Thursday November 15, 2001
I'd been submitting to the MIX NYC Gay/Lesbian Experimental Film Video festival for a few years now. Things got off to a great start in 1998 with G*I*J*O. It got a plumb screening slot and it was very well received. The next year I submitted VoyEx. It got a less prominent screening slot (5PM on a Saturday), which didn't give it the recognition I thought it deserved. In 2000 I submitted Gay Marriage. They were kind enough to accept it, but this time I was remanded to an installation in the basement along with dozens of other videos. I don't know if anyone saw it at all. I was a bit discouraged with the trend I found myself on with MIX.
But all that changed in 2001. I submitted Pee Wee's Sodomy House. It was an animated spoof of the Pee Wee's Playhouse show. I had high expectations for this, since animation is always popular at these festivals, and it was pretty fucking funny if I did say so myself. I was not disappointed. They put me in the closing night gala, which is about the most high-profile slot of the entire festival. I was back in the spotlight, and I was way psyched to attend.
The MIX festival has been the epicenter of my video production exposure since I started submitting to festivals. All my MIX screenings are the world premiers of my work. I'd been there four times in the past (thrice as a showing filmmaker), I know the people, I know the venue, and I generally know what to expect. It's comfortable and familiar. By stark contrast, I had attended the New York Independent International Film Festival in September of 2001. I didn't know anyone there, the venue was inconveniently located, and my video, VoyEx, was very much a fish out of water and not well received by the heterosexual audience. I found it to be a stressful and unpleasant experience. Going back to MIX, however, was like going home again. I couldn't wait for the festival.
I usually took the bus when I traveled to NYC. It was pretty hassle-free. But it was also a bit costly, and very time-consuming with long stops in Binghamton and Monticello. There was also the matter of an old Mac Performa that the jag wanted to give me for free. I could transport it back home much more easily if I drove my own car than if I tried to stash it in the cargo hold of a bus. I decided to take the plunge and drive.
It had been a while since I'd made a road trip of any significant distance. In years past I'd had no choice but to drive whatever old junker I happened to own at the time. Whenever I made a long journey, there was always the stress of not truly knowing if my car would make it there and back or not. This time I had a nice (relatively) new VW Beetle that I had every expectation of being completely trouble-free. It also promised to be a most apt urban assault vehicle. It was small and quick and comfortable. It also had little amenities like a trunk-mounted 6 CD changer.
This is not to say, however, that the trip would be entirely stress-free. I had never driven in NYC before. I had every reason to believe that my considerable driving skills would be more than adequate for the task, but there was still considerable anxiety associated with the prospect. Manhattan is laid out in a pretty logical grid, but the jungle of expressways, bridges, and tunnels that surround the island like a thorny crown is more than a little daunting. Beyond that, most of the anxiety didn't have to do so much with the driving as it did with the parking. If I couldn't find a spot on the densely crowded island then I'd be fucked. A garage would cost way more than the bus ticket would have.
Finally the day came, and despite some lingering trepidation I got in my car and drove off. The trip started off without a hitch. I took 81 South into Pennsylvania, slipped down 380 to 80 East, which took me through New Jersey and directly to the George Washington Bridge. Except for a 15 minute lunch break and a half-hour nap, I'd made great time.
The closer I got to the bridge, however, the more stressed I became. Traffic was getting more dense, and I was seeing signs about construction delays. I also remembered hearing stories about no single-occupant vehicles being allowed across some bridges and tunnels since the September 11 bombings. I recalled that as being only during rush hour, and it was now about 3:30 in the afternoon, but it still gave me one more thing to worry about.
I had selected a Henry Rollins "spoken word" CD to listen to during this leg of the journey. Hearing him talk about terminating thousands of white mice and lab rats in an NIH facility seemed somehow apropos for a drive across NJ. It was all wrong for my state of mind at that time, however. When I noticed that my white-knuckled death-grip on the steering wheel had caused my skin to adhere to its surface, I decided to play something a bit more soothing. I went with Pink Floyd "The Division Bell."
It didn't take me long to get to the bridge. All the construction complications pertained only to the "local" portions of I80. I had stayed on the express, and was duly whisked right along. I had one last jolt of adrenaline as I approached the toll plaza and had to make sure that I didn't accidentally get into an EZ-Pass lane. I got up to the gate, paid my $6.00 toll, and was onto the bridge. It was a big and impressive bridge at that. The Golden Gate Bridge is heralded for its size and grace, largely because it stands by itself. It's a little-known fact that there are bridges in the greater New York area are equal to or greater in size.
