Getting Horned Up With Martha!- Almond Horns! -180 eggs, 139 cups of sugar, 132 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 168 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 76 recipes to go!

January 26, 2011

Martha's Almond Horns

André's Almond Horns

Here’s a cookie I’d first encountered in the late eighties in one of the many Italian bakeries that dot the outer boroughs of Manhattan. Ground almonds are combined with butter, flour, salt and sugar and then rolled into three-inch logs which are shaped into a horseshoe. Once they emerged from the oven and allowed to cool, they are generously dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

These cookies have a comforting old-world taste with the distinct flavor and aroma of toasted almonds. My kitchen smelled absolutely delectable with the odor of sweet butter and almonds wafting through the air.

I baked this batch of cookies as a gift for one of the executives at my workplace. She contributed generously to my AIDS Walk fund back in March so I owed her a batch of cookies. She, like most executives, communicates in quick soundbytes. She simply left me a three-word review on Facebook- “They were delicious!”

Apparently not delicious enough to promote me to upper-management, but one can’t count on the magic of cookies for everything.  Ah, well. I’m glad she liked them anyway.

After the events of 9/11 in 2001, I found myself  setting up a new home in America’s heartland, Indianapolis, Indiana. My sister and her husband had moved there a year earlier so that he could work for the major pharmaceutical company, Eli Lily, and they were both eager for a familiar face. After I expressed doubts about remaining in NYC after the terrible tragedy they both encouraged me to come to Indianapolis. I didn’t feel like I had any other options and so I packed my meager possessions and headed out to my sis’.

Indianapolis is the 15th largest city in the United States. That makes it the biggest little town I’ve ever lived in. The city’s semi-urban core is surrounded by sprawling suburbs in every direction. Just beyond the ever-expanding suburbia is farmland. Lots of it. Speckled within the sprawl are non-denominational mega-churches and thinly disguised covens of white-supremests… Oh, and illegal fireworks stands… Oh, and porn shops that feature 25¢ arcades.  I like to imagine some of the pastors of the mega-churches spend time in these arcades where they secretly meet up with some of the white supremests for an afternoon tete-a-tete. Once they’ve had their fun they skip off to blow twenty bucks on illegal fireworks and spend the rest of the evening exploding things. It’s possible I’m making all of this up in my overactive imagination but when you live in the suburban heartland you have to do something.

At the end of one of these sprawling Indiana suburbs was my sister and her husband.

Their home was quite nice. It was a new construction in a nice neighborhood. It had nice bedrooms and a nice garage. The creek in the back yard was nice. They both had nice cars and nice jobs. It was all very nice. I’ve never been very comfortable with nice. I offends my snarky side. I like dysfunction. It gives me something to point and laugh at. I can’t say my sister and her husband have always appreciated my level of well-meaning snark and I quickly wore out my welcome. I made plans for a swift exit.

I needed to:

a) Buy a car. – God bless non-judgmental financing companies. Car purchased. NEXT!

b) Find a place to live. – Found a fun duplex just outside of downtown in a quaint forgotten neighborhood called Fountain Square. I lived a block away from the duck pin bowling alley. (Duck pin bowling is different than regular bowling by virtue of the balls being the size and weight of skeeballs you’d find along a seaside boardwalk. The pins are quite short and squat and they’re hard as hell to knock down. It’s really just an excuse to drink a lot. So, I guess it’s almost exactly like real bowling.) My landlord was a sexually ambiguous, single gentleman with a deep affection for antiques, Victorian home restoration and cleaning products. He agreed to rent to me if I kept the place spotless. He’d leave me notes offering cleaning tips and advice for stubborn stains. Maybe these were vague sexual advances and I just wasn’t getting the hint or maybe he really thought I was a slob. Who knows. Anyhoo- Home secured. NEXT!

c) Find furniture for said home. – It’s nice that I wasn’t carrying any debt on my credit cards at the time. Within a week I maxed out one of them but, hey, I had a bed to sleep in and a table to eat at. I also had a couch to sit on but that was provided by the generosity of one of my sister’s co-workers who wanted to clear out their basement. It was green with little sailboats on it. It had a hideous charm. At least that’s what I told myself. Furniture for the apartment procured. NEXT!

