The Day I Used a Woman’s Razor is the Day That May Have Changed My Life

A few weeks ago I was on vacation in the White Mountains spending a little time out of the urban sweatbox that was Brooklyn to hike, swim, and generally frolic in nature. Nature, of course being a mountain resort and a series of well maintained hiking trails.

I had my bathing suit, my phone, my wallet, ID, spare keys, and my neighbor was checking in on my rabbit every other day. I had everything I needed, however in my haste to escape the city at the height of this relentlessly oppressive onikare we call ‘July’ I had forgotten to pack a disposable razor.

Now, I am a scruffy, curly Jew-fro’d young man and I have a wealth of accoutrements to maintain my beard to an acceptable length and level of tidiness becoming with social decorum and standards of decency. We are not grizzled prospectors, it is not the 19th century, and there is no reasonable excuse to go around looking like a 49er from summer stock or a dinner theatre.

Seeing as I was out of New York and in the wild, rugged vastly uncharted summer resort town of Lincoln, New Hampshire, I thought I might be able to make it through the week without a shave – I had pruned the topiary the day before I left in anticipation of a packed schedule, but my facial hair seems to grow twice as fast as usual, and so by midweek I had the beginnings of a neck-beard and seeing as we were going out to dinner every night something had to be done if I was going to be seen in public.

I could have gone and bought a pack of safety razors, however seeing as the nearest store was a good few miles into town and I was at the vehicular mercy of others, I deigned simply to borrow a razor from one of the lady-folk in our party. It was pink, plastic and looked like a prop out of an after-school special on the miracle of ‘becoming a woman.’

I’m telling you right now, I may never go back.

Whenever I shave my neck, there is usually a nick or two that requires the application of a small square of toilet tissue. I have used this same razor THRICE (I packed in my suitcase to test my little theory) and have had nary a splotch of blood, and I’m telling you I could have shellacked my neck in after-shave and wouldn’t have felt even the slightest hints of burning.

How was the shave? My neck is doubtlessly comparable to the buttocks of a newborn baby. I have NEVER had a shave this smooth that stayed smooth for at least two days. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy shaving and the various bathroom rituals of manhood, but not having even a trace of stubble for two days is akin to splitting the atom.

Currently I am engaged in some research to determine if women’s’ razors have finer, more delicate blades (something to do with shaving legs and, most of the time, underarms) or if there is some vast conspiracy afoot to deny men the same quality of product that has been bequeathed on the XX chromosome crowd since time immemorial.

Consequently gentlemen, if you see me at Duane Reade browsing the women’s’ toiletry section, you won’t have to ask yourself why.


The Distinction Between Being a Gay Artist and Being an Artist, Who is Gay (and does it exist?)

I am an artist.

What’s that? Oh please don’t leave the room! I realize that has absolutely got to be one of the most loaded and obnoxious openers I could have chosen; and often at parties in the environs of Brooklyn I frequent, one might think the apartments were all prone to echoes if it weren’t simply the fact that six-to-nine people at any given time are probably saying the same thing in a crowded room.

I am many things: I am an American, I am male, I am an admirer of well made furniture and good industrial design, I am an urbanite, an uncle, and someone who worries about the health of his houseplants and who probably drinks too much coffee.

I am also gay, and an artist.

I count myself among the lucky who hasn’t lost a single friend or family member in the process of coming out and reconciling those aspects of my personality that were formerly hidden with those parts of myself which have always been public. As I mature I find my identity as a gay man moving beyond the simplified sexuality of my youth, becoming more involved in volunteer work and political activism. I’m trying to set the stage for the next phase of my life and consciously thinking out how my gay identity is going to factor in with that, and how I can give back to the community.

I swear to you, this is not a LiveJournal. I have a point to make and this post is not going to be about me, I promise.

For what it’s worth, among these (perhaps self-aggrandizing) ruminations I have been considering the role of my homosexuality in my art. I make films and videos as well as collages and drawings, and find myself developing projects that address a wide range of subjects. Occasionally I want to incorporate homosexual or erotic themes into some of these works, to address my own experience and the issues at play in the culture at large.

This, in turn, got me thinking about other gay artists and the homoerotic imagery in their own work and the varying receptions they received and how this affected their standing in the ‘Art World’ (a term that should never be place outside quotations).

I realized that by-and-large there are two camps: ‘gay-artists’ and ‘Artists, who are gay.’

What is the distinction, and am I really just making it up? I don’t really think so… but maybe!

The ‘Art World’ is arguably, outside the LBGT community, the most accepting group toward gays and lesbians and their rank and file has been infiltrated with our ilk at least since Giovani Sodoma (I know, right?) painted the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, long an excuse to show the young nude male body; up through the dandified posturing of Jean Cocteau and the torso paintings of Andy Warhol.

What prompted me down this line of thinking were a few particular instances that bubbled up from the dusty fruit cellar of my subconscious as I began to more seriously consider the issue I had set myself to.

First and foremost was a passage in Patricia Morrisoe’s well-written and colorful (to put it mildly) biography on photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, in which at the early onset of his quite meteoric rise up the ‘80s New York art scene he consciously hedges the amount of homoerotic photographs in his output which made him the enfant terrible of his generation.

At one point, he remarked to Carol Squiers “he didn’t want to be ghettoized as a gay artist. Robert was adamant about not being identified with gays, or having gay subjects, but I don’t think you can leave that out.” These concerns prompted Mapplethorpe to branch out into his photographs of flowers, celebrities, and human nudes using the imagery of classical sculpture; all elegant, tasteful, easily accessible and able to fetch high prices for people who wanted to be able to say they had a Mapplethorpe but still have something they would want to hang on their wall.

Second which came to mind was my happenstance visit to the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation in SoHo, a non-profit institution which also runs a gallery and is dedicated to collecting the work of gay and lesbian artists and art which address issues around the community. I had not previously heard of Leslie/Lohman (again as I get older places such as this are ones I am actively seeking out) and stumbled into it accidentally while gallery hopping with a friend. The exhibition up at the time was photographs from the liberation marches and the AIDS crisis of the ‘70s and ‘80s, moving photography and important documentary journalism, but certainly art about a very specific time and social niche.

For me, these two instances raised some serious questions about the role of sexuality in mine and others’ art. It seemed that there were certainly artists who straddled the fence in addressing serious issues around the gay community, Keith Haring in particular comes to mind, while also producing large bodies of work which do not touch on the subject even obliquely. There are then artists whose majority of output is centered on the gay community, the issues and concerns of that community, and their identity therein.

The second school tends to become somewhat marginalized and marketed to a very specific group of collectors and an audience largely springing from their own community. How does one negotiate this balance? How gay is ‘too gay’ and should this even be a concern? Is it inherently dishonest to push aside an aspect of your personality, or should the artist strive to be somewhat more universal in some instances and perhaps create work outside their own comfort zone?

I eventually realized that this situation is not, in fact unique to the gay community. Women, African Americans, and other artists who belong to a minority group are grossly underrepresented in the ‘Art World’ at large, and those who strongly address the concerns of their particular social group tend to also be marginalized. I respect the work of Cindy Sherman, but I would by no means call her a feminist or her work particularly ‘female,’ and while there are subversive elements to Basquiat’s corpus he was extremely marketable, is easy to hang on a wall, and was in his lifetime more than willing to play the art market game.

I think Hollywood is perhaps a suitable analogy for the art market, despite the abhorrence for that particular institution by many in the ‘Art World.’ You have the multiplexes who show the big name, big sale, accessible stuff (Gagosian, et al) and then you have the smaller venues (the Art Houses, if you will) who show perhaps more experimental stuff. Occasionally there is a crossover and a breakthrough, and a new art star is born and it is up to them to walk the line between broad marketability and addressing those issues which are of concern to them.

It is the issue of a greater inclusiveness in the ‘Art World’ at large, and it is not unique to the gay community. It is a line each artist must walk, and a series of questions they must ask and answer for themselves.


The Gray Man of the Chelsea Hotel


this article originally appeared at www.theawl.com

Every New Yorker worth their salt knows of and respects the history of the Chelsea Hotel with its vast hellish neon sign hanging over 23rd Street, a lamp for moths such as Dylan Thomas, Holly Woodlawn, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sid Vicious, Edie Sedgewick and William S. Burroughs. It is a ship for lost souls, a sort of Noah’s Ark of the damned - and the parties can be a lot of fun. Seeing those glowing letters forty-odd feet high through a fogged or rainy night can send a thrill up my spine rather reliably.

