Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Abominable Snowman

Dandy Warhol was a prominent local art dealer in the early 1980s. He owned a reputable downtown gallery, and his art reviews and exhibition photos appeared weekly in national magazines and newspapers. He was a major player - revered and admired by both the mainstream media, and the art fringe bo-hos who claimed him as one of their own.

In many ways, Dandy was Toronto's hetero Halston. He was boyishly handsome, his personality was larger than life, and the ladies found him utterly irresistible. He was a self-made creative force who drove a fast car and wore designer suits and sunglasses. He partied with the biggest rock stars, the most gorgeous actresses, and the wealthiest socialites. He held court at the coolest clubs and restaurants every night, surrounded by beautiful women who wanted to fuck him, and awestruck men who wanted to be part of his scene. Today we might call dudes like this a douchebag, but twenty years ago, he was what every young, ambitious social climber aspired to be: stinkin' rich, and just famous enough to get anything you want, minus the photographers in your yard.

By the early 90s, Dandy was one of the first guys to publish the sordid details of his private life with the help of an emerging technology -- something we once called "the information superhighway"-- and charge people a monthly fee for a peek inside his empire. He had a website that offered paintings for sale and reviews of gallery shows, along with steamy snapshots of very dirty girls doing very dirty things (often with him) in the town's hottest clubs (and the occasional public toilet). He knew that people always bought sex, and rarely bought art, and decided that the best way to sell art was by wrapping it up in a sweet gift bag with some tits and ass. While this is incredibly common nowadays, he was considered a marketing maverick back then, and ran wild about town, drunk on the praise that comes with power.

Of course, I knew none of this shit. I was a naïve, small town teenager during most of the 80s, and didn't move to Toronto until I attended university late in '88. I had never heard of Dandy until 2004, when I joined Flickr, an online community of amateur photographers. At that time, I was shooting a lot of promo stills for amateur porn videos, and taking live performance photos in strip bars for my first clients - a local burlesque troupe. Dandy had proclaimed himself the "Rogue King of Flickr", and entertained people daily with endless stories and photos of artsy hedonism from the 80s. But he spun each tale as if it had just happened last weekend, not 25 years ago. And that should have been my first red flag.

But I guess I had already succumbed to the playful charm of Dandy Warhol. He liked my work and began to e-mail me on a weekly basis, insisting that we should get together one day over drinks and discuss art. I had little confidence in myself, or my photographic talent then, so of course I was flattered that the Rogue King of Flickr wanted to meet me in person. He had boosted the careers of many artists and photographers, so maybe he could put me on the map? Imagine that! This guy had connections that could change my life.

So I invited him to a Raptors game. I'm not much of a basketball fan, but my boss had given me a pair of floor tickets for a game he was unable to attend, so I offered the extra seat to Dandy. Boys usually dig sports, and it was the most public place in the city to safely meet up with a stranger.

I nervously waited for Dandy at unlucky Gate 13, smoking a cigarette and scanning the crowd for a familiar face. I won't lie and say that I felt no disappointment when my Big Man About Town was almost a foot less Big and a helluva lot more Town than I was expecting.

He was quite handsome alright, but he was at least 55 years old. I had seen many photos of this man, but not one of them could have been from the past 15 years. And he was jockeyboy small - maybe five-six tall at best and a buck twenty soaking wet. But his voice boomed out of the night like fireworks - balls-to-the-wall hoser fireworks packed with the give'rs and fuckin A!s that reminded me of home. I knew this language he spoke. It was the beer commercial partyboy slang of Anytown in Southwest Ontario, where everyone is a dood and cigarettes are darts. My Evening with Halston had taken a sudden detour through the Rock'n'Roll Parking Lot.

We chatted and watched the game until everyone around us grew annoyed with our enthusiastic banter and sssshushed us into leaving our seats - ten minutes into the first quarter. We had Platinum tickets, so we set up camp in the Platinum Lounge, a velvety dark hole of uppityness in the nether regions of the ACC.

After a parade of $14 martinis, and some lazy stolen kisses in our private booth, Dandy heads for the boy's room and leaves me with an astounding bar tab. I paid it, because I could afford to, and it ensured that I owed him nothing, in case I decided to walk away. That's when Dandy came back a revived man, all full of energy and wit, spinning his hilarious yarns.

Now I'm telling you he was a lot smaller and older than my taste usually allowed, but he was an incredibly exciting person to be around, so I agreed to let him drive me home nevertheless. Looking back now, I can't believe I didn't die that night in his car. I was pretty drunk, he was really drunk, and as I would later figure out, he was also blasted out of his gourd on cocaine. But we made it to bed, where The Secret Life of the Abominable Snowman began to slowly unfold.

The more time I spent with him, the less I liked him. My friends all hated him too. Here's the valuable lesson I learned from this: if your closest and most trusted friends ever work up the courage to tell you they hate your boyfriend, it's not because they're jealous of your Enchanted Love. Don't try to Jerryfy the situation with the talking to the hands and defiant claims of y'all not knowing you. Maybe your friends just aren't interested in identifying your body in a morgue, or dealing with your shit whenever it hits the fan. Try to see things from their perspective: the one you would most certainly share if you weren't sleeping with the jerk.

I was lost in the Dandyland promise for a short time, until I finally pieced together the Snowman's mysteries. He was always "out of town on business", but would want to stay at my place 24/7 whenever he was in town. He was incredibly secretive about his work, his friends and family, and seemed forever stuck in the past. He only spoke of things that happened to him long ago, and often repeated the same stories over and over. He had inexplicable mood swings and outbursts of lunacy. And for a guy who was supposed to have money, he sure as hell wasn't spending any of it on me.

I came to suspect that Dandy was a deep-end cokehead. I booked a haircut and interrogation session with my personal Huggybear, my hairdresser and cherished friend Mr. Styles. He used to be a major coke dealer in the 80s, and he confirmed that Dandy was one of his biggest customers.

Styles told me I was getting involved with a parasite who had far more enemies than friends. He told me about his faghag Dina -- she was Dandy's former business partner and lover. The poor girl lost the gallery and her life savings when his coke habit got out of control and resulted in reduced sales, tattered business relationships, financial disasters and lawsuits. Dina claimed that that Dandy was living in a town 3 hours away with his ancient parents. The out of town business trips were actually parentally-controlled curfews, set up by his weary folks in an effort to control his binges and keep him alive. He was a terrible addict, morally and financially bankrupt, hiding from his creditors and exes, living like a ghost that surfaced just long enough to restock his stash.

I heard crazy stories about the drug money that was owed to Mr. Styles, and the about the men he sent to break Dandy's legs, and how much it pissed him off that they never did find that little bastard. Most importantly, I heard more than enough reasons to stay the fuck away from The Abominable Snowman.

This is not an easy thing to do after the Snowman has taken up residence on your couch, but I said farewell to Dandy the next day. I didn't see him again for four months, when my phone rang in the middle of the night.

"It's Warhol. I'm in your lobby. Please let me in."

Was he kidding me? NO WAY. I hung up.

The phone rang again.

"C'mon Kat, pleeeease... I've had a terrible night and I really need a place to stay."

I looked at the clock and it was 3am. He was weeping on the cold shoulder of my building intercom, blurting out apologies and regrets. I hung up on him again.

I wish I could report that I was a pillar of girlpower, and did everyone a favour by calling the cops, but I can't. I caved after the fourth phone call. I reluctantly let him in, and then panicked for the next 90 seconds about whether or not he was coming to kill me. But when I opened the door a crack and peeked out, he was tiny, drunk, high, and sporting fresh cuts and bruises on his face.

He launched into an animated account of being at Dina's house just four blocks east of me. I thought perhaps Dina had forgiven Dandy for his past treachery, but it turned out he was merely a secret guest of Dina's 19 year-old son. They were doing lines in her kitchen when Dina came home unexpectedly early, and caught him in the act of getting her son high. She lost her fucking mind and beat the shit out of him, before she called the cops to have him removed. He had to bolt, and had nowhere to turn, baby, and oh wasn't it lucky for him that I was just a short run away from a long night in the clink.

He couldn't understand what her fucking problem was. Seriously. Why was everyone cramping Warhol's style? And by the way, when did I become such a cold hearted cunt? What was I anyways - some kind of man-hating dyke? Didn't I know who he was? He was Dandy Warhol, celebrated iPorneer and Rogue King of Flickr. He was a Somebody, and I would always be a fucking nobody.

I felt ashamed, and defeated, and angry, but I knew it was pointless to bait a raging cokehead in the middle of the night, so I made him a cup of tea and suggested that he savour the comfort of my couch for the next 3 hours, because he needed to be gone when I left for work the next morning.

I peeled his sorry ass off my couch just before 7am - drunk and smelly, incoherent, and barely able to stand on his own. His face was really fucked up, so I asked him if he wanted me to take him to a hospital or a doctor. He said he felt nothing. Nothing at all. It looked like his whole face was broken.

I half-carried/half-dragged him out of my apartment over one shoulder while he pleaded to stay and sleep it off for the day. He had nowhere else to go. How dare I force him to sleep in a park, like a goddam hobo! Didn't I have no compassion? Maybe if I wasn't so fucking fat and ugly, I wouldn't be such an angry and bitter bitch! Why was I being so mean?

I guess I'd had enough. I turned around sharply and suckerpunched Dandy as hard as I could, right on the bridge of his swollen nose. He screamed out in agony and dropped to the curb, spitting up a violent stream of blood and obscenities. I was remarkably startled by my actions, and it is just like they say - it's like watching yourself in a movie. I had fantasized about it regularly, but had never actually punched anyone in the face before. It sure doesn't feel as good as you think it will.

The last time I saw Dandy Warhol, he was puking in my neighbour's garbage can and threatening unholy revenge. My only regret from that day is that I didn't have my camera on me for that one last capture of the Abominable Snowman.

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