Photos by Aliya Naumoff
We bought Genesis this black shoulder cape at a flea market in Brooklyn. She plans to decorate the back with a custom-made biker patch. As the fashion editor of this very magazine, I frequently have to schlep heavy garment bags around New York City and leaf through lookbooks of clothing Nathan Barley wouldn’t use to hang himself from a closet rod. Consequently, when it’s time to shop for myself it sometimes feels like I’m working. Shopping with friends is also difficult because they don’t understand that I’ve already pored over everything on the racks a dozen times over, so I’d rather not wander around SoHo for eight hours while tourists step on the shoes I just bought.
About a month ago my situation got me to thinking: If I could shop with anyone in the world who would it be, and would I enjoy it for once? A few weeks later, a friend called to ask if I wanted to help her pick out a new dress and I confessed my dilemma. Somehow the conversation led to Genesis P-Orridge, specifically the time she told Ian Svenonius he could look just like her for $50. After we hung up, I opened my laptop, googled around until I found the contact info for Genesis’s publicist, and wrote an email asking whether she would like to go on a shopping spree with me on Vice’s dime. Later in the day I panicked. I had just asked the pandrogynous, gold-toothed founding member of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV to be my gal pal while we spent a day buying crap we didn’t need. Would she get pissed and cast a hex on me with a psychick cross? Thankfully, I wasn’t left in suspense for long. I received an email from Genesis the next day: She was very much into the idea. We corresponded throughout the week, and she warned me that she had given up on trying to appear fashionable after being diagnosed with diabetes (a side effect of contracting a parasite during a visit to her beloved Nepal). But she needed to get some biker patches made and could use a new pair of boots, so we set a date. A few days later, I was knocking on her door. It swung open, and there she stood with a bleached blond bob, denim vest, black t-shirt, raw washed jeans, and Supra high-tops. Things were a bit awkward at first (the photographer, two cameramen, and producer in the room probably had something to do with that), but we tried to make chitchat while Genesis showed us her prized biker vests.
As we waited for the elevator, I could tell she was uncomfortable, but she was still being polite. The drive to a Brooklyn flea market would be the true test of her tolerance. I attempted some small talk as we walked to our rental van. I asked her about her building, which I had noticed was largely occupied by Hasidic Jews. She told me that all the children were afraid of her, and everyone had been nicer when she first moved in because they thought she was a “real” woman. I sensed a hint of sadness in her voice and couldn’t help but glare at everyone who gawked at us as we exited the building and piled into the van. Making our way toward Brooklyn, I casually asked about one of her tattoos—a leather glove with a nurse on top. She told me it was a tribute to her late wife, Lady Jaye, who worked as both a nurse and a dominatrix. The vibe in the van quickly snowballed into noticeable uneasiness as Genesis recounted the story of Lady Jaye’s funeral, specifically her body drifting down the Bagmati River engulfed in flames. I responded with, “That’s a beautiful send-off,” which is easily the dumbest thing I’ve ever said. She ignored that remark and continued to rehash the painful memories that my innocent questions brought flooding back. We were off to a really great start.
As we parked outside the flea market in Fort Greene, I slowly began to feel like Genesis was one of my mother’s best friends instead of someone notorious for jacking off onstage. We walked around the market, digging through piles of 60s erotica novels and discarded grade-school prize ribbons that seemed to interest Genesis for whatever reason. Then she saw the bear head. Gen (at this point I felt comfortable enough to abbreviate her name) wanted it for an upcoming museum exhibit. We tried haggling with the lumberjack-looking asshole selling it, but the guy wouldn’t budge. Instead we settled for a Liberace-style velvet cape and some 70s Penthouse mags. Happy with our treasures, we decided to celebrate over some champagne. We got a table at a nearby Italian restaurant and promptly ordered two bottles of the bubbly. Finally, everyone seemed to loosen up. I listened as Gen recounted some of her past: There was her father, who rode motorcycles in the British Army—a man who never approved of her lifestyle. His last words to Gen were, “You disappoint me.” Then there was her mother, who passed away just last year. Although she was more accepting, she wasn’t exactly supportive, contacting Genesis only once in the last 30-odd years.
Our conversation took a weird turn as she spoke about her devotion to Santeria—Gen’s an Olorisha, an official priestess of the religion. She expounded on various rituals and then explained to me the significance of the life-size doll that once sat in my grandmother’s apartment. I always wondered about that thing because it scared the shit out of me. It was decked out in expensive jewelry, and later she mysteriously buried it fully clothed. Apparently, my sweet Gran practiced Santeria as well. The burial was an offering to a God named Oshun, affectionately known as “the perfumed whore” and the deity worshipped by Gen and Jaye. Four hours had passed since we first set out, and there was little to show for it except a good buzz and a stack of nudie mags. We weren’t going to hit all the shops we wanted to visit if we didn’t leave soon, so we quickly paid our bill and set off for Greenpoint to order some biker patches from a weird sporting-goods store. A group of Puerto Rican guys stared us down as we walked into the shop. Gen ignored them, of course, and casually mentioned that they were known as the Lost Boys—a gang she’d frequently seen in Ridgewood, Queens, where she lived with Lady Jaye before relocating to Manhattan after her death. As she browsed the store, she told us that she once owned a 1979 BSA and used to hang out with the Hells Angels at their chapter in her hometown of Manchester. Their New York branch is off-limits to Gen because Jaye once dated an Angel, but at 61 years old she wants to ride again. I quickly glanced over at her order form: She wanted a gross quantity of rectangular patches in black and red that spelled fuck ’em all.
It was getting dark as we headed to Trash and Vaudeville, our last stop whether we liked it or not since Gen needed to be home by nine. Jimmy Webb, the store mascot and Gen’s old friend, greeted us amicably. He rummaged through the racks, and as he picked out clothes he looked over at Gen and said, “Isn’t that the most beautiful face you’ve ever seen?” Later, when she told him that his ass was hanging out of his pants, he shrugged and yelled, “If I would’ve known you were going to be here today I wouldn’t have worn any underwear!” I can only imagine what he was alluding to, but we were out of time so I bought Gen some boots and we drove her home. Before saying good-bye, I invited Gen to a movie the next night. I was speechless when she agreed.
Without a video crew in tow, Sunday night’s vibe was much more intimate and friendly. We started our evening at Employees Only, where Gen downed three fraise sauvages as I stuffed my face with bread in an attempt to keep my rabid enthusiasm at bay. We talked about our dogs and the serial killer who’s recently been terrorizing Long Island, and she told me my messy bun looked “very chic.” Then we finished up and headed to the movie. She fell asleep right after the opening credits and snored through the rest of the flick. It was kind of sweet. By the time the movie let out, it was pretty late, and she was obviously ready to go back to sleep. As we walked out, she claimed the film was just “all right,” but I knew better. In the last few minutes I spent with her, I saw that she’d finally let her guard down and was having a pretty good time. She thanked me for getting her out of the house and told me to give her a call again soon. On the way home, I thought, “Am I now friends with Genesis P-Orridge?” It felt pretty awesome. We taped our day with Genesis for an episode of From the Pages of Vice.