbled, losing my depth perception, comically trying to reach for things and slightly missing them on the first try. It also took me a few minutes to focus on our check, sixes and eights are not easy to tell apart,and it took some skill to fight through the beer haze and the missing lens to sort it all out. I managed, somehow. With the end of their last set, Matt was done for the evening and Rita and I were feeling very nice. We decided to change our venue (and get to the drug store) and said our goodbyes to Matt, and wish him a bon voyage on his upcoming trip, and off we went through the never ending crowded bar to the street to see where the evening would take us.

10 April 2015

Memoriam: David Tompkinson

David was a sub-mariner. How hot is that?! And he was hot, from his infectious smile to his tight little body, I had a little crush on him, I must admit.
He was also extremely nice. Out of the way nice. He was quiet and unassuming, that is until he was wearing a leather mini-kilt and dancing on a go-go block at the Trocadero in Philadelphia. Then he was a dynamo, full of energy and charisma, you couldn't not look at him pumping his body to the music in total freedom, total release.
His boyfriend, Jimmy Hyde, was a great friend of mine. They were together for a long time and David was his heart. His love. His everything. You could feel their connection when they were together. They lived in a house where they recovered furniture, high quality work, very professional. Everything they did was beautiful.
David began to get sick. Preparations were made. He seemed resigned, as much as one could be with a death sentence hanging over you. I remember him taking me aside one day and asking me something very personal, and he was very serious. He said, 'When I die, can you come to my funeral in drag. I have always loved watching you perform and I really want you to come to my funeral dressed up.'
At first I said no. I didn't think it was appropriate but, looking at how sincere he was, I told him I would. More out of getting this uncomfortable conversation over than agreeing to his wishes.
When his beautiful body failed, it failed quickly and he finally passed. He was finally released.
Miss Patti and Joe told me I had to go to his funeral dressed in drag. Jimmy insisted on it but I told them all that I couldn't do it. I just couldn't pull it together. To me, my drag persona was a stage performance, my art, a way for me to entertain people. Attending a funeral was not the place to put on my 'entertainment face'. It wasn't about me, it was about celebrating David.
I remember being in the bathroom looking at myself in the mirror, debating over and over with myself about whether or not I was going to get dressed. I thought I had convinced myself that I wasn't going to do it. But... slowly, I shaved, then began putting on my make-up, all before I even realized what I was doing. I knew that if I didn't go, if I didn't honor his last request, a very personal request, a dying request that I had never had anyone ask of me before, that I couldn't live with myself.
The funeral was beautiful, although the church where it was held is now Bally's Wild Wild West entrance. I walked in wearing a short black dress, high black heels, a long black overcoat, black drama hat, big bug-eyed black glasses, my long red curls draping down my back. I signed in and we paid our respects, walking by the coffin, hugging Jimmy, and took our seat in a pew.
The lady singing 'Ave Maria' was just this side of a karaoke performer and that sent Joe, Patti and I into laughing fits. We knew David did that for us.
There was a problem with the Navy, with them giving David a military funeral, but that was resolved at the grave site.
Afterward, at the wake, I had changed before we went to the family's house, and everyone was buzzing about the mysterious movie star that came to the church for David. Who was she? Why was she there?
Of course, they had no clue it was me.
David was a gentle soul. A beautiful soul. And every time someone reads this, he will still be alive somewhere in the world.
I remember you, David.  

25 March 2015

Habit Forming

Spring cleaning is coming, I have a hankering to go through all my boxes of paperwork and mementos and whatnot to see what I really want to save and what I should jettison. My ex, Joe, used to holler at me constantly about my piles of paperwork, I'm always holding on to useless stuff. It's funny, though, I'm usually quick to discard items that I no longer need, clothing that no longer fits, chipped bric-a-brac, stuff like that but there's something about all those little receipts and pay stubs that I feel the need to cling to and horde. I also have some keepsake boxes where I throw items that remind me of events I've gone to or trips I've taken, program books, placards, ticket stubs, and the endless newspapers that I've had letters printed or where I've been mentioned (fame whore that I am). I should go though all that and see if I still have an emotional attachment to the things I find in there (I have three boxes of this crap now). It's time to get rid of it all, and make room for more! 
I also need to go through my clothing again, now that I've gotten bigger, I can't fit in a lot of my shirts. And, barring a catastrophic injury, I am going to continue working out for a long as I'm capable so I don't need all these ill-fitting shirts taking up valuable space in my wardrobe and drawers. I guess I'll donate them to a local charity, let someone else get some use out of them. 
I'm still debating if I should keep the beautiful Brooks Brothers Gatsby Collection blazer that Helene talked me into buying. It's $400, and I'm already paying off my computer so I don't know if I can justify such an expensive clothing purchase. The computer is a necessity, a blazer is a luxury right now. I know I'll be working at The Claridge once the season starts and I'll have a more regular income coming in (and some more acting gigs) so that might sway me to keep it. It's SO beautiful. 
Although, there's the added expense of getting it tailored, the cuffs come unfinished so you can have them adjusted to your arm length. 
Time to wander to the gym, I have a long day ahead. Today is Chore Day and I need to run uptown to deposit two paychecks (which are already spent). 

24 March 2015

Back Into The Swing Of Things

It's been a while since I've written and these next few entries will be mostly rambling and unmoored so I can get back in the habit of writing on a regular basis. Feel free to ignore these entries until I get my bearings again.
The last few weeks have been pretty busy, at least for me. I've had to pull some extra shifts at The Claridge Hotel, bartending special events such as the NJ Film Festival. Interesting gigs, I got to meet some actors and producers and eavesdrop on the conversations around me.
The acting front has been slow, after 'The Knick', I haven't found anything I'm completely interested in doing. And those I do fancy are usually rush calls and there's no way I can get up there in enough time to make it work. I did get a request to grow out my hair for an upcoming rock and roll project but my red curls take FOREVER to grow to a point where it looks like I have long, rocker hair.
The gym has been satisfying, although my body is telling me that this latest push to lift heavier is taking it's toll. My shoulder, elbow, knee, and other assorted body parts hurt a little more than they should. Hopefully, I'll get my healthcare packet soon so I can get on some sort of insurance and get checked out by my doctor. I did recently bench press over my body weight so that made me feel all accomplished. I have been getting some compliments, although I don't see it, evidently I look bigger/more fit. I know many of my button down shirts are extremely tight around the chest area and a few of my T-shirts no longer fit. It's been a work in progress. I regret I didn't get the workout bug earlier in life.
Helene decided I needed a laptop so we stopped in Sam's Club and she put one on her charge for me. I actually REALLY love it, it's a touch-screen/laptop that folds over and can be used like a tablet. It was a bitch getting used to Windows 8 operating system but I'm getting the hang of it as I go along. I think it's superfluous, actually, most of the time I just go to my desktop and take off from there. I did download a killer LCARS app, it doesn't do much but it makes my laptop look like I'm in Starfleet, I'm such a total geek. The graphics are amazing, the sounds and the layout are all authentic. I wish they would add personalised buttons so I could access my usual sites, make it more like the Windows 8 tiles. No matter, it was well worth the few bucks I paid for it.