Published Nov 01, 2003New York, New York, it's a helluva town. The Bronx is up and Ground Zero is down. On my most recent trip to the big wormy apple, for an exhibition of my photographs at a gallery called John Connelly Presents in the heart of the Chelsea art district, the second anniversary of 9/11 has just occurred, and people are still reeling. I guess when you've witnessed in person somebody doing a swan dive off of a 110 story building, you don't soon forget it. Plus whenever you look south there's a big gaping hole in the skyline where the Twin Towers used to be. It's unnerving. The friend with whom I'm staying in the East Village, a former alien abductee and spirited conspiracist, thinks that the events of 9/11 constituted an elaborate sex magik/Satanic ritual orchestrated by the Illumnati you know, the rich guys represented by the eye on the top of the pyramid on the American one dollar bill who control the world? involving the phallic Twin Towers, the vaginal Pentagon (which is also a pentagram, kids), and a whole lot of human sacrifice. I'm a born skeptic, but at this point in the history of our wacky world, it sounds frighteningly plausible. Just watch Eyes Wide Shut and everything will be explained.
I always blow my load on my first night in New York, and this trip is no exception. I hook up with Gavin Miles McInnes, the bad boy editor of Vice magazine, who drags me to a screening he's sponsoring of a terrible movie called Wonderland about a murder allegedly committed by the infamous porn star John Holmes, played by Val Kilmer. The movie consists of a lot of scene-chewing by a motley crew of actors desperate for street cred jazzed up by bombastic editing effects and an annoyingly retro record collection-y soundtrack. (How dare they play Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" over the credits. Is nothing sacred?)
It's obviously made by some nouveau riche jerk trying to be a maverick filmmaker but in actuality making a mainstream product so pointless and amoral that it could be the poster-movie for bad modern Hollywood direction. Remember when Altman and Cassavetes were the mavericks? Probably not. The best part is Lisa Kudrow trying to play a dramatic role but everyone laughing because it just seems like she's in a really dirty episode of Friends. (Memo: could someone please put Val Kilmer out of his misery before he turns into another Marlon Brando, two hundred pounds overweight and mincing around in a dress with shit stains on his underwear?)
At the after party I chat amicably with the ostensibly sweet young Jewish girl who has been following Gavin around for the last couple of days to write a feature on him for the New York Times style section. She's so sweet in fact that Gavin should know that she's obviously going to do a hatchet job on him, which she sort of does, if only by telling the truth. Does he not expect that she will take note of his increasingly Republican politics? She keeps taking out a little pad and paper and scribbling down all the naughty things that we say, like when we're talking about the gay experience and I blurt out "AIDS is only a speed bump." I'm surprised she doesn't use that bon mot in the finished article, although she does end up describing me as a gay pornographer who wears a jacket with an NRA logo on it, which she claims I said is "ironic." I doubt if I used that word. It's more of a punk gesture. Anyway, it's always nice to be mentioned in the New York Times, Jason Blair notwithstanding.
The New York Times scribe ditches us after we see Cass McComb perform at the Knitting Factory, so we head with a hot French gal pal of ours named Agathe to a nearby bar with a cavernous interior. It's Monday night so it's practically empty, or maybe it has more to do with the Draconian anti-smoking laws that are keeping New Yorkers out of bars in droves. We end up befriending the hot bartender with the thick Brooklyn accent who I show how to make proper boilermakers, a tricky process consisting of sticking a shot glass of whiskey up inside an upside down empty pint glass until it's tight against its bottom, then quickly flipping it over so that the whiskey is trapped underneath the upside down shot glass and pouring the beer over it. You then have to drink the pint down all in one go, and when you get to the end the pint glass slides off the bottom and the whiskey whooshes down your throat after the beer as a chaser. It's practically a lost art.
By the time we have two or five of those, we're all contravening the smoking laws like crazy and rolling around on the floor and skateboarding inside the bar. I notice a small rip in the front of Gavin's jeans, so I begin pulling at it and everyone else starts doing the same until they're almost all ripped apart and then I start on his shirt until he is in complete tatters. I can be very juvenile.
A couple of nights later I'm invited over to my friend Michael Ilago's apartment in Chelsea. Michael is an old friend who used to be an A&R guy in the music industry. In fact he signed Metallica, which everyone thinks is funny because he's a flamboyant homosexual, but which to me makes perfect sense. He also executive produced Nina Simone's last record and basically managed her for the last couple of her years on earth. He has some stories to tell. Michael makes no secret out of his interest in rent boys, and he has the polaroids to prove it boxes and boxes of them. After I peruse them for a while, we invite my friend Yaroslav Mogutin over some champagne and then head down to an old school gay restaurant in the West Village called Fedora for Jack Pierson's birthday dinner. (Yes, there's a poster for the Billy Wilder movie Fedora, Bill Holden's final flick, hanging on the wall.) Jack is a famous photographer from the Boston school whose other members include Nan Goldin and Jack Armstrong. In the 80s Jack took all the photos for the seminal drag queen Linda Simpson's infamous fanzine My Comrade for which he once shot me in his second story storefront studio on 42nd Street blowing a hot muscle boy from Atlanta. I wonder whatever happened to him?
Also attending the dinner of about a dozen people are my dear friend Kember Phahler and her dear friend Tatum O'Neal. I don't usually get excited about celebrities, but for Tatum O'Neal I make an exception. Her performances in such great movies as Paper Moon, The Bad News Bears, and Little Darlings haunt me still. Since her tenure as a precocious child star ended she has survived drug addiction, John McEnroe, and motherhood, not necessarily in that order, so she really has been through the ringer, but despite all that she still manages to look beautiful and glamorous and behave graciously. I'm almost too star struck to talk to her, but at one point Kembra makes me go over and sit next to her and we strike up a nice conversation about serial killers, a kind of hobby that we both share. She knows all the minutiae about the lives of serial killers both famous and obscure, the lurid details of which she recounts with much gusto. It's almost too glamorous for me to comprehend.