BY MICHAEL MUSTO | The past year has provided ample time for me to rummage through my memory bank and withdraw some lovely recollections—along with many remembrances of times I made an utter fool of myself (or, even worse, was made a fool of by others). Playing in my head like a montage of not so marvelous mishaps, these vignettes reminded me of moments when I was more crass, more mocked, and downright humiliated and ready to crawl under a very large rock. Here, for your sadistic pleasure, are 50 of the most painful:
*I crapped my pants in elementary school. No more details will be given, thank you.
*As a kid, I was stunned when I watched a TV drama about the holocaust, which I found educational and powerful. In school the next day, I said to a Jewish fellow student that I had found it amazing. She started screaming at me, assuming I meant it was fun or delightful, which was hardly the case. I choose my words more carefully nowadays.
*I loved Rosemary’s Baby, so I went to see it again at the local cinema, this time taking my parents along. I was sure this would be a bonding experience, but when Mia Farrow got raped by the devil, my mother started praying and crying and dad found the whole movie hard to believe. By the end, I wanted to shoot myself.
*Dad drove me from our Brooklyn home to the city to see the movie of Funny Girl, which I was thrilled about, but it turned out to be a special price of $4.50—a lot back then—so we simply drove home in dejected silence.
*During the summer, I was in a community theater production of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth. At rehearsal, I ad-libbed a line (“My mother’s in the audience!”) and the entire cast and crew bust a gut laughing, so the director said to leave it in. But when we opened and I did the line in front of paying customers, it got nothing but crickets. And my mother was in the audience.
*I was cast in multiple roles in a campy downtown production called The Sound of Muzak. One night, I ad-libbed an allegedly hilarious line about Maria serving us von Trapps some Poppers. Crickets.
*Still not having learned my lesson, I was acting in a play I had written called Hollywood Hell, Or Cute Doesn’t Age Well at Theater for the New City. The audience sat through the whole thing as if staring at a painting, but not quite as entranced. When I got to my surefire line, “Cute doesn’t age well” and even that got no reaction, I broke the fourth wall, looked out at the seats, and improvised, “That’s the subtitle!” The only reaction THAT got was the director later telling me that if I did anything like that again, he’d kill me.
*I was in a production of You Can’t Take It With You in college and thought I was pretty damned funny in the role of the Russian ballet instructor. (And I didn’t ad-lib.) But one of my dormmates told me he’d heard otherwise from someone that actually saw it. A great deal otherwise.
*My first celebrity interview for the Columbia Daily Spectator was Carole Shelley, an actor I adored and was extremely nervous in front of. At the end of our session, she asked, “What do you want to do for a career? Hopefully not journalism.” Whoops.
*I pursued journalism anyway, but still had some learning to do. After I interviewed singer Melba Moore for a fan magazine, I left the room, then came back because I’d forgotten something. At that point, I caught Melba rolling her eyes to her cohorts over her whole experience with me. Double whoops.
*I took a “scene study” acting class with William Hickey at HB Studios. One time, I thought I was being so brave to do a scene from an avant-garde play, where my character had crabs. I kept jutting my hand into my pants throughout the scene, to deal with the infestation. Afterwards, Hickey sat me down in front of the room and said I had basically been masturbating in front of the class. Even worse, he said, “You did the scratch, but you never felt the itch.” So true, alas.
*A roommate was comically riffing to me about what I should write if I took out a personal ad. “Twenty two,” he said, “Italian, ugly….” Yikes. We never spoke again.
*In my early 20s, I landed a meeting with the great Andy Warhol at his epicenter, the Factory. A columnist, Bob Weiner, had brought me along to discuss a possible movie project that he and I could write and Andy could produce. But I was so tongue tied in front of the famed artist that I barely said a word (though when I did say something, Andy was nice about it). Weiner, who talked a blue streak, was miffed that Andy had only responded to my one sentence, lol. The movie never happened.
*In my living room, a friend and I were loudly dishing my lesbian roommate for hours. We thought she was out and about. She was in her room. When she emerged, our jaws dropped.
*I stood with a friend in matching quilted kimonos outside the ultimate ‘70s disco, Studio 54, thinking we’d be swept right in by the doorman. That never happened. Another time, the aforementioned Bob Weiner said to the doorman, “That’s Michael Musto.” In response, the guy snarled, “I know” and still wouldn’t grant admission. But I eventually managed to get on that permanent list and it changed my life, thump thump!
*In the ‘70s, a friend and I were hired to wear white pancake makeup and be mimes in the window of the Fiorucci boutique for two days in a row. After the first day, my friend was invited back, but I most certainly wasn’t. But when did I ever say I was a mime?
