“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” – Charlie “Tremendous” Jones
This quote has made enough rounds on the internet – unattributed and bastardized in motivational memes – to be in the public domain by now. And if that’s not how copyright law works, so what? Why should we honor Charlie Jones’ “intellectual property” when the man doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page? Sure, his book, Life is Tremendous, made a splash back in the day, if we can believe the cover’s claim that “more than 2,000,000” copies were sold, but I’m not sure we can. It tries too hard. A better question would be: Why should we trust any of the sophomoric maxims that pop up on our feeds? The answer, of course, is: we should trust anything on the internet if it helps us get through the day or props up our sense of purpose.
I like the idea of being the same person in five years – and I’m inclined to take any life advice at face value if it gives me the impression I can keep doing what I’m doing – prioritizing my art even when it doesn’t pay the bills and even though I happen to live in one of the top ten most expensive cities in the world. It should be noted that I wouldn’t have the luxury to write this fluff if I didn’t have a credit card. The substitute dog-walking shifts are drying up, my webseries has yet to be picked up and I’m starting to feel “The Fear” again. So, here I am resorting to gimmicks like going “in face” to the International Make-up Artist Trade Show with Maddelynn Hatter just to score some clicks.
“Girl, I’m 34 years old, and I’m a professional drag queen. There’s always a level of anxiety there because, like, what the fuck am I doing?” Maddy mused, inspecting the makeup on my face. I would be sporting a ‘water nymph’ boy-giesh look, as we would come to call it, and he had just finished contouring.
“But here’s the thing. . . The whole romance of living as an artist in New York City was the goal. Once you get here, you shouldn’t stress as much. Look up.” I flinched as Maddy pencilled iron-oxide onto my eyelids. He sighed. “Don’t be a pussy.”
Believe me, I’m trying. I just released the first installment of a revolutionary new vlog called The Me Report, and at the time of this writing, it has a paltry 121 views on YouTube. Meanwhile, my contemporaries are out there getting featured on NPR, touring through Europe, selling sitcoms, scoring half-hour specials on Comedy Central, and whatever else. Also, let’s not forget my mom. She likes to remind me how I don’t have the disposable income to visit as often as she’d like, and she has taken to asking some pretty unadorned questions like: “When will you be able to monetize?” The honest answer is the same as it has been for years: “Not soon enough, but try not to worry, mother – I’m surrounding myself with the right people.”
Maddy and I used to work weekend brunch shifts together at a bar in Williamsburg. He quit when he decided he could sustain himself by doing things that fit with his career path, leaving me to pour Bloody Marys and mimosas in peace, without his shrill ultimatums from the service station. Now he makes his money performing, costuming, running a show called TURNt at the Ritz, selling MaDd merchandise and beautifying strippers at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. In short, he is living the dream – he is an artist who pays the bills with his craft.
I’ve been trying to leech off of Maddy’s web presence ever since I found out how many Instagram followers he had, and he has always been gracious about it. When he agreed to give me a makeover and guide me through the IMATS, the idea was to write an immersive piece covering the tip of the iceberg that is the world of makeup. But alas, this article is shaping up to be something different, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to my editor, Lonnie, who has seen firsthand how often my work devolves into showy manifestations of my own angst. This one has taken on the gonzo feel.
Yes, I’m one of those Hunter S. Thompson fanboys. And if that’s not cool to admit, know that I’m not going for cool here – something that may end up giving me an edge in the long run since too many people these days lean on obscure, refined or timely palates to supplement their personalities. Me, I rely on my creations, derivative or not, and uh oh. . . it seems we’ve gone down a bitchy little rabbit hole here. Let’s just cap it with: “Leaders are readers.” This is according to Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, of course, and while I do believe that’s the rule, I should add that our President appears to be the exception. If Trump can get ahead without reading, anyone. . . nothing matters is what I think I’m trying to say.
“The people trying to get their shit together don’t understand there is no shit to get together,” Maddy told me once, as he rolled silverware, prepping for one of those brunch shifts of yore. I guess I needed to hear it at the time, because it stuck with me. Nihilistic reasoning is medicine for those of us who don’t see a place for ourselves at the grown-up table. I’d love a career someday, sure, but I’m committed to building one on my own terms. We’ll see how long that lasts; I’m almost 30. I’ll either succeed, break, or remain the wayward Renaissance boy who hammers too many nails to succeed at any one thing. However things pan out, I should probably start paying off my credit card debt. And on that note, here’s a letter to my editor:
I’m trying to avoid getting a 2nd restaurant job, but if it comes to that, I’ll need one that doesn’t bleed into too much of my open-mic time. Chances are I’d end up serving breakfast somewhere. I guess I could do the barista thing, but I’m afraid that culture might ruin me. Next time you go into a coffeeshop, Lonnie, try eavesdropping on all the high-minded feedback loops. They’re getting worse everyday, and to be honest, I’m starting to hate the sound of even my closest friends’ voices. Am I making sense? Nevermind. The point is: I think it might be for the best if you talk to the Outspeak machinery and secure me better payment for future articles. Then I can start writing more of them, and let’s face it – the internet could use A LOT more of me, whether it knows it or not. Maybe I can even start exploring subject matter beyond myself – a prospect that may be exciting to your people, but please let them know: it will cost them extra. If you fail to convince them to pay me enough to stave off more pink-collar work, at least make it a firm priority to get me seen, Lonnie – if not on the “front page” of The Huffington Post, then in one of your own projects. Yes, that’s right. Don’t think it slipped by me that one of your films made it onto New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix. Here’s my acting reel. Do the right thing.
Maddy enunciated when he told me his friend was making serious money “sucking dick through Europe.” Our Uber driver, a hard-eyed man with a chinstrap beard, stole a glance in the rearview mirror, and I shuffled in my seat to avoid his eyes. “Live your life,” Maddy reminded us, making sure to project his voice which happens to match the resonant frequency of my skull. There was no telling whether our driver took the counsel to heart, but as we inched through Manhattan traffic toward Pier 94, Maddy cut the tension with tales from the days he slammed hard drugs and rose through the ranks of the drag world on neurochemical autopilot. While those days are gone (Maddy has been sober a year and a half), he still prides himself on not having a filter, or if he has one, not indulging it. It’s a quality I admire more and more these days, as the people around me grow up and refine themselves into phonier, more sensible, versions of themselves.
At the IMATS, nobody gave my face a second glance unless they were familiar with Maddy and wanted to appraise his work. There were too many things to look at. Fantastical creatures with latex prostheses made their way through a labyrinth of exhibition booths that were peacocking for foot traffic and peddling everything from face powder to faux mucus. A moderated discussion with the prosthetics chief and the head of the makeup department for a new rash of Marvel shows was underway, and while I couldn’t process anything the people onstage were saying, I was content to wade in the 133,000-square-foot sea of overstimulation underneath Pier 94’s 26-foot-high ceiling. The packaging of cosmetics is an art in and of itself and the retailers’ attention to presentation is key in scoring impulse buys.
When Maddy wasn’t collecting freebies from familiars who were working the booths, he was dropping money that he had allotted himself for the event. It was clear he was in his element, and as I tailed him, I appreciated his ability to shift from shopping with hawk-eyed focus to schmoozing with pep and candor. I felt a general sense of calm in the space – the kind of calm I imagine people feel when there’s nowhere else they need to be. Here, at the epicenter of their world, it seemed the makeup fiends could zen out. I let Maddy in on the observation, and he shot it down, assuring me the whole place would go to shit if a makeup-tutorial YouTube star walked in.
Right before we left, the people at the Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics stand mentioned the prospect of giving Maddellynn Hatter her own color. If a company expressed interest in hawking my brand, I might take the day off, but not Maddy. After we parted ways, he headed to the gym. The guy deserves all the success coming his way. He has been hustling for over a decade, and from what I’ve gathered, he hasn’t compromised his vision. I believe it was that guy Tai Lopez, the investor/Mensa member whose 67 Steps took him from broke to driving a Lambo through the Hollywood Hills, who tweeted: practice your skill until you are too good for people to ignore. Maddy is, for the record, and I’m working on it in my own sphere, whatever that is.
Commuting back to Brooklyn from Pier 94 with makeup on was uneventful. I scored a few “looks” but who’s to say what they meant? Certainly not me. This is New York City; it is among the most tolerant cities in the country. Getting home would’ve been more interesting if people had somehow detected that I was straight. Then I might have found myself cornered on the subway, having the ‘appropriation’ conversation with an excitable do-gooder. The theoretical one in my head is mocking me: How nice it must be to be able to play with makeup for a day without first having to endure a lifetime of homophobia or deal with the suffocating societal expectations that prime the average woman to spend about $15,000 on makeup in her lifetime.
Yes, it is nice, but I’m not keen on letting how good I have it dissuade me from seeking out innocuous new experiences. “Good.” Maddy’s voice reverberates in my head like a bee in an empty soda can.
“Don’t be a pussy,” he reminds me. Yes, that’s the idea, Maddy. A lot can and will change in the next five years, and if I haven’t achieved something serious by then, I hope I still have the chutzpah to keep doing what I’m doing – prioritizing my art, even if it’s obnoxious to the vanguard. “Don’t hope,” says another voice, somewhere in the cortex, parroting something from a Chicken Soup for the Soul vignette. “Decide.”