Monday, December 18, 2006

Just One of Those Things

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I was walking down Lincoln last week, on my way home to have candy for dinner and to watch all of season three of the Mary Tyler Moore show, when I passed the pottery class place. They were having a party, and in the window was a really great looking guy talking to someone, when all of the sudden, when I passed him, this giant emotional WHY DOESN'T HE LOVE ME! hit me full-on in my gut. I almost fell down. What? That guy? The guy in the window? ...That hasn't happened to me in a while... I thought to myself.

On Halloween, 1986, Christopher asked me to go to a party and a movie with him. My rival for his affection, Robert, was having a non-costume, 'friendly drinks' party. You remember those two, right? I wrote about them in C30 C60 C90. Robert had a place in that amazing building on Chicago Ave. (The link is a nice pic of how it looked when he lived there. I had coffee at the Starbucks there Sunday, and started to tell my sister-in-law this story, but told her to read it here instead. I was lucky enough to choose a table underneath a picture of the building taken in the 1890's, and wrote down the name. Oh how I wish I could read through a diary from someone who had lived there then. That's one of the reasons I'm doing this blog, I guess...) I don't remember it being rehabbed yet, so his rent wasn't too bad.

Christopher had actually called me and asked me to go, and picked me up in his car and drove us there. He was a tall guy, really beautiful, with dark curly hair and big brown eyes. And even though he said he only used his weight-lifting bench as an extra closet, he had the body of a football player. Such a sweet guy, too, and so funny. I opted to play it cool, and wore very little make-up, 'small' hair, and the understated, clean lines of a 1960's thrift store outfit, despite the fact he found my penchant for orange lip stick and metallic eye-liner amusing, and nicked named me 'Miss Maybelline'. I was mildly offended by that name, because I thought of myself as having 'a look', or being rebellious, and not trying to look like a 'Miss'. I found wearing make-up funny, and I was trying to enlighten the world to their boring macho cliche ways. He forced me to realize that most people just saw me as a bad drag queen.
I did take two pieces of my belt from Wax Trax, which was made up of four smaller belts linked together, and put one on each shoe, as an added dash of sophistication. The shoes had a heel, so I didn't trip all over myself, in case you were wondering.
Walking up to the building, I got excited. Not for the party, because Chis tended to attract a snooty crowd, but for the beautiful old building. I wanted to spend the night wandering around and exploring, or running to the library to see what I could find out about it's history.
We arrived early, and there weren't too many people there, but when I saw who was there, I instantly gave up, and went into a foul mood. All the kings and queens of the twenty-something Chicago-bar-scene snobbery were there, slouching around in Parachute and Matsuda like they were wearing rags.
Chris knew everyone there, and left me alone to fend for myself, after he sat with me for a while to let everyone know he was there with me. The belts on my shoes were a big hit, and I said something stupid like My mom sent them to me from Milan. After an hour or so, the booze dried up, and they ran out to get more. My Milan comment sent them all on a tangent about their European travels, and I snuck off to the kitchen so I wouldn't have to admit I'd never been. No one had any cash, so they came back with only a bottle or two, but they also came back with a drunk who was playing a saxophone on the street for money.
"Isn't this cool and scary and urban?! We told him we'd give him five bucks and a couple cocktails if he played at our party for an hour!" Someone said.
He played two songs, grabbed a bottle and a glass, Hey we said a couple drinks! That's our last bottle! and passed out in a corner. I was secretly jumping for joy this guy was ruining their party. A little later they tried to wake him up, because the ripe odor emanating from him made him impossible to ignore anymore, and we were all sick of explaining him to the new arrivals. He did not want to be woken, and started cursing and trying to hit people if someone made an attempt. Although I was having a good time now that some of my friends had shown up, Chris thought it best if we left. The next day I found out there was an ugly scene when the police showed up to drag him out.
Christopher drove us down Lake Shore on the chilly October night, to The Music Box, to see a Film Festival movie. I was so happy to be there with him; someone I was so attracted to, and who seemed to be attracted me. For years later, the sights and sounds and emotions came rushing back to me whenever I was on Lake Shore Drive on an October night. I still always 'test' it, to see if I can remember that night, but as the years go on, the memories get fainter, and this year, they were barely there.

Diaries are funny things. Mysterious things. Do people write what really happened? Do they intentionally forget things? Do we tell ourselves the truth? Why am I not telling you that whenever I talked to Christopher, I could barely put two words together? I would just stare at him, slacked jawed, thinking, this guy doesn't really like, does he? Why am I not telling you he put the Smiths song Ask three times on a tape he made for me? He doesn't want me to ask him anything, does he? Not me. Why am I not writing that Chris seemed 'different' around me in the car ride home, like someone said some thing to him about me at the party, or like I somehow failed a test he had given me?
I'm not telling you any of that because I projected. I could've very easily, very quickly fallen in love with him, but the pain of my break-up with Doug had recently reared it's ugly head, and I felt I couldn't be a person Chris could love back, and if I was in bed with him, in the dark, under the covers, listening to him sleep, and feeling the warmth of his body next to mine, and to maybe be given this invitation once or twice, well, I knew I could never bear the physical pain of never seeing him again.

How do you tell that to someone?
"I can't touch you or kiss you, because I probably will fall in love with you, and I think you will see what a jerk I am in a couple days, and never call me again, and I'll freak out and jump off a bridge, because I'm a weirdo for believing that when I'm intimate with someone, something magical and eternal and larger than the universe and more important than God comes from it."

Well, I've learned you don't tell that to someone. I learned to give someone 'the honor' of breaking my heart, because I've happily discovered the pieces are big. I can easily put them back together.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Hiroshima, Mon Amour

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A flashback in a flashback....

Oh my God, he wants to kiss me! No! I can't! I better not! Oh well, I'm doing it anyway... I thought to myself. I had just run into John, walking with a guy I didn't know, on Sheffield, in front of Medusa's, one chilly December Sunday afternoon, and he leaned in to kiss me on the lips. This was a custom I had never practiced before I had moved to Chicago, and it freaked me out whenever it happened, and those same thoughts raced through my mind each time a guy leaned into me, lips puckering. In 1985, when this occurred, two men kissing on the lips as a greeting was a very this is my home, this is who I am, and screw you if you don't like it greeting to show the world. I took me a long time to not look over my shoulder when I walked away from a man I had just kissed hello.
"Brian, this is Bill!" John said. "And Bill, this is Brian..." And John paused and looked at me funny, and said "Cats!", as I said hello and pulled my cat Gidget out of my coat.
"I'm taking the train up to Jeff's place, and didn't want to leave her alone"
She was very content, snuggled in my coat, for the long train ride.

