JR: No, I haven’t. Not yet! I have to put her on my list.
WS: She’s really amazing. She’s a very seasoned performer: very Joni Mitchell-ish in approach, but definitely unique and hypnotic in her own voice. There’s an ethereal quality to her. I got turned on to Carol Lipnik because my friend Sweetie used to do songs that Carol did, and I was like, “Who is this woman?” Then I just started finding stuff that she did. She is amazing. And she was the last show at Pangea. Because this pandemic is so otherworldly, I’m thinking that it all makes sense now that Carol would be the last performer I saw. Of course it would be her– because it’s like she’s from somewhere else in a universe out there, you know? Certainly, what we’ve learned from this pandemic is that all the things that we thought was… just ISN’T. Our world ISN’T what it was, because something can change so drastically. And, Jed, that’s the freak-out. You have to say to yourself, “What can any of us control now?” It can all be gone like that, you know?
JR: Yes, this is beyond so much. This is beyond what’s going on in only America. This is beyond what’s going on in a specific community. This defies everything: ethnicity, economic status, religion…
WS: It defies every single border that you could possibly think of. I dealt big with AIDS. We were part of an AIDS organization in the 80s. We took care of the pets of anyone that had HIV or AIDS, and a lot of those clients– I hate calling them that because they became my friends… I would do fundraisers. I would have our clients come to the fundraisers, and have donors come to the fundraisers, and I’ve always given parties. That’s my thing. Certainly, it was to raise money. But the other thing I did was: We knew a couple of the doctors that did the Dallas Buyer Club drug thing in those days– you know, all the “off label” stuff. I was able to get some of the people that we knew to see those doctors. It was only a freaking handful, but they’re still alive. They’re still ALIVE! Even then, when it was “helter skelter”, I definitely felt there was more control. You knew there were safeguards you could take: You could practice safe sex. You were told, “This is what you could do.” If, if you can do it, you have control. But this, Jed: There’s honestly no control– even as I wash down every bottle, as I spray sanitizer, as I do all of these precautions: gloves, masks, everything that I’m doing. I have to do it. We all have to do it because we don’t know anything different. But there’s a part of me every day that says that it’s such fucking bullshit. They could have gotten this under control somewhat. Could they have stopped it? I don’t believe so. I don’t think you can stop a pandemic. You know, you can’t stop Ebola– but you CAN contain it. And that’s what people try and do. But with THIS… Flights to China should have been curtailed back in December. How dare we not have protective equipment for our healthcare workers. Come on! How can we not? That to me is one of the most blasphemous things in the world, and yet it’s allowed. I have a weekend place in Milford, Pennsylvania, and there are spots out there where people are still resentful of having to take any precaution. Yesterday was a nice day. I heard there were groups of people hanging out with their friends with no masks on. They’re blaming the people that come from New York, or New Jersey, or Philadelphia for bringing this virus to them. This is the kind of thinking. And they’re still pro-Trump. How anybody can be is beyond me. I just can’t wrap my head around it. What did we have last night? I think that 700 people died in New York. Is that the statistic I saw this morning?
JR: Yeah, something like that, sadly.
WS: This is just wrong on so many levels. It’s bullshit on so many levels. And you know, for me, I’m such a person that’s always controlled their destiny and danced to my own drum for as long as I can remember. And now this is just like, “I don’t know.” I fucking float through my day. You asked me what time I get up. I’m up! I just won’t allow myself to do the “sleeping in” thing because it’s mentally not good. And as you know, I started a cooking show. So I have to be up. I gotta be ready to cook! (Laughs)
JR: (Laughs) It’s very difficult because as a nurse, I will give people healthcare advice if they ask me. I’ll tell them what they should eat and how they should exercise. I’ll teach them about medication. I’ll tell them what they should do to maintain their own health. But again, only if they ask me. If they are over the age of 18 and they are not my own children, all I could do is make gentle suggestions. They are going to have to make their own decisions about their own health, you know? But in a way, this is not the same thing. This is not the same thing as eating healthy, for example, because the choices you make by eating healthy, for example, are only going to affect you and your loved ones. These decisions people make about going out in large groups are going to affect ALL of us!
WS: The scary thing about this is that you can be positive and a carrier with no symptoms. So let’s say three people are negative, two are positive, and those five people get together. So now at that get-together, the other three become positive, right? ‘Cause this thing just fucking spreads. And they all have people that they’re in contact with. Maybe they are not necessarily going out to meet people, but they have a partner or family or whatever. I mean, people don’t get that this is how the numbers multiply.
