Two nights ago, I went alone to a screening of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. I don't mind doing things alone, but two nights in a row? After the headache-inducing Holmes, and like a jealous, Watson-less Holmes, I had a date with myself for A John Waters Christmas at the B.B. Blues Club and Grill on West 42nd here in Manhattan, just a few blocks from where I live and an even fewer from where I work. This kind of thing would have been unimaginably posh-sounding to me back when I was a teen in Flushing, Michigan, discovering Waters's films on VHS and feeling like I was the only person in the state who "got" them.
Fun as it might have been, it was still going alone to an event three days before the end of my tenure as a 40-year-old. (Half empty v. half full.)
Fag in a black leather jacket (plus John Waters).
I'd splurged on a VIP ticket, which promised a meet-and-greet as well as premium seating. The last time I tried this, I got to meet and had a pleasant exchange with the Pet Shop Boys, but was denied a photo. Kathy Griffin's monstrous handler had also denied me a photo, so I was not looking forward to a third smack-down. I decided I'd not take no for an answer.
Got to the place at 6:10 (doors were at 6, show was at 8) and ate, alone, at the end of one of the VIP tables. I could have sat directly at the stage, but there really is such a thing as too close. As people arrived, I used my the outgoing nature I hold in reserve (my parents can talk to anyone at any time) to see if anyone knew what was what about the meet-and-greet, but all we knew was it was after (lame, considering he had an 11 show to do). I drowned my nerves with a chopped salad and mac and cheese (still no animals...it's been close to three weeks).
My table companions turned out to be friendly and chatty, though the one guy, Will, was a little too dead-on regarding my feelings about Waters—he talked about how Waters used to be cool but his movies went way downhill. I have to agree, except he didn't like Hairspray, which I think was brilliant even if it was also the film that seemed to have shaken Waters from his foundations forever. So why go see Waters and pay to meet him (basically) if I hadn't even seen any of his movies since Serial Mom (which I really thought sucked)? I think there needs to be a new word for someone whose work you once loved beyond all reason and for whom you continue to have fond feelings in spite of a measurable loss of appreciation for their recent creative output. Cue Madonna remarks, but Madonna's not there for me yet, not by a longshot.
(I noticed a man who I thought was John "Lypsinka" Epperson at the table next to mine and toyed with the idea of buying him his martini or otherwise saying hi. Something held me back from doing so, then when he walked past me later and I said, "You're John, right?" he tipsily and coyly fired back, "John WHO?" as his companion tugged him away. I was either wrong or he apparently isn't into being recognized out of drag. Thank God I didn't want a picture with him or he would have been my Strike Three!)
Waters started promptly, strolling onstage in a garish orange suit. He's so tall and physically solid, not the beanpole his image tends to project. At 63, he looks, well, exactly like John Waters should look! Kind of timeless. I was remembering an arch-arch-conservative I knew at the University of Chicago who loved him, and how much she physically resembled him. Does she still look like him today? Because he does.
Right away he chastised someone for taking flashless pictures, and I was so close I realized I'd have to wait until the very end to dare taking anything, even discreet iPhone video. I sure hoped it wasn't a sign of things not to come, but I still got some video:
His act was not completely satisfying for me, to be honest. He rattled off monologue a mile a minute, which tended to kill any concept of comic timing. This would have helped because, and I didn't expect this, his act was actually stand-up. He definitely told some fun, if brief, stories about making movies with Divine and Edith Massey, but he also did a lot of straight up jokes.
Topics he tangled with included marriage equality (he lamented that so many gays want to be suburban, but then fretted that we're losing on this issue for no good reason, suggesting gays picket black and Latino churches to give FOX News palpitations), dating (hitchhiking in Baltimore is still common and daytime sex is one positive side effect), his doubtful future in filmmaking (he seems resigned that nobody will greenlight Hairspray 2: White Lipstick considering he envisions Link's pimples singing to him on an acid trip) and his funniest, inappropriate gift cards (plastic surgery, Lasik and also one to African orphanages, the latter of which led to a remark that he's not sure why people are up in arms about Madonna adopting because "in my opinion, that kid just won the lottery!"). He also affirmed his support for abortion—"I want to be the first man to have one!"—saying he wants to drive by pro-life protests and shout, "Mind your own business, impregnators!" at the old men with signs.
He also talked a lot about Christmas, coming down hard against re-gifting and gleefully bragging about some of the amazing, one-of-a-kind oddities he's been sent by fans and friends.
He was at his best in off-the-cuff moments.
The parts that cracked me up the most were his readings of famous lines from his own films, but mainly because they largely consist of salt-of-the-earth passion mixed with an absence of vocabulary. For example, just as Divine once spat in a Waters flick, he seethed to his parents, "I didn't do one thing!" when they caught him charging thousands of dollars' worth of Christmas decorations. Then there was the time a woman threw Waters by walking up to him and growling, "I'm glad I had an abortion!", a line from one of his movies that he'd temporarily forgotten. Waters is still so funny when he's observing the culture of the blue-collar people of his home town, which is why my fantasy next John Waters film would be The Filthiest Person Alive: The John Waters Story, a highly exaggerated version of his own life story.
What's most surprising about Waters is that in spite of the depths of perversity he's lampooned and in some cases merely filmed in his hilarious early work, and in spite of his beyond eccentric obsessions (books with the word "chicken" in the title, for example), he comes across as completely nice, friendly and without any pretensions. He's so normal you'd have a hard time convincing the uninitiated that this is the guy who did the movie that showed a drag queen scarfing down dog shit.
After about an hour of his shtick, Waters asked for the house lights to come up so he could take questions. I thought I should ask him to do his Tarzan yell, then thought I should ask what he makes of some black reviewers likening Precious to his work in a negative way, but what I really wanted to ask him was a sex question. He'd joked about the lowest-class way to say you want sex is to say you hope to "get some pelt," so I wanted to ask him, "What's the most famous pelt you ever got...or got close to getting?" I figured he'd never tell me but it would set him up nicely for a funny reply. Instead, my question was interrupted by a dude in the back who asked a horrible question about "raping an eight-year-old retard." Waters, taken aback, said he wasn't in favor of rape and couldn't help the guy. So when it came back to me, I said, "That was my question!" and everyone laughed, which was a nice feeling.
My actual question was the sanitized, "Have you ever had a disillusioning encounter with a celebrity or an idol of yours?" His reply was that when he met Little Richard, they got into an argument. For some reason, this struck me as hilarious—to meet an idol of yours and to "argue." He wrapped up by saying, "It's maybe not good to meet people you idolize."
An auspicious message just before a meet-and-greet!
He closed and we lined up along the bar. The meet-and-greet was not organized, unfortch, so we were being told to just walk up to him because it wasn't a line. It was like, "Um, no, it IS a line." We all wanted to see him one-on-one, however briefly, for an autograph and picture. Otherwise, it ain't a meet-and-greet, it's a cocktail party!
I had to entrust my camera to a cute guy behind me while the promoter was rushing me along. I had Waters, who was as friendly in person as onstage, sign my copy of his brill book Director's Cut and then he asked for a chair so we could do the seated pic-with. It was all so harried I kept thinking of Ralphie from A Christmas Story behind shoved down the slide! But overall, I was satisfied, and The Drunken Photographer even took a shot of me, albeit from the side. The side is not my best side.
I now have met and/or have photos with my biggest teen idols—Pet Shop Boys, Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry and John Waters. The only one missing is Madonna, but I think her continued relevance is standing in my way. It's just too hard to get close when too many others want to as well. But I will get her just as surely as Dawn Davenport got her G.D. cha-cha heels. (Oh, wait, she never got them.)