I’ve got Pride

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When I was a little girl, we rented out a room in our large Haight-Ashbury flat to generate extra income. It was always rented to a young gay man, probably because my mum, a single parent, felt it was the safest & most sensible option. Their room was right next to mine in the front of the house & included a sitting room that we called the “library” because it had floor to ceiling bookcases, big puffy pillows on the floor & comfy nooks to settle in for reading or taking a nap. It was a common area in the house, but was mainly for our renter’s use, though I could often be found perched on the big overstuffed chair, peering out the window to observe the view of the always entertaining corner of Haight & Ashbury Streets.

If I wasn’t day dreaming, I had my nose buried in a book, such is the life of an only child in a household with no TV. Inevitably, our housemate would slide open the French doors that divided their room to the library & slowly, gently, tenderly, carefully, our friendship would unfold.

The men who lived with us all referred to themselves as my “fairy god-fathers” – their term; not mine. As a child, I didn’t understand the tongue in cheek we’re-taking-our-power-back meaning. Once I did, I both grimaced & grinned.

We had about five young men live with us over the years. This was in the late 70’s – early 80’s, before gay people could easily adopt kids or were even really allowed to think, dream about becoming parents in some cases. I was the only child in their circle of friends & was often invited to tag along to their ever so glamorous soirées, Oscar parties, holiday fetes & any other over the top event that might just really be a Tuesday night but always seemed like so much more to me. These outings gave my mum nights off from mum-ing & me, adventures to be fondly remembered decades later.

I often found myself sitting crossed leg in the middle of one of their friend’s exquisitely decorated antique filled living rooms in the Castro district on a priceless oriental rug, beading necklaces or playing with antique paper dolls (theirs, not mine), Judy blasting in the background, watching a group of lively young men gossip & flirt & dance & share stories about their hopes, dreams & fears.

I heard them talk about how they had escaped to SF from places like Iowa, Kentucky, Texas, so that they could live & love freely. They had all been disowned by their families for being gay. They had to create their own families & I was privileged to play the role of the little sister, niece, cousin they had to leave behind or, on an even deeper level, the child they never believed they would ever be able to have. It was from them that I learned my lifelong mantra: friends are the family we choose for ourselves. And love is love. Sorry Lin, but they said it first.

Of course, I was much too young to really understand the implications of all of this, but what I did know was that I felt so grown up & cherished in their presence. I knew there was something special about these men; to me they were worldly & fancy & sparkly & they knew a little something about everything. And most importantly, they taught me what they knew.

From them, I learned about music & fashion & art & literature & Broadway & why black & white movies of the 40’s were the best movies & that you must always bake with butter, never margarine & that cookie dough is calorie free & the power of the LBD & that one must always dress up when going downtown & the difference between Barbra Streisand & Barbara Stanwick; Bette Davis & Bette Midler; Oscar the Grouch & THE Oscars & the importance of wearing sunglasses, even in the fog, to prevent wrinkles, darling.

They were men of great style, class, elegance, intellect, wit, charm, creativity, beauty & fun. They were incredibly cultured & had exquisite taste. My memories of my time with them run deep:

Going to the “Nutcracker” every Christmas Eve.

Having high tea at Liberty House.

Lip syncing & dancing to the Andrew Sisters “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. I know all the words, still, to this day.

Taking in the Christmas decorations downtown at Macy’s & I.Magnin’s  & ending the day with a cable car ride to Ghirardelli Square for hot chocolate with extra cherries & whipped cream.

Lengthy sermons on the essential need for dust ruffles & monogrammed stationery & silk dressing gowns.

To a young child, these experiences leave a mark; a permanent mark of rainbow colored glitter sprinkled on her soul.

To my child’s eye, mind & heart, these men were magical. They were my playmates; the most delightful big brothers to a shy, often sad & lonely little girl. They were fun & silly & played dress up & Always let me be Cher to their Sonny. A major sacrifice on their part, to be sure!

They told me I was a glittering gem & that I was “fabulous” & they meant it in a REAL way, not a “hey girl hey” way, tho we had those moments too. They treated me with respect. They didn’t patronize or pander to me. They expected me to keep up my end of the conversation, regardless of the topic or my lack of knowledge about it. Local politics or Best Dressed at the Oscars; my opinion mattered to them. They didn’t baby me. They treated me like an equal. But that didn’t mean that they didn’t spoil & coddle me. They made me feel special & valued & respected. Perhaps because society didn’t offer them the same respect as gay men, they felt compelled to make sure I was always treated as a whole person. For a young girl of color, this went far in developing my sense of self & worth & pride in being who I was.

They also showered me with gifts, some that I still have to this day:

A beautiful hand-woven throw that made on an old-fashioned loom.

A hand beaded necklace with an antique tiny bell at its center. Too tiny now for my adult neck but still cherished.

A beautiful white cake stand from Tiffany’s; an odd gift for a 10-year-old girl, you might think, but as the gift giver said when he handed me the HUGE blue box, “Sweetie, if I’ve taught you nothing else, please remember this: the light blue box is always the BEST box!”

I still have those treasures, but I no longer have my fairy god-fathers.

They all eventually succumbed to HIV/AIDS. They were all in long-term relationships. Their partners died too. By the early 90’s they were all gone.

These men were the first & most prominent adult male figures in my young life; in truth, the only father figures I had growing up. I know for a fact that it is because of my time with them that I am the person, the woman, the friend, the activist, I am today.

