Meanwhile Maria had
been sort of following the news about Judy Chicago and her “Dinner
Party” and learned that the show was going to the Brooklyn Museum
for a run starting around the end of the year. Well, said Maria,
now she’s on MY territory!
Then too, there had
been a lot of residual interest from the Box Lunch and Maria had
been making some contacts and getting a lot of encouragement. It
was decided. The show would go to New York!
Judy Chicago was
scheduled to open at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in early November to
run through the spring and it was felt a good time for us would be a
limited run, opening shortly after Judy so as to most benefit from
her publicity Maria started talking it up on the phone with her
family and old friends in New York and she felt she was getting some
“Bill,” she said one
day, “you and I need to go to New York and see if we can get a space
and dates and all that, No?” Seems she had a good friend, Dave
Bergman, a local radio personality, who lived in an apartment in
Manhattan where there also lived the famous writer, Lawrence
Sanders, who would be in his Florida house (gee!) for a while in
September and would be happy to have Maria stay in his apartment,
free, of course, and as long as she liked (golly!). So Maria and I
packed up and went and stayed in Larry’s apartment.
Meanwhile, Maria had
arranged to speak with her cousin (?), Tony P., a New York garbage
mogul who owned a lot of property in Manhattan and just might have a
large empty ground-floor space available for a short time in the
middle of Soho, amidst all the big galleries of the day. Well, he
did. And we went to see it. It was a sort of low ceiling place
with two rows of old iron pillars down the center and a bunch of
cheaply-made office partitions running all over the place, and big
sliding doors across the front. I immediately saw that it would
work great for us; lots of work to clear it all out, of course.
“Can these walls come down?” I asked Tony.
“You can do anything
you want!” he said, “Rip the whole place down, I don’t care!”
So we got the place,
free, of course, and said we’d be back with our crew shortly to
begin work. “Fine, Maria, what ever you want!”
apartment, meanwhile, was very nice. “I could live here, Bill,”
said Maria. Dave immediately said, I’m sure you could stay here,
Maria, Larry’s hardly ever in town.
Maria’s father, Jimmy
Scattuccio, agreed to play the accordion for the inauguration.
Everything was set.
So that’s how we began,
that is, Maria and I went back to San Francisco and started talking
it up and raising money (well, Maria mostly) and making plans for
AAA’s first show to hit New York!
We took Bermuda,
Jeffery, Jim Nettelton, Steve, Maria and I on the plane around the
end of October. We arrived and went directly to the old abandoned
space on Wooster Street. Well, Maria went uptown to Larry’s which
she had managed to acquire again, for nothing, of course, for the
entire run of the show. Seems, there were a couple of weekends when
Laurence Sanders would be coming to town to see his agent and on
those times Maria would go to her folks but only for a couple days.
Otherwise she stayed up on West 72th. Marilyn and Josh would join
us shortly there after, as would Karolyn and, later, Russell.
So we arrived on
Wooster, late at night, and I tried my key to the front door. It
The place had been
unused for a couple years, and before that it had been some sort of
storage depot of stuff, you know, like maybe import stuff. Well, it
smelled not rancid or foul just old and closed and stuffy. It was
dark and creepy, most lights were out and the rabbits’ warren of
little rooms and partitions were particularly depressing. But we
were Bermuda, Jeffery, Steve, Jim and I so we each sort of scouted
out little rooms or places to sleep and rolled out our poor little
We would begin
immediately, of course, with the front. The sliding glass doors all
the way across the front were an anachronism in this area of Soho,
let me tell you, and they looked really stupid, but, hey we weren’t
buying the building, so we put them to good use, constructing a
broad “lobby” across the front, all pink, with lots of big graphics
of Maria and announcing the show. In just a couple days it was
looking great and Jim, in charge of publicity, could open his small
office off the lobby and have people in and start looking real busy
and professional. We were much into the “look” of the place.
Once past the lobby,
the real work began: major DE-construction. We needed the big
central area emptied out to about ten feet from the walls and within
that we would build our own nice gallery walls. Of course, all the
electricity had to come out and our poor clamp-on bulbs replace it.
I was thrown nearly across the room once, cutting through a LIVE
electrical cable with a pair of old pliers. Almost all the walls of
the little rooms were ripped out and taken back to about five feet
from the outer wall and in our little sleeping areas we looked like
suddenly-revealed earthquake victims. We assumed a sort of
suffering countenance. But soon our big new gallery walls began to
rise and our little cubicles were closed in again.
