|The Screamin' Sirens|
Since the age of four, all I ever wanted to be was the Flamenco dance on the inside of the Muriel Cigar box. She was beautiful: long auburn 1940s hair, a tight black corset, yards and yards of tulle and black lace mantillas. The moment I was old enough to defy my mother, the Flamenco dancer kicked her way out of me in flying skirts, fishnet stockings and gypsy hoop earrings. I even died my hair a brassy shade of red, which the hookers in my old New York neighborhood referred to as “Puerto Rican Blonde”. Everyone spoke Spanish to me – even the lady at the DMV handed me the Spanish test without asking. But the only thing I knew how to say was “si”, so I got into a lot of close calls in Spanish Harlem, which was where I
After moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1970’s, I discovered the legendary El Coyote. The restaurant was a Hollywood landmark that had opened in 1931, and over the years had hosted famous diners such as John Wayne, Princess Grace Of Monaco, Loretta Young, and Ricardo Montalban. I discovered El Coyote while reading about the Tate-La Bianca murders…apparently Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring had their last meal there! I decided I had to try it, and walked into an amazing den of lurid black velvet paintings flanked by brightly colored crepe paper flowers, seashell-trimmed mirrors, and chandeliers encrusted with glass grapes…it looked like a Tijuana brothel in the late 1950’s, and I was hooked!
The aging hostess and all the waitresses wore flowers in their hair and voluminous ballet folklorico dresses, their layers of petticoats swishing as they delivered trays of the strongest margaritas in town to eagerly patrons. The running joke was that after a double margarita, you’d never notice that the tostadas were covered with canned string beans and rancid Thousand Island dressing; after two of them, you’d never notice that your prince was a frog! El Coyote was full of broke artists, has-been B-Movie stars, elderly couples, and punks. My friends and I immediately became regulars, joking that the “secret ingredient” in the margaritas must’ve been Qualuudes- they were that strong.
|In full Sirens drag,wearing my Adelita t-shirt|
When I started my all-girl punkabilly band The Screamin’ Sirens, our every day look was saloon girl corsets with leather and denim biker jackets , studded belts worn over over gay, rick-rack trimmed square dancing skirts or voluminous Mexican skirts, all topped off with a thrift store kid’s cowboy hat ....or a sombrero. The effect was punky huera version of La Adelita, the symbol of the Mexican Revolution. We were so into the La Adelita image, we even called our first album, released in 1984, "Fiesta!".
At El Coyote, any time I got up to go staggering to the Ladies Room after my second or third margarita, patrons would wave me over, yelling their drink orders to me. I was always mistaken for being a cocktail waitress.
Finally, this became my own personal last straw, and I decided at that point to – what the hell? – celebrate the whole California Girl thing and go blonde. My hairdresser sympathized with me as I told her about the perils of being a cigar-box Flamenco dancer incarnate. Three excruciating bleaches later, I was an all-American, Malibu Barbie platinum blonde.
“There!” I cried triumphantly,
“No more El Coyote waitress or Carmen Miranda for me! No more Lupe Velez! Good-by Rita Moreno, Delores Del Rio! Adios, Chita Rivera! No one will ever think I’m a Latina again.”
Just outside the salon door, a shrunken old woman with large earrings, Aztec cheekbones and a mouth full of gold teeth confronted me.
“You just get your hair done?” she asked.
“Oooooh,” she signed, breaking into a smile,
“Aaay, you look so beautiful… just like Charro!”
The story you’ve just read is from my first book “Senorita Sin”, which is currently out of print…though copies of it show up frequently on Amazon and eBay.
My latest book, “Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road, is available here: