We move to New York City—me, Dave and our cat—and a new adventure begins. By now, I’ve become well versed in the ways of the bad girls. I’m tougher and stand up for myself, but with a joyful sense of self-confidence. Like a true bad girl, I’ve learned to roll with the punches and look for the pleasure in any situation.
My new role model these days is Mae West, that blonde siren of the silver screen, who brimmed with pure self-love until the day she died. More than any of the other bad girls I’ve researched, Mae is absolute self-invention. And it wasn’t until she was a grown woman of thirty-nine that she arrived in Hollywood to take her first film test. I adore Mae’s wit, heat and toughness. Plus, she was a Brooklyn girl, which is what I’ve become since I started living here.
Mae lived on her own terms, and she willfully ignored her critics and the bad news they delivered. The story goes that during the filming of her first role, a smaller part in Night After Night with George Raft, Mae rewrote all her lines and insisted that the camera pacing give her ample time to work what she called her “extraordinary sex-personality.”
Early in her career, when she was preparing for a show she had written called Sex, the director Edward Elsner slowed her down enough to analyze her style. Stopping Mae in mid-stride, he made her repeat movements to help her understand the ironic comedy her body was producing. He told Mae that her star power came from the way she used her body and voice, that she exuded a strange and amusing charm he had never seen before.
“You have a definite sexual quality, gay and unrepressed. It even mocks you personally,” he said.
“A self-mocking sex quality?” Mae responded. “I mean, does it overshadow the part?”
“You reek with it,” he said. “You have it all over you.”
“Mae,” I say. “Talk to me. Tell me it’s all good. Give me some wisdom to cope.”
And Mae says: “I have never wanted to be anyone other than me. Why would I when half the world was trying to imitate me? There was the time when my fans, from eight to eighty, tried to look like me, to walk like me, act like me, even feel like me. Too bad everybody just can’t be themselves and be happy about it. I am. Remember that once popular song, ‘I love me, I love me’? Baby, that’s me.”
Here I am in New York, the center of the universe. I’ve got my man, my friends and my neighbors all around me. Unlike Mae, though, I’m a simple girl. I carry my groceries home on foot because we don’t own a car, and I’m on the gardening committee of our co-op building. I don't sleep on pink satin sheets.
Yes, life is good. And now I’m learning how to belly dance. I'm shimmying. I would love to have seen Mae do the “Shimmy Shawobble” live. I would have loved to shimmy with her. The soft and fluid sensuality of belly dancing suits me much better than the dramatic stamping of Lola Montez’s flamenco. Like Mae, I know how good it is to be firmly embedded in the skin you’re wriggling around in and loving it.