When I gave Danny my number, I didn't think he'd actually call me, but he did, and when we realized we lived across the street from each other, he was soon knocking at my door. I used to take the Halsted bus from Waveland to work, and I would get off the bus a few stops early, so I could visit Danny at his work. He worked at a now long gone fancy deli on Fullerton east of Halsted, who's name escapes me now. We'd talk while he mixed pasta and diced vegetables behind the deli counter, for an hour or so. He'd yell the craziest things to his coworkers and the customers, and before long he'd have the whole place in hysterics. The thought of seeing him was the only thing that could get me out of my bed early.
One day we ran into each other on the bus.
"I'm thinking about changing my name from Daniel Wickie-Poo to Danielt Wickie-Poo." I laughed.
"What's your real name now?" I asked.
"Daniel Ebert Wickie-Poo Junior" He said as he pulled out his driver's license. Holding his license in my hand, I said Wow, you're for real.

Danny floated into my apartment like he was made of glass. He looked like he belonged on one of the mirrored display tables at the glass crafter's booth that came to the mall across the street from my dad's house each Christmas. Seeing the big, greasy man turn chunks of yellow and orange and blue into his version of mid-seventies delicately beautiful horses and giraffes and the like, was what I looked forward to the most each holiday season.
Danny was dressed in all white, and tied his hair back with a sheer blue scarf, all of which set off his clear blue-green eyes.
Around his neck was a necklace of laminated cards.
"What's that?" I asked.
"A story I wrote." He said as he took it off so I could read it. It was a beautiful story about a girl and some boy troubles she was having. What struck me most about his story was the way he wrote it; he somehow told it from the inside out, he told it from the perspective of the girl's dress, and he was now wearing his story around his neck.
We spent hours talking that day and into the night, about his classes at the art institute, his plans for the future, growing up 'different' from everyone else and the pain it caused us. He was so free and easy with his emotions, and the truth of them, to this day he still inspires me. We bitched about the constant, horrible noise that started everyday at 7am at the The New York high rise construction site, (It turned out we had both put a curse on that building to fall down, and after 9-11, I went back and took the curse off.) He told me about his trip to London, when Philip Salon fell madly in love with him. (I was insanely jealous of everyone I knew who had direct or indirect contact with Boy George. In 1990 I got my revenge, when I talked to him for hours at the London Limelight...)

I guess Danny thought this was a date, for we made-out a little, but I didn't know what it was.
Thinking about writing this, over the past week, and putting it off, I realized this was the time, winter of '86, when I was living with Jody on Pinegrove, that the finality of my breakup with Doug hit me with giant, ugly fist, leaving a ghastly mark that took years to fade. We had stayed in touch when he left Chicago, and for some reason I thought he was eventually going to come back. When he started telling me about a guy he was seeing, and kept telling me to get a boyfriend, the truth dawned on me.
It dawned on me when I came home from a Saturday evening run, a rare occurrence for me back then, but a boyhood habit I was trying to re-start, and I felt great and rejuvenated. Jody was gone for the evening, the apartment was spotless, the weather perfect, and Doug wasn't with me. I was alone. I was still waiting for him to come back. STILL! I was still waiting! I sat on the couch and lit a cigarette.
I ate. I got fat. I thought I was over him! I drank. I did drugs. I thought I didn't love him! I locked myself in my room and wouldn't talk. I smoked a thousand cigarettes. Was I so fragile, that a tiny push would send me over the edge, crashing to the floor, into a million pieces, never to be put back together? I guess at the time, I was. Maybe because this was the third time I had a relationship with someone I truly loved that ended badly, or just plain ended, and I felt hopeless and gross.
I got a sick pleasure from prodding those memories, and used them to justify any behavior I felt guilty about.

It's not easy, dissecting your past, but whenever I turn around to face it, it spins me forward again, and in the right direction.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Missing Words

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Because I haven't written a post in a while, the breeze coming through my window smells like a long time ago. Maybe because we're having unseasonably warm November weather, it smells like 1984, a time when I felt like I could do anything I wanted. It smells like I imagine it would if I were in the arms of a lover on my back porch. It smells like a London night in 1990. It smells like change, and boring routine. It smells like it did when I was 19, and I liked everything about myself. It smells like a fire-escape balcony in the Village on a March afternoon, in 1991. It smells like eternal hope and utter defeat.
It smells like water under the bridge. It smells like the past.

When Erin walked into the room, I was pretty much in awe. I was in Donny's apartment in 1986, waiting for her to show up so we could go out. They had worked together at I. Magnin in Oakbrook a few years back, and remained friends when he found a new job. She was wearing a tight sleeveless gold metallic dress, and her ubiquitous leopard-print purse, looking like a blonde new wave Brooke Shields. We instantly hit it off, and started talking about music. Her true music love was Duran Duran, due in part to the exotic locales featured in their videos. My first born is going to be named Rio no matter what! she said, and I confessed my year-long dive into their first album, with the eponymous title, what small town teenage gay boy wouldn't love the music of guys dressed like Marie-Antoinette after a long day of palace scrubbing, but jumped off their band wagon when they hit the American top 40. (My late friend Chris P loved that opening shot of Roger in the Planet Earth vid, and copied that pose whenever he was in the photo booth in Berlin.) Erin and I both loved a lot of the same bands, bands that pushed limits and had brains and weren't afraid to use them, and we both spent way too much of our free time playing records. I was in a major 4AD phase at the time, and her a Pseudo Echo one. 4AD stuff still holds up pretty well, but, sadly, not the latter.
After our first night out together, Erin and I talked on the phone almost everyday, for hours at a time. I looked forward to her phone calls, and started to see them as some kind of college course, because she was so knowledgeable to the ways of the world. She wasn't afraid to lecture me about my faults or the faults of the world, probably because her parents met at an Ayn Rand society, and raised their kids in a home stuffed to the brim with her philosophies:
"Brian, you spend way too much time in gay bars. Most of the world is straight, and until you can accept that and learn to live with it, you can't grow as a person...No, I don't think there should be gay marriage! Marriage is a hold over from the days when men owned the women they married. We all should have 'legal unions'...I reject the fact I have to be thin and pretty to be a happy woman in today's world. If I see Sheena Easton in another Bally's commercial, making me feel bad because I'm not working out with 20 pounds of make up on my face and wearing a trashy outfit, or another Weight Watchers ad with that idiot Lynn Redgrave peeing her pants because she can eat a soulless muffin that won't make her butt bigger, I'm going to scream! Why can't women be happy as they are? Why so much pressure to be thin!...What's so bad about doing drugs? Why is everyone saying 'just say no'? Drug use has been around since the dawn of time, so there must be some reason for it. I've tried some, and they aren't for me, but who's to say what I can or cannot do, as long as I'm not hurting anyone?"
I, of course, immediately read every Ayn Rand book I could find at the old Fullerton Avenue library next to the El, the bulk of which went right over my 20 year old head.
Then she went on to talk about a study she read about Native Americans and their high number of alcoholics, and the relationship believed to be linked to their 'circular thinking', because for thousands of generations they were so closely tied to the cycles of nature. I couldn't grasp the concepts she was talking about; linear thinking versus circular, but I read between the lines in what she was saying, and tried to think about the way I thought, because I drank a lot. And then when she said the ancient Greeks (or was it the Romans? or was it the Egyptians?) saw their past as being in front of them, and their future behind them, I gave up.

I felt comfortable enough with Erin to make a confession to her one night while she was driving me home after a night at Limelight. I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn't know what exactly it was, so I made a guess, and told her I was 'mildly manic-depressive'. I felt that was a good guess, because that was how I usually felt, though I was more like 'kind-of-happy', or 'somewhat-less-depressed' versus manic.
"Everyone has something wrong with them, Brian. That's how life is. It's how we deal with our problems that's more important. Have you seen a doctor?" She said.
"I can't do that, I don't have the money or insurance. If I tell my parents I think I'm crazy, they'll make me move back home. I can't do that!" I said.
"There is probably some free clinic or center you can go to in the city. I'll ask my mom."
She did get me some information about some programs, but I didn't follow up on them. I guess I was afraid to. I went to an AA meeting when I was 16, and sitting there watching people tell the truth about themselves to each other, and then imaging myself doing the same, was something I knew I was incapable of doing at the time. I'll just figure it out on my own. I was happy a few years ago. I can get back there. I thought to myself.

On Erin's first visit to my salon, I bleached her hair blonde. It just had to be done. I knew her stunning features could only be magnified with a halo of blonde, and she quickly earned the nick-name Madonna Reed. She was immediately annoyed with my boss, Consita, and her queen bee ways. The bleaching process can take a while, so she was subjected to her for hours.
"How can you work here with her! She never shuts up! The same rambling stories, hour after hour! How does she have any clients! I can't breathe! She's driving me nuts!" She ranted while we ate lunch across the street at Roma's.
"I know, it takes a lot of stamina to be around her. I want to quit, but I make money here, and I would have to start with nothing again if I went to another salon. She's a lot of fun when we're not at work. It must be the Gemini in her." I said.
"I bet if you worked downtown you would make money. Actually, I understand your attraction to her. She's very extroverted, and likes an audience. You want an audience, don't you? No, you want to like having one, like she does! That's it! Like it or not, you've always had an audience, haven't you?" She said.
"If by 'audience' you mean 'unwanted attention', then yes." I said.
"Toe-mate-o, toe-maht-o. We should start a band."

In the early days of Erin and I knowing each other, she would drive in from the suburbs and pick me up from my place on Pinegreove and Waveland, and we would go to Limelight, then Medusa's then Berlin. She blasted Lloyd Cole or one of the dozens of mixed tapes I made for her, (sadly, all the tapes were stolen from her car, along with her stereo, a year later) as we circled around the Belmont area a million times looking for a parking place, as she screamed Why can't someone tear down some of these slums a build a goddamned parking garage!
Soon, at Berlin, we started noticing a guy with lip-liner lines around his lips, like a messy asterisk mark, hanging near us, looking like he wanted to talk to us.
"Erin, that's the guy I saw on the Belmont El platform the other morning, with the bright red lipstick and giant pink Barbie ribbon in his hair!" I said. We stared at each other that day on the El, he like he knew we were going to be spending a lot of time together in the not-too-distant future, and I like I was trying to figure out if he was A: a drag queen? His ankles are too hairy, not to mention the five o'clock shadow. B: a lunatic? Those lycra pants are too perfect for a loon, and I just saw that t-shirt at Blake. I eventually came to the conclusion that he was C: a genius.

"Hey guys!" Danny said as he walked up to us. "Want some lipliner? I call these 'fire-cracker lips'!"
And, of course, his nick-name was Madanny.

I can't resist...Here's some pics:
Limelight, 1986
Medusa's, 1986
Me and Consita, Limelight, 1986
Berlin's booth, 1987
Me in a bad mood with Chris P, Berlin, 1989
'Madanny', 1988

Monday, November 20, 2006

Danielt E. Wickie-Poo, Jr.

This is a special edition post for everyone who Googles Danny. I know you're out there. Share a prayer with me in the hopes he gets cast on Project Runway someday. Then the world will know the special magic that is Wickie-Poo...

Monday, November 13, 2006

C30 C60 C90

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It only took me two hours to find a song that would inspire this post...

Did you watch the video? Did you see those big things they were carrying on their shoulders? Those were the first 'ipods'. (And there's nothing better than thrusting and shimmying New Romantic boys.)
When I was 15, I lived in Connecticut for a year, and became immersed into the New York scene, via cable TV, and the small population of new wave kids in my high school, who I never talked to, but was enlightened by, through osmosis. The live music shows broadcast from New York on the weekends were the best. It seemed the weirder the band was, the more the producers liked it. This was 1980, and 'boom boxes' or 'beat boxes', their name depending upon what country you lived in, were the latest rage. Music to go! Bow Wow Wow dug it, and wrote that song. Their best one, in my opinion. The way technology is going now, with everything getting smaller and more personal, the only tack that could possibly be next, say in 2015 or so, is to be injected with music. It would be easy! Each song would have an elaborate password, a password you look up on the computer that will be implanted in your eyes. You know I'm right.

