“That isn’t really him, is it?” I asked Liz, trying not to look foolish mistaking a wannabe for the real thing.
“Oh, yes, dear. That’s really him,” she said with nonchalance. “Notice the entourage?” I nodded.
“I want to meet him,” I said, without taking my eyes off of my subject.
“Go ahead,” she said. “And good luck.”
Liz was aware of the size of my balls, maybe because hers had been bigger. We’d known each other only a few months, but developed a mutual admiration. What she saw in me wasn’t clear, but my fascination for her was no mystery.
Before she was known as Liz, my new friend’s birth certificate had read “Ernest Aron.” Her claim to fame was that her boyfriend, John Wojtowicz, along with two others, attempted a bank robbery at a Chase Manhattan bank in Brooklyn while holding seven employees hostage, partly in order to pay for Ernest’s sex change. The failed endeavor would be immortalized thereafter in a 1975 film directed by Sidney Lumet, “Dog Day Afternoon,” starring Al Pacino as Wojtowicz, with Chris Sarandon playing the role of Liz. The names were changed, but we knew the real deal.
We didn’t talk too much about that part of Liz’s life. I mean, who cared? We were all misfits at Cowboys and Cowgirls, whether buying or selling—or just paying for a drink ticket to watch the show. And whatever people thought, Liz’s story guaranteed entrée in any gay establishment she decided to rest her ass in. Unlike the others she hung around with, I was one of the few that was aware of her vulnerability. Maybe she saw through my tough veneer as well—one I had mastered through necessity—and had no compunction about calling me out with her many observations:
“You know, you’re the butchest guy in the room when you get here,” she said to me one night. “But by the end of the evening you turn into the biggest queen. You shouldn’t drink so much.”
I didn’t want to argue with her. And I didn’t realize I turned into Paul Lynde when I got drunk. No wonder I had a fight with him at that West Village restaurant.
“If you’re going to do it, do it now,” she said, pointing out that the line waiting to greet Andy had died down and that he had “a bored look on his face.”
I went up to the artist and his entourage, and just stood there in my tight t-shirt and Levis 501s, gleaming with my best bumpkin-from-Erie smile, the one New Yorkers seemed to find so charming.
“Hello. Are you Andy Warhol?”
“Yeeesss,” he said with a mild breath.
“Wow. My name’s Dean. I was named after James Dean ’cause my half sisters couldn’t get over his death for years, which is when I was born. I just wanted to meet you. And who are your friends?”
“Hi, I’m Halston,” said the manicured man with his arm outstretched, palm down. It was Halston. The Halston. But did he expect me to lean over and kiss his hand?
I grabbed his hand, shook it up and down, and said, “Well, it’s really nice to meet you, Halston. Like the designer guy, huh?”
The very real Halston was immune to my feigned ignorance.
“And this is Steve,” Andy said. “He runs a little nightclub.”
“Hey, Steve.” I attempted to shake his hand, but he just mustered enough energy to sit up, glance in my direction, and say hi before slumping back into the booth in what seemed like a drug-induced stupor.
There wasn’t any invite to stay, but no one was kicking me out. So I kept making small talk. To my surprise, Andy seemed genuinely interested. His attentiveness spawned an idea.
“Want to get something to eat?” I asked him.
“I don’t want to take you from your work,” he replied, gesturing around the bar.
“Oh, please. You’re Andy Warhol. Let’s have dinner, okay?”
“Okay,” he said, and agreed to meet me at Rounds—a more upscale bar and restaurant catty-corner from where we were—after dumping the others in his group.
When I arrived, the waiter suggested I have a drink while he tried securing me a table. I ordered a Dewar’s on the rocks. Fifteen minutes later, I began to wonder if my dinner date would show up. After I asked the bartender to pour me another, I turned and saw Andy approaching.
“Hello!” I said, with some relief. “I was afraid you weren’t going to show.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I lied. He didn’t need to know how insecure I felt. “Never mind.” Immediately the waiter returned and said he had a two-top waiting. I sat on the banquette on one side as Andy took the chair facing me and the bar located in the other room.
“So, tell me about yourself,” he said.
Knowing my audience was from Pittsburgh, I told him about my growing up gay in Pennsylvania while attending a Polish-Catholic grade school, then developing the theatre bug in high school. He seemed less interested in the minutiae of my life than what I was doing at the moment.
“Why did you move to New York?” he asked.
I didn’t want him to think I was just another pretty face who was looking for instant recognition without a willingness to pay my dues, so I waxed philosophical on the noble merits of working hard to be a good actor.
Andy sat quietly listening, watching, almost as if he were studying me. I liked the attention, but couldn’t read him, and felt a bit self-conscious while droning on. Finally, he interrupted me.
“Don’t you want to be famous?” he asked.
“No,” I responded, perhaps too quickly. “I just want to have the respect of my peers.” I later retracted that statement, or somewhat modified it, by saying, “Well, I do like the idea of being a household name.”
“So, you do want to become famous,” he said, and smiled faintly. I blushed.
“Don’t be embarrassed.”
“I’m not,” I said. “Well, not really.”
“How are you going to do it, Dean?” he asked.
“Well, you do movies. Put me in one of them.”
“Oh, I don’t do that anymore. But come over to my studio. Maybe we can come up with something.”
Just then a pair of Siamese twins walked by our table. Not actual Siamese twins, mind you; but twins who looked like they could have come from Thailand. They looked at Andy and smiled. He nodded and they walked away.
“I have to be going now,” Andy said abruptly.
I felt like the evening had just begun. “Well, can I call you?”
“Of course,” he said, as if I didn’t have to ask. I pointed out that I didn’t have his number.
“I’m listed,” he said with his exit.
I sat there looking down at my Dewar’s, wondering if I had said something wrong—or simply said too much. I thought about Liz’s comment about my drinking. Maybe I had a few too many that night and bored my dinner companion. I wanted to disappear.
I called the waiter over, and he said the check had been “taken care of.”
When I got home to my studio in Chelsea, I passed out.
The next morning, I tried retracing my steps of the night before. Though moments were muddled, I distinctly remembered something I had to do. Grabbing a recent copy of the phone book, shoved in the closet and out of the way, I pored through its white pages. There I found in literal black on white: “Warhol, Andy.” He hadn’t blown me off. His number was listed.