Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Sailors Fighting In The Dance Hall:  Original Illustration by Tom Of Finland

If he was a thrill ride, he’d have been more like The Space Shuttle than a roller coaster. Usually, people tell me I change their lives, but this time I felt like I met my match.  He came into my life like an earthquake—there was a brief, distant, muffled rumbling that quickly and without warning escalated in intensity to a life-changing string of events. There was no way to anticipate or prepare for this affair. Sometimes you need a milkshake: bland, smooth and easy to swallow, and other times you need an earthquake.  This one went off the Richter scale. Spring fever hit and there was no FEMA to clean up the mess. I fell like a ton of bricks, like every chimney that ever toppled, like the Hollywood sign sliding right off the face of Mount Wilson.  We took turns leading and following, but it was clear that neither of us really had control of the situation.

This all flashed through my mind as I looked at him lying in the gutter, bleached blonde hair soaked with blood, a large crimson puddle spreading out like a halo from beneath his head. 

The events leading up to this emergency had, day by the day, gotten completely out of hand. There were nights full of hallucinogenics and alcohol, spent riding around in other people’s limousines, getting thrown out of swank hotels, crawling on hands and knees through gardens reeking of faded Old Hollywood glamour.  There were daybreak scenes in stranger’s apartments, throwing anything that wasn’t nailed down out of twelfth story windows.  There were many  incidents of unexplained phenomena  surrounding us: electrical lights shattering, power outages, appliances melting, cars dying and my television set blowing up with a spectacular boom and clouds of smoke.

Sometimes it seemed as though we existed in a world of our own that was like a private joke, the rest of society around solely for the purpose of our amusement.  Other times it was as though we were entertainment for an audience that just watched and lived through us vicariously. We were both loud, excessive, theatrical exhibitionists. Each of us was addicted to make-up and piled it on; lush false eyelashes, cheap bon-bon pink lip-gloss, the works.  We invented pet names for each other—he called me “Sugar,” after one of Liz Taylor’s spoiled lap dogs, I called him “Sparkle” because he was shiny and elusive as stardust.

On one particular afternoon, we were planning on attending a benefit for the Tom Of Finland Foundation, a society dedicated to preserving erotic art in general, specializing in the paintings and drawings of Tom Of Finland, whose vintage hunky beefcake renderings of leather boys, construction workers, cops, and sailors canonized an exaggerated queer ideal of masculine beauty.  Realizing that the place would be crawling with rough trade, leather daddies and uniform fetishists – a virtual sea of black leather- Sparkle and I decided to be beacons of color—he attired head to toe in burnt orange, my outfit down to my fingernails a neon green.

We started early, watching Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, with pots of rouge scattered all over the floor, swigging Modelo Negro straight from the bottle, doing shots of Cuervo Gold, halving baby pink Mexican Valiums and popping them while our eyeliner dried.  While it was still light out, we took a taxi to the gig, which was already in full swing. Upon arrival, we were quite a few sheets to the wind, disobeying Leather Lifestyle Protocol. I got flogged at the mouth of the stage by deadly serious, shorn-skulled black man wielding a cat o’nine tails like a demented, testosterone-infused cheerleader.

“Round your back like an angry cat,” the guy kept instructing me, apparently unused to a slave who wouldn’t cooperate.  I quickly tired of the scenario because what was supposed to be a beating felt more like…a tickle.  Sparkle attracted quite a crowd, mock screaming and moaning dramatically, the whips snapping in a satisfying way against the vinyl hot pants he’d concealed under his sickening orange outfit. Not only were we the only people sporting colored clothing, I was one of maybe six or seven women (among hundreds of buffed out macho men) and Sparkle in his platform shoes towered a good head above the masses, definitely the only guy in drag, sporting a platinum wig and Audrey Hepburn mink cone hat, defiantly flaunting conservative fetish fashion.

Things only got worse while the band Extra Fancy played, when I offered the lead singer Brian Grillo my shot of tequila.  One taste and he spit most of it out, so as to continue singing.  The bassist expressed interest though, so I poured it down his throat while he grimaced, trying to swallow it.  A guy behind me pressed his face close to my ear and asked with a hint of disbelief in his voice,

“Did you just make those guys drink your piss?”

Sparkle and I barged ahead of a line of leather men in line for the ladies room to fix our lipstick and pee.

“HEY!” railed one disgruntled man in a Harley Davidson jacket, “This is the Ladies Room!”

He shot a withering glance at Sparkle and went on,

“That guy is not a lady!”

Progressing well beyond the point of civilized conduct, I got right in the man’s face and fairly screamed,


 At that moment, for some reason Sparkle felt the need to take another Valium, and fished it out of my Lancôme powder compact while we took turns pissing.

What happened after that is a blur.

 I do remember wandering in and out of various fetish rooms, watching a well-preserved and tanned fiftyish man getting his balls shaved; pinching the ass of a wanna-be Highway Patrolman who was giving a sailor a shoe-shine, accidentally knocking a drink out of the hand of a man who was wearing a black PVC hood.

At one point I lost Sparkle in the crowd, but he wasn’t hard to find: simply follow the tall orange streak weaving dangerously through the masses, or head in the direction of his deranged, banshee-wail laughter. When I caught up with him, he was disrupting an ultra-serious session between a meekly submissive models tied to a chair while a brutal-looking artist sketched him.  A quietly respectful crowd watched while Sparkle, oblivious to almost everything at this point, blundered right in and began talking in a slurred voice to the model (who may or may not have been gagged—memory doesn’t’ serve me well) while he fumbled for a cigarette.

Shortly after this, Sparkle sashayed into the hallway and quick as lightning grabbed a nightstick from a dress-up cop who wasn’t even on the ball enough to notice he’d been robbed.  Seizing the opportunity, I raced up to the “officer” and told him I saw who stole his billy club and would be willing to track down the culprit and make a citizen’s arrest… for the price of a beer.  The cop quickly complied—his nightstick in all probability being worth more than a bottle of brew.  After a long and drawn out goose-chase, I simultaneously played stool pigeon and ratted out my lover for a Corona with lime while trying to convince the cop to give me his L.A.P.D. K-9 Division pins. No dice.

Next thing I knew, Sparkle and I were getting a pair of matching Tom of Finland temporary tattoos on our asses.  Pants around his ankles, Sparkle once again delighted the more than appreciative crowd by falling onto all fours while the tattoo was being applied.  I promptly dropped the beer the kind officer had bought me, causing foam to spray everywhere, while Sparkle made it onto a couch, sinking all-too-comfortably into fetal position.

Ever practical, I began to make transportation arrangements to get to Club Sucker which, judging from the appearance of those who were going, would probably prove to be more of a mess than this event was rapidly becoming.  Somehow, I’m not sure exactly how, we wound up outside.

As the bands loaded their amps out and crowds milled on the sidewalk, Sparkle sat in the gutter as though he owned it, and without any kind of warning, began an inspired, impromptu impersonation of Linda Blair in The Exorcist, only instead of pea soup, the stuff he was projectile vomiting was nothing but bile, closely resembling radiator fluid.  In fact, it matched my outfit perfectly.  Oh yeah… we’d forgotten to eat!

No one seems to have seen exactly what happened, but suddenly Sparkle was face down in the gutter, lying in a puddle of his own blood that was so vividly red it looked like cheap poster paint.  I was jolted back into reality by a voice screaming for an ambulance.

 I began a quiet freak out of my own until I heard him mumble something to the effect of, “Noooo ambulance…. Noooo insurance…”

Barking orders and no doubt impressing the leather boys with my sudden dominatrix demeanor, I sobered up enough to demand towels and water and promptly got them, pressing them to Sparkle’s head to stop the flow of blood, which was quickly covering the entire right side of his face.  Apparently, as he’d fallen over, he’d gashed himself on the tailpipe of a motorcycle, a nasty wound but thankfully not too big or deep.  We got a ride back to my house with a guy neither of us knew really at all, a good Samaritan who didn’t seem to mind a huge, shit-faced, recently retching drag queen bleeding all over his truck.  After we began driving over the curbs and onto the sidewalks, I realized why- the driver was more fucked up than we were!

At my place, I lurched around like a Frankenstein’s Monster version of Florence Nightingale, looking for peroxide and cotton balls to clean the gash.  Thinking I was completely sober and efficient, I walked smack into a doorframe and gave myself a huge bruise right in the middle of my forehead.

Around five in the morning, Sparkle woke me out of a sound sleep, his former cheerful and frighteningly sober personality magically restored.

“You’ve got to fill me in on details!” he said, all chipper, as I fought my way up through the depths of my own drug-addled unconscious.

As I retold the afternoon’s events, sparkle laughed and laughed.
You know that Earthquake Weather, where all of L.A. is arid and still except for those intense Santa Ana winds?  Devil Winds, some people call them, they say the Santa Ana winds can dive you crazy.  They’ve been blowing like mad this year; it’s been a strange and unusually warm spring.  Meteorologists and geologists say there’s no such thing as Earthquake Weather, that it doesn’t exist, but I can’t agree.  It’s like the calm before the storm, a deadly still, arid silence before everything gets shook up.