They didn’t live to see the many strides & advances that the LGBTQ community has made. If they were still alive today, they would be at the front of the line continuing to fight the good fight for the strides still to be made.

But they aren’t, so I do it for them. It is the least I can do to honor their legacy & repay them for all they have given me.

My description of these men might seem almost disrespectful in its seemingly stereotypical depiction of gay men, but these were the men I knew, as I knew them, when I knew them. This was who they were, at a time when the gay community in SF was thriving & carefree; when the pulse of the disco beat of the day seemed to ring in sync with the beat of the cultural awakening that was taking the world by gloriously gay rainbow storm on the streets of SF.

I am so lucky that I spent my formative years as their fairy goddaughter, wrapped up in the glow of this historical time. But my golden carriage turned into a pumpkin well before midnight of my young adulthood dawned and my fairy god-fathers vanished with it.

I am a better human being because I knew them. THIS, I know for sure. My fairy god-fathers may be gone, but their rainbow colored fairy dust flows in my veins forever. They had their Pride. And they gave me mine, too. xo Lulu

Peacefully Protesting While Pissed

Wednesday, November 9, 2016, 6pm…The day after.

The plan was to get home, put on some sweats, face plant into a vat of chocolate and have Anderson Cooper tell me it was all a bad dream.

But that’s not what happened.

I went to bed on Tuesday, November 8 in tears, my head aching, my heart broken, my spirit shattered. Donald Trump was President Elect. I simply could not believe it. COULD. NOT. BELIEVE. IT.

My devastation was not so much fear around what kind of President he would be (cause personally I think he’s more liberal than he’s led his followers to believe & cause half of what he’s told them he will do once in office simply can’t be done cause, ya know, The Constitution and stuff).

No, my angst was due to the damage already done because he ran a campaign based on fear, hate, sexism, racism, xenophobia and the notion that you can just “grab” whatever you want in life. And when the Republican nominee for the highest office waves those flags, it emboldens others to do the same.

I’m not naïve. I know there are people in this country who are bigots, homophobes and ignorant buffoons. But for the most part, they keep their sick, twisted thoughts to themselves. Trump’s antics emboldened them; gave them a perceived legitimacy to their rants and with that, the hoods came off. And that terrified me.

Of course not all of his supporters are racist, bigots. Many of them are good people. But here’s the thing: if you KNOW that he is endorsed by the KKK & you KNOW that he mocks the disabled, Latinos, war vets & you KNOW that he degrades & demeans women…and you STILL vote for him…you are cosigning on that behavior. Period.

So I cried. And woke up the next morning & burst out into tears before my feet even hit the floor. I cried as I listening to Hillary’s concession speech. I cried on my way to work. I cried all day at work. I was having trouble processing my emotions. I was gutted. And exhausted. Cause crying takes a LOT of energy…at least the way I do it.

So by the end of the day I just wanted to get home…so I could cry some more.

On the bus, listening to my music (lots of Marvin & Donny & Mavis & Sade), sort of zoned out. The bus stopped at a major intersection and we just sat there a bit longer than a normal red light would warrant. The driver announced, “Folks, looks like we aren’t going anywhere for a while. Traffic is blocked”. Lots of deep sighs and groans from my fellow passengers. I am sure I was the loudest.

We all filed off the bus & then we could see what was blocking us from getting home: thousands of people marching up Market Street. At first I thought, “Ok, cool. I’m glad they are protesting but I need to get home”. Then I heard the chants directed at us & all the others folks disembarking off of other buses in the area, “Join us! Join us!”.

And so I did.

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I’ve protested peacefully many, many times. As a San Francisco native it’s just sort part of your DNA that you take a stand & fight the power. So me joining this protest was not out of character. To be clear: I am only interested in peaceful protests. I’ve never been involved in anything other than that.

So in that moment, I headed straight for the marching crowd. And as I did, the folks in that area let out a huge cheer as it became clear that myself and several others from the bus, were joining them. I fell into line next to a few super adorable college age girls. They smiled & fist bumped me. “Yea! Right on!” they cheered. I looked them in the eye & said, “I need this. I really need to be with all of you. I am just so….” and then I burst out into tears, the emotions of the day and the moment and the movement overwhelming me. The girls wrapped me up in their arms, hugging me tight. “We know, we know” one of them said. And then we linked arms & kept on marching.

The crowd was about 3000+ strong. Totally peaceful. All ages (tho I would say most were aged 18-25, those glorious millennials who felt the Bern & showed up for Hillary in record numbers). There were families with children. There were people of every race. This being San Francisco, it was a crowd that represented every walk of life. The beautiful array of humanity that makes our city by the bay so vibrant and unique. And contrary to what Trump tweeted out, none of us got paid.

I think what struck me most was how every step of the way people joined us, people like me who came across the march by accident, on their way home from work, leaving the gym, walking the dog. People who had not PLANNED to march felt the surge of energy that summed up how they were feeling and it compelled them to take action. Every time they joined in, the crowd cheered, high fived, hugged them.

It was a spontaneous demonstration (no pun intended) of decency and compassion. There was NO violence. There was outrage and passion but it was controlled and focused and empowering.

At one point someone had a piñata in the form of Trump floating above the crowd. Someone yelled, “Get it!”. Someone else yelled, “Burn it”. But a huge roar of “No!!!” went up from many of us. We are NOT going to behave like that. Instead…and is was actually sort of funny…people were shaking their fists at it & just yelling “Boo!” in its direction. It was as if they needed a focal point upon which to address their rage. That little paper puppet got a lot of it!

