Friday, April 29, 2016

Knocking wigs back in Carbondale June 11

There's nothing more fun than taking the show on the road, and since I've yet to visit Carbondale -despite having many friends in the area - I've decided to head down to Social House, have a few drinks and tell some outrageous stories. 

Thanks to Shaun Kocel and Nick Timmons of Social House, my local ambassadors Caleb R. McKinley-Portee and Chris Dexter, and a huge shout out to "Maestro of Memes" Josh Jordan for creating the artwork, which will also be used for upcoming events in San Francisco and New York.

Please like the Facebook event page for updates.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sexy @ Sixty: Vendrick's Birthday Happy Hour at Bar: PM Benefiting PAWS

Sensational @ Sixty 

"I didn't want it to be about me" begins Paul Vendrick when talking about how he decided to make his sixtieth birthday extravaganza a fundraiser for PAWS, his favorite charity.

"This way I was able to shift the focus, from being a guest to a host."

PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) provides resources to people living with HIV/AIDS so that they can keep pet companions as long as possible, and according to Vendrick the need is so great there's a long waiting list.

"Bar: PM wasn't a hard choice, and it was a logical one. As you know James, Chad, and their bartenders are very generous and agreed to donate all tips to PAWS, plus I was able to take over the whole bar for a few hours."

"You better work, bitch."                       

Sure, Vendrick is known for his affable personality, his disarming smile, and his charity work, but his name rarely comes up without someone mentioning that he's in better shape than men half his age.

"There are no shortcuts. It's a lifestyle."

And it's a lifestyle he's maintained since coming out at 18. That means hitting the gym six days a week, running, and watching his diet - a task made easier by not keeping unhealthy food in the house to begin with, and his near total ban on dining out.

"I'm very controlling about what goes in my body, so I just don't eat out" he says, before clarifying that he will go to a restaurant if, for instance,  it's the site of a birthday party or other special event.

Thoughts on Sixty 

"There's so much we didn't see coming. Things like Grindr, for instance, but I'm not going to talk about all that. Isn't that what old people do? Always talk about the way things were." Vendrick laughs.

But he did briefly touch on the AIDS crisis which wiped out a majority of his peers, including his brother and his partner, and then offered his thoughts on the way gay culture views older people.

"The gay culture isn't one that honors its predecessors very well, but, to our credit, we do work to make things better for those coming after us. It's always been that way." 

The Important Things

"As far as charity goes, the people I admire the most aren't celebrities. They're my friends. Mike Mullen, for instance. That guy works tirelessly. He just never stops."

"I didn't have a choice about being gay, just as I didn't have a choice about getting old" said Vendrick. And while that's true, he did have the choice in redefining what it means to get older - which he's clearly rocking.

There will be complimentary wells and domestics, food, and special shots. Raffle tickets are only a dollar and prizes include gift baskets and Pride VIP passes. 

UPDATE 4/29 

Tonight's the night! And stay for the dazzling 9:00 show starring Adria Andrews, Krystal Light & Mariah Candy!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Saturday's Super Gay Radio Interview

Host Garrett Miller

Los Angeles based Garrett Miller and New York based Paul InMass spend the first half of Saturday's SuperGay Radio podcast (listen) discussing RuPaul's Drag Race, and spend the second half (I come on 26 minutes in) discussing my stories including:

OBSESSED: Troubled Man's Quest to Ruin "Queen of Controversy" Janessa Highland

Malfeasance, Maneuvering and Meltdowns at the Monocle  - particularity the unsuccessful effort to debunk the story, and the orchestrated trolling of all my pieces.

I read several stories from Delusions of Grandeur. A Few Hundred Tales From the Emperor of St. Louis , and I discuss plans to tour.

Host Paul InMass

Sunday, April 17, 2016

OBSESSED: Troubled Man's Quest to Ruin "Queen of Controversy" Janessa Highland

Kyle Pedersen was known to the owners, employees and entertainers of the Soulard Supper Club after leaving reviews like the one below. 

In the following days Shain Tooley, owner of the yet-to-be-opened club, reached out to Pedersen in an attempt to understand his grievance. Tooley even invited him to visit the club when it opens later this month, and offered him a drink on the house. 

"He said if we fire Janessa Highland immediately his campaign against us would cease. If we didn't it would escalate. "

One of the most intriguing and controversial entertainers in St. Louis - a city where upsetting the apple cart will quickly get you blacklisted - Highland's known for her pull-no-punches style and is accustomed to vocal detractors. 

