People often use the phrase "only in New York" to explain or pass off certain bizarre or peculiar things that, in any normal context, wouldn't happen. For instance, if you see a woman casually walking down the street wearing a pair of shoes on top of her head, you can awkwardly shrug and shake your head while saying "only in New York" as a means of both acknowledging and attempting to validate the experience. When the lunatic in the subway assaults himself in a manic state of paranoia, and then chases rats up and down the train platform while talking to God, this is another appropriate time to say "only in New York," as a means of dealing with the event. Recently, I was exposed to an apartment that chilled me to my very core, and the pair of old queens who inhabited it. Upon reflection, the only way to adequately deal with the trauma of the situation is to pass it off as an "only in New York" scenario...
During a brief period of non-gainful employment, I was required to spend two days per week in the home of two rather peculiar men. The environment one creates to live in can tell you a lot about somebody, or in this case, two somebodies. Generally, upon entering someone's apartment, one might notice an eye catching accent like an antique lamp, an oriental rug, a reclaimed barn-wood table, or even a copy of Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard sheepishly tucked away on a bookshelf. In this particular apartment, the first association that entered my mind upon walking in the door was Liberace. Actually, I wondered if the person responsible for decorating this apartment had been possessed by the angry spirit of Liberace whilst indulging in a cocaine binge. There was not one single surface left unscathed by some sort of hideous object that was either golden, jeweled or red velvet and tasseled. Proudly admiring his monument to new money and poor taste, one of the inhabitants of the apartment who was bald on top and had a sad greasy little pony tail the size and shape of an arthritic thumb, explained that he and his partner are "collectors," which is just the term that the wealthy use for "hoarders" of very expensive garbage.
Each room in this palace of kitsch had a name, and I was to know the names and always use them when referring to various locations around the house. There was "the Library," which was really just a living room containing bookshelves filled with every volume of Danielle Steele, every 20th century film reference and various books on art history scattered about to give the suggestion of dignity and pretension. The perimeter of the room was lined with statues and figurines that grew up from the carpeted floor like stalagmites, making it impossible to maneuver in a straight line from one corner to the next. Any of these sculptures that had arms or other useful appendages had been either draped in strings of glass beads or covered in used pieces of masquerade ball costumes. Apparently these men would spend months each year planning and preparing their trips to Carnival in Venice, which was evident in the abundance of sequined masks littering any available space on the bookshelves not already inhabited by a figure of a fairy or a member of Alice's tea party.
There was also "the Garden Room," which was home to a number of potted ferns and dusty silk roses. The walls had been hidden beneath floor-to-ceiling beveled mirrors to accentuate the illusion that the abundance and importance of the home was indeed infinite in the reflections. Like the Library, there were hundreds of gaudy sculptures, many made of acrylic resin, that seemed to multiply themselves in the mirrored chaos. Even the windows had stained glass pieces stuck in front of them. The theme continued in "the Theatre" which was covered entirely in red velvet curtains draped between golden columns on each wall. An enormous blown-glass chandelier, much too large for the room, hung from the ceiling, and also had colored beads and feathers hanging from its massive arms. Three rows of actual theatre seats were crammed into this space, two rows being occupied by over-sized plush animals, and oddly enough, a bronze replica of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. The prized possession of the room was an original movie poster for the Italian release of "Some Like It Hot" with Marilyn Monroe, which had a special spotlight on it to amplify its significance. Among all of the collections of objects stockpiled in this one home, the only unifying facet of all of the rooms, aside from poor taste, was the presence of Marilyn.
From bits and pieces of conversations I had with the gentleman of the house, I was able to piece together reasons behind the necessity for dwelling in a world of fantasy. These two men, now in their sixties, seemed to be running away from some sort of disappointing and inadequate past while grasping on to a world of endlessly fabricated childhood dreams, now made attainable by a large disposable income. This home and these collections of hideous things were a Neverland, of sorts, and these two old men just lots boys caught up in fantasy. They revered their home as a cathedral, and as such, it was one dedicated to Marilyn: patron saint of lost boys. Her presence was like that of the holy virgin, ironically enough, and her elevated status of deity was unmistakable. From every corner of their home, she looked down from collectible plates, magnets, magazine covers, barbie doll effigies, photographs, coffee mugs, letter openers and even cookie jars smiling and offering hope. They even had a collection of ceramic Marilyn heads peeking out from between books in their Library shelves. This home, and all the objects in it, were a pretty hefty bandage meant to heal some type of pain I hope never to know in my own life. Although my time working in this home gave me a slight twitch, it made me grateful that I have not yet found the need to seek comfort in the arms of a dead movie starlet whose likeness can be purchased on the home shopping network in thousands of different forms. It also made me appreciate that, while I currently have nearly nothing to speak of, my living space does not induce visual migraines in myself or others. Like my mother always said, "money don't buy class..."