My friend Robert from Austin recently suggested that a book might lose credibility because of its title. He was referring to Dinesh D’Souza’s The Roots of Obama’s Rage. Because of that title, Robert was reluctant to think D’Souza had anything legitimate to say.
I felt the same way about Cherry Vanilla’s autobiography, Lick Me. But, when I noticed her tome on my library’s New Book shelf, I was also picking up The Roots of Obama’s Rage and Dreams from My Father, and I thought a little light reading might provide me with some balance.
Lick Me is undeniably light reading, but it is also interesting and well-written. My interest with the book is due in large part to its setting – the author grew up in Queens in the 50s and then worked in Manhattan in the 60s and 70s. I love reading about those places.
Cherry Vanilla was born Kathleen Dorritie into a working-class Irish family. She doesn’t spend a lot of words describing her parents or her siblings. Rather, she seems to assume that her life resulted solely from her choices, not from family influences. That’s refreshing.
Kathleen started making those choices immediately after graduating from an all-girls Catholic high school by getting a job in Manhattan with an ad agency. She loved the glamour of show business, especially music, and was happy that this job placed her on the edge of that glamour.
Life with an ad agency in the 60s included the possibility of incessant partying, and Kathleen chose to participate. She called the men “Mad men” because most of them worked on Madison Avenue. Although Kathleen’s work environment seems strikingly similar to that depicted on the TV show called, “Mad Men,” she never draws any comparison, and since I have seen the TV show only rarely, I am unable to make a comparison either.
Shortly after starting work in the ad agency, Kathleen lost her virginity during a week-end visit to a Long Island party house. The guy was a one-night stand, and Kathleen described her post-coital feelings as:
- “The incredible release I felt from letting him lead me further and further into complete sexual rapture was miraculous, a major awakening for me. I was eighteen and I had finally gone all the way, without any thought of the taboos and with what I recognized right away to be an insatiable hunger for more.”
From that point on, Kathleen went on “an all-out sexual spree,” and she eventually incorporated a plethora of drugs into her lifestyle, all while being a productive and successful employee. Her career went from the ad agency to disc jockey to publicist. She took on the name Cherry Vanilla, and her biggest act was David Bowie. Eventually, she tried singing, but enjoyed only a modicum of success before settling into a more sedate lifestyle in her 40s. She had a three abortions and only a brief marriage later in life.
The abortions were traumatic experiences for Cherry. About the second one, she wrote:
- “For a woman who’s in no position to bring a child into the world, having one in your womb has got to be the worst, most soul-wrenching thing that can ever, ever happen. The whole bottom falls out of your life, and every thought, plan, hope, and dream you have is suddenly eclipsed by the heaviness and the urgency of the situation at hand. And there’s no getting away from it, not even for a second. It’s there inside you, with a heart that’s already beating. And in its primordial struggle to survive, the tiny entity is changing your hormones and manipulating all of your emotions. Your will and your reasoning helplessly fall prey to your inescapable, natural maternal instincts. You want the child. But you know there’s just no way in hell that you can have it. And that was, once again, the situation I was in…. At any rate, it was my responsibility and I had fucked up. I was exhausted from crying and vomiting and going over and over in my mind what options I might have. There were moments when I was ready to just plunge ahead and have the baby, come hell or high water. But I needed Louie (young boyfriend) to want the baby too – and he didn’t. He pleaded with me not to have it, saying he was just too young and that it would ruin his life. He said he would hate me forever and he would leave me.”
Louie sounds like a louse, but Cherry said, “I didn’t hate Louie for not wanting the baby; I understood. It wasn’t inside of his body, so he could never know the depth of what I was feeling. I forgave him. And I tried to forgive myself. I reasoned that another soul destined to manifest in that baby would find another being through which to come into the world, and that, as my mother would say, everything happens for the best.”
The abortion seems to reflect Cherry’s philosophy of life – her focus is to enjoy life, and she takes personal responsibility for achieving that happiness. When her lifestyle leads to difficult situations, she uses reason to determine her course of action. It almost reminds me on Ayn Rand’s dictate that she would never live her life for the sake of someone else and she would never ask someone else to live their life for the sake of her.
I think Ayn Rand would admire Cherry Vanilla.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t examine the 80s, 90s, or 2000s for Cherry Vanilla. Although her lifestyle is now relatively sedate (no sex or drugs), I would be interested in knowing whether the Ayn Rand philosophy is still working for her.