ec·cen·tric — adjective 1. deviating from the recognized or customary character, practice, etc.; irregular; erratic; peculiar; odd: eccentric conduct; an eccentric person. And, 2. a person who has an unusual, peculiar, or odd personality, set of beliefs, or behavior pattern. (Dictionary.com)
Back in the day — and I’m talking only as far back as the 1970s — San Antonio was positively rank with the quirky, oddball, kooky, offbeat — you know, eccentric types. When I first moved to King William in 1975, it seemed the South Side was a veritable haven for anomalous personalities of every persuasion. From the grand old manses of the grand old boys that lined King William Street (Cocktails at 5. Rough trade tempered with a little Franz Lehar on the stereo), to the nascent Blue Star art scene of sullen, idiosyncratic personalities decked out in various permutations of “Frida Kahlo meets Guns N’ Roses,” it was all remarkably random, unsullied, and heartfelt.
And where exactly did it go? King William today feels about as iconoclastic as a cup of decaf. What happened to those little gray-headed grannies we used to see tottering up and down Southside streets in their diaphanous nightgowns, brandishing fly swatters and whispering confidences into oleander bushes? Or those nimble Mexican-American gentlemen you’d catch gliding across town on ancient bikes festooned with raccoon tails, flagpoles, and the requisite mailbox attached to the rear fender? Does anyone recall the little cluster of mothball-and-talc antique shops on South Presa (long before the Marriott Plaza’s arrival) presided over by primordial, white-haired munchkins ostensibly transported from some Edgar Allan Poe alternate universe?
Not for nothing did outré silent screen legend Pola Negri retire to San Antonio with her hometown patroness/companion, Margaret West. (One can only hope Miss Negri, upon disembarking in SA, shrieked just as dramatically, flinging herself prostrate, as she did repeatedly for reporters at the funeral of her former lover, Rudolph Valentino. This town does have a way with people.) Any city that could once upon a time find a place in its lumbering, heedless heart for “Bongo Joe,” “Captain Gus,” and arts pontiff Robert Tobin couldn’t be all bad, could it?
And yet, the fear compounds with each passing year: Are we evolving into just another Omaha? Like any other homogenized, pasteurized, sanitized American city of no particular zing, dash, or significant identity? I drive out beyond 1604 and begin to shake uncontrollably. How did I end up in … Houston? For the longest time I thought we were immune to the wretched “Starbucking of America” — SA was simply too ethnic, too redneck, too stuffy/conservative/rigid to ever be so conspicuous. We would forever remain the endearingly dotty relative with the mismatched socks, missing teeth, and a lifetime subscription to Woodpecker Monthly.
And then the Lord bequeathed us Sea World.
In an attempt to honor our once noble (and hopefully non-extinct) civic tradition of valuing different-drummers and establishment arbiters equally (and let’s face it; there’d be no Fiesta, one without the other), I offer the Great Eccentrics of San Antonio — a look at a few of our remaining “unconventionals” who’ve somehow managed to keep themselves (and San Antonio) from slipping wholly into the realm of conformist
This series is dedicated to the San Antonio family who has personified the quintessence and true spirit of the word “eccentric” — the Mavericks.
“I’m detached from the norm. What is the norm? What you basically see in any city, at any party … I don’t do it to be different or interesting. I do it because that’s what I want to do.”
— Karlos with a K
Karlos “Karlos with a K” Anzoategui (“An-zwa-tah-key”), upon first glance, might appear to be the lost love child of Martin Short and Yma Sumac (go ahead, google Yma). A lithe and lean “50-something” with the taut features and discerning gaze of a seen-it-all Siamese cat — Karlos is the bona-fide antipode of bourgeois conformity. (True, this is Texas, but one just doesn’t have much opportunity anymore to see middle-aged men sporting 10-carat diamond rings.) From his posh Atlantean villa in Mahnke Park, “Karlos with a K” runs a discreet salon for upper-crust ladies of every age and clique. Debutante to doyenne, they all hasten to Karlos for a little reconstruction and a lot of chisme. It’s a lively scene.