We marched for about eight long blocks, approaching the iconic intersection of Castro and Market Streets where a HUGE crowd had already assembled. I’ve stood in that intersection in times of good and bad, when Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated; when protesting the Iraq War, when campaigning for Obama. And so there I was again, with my people, in my hometown.

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People were waving American, Mexican, Canadian, LGBTQ flags. It was almost a party atmosphere; spirits were high and positive. Don’t get me wrong, people were mad, chants of “Not my President” & “Grab Back” & “I’m with her” filled the air but the anger was contained & focused and more than anything, people were energized and uplifted. I heard a lot of people saying, “This is what I needed”, “This makes me feel better”. That’s how I felt. I think we needed to be reminded that there were more of US who voted believing that we are Stronger Together. Election Night rocked us to our cores. It scared us to think that so many of our fellow Americans did not value the same things (and people) that we value. We needed to know we were not alone.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that these types of protests are a waste of time. I could not disagree more. As long as they are peaceful, they are VERY worthy. There is power in numbers. There is power in community. There is power in expressing your feelings. For most of us during that day we had to contain our emotions, our tears, our rage while at work or running errands or tending to young children. We needed a release. We needed to rant and rave and cry out to the heavens. This country has a rich and proud history of peaceful protest marches. And for me it has always been important to say that I “was there” in those pivotal historic times.

The night was unseasonable warm, the sky clear, the stars bright – a perfect night to be out & about, but as with much of life, shoe choice makes a big difference in protest marching and I could tell that mine might limit my political engagement. I stayed with the crowd for about 30 minutes. The crowd was large & loud & more people continued to file in from Market Street. There was someone on the loud speaker leading chants & speaking to truth to power. I heard some folks say the crowd was going to march to The Mission (a couple of miles away). I knew that would be too much walking for me. I felt I had done my part, my tiny part, but now it was time to go.

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I hugged a few new friends goodbye, took one last look over my shoulder at the sea so humanity… and headed home…where I put on my sweats, face planted into a vat of chocolate…while Anderson Cooper told me it was not a bad dream…it was all true:

Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America.

Inked by Sade

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I still can’t believe I got a tattoo! It’s not something I ever really thought about but in the past few years I felt like I wanted one & I knew that it would be music related & it was gonna be Sade related because if music is my religion, then Sade is my God.

“By Your Side” is the name of one of her songs. It might surprise you to know that it’s not necessarily my favorite song of hers but it DOES represent my connection to her music in a powerful way.

(Before we start, can we just acknowledge how weird a wrist looks out of context? SO weird!)

It was the fall of 2000. I had just come home after a bumpy day at work. I even remember what I was wearing (green cargo pants, a pink tank top, jeans jacket, green striped tote bag). Normally when I come home I immediately kick off my shoes, drop my keys & sunglasses in their proper little spot (because I am uber Type-A & organized that way), put down my purse & turn on the TV (terrible habit, I know).

But this day, for some reason, I went into the kitchen & turned on the radio. I NEVER do that. I still had my sunglasses on, purse still on my shoulder. The station was set to KBLX, The Quiet Storm. The DJ was saying, “Sade’s first release in 8 years” & then a song started to play.

I literally dropped to my knees in the middle of my kitchen & started to cry. The instrumental intro to the song started to play. I started to cry because I knew that soon, when this album was released, I would have 12-13 new songs from an artist whose art affects me so deeply; songs that would give me everything I need when I need it. I don’t really know how to explain it. There are actually singers whose voices I would rather have if I could sing, than hers. But her music moves me like no other.

I actually said out loud to the empty room, “Sade, WHY do you make us wait so long for your music? We need you by our side”

And then she started to sing the song:

“You think I’d leave your side baby
You know me better than that
You think I’d leave you down when you’re down on your knees
I wouldn’t do that”

I sobbed. As usual it was as if she knew my heart; knew exactly what I was going through. There I was, on my knees, questioning her, begging for her.

She continued to sing. The last line was “I’ll be there by your side baby”

The DJ came on the radio & said, “There it is. “By Your Side” by Sade.

Well, I just about passed out. I mean, she was LITERALLY reading my mind, my heart, my emotions. She was reading my heart & as always, knew exactly what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. There she was, being my favorite artist in all the ways that move me.

When the cd was released, I had preordered it & picked it up at the record store (remember those??). I had a whole ritual planned: I was going to start listening the CD on my Discman (lol) the minute I walked out of the store & walk home & just enjoy the music with the backdrop of San Francisco all round me. The walk home was not a short one (From the Embarcadero to Cow Hollow for your SF peeps). It was not a walk that one takes just on a whim. It was a long walk, but walking up & down the hills of my hometown on a brisk clear night, with Sade serenading, is pretty much my idea of heaven.

So I walked & I listened. I few times I stopped to take in the view. And because I am super Type A & like clarity & order & finite beginnings and ends, I started to wonder if the CD would play all the way till I got home or if it would stop sooner. Btu I didn’t really think too much about it. I just walked & listened. And as I put the key in my front door, at that very moment as I opened the front door, the very last note of the very last song faded away. I don’t know what you call that, but I call it a sign…yet again…that Sade knows. She just knows.

“By Your Side” has become a little mantra I say to myself when I need encouragement or a reminder that everything is going to be ok.