For the car ride west from Connecticut, I made some tapes for the long journey, and played it on my step dad's cassette player. You know, those old fashioned ones you see on old TV shows. When I asked my parents to buy me a boom box, they said Use your step father's old tape player from college! It still works! We can't afford one of those obnoxious, expensive ones! so I had to make due.
On the first day back in Wisconsin, we stopped at my mom's hair salon. She owned and ran it by mail and phone the year we were away, because she didn't want to sell it.
She wanted to stop there first to check on things, so we all got out of the car to stretch our legs, and went in. I couldn't wait to show off how cool I thought I was now, so I walked around the salon with my dorky cassette player on my shoulder, 'blasting' the tinny sounds of Devo, The B-52's, and Blondie, with a look on my face that said: of all the cool kids back east do this. This is normal cool kid behavior. I can't help it. I'm cool now. I was wearing my step dad's 1960's wine-colored blazer with a white t-shirt and orange running shorts with white piping. The girls at the salon looked at me, and looked at my parents, who just rolled their eyes. I spent the next week embarrassing my brothers and friends by wearing that outfit and toting around the tape player, in the grocery store, and at the Copps in the strip mall in Neenah. I stopped the second I saw a kid who was toting around a real one.
When the Sony Walkman hit the Valley around the same time, (not the gag me with a spoon valley, but the ya der hey valley) I was very excited. But those were super-expensive, too, and I got a radio-only version of one for Christmas in 1981. The puffy head phones were great for keeping my ears warm during the Arctic blasts that hit Wisconsin in the winters, but that was about it. It wasn't til 1982 that I got a fancy one, cause Brad bought a stolen one off some kid selling it on the street on Milwalkee. It was great because it had dual head phone jacks, and Brad and I spent hours on the bus, when we skipped school, plugged into the same music. I spent many more hours at night in bed with that walkman, listening to Scary Monsters and Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.

Before we annoyed each other by giving out home-made CD's, we made mixed-tapes. I couldn't write about mixed-tapes better than Nick Hornby did in High Fidelity, but suffice it to say I made millions of them, first in the 8-track mode, then on cassettes. Here's one I made in 1987, London Hair. Christopher, a guy I was madly in love with in 1986, was famous for his mixed-tapes. Robert, who worked in that trendy boutique (that's long gone) on Broadway just north of Diversey, Xanadu, and who later worked at Flashy Trash during it's better days in the mid-eighties, (he helped Madonna try on vintage stilettos in 1986) also had a crush on Christopher, and he and I would argue over which one of us had received the most tapes from him, and who's had deeper meaning. Christopher made one for me he named "Miss Maybellene", (yes, a proper mixed-tape should be named) and one of the songs was Bigmouth. That wasn't the first time I had heard that song, but I, for some reason, dismissed it as a Smiths attempt at a 'novelty' song. But because Chris had put it on that tape, I thought I must've missed something, so I really listened to it. And when I mean listen, I mean listen. I played it 50 times, until I understood why it was good.

I am so weird like that when it comes to music. I sometimes wish I could just take a passing interest in music and think hmm, interesting tune, and just keep walking, but I can't. I have to become the music. I have to get inside it. I have to play it over and over, so I know every inch. The first time I did that to a song was in 1979, for Ring My Bell by Anita Ward. For some reason I needed to know every word she was singing, and played it until I wrote down every lyric, in my dad's living room, with him in it. My father's patients sometimes amazes me. The conclusion my 13 year old brain came to was that she was a single gal, with her own apartment, singing about a guy she liked coming over for a visit by ringing her doorbell. I latched onto it because I was a kid, and having my own house was a very foreign concept to me, and I guess because she also sang about 'doing the dishes', and hey! I do the dishes, too!
My love for disco was slowly turning in another direction, at first because of the Sex Pistol's disastrous American tour, and all the press it got, and then by New Wave Theatre.
Ever since then, I cling to music that has the power to make me see the world in a different way; be it through how a band looks, how their music sounds, or the lyrics. I run to it and embrace it and wear their badges, because I need all the help I can get when it comes to seeing things differently.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Waiting for the Day

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That song from the previous post, "Los Ninos de la Parque", by Liaisons Dangereuses, was my and Erin's and Ronnie's fave tune from back in the day. When I think of Jody back then, the songs that comes to mind are Stay Up Late, or O Superman. She played Laurie Anderson for me when we first moved in together. ( I know O Superman is long, but you'll feel better if you watch the whole thing. It's like Prozak.)