You can’t just dance recklessly around the city without losing your balance sometimes.  Standing in a doorway wasn’t going to save my ass this time.  Even though FEMA won’t be here to survey the wreckage when it’s over, this has been a beautiful disaster, and I had to give myself over completely.

After all, it wasn’t my fault.

The story you’ve just read is from my memoir,  Escape From Houdini Mountain (Manic D Press, 2000) available in paperback and Kindle here:
My latest memoir, Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road (Punk Hostage Press, 2013) is available here:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Lon Chaney in 1925 as The Phantom Of The Opera
  I was an odd child.

Most of the memories I have of growing up-and there are many- do not reflect the average 1960’s childhood. The things I’m about to describe were never covered in Doctor Spock’s Baby And Child Care. Nowadays, I’d probably be hauled in posthaste to see a pediatric psychologist.  But because I was the first born, my mother might’ve even assumed that my behavior was normal.

 One of my earliest memories is of a game called Dummy, which I actually forced my mother to play over and over when I was four years old.  She went along with it quite patiently…even though I made her repeat this specific scenario dozens of times, throwing tantrums if she didn’t go along with me, or if she got the sequence wrong. I was obsessed with statues and department store mannequins, desperately wanting to become one, and my little game revolved around that fantasy.

I’m not sure how this fetish began, but I recall being absolutely fascinated with Greek and Roman statues, which I stared at for hours in the over-sized art books that filled the shelves of our house.  I knew the statues were old- that was explained to me- but many of the questions racing through my mind went unanswered, for instance: why didn’t the statues have eyes and eyelashes?  Their eyes were blank, they didn’t even have eyeballs or irises…did people look like that back then? Why were most of them naked except for fig leaves?  How come the statue men wore dresses? Why did some of them have horns or animal heads? I didn’t understand why many of them were missing arms and legs; it disturbed me to no end and gave me nightmares on a regular basis. Why would somebody make a crippled, mutilated statue? It seemed sick.    

I finally worked up the courage to ask –as casually as possible so as not to appear as terrified as I was- about the severed limbs on these stone people.  My mother patiently explained that because the statues were so ancient, they’d been buried under rubble for centuries before they’d been discovered.  It seemed plausible. But that still didn’t explain the many statues that were just a lone torso with no head or limbs. That really scared me, especially when the explanation was just that the torso was “an anatomical study”.  It made no sense whatsoever.  I became fixated. I was so fascinated with turning into a torso that I’d   fold my legs up under myself Indian style, clasp my hands behind my back so that my shoulders looked like stumps, close my eyes tightly (pretending I had no face or head) and hoist myself up onto my knees, hopping my way around my room at night on my knees until they were bruised and bloody.

 Finally, I came to the conclusion that store mannequins were a modern version of statues… but with all limbs intact and with clothes. I decided that I wanted to be a mannequin instead of a statue or torso…it just seemed like a more practical choice, I could actually have arms, legs and a head. I’s study the mannequin’s stances and pose alongside them on their display platforms whenever we went to Best  & Company or Lord & Taylor’s in New York City, as well as to our tiny local department store, Hickman’s. When that wasn’t enough to nourish my imagination, I brought this insanity home, deciding I needed to be a mannequin come to life…so I coerced my mother into being the Mannequin Manufacturer, and I was the Dummy, waiting to be formed.

 I’d give my mother explicit instructions, getting exasperated if she didn’t do things correctly, just the way I wanted them done. As the game began, I’d curl up on the couch, my eyes and lips scrunched closed and tight. It was Mom’s job to paint my face on, starting with the eyebrows. When she painted my eyes, they would open as if by magic and when she painted my lips, I could (finally) move my mouth.  I recall her doing this extremely carefully and being very sincere in her efforts. Once my face was painted on, it was Mom’s job to pose me.  She had to drag me off the couch and stand me on the floor, slumped over limply cause I wasn’t positioned yet. I made her bend my limbs into the exact poses I had seen at Hickman’s.  They had to be very specific and mannequin-like.  My feet had to be placed as though they were bolted to a platform and I’d tilt my head, staring blankly off into space. I remember all of this in exact detail, like it was yesterday. Who knows why my mother went along with this, but she did. She was probably frightened not to.