You’ve got to isolate. Even for myself, I could have been more vigilant. My isolations were started… I think it was March 8th. It was that weekend that I knew the envelope had been pushed a little bit. I gave an event out in Pennsylvania. I run LGBTQ events with my Executive Director for an organization called TriVersity. I gave a community event called First Friday. We weren’t masked or anything. We knew about the virus, and it was when people were first starting to say, you know, “Don’t hug or kiss.” or whatever. There were people coming in who were not necessarily part of our community, but they were locals who wanted to experience the band. I always book really great bands. When people were wanting to meet me and say hi and introduce themselves, they would extend their hand, and I would jump back and go, “No!” and namaste, or nod my head, or air handshake, you know? Every person says to me, “What’s wrong?” I’m like, “Well, there’s the virus.” — and this is what I got from everybody: “Yeah. But it’s really just like a flu.” or “Oh, but that’s over in other places. It’s not here yet.”
JR: I’m sure some of them thought, “Oh, only old people get it.”
WS: Right. It was like it didn’t have anything to do with them. I still kept vigilant. The next day I went on a hike with a bunch of my New York City friends who have homes here who I hadn’t seen in a while. We all met in the parking lot to go on this hike, and they got out of their cars. The first thing people wanted to do was extend their hand or give a hug. And my reaction, of course, was the same. Their reaction was the same too. They, they looked at me like “What are you talking about?” I said, “There’s the virus. You have to be really careful.” And then the answer was, “Oh, you know, it’s just like a bad flu.” and “It’s not going to be spread through shaking hands.” I remember saying, “But we don’t know that. We just don’t know that.” A lot of my knowledge has come from working in places like Africa. In the last place I shot in Cameroon, so many people have malaria. I’m like, “Fuck, I’m on malaria pills! Why does everyone have malaria?” Well, the female mosquitos in the area I was in were resistant to Malarone. Well isn’t that just great? I freaking prayed a lot when I was there, because my chances of catching a lot of things were really great. So, I’ve dealt with situations of things spreading before– and trying to be careful with handwashing and all of that. But maybe that’s what was in my head on March 8th when I did my pullback. I’ve been masked since March 8th, even when they said you didn’t need to wear masks back then. I’ve either put a covering over my face, and I’ve got some of those cloths masks now. Initially they said, “Oh, it doesn’t do anything.” But I am a common sense kind of person. It makes sense to me just to have a barrier. I don’t touch my face anyway. It’s common sense: you know as a healthcare worker that all our germs are on our fingers. So don’t go poking around on your face, your nose, your eyes, your mouth. It’s a great way to get sick– even a great way to spread a cold. I started taking these precautions back then. I’m taking ALL the precautions. I know people aren’t gonna want to hear this. But, it’s there. We all have to think this way. You’ve got tons of people walking around that are positive that don’t know it. So, if they don’t have a barrier in front of their face, then what the hell? Someone who is compromised can pick it up at up at the drop of a hat. When I walk in Central Park and I’m not near anyone, I feel fine with that. But I can’t get groceries delivered now. There’s no slots anywhere today. I’m going to have to make a run. I call it the “food death run!” (Laughs) That’s how I think of it. For the food death run, I have a couple of pairs of gloves. I have the gloves I put on to wear out, to go to the store to buy the stuff. Then, everything gets deposited in my hallway. Then I take my shoes off, I run inside, and spray everything with disinfectant. This is before it even goes into my kitchen and gets run under hot water! And then a third pair of gloves. This is fucking crazy. It’s crazy! And what if I miss a spot?
JR: It’s good to take common sense precautions! I’ve changed my behavior too. I do go jogging, but now I wear a mask and I stay on the empty or minimally populated streets, of which there are now many in my neighborhood. You can’t be too cautious, unless it gets to the point where you lose your head! (Laughs) It’s better to be too aggressive than to look back and say, “I should have done this, this, and this!” So… let’s talk about the cooking show!
WS: (Laughs) Here’s the deal with this show. I don’t cook. That’s the biggest joke on the face of the earth. But I’m a performer and I’m an entertainer, and with not being able to do my thing anywhere and having things canceled, what can I come up? I’m a stupid, funny kind of performer. You know what I love about your burlesque? It’s stupid funny. I love that, because that makes people laugh, and it’s warm, and it’s engaging, and we’re funny just as people. That’s what we do! We’re clowns in a sense.