d) Find a job to pay off the debt I had just incurred. I’m an actor, musician, composer, writer, and teacher. How hard could it be to find a job in Indianapolis? This is what I told myself in my own stupid, and marginally more-masculine Pollyanna brain. I began making the rounds to the various professional theatres in the area. I sent emails out to all the local companies asking to meet for coffee or a drink to help figure out a game plan. One theatre informed me they were about to conduct auditions for a play called Dirty Blonde by Claudia Shear. It’s a three person show (one female and two males) about the actress/comedian, Mae West. One of the male roles needed to be able to play the piano. He needed to be able to sing. He needed to be a little chubby and middle-aged. He needed to be struggling with his own identity and sexuality.  I began to think that Claudia Shear based the character on me. I just knew I was the right actor for the role and so I auditioned with a couple of really good monologues. The director had me read from the script and called me that evening to offer me the role. Job found. NEXT!

e) Relax and enjoy being a Midwesterner.

Rehearsals began. I loved the role. I loved the play. I loved my fellow cast mates and I loved the director. The play was about Mae West’s history, and a really fascinating history it is. She started her career in the theatre where finding no roles for a woman of her wit, stature and loose taste, she took the initiative to write and produced her own. Each show was more scandalous than the last. Her play The Drag played on Broadway in the twenties and featured over thirty men in full drag. The police showed up, closed the show down in mid-performance and arrested the entire cast for indecency. There are some wonderfully funny ancient photos of men dressed as flappers flamboyantly posing and camping it up for the camera as they entered the paddy wagon.

Mae West was a revolutionary provocateur and a truly powerful feminine force to be reckoned with. Later, in her film career, mostly paired with the drunken vaudevillian, W.C. Fields, she rose to international stardom. She’d sing like a cat in heat and pulse her hips in quite an unladylike fashion. She’d tell bawdy jokes filled with sexual innuendo, she’d write her own material knowing that she was presenting herself as the world’s first true sex kitten. She knew scandal would sell and she concocted many scandals with her in the center of each one. She knew how to work the media to her advantage and the world found her repulsive and endlessly intriguing.

In her private life she was nothing like her stage persona. She didn’t drink. She never really dated or slept around. She was very private and always working. She hated W.C. Fields and he hated her but they loved the money they made together. She maintained her sex kitten persona till her death in 1980. Her last film, 1978’s Sextette was an exercise in bad taste and a tribute to Mae West’s determination to keep working. Maintaining her sex kitten persona and filmed through an inch of gauze obscuring the camera lens, an eighty-two year old sequined Mae West hobbled around playing opposite a very young Timothy Dalton in a musical mess of a film. Her lines were fed to her through an ear piece hidden under her enormous blonde wig. It was her swan song. Her last slap to the face of the self-righteous snobs.

The play touched on all of these aspects of Mae’s life and in Ms. West’s story line I played the extras in her life: the accompanist, the co-actor, W.C. Fields, a drag queen, etc…

Woven into the fabric of the play is the story of  Charlie, a corn-fed Midwesterner who relocated to New York City. As a teenager he made a pilgrimage to Beverly Hills to meet his idol, Mae West. To play a joke on a star tour truck parked outside, she dressed Charlie in one of her sequined gowns and platinum blonde wigs and had him go outside to wave to the star-struck tourists. She then gave him the ensemble as a token of thanks. Charlie was enamored.

Years later, as an adult, while visiting Mae’s grave in Brooklyn Charlie meets a woman he falls madly in love with. Charlie has a secret, though. Over the years he’s developed a bit of a personality disorder. Part of him has actually become Mae West and he engages in conversations with himself as Mae. He’s also taken to dressing like her on occasion. How could anyone in their right mind love Charlie? What if anyone were to find out his secret? Everything works out for him and his love in the end and the play ends with the bizarrely sweet image of a woman and a man dressed identically like Mae West embracing each other in a long and passionate kiss.