Jim Nettleton, as in
San Francisco, was as I say in charge of publicity, always a strong
point in our group. Press kits were sent out, a spoof Blackglama
mink coat ad was shot with Maria, reading “What becomes a legend
most?” We mocked up a Time magazine cover with Judy Chicago and
Maria Manhattan and the words “Feminist Art Battle of the 80's Heats
Up” and sent it off to Time. We got back a reply from their lawyers
(!) saying cease and desist. Jim framed it on the wall.
Then too, Wooster
Street, one block from the fancy West Broadway and all the
galleries, was at that point still a little shabby, and we thought
needed a little sprucing up. Well, we had gotten to know the
neighbors and they all liked us, of course, and our project, so we
arranged with the upstairs people and those in the building directly
across the street to let us up to hang our “giant laundry” which we
had made, a big pink bed sheet, T-shirt and frilly woman’s slip,
attached to an overhead rope with big, three-foot styrofoam
clothespins. I was a little concerned that we didn’t have
permission or such.
“Bill, this is New
York!” said Maria, “Just do it!”
So, we did and got a
lot of notice and pictures in the papers. A lot of people said we
should have written something on the bed sheet, like the show or the
dates or such, but we didn’t and it always looked so beautiful,
hanging there all pink and interesting. One time a big storm blew
through and knocked it down. We gathered the troupes and hauled it
down and repaired it and hung it back up, all in a couple hours.
Inside, the walls were
framed in with the minimum number of two-by-fours and covered with
thin, new plywood, all finished off with spackle on the seams, trim,
and the fresh, bright pinks and dignified charcoals of the Box Lunch
administration and exhibit, that kind of thing. We polished up the
wonderfully attention-getting full, sliding glass doors across the
front and lit the place up real well, with special spots on the
In the darkened
interior, under the iron pillars of the industrial past, the show
began to take shape. A large, rectangular plywood base was laid
down and covered with that “tasteful” cheap, stick-on fake marble
tile squares. We chose a greenish hue with gold sprinkles, get it?
On the gleaming, new tile squares Maria wrote out the 999 honored
names of the “More-Than-A-Floor Floor.” Around the marble, we laid
an attractive strip of astro-grass and a short, white, cute picket
“More-Than-A-Floor Floor” the many assorted tables were arranged in
a long rectangle dramatically placed for the view from the
entryway. On these Maria’s great collection of old 40's
many-collared printed tablecloths; and brightly collared paper
doilies sat under the magnificent Box Lunches themselves. Overhead,
dozens of cheap, clamp-on lights and lovely collared gels
complimented the swinging old-time New York music always playing.
The show was stunning!
(NOTE: Read lots more
about our New York tour in "The Box Lunch Goes to New York" in
our Theatrical TIME-LINE off the
As I say, we got lots
of attention and the opening was a big hit; Maria’s father brought
his whole, old swing band and they played favorite Manhattan tunes
all night. Even Judy Chicago showed up! She came with an entourage
of hefty dikes, I guess in case it turned rough or something, but
Maria’s father immediately gave the cue and the band segued smoothly
into “Chicago, My Kind a Town” and everyone beamed as Maria whirled
Judy around the lobby floor for a full 48 bars and then, very
curtiously, invited Judy to her Box Lunch. The two, followed by
everybody else, walked slowly around the table and laughed and
commented and enjoyed each box.
It was that kind of
show and we had a wonderful time running it. By the opening Josh
and Marilyn had come, as well as Russell and Karolyn. Josh and
Marilyn were (wisely!) staying out with their families in Brooklyn,
but all the rest were living in the god-damn place, cold, dark,
hard, noisy, no privacy, weirding out, and we were still, remember,
me, Bermuda (!), Jeffery (!!), Steve, Jim Nettleton, and now Karolyn
and now Russ... well you get the picture! We decided heavy drinking
in the neighborhood was called for.
There was a nice bar,
stayed open all night, which Jim found and which played Frank
Sinatra all night. I mean it, only Frank Sinatra, that was the
bar’s thing. We drank a lot there, and smoked a lot of pot in the
back rooms at the Box Lunch, and had a wonderful time in New York.