But nothing could prepare her for Pedersen. 

Grey Fox Show Director Jade Sinclair, a personal friend of Highland, recalls how the two first became acquainted with Pedersen. 

"He got my phone number off of Facebook and began calling me, then he drove all the way to Jefferson City to watch us perform" recalls Sinclair. 

Outside of the venue Sinclair said Pedersen hit on Highland, but his advances were rebuffed. Soon after, Pedersen, who identifies as heterosexual, hatched a most unusual scheme to exact revenge.  

Jade Sinclair, Show Director at Grey Fox

In a bizarre plot twist, Pedersen decided to launch his own drag career as a way to take Highland down, and debuted as her estranged sister, Vanessa Highland. 

The threats began to go beyond simply upstaging the Missouri All American Goddess 2016, with talk of bringing weapons to the stage. 

Based on Pedersen's apparent criminal past, entertainers felt they had reason to be concerned. One by one bar owners from Bar: PM to Grey Fox began banning Pedersen. 

Despite her best efforts, Vanessa Highland never stepped on a St. Louis stage. 

Pedersen began spreading rumors that Grey Fox had closed, and that Jade Sinclair was harboring "a dark secret." 

"In the beginning I was deeply disturbed that anyone would put such nasty things on social media about me - things that are not true and are not a joking matter. However I learned that by letting it bother me he was getting what he wanted. I could not control him but I can control how I let him effect me. I know who I am -- and hope that those who know me also know who I am. The ignorant things he posts on Facebook speak more about who he is than anything else." said Sinclair. 

Are we dealing with a mere troll, or is Pedersen's obsession far more dangerous? He's not yet responded to my request for an interview, but if he does I will update this story. 

"I definitely think he's unstable" began Highland, who is staying on guard, taking security precautions, and has told every venue where she performs that she won't go on stage if Pedersen's in the building. 

Despite her practical steps concerning personal safety, the Queen of Controversy lived up to her reputation when offering her final thoughts on Pedersen's quest to bring her down. 

"Better bitches have tried." 

****UPDATES**** 5:30pm 

Performance Art 

This afternoon the above story was used as performance art at Bar: PM to great fanfare. Highland and Adria Andrews  read the piece as the screen shots flashed across the televisions. 

Kudos from a Former Nemesis 

Springfield's Widow Hutchens has long been a nemesis of Highland's, and actually cancelled on my 2013 Jet Set event (immortalized in Delusions of Grandeur) - a gig that came with a private two-room suite at the Chase Park Plaza - because of her intense disdain for Highland. 

Today she shared the story and offered the following: 

** UPDATE 4/27/16** 

*The* Dustin Mitchell, out of concern for Highland and Sinclair, contacted Pedersen early this morning in an effort to understand his war on them. Pederson responded. 

I had Pedersen's number on file and it matched the screen grab. 

Later, Pedersen messaged and then blocked me. 

Periodically I remind my readers that, despite my history with Dustin Mitchell, which includes being framed for a hostage crisis hoax, we're friendly with one another and I've long maintained he's one of the most interesting people I know. 

***UPDATE*** 4/28/16***

Dustin Mitchell draws up orders of protection for Highland & Sinclair.

Meanwhile, I had my own exchange with Pedersen. 

Pedersen is still operating a fan page in the name of Highland and Sinclair, despite a barrage of demands to Facebook that it be removed.

Outrageously, Facebook replies that nothing is violating their terms of service.

Paul Emery had the following response:

***UPDATE*** 5/1/16


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Last Respects for the Armour Plant. Implosion Video

Photo by Chris Andoe. Edited by Pamela Devine

There's been buzz for the past month that the Armour Meat Packing Plant is being demolished, and last night I got word that the behemoth would be imploded this morning at nine. 

In Delusions of Grandeur I wrote about the last time I visited the site, what it meant to me, and a kindred spirit I encountered. 

Old Man of Armour

I've spent a great deal of time documenting the collection of ruins that made up much of the East St. Louis area. It’s fascinating to see what happens to large masonry structures after fifty years of abandonment. The first couple of times the decay seems static, but after a few seasons your eye begins to measure the steady progression.

The site urban explorers long found the most intriguing was the Armour Meat Packing Plant, which was the first of East St. Louis’s big three plants to shutter, closing in 1959. Visiting this behemoth was a religious experience for many, with its soaring smokestacks, towering ornate machinery—some circa 1902—incredible views, and endless areas to discover.

With a few flashlights you could descend into the labyrinth basement complete with oily black stone walls and deep watery pits. You could climb multiple levels, taking in the glazed brickwork and the old slaughter floor complete with a cattle chute, and check out the incredible views of the St. Louis skyline and the Mississippi.

Oneexplorer documented his journey to the top of the smokestack, where bricks came loose in his hands and he nearly fell to his death.
 The mystique around this place was accentuated because it was difficult to find, and you had to have a lot of street cred to even begin to look. You’d head north through East St. Louis, past the rough old prostitutes strolling Route 3, make a right at nowhere, make a left at nowhere, park along the nameless, overgrown and potholed road surrounded by the remnants of long vacated stockyards. Once on the property you’d trek the long convoluted pathways through thick vegetation, careful not to fall through open manholes, before finally reaching it.

Nature had taken back the site, inside and out. Trees were firmly rooted on the roof, vines climbed through windows, and a giant white owl waited in the rafters.

I’d visited the site regularly for a couple of years before metal scrappers discovered it and removed much of the flooring, and disassembled some of the ornate equipment. On an intellectual level I wondered why the thefts bothered me so much. After all the building had been steadily collapsing on itself for decades, and was well past the point of being converted into a new use. The condition was terminal, and after half a century of isolation, development was finally encroaching with the new I-70 slated to skirt the site. This hidden, mysterious treasure—long a beacon for explorers and thieves—would soon be laid bare as a dangerously accessible, intolerable eyesore on newly visible, valuable property. Its days were numbered but the dismantling bothered me nonetheless.

After being in California for seven months I was eager to see the ruins. With my friend Roberta in tow I visited the neighboring Hunter Plant, owned by my buddy Badass Charlie’s trucking company and slated for demolition, several sites in downtown East St. Louis, and I saved the best for last.
Sure enough the scrappers had stripped away even more of the personality, but in light of recent severe weather I was surprised that the structure hadn’t fared too poorly.

I was in the main machine room looking around when my eyes locked with an old Black man in an official-looking uniform.

“Who told you you could be in here?” he demanded.

I’d always had ready-made replies in the event this would happen, but in that moment I felt like one of the 12-year-old kids in Stand By Me. I simply replied, “Nobody. I was just taking photos.”

“Get your crew and get outta here.”

My crew? I realized he thought I was a metal scrapper. I called to Roberta, and he followed us closely as we walked the long overgrown road littered with stamped bricks, scraps of wood, and broken, colored glass towards the property line. I shared that I knew about the scrappers and also thought it was a shame. He then opened up.

“They’re who I was hopin’ to catch!” he began. “They’re tearing this place apart.”

I’d found a kindred spirit. This man loved this crumbling monstrosity even more than I did. After inquiring further I was astonished to learn he worked at Armour during its heyday.

“When they said the plant was closing and everyone was let go the boss pulled me in and said they need to keep one guy on as the caretaker, and offered the job to me,” he revealed.
In 1959 he watched his coworkers leave for the last time. He watched a solid facility slowly decay until entire sections of the roof crashed in, walls crumbled, supports failed, and people like myself climbed the building with abandon.

I had so many questions for him and asked if he’d speak with me for a piece I’d planned to write for the blog UrbanReviewSTL.

“I can’t really say nothin’, I’ve gotten in trouble in the past,” he said.

He did point to a few areas and told us how many people worked in each. He spoke of all the jobs that were there.

The overgrown lot littered with brush, bricks, and debris gave way to the blinding white pavement of the brand new access road. We were off the property. The old man with gray stubble, one blind eye and a sharp, pressed uniform had done his job.

A few years back I had a dream that after a storm I went to check on the plant. As I approached I heard a snap, like a lone firecracker, then watched as the entire structure collapsed in slow motion before me, a spectacular sight, so vivid with the smokestacks splitting and a fire escape landing just feet from my body. That would have been a demise worthy of such a structure. Nestled in quiet vegetation, and in the company of someone who loved it.

Just before we got in the car, the caretaker pointed to a nearby dirt mound and said,
“That’s where the new highway’s comin’.”

All of us understood what that meant.
I long gave tours of the urban ruins in East St. Louis, but there's not much left. Today I'll watch as the mother of them all comes down. Check back for updates.

**UPDATE** Video of demolition. My banter is wildly entertaining throughout but you can skip to the last six minutes to see the smokestacks fall.