As I passed the apex of the bridge, my thoughts turned to the route I was supposed to pick up once on the island. It was told it was the Henry Hudson expressway, "or something like that." From the map I had glanced at it was right on the very West shore of the island, so I got in the far right lane in anticipation of an abrupt exit. As I neared the end of the bridge, the exit was plainly labeled, and it was indeed the Henry Hudson expressway (also marked as "Route 9A"). I exited cleanly and was soon zooming South at 65MPH. That was the first time in my life I'd been behind the wheel of an automobile inside the New York City limits. It was fun.
Traffic moved very quickly as the expressway was largely an elevated, limited access highway. But when we got to mid-town we came back down to the surface and had to contend with traffic lights. Lots of traffic lights. We totally ground to a halt. As I crept along my hatred of mid-town really began to congeal. Harlem is fine. The village is fine. But mid-town just plain sucks.
Once below the mid-town area, we started moving along again. It wasn't like the 65MPH expressway up-town, but it still wasn't bad. Now I had to think about when to head inland. Once the street signs got below the teens I took the next available left-turn lane. This was now driving in NYC proper. Far from stressful, things once again ground to a halt. I was disoriented by the fact that all the streets and avenues had names instead of numbers, but I knew I was heading East and that sooner or later things would start making sense. The festival venue was the Anthology Film Archives on the corner of 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue. It couldn't be that hard to find.
Before long I found myself directly in the heart of Greenwich Village. As soon as I caught a numbered street sign I adjusted my trajectory and got on a direct course for the venue. Within minutes I was there. My heart swelled with a great sense of accomplishment. But I still had the matter of finding a parking space. By now it was just after 4PM. I was hoping that people would still be at work and that there would be a few spots open here and there. That didn't turn out to be the case. I decided to traverse the streets in a highly ordered pattern heading North between 2nd Ave and Avenue C. After a few blocks I did manage to find a little spot that didn't already have a car in it. I checked the parking signs. It was a valid spot, but there was no parking between 10AM and 12:30PM Fridays and Tuesdays. That meant that I'd have to move it the next morning, but a bird in the hand was worth an awful lot at that moment. I backed into the space. It was bit tight, but it was no problem for my Beetle. I shut off the key and chilled out for a minute.
My car had now transformed from a transportation device to a one-room apartment. Safe and sound in a legal parking space I was in no hurry to go anywhere. It was still pretty early. I decided to eat a candy bar and just hang out for a while. There was a woman loitering on the sidewalk just a few feet from my car, though, and she made it hard to relax. People seem to do a lot of standing around in NYC. There are the people who seem to always be in a hurry to get somewhere, and the people who seem to have nowhere to go at all. This woman was just standing there. She didn't look particularly sketchy, but it was still discomforting. After I wolfed down my candy bar I decided to leave her company and walk to the venue.
I got out of the car and pulled on my motorcycle jacket. Once I stood up I realized how weak my knees were. Despite the fact that the trip had been entirely uneventful, my system was still saturated with adrenaline. I locked my car, made a note of where it was parked, and walked off in the general direction of the venue. All the stress, or more accurately the relief of having survived all that stress, made me want a cigarette. I had quit smoking just a couple months before. But MAN did I want a fucking cigarette right then. I hadn't wanted one so bad since I'd quit. It was almost insurmountable. Just when I started putting it out of my mind, I walked past a pub with a "Guinness" sign in the window. I had also quit drinking on the same day I quit smoking. Now all I could think about was a nice stout pint and a pack of Marlboro Lights. It was more or less the same sensation as when you're holding your breath and all you can think about is gasping for air. I did my best to put it out of my mind.
In just a few minutes I was at the venue. I pulled on the door but it was locked. Hmm. It was still pretty early. The screenings didn't begin for another couple hours. Just as I turned away the door opened and I was let in. It turned out to be the festival director, a nice young man named Ioannis (pronounced "yahn-us"). Although I hadn't remembered meeting him he recognized me and knew me by name. The festival coordinator Yvette was behind the registration table and she handed me my badge without me having to identify myself. This was why I liked MIX. Rather than being treated like an anonymous filmmaker, I was treated like an old friend. Yvette also handed me the bag of goodies they gave to each filmmaker. I went off to sit down and go through it.
The bag consisted mostly of complimentary magazines and post cards advertising parties and film-related services. With nothing better to do I sat there and skimmed through the stuff. I made note of the fact that there was an "Industry Mixer" that evening at the Starlight Bar and Lounge on Avenue A. I also went through the festival program. It was all interesting, but I was too keyed up to sit still. I said goodbye to the festival staff and headed out. By this time it was almost dark.
