The best thing about Manhattan is the high density of freaks therein. Observing the oddballs in one’s neighborhood, getting to know them, watching them evolve or unravel-these are a few of my favorite things. You know what I’m talking about: That tall, radically maquillaged , purple-clad lady who trawls lower Fifth, arm-in-arm with an Asian man; the beehived bon viveuse who chows down every lunch time in the window of the Eighth Street B.B.Q., and that cadaverous, bewigged dowager in the vintage tangerine Courrèges space-age cape who trots down Madison with the aid of an ivory-topped cane. Where else but in New York would one encounter such life-enhancing loonies on a daily basis?
And then there’s Dee.
I first clapped eyes on Dee in the early 1980′s. She was a contestant in a “Best Butt” contest at the Pyramid Club on Avenue A, or some such establishment. When her turn came, ultra-butch Dee strutted manfully to the end of the improvised runway, yanked down her pants, slapped a pert buttock and hissed, “Wait till the judges get a load of this little bastard!” The unshockable crowd was mesmerized, not by the sight of Dee’s “little bastard,” but by her teeth … or horrifying lack thereof.
The intervening years have-for lucky moi -been peppered with sightings of dentally compromised Dee. She was in many ways the epicenter of 1980′s East Village culture. Eschewing the hearty, wholesome aesthetic of the previous decade’s granola dykes, Dee became the quintessential (and some say the original) drag king. Her lack of teeth lent her a rough-trade street cred which guaranteed she always had a pretty lady on her arm. Often inebriated, always nattily attired, Dee remained defiantly toothless.
Imagine my shock/delight when I recently spotted Dee in the ‘hood flashing a fabulous set of pearly whites. “Elizabeth Taylor is my tooth fairy!” Dee said excitedly, before I even had time to delight in her dentures.
I pressed her for details. It seems by the late 90′s, Deidre Belle Finley, now 38, was among the many in her hard-livin’ milieu to become a regular at the needle-exchange program on Avenue C and Third Street. One fateful day a limo pulled up, and out popped Elizabeth Taylor in a fragrant cloud of her signature scent, White Diamonds. She was accompanied by José Eber, her pony-tailed coiffeur. “I nearly died-I grew up on Liz Taylor,” Dee said. “My mum ran a burlesque club in Union City, N.J.; she dragged me to every Liz movie when I was a kid.”
An immediate rapport was up-struck. “I’m the faggiest dyke on earth,” Dee said, “so I worship her.”
One week after the delirious meeting, Dee was informed by the needle-exchange folk that Ms. Taylor had made an unsolicited offer to underwrite her dental transformation. Before you could say Butterfield 8 , Dee hightailed it off to Robyn Goren, D.M.D. (265- 9008), and the rest is herstory.
The new spiffy, sober Dee attributes the positive turnaround in her life to Ms. Taylor’s graceful gesture of support.
“Every time I smile, I think of her,” she said.
Dee is now writing her memoirs: She kick-starts her Plum Sykes’ advance–worthy life story in Riker’s Island, where she spent nine months for drug possession and hobnobbed with, among others, homicidal grifter Sante Kimes. “She’s the anti–Liz Taylor,” Dee said. “One time she was two cells down from me, so I started going ‘ Whoooo , I’m the ghost of Irene Silverman,’ just to freak her out.”
For a closer look at Dee, schlep out to Luxx at 256 Grand Street in Williamsburg for her dyke-party night on the second and last Tuesdays of every month. There is a $6 cover charge, and a no-khakis, no-Birkenstocks door policy.
And if-even after Dee’s wildly pro-Liz saga-you’re still a lukewarm Taylor fan, then I suggest you pick up a copy of Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry (Simon and Schuster-$45.50 on Amazon). After just a few moments of flicking through this intoxicating mixture of jewels, glamour and Dick-i.e., Richard Burton-I was about ready to rush out and buy a pinkie ring. Gorgeous photographs of Ms. Taylor are interspersed with sassy asides from the purple-irised goddess about her bijoux. “When it came up for auction in the late 1960′s, I thought how perfect it would be if a nice Jewish girl like me were to own it,” she writes of the whopping diamond formerly owned by Nazi munitions queen Vera Krupp.
Ms. Taylor’s book is a timely reminder of the utter pointlessness of WASP-y restraint. (Why, for example, is Julia Roberts living in a shed in Venice, Calif., with a cameraman?) We love Liz, not just because of her philanthropy, but also because of her ability to turn life into a glorious, nouveau riche frenzy of unbridled self-indulgence.
Before I left Dee, I could not resist asking if she experienced any frisson between herself and Miss Taylor, “Oh, yeah! She’s totally hot,” she said. “I would be her cabana boy any day. I can do construction work, too-and I’m much better looking than Larry Fortensky.”