Lunch With Marilyn


 Exploring the dusty back roads off Highway 66 in Southern Californian we were used to happening upon some fairly unexpected sights. However the area around Helendale – a small nothing kind of town – had little to recommend it. After some hours of scrubby depressing desert that even the cactus looked miserable in we were considering turning around when we saw the sign.


It was mounted on a chain link fence that surrounded 40 acres of desert scrub.  Inside was a typical nondescript California ranch house. Beside it sat a navy blue Rolls Royce. The gate was ajar and we drove in. 

The door of the house opened and Marilyn Monroe appeared. She was dressed in stretch black pants, kitten heels and a tight, plunging-neckline fluffy pink sweater. It was about 10 am. 

The extraordinary apparition gave a little wave and sashayed towards us. Up close Dixie Evans – then in her sixties – bore more than a passing resemblance to the woman she had spent her career impersonating.  Beneath the full make-up and perfectly coiffed platinum hair she was a tantalizing hint of what Ms. Monroe might now look like had she lived – and had a full life.

Dixie was delighted she had Australian visitors – she was delighted she had ANY visitors – but Aussies were an added bonus because she had spent her early childhood in Roma, Queensland. Her father, she explained as she led us towards the museum housed in another building, had worked for an oil mining company up there in the tropical north and her childhood had been very happy. In fact it had been the happiest time of her life.

The museum itself was fascinating – but not nearly as fascinating as its custodian and guide.  In a perfect Marilyn whispery voice – and using Fred Astaire’s silver cane as a pointer – Dixie showed us lovingly displayed gowns and G-strings of the goddesses of striptease. Lili St. Cyr, Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm and all the others. Jane Mansfield’s bath tub was there. Feathers, bling, and pasties of every color each had a story from an earlier, more innocent, age of erotica.

Whether it was the fact that my companion David was a journalist or that she was simply starved for company Dixie began recounting story after story of her life during the golden age of American striptease when she had reigned as the “Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque.”

She insisted we stay for lunch and ushered us inside the main house she shared with the widower of another legend of the stage. Jennie Lee the famous “Bazoom Girl” had died some years earlier after buying the old ex-goat farm out here near Barstow. Her plan was to provide a retirement home for the former girls of burlesque  – and to open a museum honouring them.

Her old friend Dixie was now bringing that dream to life.

Jennie’s ashes rested in a lovely urn on the mantelpiece. Her husband came in and welcomed us then left his wife’s friend to tell her stories. No doubt he had heard them before.  But we hadn’t. In the strange, dark house Dixie hauled out box after box of photos and rare memorabilia she was still sorting for the museum. With each photo came a story about the girl smiling or pouting for the camera – the girls who had thrilled men for a generation before this art form gradually lost its appeal.  

Dixie was lamenting the end of America’s interest in the great tradition of burlesque when an extraordinary figure flashed past the window. She peered at us through a blanket draped over her head as she scuttled by. It was hard to tell how old the woman was but her missing teeth and sun-toughened skin suggested a sad U-turn in her life. Dixie told us she was an ex-dancer, down on her luck, who they had taken in. Because she couldn’t stand being indoors she was currently living under a hedge. 

As if things couldn’t get any more bizarre the door opened and a dog entered. It was lacking a snout. The silly boy, Dixie, informed us, had got it bitten off sticking his nose down a gopher hole. With the toothless cloaked woman and the no-nose dog – and with Jennie Lee’s ashes presiding from the mantelpiece – I started to feel as if I was hallucinating. 

Dixie herself almost seemed unreal – a phantom out there in the middle of nowhere surrounded by  the glitz of another time.  She told us she used to strip at one of Jack Ruby’s clubs in Dallas and had her own theory about JFK’s assassin. Ruby was evidently obsessed with Jackie – so obsessed that he was prepared to shoot the man who killed her husband. That’s love for you! Dixie had absolutely no doubt about this.

The desert gets dark early in winter. Suddenly it was night. Our hostess insisted we stay over. She wouldn’t hear of us leaving. We were visitors from her favourite country and must stay in the “Honeymoon Suite.” As alluring as the red heart-shaped bed was we had to hit the road.  

Before the light went Dixie offered to pose – a la Marilyn – draped across the Rolls Royce. The photo later appeared in an Australian newspaper with David’s article. We sent her a copy and she was delighted. Other journalists followed the story up. A friend from British TV came and made a program about the museum and Dixie for a travel show. Maybe, she told us, the world was finally waking up to a chapter of its heritage it had stuffed away in a drawer for too long.

Maybe Marilyn was finally going to come back from the dead.          


From the Doghouse to the Penthouse

gillie on sofa

three springers

My Springer Spaniel Gillie is a failed truffler. He began life on a trufferie and nearly ended it there.

In the serious business of truffling there is zero tolerance for non performance and this little dog had no interest in the smelly black hunks buried beneath oak trees on the far flung NSW property.

There were far more interesting things to sniff out – especially rabbits. 

‘I want a worker not a pan licker,’ his owner growled. ‘He’s got to go.’

A bullet was the easiest and cheapest solution. A single dollar.

I got the phone call from one his neighbours who knew I was a Springer nut. I was between homes, between dogs. Unsettled, unhappy, pretty lost. Not really in any position to take on a new dog.

‘I’ll take him,’ I told her. ‘How can I get him?’

Gillie has gone from a miserable life chained to a kennel and fed virtually nothing – straight to heaven. He sleeps on the bed, gets cooked meals, is cuddled incessantly and surfs the waves at the magnificent local beaches. He has a big beautiful chocolate brown Labrador girlfriend and is her toy boy.    

Most importantly he never has to look for a truffle again in his life.

Reading Jamie Ivey’s entertaining book Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog I am introduced to the serious – and even deadly – world of ferreting out the earth’s most expensive fungi. People get shot over the things and a good truffle dog is worth its weight in…black gold.

Moving to France and buying a truffiere in Provence, Mr. Ivey first considered getting himself a pig for the all important job. Sows have a great success rate as truffles evidently smell like a boar in heat. The downside is losing a finger or hand when trying to retrieve the big stinky thing from the pig’s gob.  

A better bet, it was agreed, were rescue dogs…..’homeless bastards make the best truffle dogs. Perhaps it’s the need to please,” he was advised by the area’s most successful truffle hunter.

Gillie is my third rescued Springer.  The previous two, Harry Morton and Sailor, were lovely dogs with large fan clubs. Although not the sharpest knives in the drawer – I admit to helping Sailor with a dog intelligence test – they are apparently the most sensitive of all the breeds and their feelings are very easily hurt.

There is something retro and highly emotional about a Springer that evokes joyful childhood memories. Walking them endlessly around Venice Beach and Santa Monica I was approached hundreds of times by people who recalled having one as a child. Some became quite misty as they reminisced about their childhoods and happier, simpler times.

So successful were the boys at attracting a loving person I soon began loaning them out to my single male friends in the hope of meeting a nice gal on a walk. No lasting romances blossomed, but the dogs loved the opportunity to snaffle up all the dropped pizza and hot dogs and I eventually had to put an end to these adventures and put them on a diet.    

There is nothing very old fashioned or particularly reminiscent about a pug. They are a much newer member of the western world dog club. Their fan club however is just as great as I discovered while pug–sitting for a traveling friend last year.

If you are ever in any doubt about the goodness of mankind try taking a pug for a walk. Everybody loved Tinkerbelle. She could cheer up the most miserable looking sod by trotting up to them like a small barrel on legs and snuffling in their face.   

Kind of off-putting if they were in the middle of dinner at an outdoor restaurant.

Late at night I would walk her around the somewhat seedy Sydney neighborhood that is the beat of very large South Pacific Islander transvestite hookers. We would find them sitting on a bench, stilettos kicked off, resting their huge tired feet after a long stint on the hard streets.

They are an imposing looking lot and I was keen to move right along. But Tinkie headed for the biggest pair of feet and plonked herself right down on top of them. It may have been the nicest thing to happen to their owner the whole night.    

‘Where’s her nose?’ he wanted to know as she snorted with sheer joy.

Good question. The original pug was bred to have no snout. I am delighted that they are now permitted to have one to breathe through. Still, snout or not, I can’t picture Tinkerbelle sniffing out a truffle under a tree. 

