I first moved into the East Village in 1983. I apartment/cat- sat a lot, going from apartment to apartment and then crashing on couches or Dona Ann McAdams’s darkroom floor when something didn’t come thru. The East Village was very different then and people came here to find each other. Their own people. Their real family. One of the first I found was a butch dyke named Luke. Luke always wore a mechanic’s coveralls and most of the time had a patch over 1 eye. I came to learn that Luke lived in Idaho or North Dakota during the 40′s & the only way she could ‘pass’, was as a mechanic. The other guys knew who & what she was but she was a great mechanic and would do things they didn’t want to do so they let her be. They would all go out dancing on Sat night, Luke in her best suit with her best girl. She spoke of the time with longing & desire. There were times & places for her to be afraid and fear for her life, when she was beaten and spat upon and had fought & protected herself & femme girlfriends but this particular time of her history was told with great fondness.
Luke didn’t like to talk about herself, she was a great supporter of others, their lives & their art. I begged her year after year to let me video tape her and to tell me her story, that it was our history and so important the path she ploughed thru but she would Aw shucks me with; “i ain’t no body, who would care about my story” and then go on telling me about the latest performance artist she saw and was blown away by.
One day when I said hello she told me her name now was Carson, no longer Luke, because she promised her beloved grandmother when she died, she’d take her name, so she would live on. By this point Carson’s health had gotten the better of her-all those years as a mechanic, doing those unwanted jobs, left her lungs severely scarred; she had developed chronic asthma. Those mechanics she worked with all those years before knew exactly how toxic what they were getting her to do was, without proper protection, & the future pain it would cause her, but Carson never looked at it that way. She was never bitter, just living her life as who she was as best she could & did whatever it took to be in the world on her terms. Carson was always full of big stories and I never questioned them, they were her truths.
Carson never had any money so she volunteer ushered at every downtown performance space that existed so she could & would see every show. Any show I ever worked on I would offer her free tickets but she didn’t feel right if she couldn’t earn her own way. She saw everything and it got to be that she was a lucky omen for some performers that were achieving success. People started thanking her in the program, dedicating shows to her.
Her health got worse & worse but she would never discuss it unless you forced it out of her. She’d rather talk about performers & shows and girls. Me & her had a real winkwink nudge nudge friendship with each other & we’d be naughty & nasty talking about certain gals & their bits. Year after year I kept begging Carson to let me video tape her, even tape record her telling me her life, but she just wouldn’t let me.
1 day, I got a manilla envelope filled with all these old flyers & postcards from dyke events in the 70′s. Apparently Carson had found my mail address, stuffed the envelope full, & sent me some of the things she had been saving over the years. I only knew it from her because of the return address. No note-no message. Her health had gotten really bad & I didn’t see her much. Finally, when I did see her & asked her why, she just said she was cleaning house & couldn’t imagine anyone else she’d want to have it.
One day, a little after I received a second manilla envelope full of stuff, Holly Hughes called me, & told me the WOW Theater girls were going to honor Carson at their yearly benefit. It was a surprise, they knew Carson would be there but feared, if they told her, she might not come. I was leaving town the day after the event for a very big job, but just had to be there. Turns out everyone felt the same, and whoever happened to be in town turned out that night. The WOW girls made a big sexy presentation, plaque & all, to a very stunned Carson. Unexpectantly she made an off the cuff smart & funny speech that was amazing not only for it’s heartfelt thoughts & articulate smarts, but it was the first time anyone ever heard Carson talk in public. Afterwards, me & Carson got some beers & we talked about how cute & sexy all the girls were and how attentive they were to her. She was bursting with pride.
Less than a week later, Carson had a devastating asthma attack, late at night, alone in her apartment and died. Slowly & painfully. Alone. I got an email about Carson’s passing from Lisa Kron, who was making sure people not only knew but showed up at her funeral. Carson was Jewish (who knew?!), so the funeral was happening the next day. I was broken hearted and so sad I couldn’t attend, but I was in the middle of the ocean running the R Family Gay Family Cruises. Carson’s brother had arranged the funeral at that famous Upper West Side Jewish Mortuary. Her family, all orthodox Jews, lived in NYC & were calling her by her given name of Susan or Sharon or whatever, I can’t remember, because I didn’t know that person anyway. To me, no matter what, my friend Carson, would always be that proud, loyal, supportive, patched eye butch dyke mechanic from Idaho that welcomed me to my new family in my new found homeland.
This photo was taken at Mike Ivason’s show at The Club La Mama. It’s around Christmas time, a few months before Carson died. Her health seemed to be getting better & tho the steroids made her gain unwanted weight, she was feeling really good. That night, Carson & I were drinking beers,telling stories, wildly flirting with the beautiful Sarah Mitchelson, happily waiting for the show to start. Carson kept doing that eyebrow thing at me, ya know, like VaVaVaVooming, everytime Sarah looked away from us. We laughed and acted like dogs together, and Sarah loved Carson, and the attention.
So, I’m thinking of you today, as I do everyday dear Luke/Carson. I will forever picture you crossing First Ave at 9th Street in those blue coveralls & that eyepatch, that very first time I saw you in 1983. Thank you Buddy. Your life, your love, your truths, made the world a little better for all of us.
It’s the first day of summer. The dawn started bright at 5:45ish and Squid & I popped up to start a new day. Precoffee, prefocused, preanything, we just follow each other with Squid really leading. I just keep us safe from the crazy early morning drivers. He aimed for Tompkins’ Park-a new early morning habit, we stroll along, greeting all the other early dogs & their people and cut thru & around til we hit the corner of 7th & A. We have a routine. Once in the park & past ‘crusty row’, we cut around the Hare Krishna Tree. Squid saw SweetPea and they ran for each other as they are really old friends, for all his life since Squid was a newbie in the hood. Sweet Pea’s beloved Daddy, Charlie, was the main driving force that got the official little dog run to happen many years ago. Before that, we had the renegade “Little Dog Club”, on all the lawns in the park, which left us being chased & ticketed for dogs on the grass or whatever else white shirt cops could stick on us. But now we are all older. Change has come & we tend to sit with our dogs on our laps catching up with each other as the dogs relax shaky older limbs. This morning at 7:05am, 2 Police SUV’s and a Van pulled over to us sitting on the ground with our dogs, by the benches behind the tree. The window of one rolled down & a voice questioned why our dogs were off the leash. Our ID’s were demanded and we were told to wait as the window rolled up and 2 other cops came out of their vehicles & joined the one to discuss our situation. 3 vehicals – 3 cops – 15 minutes of attention for aprox 11 lbs worth of unleashed dogs sitting on their owners lap, in a park, early in the morning.
The summons both Charlie & I received were for criminal court appearances (mandatory or a warrant for our arrests’ will be issued) and cost $200 each. The photo above is of the lawbreakers waiting, as instructed by the officer, while our ID’s were check for outstanding warrants or acts of terrorism or whatever these little critters could cook up. I do feel safer now, don’t you? What a way to start the longest day of the year!