JR: I agree!
WS: Right, right. So what was the funniest thing I could come up with, something that nobody would expect? Oh yeah, a cooking show! This is like the biggest joke. Because I’m not home a lot and I’m out all the time. I have modeling bookings, I have auditions, I get bookings for other things, I interview people on panels, I’m an author and a speaker. So, there’s so many things that I do with the whole New York nightlife thing. I don’t have freaking time. And why would someone like me want to cook? It’s a waste of my time. It’s so much easier to just order the food in, eat it, and then go to a club, right? So to get through this time, I thought a cooking show is a great idea because it’ll be funny and entertaining– and more than that, it will make people feel really good because it’s just silly and stupid. I was going through recipes before you called. (Laughs) Oh my God, that’s so funny. My life has come to this! Recipes! Something that would never enter into my language. I’m looking at these messages and I’m like, “Fuck! How do people do this? It’s so boring!” But you can’t imagine the comments, the calls, and the texts I get from people. They’re like, “I was feeling really down and then I saw your episode for the day!” First of all, I try and come up with a funny costume. For my very first cooking segments, I’d say that I was looking like a “normal girl”. But now it’s definitely moved into my New York nightlife. And I love that. You know this about me: I love hairpieces, extensions, glitzy clothes– anything that will pull out my inner drag queen. So that’s the direction I’ve gone in with the show. It’s an entertaining thing for people to watch. I’ve got friends that are sick and they say, “You make me smile.” To have somebody tell you that! I know you’ve had people say that to you. Jed, I look at you and you make me smile. What could be better? What could be more satisfying?
JR: Awww, thanks!
WS: So you asked me about other things I’m doing. This is really great: Eileen Shapiro and Jimmy Star are my PR people. Both of them are outrageous bundles of energy. They are exactly like the rest of us, you know?! Of course, they came from Nick Lion. He made the intro, and they’ve continued to get me podcasts and radio shows. The beauty of it is that I can do it from the corner of my couch, and I can be on Skype or Zoom, or I can just be on the phone talking if it’s just audio. I have all different options open to me. These shows are long! I did one the other day that was like 85 minutes with a radio host in Oklahoma. Great guy! He’s completely frustrated by watching people in places like Oklahoma, where it has hasn’t yet started to skyrocket out of control. People are not masked, they’re not gloved… How cool it is to be able to share what is going on here with somebody somewhere else for 85 minutes? You know me, Jed: I can talk about anything. If anybody wants to interview me about anything, they could come up with any topic and I will have over an hour’s worth to say on it. Fashion, music, cinema, health, beauty… all of it, because it’s all part of my world. This guy was into extra terrestrials and Bigfoot. That was some of the stuff we covered besides my book, and me, and all of that. But I love talking to him because I’m into all of that too. My curiosity is insatiable. I don’t have fear. I’m willing to jump in there, try anything, do anything, experience anything… I don’t care about rejection the way a lot of other people do, because I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’ve been rejected. Lord knows! In my book, She’s The Last Model Standing, if you really look into those stories, it was about, one horrific modeling or acting experience after another, or about trying to claw your way from the very bottom of rejection all the way up– and not letting anything stop you. What I’ve learned about myself is that the only thing that can stop me is me. That’s it! I’m going to be a force no matter what. I’m going to get through this pandemic. I’m going to do this cooking show because people are really loving it. And then I have another show where we’re going to start bringing guests using Zoom. It should be interesting to see how it works. Not my favorite cup of tea of course, because I love having a human being there. I work off of a human being, but in this pandemic we have to be responsible. I’m looking to get the dynamics of other guests on the show. And the only way to do it right now will be through Zoom. So we’ll see how that works out. To me, live performance is just where it’s at. That will never die. But we need to learn how to use these technologies. Let’s fast forward to when the pandemic is over. Okay. Are we going to need Zoom? We might use it for a corporate meeting or whatever, but are we gonna really need it in our lives? I know I won’t need it. I’m not going to have modeling jobs on Zoom. I’m not going to be performing on Zoom. But that’s assuming everything’s gonna go back to normal. Right now, Jed, I don’t know anything. All bets are off. This really threw me for a loop. It took everything that I knew in the world, everything that I knew from the time I was born, and blew it the fuck up. It wouldn’t have been anything I could have even wrapped my head around. I said that about 9/11 and that was true. But this?! People say to me, “How do you stay motivated, to be out there and do this cooking show to, and going on radio shows and all of that?” Well, that motivation is who I am. I’m going to be that person no matter what. But I know that this is killing the psyche of so many people, and that’s the tragedy behind it. This is the thing that bothers me a lot: Everyone’s so cavalier: “I’ll be working from home now. We’ll all be working from home?” Really? Well, maybe YOU will be, but you know what? My friends are performers. I chose that world. They’re not going to be working from home, and they’re going to have to figure out how they can make money. It’s very selfish to say we’ll all be working from home now. I heard that the other day. I’m like, “That is such bullshit.”
