My brushes with Fame – volume two. Quentin Crisp.

OK, i’m struggling to connect this story to advertising. But it has to be told. Maybe it’s about being true to one’s brand. Or something.

My recent posts related to this era of my life jogged this funny memory. Back when i was starting out in new york and working random jobs as I worked on my advertising portfolio, i had one job that involved moving corporate files. these days you could move them all on one terabyte drive. and carry it in your bag. but not back then, thankfully.

we took files from one building in lower mid-town manhattan and delivered them to another, newer, building in the lower west side. the fastest route took us through the west village. the gay capital of manhattan.

one afternoon, as we sped in our van to the lower west side in the pouring summer rain, we came to a red light. And there, right in front of us, was the legendarily flamboyant English gay writer Quentin Crisp. He was dressed as you’d expect and a small japanese assistant held an umbrella over his hatted head as he inched his way across the street.

I couldn’t help but spew out his name in sheer surprise. ‘That’s Quentin Crisp!” i said to my puzzled Jamaican and Puerto Rican co-workers. i was the only white guy on the crew. They looked at me like I was Quentin Crisp. A) How did i know who this foppish effeminate-looking old white guy was? and B) Who the f**k was he?

So i did my best to explain. Instantly regretting ever uttering his name. It was the longest and gayest red light of my life.

Finally it looked liked Mr. Crisp had cleared the walkway and the light was about to turn green. When suddenly Ronnie, the driver, rolled down his window and screamed “YO, QUENTIN CRIPS, YOU F**KIN’ FA**OT!!!”.

I was mortified. And immediately felt sorry for this elderly literary icon who’d been the subject of homophobic abuse his entire life. But the funny part was that Quentin Crisp not only wasn’t offended, he positively beamed back at us. He was delighted. He looked genuinely happy at being recognized by this uncouth denizen of the South Bronx. He still had it! He was still famous. By god, being Quentin Crisp still meant something in this godforsaken town.

We’d accidentally made his day. And then we sped off. I sighed a deep sigh of relief. Only in New York.

7 responses to “My brushes with Fame – volume two. Quentin Crisp.

  1. Funny how our lives have intersected Vinny.
    When I was 16 or 17 in the sixties, I used to go to East Ham tech for Life drawing classes.
    The model we used to draw I thought must be a hermaphrodite.
    Massive blue permed hair, pot belly, boobs, and a grungy posing pouch.
    Years later I found out it was Quentin Crisp who posed there as an easy way to make money without actually doing anything.

  2. Wow! That is interesting. And i used to live in Leytonstone. Did you keep any of the QC portraits?

    Apparently he was a fixture in the NYC scene. John Hurt did a brilliant job of portraying him in the film of his life.

  3. Yeah, he always said he preferred New Yorkers to Brits.
    New Yorkers were much more upfront about his gayness, like your friend Ronnie.
    Whereas Brits viewed it as an embarassment not to be spoken about.
    It’s similar to the way hard sell works better in America.
    A New Yorker will say ‘You’re fat.” and he doesn’t mean anything else by it.
    An Englishman won’t say “You’re fat.” because it would imply you’re worthless and disgusting.
    New Yorkers used to tell me they found the English were closer to thge Japanese that way.
    You have to read the subtitles.

  4. yeah, i could see that.

    i remember when i got hired for my first ad job (ed’s place) the HR woman looked at my my picture on my green card (taken two years prior) and then looked at me and said:

    “Wow, New York really did a number on you!”.

    And didn’t think anything of it. Just stating the obvious.

  5. philip eaton hogg

    “longest and gayest red light of my life.” — brilliant!

  6. glad you like philip. it was strange. and exacerbated by herbal enhancement if memory serves.

  7. Pingback: My brushes with fame - part three. Ludacris (the rapper) « ESCAPOLOGY (the escape pod’s blog)

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