Category Archives: Personal Anecdotes

The Best Valentine

On Valentine’s Day, “Miriam” gets a hand and a smile exiting the bus that brought her home after living in shelter for over three months.

Having a moniker like “Kiki Valentine” makes every February 14th especially poignant since it’s the day that best represents – despite its deeply-based roots in what I like to call “Catholic gore” – love and all that it means. This year, I have the gift of reflecting on the wedding ceremonies I wrote and officiated, the bringing together of two lives in a sense and ceremony of traditional love. I’m so glad I have had those experiences. What can I say? I love love.

Another great personal love story is the sordid tale of a population of just over 100 elderly and disabled Hurricane Sandy evacuees from Belle Harbor Manor in Far Rockaway, Queens whom I met while volunteering at the Park Slope Armory’s temporary medical shelter last October. The first overnight I volunteered, I planned on being there for four hours but instead I stayed until eight the following morning. I just couldn’t leave if I knew I could help a few more people; most volunteers would leave each night after midnight, leaving a true skeleton crew to assist, walking the rows, flashlight in hand, to see if anyone was awake and had any needs. In the days that followed, I spent hours in the dark sorting, organizing and distributing clothing donations. That was a really great way to connect with people, they would come up to the fenced-in area, tell me what they needed, and I was, basically, a “personal shopper” for them, since I knew best what colors and sizes were available. I cut the fingernails of patients (because the nurses weren’t allowed to). In fact, out of all of the supplies and medical support in the shelter, there were no nail clippers anywhere. During the Nor’Easter following Sandy, I set out in the snowstorm to find some. The man whose nails I cut that night, Eddie, is a resident of Belle Harbor Manor and it turned out we have a mutual friend in common from the ‘old neighborhood”, Red Hook.

During the course of November, I bought so many pairs of mens and womens underwear I lost count. I spent overnights armed with latex gloves and a flashlight sorting donations and taking blind people to the bathroom in the dark, amazed that my usually fragile sense of smell had somehow strengthened to be able to keep on going. Only one night did someone’s “accident” cause me to uncontrollably gag, and that was when I was reminded of how amazing nurses are. I learned about the magnificent glory of “chucks”, which are basically giant blue absorbent pads placed onto wheelchairs in the event adult diapers leaked. There were a lot of pathogens involved with volunteering, and odors – especially when the shelter was operating at full capacity with 500 patients. Since the Armory is a gymnasium, all of the cots were arranged within the indoor track, so my slapstick wheeling of patients along the track allowed for some comic relief. Later I moved, in the rain, with residents from shelter to shelter, transporting them with Zipcars, in times of need, and staying with them past visiting hours if they asked me to. I fed them, clothed them, secretly brought them donuts and coffee and have spent countless hours on the phone with the OEM, Department of Health and FEMA on their behalf,sometimes speaking high school Spanish, or attempting, as I needed so desperately at times, to channel the ability to speak Chinese to help them file their claims (it didn’t happen). I made a lot of calls to friends in very high (and very low) places to lend a hand, and as a result small amenities like a daily newspaper delivery ended up changing a lot of people’s lives. Throughout, I have been forced to consider the way that we, as Americans – and as New Yorkers – treat our aging population. And during my journey what I discovered incensed me.

ICL Milestone at Creedmor Psychiatric Campus, Queens, NY

ICL Milestone at Creedmor Psychiatric Campus, Queens, NY. Looks spooky, because it is spooky.

After the first three weeks, when 350 other residents were discharged from the Armory, I knew that I was making an invisible commitment to make sure they were “okay”. Little did I know they would need a lot more help then I or anyone could ever imagine. After the first six weeks, they had lived in three separate shelters which, each time, meant that several garbage bags full of belongings (donations obtained from myself and others) would be lost. Seven weeks after the storm they were still sleeping on “Army cots”, and a ramshackle team of volunteers, advocates, and caring humans did all they could, called everyone they knew might be able to help, and change eventually started to occur. A check from the Attorney General was signed, beds were delivered (just in time for a quasi-outbreak of bedbugs).

On the heels of the shooting back home in Sandy Hook and a truly cheerless holiday, on Christmas Day I decided to advocate full time for Belle Harbor Manor’s residents, and, for the past 106 days of our lives, I have been part of one of the greatest love stories I have ever known. Full of hope, optimism, and scandal – as any good love story is – in the end, after all of the dead ends that I somehow bulldozed through, after getting lost in Queens in the dark and the drives home in tears calling anyone I could think of who might help (thank you Allen Salkin), I have to laugh about the fact that I was not once but twice kicked out of the psychiatric hospital residents were sheltered in.

The first day residents were transferred to the Creedmor Psychiatric Campus, I was told that I had to be credentialed and complete a background check in order to be on the property, of which I attempted to initiate while stalling on the phone with ICL Senior management. I didn’t want to lose access to them in this institution. It was more ike a prison than a hospital, and it felt like there was much dark energy throughout. The VP of Bologna eventually told me, with security standing over me trying to get me out, that she couldn’t do anything about the site administrator’s decision. Leaving there that day, I asked the receptionist for a pen, to which she began reaching for each pen on the counter to move it from my reach. Sadistic, sociopathic. I didn’t want to imagine how these residents would be treated. For the first time in my life I uttered the words, “You don’t know who you’re fucking with” and think I lived up to it.

I also somehow narrowly escaped the risk of contracting both bed bugs and scabies, two events which sent other volunteers directly to the pharmacist and into an alarmed spin that included some medication, a lotion, that you slather on and sleep in. The point of this rather unpoetic stream of consciousness is that these residents, in all of their shining diversity, have made me reevaluate who I am as a person and what my purpose as a human in this life at this time really means. They have encouraged me to think outside the box, ignore stereotypes, exercise patience, to not fear mental illness, to overcome a weak sense of smell, to continue to stand up for what is right, to keep on asking questions, to be a better cold caller, to overcome insurmountable obstacles (any dealings with politicians excluded) and challenges, to connect with other like-minded people who also really care about others, and to develop a sense of strength I had long forgotten that the seed of was within me. All of this motivation and impetus wasn’t always direct or painless, and it certainly was not planned. After the overwhelming experience of being in the Park Slope Armory that first night, I kept going back. I could not leave these suffering strangers. Besides, I didn’t have electricity or heat at home, we had an eight-foot storm surge. People – especially my family – have asked why I had gotten myself so involved, and I didn’t have an answer; I simply followed my heart.

It was anguishing to know that this aging and disabled population, most with no family or support, were left to suffer and be the pawns in a struggle between the City of New York and the State of New York’s Department of Health, and that they were paying upwards of $1900 in rent each month to live on the campus of a remote psychiatric hospital in Queens. I often found myself wondering,”If not for us, who will help them?” Certainly not the long list of “burned out” professional case workers I encountered, fighting their own fights against what was right (humanism) vs. what they were being told to do (red tape). There was anger and strife throughout, for the residents, for the volunteers, for the staff, for the journalists. And yet from all of this, compassion, friendship and love were born. To me, the strange but beautiful part of the story is that of all the shelters residents found themselves in, if given the choice to return to the setting the Armory provided, every single one of them says they would rather be there than, shockingly, back home at Belle Harbor Manor.

There are so many people I wish to thank, and I will attempt to do so in the event they are, like me, set up with Google Alerts for themselves. In the meantime, I plan on writing more about this. The harsh reality is that my relationship to these people isn’t over once they return home. They still have needs. Many are the victims of looting. Their belongings and cash, thought to be safely locked, needing replacement. Social security cards, passports, green cards, and more. I am set to look at the long-term disaster relief and planning required for others like them. I will again need to make those calls and send email to others who might be able to help me be of better service to others. For now, however, I will sleep tonight, relieved for the first time in 107 days. This what love looks like to me this Valentine’s Day. Home. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about how many people have touched my life since this storm washed away all of my fear. Thank you.

“If your name is Kiki then I’m changing my name to ‘Voodoo'”, she said. And from then it was clear that despite our differences, we would be friends. Today was our goodbye to shelter #3, Creedmor (although she did like the free use of computers, stating, “There is so much information on the Internet! I need to get a computer of my own!”