In 1985, Ronnie worked at Carson Pirie Scott, selling cologne. I remember one night at Berlin we were hanging out, and a guy walked up to us and started a conversation. After a few moments, he asked us where we worked. When Ronnie said "Carson's" the guy said. "The rib place?", and I died laughing.
I always think of that story when I think of Ronnie, because if you ever saw him, you could tell immediately he'd never been within ten miles of a rack of ribs. The guy at Berlin wasn't making a joke.
Ronnie was tall and thin, and impeccably dressed. He dressed more like someone would in Miami than Chicago, so he tended to stand out in a crowd: flowing creaseless cottons, wrinkleless linens, no socks, highlighted-hair, and a year-round tan.
What drew him to me, with my dyed black hair and black eyeliner, I'll could only guess. He asked me over for dinner one night, so I went. This was my first 'official' date in Chicago. He came before Jeff; I met Jeff in the fall of '85, and Ronnie that summer.
I took the bus to Diversey to his studio apartment in the vintage building a block and a half east of Halsted. The place was spotless and sparsely furnished; it was like walking into a Nagel painting.
"Wow! You have your own place! Is it expensive? You must do well at Carson's" I said.
"I do alright." He said. "My dad helps with the rent. He isn't thrilled with the fact that I live in the city. We fought about me moving here for months. He thinks the city is dangerous. He wants me to be in a 'safe' neighborhood. It's funny, we always had a strained relationship while I was growing up, probably because I was more interested in dolls than football, but when I came to Chicago, his fathering skills went into over-drive."
I thought about my father's reaction about my move. His response was: "Hmm."
Years later he told me he thought I was crazy to come here, and was amazed I did it, because the race riots of the 60's soured him to ever wanting to visit the city. Growing up in Wisconsin in the 70's, I never saw anything but white people. Moving here at 19 opened my eyes to the world. The real world. I loved it! Now it's totally different in Appleton. Many cultures blend together. That was and is my favorite thing about living in Chicago.
Ronnie made some pasta and put it in big white bowls, and put them on a large piece of glass that was sitting on the carpeted floor.
He poured us some white wine into large, stemmed glasses, as we sat Japanese-style, watching TV. As we ate, I couldn't help but wonder what I was doing there. Ronnie was very good-looking, but I wasn't sexually attracted to him. Well, I was and I wasn't. He was a lot of fun to be with, and I knew whatever was going to happen that night, it wouldn't be boring.
After dinner, we walked down Diversey to Pinegrove to rent a movie. VCR's were pretty expensive in the mid-eighties, and I remember him telling me his dad bought it for him the previous Christmas. We picked up Body Double, and walked back to his place, after stopping by The Slipper Box, because he wanted to show me some shoes he liked. He seemed to know everyone that was walking on Diversey that night; dozens of people knew him by name. And the owner of the video store greeted him like he was a son returning home from a war. That video store is still there, and it was my video store for ten years, 1992 to 2002, and all I ever got were barely audible thnnnkqoos from his disinterested employees.
We cuddled on the couch while watching the movie, and kissed a little. When the movie ended, he drug out a huge bag of make-up. Working at the department store, he had amassed a huge cache. He said one thing that drew him to me was my make-up, and he wanted me to show him how I put it on. We spent the rest of the night in his tiny bathroom with that make-up, blasting Portfolio and Nightclubbing. When the sun started to come up, he put on a large pot of water to boil.
"That's a big pot of coffee." I said.
"No! It's for my shirt for work. I have to leave at 6:30." He said.
"You boil your shirts?" I said, dumbfounded.
"That's the best way to get them a bright white. I'll make some coffee for you, too." He said.
When he finished with his shirt, we left his apartment together. I took the bus back home to sleep a couple hours before my job.
On my days off, I would train down to Ronnie's work, and we'd walk down State Street to Wild Pair, and buys some wacky shoes, and he'd give me tons of cologne samples, and show me all the good stuff on sale. It was fun watching him interact with the public, because he wore his sexual preference unintentionally on his sleeve, and the visiting small-town shoppers were usually taken aback by it, but because of his immense charm, he always quickly won over anyone who came to his counter.
A few months later, he told me his friend from the suburbs was coming in town for a visit, and that we should all go out together.
"You'll like her. She likes all that weird music you like. Her name's Erin. She looks just like Kim Novak."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I Finally Have a Scanner

I found the photo I thought was from my 20th birthday, but on the back I wrote:
"Martin's birthday, 1987" It's Kristin and Jeff. Jeff's in the hat.

OK. Here I am...are you ready? Me at the salon, just after my 20th Bithday, 1986.

The salon, 1985.

Me, Martin, & Jody, at Mark's place, 1985.

At Mark's, '85.

The bracelet Jody gave me.

Goofing around while I lived at Kip's, 1985.

Improving my mind in bed, at Kip's, 1985.

Depressed at Kip's, '85.

Gidget (left) and some of her brood, early 1986.

Jeff in his bathroom, Pratt St., 1985.

Chris from Sidewalking, 1985, at her and Tony's place on Racine.

Me and Tony at the old, smaller Berlin, 1985.

Bar stuff, 1986.

More bar stuff, '86.

Some of my favorite mid-eighties jewelry. The backward question mark is shown with the woman who made it, she's on the left, circa '84.

Some '85 &'86 concerts.

Me, Brad, & Erin, Limelight, 1986.

I sadly don't have a photo of Scot from 1985, so here is one of us from 1989, drunk at Berlin. He's in the hat. Now you can put some faces with the names.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Dangerous Liaisons?

Lately I have been obsessed with silent films and their actors. I should say re-obsessed. Ever since I was a teenager, I've had phases of wanting to know all I can about them. My dad used to rent them from the library and run them in our den. Sometimes I think I am a reincarnated actor from that era, or to be more oblique, I sometimes think I was a silent film in a former life. I used to think, if you have to express it in words, it must not be worth expressing. I am in a musical right now (hence my short, lackluster posts of late) and in many scenes where I'm on stage, but not speaking, and find myself using silent actor tools I never knew I had.

Did I tell you how amazing Jody looked at my Salon's opening party, in 1985? During one of our many thrift store trips, I found her pristine 5" patent leather cha-cha heels, a long clutch to match, a sleeveless gold metallic 50's era top, and a pencil skirt. I styled her naturally curly red hair into a perfect modern interpretation of Betty Grable's piled on curls. She was usually a more down to earth, albeit alternative, dresser but ceded to me that night and let me dress her up. I had a great time watching her teeter gracefully around the room on the blonde hardwood floor, and watching the drama she stirred up in the party goer's faces.

