My new friend introduced herself to me as Crisis. (I later found out her stage name was International Chrysis, and that she’d had a good deal of success as a performer.) She took me to the ladies room, where there was an awful lot going on. She was right: I was probably the only born female in the club. A crowd of beautiful women checking hair and makeup jockeyed for space in front of the mirror – that was normal enough. What was different was the conversation, all about how to tape down your penis so there’d be no tell-tale bulge, how to get rid of face and body hair, conceal the Adam’s apple, disguise the voice. I learned about the best electrologists in town and where to go if you wanted a really good wig. Here I was able to contribute because Franyo and I had recently made an investigative wig-buying trip to Borough Park, Brooklyn, home to probably the largest Orthodox Jewish community outside Israel. “I’d travel to Paris for a wig,” said one of the ladies. “But Brooklyn?”
“Orthodox women have to cover their heads. We figured they’d have better wig shops than anyone else, and we were right.”
“You have to be Jewish to go there?” asked another lady.
My friendship with Hervé continued over the next few years. He was a kind, funny, generous man and I truly enjoyed his company. The fact that he kept the liquor flowing may also have been part of the attraction. He’d host big dinners in fabulous restaurants, and invite me and friends out to clubs. “Now girls,” he’d say in advance. “I’m sending my car for you, so wear your limousine shoes.” He had a black Lincoln town car and driver at his disposal. I’d bring my college roommate Annie, who was a fashionista and loved the drag queen scene – Crisis, majestic in a clingy gown with a plunging neckline and diamonds at her throat, belting it out in front of the mic.
Every so often I’d visit Hervé at his penthouse in the village, a vast, luxurious space with views all over the city, where something was always happening – a party with guests of different, transitioning genders, interesting conversation, lots of booze. Women with muscular legs in stilettos leaned over lines of coke while waiters ran around with trays of hors d’oeuvres and champagne. For me, Hervé was like a wonderful uncle who took me under his wing and opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t known existed. We never discussed his fascination with drag queens: that corner of his soul was personal, off limits. But if I had a problem, was short of cash, depressed, anxious, lonely, Hervé was there, at my door with a bottle of really good wine tucked under his arm and a big, encouraging smile. I loved him for that, of course. But what endeared him to me most was that, by an accident of synchronicity, we got sober at the same time and that was when his kindness shone brightest.
But I’ll save that story and the glint of true romance that accompanies it, for another day. What I want to tell you about next has to do with a rare insight into my mother, Franyo, when she saw her much-maligned brother for the last time.
**An episode from this memoir is published every Tuesday & Thursday for those following!
**Need to start at the beginning? Find Part 1 here!