The play was a success and ended up having its run extended multiple times. I received a string of profusely complimentary good reviews for my turn in the role. In fact, one of the reviewers was so enamored she’s stayed in touch with me these many years. In less than two months I established myself as a desired artist in Indianapolis. I couldn’t have been prouder.

The show closed and I was quickly cast in the title role in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the Indiana Repertory Theatre with a long rehearsal period followed by 48 performances. I thought I was far too young to play the part but the director seemed to think I could pull it off and since there was a paycheck and I was an arts whore, I graciously accepted the role.

It was New Years Eve. Just weeks before rehearsals were to begin. The director from Dirty Blonde invited me to play cards and watch Dick Clark’s ball drop. Two elderly lesbian friends of his were hosting the tiny gathering which consisted of me, the director, the two lesbians and an actress/comedian from Seattle who’d just wrapped up a two-woman Christmas sketch comedy show at the theatre, Dos Fallopia presents Ham for the Holidays. She was a large woman. Understatement. She was an enormous woman. She was approximately five-foot-two and Six-hundred-and-fifty pounds. The director was quite a large guy, too as well as the two elderly lesbians. It’s rare I find myself in a room where I’m the slimmest. It felt good.

We played cards, joked, ate, drank, cussed, belched, and generally had a really good and giddy time. Around 11:30 one of the old lesbians produced a coin purse from her lap. She reached in and offered a small white pill to everyone at the table. I asked what it was. She replied, “Oh, it’s ecstasy. You’ll love it.” I paused. I had heard of ecstasy but always thought of it as a drug for club kids in the dance bars. Not for little old lesbians and covens of card-playing, middle-aged, fat people like us. Despite my misgivings I took it with a swig of champagne. The drug had been developed initially to help treat alzheimer patients. I don’t see how this drug helped them find their way home. Maybe it just made them happy to be wherever they were and therefore not seem lost.

Within fifteen minutes I was experiencing a level of euphoria that can only be described as someone turning on the stupid-happy faucet in my brain. Everything was wonderful and I immediately fell in love with everyone in the room. I also began to hallucinate a bit. The large actress morphed into a pink and squishy piece of furniture like a sofa with a sense of humor.  I leaned on her. I stroked her. I nestled against her enthralled by her warmth and her multitude of nooks and crannies like a large, fleshy english muffin.

We all gathered to watch the ball drop. Dick Clark with his perfect tan and teeth, this was before his stroke, led the countdown.


The ball dropped, everyone cheered…  and I burst into tears. The stupid-happy faucet was replaced with the remembering-sad-things faucet. I watched New Yorkers in Times Square flicker across the television. After the most awful year in their history they were all hugging and singing. I could see the tears in their faces, too. They were letting go of more than just another year. So was I.  Goodbye 2001. What a bitch of a year you’ve been. Good riddance.

I leaned into the large actress/human-sofa and she pressed against me. The director pressed against me, too. The two old lesbians pressed against me, too. We stood there tripping our asses off and simply holding each other for a good five minutes. One of the old lesbians farted and the moment was gone in a fit of laughter.

In 2001, I came to Indianapolis with absolutely nothing and in less than two months I was a gainfully employed actor, a respected member of the arts community, and best of all, the thinnest person in the room.

As happy as that night was, I never touched ecstasy again.

Maybe when I’m a little old lesbian I’ll give it another shot.

As Mae would’ve said

When I’m good, I’m very, very good…

When I’m bad, I’m better!


One Response to “Getting Horned Up With Martha!- Almond Horns! -180 eggs, 139 cups of sugar, 132 1/4 sticks of Butter, and 168 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 76 recipes to go!”

  1. Mae Westside Says:

    Well, those cookies look so tempting that I wish I had a plateful right now. Come up sometime and see me . . . I’ll bake you a pan of biscuits . . . . . . but your cookies, honey, still look quite a-MAE-zing!!!

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