The passing of a gay icon, and my second superpower


I’ve often said that I have one superpower, but in fact, I have two.

The first I’ve already mentioned: my uncanny ability to identify, with a fair degree of accuracy, voiceover actors in commercials and documentaries. It is perhaps not the most awesome of superpowers, but it’s mine, and I own it.

My other superpower is far more important, but I only recently began to recognize it. My second superpower is this: I can listen to the elderly talk. In fact, I love it. Hanging out with people a couple of generations older than me, hearing their stories, the details of their long lives, letting them vent: I can’t get enough of it. I can’t explain it, either, but there you are.

Case in point: my former landlord, who used to drop by unannounced, or who’d call me over to his house on some pretense, like helping him change a lightbulb, or getting my opinion about a piece of furniture he wanted to sell. Either way, we’d end up chatting for hours — or rather, he’d end up chatting, while I tossed out the occasional open-ended question. I think he drove Jonno crazy, but all his stories about World War II or traveling in the Holy Land or French Quarter gay bars in the 1960s made me giddy, even the ones he repeated every time we got together. I don’t want to sound twee or [more] affected or whatever, but, really, everyone’s life is pretty interesting, isn’t it? Everyone has some intriguing details to share, I think.

Anyway, as I said, I didn’t really understand that this was a superpower until earlier this week, when I went to help my friend, George, pick out some photos to be shown during a memorial service for his partner, Mickey, being held this weekend. And what was supposed to be a 20-minute project turned into three hours of reminiscing.

I would’ve enjoyed that anyway, but it was especially interesting to hear about Mickey. I don’t feel right, talking too much about him here — it feels a bit weird and soon, like I’d be talking about Mickey behind his (or George’s) back — but here are a few tidbits:

  • Mickey was a young boy when Israel achieved statehood, and in his teens and early 20s, he served in the Israeli Air Force.
  • Eventually, someone — possibly one of Mickey’s less-pleasant family members — tipped off Air Force commanders that Mickey was gay. He was discharged from the service and expelled from the country.
  • Mickey moved to Vienna and re-started his life. Before long, he won a trip to America in a contest, landed in New York, and met the man who would remain by his side for the rest of his life. Together, they opened a cabaret in New York that helped launch the career of Karen Akers, Joy Behar, and others.
  • After they grew tired of New York, Mickey and George came to New Orleans, where Mickey became a major player in gay Carnival krewes and a centerpiece of the gay balls. The traditions were foreign to him, but as someone who’d lived through a range of identities — Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, military, civilian, Austrian, American — he took to it like a gay duck to water. (NB: this is a recurring theme of Jewish identity.)

I heard many, many other stories during the evening I spent with George, but this is my favorite remembrance: Mickey in his coronation costume, when he was named Queen of the Krewe of Petronius. There were live fireworks behind the skirt, which shot off as he made his entrance:

Beautiful, no?

Related note: my friend Glenn pointed me to this article at Joe.My.God about the difficulties facing elderly LGBT folks. Give it a read, then find and practice your own superpowers.

11 thoughts on “The passing of a gay icon, and my second superpower

  1. malamapono

    uh-huh…..beautiful indeed. and an aspect that had me noting — just today — the lack of exposed color i’ve been seeing in this current era whereby history has been placed in its own closet. love the photo!!

    thank you — richard

  2. Will

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now. I always find something very moving here. This story was no exception. I’m from Texas and a frequent visitor to NOLA. Oh boy, would I love to know more about the gay bars of the 1960s there.

    It was from a blog that I learned of the tragic fire years ago in a French Quarter gay bar…and last year went to the site and paid my respects.

  3. richard, this made me a little misty eyed reading it. thanks so much for sharing it. and mickey’s pic has a new home as my desktop image. i love it. xo, tq

  4. George

    It took a friend from New York, now retired and living in Italy of all places, to alert me to this blog and this particular entry. I’ve been emailing Richard to this address for years but had no idea it was his blog. I don’t believe he ever told me about it. I can assure Richard and those who have posted and those that are lurking that I will write my Mickey stories, the good and the not so good, for others to contemplate and relish. Mickey was a unique individual who touched countless lives, literally all over the world. No small feat. I am proud that I helped him to do that.

  5. Richard

    @George: I’m a little embarrassed to see that you’ve stumbled upon it, but happy, too.

    But of course, you realize that your story and Mickey’s story are intertwined. I hope you plan to include many of your own stories, too — you’ve both lived enough for several ordinary folk.

  6. Arleen Sorkin

    i met mickey when i walked into his club in the eighties. i told him i was in a comedy group and that we were looking for a club to play in. he walked me upstairs and showed me the space. he then immediately sat me down, not to talk business, but to feed me meatloaf with a hard boiled egg in the center, chicken soup and a vegetable side of all kinds of zuchini that was cut to be very skinny like spaghetti. at that point i did not eat any vegetable. i was strictly a meat and potato girl but i probably tasted it to be polite since he was sitting with me. i loved it. since that day…i eat vegetables so basically not only did he employ our comedy group but he saved my life. i eat vegetables but i still however have not had anything that tasted as good as he made. he also used to send me food whenever i got sick. some busboy would be at my door with soup or whatever else mickey knew i liked from his menu. it made a girl living away from her parents and trying to find her way in new york feel very protected. no small thing..

    george can tell you about all of the famous people that performed at mickeys. he was genuinely happy for all of us if someone important came to check us out. liza minelli came, brandon tartikoff, carolyn kennedy to name just a few. he spoiled all of them rotten on our behalfs. for example alan king came to see us and mickey got him so drunk that i am sure he had no memory of what he saw the next morning. alan king told us that night that we could have our own tv show. mickey made us remind him of that the next day on the phone.

    when i went hollywood i knew i had guardian angels in both mickey and george and kept in touch. they were always so happy to hear from me and to listen to how things had progressed in my life. it is an insane thought for me that only when i visited new orleans with The High Heeled Women, booked there by Mickey and George, did i see them since i felt all of these years that i did.

    i hope heaven is a giant cabaret and that God drops mickey’s cover and minimum since he always did for anyone that needed it. the world is less safe without him and definitely less fun.

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