*Onstage with my band the Must, I made ill-advised wisecracks about Natalie Wood’s death, referring to her as having been “drunk in a dinghy.” Awful. A f*ck buddy had come to see me perform for the first time, and after the show, all he said was, “Your Natalie Wood remarks were a disaster. The whole audience felt disgusted and hated you.” Party!
*My band played a gig at a Westchester club, but the turnout was only so-so because of the weather. After the show, the owner beckoned me to his office with the instruction “Come without your manager.” That’s always a red flag; he clearly wanted to isolate and intimidate me. But I went, since I didn’t have a manager anyway. In his office, the douche strutted around and said he wouldn’t pay my band that night, but he would make up for it by re-booking us for a better gig. But it was all a setup. When I later called about the alleged re-booking, he wouldn’t take the call. I truly hope the shmo is getting stiffed down in hell.
*We did a gig at a place called the Electric Circus, and it was fine, but afterwards, a scary, mob-looking guy that managed the joint bellowed, “You were supposed to perform for 90 minutes!!!” Smoke was practically pouring from his nostrils and setting off alarms. That time requirement was news to us, but just for safety, we did the same set again—and much slower this time—fearing for our lives.
*A fellow journalist and I were in a club, talking about a trashy TV movie, when all of a sudden, he started shrieking some lusty words that sounded like a come-on. “Wes!” I replied, feeling put upon, especially since this was a time when people were terrified to have sex. But it turned out he was simply reciting lines from the TV movie as a joke! Eek.
*I pitched literary agent Mort Janklow a book idea and he wrote back a cutting letter saying that us hip downtown types think everything we do and say is interesting. Years later, his agency called, begging me to write a book about the same period. I declined.
*I asked old-time movie star June Allyson how she felt about her Depends commercials bringing her fame to a new generation. She went blank.
*In 1987, I attended Andy Warhol’s funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I assumed everyone would be dressed up in party finery. Wrong! I felt a little out of place as I stood there in my Ronald McDonald-patterned suit and green glitter beret, trying to convince myself “Andy would have loved it!!!” After all, he had loved something I said back at that movie meeting.
*Thinking it would be so incredibly funny, I stuck my head into a Village Voice editorial meeting and screeched, “The doctor just gave me the diagnosis! I have lupus! I’m allergic to myself!” Everyone was horrified—and some were truly concerned for me. At that point, I learned that the Voice was not a nightclub.
*Or maybe it was. I walked into the Voice office one day and an editor there was holding court right out in the open and reading me to her clique. A taste of my own! Years later, she contacted me, desperate for me to contribute items to an exhibit she was curating. Haha. I suddenly couldn’t seem to find them.
*I helped a relative with a court case, going to great effort to write out all the appropriate information for him in a clear way. After he won, he had a celebration, where he gushily thanked a friend of the family who’d simply given him a few pointers. The victorious relative never mentioned me! (Yes, it’s true I have Italian Alzheimer’s—I forget everything except a grudge.)
*My Voice editor, Karen Durbin, and two of her friends wanted me to take them for a night on the town, since the clubs were really exciting at the time and I was ushered into them with trumpets and confetti. I dutifully took them to Limelight, where I was usually swept in, handed stacks of drink tickets, and treated like royalty. But this night, key people weren’t at work for some reason and none of the staff that I knew was there! Never try to impress people. Also at Limelight, there was a snotty doorman outside one of the separate rooms. I tried to get in, but he said, “No, it’s a private event,” then turned to his sidekick and moaned, “Tired old queen.” I was 30.
*I was invited to a bar mitzvah party at the Mike Todd Room in the Palladium and got in, only to have the manager barrel up to me and screech, “This is not one of your crashable parties, Musto!” It was humiliating—but lots of fun when he had to grovel in apology.
*I said something to a friend about my career and he blurted, “Peaked.” Charmed, I’m sure.
*In a VIP room, a clubbie acted all excited to meet me and extended her hand for a shake. I did so, but she squeezed it so tight she almost drew blood, as I realized she actually despised me and this had all been a setup. I prayed she got explosive diarrhea.
*I called the producer of E!’s The Gossip Show, which I was a regular on. As a joke, I said “Hi” in an exaggerated voice, sardonically pretending to be one of the more mockable correspondents on the show. I dumbly assumed he’d play along, but he was a professional. Long silence. “She likes you,” he said, dryly.
*A friend was at my apartment when another friend left a loud voicemail reading the first friend to filth. I jumped up and slammed down the machine so it stopped, and covered it all up beautifully.
*For an anniversary gift, I gave a relative expensive house seats to a Disney musical. His response: “This is the last thing I’d ever want to see!” For extra punishment, I forced him to see it.
*At a Yale appearance, a student criticized a column of mine, but gave no specifics, so I had to just sputter apologies until learning more—then sputter more apologies and explanations. During the same conference, another student asked if I thought a certain Republican was gay. “No. He’s not smart enough,” I jokingly replied, and the entire room erupted into uproarious laughter. After the Q&A was over, virtually everyone who’d laughed their heads off lined up to tell me it was an offensive joke. STFU.
