Mark Okun: A New Book Full of Sex, Drugs, and "the Drag Queen with a 12-Inch Dick"

We've got a pretty interesting mixed bag of characters in this town. You name it, you can find it down here, from Cuban Canadians to Mexican Ukrainians and every amalgamation in between. So it would make sense that Mark Okun, author of A Short Jew in the Body of a Tall W.A.S.P. (A Gay Melodrama in 13 Acts), would be right at home doing a reading in Miami Beach, where he's been visiting his hairdressing clients for decades.

The book follows Mark's life, from growing up as the gay adopted son of Jewish parents in New York state to finding his calling as a stylist in his adolescent years, to mad nights and misadventures fueled by cocaine, acid, and his own personal exuberance. His narrative is constantly close to the bone, from being HIV positive, to finding sobriety, and eventually meeting his birth family on national television. It's a harrowing journey and a story that will fascinate and surprise you.


"I was brought up by two little Jews. They were kind of like Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman," Okun said with a laugh. "My childhood was only moderately religious. My mother kept kosher and worked for Jewish home finding services after the war. My father wasn't religious at all, he couldn't care less...But I grew up feeling pretty Jewish, even though I was rebellious and wanted to be a hippie, I always felt connected to it. I still feel very culturally Jewish."

Okun's complex and even conflicting background didn't stop him from pursing his own interests in his youth. That rebelliousness he mentioned is well-documented in the tales he tells of his formative years.

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"A lot of the book is a wild ride through the late '60s. See, I was real wild," Okun began. "When I was 13, I stole $600 from my parents and ran away to California to become a hippie right after my Bar Mitzvah. I was indicted by a grand jury at 14 for dealing drugs in junior high and they gave me two felonies and a misdemeanor for that. And then, I had a rockstar boyfriend by the time I was 15. He was a keyboardist for the group Steam."

Yes, this is a story rife with the sort of questionable choices and close call situations that can make the fast life in a big city like Miami or New York seem so utterly insane and dramatic. Mark's wild ride has seen it all: strung out Blues singers crying at his door, begging for his love; lifelong friends dying at the wrong end of a crack pipe; and an incredible cast of personalities that cover the spread from some of the country's most respectable families to blue movie millionaires -- and sometimes those very fine specimens that straddle both ends of the stretch.

The book tells of how one night Mark received a drunken phone call from his dear friend Mindy, who'd taken it upon herself to seek out and find his birth family. After more than 40 years, Okun was suddenly reconnected with his genetic family for the first time. And so, he did what any rational man of the modern age would do. He arranged to meet them on TV.

 

As Okun explained it, "My friend Cindy Wolfman was the executive producer of the Gordon Elliott Show and she promised me a makeover show, but only if I had a real good idea. I could never think of a good enough idea for her so when I found my birth family, I said 'How about I meet them and make them over on the show?' and she said 'Alright!'"

It was from this nigh unbelievable experience that the genesis of A Short Jew in the Body of a Tall W.A.S.P was born, according to Okun. "I had all these stories," he said, "and when I met my birth family on TV, everyone was so riveted that I thought if I combined that with all my wild escapades, it would make for a good book."

These "wild escapades" range from nearly being chased out of the state of Tennessee by a salon full of jealous, hateful stylists to being kidnapped in New York City by a cocaine dealer and scorned would be lover. As the latter story goes, the man, who Okun had met in a club one night, became slightly over-attached and could perhaps be described as unhinged.

"He barged into my house once when I had another guy coming over and he threw all this coke all over my coffee table. I got into a big fight with him and pushed him out the door, then I covered all the cocaine with plates 'cause I didn't want my cat to eat it," Okun said. (Just imagine: a tabby cat named Boots banging back rails and crawling up the walls of a small New York City apartment.)

Okun was somewhat reluctant to tell the whole story of this particular saga, claiming it would leave nothing for readers to look forward to. So, if your curiosity is piqued and you need to know the thrilling conclusion to the crazed coke dealer kidnapping caper, find yourself a copy and turn to the chapter titled: "Beautiful Disco Fag."

But the book isn't strictly autobiographical. Its gaze widens beyond the author and chronicles his encounters with reputable and notable socialites like Mary Wells Lawrence, local celebrities like Don and Mary Ann Shula, and songwriter, Desmond Child, as well as equally notable, though perhaps slightly less reputable celebrities of an entirely different nature.

"The story's not just about me," Okun elaborated, "it's about the gallery of characters I've met and had in my life. Like when I was living with Betty Davis, Miles Davis' ex-wife, and met Putasa, the drag queen with a 12-inch dick who Vogue photographed seven times before they found out he was a man."

While I could not find any documentation of said Vogue photo shoots, much to the dismay of yours truly, the character gallery that has such incredulous and outlandish portraits hanging in it as Putasa and his 12" dick is, if nothing else, an intriguing place to visit. And Mark is a most informative guide.

Mark Okun will be discussing and signing his new book, A Short Jew in the Body of a Tall W.A.S.P. (A Gay Melodrama in 13 Acts) at Books & Books on Lincoln Road (927 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach) at 6 p.m. today, April 10. Visit booksandbooks.com.

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Books & Books

927 Lincoln Rd.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

305-532-3222

www.booksandbooks.com


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