The admission to the
show was $3.50; high for galleries in the area, which generally
charged nothing. On the other hand, Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party at
the Brooklyn Museum costs $10, and we were able to always position
ourselves as a special event type show, one of a kind thing, and
lots of people came. The evenings were always full of people and a
generally party atmosphere. Another one of the ladies on the table,
beside Judy Chicago, came: Edie Beale! Again Maria walked her
around to great hilarity and came at last to her own box. She
gasped and leaned into Maria.
“They really got me,
didn’t they?” she exclaimed.
Dan and Eunice from
Seattle came, by now good friends with Bermuda, Maria, Karolyn et.
al. There were hugs and kisses all around the lobby and Maria
invited them into her show. Dan quite seriously took me by the arm
and said quite clearly, “Now, Bill, you’re going to have to explain
everything to me. Do you understand? I don’t understand anything
about this. You’re going to have to explain it all to me.”
He said it quite
seriously and he wasn’t mad or anything, he really meant it.
“Well, Dan,” I said,
“just look at the show and enjoy it.”
“Oh, no, I want you to
explain it all to me.”
“You’re going to have
to explain it all to him, Bill” piped in Eunice and we headed into
the show. Well, of course, I had to explain very little and he
loved it all and kept saying Wonderful, wonderful!
Later after we closed,
we had them into the back room (!) and, of course, everyone was
dying to smoke some pot after the show and so we lit up and they
took it quite naturally, natch!
So we settled in for a
long run; we had opened on the 15th of November and were scheduled
to run through the end of the year.
Jeffery came in one
night and said, Bill, you got to go see this show! Seems he had
been to an off-Broadway offering at the lower east side Orpheum
Theater a silly drag revue from England called “Bloolips: Lust in
Space.” So we all went and of course loved the show and went
backstage and met the Bloolips and had a wonderful time and invited
them to the Box Lunch. So they came and loved our show and loved
Maria and Jeffery and all and we started hanging out together and
going out to bars after our respective shows in the evenings. We
soon invited them to San Francisco and would later that year book
them into the Boarding House Theater on Broadway in North Beach
where they had a very successful run and we did a float for them in
the Gay Parade that year and Betty Bloolips and all of them even
stayed in our apartment while they were in San Francisco and Russ
and I had to move out to David’s house and we would have many
adventures with them. But that would come later. Meanwhile I put
the make on Betty Bloolips’ young boyfriend Brian and brought down
on me the wrath of the mother drag queen of all times, I tell you!
Well, we survived and
Betty and I became grudging friends of sorts.
Then, too, well, we
were in New York (!) and I had read about and knew about and so had
to look up the New York Jacks, the New York chapter of the
masturbation clubs I had attended elsewhere. The actual club
sessions were enormous, of course, and mandatory cloths check and I
found them (great, of course!) but a little staid, if you can
imagine. More interesting, a couple of the bar-slash-sex pits
around had begun nights dedicated just to masturbation, just that,
especailly a great, under-sidewalk walk-in club called the Hellfire,
had masturbation four nights a week and on the others it was
straight S and M. It would be there for years and I got to like a
lot the grizzled sort of Hell’s Angels owner. I still stop in
whenever I’m in New York.
So we settled in for a
great run. First a few of us had to be getting back, and some went
back to San Francisco; Russell went back and did an additional one-week
run of “Vallejo Garage” in early December. And soon it was down to
Bermuda and Jeffery and Jim and me. Living in the place, that is,
Maria was there everyday but still living up at Lawrence Sander’s.
Attendance was high and we were making a bit of money, not much, of
course, but we decided to extend the run an additional two weeks
into January. Brrrr.
Yes, it got real cold
and snow piled up upon our beautiful, big sliding glass doors. The
viewer had to really, really want to see this show, I tell you.
Then, too, additional publicity was hard to come by and nobody
really knew we were still open, and besides, most who wanted to see
the show had come, natch, during the announced run. But we were
open and the few of us left got a long last snowy look at beautiful
New York from our windows at the bar listening to Frank Sinatra late
into the snowy nights.
We packed up the
precious Boxes and Doilies and Tablecloths and Tables and
More-Than-A-Floor Floor and threw out the astro-grass. We gave the
keys back to Tony P., and arrived back in San Francisco exhausted
* * *