On the way back to my car my cell phone rang. It was Howard. He said that he and Keith were meeting at Odessa for dinner at 7:30, but that he wasn't sure what time he'd be able to leave work. I told him to call me back when he was on his way out the door. I wasn't sure exactly which restaurant Odessa was, but I knew it was one of a number of places we frequented around Tompkins Square Park.
Once I dropped my festival bag in the car I decided to just walk around the East Village for a while. I'd never really done much wandering on my own. I was usually either going some place specific or I had someone I was following like a puppy. I wound up on 7th Street heading West. Before long I found myself in Astor Place. I knew Astor Place, but I didn't realize I knew how to get there. I decided to see if I could make my way to the Antique Boutique. I'm not much for clothes shopping, but I remembered them having some pretty cool stuff in there. I headed off in the direction of where I remembered it being. On the way I passed two Starbucks that were only a block away from each other.
I went around the corner, and there it was. Once inside I discovered that it was 100% 2nd-hand retro stuph. I had remembered there being a dash of new products too, but in this case there were none. Still I wandered around for quite a while checking their wares. One thing I did find was a great selection of polyester leisure suits. I had been recently lamenting the fact that you can't find leisure suits in the Salvation Army any more. Now I knew where I could get one. It wasn't a priority at the moment, however.
I saw a rack of motorcycle jackets. While I had grown rather fond of mine, I could see replacing it with an authentic Hein Gericke (of which mine was a cheap knockoff). Alas, they were all the same brand out of Canada. I decided to go downstairs to check out the denim and military clothes. While I already have all the denim I need, and I wasn't particularly in the market for any military gear, they did have some nice camouflage t-shirts. I grabbed the smallest size they had and headed for the stairs. I was stopped by the sales girl.
"Were you looking for a leather jacket?" she asked.
I was a bit perplexed as to how she knew this, unless she had seen me upstairs. "I was looking for a Hein Gericke, but I didn't see any."
"What's that?" she asked. I've come to appreciate that ignorance truly is bliss, as she was blithely bemused by the challenge of these new and strange words.
"It's a name brand," I said. She giggled and shrugged her shoulders. "I didn't see any on the rack," I continued.
"Well then I guess we don't have any."
I thanked her for all her "help" and continued up to the cash register.
There were three people behind the counter, one of which was busy ringing up a customer. The other two were talking. I went over to them.
"Oh, she can help you," they said, pointing to the young woman who was busy with someone else. Normally it would have bothered me to have two idle customer service workers make me wait for no apparent reason. Frankly this kind of thing generally spawns an ire in me verging on rage. But I had settled into a cool NYC groove and was able to go with the flow (when in Rome...). In another minute the young woman rang me up and swiped my credit card. She went to wrap the flimsy garment up in fancy, colored tissue paper.
"You might as well not bother," I told her. "I'm gonna toss it on as soon as I step out of the building anyway."
"Oh, okay," she said. "Then would you like me to remove the tags too?"
"Sure," I said. She snipped off those annoying paper tags held on by those thin wisps of plastic filament that seem all but indestructible when you don't have a pair of scissors with you.
Once outside I decided not to don it immediately, but to make my way back to my car and put on my combat boots at the same time. Back at the car I got my boots out of the hatch back and sat down in the passenger seat. The loitering lady was now gone, and I felt I could relax a bit more. I turned on the radio as I changed into my boots and cammo t-shirt. It was now around 6:30. I still had a lot of time to kill. I thought about the Industry Mixer event. I checked the schedule and saw that it started at 7:00. I decided I'd go to that, even if it made me late for dinner. It would be very nice to mix it up with people who are actually in the industry.
I walked up to Avenue A. I quickly found Odessa, which was right on the avenue. I continued walking North. My phone rang. It was Howard saying he was leaving work. I told him I was on my way to the industry mixer. He said that was fine because dinner had been moved off to 8:00 anyway. I said I'd see him and Keith at Odessa at 8:00.
I had a street address for the party, but didn't know how far up the avenue it was. It didn't take long to find. It was only a few blocks up from Odessa. The place didn't even look like it was open yet. I figured they were probably setting up. I didn't want to get there too early, so I kept walking around. I went into a "thrift shop" that had the same stuff that was in the Antique Boutique, but only a fraction of the variety and all crammed into a tiny space. Further up I saw a cool skate shop. There was a video of skate borders playing on a TV in the store window. I lingered for a bit, but the skate kid out front was looking at me like, "What are you doing here?" I felt a little odd so I kept walking. I went all the way up to the end of Avenue A, wandered about just a bit, and then started heading back down again. By the time I got to the bar it was just after 7:00 so I went in.
