I got off at the 1st Avenue L stop last night to head to Linda Simpson's "Drag Explosion" show at the Wild Project. I walked over to A and was shocked by the empty space on the southeast corner of 14th and A. Had it been that long since I have walked around the East Village that I didn't see the process of these buildings come down?
I know those businesses had slowly been bought out and vacated - the gritty bodega on the corner where years and years ago I bought beer to bring to Erica's apartment when she was living in Stuy Town; the fantastically divey Blarney Cove; and a 99 cent store I believe. However, it was still shocking to see this expanse of openness where buildings used to be, where buildings that were maybe three or four stories tall stood, blending in with the rest of the neighborhood. It's not the emptiness so much that upset me but thoughts of what were sure to fill it. I haven't seen the plans for what's going up there but I have a pretty good idea - the same type of ugly, giant condo complexes that pop up everywhere, erasing slowly parcel by parcel the character of this city, probably too tall for the neighborhood, probably made of glass and metal and not the brick that everything else in the neighborhood is made from.
I walked down A thinking of bars that used to be there, of Boysroom when it was on 13th and A, where there is now some straight beer bar, one of many on the block. I thought of the Cock when it used to be on 12th and A. I walked past guys in suits that made no space on the sidewalk for me. I walked past young professional women that were hanging outside of an expensive looking wine bar, Cork n' Fork. I hated them. I hated this East Village. I hated these people responsible for this. I walked past an entirely too bright 7-11 and nearly lost my shit at that point.
I soldiered on, buying a pack of cigarettes at a bodega to steady me.
Linda's show was good and it paired all too well with the thoughts I had been having on my walk there about the changes that have happened to the East Village in the 11 years I have been here. She took it back much further, took it back to the eighties, and mourned the changes since then. The show was an elegy for a period of time, a moment, and a particular culture that doesn't exist anymore. She showed relics from this place, snapshot photos she had taken over the years presented as a slideshow. It's always such a treat to see visual evidence of these times, to get a glimpse of what things were like. Linda called this time B.C. (before cellphones) and joked about how it was such a more fun time because people actually went out to meet people and have fun. She joked about it because sometimes that's the best way to deal with tragedy, with the loss of something so essential and beautiful. I am often sad that I didn't live more in a time before cellphones. I didn't have a cellphone until I moved to New York in 2003 and even then it was a shitty flip phone and those years before the iPhone was introduced were my favorite years in New York. Bar culture was so different then. Everything about life was. It was before everyone stared at screens during any moment of boredom, during any moment in which chance encounters or something unknown might happen. Protect yourself, close yourself off, quick, look at something on your phone.
In the photos she showed, you could see what a fun time it was. That joy in seeing these moments of creativity and fun in an earlier New York, the one I think all of us dreamed about when we moved here, is paired though with a bit of heartbreak, knowing that in some ways those moments will never be again, that that level of camaraderie and shared fun while going out isn't possible in our current technological culture. Because even if you are not continually distracted by a piece of metal in your pocket, even if you can claim to be unaware of its pull, of that world in your pocket, other people certainly are. There will probably never again be a time when people are fully engaged in the present, in their surroundings.
Despite its disjointedness and tech hiccups, it was a beautiful show, a drag slideshow that in ways both explicit and not so explored the passing of time. There was a really sweet moment toward the end when Linda dedicated the performance to her friend, Kathleen White, who recently passed away, remarking that that's the hardest part of getting old - losing the people you love.
She ended by showing real (and surprising) vulnerability by asking what her life might have ended up like if she had put just as much energy into her male self as she had put into her female self, where she might be, where he might be.
I have always loved Linda's presence and humor. She hosted one of my favorites parties in New York years ago - Slurp at the Cock with Michael Magnan and Telfar. I would try to make it there just about every Wednesday. There was a great energy to that party. It often had really great performances and blended those seamlessly in with the dance party. She was a large part of the reason I would try to make it there. She somehow had the voice of an earnest, slightly corny woman, but also at the same time could throw off clever one-liners in the same voice showing how over it she was. It's a fine balancing act that she somehow does so well.
And that's why the way the show closed, with Linda showing real vulnerability on the stage as she looked back over her life and wondered what if things had been different, was so powerful. It was so different than the voice I have known seeing her host various parties around the city in my time here. You see the person behind that voice.
I walked back to the L train. I passed the Phoenix where a group of people were inexplicably playing accordions in front of it. I had zero desire to stop at this bar that I used to love when I first moved to the city. In Brooklyn, I went out to Bath Salts at Don Pedro's, which made me happy, gave me a feeling that I was still in the city I had wanted to live in. New York didn't die. Maybe the East Village did. Maybe I never go out there anymore. But there is still a scene happening of weird gays doing weird shit and having fun.
I kissed a boy on the neck and asked him to come home with me. He did.