Cause here is the thing:

The thing is, there is ALWAYS something or someone by your side…to get you through, to give you encouragement or tough love or a pat on the back. It might be your faith, or your bestie, or your lover. It might be your favorite spot in nature or your much loved piece of prose or a warm cuddle from a fur baby. And it might even be a song…or the title of a song. And it might even by YOU, by your side. In most cases, it’s a combination of all of the above.

So when I started to think about getting a tattoo, something inspired by Sade was the only option & this was the obvious choice. On the inside of my wrist (where is can be easily covered by my watch for those times when a tattoo might not be appropriate) where I can see it, glance at it, stare at it, enjoy it. And I HAVE! I have really looked at it & focused on it & allowed it to do what I hoped it would do: give me strength & courage & faith. Sometimes I wake up in the morning & my arm is up on the pillow & the tattoo is the first thing I see & it comforts me.

It’s been almost two months now. And I have no regrets…which is a good thing…cause it’s gonna be by my side forever! xo lulu

That One Time I Met My Daddy

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My father. I didn’t grow up with him in my life. He was out of the picture before my second birthday. The reasons why are not important. It was not his fault. I never blamed him. I just accepted that he was not able to be around. I knew, somehow, that the reasons WHY had nothing to do with me. I just accepted that he was not able to be around. You sort of don’t miss what you’ve never had so I didn’t really dwell on it or pine for him to be in my life.

About ten years ago, out of the blue, I got a letter from a woman…his wife…saying that if I wanted time with him, the time was now because he was ill. I had never even THOUGHT about this possibility…but when faced with it, there was no question that I would go to him.

We spent one day together. This is what happened:

It turned out my father lived about ten blocks from where I grew up. The excitement of that day, the day we arranged to meet was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s too hard to put into words. I won’t even try. All I know is I wanted to hug him and to let him know that somehow, all along, I knew that the fact that he was not in my life was not his fault. And more than anything, I wanted him to be proud of me.

When the moment came & I walked into the room to see him for the first time in more than three decades, I saw a man, frail but proud, sitting on the side of the bed, struggling to stand up with the use of a walker. The first words I spoke to him ever (save for maybe some baby babble when I was a toddler) were: “It’s ok Daddy. You don’t need to stand up”.

“DADDY”. That was a salutation I had NEVER said in my life. And why did I call him “Daddy”? Why not “Dad” or “Papa” or “Father”? Ok, “Father” was probably not very likely, but I thought it was interesting that, in that moment, “Daddy” was what felt right & natural…as if I’d been saying the word forever and a day. As it turns out I think I just might be a Daddy’s Girl after all…and that is fine by me.

I went over to him. We hugged…and spent the next six hours catching up. There was no awkwardness.  It was natural and easy. He felt like HOME.

On that day I learned things about him that I never knew. My mum never spoke much about him and when she did it was when pointing out my perceived faults and how they were inherited from him…according to her.

Getting to know him for myself, on our terms, as an adult, was a blessing.

Turns out he was a special Ed-teacher. That was what I thought I wanted to be from about age 5 until college…when I discovered that I wasn’t nearly as noble as I once thought. I inherited his fierce stubbornness & his unwillingness to compromise on issues big (Liberal Democrat for life!) & small (we-no-likey pineapple on our pizza, no way, no how!), his inability to master the use of chopsticks & having never owned a car.

One thing I didn’t inherit from him was his talent for art & music, though my appreciation for both is deep. He played 5 instruments (self-taught) & was a talented artist who painted & made very delicate multi-media collages; my stick figures are round. Sigh. He was a professionally trained chef; I manage to burn boiling water!

Even the fact that we both were wearing red (a color I never wear for whatever reason) seemed to be a sign…but one tends to read maybe too much into things in emotionally charged situations such as seeing your father for the first time in over 30+ years. But I clung onto every nuanced genetic link I could on that day. I was desperate to make connections, to draw a line from his heart, his brain, his soul to mine, to be my father’s daughter.

When I was a little girl I thought my father was Marvin Gaye & my mother was Jackie Kennedy. Ok, I KNEW they weren’t REALLY my parents but to my child’s eyes that’s who they looked like to me in the peak of their youthful beauty. Throughout my life whenever I’d see or hear Marvin Gaye I would think of my father. In truth those were the only times I did think about him.

While Daddy & I were taking…about everything…I suddenly had an urge to ask him a preposterous question. Knowing this might be my only chance to do so, I went for it. “Daddy, do you know what today is?” Most people would have answered, “It’s April 1st (which it was) or “It’s April Fool’s Day” (which it was). But that was not the answer I was looking for; the answer I was looking for was so random and obscure…and yet somehow I felt like he would know.  My Daddy said, without a hint of implying that his answer would seem most random to anyone, “It’s the anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s death”.

There is no way I can explain that to you.  First of all, how many people would even KNOW that (another thing Daddy & I had in common – massive amounts of useless trivia, usually entertainment related, rattling around in our heads). And how would he know that THAT was the answer I was hoping for…all the while knowing that it was literally insane to think that he would give the “right” answer. But he did. My Daddy didn’t let me down. He knew.

The similarities between us were instantly apparent & magical. We shared the same passion for politics & music & football (though differed in team allegiance – his 49ers vs. my Raiders) & pizza & our favorite cookies: Oreos!! The same quirky habit of bouncing one leg up & down when eating a particularly scrumptious morsel of food was evidenced over a shared meal of…you guessed it: Pizza & Oreos. A love of writing long handwritten letters to friends, whipping out a well-worn dog-eared book in the midst of a passionate debate to find the perfect quote to prove our point & an affinity for all things PBS, CSPAN & jazz music radio stations, were another part of our shared tapestry in life.