To my left, Tom Fortune, who, while at the Armory on my overnight rounds, never asked me for anything. I went on this wild portable radio shopping obsession because I felt it was critical that while in shelter, people should be able listen to the news, or most importantly, to music, to feel connected with what we would later refer to as “the outside”. When I brought the radio to him, he in his wheelchair on the four lane track amongst a population of 500, he said “Give it to someone who needs it.” I replied, “But I got this for you.” Here we are 106 days later and he says, “Of course we’ll stay in touch. I’ll call you every time my radio runs out of batteries.” To my right, the sweet and caring Donna Rubin.

After the donation sorting and organizing at The Armory (an enormous undertaking every night), the library at Milestone Residence at Creedmor Psychiatric Hospital is transformed into a donation center. Now, the shelves are bare and belonging, transported in black garbage bags similar to those the residents were living out of, have returned “home”.

When I received this card and opened it, I felt that the hours of sacrifice and hard work were somehow able to culminate into this one simple and unexpected thank you. Just touching to the 1,000,000th degree.

THANK YOU (in no order and I am hoping I haven’t forgotten any/many):

The residents and staff of Belle Harbor Manor
RI-1 DMAT
Ali Hodin-Baier, Aging in New York Fund
Amy Parsons, The American Red Cross (and now, a friend)
Jake from the Washington Conservation Corps
Caron Atlas http://www.artsanddemocracy.org
AmeriCorps team members
The Amory volunteers
The Kings Hotel volunteers
The Creedmor volunteers
Casey Shea
Nicholas Verburgt (Express Men’s sock donations)
Maria Provenzano and the CenterLight staff at Kings Hotel
Amy Glosser, CERT & online volunteer infrastructure developer
Meryl Blackman
Justin the FEMA inspector
David Caruso, The Associated Press
Doug Kuntz (do gooder, photographer, rabble rouser)
Brett Cotter http://www.stressbegone.org
Laura Black, NYC OEM
JK Canepa, CIAD
Geoff Lieberman, CIAD
Amanda Bickerstaff, UWS Loves
Suzanne Windland, SNAP & all that she has done and continues to do!
Christina Komploris, NY Post/WSJ donations
Richard Shults Jr., NY Post/WSJ donations
Andy McCallihan, NY Post/WSJ donations
Jill Cornell, donations and all of her work in the Rockaways
JC Hopkins, volunteer and transportation!
Pam Koner, mobile phones for residents
Jerry Probst, FEMA inspector and encouraging, awesome soul
Felice Steele, The American Red Cross (and also a diligent do-gooder!)
Maureen Italiano, ICL Milestone staffer who challenged me
Larissa, ICL Milestone staffer who really cares about people
Brad Lander, City Councilman & Staff
Joseph Ger Ph.D, BCBA-D
Brad Harrelson, The American Red Cross, Texas (helped connect family members)
Nannearl Blackshear, Brooklyn Borough President’s Office
Lynda Lowe, FEMA
Peggy Mott, FEMA
Krystal Reyes
Oswald Ramsammy, NY Times donations
Justin Silverman, connections to newspaper donations
Christine Kessler (helped us find a lost resident)
Marina Tsamplina, NY Helps NY
Megan Byrn
Parker Tracey and Dave Escovitz at Char No. 4 who covered shifts for me so I could help
AND TO EVERYONE who donated!
Dave Ankers
Dennis and Jeni Espantman
Lael @ FIND Home Furnishings, Brooklyn
Duben Canales & Jasmine Heikura
Keara Driscoll
Maria Esther Hammck
William Groner
Kristina Kroger
Selma Kalousek
Beezlebabe Siren
Margaret Welch
Karen Cowdell
Annie Chambliss
Jay Christensen
Simon Durkin
Farzin Lofti-Jam

“Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?”

Is there a difference between burlesque and stripping?  Of course there is.  There are actually countless differences, too many for me to relate at this time.  In fact, Jo Boobs, headmistress of the NY School of Burlesque, has spent countless hours discussing this very topic on everything from blogs to TV shows to NYU panels. (More on this at the end of the post.)  But the real fact of the matter is that anyone who calls a performer a stripper is, clearly, just an insecure human being.  And besides, what is wrong with strippers anyway?