In the summer of '86, Jody and I got our own apartment. The place we shared with Scot was super cheap, but it's run-down state was starting to get to us. Our apartment was so hopelessly crappy, we rarely could bring ourselves to even clean the cat box we had in the pantry. Scot refused to do it, because they were my and Jody's cats, and I'm super lazy. If someone came over, I would brave it. We had mice and roaches, so a messy cat box room was small potatoes. Scot decided it was time for him to live alone for a while.
We took the third apartment the rental guy showed us. The first one was cool, in an old Victorian building on Sheffield north of Armitage, but the bedrooms were too tiny. The second one was on Racine north of Diversey, and was huge, with gigantic windows, but had hideous old green shag carpeting all over the place. The third was perfect. It was a 1920's courtyard building on Pinegrove, just south of Waveland, and had been nicely renovated. Most buildings in Chicago seem to be built before the Depression, or after WWII. It had two bedrooms, dark hardwood floors, a 1970's steel fireplace, and a modern kitchen and bath. She bought a black sofa and love seat from Carson Pirie Scott that she was constantly vacuuming for cat hair. She also bought me a stereo from the latest 80's sensation: TV shopping. My room was pretty bare: I had a futon I bought from that place on Clark and Belmont that's still there, and the dresser I told you about earlier. Most of the little things for our new place we bought from The House Store, which used to be on a side street off Broadway south of Diversey, because Brad was working there, and kitchen stuff from the old, simpler Crate and Barrel on Michigan Avenue.
On the day we moved, Scot and Jody did most of the work, because I was at the salon, and had to be dead or dying to get a day off from that place without hearing a two hour long lecture on 'responsibility'. When I got to the old apartment to help them out, I could tell something was wrong.
"What?! What's going on?!" I said as I walked up to them.
"It's Gidget. We can't find her." Scot said quietly.
"What! What are you talking about!" I yelled at him.
"We had to keep the door open while we were moving stuff out, and I thought she was locked in the bedroom! We've been looking for her for an hour now!" Scot said, becoming visibly upset.
Everything had been moved, and they had come back to search for my cat some more. She did get out of the apartment once before, but we soon found her at the downstairs neighbor's, covered in sugar, courtesy of their many small children, and needless to say, a little freaked out. They hadn't seen her, and we spent the remaining day light hours looking for her. Scot promised to come back for a few days before and after work, which he did, but we never found her.

For me, all the charm the 80's possessed evaporated on January 1st, 1986. All it's creativity, anarchy, and individuality turned into a mess of big perms, shoulder pads, tacky make-up and stirrup pants. Everything cool was now on prime-time TV or in Dress Barn, and therefore watered down and to be avoided. Thank God Gaultier, Moschino, pirate Chanels and Hermes' came along when they did. I don't know what I would've done if they hadn't.
Also during this time, all that resolve I told you I had, all that determination I had about being happy and getting a life was quickly slipping away. And Jody and I were drifting apart. She might tell you it was because of my new friends, Erin and Ronny, but I'm going to tell you the real reason: She had gotten a 'real' job, working indirectly for the government. Her immense intellect and education didn't fully register with me until she got that job. Looking back, I think it also had to do with Brad...
Brad and I have known each other since we were 11, and when we were kids I often imagined us as parents, with families of our own, living on the same block, as we were at the time, still in each other's lives, and our kids growing up together. He was a doctor, because with his brain it was the obvious choice, and I had a ranch where I raised horses, or I was an illustrator for children's books. As a kid, I was obsessed with both.
But as we got older, Brad ran away, and dropped out of highschool. His pursuit of immediate happiness preceded his pursuit of a future. I knew that wasn't my fault, but I felt partly to blame. His stepmother banned me from their home when we were 14, and I knew she was blaming me for Brad's problems, and not seeing her role with them, but I couldn't help but feel she was a little right. Had I the nerve, I would've done the things Brad did. I didn't, and lived vicariously through him. He lashed out against the world's unjust indifference, and I caved in. Had I not known him, I can tell you for a fact I wouldn't be here today.
That "caving in" feeling was happening again when I was living with Jody, and I honestly did not want to bring her down with me. She was going out less, and me more, so we had less to say to each other. I knew how deeply she felt for me, and yet she seemed to have no idea how easily she could've 'gotten' me. It wouldn't have taken much. If she made the moves, I would have followed. Maybe she did know. Maybe she wanted me to decide.
Whenever I thought about having an intimate relationship with her, I thought about Gina. Gina was Brad's girlfriend when we were 16, and I was Brad's boyfriend. They had dated for a year or so, and were in love, but I had many secret talks with her about how Brad was hurting her by distancing himself from her, and not telling her why, and throwing his life away. I heard the pain in her voice, and understood it, because I wanted Brad to give himself fully to me, as I was ready to do for him. I couldn't tell Gina this, and only told her of my 'brotherly' love and concern for him. I wasn't jealous of her, or mean to her, but I knew Brad wanted to end it with her, but didn't know how. Gina was one of the few honest and positive influences in his life, and lovingly tried to help him get his life on track. Gina and Jody were just too much alike in looks and intellect for me to date her. I didn't want to repeat what I saw happen with Brad and Gina.

Walking into the kitchen, I heard an odd noise by the sofa. At first I jumped, because I thought it was a mouse, but then I saw the phone laying off the hook.
"Hey! Hello! Hellooo! Goddammit!" Someone was screaming into the phone.
"Hello?" I said, picking up the receiver.
"Brian? It's Erin! Why does Jody do that? Whenever I call she puts the phone down and walks away! It's driving me nuts!" She said.
"Um, maybe she doesn't like you..." I said.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


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In April, 1986, I turned 20. I don't know why, but I was freaked out to turn 20. Actually, I do know why: I wanted to stay a teenager! I didn't want to take that step into adulthood. If I was an adult, that meant I should 'have it together'. Or at least have some idea of how to put my life together. I was so very far from knowing any of life's meaning or mysteries.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that the meaning of life when you are twenty, is that it's the time in our lives to create meaning: we're supposed to flounder and make mistakes and be hopeless. And anyone as desperate as I was for direction, answers, and happiness is eventually going to find it. I was going to find it because I was looking for it.
And for some reason I was convinced I was going to die when I turned 20. I'm not sure why I thought that. Old habits, maybe. When things got difficult for me, I would often think to myself I hope I die before tomorrow. Then I won't have to deal with the bad thing/event/person. Obviously, I didn't die, but up to this point in my life, I had wished I had a million times.