The question of nature vs. nurture is a complicated one. I am more like him in every way than I am like my mother who raised me. Of course I am my mother’s daughter but more in the ways that were pounded (literally) into my head or forced on me through fear. But that’s another story for another day.

There was a lot that I didn’t know about my father before that day. But it turned out, he knew a lot about me. He pulled out a box full of many of my modeling clippings from the many times I was in the local paper. He knew where I went to college and that I had graduated president of my class. He knew that I was smart, brave and funny.

He told me that he was proud of me. Proud of the woman I had become. And that is really all I needed to hear. I still remember that on days when I don’t feel so smart or so brave or so funny…but I AM…cause my daddy said so.

At one point, he said, so very wistfully, “I think you turned out so well because I wasn’t around to mess you up”. “Nooo, Daddy”, I pleaded. “You get to take credit for who I am. At least half of it. I am YOUR daughter”. His eyes welled with tears. It was important for him to know that. I got the sense that it was something he had thought a lot about. I’m glad I was able to put his mind at ease. It was the most poignant moment of the day…of which there were many.

My father was a handsome, talented, funny, caring, charming, witty, gifted, creative, passionate, complicated man (5 kids by 4 different women will do that to a you). What a man, what a man, what a mighty good man. I was BEYOND grateful to meet him & remain prouder still to be his daughter. It’s funny: tho I never thought about the possibility of meeting him up to that day, now I can’t imagine what life would feel like NOT having had that experience.

He wrote me several sweet notes after our reunion before he died soon thereafter. To say I cherish them all of my heart is an understatement. He called me “Sweetheart” in those notes. To this day, when I look at them & see that tender greeting, I dissolve into tears.

My father passed away soon after that special reunion.

I miss him every day.

Dear sweet man. My daddy. He had a gentle spirit of a soul, a devilish twinkle in his eyes, and a deep kindness in his heart.

Happy Father’s Day, dear Daddy. I love you & I miss you.

Love,

Your sweetheart

Angels All Around Us

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The other day I was having a rough day. Really rough. I decided to step outside to get some fresh air…and some chocolate. I walked down to the corner store, breathing in the fresh air. At the store I bought a Kit-Kat & some Gummi Bears. They may not cure what ails ya but they sure do offer some temp relief.

As I walked out of the store there was an older Black woman in front of the store asking for spare change.

I looked at her face. She was beautiful…despite the fact that she had no teeth. There was something about her that just pulled at my heart. She seemed so joyful despite her circumstance.

I stopped, smiled & said, “Hello Love” & opened my wallet. I had a couple of singles, two 5’s, a 10 & two 20-dollar bills. Normally if I give money in these situations, I give however many single dollar bills I have. I grabbed the two 20’s, folded them up & tucked them into her hand. “Here you are, my love”.

She looked down at her hand & then back up at me & then tried to shove the money back in my hands. “No, no, no” she said. I pushed her hand away, “Please. Take it. I want you to have it”.

She reached out to give me a hug. She pulled me in & kissed my cheek, her cheek touched mine. Hers was the softest I’ve ever felt.

She held me close. Tightly…as if she knew. I suddenly started to cry. She whispered into my ear, “We’re going to be ok.” I started to cry harder. She kept holding on, “Don’t worry. I’ve got you. God’s got you. We’ve got each other. We’re going to be ok. It’s going to be ok. We are strong, sister”. I sobbed harder. She held me tighter.

We finally unwrapped ourselves from each others embrace. I tried to pull myself together on the busy street corner, embarrassed by my own public unraveling. I couldn’t quite find any words; I was at that vulnerable place where if you try to speak you’ll just cry more. So I just smiled weakly & turned to walk away.

She held up her tightly closed fist which still had the folded money & pumped her fist a bit in the air as if to say, “Thank you”.

As I walked the next few steps, I looked over my shoulder at her. She was watching me. I’d walk a few yards & turn to look back at her. Each time I turned, I blew her a kiss & she took her fist & patted it against her heart. We did this about 5 times until the distance caused us to lose sight of each other.

How could it be that what started out as ME thinking that I was helping HER, was in fact the exact opposite?

As Tracy Chapman sings, “I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people leading ordinary lives filled with love, compassion, forgiveness and sacrifice”

I feel like I know what she means.

Somehow this woman, who clearly was in need to healing & care, sensed that I needed the same. I don’t know how she knew. But she knew.

And she left me better than she found me.

Let her be an inspiration to us all, my beauties. xo lulu

Mourning the Reign of Prince

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A week has gone by & I still find myself reeling from Prince’s death. But why? If you’d asked me a week ago to name my top five fav singers or songs, he wouldn’t have been on the list. I loved his art of course but he was just not on that list for me. But he was just always there…in my life. And in that existence, people get taken for granted.

I’ve been sort of surprised by the depth of my sorrow. I cried for three days straight. I watched “Purple Rain” several times over the weekend. His music was on repeat. I’m a bit better now. But if I hear “Purple Rain” anywhere, anytime, the tears flow. In truth, the shock of this musical genius’ death has not worn off. If anything, the pain has deepened, the ache has widened, the grief has amplified.