Allow me to make one thing clear: I am not a stripper.   In fact, I was just nominated for an award for some of the contributiona I make  in my community. Not that strippers are “bad” or that I have anything against them as people at all, it’s just that when you work with children as I do, I believe that being an excellent role model is of the utmost importance.  But please allow me to share that some of the nicest, smartest and most talented women I know have been “exotic dancers” at one point in their lives and are not the stereotypically drug-addled, abused mess of a woman many ignorant people seem to believe them to be.  In fact, I would wager that some of the women I know who have “shaken their money makers” to get through school are probably treating your children when they sprain their ankle, have written the book you’re reading right now, are standing in line next to you at the Food Co-Op or are even in a laboratory researching cutting edge science to prevent you from getting breast cancer.  Strippers are people, too.  And it might surprise you if you knew who, on a daily basis,  you encounter that may be or have been strippers.  This goes for men, too!

But please allow me to get back to my point.  What is the main difference between stripping and burlesque? Let’s start with strippers.

Strippers work in strip clubs for typically a six-hour shift and dance on stage, typically in three-song sets with more skin revealed as each song ends. Her clothing usually consists of a single dress – long or short gown depending on the rules of the club – high heels and a g-string.  The goal of this nine-minute “preview” is to showcase the dancer’s body, moves, personality, sensuality, etc to pique the interest of a man in the room.  A man who paid a cover to get into the club.  A man she hopes will buy lap dances from her or, ultimately, pay to bring her into a private room for a minimum of an hour for private dances.  Not sex, mind you.  Just one-on-one time.  MOST strippers are not prostitutes.  MOST nurses are not prostitutes.  MOST mothers on the playground who you see are not prostitutes.  But yes, some are.  (An investigation for my thesis about underground prostitution in NYC is a blog post, albeit an interesting one, for another time).  Strippers, and I do hope this is still true for them in this shaky economy, make a pretty good amount of money each night.  They must pay a “house fee” ranging from, depending on the club, anywhere from $20 to $300 a night, sort of like a hairstylist paying for a chair at a salon.  The dancer (as I prefer to refer to these women) is also obligated to “tip out” the bar staff, security staff and DJ.  So at the end of the night, you can wager that this type of entertainer, especially in NYC, is leaving with at least a few hundred dollars.  Not bad for a night of no-touching dances. It’s not an easy job, but it is a legitimate way for a woman to earn money.

Next, let’s talk about burlesque performers.  Now, I need it to be known that I am not a burlesque performer, either.  I know this may confuse many simpletons out there who find it easier to label people and assign them to what I refer to as a “psychic box”, but my art is a lot harder to compartmentalize and package so easily.  Thankfully so.

Burlesque performers, I find, are inspired by a concept or a piece of music and create a theatrical, comedic or classic “striptease” to the piece of music.  This involves a costume that is usually pretty detailed and comprehensive, and the act tells something of a story.  Most performers do one to two acts in a night at a venue designated for the show with others performing the same style of acts.  For one act a performer can make anywhere between $20 and $100 depending on the show and venue.  These performances never include a lap dance or private time with an audience member, although in THE SUNDAY SHOW the grand prize of the raffle is a comedic, choreographed “lap dance” delivered by whatever character is hosting (e.g. Sarah Palin, Amy Winehouse, Anna Nicole Smith, Judy Garland).  As a side note, I included this in my show for three reasons: as a nod to my feelings on the exploitation of women, the history of burlesque and its roots in striptease and basically as a joke, de-sexualizing the idea of a lap dance.  In the beginning of my show back in 2008, a few people, performers, who had not even seen it but had heard about the lap dance in the show were up in arms about it, even wicked in their behavior and actions.  The stigma associated with the concept was fascinating to me to say the least, and now that it is a revered part of every show I am grateful for my diligence and dedication to my ideas and work.

I always understood that the difference between strippers and burlesquers is that strippers dance to earn a living, support a lifestyle or save for a cause and the money made by burlesquers typically goes into purchasing materials for their next costume.  They’re not in it for the money but the art of it.  There are very few burlesque performers who earn their living solely from performing burlesque.

But despite the differences, the haters hate on.  It’s funny how people can spin their own warped version of the truth and actually begin to believe it.  Regardless of age or accomplishments, some people live in such a state of denial and delusion about their own lives that they fail to recognize how lucky they actually are,  instead wasting their precious days on earth slandering, attempting to destroy others who are actually out of the house, into the fold and improving not only art but their own world around them.  Wicked, as we all know, never really wins in the end. But it sure is fun watching the wicked fail.  Who doesn’t cheer a little every time the witch melts into a puddle in The Wizard of Oz? (Reference: http://www.movieclips.com/icda-im-melting/) Lucky for me, I feed off of negativity and darkness.  That’s why I am a comedienne.  Or…am I?

***

For further information on the differences between stripping and burlesque, please visit http://coilhouse.net/2010/01/jo-boobs-teaches-the-va-va-voom/ to find a wonderful interview with Jo Boobs on the subject.

And tell me, just for a laugh, is the stripper the problem in this picture?

David Lynch, Opium, the Weather and a Giant Pigeon

I was barley awake when I took a picture the other morning. It really encapsulated the way that I would end up feeling the entire day (like there was a giant, wet pigeon following me). I am not sure why, but I am sure this has something to do with being an artist. Yes, I am both a business professional AND an artist.

giant pigeon invades brooklyn

The surreal image, totally pure and unedited, makes the pigeon appear to be gigantic and standing in the street below my window. It made me think of perspectives and how, like opinions and assholes, everyone has one. I took the picture because I was thinking about how often, as part of my life involves me being a performance artist, I am “pigeonholed”. I was also excited to see the pigeon on my windowsill, yet sad for it being forced to sit in the cold, windy rain and wait out the weather. Clearly I was having a very philosophical morning. And to be completely honest, I didn’t notice that the pigeon looked like some sort of “Japanese movie monster” bird in the street until someone later mentioned so on Facebook, where I post all of my pre-8am “Good Morning, Brooklyn!” photos. The perspective from my window, to some, made that bird seem enormous when all I was admiring was the proximity of the bird on my windowsill.

Thinking about perspectives in turn reminded me of a conversation with a friend the night before the pigeon appeared which revealed that David Lynch delivers the Los Angeles weather every morning from his home. Thrilled by this news, and after some investigation, it seems he has been religiously doing so for a few years now. My natural – and simultaneous – reaction: jealousy that I had not thought of it first paired with inspiration to do something even more simple/bizarre.  After voraciously reviewing every clip I could find of him on the almighty Internet, I began to think of how many times David Lynch has been or is currently completely misunderstood by his peers, audience, lovers, friends, neighbors, mother and mailman. It happens to me, too, because of the Sunday Show. I have been called names not worth repeating by people not worth mentioning who have never even seen my show.  I have been assumed to be “easy” or a conquest because I am putting my gender out in the open, covered in exquisite garments.  I will not judge those people,  lest I lower myself to a less open mentality, but I will admit that that sort of ignorance deeply rattles my soul. It’s a truly strange existence when creating and sharing something so intimate, surreal, fantastic and raw because eventually you are immediately identified with all of the dark and twisted intricacies involved with those pieces or projects. Even if, on most days, you’re just a normal person who just happens to be commandeering a concept that makes people laugh, think, smile and break away from their ordinary lives, even if only for 90 minutes at a time.

For Lynch, it seems like most days he is totally normal. Coffee, cigarettes and as he’s in California, pretty much the same weather report every day. But then he’ll surprise, and some reports reveal a bizarre twist, living up to the reputation with which he has been saddled as the director of some pretty amazing, albeit twisted visions. It just goes to show that you should never solely judge a person by their art, even if you think you can or should because you’re self-justified.  No matter how much you study from afar, will never know firsthand if those occasional fits of the bizarre you see – from me, from David Lynch – are actually the emergence of deep-rooted darkness in the artist or in fact only taking place to keep you entertained and believing that in order to make something so eccentric, so edgy, so provoking, one MUST be somehow off kilter.  Is it a giant pigeon in the street or a bird on a windowsill? I’m not telling if Lynch doesn’t. And this particular pigeon certainly isn’t talking, however he desperately wishes for you to stop trying to put me in his pigeonhole.

David Lynch Daily Weather Report from 2005

David Lynch Daily Weather Report from 2006

David Lynch Daily BIZARRE Weather Report

And just because you probably have never seen this commercial for Opium, it’s a gem. This man is a genius, even though I am sure people fail to understand his mind. Maybe you’re just supposed to enjoy the work, not analyze the person making it. (Yes, I prefer this.)

Sayonara, Twitter!

I have always thought that Twitter is ridiculous. It serves a purpose for a lot of mobile businesses and artists, but it also frightens me how addictive it can be to otherwise normal people. And how nothing, really, is sacred when people experience something and immediately think about sharing that bit of information with their world. This recent NY Times article about Protocols is also worth a read. And the video below made me happy because it means I am not alone in my fascination with Twitter’s dark side.

Since I create and wear costumes while often acting as a dead person in public, I tend to confuse certain people. Public desire to label and file me away as any one thing is convenient for many but confusing. It is true that I hate being called a “burlesque dancer”, one commonly misused label that I constantly strive to separate myself from. If anything, call me a performance artist because that is what I am. This pigeonholing also really annoys Madonna who once said “I think of myself as a performance artist. I hate being called a pop star. I hate that.” Mind you this is not because of shame, insecurity or fear but for the sake of my sanity. I am also a producer and a writer. So one might assume that I would be thrilled by the advent of a platform like Twitter in which I can share, through writing 140 characters, all of the self-indulgent, intimate morsels of my life with a gossip hungry and nosypants world.

Picture 8

I never really understood the point of Twitter and basically shunned the concept. After being interviewed about the MTA Service Specialist project receiving a cease-and-desist from the MTA’s lawyers, TJ Rosenthal of East Village Radio’s TJ AND THE TUX, roped me in and created a personal account for me.  Me at Twitter.  I was reluctant, but on the heels of a 5am interview on Good Day New York and a sleepless, nervous night about what my virginal Tweet would reveal, I gave in.  And that is how it all started. Soon, my ex boyfriend’s mother requested to follow me. And then my own mother. And then Britney Spears. It was then I knew that I was getting in too deep.

When I decided to transform myself into Courtney Love for the October edition of the Sunday Show, I thought it might be best to step into her shoes. I started using my Twitter. And sadly, just when I was getting into the random blurts of insanity, Courtney went and deleted her account. So, as a method actor, I followed suit and set forth to delete my account, too. I barely used it and don’t really understand the CULTural phenomenon associated with it, so this was not a big loss to me.

In the process of my disengagement, I did find out about some features the site provides which I never used. None of which, I believed, could win me back.

Picture 7

When I visited the site intending to permanently depart, the hot topics featured scared me. Much like when leaving a less-than-stellar relationship (why would his mother want to follow me after all of this time, anyway?) or putting back that second helping of cupcakes, I knew that I was making the right decision. I mean, the KKK? What is wrong with you people?

Picture 2

So I eventually approach the final stages of breaking up with Twitter. I am faced with a tearful cartoon bird asking if I am sure I want to leave. Yes, little bird. I am sure. Do people really want to know what I ate for dinner? Will I really stop what I am doing to share what I ate for dinner with thousands of people I don’t even know? And why do they care? Are they just waiting for me to divulge some secret information on there, like who I went to the museum with on Sunday or what panties I decided to put on this morning?

I took a screen shot of my last Twitter feed (including musings from Moby and Samantha Ronson) and, with a few clicks, became one step closer to Courtney. (This feels better than one might initially imagine.) The Sunday Show on October 25th was an incredible success. And today, I am still alive, well and free from “the tweets”. Of course, I can’t completely free myself from the Twittersphere as I have a hit show on my hands and an audience that loves to know what is happening behind the scenes. This being said, you can follow THE SUNDAY SHOW on Twitter @sundayshownyc. However to follow me, you can kick it old school and…send a text.

Picture 4

This is another good video.

Thanks for following me.