The weekend of my birthday, my friends had a party for me at Mark's place. Carla, Jody, Scot Dave, Jeff, and his roommate Kristin, and Marty were all there. Jody gave me a beautiful cross bracelet, which I still have, and Mark stopped by the salon on the actual day to give me some beautiful orchids. I had told him about my secret fear about dying. He did his best to allay those fears with his wonderful, level-headed words, at the party.
"Well, you're right. Your childhood is dying, in a way. You're at the start of your adulthood. Your young adulthood. But I think you started that a long time ago. Look at your life, Brian: you live on your own in a big city, you have a job, and a lot of people who care about you. You're doing all the things you wanted to. You took a big risk and came here! And it's paying off." He said.
We partied until late into the night, blasting Avalon and Boys and Girls and Station to Station. I was obsessed with TVC 15 for a while.
Jody and Scot took me to The Cult concert, which was a week before my birthday. Jeff and I spent the day together at his place by Loyola. He went to school there, but was at a cross roads in his life: he was very close to quitting school, to pursue a music career, but not sure if he should or not. He picked me up at the apartment on Racine, and we trained up north. He lived with Ava and Kristin at the end of Pratt Street, next to The Planet of the Apes, as they called it.
"What? The Planet of the Apes?" I asked.
"You'll see..." He said.
The court yard building next to theirs had several odd stones laying around, almost like a Roman ruin of an amphitheater.
"Wow, you're right, it does look like The Planet of the Apes." I said.
Their apartment was large and sparsely furnished, and in great condition for such an old building. Japan, Roxy Music, Paul Young, and Duran Duran posters filled the walls. I was glad to see Jeff put the picture of Edie I painted for him on his wall. We were so obsessed with her. We watched Ciao, Manhattan over and over, and on that day. We were obsessed with the young Edie; the Edie who spent hours painting her eyes and spraying her hair silver and dressing herself. No one dressed like her! And the Edie who invented herself: she was her own creation, and a star for it. Jeff and I were kindred spirits, and wanted to be famous. But our own kind of famous; we didn't want to copy some one else. But Edie 'at the end' was not a pretty sight. I say 'at the end' because she was only in her late twenties when she died, and a million miles away from her New York stardom just six years earlier. When we watched the movie, we talked about how Edie died; how her life changed so much. Her and Nico. We debated how these two stunning, creative, talented women seemed to throw it all away. Did they realize they were on a path of their own destruction; victims of their selves? Why didn't they see a way out? We talked about how Debbie and Bowie and Iggy walked their same path, but found a way to survive life's crushing pain, without drugs, a pain all addicts know.
We left his apartment after the movie, and walked around his neighborhood, and by the lake, on the cool, sunny, spring day.
"I'm sorry I couldn't make your birthday more special, like fly us to New York or something"
Jeff said.
"This has been one of the best birthdays I've had in a while, Jeff" I said with a smile on my face.
I thought about how great it was to know someone that was so much like myself, and how I felt I might be able to leave the difficulties of my childhood behind me, and with new resolve, I thought about how I was going to be an adult.

I've stayed at The Chelsea a few times over the years, where Edie lived for awhile, and always find an old-timer and ask about her.
"Did she pay her bill? I asked.
"Of course!" He said.
"You didn't kick her out after the fire she started, huh?" I said.
"The fires...oh!" He said as he shook his head. "No. She was a beeyootiful girl, a beeyootiful girl."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

If the People Stare, Then the People Stare

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Do you have that book? You know what I mean. That book, when you read it, you feel you are reading about yourself? A book you feel you almost could have written? Mine was Bless the Beasts & Children. I read it for my English class, when I was 13. Not only did I see myself in that book, but I understood it from start to finish. I knew that book inside out. I can't remember what I was more excited about; my connection to the book or my comprehension of it. I wasn't the greatest student up until then, and I had some serious doubts about my academic abilities. That book changed my life. I hope you have a book like that.

In 1986, someone I knew was struggling with his sexuality. He had kids and grandkids, but somewhere along the way he pushed his preference aside and got married. I knew two of his sons and his daughter a little bit, and I couldn't keep my eyes off them whenever they were around. They were all very beautiful, and dressed with great style, but I could never tell if they were hung-over, high, tired, depressed, or just plain quiet. Whenever they were around, I would think to myself: Why am I so fascinated by them? What is in me that compels me to want to be like them; to want to be them!? Their auras of suburban glamour and mystery confounded me, because I felt so obvious around them.
Bill, their father and my friend, would ask me the stupidest questions about being gay in front of total strangers at work.
"Brian, is it true gay men sleep with about 500 men a year? I read that somewhere." He asked.
"Are you crazy?! There's only 365 days in a year! I don't know anyone like that. I've never heard such a horrible thing! I'm 19, and I've slept with four men in the past three years." I said.
"But you're not gay gay. I mean career gay: San Fran and New York gays." Bill said.
"Gay gay? What is that? Career gay? Where do you hear this stuff? Look, the gay people I know are just like the straight people I know, when it comes to sex and relationships. I guess there are some 'sex addicts', but you don't have to be gay for that, ya know?" I said to a roomful of people, getting madder and madder.
One night, Bill drove me home, and asked me some saner questions, as we sat in his car for a couple hours:
"How did you know you were gay?"
I told Bill a little bit about my past, and I told him I was attracted to the person. My first love was my best friend Brad, but I have been in love with a couple girls, too. I told him this world likes to tell us who we are supposed to love. Love is love and attraction is attraction, you can't control it.
"I don't think of myself as gay or bi or straight. To me those terms are related to an act; a sexual act. When I am intimate with someone, it's because I have an emotional connection to them. Them, not their gender. Does that make sense?" I said, finding this conversation and our 30 year age difference a little odd.
Why doesn't he already know this? What does he spend his time doing? Do I think too much? I thought to myself.
Bill asked a few more questions that night, and sat quietly and patiently through my long-winded answers, til it was time to go.
The conversation I had with Bill reminded me about the questions I had about my own life. I admired Bill for talking to me about such personal matters, cause I lived in my head so much, and couldn't do it. I didn't realize it then, but the only time my self-hatred went away was when I drank. I felt better when I was drunk. I knew drinking wasn't the answer, but it worked for a while. I knew pop music wasn't the answer, either, but I did get a lot from The Smiths and Nina Hagen. I spent many many hours in early '86 with Hatful of Hollow and Nunsexmonkrock. Morrissey asked why pamper life's complexity and when will you accept yourself, and Nina told me to be fearless and the future is now. I looked in many books, and besides Vonnegut, The Color Purple and Jayne Eyre inspired me a lot then, too.
The main thing I learned from these people was that the answer lay inside me. I just had no clue as to how to unlock that door.