I think they were still setting up, because I went up to the bar and no one looked at all interested in selling me a drink. I wandered around the space a bit. A couple guys were walking around wearing black polo shirts and carrying black satchels over their shoulders. The shirts and satchels each bore the Lucky Strike cigarette logo. The satchels were packed with cartons of Lucky Strike cigarettes that they were desperately trying to give away.
The only guy whom I recognized from MIX was a nice-looking fellow named Jonathon. I think he was the festival coordinator the year I showed VoyEx. When he went up to the bar I caught his eye and he came over and said hello. I went up to the bar with him. He explained that Vodka drinks were free at this event. Just what I needed. Here I was trying to overcome dire urges to smoke and drink, and I went to a party where they were giving away free cigarettes and pouring free Vodka drinks. I ordered a coke. Jonathon and I chatted a bit, but he had to get back to the person for whom he'd just gotten a drink.
With no one else to talk to I went up to the guys trying to give away Lucky Strikes. We kept each other company for a while. I took a pack of smokes, put a cigaretted behind my ear, and placed the pack in my jacket pocket. They were also giving away disposable cameras. Having left all my still cameras at home I gladly snatched one.
With little potential for conversation, I said, "So Lucky Strike sponsors Jacques Villeneuve, right?"
They were like, "Huh?"
"So then you're not employees of Lucky Strike, then, are you?"
It turned out they were actors who occasionally got hired to do these promotional events. Figures. At this "industry mixer" the only people remotely in the "industry" were the guys pushing smokes. Still, it was better than nothing. I started asking them about how they went about getting work. It turned out they worked for the "Barbizon" agency.
"Hmm," I said. "I remember seeing ads for the Barbizon School of Modeling when I was a kid watching 'I Dream of Jeanie' re-runs on WPIX. Their motto was, 'Be a model or just look like one.'"
"Gee," one of them said. "That's still their motto today."
I didn't know which was more pathetic, that the only work these two so-called actors could get from the Barbizon modeling school was to pawn off smokes at an industry-free mixer, or that I was standing there talking to them. I excused myself to go talk to the guy Jonathon had gotten a drink for.
He was a rather big and brawny fellow and had been chatting with a shorter stout guy. I interrupted their conversation to introduce myself. The big guy was named Wolfgang. He was German. The stout guy was named Mark. Mark was a volunteer with the festival. I don't know what Wolfgang's angle was. He asked me about my video, but he knew nothing about Pee Wee's Playhouse, so the conversation didn't go much of anywhere. I talked more with Mark. The conversation wasn't very industry-related, though. Actually about the only thing that stuck in my mind was Mark saying he didn't walk around listening to a WalkMan any more because muggers tend to target such people because they can't hear them coming.
I kept staring at my watch until it was about time to meet Howard and Keith for dinner. I left fifteen minutes early for a five minute walk.
I made a bee line for Odessa and proceeded to stand around waiting. Frankly there are worse things to do than to hang out on a street corner in the East Village. I had lots of fun people-watching while I waited. There are lots of interesting artist types in the East Village.
After a while Keith wandered along. We talked for a little while until Howard showed up, and we went in to eat. The agenda for the night was to attend the Gong Show at 10:00. It's a silly little event where people submit videos on the spot, and "celebrity" judges either gong them or score them. The winner receives some ridiculous prize. Still, I look forward to the Gong Show every year almost as much as I do to my formal festival screening. This was the 6th year they'd done the Gong Show, and I'd submitted to all but the first year, which was before I even attended MIX. I wanted to get there way early because I had learned that they play the tapes in the order they're submitted. The previous year I got there late, and my video never wound up getting screened at all. We had plenty of time.
Howard and Keith and I had a relaxed dinner. As we were finishing our meals Howard began trumpeting the chocolate cheese cake they had there. I'm usually not much for dessert, but this sounded pretty good. When the waitress came to clear our plates I ordered a slice.
"Oh, I'm sorry. We're out of that."
I said I'd go without, and after she left I gave Howard the raspberries.