 As my siblings and I grew older, another game we used to play- and of course roped the entire neighborhood into playing- was Different Country, which was a catchall term for whatever place we wanted to pretend we were from on any given day. I don’t think we ever used real countries, but we’d figure out our “customs and traditions” and babble to each other incessantly in a made-up foreign language. Often, the Different Country scenario involved being evacuated from some horrible natural disaster or wartime coup de tat and we’d frequently pretend to be refugees. The emergency aspect came into play more frequently when we moved our base of operations to the roof of Sandy and Michael MacDermott’s garage, where we played “Hurricane” and “Ship Wreck”. With me as the director, all the neighborhood kids would gather on the roof to “weather the storm”. My brother Charlie would yell lustily, “ We’ll all be killed!” at least every five minutes.

But even the natural disasters didn’t prepare Mom for what was yet to come. The Gehman kids got the entire neighborhood into playing Cops And Robbers, but since it was the 1960’s, we called it “Pigs And Pushers”. Charlie, our twin sisters and I were always the bad guys, and reveled in playing all the real people from the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, like members of the Black Panthers, The SLA and The Weathermen. I particularly liked to be Bernadine Dorne. We had Walkie Talkies from Radio Shack, and used them to evade the Pigs. As fully prepared criminals, when the Pigs shot us we’d never die, claiming we were wearing bulletproof vests.

 When Pigs And Pushers got old, Concentration Camp took its place.  Obviously inspired by Hogan’s Heroes, Concentration Camp mostly consisted of the Gehmans tying up various victims in the junk yard across the street from our house, and force-feeding them concoctions made of Jell-O, mayonnaise, grass clippings, dirt, Ajax and the powdered drink mix Tang. That none of the prisoners ever really got sick was a miracle!

Speaking of miracles, after seeing The Miracle Worker, Helen Keller became my new obsession and I soon turned it into everyone else’s. Of course, whenever we played The Miracle Worker, I got to be Helen. With her head tilted and face upturned, Helen felt way around the house, and when she didn’t get her way, she’d fight violently with Anne Sullivan.

 One night while Mom was serving dinner, Helen started walking around the dinner table, serving herself by swiping her hands across the other diner’s plates and smearing the food haphazardly across her mouth, dribbling it everywhere and grunting incoherently, just like Patti Duke did in the movie.
Scene from The Miracle Worker, 1962
 “Pleasant, stop it!” my mother admonished, cigarette dangling as she dished up her signature chili and elbow macaroni.

 She didn’t even have to turn around to know what was going on because it happened all too frequently. Helen continued feeding herself while Charlie and the twins, playing the other members of the Keller household, merely slapped Helen’s hand away, until Mom couldn’t stand it anymore.

 “Sit down right now…” she warned.

 When Helen didn’t stop, Mom grabbed her by the hand and tried to force her into her seat. This drastic move-my mother assuming the role of Annie Sullivan- resulted in Helen throwing herself to the floor in a massive meltdown, exactly as the film depicted, clutching the leg of the table kicking, screaming and drumming on the linoleum with her heels, wailing incoherently at the top of her lungs.

“I SAID STOP IT!” Mom exploded, finally at the end of her rope.

Watching from their booster seats, the twins raised their eyebrows in unison. Little Meg turned to regard our mother patiently, as though she was really slow, and then explained in an almost lackadaisical voice,

“Mom?  Helen can’t hear you!”

 Helen Keller was merely an introduction to the truly psychotic game that dominated our Gehman childhood… and I’m sure it haunts our mother to this day. The origins of this game, which was never known as anything other than the names of it’s main characters, Ment and Steffenson- are a bit unclear, but appears to have developed out of a couple of the unlikely role models Charlie and I had. Charlie was extremely taken with Hugh Heffner and Howard Hughes. He aspired to their high level of jet set executive glamour. The fact that both millionaires seemed to spend most of their time in their bathrobes didn’t faze Charlie, it heightened his admiration. While he was reading Playboy and buying minuscule shares of stocks with the money he’d saved from his paper route, I was devouring monster magazines. I was preoccupied with horror films and classic movie monsters, particularly infatuated with the Phantom of The Opera.  I’d mug in the mirror, spending hours trying to replicate his bulging eyes, cock-eyed mouth and drooling speech.

 Somehow, Charlie and I turned our respective crushes into Ment and Steffenson. The game-which provided years of gleeful mayhem- had a very loosely organized plotline.  Charlie became Steffenson, a billionaire exec who owned a Magic Flying Armchair.  Evidently, Steffenson had become disenchanted with the lack of decent household help on Earth, so he piloted his Magic Armchair off to the distant planet of Horrorlandia, hoping to export a decent alien butler who could be trained to suit his wishes. Unfortunately, Steffenson returned with Ment, an outer space horror monster that was mentally retarded. 