Naturally any vast sprawling old thing with a predilection for murder, suicides, murder-suicides and overdoses (perhaps we can just use the umbrella-term ‘loose cannons’) is going to attract its share of ghost stories, and I have my own little tale to add to the apocrypha of one of New York City’s most venerable institutions of art, madness and hedonism starring one of it’s most famous permanent residents.

A friend of mine and film producer I work with has a large grandfathered apartment on the 10th floor of the Chelsea, with a roof-deck, that he inherited from his mother who lived there at the place’s height of notoriety in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Every year in the spring he throws a rooftop party where friends and his neighbors all gather to eat, drink and smoke joints on the roof, and there are usually more than a few photographs and super 8 movies being taken as some of the most notorious New York artists mix with some of the most notorious New York derelicts, and for a few hours in June everything is as it should be.

About a year ago in the late fall, my friend and his wife were out of town for a long weekend and he had asked me to stop in once or twice to feed his cat for him and told me I was welcome to hang out at his place and spend the night if I wanted. On the Saturday night of this weekend my friend Lauren and I had gone to see ‘Milk’ at the Chelsea Clearview and as we left I said ‘hey I have access to an apartment and rooftop at the Chelsea Hotel, why don’t we go hang out there?’

After quick shopping for pate and two bottles of Prosecco we were in the elevator (that the ghost of Sid Vicious has been rumored to haunt). Then we were having a cocktail on the antique leather sofa and making a plate of snacks to take out onto the roof.

As a brief interjection to the narrative thrust: the particular ghost which is supposed to haunt the 10th floor of the Chelsea is known as the Gray Man, and he is (to put it mildly) not predisposed to kindness, so to speak. He lurks in the stairwell of the 10th floor and tries to get people to leap to their deaths (mainly children). Keep in mind, I was not thinking of this legend and Lauren had never heard of it at the time.

The roof of the Chelsea Hotel is a dark, twisty and brambling place with towers, odd little doorways to rooftop apartments, narrow alleys and idiosyncratic cornices, and many many dark and shadowed corners. Being up there at sunset with a large gathering of people is an entirely different experience then say, being two waifs in skinny jeans scurrying around a gothic rooftop in the dead of a November night.

Lauren, I will let you know, is a very level-headed and critical person, not prone to flights of fancy, and so we sat on the roof talking about its architecture and various events in our lives when she stopped mid-conversation and turned and looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face. “Chris! Did you hear that?”

I hadn’t heard anything outside of the traffic down on 23rd Street and the occasional jet engine, and when I asked her what it was she said “I keep hearing a man’s voice saying ‘jump, go on jump. You’ll be fine, just go ahead and jump” and explained to me that a bizarre and inexplicable urge to jump off the roof of the Chelsea Hotel had entered her mind and would not be shaken. She asked that we move away from the edge of the roof where we had been perched, which is when we saw it.

A few yards away, half obscured by a chimney-stack was the darkened silhouette of a man, watching us from an inkwell of a corner. It could have been my eyes playing tricks on my mind and I tried to convince myself this was the case. That is up until it moved, stepping back into the darkness behind it.

Lauren and I quickly gathered our things and made our way across the roof, through coal black alleys that felt filled with eyes all the while feeling a menacing presence following behind us, just out of our field of vision - and it was not until we were safely back inside with the sliding glass door closed and locked behind us that we began to feel safe.

My friend has told me before that he feels his mother is still in the apartment she left to him, and so perhaps she kept at bay whatever angry presence dwells on the 10th floor of New York City’s answer to The Overlook. Lauren was visibly and deeply shaken, and we quickly finished the first bottle of Prosecco and did considerable damage to the 2nd before our nerves began to calm. We left soon after.

Later I shared with Lauren the story of the Gray Man, who urges people to jump from the 10th floor stairwell. Having never heard the legend she became positively aquiver and dropped the phone when I told her.

As a final footnote, two years later I had been devouring Patty Smith’s ‘Just Kids’ which recounted her life with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe; a large portion of which was spent in the Hotel Chelsea. On pages 197-98 (paperback ed.) she mentions the composer Lee Crabtree, a fellow resident, and “after several days I asked around for him, and Ann Waldman told me that, facing the loss of his inheritance and the threat of institutionalization, he leapt to his death from the roof of the Chelsea.

Is Lee Crabtree ‘the Gray Man’ or just one of his victims? One of the many casualties of the Chelsea. The incident has never left her mind and to this day Lauren is absolutely terrified of the Chelsea Hotel and refuses to set foot within its walls. Others, it seems, never leave.

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