JR: Whoever said that probably wasn’t thinking about what they were saying too intelligently.
WS: You just said it: “Not thinking about”. Let’s talk about “not thinking about”. Not thinking about the other people in the world. Not thinking about how if a virus is in China, what makes you think it’s not coming here? We really have to START “thinking about”. We can’t always be like, “How is my own ass doing?” You know, I think we’ve all been so selfish for so long. We really have to become aware of how everybody else is doing. That is my say. I really believe that.
JR: That’s why when they say “Think globally”, it’s not just a catchphrase. It really isn’t. You can see how much we are really all connected with this. So yeah, you’re not just missing a show: “OK, I’m going to cancel my tickets because I’m not going to go see this.” No! THE VENUE IS CLOSING! And that means a lot of people out of work. How many people are involved in a Broadway show or even an off-Broadway show? LOTS of people: people that are going to be affected by this. It’s not just a matter of whether or not you missed the show, or whether you can’t go to the gym….
WS: That’s exactly right. And that’s how people have got to start to think about things. It’s so cliché, but you know the words: I am my brother’s keeper. People really have to start to follow that.
JR: Agreed! So, lastly: I know that we both said that one of the first things we are going to do when it’s “safe to go outside” is to go dancing! But what else do you have planned when the pandemic is over?
WS: I have an open slot for another gay husband! So I’ll be interviewing, ’cause it’s always better to like interview live. I don’t want to do that on Zoom– although that’s kind of funny when you think about it: potential gay husbands coming up like Hollywood Squares! (Laughs) The other thing I’m going to be doing, which I’m working on now, is a film called Working Dogs: A Love Story. My husband Alan Kaplan and I have been shooting it for the last year. It is mostly shot. This film is very important to us. It’s about service dogs and therapy dogs, and how they’re affecting the people that they’re helping– and how the people that they’re helping make such a difference in the dog’s life as well. This is one of the documentaries that was a passion project for me that I really wanted to get out there. I’m hoping to be able to do the editing during the pandemic safely, and that hopefully by the time the smoke clears, this project will be ready to get out there and go to film festivals. We’re also looking for sponsors for it as well, because I think the whole human/animal bond thing is now, more than ever, going to become one of the most important things to keep us together as a human race. That’s what I feel.
JR: It’s also worth mentioning that during the pandemic, pets are important companions for people who live alone.
WS: Oh my God! Absolutely. I have little Nugget next to me. He’s just about as sweet as anything, and he sticks to me like glue. I think that he instinctively knows that there’s something very wrong out there now with the pandemic. So, I have that project I’m working on. Then of course, hopefully I’ll have modeling jobs. I’m actually on hold for gigs for May. I think that clients who are putting me on hold are very optimistic. I don’t see this being over that fast– but we’ll see. We’re changed permanently. I have a very good PR team behind me to get my brands out there. There’s a lot of reality-based things in television that I would like to host and that I could do with my background, like traveling and hosting in remote parts of the world– as well as the whole fashion thing. I don’t think the Food Network is going to be knocking a path down to my door for the cooking show! (Laughs) But I want to be able to use all the things that I am to make my life and my career as good as possible. And then, of course, there’s what we had started back in January: myself and Nick Lion and, at the time, Eileen D.: We were going to throw these big extravaganza parties. Nick and I, of course, are planning a huge extravaganza when this is over. We’ll have performances, and just an amazing party. I want to be able to do more of those. I’m very well-placed out there, and I love hosting these kinds of events– because again, to come full circle, it’s about bringing people together!
JR: I am SOOOO looking forward to that! Thank you again, Wendy!