The irony that Vanity died this year at 57 as well. I knew Vanity’s sister back in my modeling days & had the chance to meet her a few times when she attended fashion shows her sister & I were in. She was breathtakingly beautiful. Fragile. Feminine. Shy.

Every time a news reporter on the news said, “Prince has died”, I held my head in my hands & say, “How can this be? I just don’t understand” I mean, I know that people die & maybe that reaction seems odd but I just can’t wrap my head around it. I just can’t. It seems impossible. It just doesn’t seem real. Still. A week later.

I feel this even more deeply than I did Michael Jackson’s death; not to imply that grief can be measured but I just feel this one deep in my soul. Maybe it’s because Prince’s music was more intertwined with my high school & college days, whereas MJ was more my younger years.

Prince was the soundtrack to dance parties with high school besties & head banging sing alongs in college & snuggle fests under the Eiffel Tower with dreamy boys & wild nights dancing in fountains in Milan with supermodels & California road tripping & that one love who insisted that “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” was written for me.

And then there was that time over 20 years ago, in the back of a darkened nightclub, in the haze & blur of what those kind of late nights bring, where I found myself among a small group of people welcomed into an after party of sorts & there he was, holding court, literally nodding his approval as we sashayed past, lingering for a few moments as he spoke soft words of praise

 

I got to see him in concert a few years ago. He was sassy, sexy & dynamic. He never stopped moving & grooving & singing & playing. It was exhausting to just watch. But also exhilarating.

Wherever I was, there was Prince. And yet, he was never over exposed so when he appeared on TV it always felt like a distinct surprise.

His presence was so grand, so evocative, so powerful, so impactful. There was no on like him. He was Jimi & James & Michael & Elton & Madonna & Elvis & Gaga all rolled into one little 5’2” package.

One of my first inclinations when I heard the news was to text my boss & co-workers to let them know that I was going to need a little bit of time to pull myself together before I dealt with work issues.

And then it dawned on me that I am losing the lesson in this tragedy. I stress about work. I stress about life. I wake up in the middle of the night to update my To Do list. I am always worrying about meeting deadlines. I am always in GO GO GO mode. And while that type of conscientiousness makes me a great employee, what does it mean beyond that? Not much.

Time is precious. Life is fragile. There are no guarantees. Our time on this planet is fleeting. Responding to emails can wait. Setting up meetings can wait. Life can’t wait. Life is right now. In this moment. And if life calls upon you to grieve & cry & feel your emotions, you have to allow space for that to happen.

This is it. This is all we have. This minute. It can all be snatched away in a second. And while you can’t live your life in fear, you can be mindful that NOW is all we have. And so the question becomes: HOW will you spend NOW?

I often say that music is my religion & that music heals all. But right now those musical prayers are failing me.  Goodnight, sweet Prince. xo lulu

 

An Apology from Anna Wintour

Some people have a 401K to secure their financial future. I have a letter of apology from Anna Wintour. I figure it’s so rare it might be worth a down payment on a home one day.  How did this end up in my possession? Read on, my beauties. Read on.

It was many moons ago. I was 14 & spending the summer in New York modeling with Elite. I was what was referred to as one of the “summer girls”: models recruited from all over the world, to spend the summer in NYC, living together in an apartment. During the summer there were anywhere from 6 to 12 of us. It was an opportunity for girls to meet the fashion world & see if they actually did have the potential to get work. Some girls lasted a few days, or weeks before they were sent home. If the feedback from clients wasn’t good or the girl gained weight or couldn’t handle the stress of life in New York City or just didn’t seem to “have it”, she was sent home. Some of us were lucky to last the entire summer. And, based on the success we had in booking jobs, a few of us were lucky enough to be asked to stay on (I declined. I had received a full scholarship at a top private high school & I didn’t want to pass that up) and/or come back the following summer (which I did).

Our days were spent doing what every new model does all day, every day: going on “go-sees”, where you literally go & see clients to show them your “book”. Your book, also known as your portfolio, is basically a model’s resume. It’s what clients, photographers, editors look at to see how you actually look in photos.

Most new models don’t have actual WORK to put in their book, so they have what are called “test shots”; these are photos taken to show all of your different looks & you try to have test shots that show you with a variety of looks: natural makeup, more glamorous looks, some “body shots” to show off your figure, action shots to show that you can move & jump, more editorial shots that show your high fashion side.

More established models will have actual “tear sheets” in their book; tear sheets are actual pictures from jobs they’ve done: magazines, newspaper ads (back when that was an actually thing), catalogs, etc., hence the name: you “tear” the “sheets” out of the magazine/newspaper, etc. I was lucky to have quite a lot of tear sheets, mainly from my past three years of working in my hometown of San Francisco, where I was featured in the daily newspaper in ads from department stores almost three times a week, which is actually a lot. I also had some very highly respected catalog work (the very first Esprit catalog, which in turn got me noticed by John Casablancas of Elite) and some impressive pictures from an editorial I did earlier that year for Italian Vogue.

Even though I was new to the New York modeling world, I had what agencies refer to as a “strong book”; where most “summer girls” only had test shots & maybe one print ad from their small town newspaper IF they were lucky, I had some legit work that would allow the agency to consider me for more prestigious work.