We left Odessa and walked briskly to the venue where the jag was waiting for us. We were plenty early. It was too early even to submit my tape. Having gone to a lot of effort the previous year to produce a tape specially for the Gong Show only to get stiffed, I didn't go to a lot of effort this year. I grabbed a copy of Skin Shot, which was like a two minute experimental thing I knocked off on a Saturday evening sampling images and sounds from TV and stitching them together on my iMac. I didn't expect it to do well. But after 4 years of trying to win and being shut down every time, I didn't care any more.
While we were standing around I chatted with Ioannis a bit. Raj was milling about too. He had been the festival director in years past. He was still on the MIX Board of Directors, but his only active role during the festival at this time was to M.C. the Gong Show. He originally came up with the idea, and he still liked to run it every year. Ioannis asked Raj if he knew me. Raj and I smiled and said that we'd known each other for a few years.
Waiting for the Gong Show to start in my new cammo shirt
Eventually we went in and they got the show started. The celebrities were in rare form. Linda Richmond and Michael Musto were really going at each other. Unfortunately the videos weren't all that great. Mine was gonged after less than 30 seconds. Linda's sidekick Chita pointed out that my previous video was all come shots. Oddly the video that followed mine featured the exact same disembodied rubber torso. It was a wild coincidence, not only to be in the same program, but to immediately follow mine. When Linda introduced the next video she said, "I wonder if it'll have that same guy in it..."
The piece that won was a spoof of an underarm deodorant commercial. It wasn't bad, but was not as good as winners in years past. The first place prize was a Quinceañera dress. Second prize was a bottle of cheap Tequila. Third prize was a carton of Lucky Strikes. I don't even remember the videos that took second and third place. After the screening I went up to Chita to thank her for remembering my previous video. She said she remembered all my previous videos, and proceeded to recount each one. I was impressed and flattered. I told her I'd see her at the after party.
Once outside the building, Keith decided to head home. Howard, the jag, and I headed off to the after party at Bar 13. It was a short walk. Once inside I realized it was in the exact same space that the Gong Show after party had been held the previous year. I immediately had flashbacks of that embarrassing night a year prior when I got drunk off my ass, got a blow job in the men's room, lost one of my all-time favorite shirts, and went home with a guy I didn't know. That binge left me so chronically hung-over that I was unable to enjoy the entire rest of the festival that year. This year I had been fighting an insurmountable urge to go in a bar and get a drink just hours earlier, but memories of the previous year actually made me feel relieved to be sober at this point and not have to deal with all the inessential insanity. It was a powerful motivator.
I got a $4 bottle of water and stood around milking it. I tried to enjoy myself but there just wasn't a particularly energetic vibe going on. I saw a cute boy I'd noticed working the registration table back at the venue. I wanted to introduce myself, but he always seemed to be in conversation with other people.
The jag spotted someone walking around who looked familiar. Finally he recognized him to be DJ Johnny Dynell. I was as clueless as an ignorant upstate bumpkin. The jag explained that he was a legendary downtown DJ who, along with this wife Chi Chi Valenti, was responsible for the long-running nightclub called Mother that hosted the world-renowned party Jackie 60. I could sense that I was supposed to be impressed, but with an utter lack of context the guy just seemed like any old NYC hipster to me.
Eventually he walked over to us. The jag asked him if he was Johnny Dynell. The guy said yes, and proved to be entirely unpretentious and actually quite friendly. He even confessed that in his youth he was an upstate bumpkin himself. He told the jag all about his latest party Jack Your Body. He also spoke enthusiastically about the book "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" which was available through the Amazon link on his web page. He and the jag actually talked for quite a while. After he left, the jag remained somewhat star-struck, and jided me for not being more impressed than I was.
By this time Linda Richmond, Chita, and their little entourage had arrived. I reminisced with Linda a bit about the first Gong Show I attended, which was held in The Knitting Factory. She had almost forgotten that it had once been held at that venue. Our chat didn't last long, and I never got a chance to talk to Chita before they left. But Chita did smile and wink at me as she walked past on her way out.
After they left I'd had about enough of the party. I told the guys that I was about ready to head out. It turned out they were equally ready to roll. The jag said he was going to pop into work briefly the next day and then go to the gym, run errands, etc., and probably wouldn't see us until the 8:00 screening the next day. Howard and I said good night to him and headed back to his place to crash. We had to go back to my car first to pick up my stuff. It wasn't until I grabbed my bags and locked the car that I realized that I'd parked just around the corner from Howard's place. It couldn't have worked out better if I had the space reserved weeks in advance.
We went in and got his futon set up for me to sleep in. I took my clothes off and crashed. It was around 2AM.