Thursday, May 27, 2010

John Waters at City Arts & Lectures ... and other things

John Waters. He is one weird dude. Fabulous storyteller. Very funny. And I do love the kinks even when they make me shake my head to clear those stuffy cobwebs that lurk there in my brain ... leftovers from my bygone Catholic era.

His take on the Tea Bag Party: “Well, they started rioting when President Obama tried to pass his healthcare bill. I really don’t blame them. I love rioting. I used to riot all the time in my younger years. We should have been rioting during Bush’s administration. Obama is to them what Bush was to us. So, I can see why they want to riot.”

I love the man! Nobody nowadays admits to rioting or loving it. I never started any riots but I was there when the provocateurs started it. And, I must say, I felt very alive.

His mustache ... I have had a postcard of a photo of John Waters on my refrigerator for a long time. It’s a close-up of his mouth -- sneering. And there’s that beautiful mustache. When my daughters were little, they would ask: “What’s he doing?” So, I explained about sneering and gave a few examples ... can’t remember them right now. Then they’d go around the house practicing.

At Q&A time, I asked my question: “I really love your mustache. Can you tell us a story about it?”.

(Hey, if you live in the San Francisco Area, you can listen to the conversation on the radio. Go here for details. They’ll play this event on 8/29/10. They do edit it so who knows if you’ll hear my question. Although it was a clean one and his answer was clean so they’ll probably keep it in.

I asked my question. But, I was coming down from hyperventilating (nervousness due to talking in front of hundreds) so I don’t really remember his answer that well. This is what I remember: He has a ritual every day with it. Trims it. Touches it up with a Maybelline eyebrow pencil. And he’s had it since he was 19. He said if I wanted to know more there’s a whole page about it in his book. I had already bought his book so here’s that page:

Then in 1970, in a misguided attempt to steal Little Richard’s identity, I grew a pencil-then moustache. At first it didn’t work right. It’s tough for a white man who isn’t that hairy to grow one. Sure, I shaved with a razor on top and trimmed the bottom with cuticle scissors, just like I do every day now, but it still looked kind of pitiful. then “Sick,” the friend of mine from the Provincetown tree fort who had moved to Santa Barbara and changed her nickname to “Sique,” gave me some fashion advice when I was staying with her. “Just use a little eyebrow pencil and it will work better,” she advised, and then showed me how. Presto! An “iconic” look: a ridiculous fashion joke that I still wear forty years later. Surprised? Don’t be! It is called a “pencil moustache,” isn’t it? And there is only one pencil that does the trick--Maybelline Expert Eyes in Velvet Black. My entire identity depends on this magic little wand of sleaze. it has to be sharpened every time it’s applied, too--which in my case is twice a day or so. More if you’ve been making out. Believe me, I’ve tried expensive, smearproof eyebrow pencils, but they’re too thick, too penetrating, too indelible. There’s only one eyebrow pencil for me--and that’s Maybelline!

I always carry one in my pocket, keep another in my car, and have backups in each of my homes. Once I was in the hospital after being mugged and I guess because of my concussion I had forgotten to bring my Maybelline. I was so panicked that I would limp over to the mirror and try to gouge it on with a regular number two lead pencil used for writing. It didn’t work. Since I knew the only visitors I had scheduled that day were my parents, I decided to involve them. I didn’t have much of a choice. We had certainly never discussed how I did my moustache. I just remember their vaguely nauseated expression when they saw it for the first time when I came back from California. We had so many issues at that time, the moustache had to get in line. I bit the bullet, called my mother, and said, “Don’t ask any questions, just go to the drugstore, get me a Maybelline eyebrow pencil in Velvet Black, and bring it to me in the hospital.” Silence on her end. “Okay,” she finally muttered with mortified annoyance. When Mom and Dad came in the hospital room, she snuck the prized package behind her back and gave it to me without my father seeing. We never ever discussed it again.

I’ve forgotten to put on my moustache some days and I have to lurk around like Clark Kent looking for a phone booth until I find a car mirror on an uncrowded street (not easy in Manhattan!) or a public restroom where I can, unobserved, repair the damage to my image. I remember once starting out the day with a visit to Mary Boone’s midtown art gallery. Mary came out of her office, took one look at me, and blurted in a horrified voice, “What happened to your moustache?!” Instantly feeling nude in public, I realized the problem, mumbled some excuse about the lighting, and left immediately. I raced home in the privacy of a cab, drew it in, blended it, and started the day all over again.
Below is a photo of the postcard on my refrigerator. As I was taking the photo, my 13-year-old daughter said to me ... in that tone reserved for daughters commenting on their mothers ... unveiled contempt: “Oh, Ema. Only you would take a picture of a picture.”

Oh, and one more thing, John Waters has an exhibit of his art at the Rena Bransten Gallery. The exhibit is called "Rush!" -- go to the gallery web site for details.

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