*At another school appearance, I was introduced, gave an introduction spanning a variety of LGBTQ topics, and then the floor was opened for questions. But the first question was not even a question: “It’s not transsexual, it’s transgender.”
*I presented an award at the LAMBDA Literary Awards. I waited forever for my turn, then took to the podium and said, “Hey, guys.” There were moans and catcalls from the audience because you’re not supposed to say “guys.”
*At Abracadabra, they rented me what turned out to be an unusable costume. Even though it didn’t even remotely fit the needs of what I’d asked for, I took it out of politeness, then returned it a few days later, willing to pay for the rental. As I returned the thing, the guy at the counter screamed in front of everyone, “Are you on drugs? That costume is destroyed! I will charge you for the entire costume!” But the costume was exactly as he had given it to me. It had not been worn. And he had barely glanced at it, clearly having prepared this whole speech just to bilk extra money for some useless merch. The amount charged was about 20 times what the costume was worth.
*Interview magazine was shooting me for a full-page feature. It was the July issue, so I dressed as the Statue of Liberty. But the photographer kept telling me to tilt my head back, and it was obviously because he didn’t want my crown to show. The mag ended up using a shot with the crown out of the shot and the whole outfit cut off, so you couldn’t tell what I was supposed to be. I looked like a contortionist, whereas the photographer could have just said, “Can you change into something else?”
*I was dropped from an Amaretto di Saronno ad campaign because in GQ, I had worn a hoop dress (which looked more like a clown suit) and said I envied the life of an old-time starlet. It was supposed to be a campaign celebrating edgy people, but I guess that was a little too edgy for them.
*At an event, I interrupted someone talking to recently dismissed club major domo Rudolf Piper. “You don’t have to talk to him! He’s out of a job!” I cracked. It was supposed to be a satire of superficiality, but it just came off as superficial. Rudolf and I were both humiliated by that whole mess.
*I told a publicist she looked so fabulously thin and wondered how she did it. It turned out she was dying.
*When I met two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters, Shelley yelped that someone at the Voice had viciously trashed her latest book. I had to act concerned and pretend it wasn’t me.
*I emailed my magazine editor that their most recent cover subject was lame and it surely wouldn’t sell. It turned out he had done the cover story.
*I gave a story idea about a very topical pop cultural contretemps to a Voice editor and asked her to include me if she went ahead with pursing the article. She looked at me like I was garbage and it was all so beneath her. But later, when it was already a worn-out subject, she proceeded with the idea and didn’t include or even thank me. Ah, the journalism family!
*When I worked on a local TV show, my cohost came up with tricks to make me “more spontaneous,” which only served to aggravate and offend. Once, I waited for her to finish a long monologue so I could say my one line explaining why I was in formal wear. (It was for the opening of the New York Film Festival that night, which I was going to plug, this being a New York entertainment show). But as I prepared to finally say my tiny bit, she purposely stepped on my line and kept blabbing. At this point, I knew the show was doomed.
*Another time, after a taping, my cohost was boasting about how great she thought she’d been that day. I jokingly asked, “And how was I?” I turned around to see a weasely producer looking at my cohost and doing a fingers-down-the-throat gesture. Really professional, no?
*Another time, I said off-camera to my cohost that I was amazed that a certain TV star had become known as a sex symbol. (Not the most enlightened point of view, I realize.) My cohost repeated what I said on air. Ugh.
*Should I also tell about how she humiliated me about my outfits in front of everyone on set? But hey, we did have fun sometimes.
*At the Village Voice, an editor chastised me for a possible conflict of interest when I blogged a rave about a new cupcake place in the Village. The fact is, me and friend Frankie C had spotted the joint on one of our haunts, so we went in, Frankie treated us to a cupcake each (the total was under five bucks), and I then asked an employee a few questions about the place, figuring it was my job to report on happenings in the city—especially the Village! I guess I could have paid Frankie back, then expensed it to the Voice, but I wasn’t filing expense reports at that point, not wanting to overtax the flailing paper. But somehow this became the payola scandal of the decade!
And those are just the tips of the iceberg, people. Thank you for indulging in my free, public therapy session. Mwah. Please don’t humiliate me further with a nasty comment!
Michael Musto is a columnist, pop cultural and political pundit, NYC nightlife chronicler, author, and the go-to gossip responsible for the long-running (1984-2013) Village Voice column, “La Dolce Musto.” His work regularly appears on this website as well as Queerty.com and thedailybeast.com, and he is writing for the new Village Voice, a quarterly which made its debut last month. Follow Musto on Twitter, via @mikeymusto.
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