I’m going to write this quickly. Please excuse the grammar. I want to share how I found myself surprisingly transfixed by this project last night. I read about it in my friend Patrick’s Facebook feeds. He’s been living in Pittsburgh studying all things Warhol and writing a book about him for years. He got what must have been a dream job for him, sorting through and cataloging crates of nicknacks the Andy hoarded. A massive amount of matchbooks and stuff he bought cheap at antique shops and flea markets. I logged in at 12:05am and there were no people in the frame. It just looked like a black and white, rather choppy shadowy image of Andy’s grave. In that sparse light, Andy’s grave site looked shabby and unkempt. I imagined it looking almost trashed with trinkets (garbage) people left behind like they do on Jim Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise cemetary in Paris’ 11th Arrondissement, which was located 2 blocks from the apartment I shared with my friend Carlos in the mid 80’s. I love walking through cemeteries or as I prefer to think of them as beautiful “Parks.” I watched the livestream of Andy’s grave for about 10 minutes, feeling melancholy just staring at the bleak footage before a few festive people entered the frame and snapped me out of my nostalgic trance. It looked like they were excited having a little rushed birthday celebration dancing around Andy’s grave. They seemed a little anxious as if they weren’t really allowed to be there precociously posing for photographs next to Andy’s tombstone in the middle of the night. Then they were gone. The feed has sound but I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. They obviously knew people were watching the camera feed. I wish there was a way to tell how many people were logged in while I was or a way to chat with others and randomly find a long lost friend or like minded acquaintance online at the same time to share Andy stories with. I was in Africa on safari when I read in the newspaper about his sudden death. It was shocking. I wasn’t in the country during his memorial. It was like he famously said “He just went to the mall” for me. When he died people were dropping like flies in New York City from complications from HIV/AIDS and overdoes. People just disappeared without much notice or warning and you wouldn’t hear about what happened to them for a long time if ever. It was surreal and abstract for me. It was an emotional war zone. I became numb to my friends dying in their 20’s and early 30’s as if it was something normal. Upon reflection, it was a horrible and frightening time. Andy was a lot older than me but I don’t think anyone was prepared or could have imaging him dying when he did. He really shouldn’t have. Negligent nursing was the cause of his death I believe. You can Google that I want to post this in time for you to catch the feed that last until midnight tonight. When I logged in again this morning I was able to see how beautifully maintained Andy’s grave is. So many mixed emotions and buried memories washed over me as I caught myself watching wind rustling through the tall grass. I went straight into the same weird trance I had been in when I first watched the feed. I remembered having funny conversations with him with me doing most of the talking with Andy. He was very nonchalant when he used to hang out next to me at my first nightclub job in New York City. I was the mensroom attendant at AREA Nightclub whose duties were basically to keep the room clean and dry (people are real slobs while they are partying) and sell whatever I wanted, that I bought with my own money then charge what I liked for it, keeping in mind that I had competition in the ladies restroom which was naturally far more crowded and hectic. I sold cigarettes, gum, lighters, condoms whatever and people gave me tips for passing them paper towels which I had to keep near my station to keep them dry and off the floor. It was THE hottest, totally mixed nightclub in town and my post was THE best people watching spot in the whole place. The restrooms were coed and the one I was in was huge. I was a bit like a lounge with urinals and a couple of toilet stalls that were party size. I had the coolest job ever. AREA had a strict door policy making the entire club was one big “VIP Room.” It was one of the only clubs that didn’t have an actual VIP section. It was pretty packed every night and my work station was one of the only places where one could get away from all the people without missing anything at all. People came in and hung out there all night long. I had never experienced anything like that before or since and I worked in clubs for about 20 years. I rose through the ranks ending my club career as a Director of Promotions. I remembered saying “OHHH Andy, I love this song. Would you mind watching my stuff for a minute?” So I could grab a drink and a quick boogie. He’s say “Sure, go ahead.” He’d ask me what he was supposed to do if anyone asked to by cigarettes. Pretty funny. He acted as if he never sold anything for cash in his life before then. I would leave him some cash for change. It never occurred to me how people would react seeing Andy Warhol working as the Mensroom Attendant that they could approach to buy stuff and engage with him. He wouldn’t be alone for long. Someone he knew would join him people watching and gossiping. I know he enjoyed it as long as I didn’t take too long to return, which I rarely did. It was around 1983. HIV/AIDS had already begun but many of us still hadn’t yet fully experienced the nightmare it was to become. People were still carrying on with reckless abandon. It was the time of the “American Psycho” type of “Yuppy” characters who were throwing around tons of cash like there was no tomorrow. They were young, rich and SEXY. People were hooking up in there. It had a sexy vibe and folks lingered, I don’t think Andy minded doing my job for a few minutes when I asked which was often. Cartons of smokes cost ten bucks and I sold them for $2.00 or $3.00 a pack and received lots of complaints for overcharging at that price. A pack cost 75 cents back then but not only was the nearest store many blocks away, They would have to get back into the club which was not guaranteed. They were lucky to be in there in the first place. That’s the way I saw it anyway. I once returned from a whiskey gulp and a quick booty shake and Andy handed me $200 which he told me received from selling a pack of cigarettes. He said “They must have been European or something and thought the 2 crisp one hundred dollar bills were singles. I felt guilty and sort of wanted to locate the customers that made such a huge mistake. $200 was a months rent for me in 1983. When I think back, he might have just been subtly charitable toward me. He would sit with me for hours almost every night. I have never been an easily “starstruck” kind of person, so I didn’t treat him differently than I did anyone else I came into contact with. I met him before I worked at AREA at Keith Haring’s apartment about a year earlier. People dressed differently and Andy had a couple of clones in the East Village. It was loud in Kieth Haring’s apartment when we were introduced by Benjamin Liu, his assistant who was in his brilliant drag character “Ming Vase.” I actually asked him to repeat his name because I could hear him over the loud Paradise Garage House music. His expression was hysterical. I knew who Andy Warhol was but I didn’t know if he was THE Andy Warhol. I hung out with Keith a lot, often with Andy and others going to exhibition and club openings and closings or dinners. In the mensroom Andy would say “Desmond, I hope you are writing all of this down.” I did. Happy birthday Andy. WE miss you. I am going to stare at his grave again for a bit and enjoy those happy memories.
“Andy Warhol (August 6, 1928 — February 22, 1987) was an American artist who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art. His works explore the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture and advertisement that flourished by the 1960s. After a successful career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol became a renowned and sometimes controversial artist. The Andy Warhol Museum in his native city, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, holds an extensive permanent collection of art and archives. It is the largest museum in the United States of America dedicated to a single artist.”
Happy birthday dear old friend Andy Warhol. You were as cool as a cucumber in a painfully shy and timid way. I miss your otherworldly earthly presence. I maintain today as I did back then that you weren’t as odd as people say you were. You were just different in the ways most insecure people are.