Every morning a “summer girl” would go to her agency & get a list of about 8-12 “go-sees” for the day. Her booker (the person at her agency who is her sort of personal point person & helps to get her “booked” for jobs) will try to make sure that she is going to see clients who are more likely to book her so that she is not running all over NYC in the summer seeing clients that have no interest in her particular look. In my case I was often sent to clients who wanted girls with good hair or were very tall (at 5’10″, I was on the taller side in those days) or girls with a more “exotic” look. I used to battle with my bookers because they never wanted to send me to the clients who were looking for “All American Beauties”. Why was I, an all American girl, never sent to those…. but all the girls from Sweden were, I would ask? I knew the answer, but I liked to push buttons. Imagine that! They were not amused by my antics. Remind me to tell you what I once said to Helen Gurly Brown, the eternally pink swathed editor of Cosmopolitan that got me “grounded” by my agency.

Sometimes only girls who had been requested by the client would be sent to a go-see. This was usually because the client was very clear on what they wanted for the job & didn’t have time to waste seeing lots of girls. The agency would send over the head cards of the girls they thought fit the requirement & then the client would determine which, if any, they wanted to meet in person. Those were usually very important jobs & it was always a more nerve-racking process. Would you live up to the expectation they had when they saw your card? Or would they look up at you…then down at your book…then up at you again…slam your book shut…push it towards you…and say “Thank you” …never to be heard from again. That is how most go-sees went. Heck, you’d be lucky to get the “thank you”.

So when my booker told me that the editor of a relatively well known (but not by much) magazine called Savvy wanted to see me for a potential editorial (an editorial is the main section of a fashion magazine; the actual fashion spread), that was a huge win. And it was for the FALL FASHION issue, which, as you may know, is the premier issue for fashion, so that was even more impressive. Getting a few pages in an editorial like that could make a model’s career. The money wouldn’t be great – the more prestigious the job, the less impressive the pay would be. It was seen as a sort of trade-off. But the prestige jobs bring more jobs & with more jobs you can then set a higher day rate & so on.

I went for my go-see & met with several people from the magazine. You are never really introduced to anyone nor does anyone really talk to you. I don’t know what it’s like now, but back then you were explicitly told by your agency to not speak unless spoken to on go-sees (always a tough game of restraint for chatty me). You just walk in, smile, hand them your book, stand there & wait. Often they will look at you & then back at your book. Maybe some whispering goes on. You know it’s about you but you try to act like you don’t care. Sometimes they make no effort to prevent you from hearing. “I think her hair will be an issue. Can we put a hat on her?”, “The clothes are all darker shades. She’ll look washed out”, “Her arms look really, really long. Is anyone else noticing that?” …and so on.

I remember my book being passed around & then that was it. A faint smile & thank you from the woman in charge, who had big soulful eyes & a British accent, but nothing that would lead me to believe that I had booked the job…which is generally how it goes. You just smile, take back your book, say thank you & leave. And wait. And unless you get booked, you generally never hear anything about the go-see, save for a “no, you didn’t book it” from your booker. You are never given a reason. I actually think it’s better that way…cause the reasons will always be about your appearance…and what they didn’t like about it. And no one wants to hear that.

This time was different. My agency called me a few days later to tell me that I had booked the job. Seven pages. Just me. No other models (which is even better – because that means more pictures for you!). It was the type of win for a “summer girl” that makes all the bookers in the agency stand up & clap…which they did.

It was an all-day shoot in a quintessential loft style studio with whitewashed brick & a wall of big uncovered windows that let in that ever important photographer’s assistant: natural lighting. The clothes were meant for working women in the corporate world. This was the early 80’s so it was lots of blazers with padded shoulders, high necked blouses with silk bows & long narrow skirts. There were about 8 people on the crew: photographer (I actually don’t remember who it was; I recall it was a woman. There’s a part of me that wants to say it was Ellen von Unwerth  but I think I just made that up), photographer’s assistant, hair and makeup team, a few people from the designers whose clothes I would be wearing, the client.

And overseeing it all was the magazine’s editor whom had initially requested me for the go-see, had looked at my book with the others & who had ultimately been the one to decide to book me. She had been in New York for just a few years, with a brief stint as a junior editor at Harper’s Bazaar. Prior to that, in her native London, she had worked at Harper’s Bazaar UK. She had just started her tenure at Savvy when she booked me. Her name? Anna Wintour.

At one point during the shoot, I fainted. The summer heat & the bulk of the wool suits & knee high zippered leather boots were more than my slight frame could bear. I’ve never been good in hot weather in general & had a history of fainting when I got too warm.  Anna was very concerned for me & stopping the shoot until she was satisfied that I was completely hydrated & recovered. Like any industry, in modeling, time is money but she made sure I took the time I needed to get steady on my feet again. Since I was the only model, it wasn’t as if they could shoot the others while I rested. So work literally had to stop for about an hour. She insisted on it. Later in the summer I would be on another job where models were fainting left & right (I managed to just wobble a bit) & they had us pose sitting in chairs so they could keep shooting.  Anna’s sensitivity & concern in this situation was not the norm.

It was not rare then, nor is it today, to have models on set as young as 14. Concessions are not made for their age, nor do laws protect them as they do for their counterparts in the acting industry. They are treated like adults, in ways both good & bad, and when you add in makeup & sophisticated clothes, those adults around them can often seem to forget that they are working with children…very, very tall children, but children nonetheless. I was a very mature & street smart girl, but I still was 14, a long way from home & I was always very aware of those who DID treat me with a more protective & sensitive spirit. It didn’t happen often so when it did occur, I was comforted by it. Ms. Wintour was one of the few in my 12+ year career who demonstrated that particular kindness. I can probably count on one hand those who ever did.

