Me: Oh, no, that’s mine. (I was next in line and she’d accidentally rung up my orange juice with the current customer’s stuff)
Meelissa: Next time, use the damn divider!
Me: You don’t have to be a bitch.
Meelissa: A bitch? Yo’ mama’s a bitch!
I didn’t have a response because, while I didn’t think my mama was a bitch, I did think that was a pretty good line, and I couldn’t wait to go home and tell Duane (since this was pre-texting).
Where was I? Oh yeah, my new life ATH ("after the hair"). Wait, let me back up. We’d lived in Chelsea for about 5 years at that time. We chose it the same way we’d chosen all of our previous neighborhoods (East Village, Lower East Side, Jersey City): the rent was cheap. This was a slightly depressed area: many storefronts were closed and gated or completely boarded up; it hadn’t yet become the trendy art gallery/restaurant/club mecca of today, and we loved the quiet, desolate atmosphere. Our favorite time was 7 AM on Sunday mornings, when we’d head to the flea market (pre-eBay) at the vacant lot on 26th & 6th (the same one Andy Warhol had famously frequented to collect ceramic cookie jars, and which sadly has now become the site of yet another hi-rise condo) to get deals on collectibles and modern furniture.
Chelsea was also a so-called gay ghetto, and that was fun. Well, not exactly “fun,” because we didn’t take advantage of all the fun there was to take advantage of…fun like guys getting head right on the sidewalk of our block (we’d walk past and nod “Hello”) or S&M daddies walking home from the now-closed leather bars of 12th Ave, looking for someone to flog or piss on, or pumped-up muscle guys shirtlessly flaunting their shaved flesh in bulge-boasting shorts, cruising each other hungrily on their rollerblades (or as we called them, “Meals on Wheels”).
Actually, Duane did take advantage of that last one. With his perfectly-proportioned physique (albeit much smaller than it is now) and cropped hair, he not only fit right in, but he got lots of looks…and took home lots of phone numbers (we were 100% monogamous, so he never did dial any of them). I, however, still looked like I did when we lived in the East Village, with the body of a vegan in frumpy 70’s thrift-shop clothes and the hair of a straight rocker (or, as I used to say in my stand-up act, I looked like Kenny G’s lesbian sister). I was truly invisible on the 8th Ave. runway.
But then, with the advice of a fellow comic who suggested that my long hair was distracting from my material, I decided to chop it off. I didn't totally agree with his reasoning, but I felt like I needed a change and that was a good excuse. I used to change my look frequently, but this long hair had been around more than long enough...ten long years.
With my palms sweating (this was like losing my identity), I went to a nearby barbershop and a 60’s-ish Cuban man named Willie with cheap whiskey breath hacked it all off and handed it to me in clumps. It was a weird, exhilarating experience. I finally felt free of all the shampoos, conditioners, detanglers, gels, and scrungees. But more importantly, I noticed an immediate change in everyone else. On the way home, I was checked out by three cute guys…and when I’d passed and looked back, they were looking back at me. For once, I collected a couple of phone numbers. And, stopping to get some O.J. at the A&P, Meelissa said “Thank you” instead of the usually unspoken but understood “Fuck off.”
At first, I was annoyed. I thought, “I’m the same person inside, but suddenly everyone likes me? WTF?” But soon, I learned to enjoy my newfound power and made further changes to accelerate it. I worked out like a fiend and began wearing tighter, sexier clothes, and we eventually opened up our relationship for 3-ways, courtesy of our new computer and America Online chat rooms. We’d finally stopped fighting it and joined that other part of gay life in Chelsea – the part that was having a good time.
But almost as quickly as we’d thrown in the towel, it turned right around and whipped us in the ass, just like in a college locker room.
Bendix, our local diner which had been a favorite gay hangout, closed down and reopened as a Bloomie Nails salon. I remember thinking, “But there are hardly any women here; who’s gonna get their nails done?” My answer came in the form of all the newly arrived Sex and the City chicks and mommies pushing baby strollers past the steroidal studs, who were very steadily disappearing, and have, by now, mostly dispersed.
Then came Ricky's beauty supply and American Apparel and even the archetypal symbol of suburbia, Home Depot. They tore down the A&P (poor jobless Meelissa) and in its place, there is a dorm for the New School (who knew the New School even had dorms?). So, the rollerblading Meals on Wheels have been replaced by Ugg-booting students with meal plans. Suddenly, it’s brightly lit everywhere and the gay ghetto has morphed into just another neighborhood. Yes, this is progress, but couldn’t I have had just a few more years of that Gay Disneyland before I’m old enough to get a discounted senior ticket?