T SERIES: Friends Who Saw It All

In celebration of those special people who’ve helped us through tough times.

Article by John Wogan

From left: JOHNNY DYNELL, DJ and producer; MICHAEL MUSTO, columnist; SUSANNE BARTSCH, event producer; FLOTILLA DEBARGE, actor, singer and drag performer; MICKEY BOARDMAN, editor at large of Paper magazine; PATRICK MCMULLAN, photographer; CHI CHI VALENTI, producer; BETHANN HARDISON, fashion advocate and brand consultant; LYNN YAEGER, writer; and LAURA WILLIS, owner of Screaming Mimis vintage boutique. Photographed at Julius’ in the West Village, Manhattan, on Jan 25, 2021. Photography by Donovan Smallwood.

Michael Musto

 I met Lynn in the ’90s when we were both working at The Village Voice — she was the fashion editor and I was a columnist. Mickey and I became close friends around the same time, too, as we were both in the downtown scene and saw each other at parties. This was before the old downtown spirit and aesthetic had been subsumed by the mainstream. These were the days when New York had so much edge that you had to constantly look behind you to see if you were being followed while walking quickly to some club, for something like Johnny Dynell and Chi Chi Valenti’s goth-punk-fabulous Jackie 60 party in the meatpacking district.

Eventually, Lynn, Mickey and I started a monthly movie club with our other friends. I’d choose these awful-in-a-good-way movies and camp classics, like 1974’s “Airport 1975.” We’ve been doing it ever since. Once the pandemic hit, we moved the club to Zoom and increased it to twice a week, and we’ll text each other commentary the whole time.

I’m an only child and both my parents are gone, so I don’t have many blood relations in the city. Lynn and Mickey provide that for me, and this year even more so. I’ve been through two plagues in my life — the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s, and now this one. So I’m familiar with the horror of losing friends. The rest of us have clung together tighter than ever, like a modern-day mob squad. I understand them and appreciate them more every year.

Lynn Yaeger

I was terrified of Michael before we became friends, because he was a supercool club person. I remember seeing him in a fantastic outfit one night and feeling so intimidated, though the truth is he’s quite shy. It took a while for us to become friends at work, but once we did, we’d have lunch every day in the East Village, near the office. I always used to spend the holidays with him and his parents.

With Mickey, it was the opposite. When I first covered fashion, it was a lot like high school, and I didn’t know I was entering a snake pit. Paper magazine — which was kind of the bible of downtown cool — had editors who were friendlier, and it felt like they got me, especially Mickey. He was the most fun and never said a bad word about anyone.

I don’t think I would have survived the past year without these friends. It would have been too isolating. Mickey and I used to travel the world for fashion weeks, but the farthest we’ve gone in the past year has been upstate for me to find antiques. I don’t understand the allure of being in the country, though: If I had to be stuck somewhere, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than in New York.

Mickey Boardman

I used to read Michael’s column in The Village Voice every week and would see him on TV. I wanted to meet him, so I invited him to Paper’s 10th-anniversary party in 1994 at the Supper Club in Times Square, and that’s where our friendship started. (That was actually the same party at which I met Johnny and Chi Chi.) I met Lynn about a year after that, when I saw her at a fashion show and thought, “She is like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

Michael and I would go out constantly, to places like the infamous Tuesday night party Beige at BBar in NoHo. And Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny’s Happy Valley event in the mid-aughts. (Lynn hates nightclubs because people spill drinks on her expensive clothes.) And we’d all go to the true O.G., Julius’. It’s the oldest gay bar in New York, plus it has delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries.

Our friendship has evolved as we’ve gotten older and gone through tough times, like 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, family illnesses and death. Last year, I went to the funeral of Michael’s aunt, who passed away from Covid-19. She was a nun who had lived in Zambia for 25 years, and she loved Michael dearly. It was in a convent upstate, and those kinds of things bond you in a way that nightlife doesn’t. We are family. The three of us are single, and we don’t live with anyone. So in a way we’re like the Golden Girls. If we start to sail off, we’ll take care of each other.

A version of this article appears in print in our third edition, Page 112 of T Australia with the headline:
‘Friends who are Muses’
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