“I’m known for these parties I give here. I get every strata of San Antonio society — the Argyle camp to the ex-Miss Venezuela to punk rockers. The blend of my parties is very ‘mixed-list’ — social, gay, traditional, renegades — very ‘montage.’ A friend told me once, ‘Karlos, you will wear what you wear, you will do what you do because you don’t give a fuck.’ And he was right. It’s almost a rebellion, a rebellion against ‘what is supposed to be done’ and what I simply choose not to recognize.”
Born in El Paso, raised in San Antonio, Karlos graduated from downtown Fox Tech in the early ’70s.
“I was known as ‘Little Charlie’ growing up. I’m the middle child of an extended family of seven kids. Dad was born in Nicaragua and is descended from the Basque part of Spain. My last name, Anzoategui, is very old Basque. My father, a Pedro Infante lookalike, was a staff sergeant in the military. He held an assortment of jobs, including bootlegging in the Hill Country for awhile.
“My mom was a young Ava Gardner type who used to sing in nightclubs around San Antonio. They called her “La Churumbela,” and her favorite gig was the old speakeasy that used to be across the street from the Alameda Theatre. She’d hobnob with all the Mexican movie stars when they’d come to town for personal appearances. Her mother, my grandmother, emigrated from Mexico to Blanco, Texas. I tell everyone, ‘My mother is the spring well from which I flow.’”
“Growing up, I was the kid in the neighborhood that would collect old towels and make togas for all the other kids so we could play ‘Romans!’ I was obsessed with those Hollywood ‘Sandal Epics.’ Steve Reeves’ Hercules, will forever be in my head along with Ursula Andress in She! I never wanted the toy gun, rabbit, or G.I. Joe — it was all about the togas! When I was very little my Mother used to think I was saying this bad word, like when I wanted attention or didn’t get my way. The word was “Nefa,” and she thought I was cussing. mother had a friend who was a linguist and he told her that “Nefa” was an old Egyptian word from the time of Nefertiti. Look, from since I can remember I always assumed my mentality was from another world. There was definitely a sense of detachment from this world, that’s for sure.”
“I’ve been gay all my life. Around the age of puberty I looked around and realized that I wasn’t alone in the world, that there were other people like me, and that felt good. Back then there was no ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t tell.’ It was more like ‘Don’t Act, Don’t Get Smacked.’ Somehow I managed to get through high school with all my gay qualities intact. And I also realized early on I’d have to do everything for myself — nobody was going to hand me anything.
“My first job after high school was as a clerk in the medical profession. That lasted about a year and then I started meeting all these high-flautin’, piss-elegant gay people, a lot of them hairdressers, and that was it — I immediately went off and threw myself into beauty school. I’ve been a hairstylist since 1974.”
“San Antonio does have this ancient vein of ‘those kinds’ of people — eccentrics. It’s always been here. We’re not Houston or Dallas! San Antonio’s ‘old school.’ We had the Veramendi Palace downtown `where the old Solo Serve was` that stretched from Houston to Commerce Street when the rest of the state was teepees and jacales. There’s always been this local collection of fascinating types, who as soon as you met them it wasn’t about your social status, your education, or your address — it was about unleashing the mind and sharing information.”
“I was down in Acapulco once for a wedding at Baron Ricky and Sandra di Portanova’s villa, “Arabesque,” and the first person I met was the well-known mistress of a former president of Mexico. She asked me, ‘Do you live here?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And she said, ‘What a shame. We need you here. Acapulco used to be filled with people like you, and now there’s no one. It’s very sad.’
“I knew exactly what she was saying. Life is balance. We’re all required to ‘show up’ and be true to ourselves — for everybody’s sake! Without each ingredient the meal is not complete. You walk away missing something. Eccentric people allow us to see ourselves viewed from an altered lens. Without that possibility, life can be very, very sterile.”
“I’ve never actually looked the word up but to me eccentric is someone who has designed their lives to be a spiritual representation of what they perceive themselves or their lives to be. Bless her heart, remember when our local celeb Sandra West had herself buried in a negligee in her powder-blue Ferrari? Now it may sound eccentric, but without some spiritual truth connecting the dots it could all be perceived as just another Texas-sized stunt. A good one though! I particularly like that she stipulated the seats be reclined at a ‘comfortable position’ for her long road trip through eternity. That’s God in the details, honey!” •