The shoot progressed & concluded the way most do. You get the job done, have your voucher signed (it notes the hours you worked & your rate & is submitted to the agency so that they can they bill the client. I am pretty sure Anna signed mine. At the time I had no way of knowing that it might be valuable one day & therefore, worth saving. Drat! There goes to the pool to that home this letter will buy me!), say your goodbyes & head out in the street, looking sort of out of place with full makeup in your teenager attire.

It was a job like many others, but with the added excitement of knowing that I was going to be featured in a national magazine with tear sheets that could be a game changer for my career. It was the kind of job that the other summer girls I was sharing an apartment with all hoped & wished they would book. Not many did, though one of my other roomies, a 6-foot-tall Iowan named Terry Ferrell would best us all that summer: she booked the cover of Mademoiselle magazine & went on to have a solid career before moving on to a successful acting career (goggle her; you’ll see).

Another one of my roomies had a fairly successful summer & the agency really wanted her to stay on; she declined. Surf was up back home in Santa Barbara & she missed her boyfriend. I remember one of the bookers telling her she’d never work again if she left. She was undeterred & went home after the summer. Turns out she DID work again. Perhaps you’ve heard of her? Her name is Kathy Ireland! Boom! Drops the mic.

When the September issue of the magazine hit the newsstands, my mum & I went to an intentional magazine store in San Francisco that carried pretty much every publication under the sun. Savvy was not a magazine you’d generally find at the checkout stand. We anxiously flipped through the publication. There is nothing like that moment of excitement before you see your pictures for the first time after an exciting shoot. You generally have no idea what photos will be chosen & you literally see them for the first time in the publication. We searched & we searched. Nothing. Had we gotten the month wrong? Where were my pictures?

The truth is, sometimes pix don’t make it into the publication. It is VERY common. You usually don’t know until you see it. There were times where I shot ads for department stores with several other models & when the ad ran, I was the only model in the photo; the cut out the other models. There were times when I was the model cut out. It happens. Explanations are not expected or given. It’s the same with editorials. But in this case, I was the only model. Not one photo made it. Of course the natural tendency is to think that it is something YOU did wrong but I was savvy (ha!) enough to know that it could be due to any number of reasons. Maybe there was no film in the camera, or the makeup didn’t look right or maybe there was a manufacturing issue with the clothes that would prevent them from being in stores. I had learned early on not to take things personally in the modeling industry…but I was still devastated. It felt like an epic fail no matter what the reason. I was also sort of embarrassed because I had told my agency at home & all of my friends about this great gig & we were all so excited to see the pictures.

We contacted Elite & asked them what happened. They didn’t know. They didn’t seem concerned. They’d gotten paid. That’s all they cared about. Their reaction was not unusual, to be honest. The cold hearted nature of the business.

I always wrote thank you letters to clients after I worked with them. While it may not be the norm in modeling, I was raised to write them for everything. I still do to this day. Due to the hectic summer & then starting high school literally days after I returned home from NYC, I didn’t get a chance to write Anna until after we saw the magazine. I think I actually may have waited on purpose as well because I figured it would be fun to see the pix and THEN write her.

So I wrote my note. I wrote to tell Anna how much I enjoyed working with her & to thank her for her kindness during the shoot & of course mentioned how disappointed I was that the pix never made the publication. We sent the letter to the main address on Savvy’s masthead. I don’t think we actually thought she would get it. But she did. And if we ever thought she would receive it, we NEVER expected her to respond. But she did.

It is literally unheard of for a model – especially a run of the mill unknown model – to receive a letter from a magazine editor for any reason, let alone an apology for photos not making the publication.

For privacy reasons (I had my first experience with stalkers at age 12) my mum often had her name as the return address name so I think that might be why Anna replied to her instead of me. “Lulu” is my nom de plume. My real name starts with an “S”. I’d tell you what it is but then I’d have to kill you. And that would just be rude.

The fact that Ms. Wintour took the time to not only respond but apologize & offer to track down the photos is quite remarkable. It’s hard to impress upon you exactly HOW remarkable. We never did see the pix; it would have been nice but it was not likely that that would happen. The fact that Anna even offered to track them down simply adds to appreciation I felt when I received her letter.

While there is no way to know if the woman I met back in 1980 has changed much in becoming the woman we all (think we) know now, I believe that people are who they are at their core & while we evolve, I don’t think the essence of who we are really changes very much. Do I think Anna would write a letter like that TODAY? I don’t know. I’m not sure. But she did it THEN & that is what matters to ME.

While much has been said & written about Ms. Wintour (and alluded to in movies like “The Devil Wears Prada” where it is assumed that Meryl Streep’s character – cold, punitive, harsh & unyielding – was based on her), not all of it positive, my memories of her were of very soft spoken, focused and kind woman. Was she warm and fuzzy? No. But that is not a job requirement for her career path. In the consideration she showed me on the set & in writing the letter to me, she demonstrated attributes that ARE: attention to detail, class, style, professionalism & thoughtfulness.

Would Anna Wintour remember me to this day? No. Not at all. This all happened over 30 years ago. I was just a random model, at the beginning of a less than moderately succeeded career; a blip on her eventually iconic career path. But I, of course, remember her…with great respect, admiration & affection. To me she was not a devil wearing Prada; she was an angel wearing a well-worn cardigan & sensible shoes. xo lulu