Slurping and slobbering non-stop, Ment was a docile, happy creature that was eager to please Steffenson, and sincerely wanted to take on the duties of a butler, but because of his severely limited intellect, was absolutely incapable of it. Aside from having the looks of the Phantom Of The Opera, Ment’s personality was strictly Bugs Bunny meets The Marx Brothers. Everything on Earth befuddled Ment; he could never remember how to answer a ringing phone no matter how many times he’d been reminded. Growing agitated, he’d pick up every object in sight, screaming “HELLLOOOO” into it. This resulted in fits of growling and salivating while, not unlike Helen Keller, he’d pound his fists on the floor in pure frustration.

“ Now, Ment,” Steffenson sighed in a patronizing way as he tried to explain the way a telephone worked.

 Ment snuffled and groveled, begging not to be sent home.

Steffenson soon became exasperated at Ment’s bungling ways, blasting off in his Magic Armchair back to Horrorlandia, where he picked up three more monsters. These were Ment’s cousins, who’d apparently been trained from birth to be butlers. Their names were Chimes The Lime, Chimes The Lemon, and Chimes The One Hundreth.  A little more together than Ment, all three of them -saluted Steffenson military style every time he barked an order… but never quite succeeded in fulfilling the task Steffenson had in mind. The supporting roles of the Chimes Trio were usually awarded to whoever was available, or sometimes all four horror monsters were played by one person, usually me.

Of all the childhood games we played, Ment and Steffenson somehow became such an integral part of our lives that more than forty years later, if one of the Gehman siblings calls another out of the blue, we’ll both automatically lapse into Ment or Steffenson’s voices. Many family members and close friends even leave public social media messages to each other using the Ment and Steffenson identities. Through the years, most of our previous room mates or significant others have also become hopelessly involved with the game.  Once while examining my face in the fluorescent-lit bathroom of a trans-continental flight, I was dismayed to discover a new wrinkle. It was a faint horizontal line on my chin, running just under the right corner of my bottom lip.  I started for a few moments wondering how it got there, and then suddenly the light bulb went off in my head.

It was Ment’s fault.

Years ago, when my brother first introduced me to his fiancée, he beamed with pride, stating that she had something to show me.
Suddenly, the gorgeous, willowy blonde who only moments earlier been so soignee and elegant began slobbering, her mouth twisted in a sideways Phantom Of The Opera grimace before she dramatically threw herself down on the floor, clutching her future husband’s leg, begging not to be sent home to Horrorlandia.

In retrospect, it’s a miracle that our mother – or any of us kids-ever survived our childhood.


 If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more,  you can get a signed copy of  my memoir “Showgirl Confidential” (2013,Punk Hostage Press) here:

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Anti Club calendar, 1985: art bands,  also-rans, poetry readings, The Minutemen, Mark Pauline of Survival Research Laboratories, and Psi Com, which was  Perry Farrell's pre-Jane's Addiction band

(Written with Iris Berry at Disgraceland,3:30 a.m. 2/10/89)

Helen, the proprietor of The Anti-Club
has been around since Day One of punk
She’s The Club Owner That Time Forgot
stuck in a land of acrylic sweaters, J.C. Penney’s bras
and seventeen-year-olds smuggling vodka into the men’s john

If you lifted up the tips of her bleached-blond pixie-cut
you’d probably see Black Flag bars tattooed across her matron’s hump
and “Search And Destroy” in Gothic letters just below her midriff bulge

She’s the only one that could ever get away with
charging a performer who wasn’t even getting paid
twenty-five cents for a cup of water…
Nobody playing there gets guest-list privileges, either

Helen has no interest in music, art, poetry or culture in any form
 unless, of course, it has to do with making money
or her daughter, a former disco-singer
 who is now an actress in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Yet Helen will die with the place

Helen’s idea of Hell would be
twelve performance artists showing up
with various vats of unidentifiable substances
two country and western bands with drunk lead vocalists
and an all-girl politically correct San Francisco art band
who, for an encore, insist on simultaneously showing their tits

Helen’s been living her own personal Hell every night for the past ten years
…with no end in sight


If you’ve enjoyed this post and would like to read of my memoirs from the 1980’s punk scene and beyond,  my latest book “Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road”( Punk Hostage Press) is available here: