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’s father was an authority on holistic medicine. Baron Edmond James de Rothschild helped him relocate from Russia to a village in what was then Palestine called Menahemia, probably during the Third or Fourth Aliyah.
- 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: