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I Introduce to you "The Rubber Lady"

by L.A. Cummins 18 days ago in pop culture

A journey like no other.

This photo was taken on a rooftop in Hoboken, NJ. I spent the day with John, taking pictures in a park and on this rooftop. His work is amazing!

I've been many different people throughout my life, but no other personality is more memorable then "The Rubber Lady". From 1985 to 1994, I embarked on a journey. There are many stories, way more then I can begin to tell in just this one page. So, I've been asking myself, how the heck do I even explain The Rubber Lady? Well, it helps that I have a lot of photographs. The Rubber Lady had a way of attracting photographers, from students to professionals. All photos are my property and include photo credits.

It all Started with a Rubber Skirt

I live in Dayton, Ohio. Here in our great city, we have our own entertainment strip, the Oregon District. On the Saturday before Halloween, people dress up and descend into the district for a huge party. In 1985, Cyndi Lauper had just come out with Girls Just Want To Have Fun. I decided to go as Cyndi. She made popular, the wearing of multiple bracelets and O rings on her wrist. So, I sought out where I could find a bunch for myself. Someone suggested Precision Rubber, here in town. That's all they made, O rings. They came in every size you can imagine. I called to see if I could possibly come by and check out their inventory. The guy on the phone really did get a good laugh out of someone wanting to buy jewelry. It simply wasn't what they did. But, he was open to me coming in. Once I was properly fitted for my bracelets, I noticed a bunch of O rings hanging from a nail. They stood out because everything else was in boxes. I asked the guy what was up with them. He told me they were rejects. Precision Rubber manufactured their own products. I was in their warehouse, not the plant they came out of. Those rejects were the bane of his existence. They couldn't get them right in the manufacturing phase. He had to meticulously examine each ring for any defects. There were many. All he could do is pile them up and eventually, throw them away. I asked if I could have them. He gladly handed them to me saying, if you want more, just let me know. I ended up going back there many times. We worked it out, that I would come on a Friday and get whatever was stacking up over a week or two. In exchange, I would hand them pizza money for that days lunch.

These weren't just little O rings. If you cut one and measured, it was 36" long. They were big enough to make a skirt. I weaved them together with brightly colored embroidery floss. I hand sewn a zipper into the back. I later made a second skirt. Instead of using floss, I used a florescent tubing. Although it was an interesting concept to glow, the skirt didn't hold up well. I still have the original skirt.

I was the first to model the skirt but not the last!

With my ever growing pile of O rings, I decided to try making jewelry and accessories. I gave macramé knots a whole new twist. I discovered that if I cut two pieces of the rubber just right, they could be glued end to end, giving me so much more length to work with. Burning rubber became my thing. I made bracelets, earrings, keychains, handcuff belts, collars with a leash and whips. The whips were so popular, that I had maybe a half dozen styles and lengths. I would set up at festivals and sell my rubberware. I wasn't getting rich but I was having a whole lot of fun.

Making a Big Move

In 1986, I met a guy. He had just taken a job with a Dayton based company. He was in town for training and then relocating to New Jersey to open a satellite warehouse. We did the long distance relationship thing, for a moment. He had to come to Dayton to meet with his boss and I would fly out to NJ. for a long weekend. Eventually, he asked me to move in with him. It took a Uhaul with a tow bar for my car but I made the move. Inside that truck, was The Rubber Lady, all packed up in a steamer trunk.

I had just taken a job with Barbizon Modeling School in Dayton, several months before the move. Since I had gone through weeks of training for admissions, it was pretty easy to walk into a New Jersey Barbizon and get a job. I worked in four different schools over the next six years. That relationship lasted longer than the five years with that guy. During those fives years, The Rubber Lady remained locked up in that steamer trunk. It wasn't until the writing was on the wall, that our relationship was coming to an end, that I decided to cut that Rubberbitch loose.

Busting out of the steamer trunk.

To be honest, I don't regret the Rubber Lady's down time. Working in the modeling industry in NJ and NY taught me a whole lot about marketing. I was also certified to teach and spent some time on a runway. That went a long way in building confidence and stage presence. I solely produced the Trenton school's graduations. The whole experience gave me some very valuable tools.

I lived in a small apartment in Bordentown, NJ. during my last year in Jersey. It was two rooms, with a kitchen and bathroom. It was plenty of room for just me and it was all mine. I really started working on creating. I still had a huge box of those O rings and I was ready to put them to use. I had rubberware parties. We would try on the jewelry and play with the accessories. The highlight was breaking out the rubber skirt for someone to model, it was never for sale. My friends would buy what they liked. I still wasn't getting rich but GOOD TIMES!

My friend Martin is a professional photographer. He was also my landlord. We did several sessions in that apartment. He's a huge fan of Tri-X black and white film. That gritty, harsh, grainy look really worked well for The Rubber Lady.

I painted the radiator black and then handcuffed myself to it.

The Thrift Store Find of the Day

One day, I walked into my favorite thrift store and there it was! A male mannequin torso. I couldn't resist. I had to buy it. My first thought, I'm going to cover it in rubber. That is exactly what I did. Although I covered the piece in NJ in 1991, Izzart didn't really take on itz full personality until after I returned to Dayton, later that year. I still have Izzart. After 30 years, Itz needs a little TLC. Some clean up and repair. I'll be updating on Itz in a later story.

"Itz" is not a typo, that's Itz pronoun.

There's a Saying in Dayton

Ask anybody that has grown up in Dayton and they will tell you, Dayton sucks! It sucks when you're here and when you try to leave, it sucks you back!

My mom had been battling ovarian cancer for most of the time that I lived in Jersey. One day, she called me, she was crying. The cancer had come back again and she was going to have to go back on chemo. She wanted me to come home. How could I say no? I couldn't. I rented a Uhaul and flew a friend to NJ to help me move back.

I arrived back in Dayton with a portfolio of RL pictures and a whole new prospective on what The Rubber Lady really is. I told myself, I would give it five years to see where it goes. I started where I left off, the downtown festivals. It didn't take long to make friends, some that were very supportive and helpful. I had a small shop in the Oregon District for a short time.

My mannequin collection started growing and I found a new level as an artist. Entity came out of a bar in the OD, the Night Owl. She had been on loan to the club, by a guy that worked there. She was dressed for the holidays and decorated the stage. The mannequin's owner had a family emergency and moved back to Vegas. I bought the mannequin off of him with the agreement that she could stay thru New Years eve. I took her home January 1, 1992.

Her name is Entity and the costume is titled "War Against Racism"

I'm not an expert on mannequins but I can say, brown skinned mannequins from that era, are somewhat rare. She's marked 1 of 3. It was a pretty bold move on my part, but I drilled holes in her head and glued rubber in for hair. I had owned the neoprene wetsuit for years. It was packed in that trunk, all along. Once I put it on Entity, she just took off. The spent ammo, handcuff and thumb-cuff belts, my sword with a rubber belt, collar and leash. She took on a meaning. The costume is titled "War Against Racism". She will never receive any kind of repair on the pings in her flesh. They will always be her war wounds. I still have Entity, to this day. There are some really great Entity stories but they will have to wait for another time.

The Beginning of an Era

There I was, baking my rubberware in the hot sun at the Dayton Blues Festival. A woman (Susan) walked up and started looking at my wares. We got to talking. She told me I needed to go to the T. Bullock Gallery and talk to her partner, Terrance. I called him the next day and we made an appointment to meet. That day, was the beginning of an era.

Terrance and I connected in ways that were so amazing. He was gay, so it wasn't anything about sexual attraction but man, Terrance just got me. Inspired me. Supported my ideas and gave me a venue to host my first show "The Rubberware Affair" A fashion Show. I gained traction with that first show. Our local PBS station ThinkTV 16 had a show at the time. It was called "Culture Shock" and hosted by Jane Hinders. When I met her at the gallery on an Art Walk night, she had just missed that show. She was disappointed that she didn't know about it. So, Terrance and I looked at each other and said, let's do another one! You would have thought we were Our Gang getting ready to put on a show in the barn.

Some times, you just have to slather on your black lipstick and go full on badass.

The first show was for fun, the second show was the foundation for what was to come. Izzart came to life with Itz own story, Entity was, well, just too cool not to love. My art was gaining context. Culture Shock really got The Rubber Lady out there. That segment actually aired in two different episodes. Once, in it's original show and when Jane moved on to another PBS affiliate, she did a best of Culture Shock. As Jane put it, "The Rubber Lady IS Culture Shock!"

I did a total of 5 live performances. Besides the two at T. Bullock, I did my next one at the Dayton Visual Arts Center (DVAC). That performance has some amazing stories. That will have to be a story in it's self. There's just too much coolness to limit it to a couple of paragraphs.

I did an eBay auction many years ago and sold a whip. It was my "Whip It" auction. I kind of told the story of RL. Included in the auction, were these flyers and copies of articles. I took this pic for that auction. It's not all of the flyers. It reminds me, I really need to dig out my portfolio.

After DVAC, I booked a gay dance club that was very well known, 1470 West. Every show was "The Rubberware Affair" but they had different subtitles. The 1470 sub was "Cut Loose" and that we did. By this time, I had gained some of the best models and dancers, I could hope for. Everyone wanted to be in that 1470 show. It wasn't hard to get the talent. Some of the models were there from day one, some came in at the 1470 event. Although the content was pretty much the same, no two shows were the same. Except for maybe me throwing condoms at the audience, talking about AIDS awareness and reminding people to "Play Safe". Ok, I did agree to DVAC's request to put the condoms in a tasteful bowl at the door, for people to help themselves.

This was the picture used for The Foundry's performance.

By my last show at The Foundry (a mostly male gay bar) I had lost my best dancer. He was only there for 1470. He got a once in a life-time dancing gig in Italy. I often wonder what became of him. He was an amazing dancer. My talent was reduced to some of the hottest women, an all male gay bar ever saw.

I got to meet RuPaul at The Foundry. It was the week before my show. He did a drag show in the club. The owner invited me down for the event. He promised he would introduce us and he kept that promise. When we walked backstage, RuPaul had his back turned and didn't see us walk in. He turned around, took one look at The Rubber Lady, threw his hands up and exclaimed "OMG Look at you! I love you". He reached down and gave me a great big hug. To this day, I have to smile every time I see RuPaul.

Over the course of the five performances, I had 30+ people involved in the shows. Sadly, three (that I know of) died from HIV.

I Could Have Joined the Circus

One of my favorite models was Mel. She was the singer in a local band "Scream Bloody Murder". Their album was titled "More Power Sex". Mel was a hoot. She had a way of getting in with the bizarre crowd. She sure made her way into my crazy life. One night she called me. She was so excited. Lollapalooza had performed in Dayton that day. She was sitting there with Jim Rose of the "Jim Rose Circus Sideshow". It had quite the cast of characters. Mel talked up the Rubber Lady until Jim couldn't stand it any more. He made her call me. I could hear him in the background. He was saying, tell her I want to meet her. Mel repeats it to me. Tell her I'm getting ready to go on a world tour. Tell her she can see the world. Mel was now pleading with me. You have to come here now! He's leaving tomorrow. Tonight is the night. This is your opportunity to take RL national, international.

Now, there were a couple of things to consider, at this point. Number one, my mother was still living. I came home to be with her and help take care of her until the inevitable end. I couldn't just leave. I certainly couldn't leave the country. The second consideration was, I was about three months pregnant with my son. Had it not been for that, I would have probably put on some eyeliner and mascara, grabbed my portfolio and gone to hear what he had to say. I would have never left my mother. She had so little time left. Me leaving, would have destroyed her.

I'm realizing there's a part of this story that I have left out, Robb. He was there from almost the very beginning. He called himself my "pack-mule". He's the guy that helped move and set up. He was there when Entity needed a stand, because she stops below the knees. He made that stand with his own two hands. He was the one that pulled open my steamer trunk on stage at 1470, so I could slither out of it and across the stage. Ok, I'm getting a little ahead of myself with that part. But, of course, I was going to slither out of that trunk! It was a part of that particular show. After 29 years together, Robb is still around here, somewhere.

I did do one more thing after that. Robbie had just been born. Dayton Monthly magazine contacted me. They wanted to do a feature on RL. I told them I really wasn't doing that right then. I had just had a baby. My life had changed. They managed to talk me into it. They really did do a nice piece. I'll have to see if I can hunt down a copy. That's around here, also.

Five years later, they contacted me through Terrence. They wanted to do another feature. Where is she now? I wasn't ready to tell that story, yet. It's taken me 26 years to roll around to that. I ask myself, why now? After all this time. I guess the answer is, because it was a huge part of my life. The Rubber Lady is my legacy. Both Robbie and my daughter Tyler, might enjoy reading these stories and getting a little more insight into the artwork that has always been in their lives. Vocal has certainly given me a platform for that. I have spent years wondering, what would have happened with RL, if the Internet was what it's become today, back then?

There is one more reason to feel a sense of urgency to tell these stories, right now. I'm losing my eyesight. I inherited my mother's glaucoma. The last time I saw a real eye doctor, I was borderline glaucoma. In February of 2020, I got a pretty sever case of COVID. Within two months of being sick, the vision in my left eye, just clouded over. My eye looks normal. There's not a cataract. I've read that COVID blindness comes from behind the cornea. We were living in the next county over, from Dayton. It was very rural. Dayton has more resources, so back to Dayton we came. We moved during the pandemic. I have waited to be fully vaccinated before trying to pursue the help I need. I know, it's going to be very expensive. But, it's time. I'm afraid I've already waited too long. My right eye (the good one) is getting more cloudy every day. It's only a matter of time before I won't be able to see well enough to sit here and type this all out.

If you enjoyed my introduction to The Rubber Lady, check back for more stories. There's lots of them to tell. If you want to support my artwork, I will be offering some pieces in my Etsy shop, soon. If you can find it in your heart to send a tip my way, it would go a long way towards paying for the initial visit to the eye doctor.

Visit my Etsy Shop Here!

Thank you for reading this all the way to the end. Most of my Rubber Lady stories will not be this long.

I call this one, Moon Over Manhattan

pop culture
L.A. Cummins
L.A. Cummins
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L.A. Cummins

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