It would simply be beneath her. I bet Gillie would concur. In fact I’m pretty sure they had a chat about this as they sat together on the sofa, although with her snuffling and his squeaking it was hard to tell.

Who, in their right mind, they seemed to be agreeing, would bother with an old boar’s stinky underpants when you could have a perfectly nice pair of perfumed trannie feet?

Picking Up Men

A friend who is a bass player in a much beloved band was driving home one cold winter night on a lonely country road when he happened on an unusual sight. Beside a burning house stood a man in his underpants holding a small child by the hand. Sticking out of the man’s chest was a pair of scissors.

A winding dark road at 3 am can do weird things to your mind, but this was no hallucination as he realized when he stopped and they got into his car.

The man explained that he had been attacked by an unknown assailant who had set fire to the house. His rescuer delivered him to the nearest hospital, left his details, and drove back off into what was now dawn.

Several weeks later he had a call from the cops. They needed to see him. He was a witness in a homicide investigation. He had picked up a murderer who had just killed his wife.  

I am reminded of this recently as I head home up the mountain from town. She is standing by the side of the road dressed from head to toe in rich green velvet – including a hat that a lady might wear to a smart function. She has a matching bag over her shoulder and her thumb is stuck out at passing traffic.

It is about 100 degrees in the shade. I skid to a stop and roll down the window.

“Where are you going?” I ask, and only then realize that the person is a man.  He hops in and we climb the mountain to the next crossroads where I will drop him on his circuitous trip home to an outlying village.  Someone, he assures me, will pick him up for the next leg. We are soon deep in chat about the world going to the dogs and I am sorry to wave him goodbye. I am almost tempted to drive him all the way home, but it’s quite far and the last time I did that I kind of regretted it.

That time I had known it was a fella I was picking up. As it was another hot day and he wasn’t going far from my place I offered to take him there. All the way he regaled me with the story of his impending marriage on a beach and his grandmother who he was living with meanwhile.  He did work around the property to help her out, his dear old gran. It all began to sound a little fishy. A little fabricated. The grandmother’s house got further and further away than he had originally said. I began to wonder if I had picked up a murderer.

Finally we rounded about the fiftieth bend along a bush road and he pointed to a house. We had arrived. I was so relieved I nearly kissed him. I didn’t wait around to see if an old granny emerged from the somewhat crooked house – with or without scissors – and nearly skittled him as I reversed out of the driveway spitting gravel. 

Everyone hitch hikes in these parts. Gas is killingly expensive and the distances long. In the USA hitching is being outlawed. The DMV warns that it is actually illegal to pick up a hitchhiker.  

I pick people up all the time. There has never been a problem other than some filthy sod wearing yoga pants that hadn’t been washed since Buddha – and who I almost had to disinfect the seat after.


hitch hiker

I’ve given rides recently to an Irish chakra student, an artist who paints the “sacred sexual,” a pastry chef, a street musician and his dog, and a young man so stoned I was terrified to let him back out of the car. All the way up the mountain he drew circles in the air and laughed to himself. He was one of the most beautiful boys I have ever seen. In an area where angels are part of everyday life – like the next door neighbors – he actually looked like one straight off the pages of my old Sunday School book. Golden and beatific.

I wanted to warn him about being out on a lonely road alone and very off your head at the mercy of strangers. But who am I to warn an angel?  

When I was young and stupid (even more than now) I hitch hiked through Morocco with my girlfriend Michelle. We even got a ride at the edge of the Sahara Desert on a former racing camel, and later transferred to a Kombi van full of hippies that crashed into a mountain. I wouldn’t put a Moroccan hospital high on my list of must-do experiences, although it’s an experience not soon forgotten. Especially the camel stew for lunch.

“Didn’t I pick you up hitchhiking a while ago?” I asked a man in a cafe recently. He looked at me as if I was a bit crazy and assured me that “delightful as that would have been,” he definitely wasn’t hitchhiking. I could see a woman who must have been his wife shooting me a filthy look as they climbed into a Mercedes.

Come to think of it, it wouldn’t be a bad pick-up line at a pinch.