Sandra Bernhard: Rainy Day Women
Valley girl Pamela Des Barres spends a cozy afternoon with valley girl Sandra Bernhard at Bernhard's valley home.
I met Sandra Bernhard about three years ago at Kelbo's, a plasticized version of Trader Vic's. Tackiness abounds at Kelbo's-the black light is always on. Plastic vines crawl through dusty fishing nets, and long-dead, puffed, stuffed blowfish are suspended in the thick air. The night I met Sandra, an old guy with a dyed black pomp played "Don't Be Cruel" while I sipped frightening glow-in-the-dark, blue drinks. I saw Sandra walk into the dim mini-ball-room and thought, "There's that scary girl with the caustic wit. She'll probably think I'm a total goof-pot." After all, I had recently been introduced on the "Today" show as "Queen of the Groupies" and was feeling sort of proud and mortified all at once. Of course, I was totally wrong. She sat down next to me and couldn't have been sweeter. We chatted and nibbled on puu-puu's and baked-bean sundaes and laughed about the seedy surroundings. She made astute remarks about certain individuals who wandered by the table bathed in black light. We shared a would-be exotic, goopy, rubbery yam. And then we exchanged phone numbers for future gab-fests.
Sandra and I have remained friends since then, and I've always wanted to do an interview with her. Lucky for you, because not just any old reporter could gain entrance to her private domain. Sandra Bernhard is an inspiring renaissance female-actress, author, singer, comedienne extraordinaire-and like most people who spew out their innermost guts for the sake of art, she is a private soul in Real Life. This gal's casa is her castle.
Rain is falling in Los Angeles as I head to Sandra's place. I'm cruising through the San Fernando Valley, peering out my T-Bird windshield through the swish-slap of the wipers, looking for familiar signs. Since I was raised in the Valley, I know it all too well, but the rain makes everything look different, so I pass her house once before recognizing it. In fact, something has changed: A stunning, black, twisty-turny fence had been installed, kind of a beautiful, wordless "Keep Out" sign. I ask Sandra about it the minute I finally get in out of the rain.
"I was up at Paul [Pee-wee Herman] Reubens's house," she says, "and his entire yard was fenced in with this incredible wrought iron, kind of like bent, kooky twigs. Paul gave me the name of this character, Ries Niemi, and I had him make this fence for me. Now people can't come up to my door anymore." Do people actually bug her at home? "It's not like a daily occurrence," she says, "but it's often enough that the gate is nice." Are they dangerous fanatics? "No, just annoying. I think they're more scared of me than I am of them."
While Sandra makes coffee for me in her squeaky clean kitchen (I've rejected her offer of healthy sparkling water), we talk about the difficulties of meeting people when they have preconceived ideas about who you are. "There's a lot of myths to undo when you meet somebody," she says, "especially romantically. They have certain expectations. Even when I'm having fun, I can be misinterpreted as being hard-edged and tough. If you don't have a sense of humor, I must be pretty scary. 'How can this person be accessible when she's so out there?' But I've always been that way. Of course I'm accessible, of course I can be normal one-on-one."
We sit in Sandra's spacious living room on her midnight blue velvet couch, in front of a cozy fire with the rain tap-tap-tapping, sipping very strong coffee with lots of half-and-half-just two girls gabbing about the glory and jagged edges of life. Sandra notices the ruffled heart tattoo peeking out of my blouse. "I've been thinking about getting a tattoo on the back of my arm, a bleeding heart," she says wistfully. Why bleeding? "Isn't everybody's heart always bleeding? If you're not involved with anyone, then it's really bleeding, or maybe aching. How would you draw an aching heart? How about if it throbbed when you moved your muscle?" I tell her she should definitely get the tattoo -mine has enhanced my life immeasurably. "I think it would look good on me," she agrees, "but it's against the Jewish religion. Plus, I'm a woman and maybe a tattoo would be a little bit over the line." This is a pretty strait-laced comment for Sandra, who, after all, achieved notoriety for feigning a lesbian involvement with Madonna on the David Letterman show, but before I can say a word, she changes her mind and yells, "Oh, who cares!" and asks me if it hurt. Actually, it felt kind of good, if you like that kind of thing, hahahaha. "If you like pain?" she questions, eye-brows raised, grinning. "I'll have to work up to it. I'll think about it."
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