In my twenties, Chris Reid the poet and my ex-flatmate went to work for Claire Tomalin as carer to her son, and this meant that some of us spent a lot of time hanging out in her house with her and her partner Michael Frayn. Later on, when I first transitioned, Claire gave me the odd bit of reviewing doing short notices on the Sunday Times - she wasn't my editor, and that was Julian Barnes, who went on using me because he liked my work, and liked that I could make a hundred word capsule mean something, a skill I learned then and have always kept.
Over the years, Claire and Michael have become people I occasionally exchange vague pleasantries with at parties - not really conversations. The other week, I found myself talking to Michael at greater length because he asked me what the music playing was, and I went into an explanation of how most of the music we were hearing was traditional tango, and some of it was new tango and this particular bit was music in tango style but not actually Argentinian. He was actually interested, and impressed that I knew a bit about this, and it was one of those moments when I feel like a grown up finally.
Then Claire arrived and we smiled and I moved on, and went to listen to the band. Years ago, I first got interested in tango music because of the dance in that not very good film True Lies and got to know a lot of the music in the course of tracking down 'Por Una Cabeza' by Carlos Gardel, which is what that was. They were playing it and noticed that I was standing close to them and loving it, and they asked me about it, and I said 'Por Una Cabeza' had always been my favourite Gardel tango, and so they played it again.
2. I will be posting, in due course, about the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival which I am covering for the TLS this year. This evening, I saw a pleasant little documentary called Lulu Gets A Face Lift which is all about how a fifty-something drag entertainer gets a face lift, no suprises there. Lulu is from Chicago, went to San Francisco and was in the Angels of Light (spin off from the Cockettes, long story); my ex-flatmate Susannah was also from Chicago and was also in the Angels of Light. (Also, I helped organize the archive on both Angels and Cockettes in the San Francisco LGBT archive.) So I wander up afterwards and ask if he remembers Susannah and he goes 'Omigod! how is she?' and I tell him she is living in London still and renovating garden follies. And he is still looking interested/concerned so I start to tell the story about how we had to leave Chicago ahead of a hit. He goes 'I know that story' and we swap bits of it, and I explain about how she got to live here - another long story. Oh OK, her ex lost a fight with her and put out for his boss who had Mob connections and so we got on a plane, not that long a story.
And Lulu remembered Panama, whom I met. Panama was this transwoman uberwhore about whom everyone told stories.
Bits from my novel:
1.' No, one day Mexica was sitting in this hotel bar in Miami where they do tres ornamental Margaritas. She doesn't drink, you understand, she feels she owes that to the memory of Alhambra. But she does think the right full glass can be an attractive accessory. Some PR fag across the room made a Remark. La Divina is awfully sensitive, when people bitch at her in Spanish- maybe she doesn't understand the rest of the time. I always meant to get a phrasebook. Anyway, what he said was something about her eyebrows. So she stuffed her ice down his ascot and squeezed her lime all over his moustache and she said "OK, maricon" and she walked right out of that bar. And when she went back in there the next time, she had had them electrolysed out and the most perfect bow arches you ever saw tattooed in. It was the principle of the thing.'
2.' Mexica showed them that time, you see, hon. She had those teeth, right, with the points, And they could do real delicate work, they really could. One guy had her blow him, and then busted her. And she offered him seconds to beat the bust, and he took them , and the bust stood afterwards. smart bastard. In the night court, though, she had them drop his pants, and she had put these hickeys all over his balls, so she got him for entrapment. His friends got her a few nights alter, and slapped her around, but IAD had found her real cooperative. She knew a lot. And she got them too. After that, they let her alone, round here. And that's how she got the diamond put in; they broke the original cap, you see.'
3. 'When Mexica was out on the Coast,' Tiffany started up again, since noone had been saying anything of interest to her,' to do that second album cover..'
'The one with the guitarist dressed up as a dinosaur, and all the piles of burning tyres ?'asked Alexandra.
'Yeah, and her being Fay Wray, which is pretty silly, if you ask me, when what you've got is some scrawny Chicana bitch with legs they had to unbow because of all the food they don't give them when they're little. When Mexica was out there, Rosalie-Ellen came calling. She went real respectable, business women' suit and the chauffeur car and only one of the dogs. She went to ask her a favour because she thought it would be real nice if Mexica came round her house to meet some of the young ones who hang out there, to give them some idea of what they should be working towards. Mexica reckoned that that wasn't at all the thing to do because she had better things to do with her time than prove to social inadequates how inimitable she is. Well, that was sort of what she said. Rosalie-Ellen took this tyre-iron out of her clutch bag and said that, if Mexica was going to be like that, she could reduce her skull a whole lot more. Mexica narrowed her eyes - she does that real well since she had the slants put in- and she laughed this real spooky little laugh and said that she didn't recognize that as any sort of reason to do anything she didn't want to. Rosalie-Ellen said that the way she said it was so like Callas doing 'Carmen sera toujours libre' that she was really greatly moved and came away quietly, even though Mexica did this whole evil 'Look at me, and then look at you; on the floor,doggie' sort of number and was really unnecessarily unpleasant. Normally, Rosalie-Ellen doe snot let people get away with doing that sort of thing, but the next day, there were these two pimps she had to have words with, and she broke their arms and legs, so she cheered up after that, and said she reckoned Mexica was in the hands of the Goddess. It was all a shame really, because Mexica and Rosalie-Ellen are both sort of magnificent in their way, and you'd have thought they'd get on.'
One time she had blown a taxidriver in order not to have to crack a fifty for the change and made him give her his cigarettes as well.
By the time I met her, she was a mess - the silicon dropped out of her ass into her ankles - but was still quite wonderful. The reason that novel is called 'Tiny Pieces of Skull' is that she had had her browbone shaved and everyone told exggerated stories about this.
So anyway, Lulu remembered Panama, who is twenty years or so dead. And I don't imagine any one else does except for Suze. Panama was on the cover of a Cars album and that is that.
So we hugged and went our ways, because apart from all that, there was not much to say.
Only this, Lulu said that he had wondered about the truth of the stories about why Susannah and I left Chicago and back some twenty or so years ago, I wrote this in Tiny Pieces of Skull: 'They locked the door and handed in the keys to the super. They got into Hennie's car and drove through the neon-lit dangerous streets to the station and they boarded the train, and they went away from cold Chicago silently and without arguing about it. You have to leave places sometimes; accepting loss goes with the territory.
For a week or two, people would ask after them, and why they'd gone. Johns would want to know. The story would get garbled; it always does. Sometimes it would have been Carlos and Mariella and Salvatore; sometimes Tiffany's parents, or Rosalie-Ellen; sometimes Smithers or Gunderson or something to do with mark and Randolph. One way or another, the messenger had come for them. The apartment was shut up and the fridge turned off.'
And that, it seems is pretty much how it was.
Like I say, time.