Jody, Scot and I liked to spend our weekend days walking all over the city. Those trips usually included a stop by the lake, and through the old north side neighborhoods. We would count the 'geese lamps' in the windows, which were some weird fad back then. Scot liked to people watch and Jody liked to talk and I liked to look at all the old buildings, because my home town had so few, and all this history was new to me. As I walked with them, I silently wished I lived back then, a hundred years ago, or fifty years ago, cause life seemed less complicated to me. Everyone dressed the same and had jobs and families. Everyone seemed to live the same life: You bought a car and a radio and went to work and went to church and opened Christmas presents and had kids and grandkids and died. Easy!
But I knew those were illusions I had of the past. I could easily shatter them when I thought about The Jungle, Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn, or those Weegee photos of people found dead and nude in shitty apartments.
As much as I hated to, I was starting to be glad to have the opportunity to figure things out for myself.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sound Affects

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Doom and gloom, doom and gloom. Looking back on my past few posts, I noticed I was starting to sound a little depressing. My tale does have a happy ending, by the way. It just took me a while to get there. Here's a less gloomy story:

I have a confession to make. I'm not writing this from a diary. Oh, do I ever wish I had kept one. But no, this is all coming from my memory of that time 21 years ago. I thought you should know...
Did you ever have that weird experience, when you were doing something mundane, or having a casual conversation, that you somehow knew you were always going to remember every little detail about it? And you think: Why this event? This seems so small. It's almost like deja vu, but with only the 'vu' part. That happens to me a lot.
I got locked out of my apartment on Racine and Belmont one night while I lived with Jody and Scot, and sat on our back porch to wait for someone to get home.
Where the hell are they? I thought to myself. I was looking forward to spending another fun night with them, and hearing about their days at work and school.
I had four cigarettes left, so I hoped it wouldn't be too long. I hadn't a quarter to call someone, let alone enough to buy a new pack. I was glad I still had a few pages left to read in the Vonnegut book in my pocket, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. I read all his books during that fall and winter. His hilarious, rebellious, deterministic view of life was manna to my soul. I was wearing a vintage burgundy and black plaid blazer, and the usual black pants shirt and shoes. I still have the brooches I was wearing that night. I didn't want to ring my land lord's bell, because he creeped me out, and we were always so loud and blasted our music, and I didn't want to give him a chance to yell at me. I sat there for hours, getting colder and colder in the January night, thinking I was so close, yet so far, from home.
I discovered things take on new meaning when you spend hours looking at them. I am always in such a rush to be somewhere or do something, or too immensely preoccupied to ever notice the details of my surroundings. That night I really looked at: my hands, how my shoes were made, how slowly I could smoke a cigarette, how stairs and windows are put together, how all the little noises from my neighborhood made a kind of music, and how beautiful the buildings and trees out my back window looked against the night sky.
How did the bastards who robbed us twice get in? I thought to myself, as I pushed at the door and tried to pry open a window.
I was getting so cold, I knew only a hot bath would warm me up. I loved our large, ancient bathtub. It was the apartment's original one from 1915 or so. Jody and Scot hated that there wasn't a shower attached to it, but I loved laying in the tub for hours, and releasing my bad karma down the drain. Sometimes, instead of me taking a bath, I imagined I was a burly Chicago factory worker in 1947, or an old fat woman in 1955, or rebellious teenage flapper from the 1920's, going about my daily routine, and wondering what my life would be like.

When I moved out of Kip's place and back into Scot's I brought two things with me I didn't realize I had packed: a pregnant cat and a pot habit. The habit I blamed on Evan, the chef who lived with us at Kip's, who smoked it every night. I rarely smoked pot, because I got so paranoid and uncomfortable from it, but Evan, and Jody's boyfriend Dale, had some that was actually pleasant. Whenever I was alone at home, I got high and wasted many hours trying to find the hidden meanings lurking in Low, Ziggy Stardust, or L.A Woman. This phase lasted only for a couple months, because the supply of the 'good stuff' ran out, and the usual paranoia crept back, so I gave it up.
Gidget was pregnant from Kip's cat, and I blamed myself, for not having her fixed. Feeling the little lives growing inside her was quite surreal, and helping her deliver them was even more so. Dale came over one night to pick up Jody for a date, and gave me a present when he walked in. It was one of those customized medallions you used to be able to buy from vending machines, and he stamped it "Dead Sex Kitten" for me. I still have that, too. (It was odd and portentous of him to give me that, because I've played the part of a few 'dead sex kittens' on stage during my acting career.) Jody wasn't home yet, so we watched some tv. A few minutes later, a strange noise came from the kitchen, as Scot walked in the front door. We ran in and saw Gidget walking around in circles.
"She having her litter!" Dale said.
"Oh shit! What do we do?" I yelled.
"Put down some news paper and find a cardboard box. Gidget knows what to do." Scot said.
We gently eased out the kittens that seemed to get a little stuck, and after they were born, we put them all in the box, and put the box on the dresser in my closet, where it was dark and quiet. When Jody came home, we looked in the box, not expecting them all to be alive, but there they all were, nursing away. We kept two and gave the rest to friends.

The early days of working in the salon on Sheffield were great. Despite my boss Consita's complaints about her, our new co-worker Maria was a much needed addition to the salon. She was sweet and pretty and from the suburbs, and wanted to further her life and career by moving to the city. We had a great time working together and getting to know each other. We spent a lot of time flipping through Vogue and Interview and i-D magazines, analizing the hair and make-up, and debating the merits of working for such a petty woman. Maria had a direction and sense of self in her that I admired, and she envied me and my free-spirited life-style and friends. We listened to WXRT and looked forward to their Saturday Morning Flashback show, and always yelled whenever someone said Pee-Wee's word of the day. During my lunch breaks, I would walk through De Paul's campus, pretending I was a student, on my way to two of the places I miss most, and wish were still there: Waxtrax and the Woolworth's on Lincoln.

After cashing my check at the currency exchange on Fullerton by Lincoln from the kindly old Tony, (who took a chance and trusted this kid with 12" black spiked hair and bizarre clothes) I wandered through Waxtrax's used record section for a while, usually snagging a two dollar gem, drooled over their clothes and jewelry, and bought the latest copies of i-D and Smash Hits. It was always a scene in there, and they spun the best tunes. The kids who worked and hung out there were other-worldly, they were so cool. Had they not been taken in context with Waxtrax, a casual observer could easily mistake them for religous zealots or escaped mental patients. There is a very fine line between looking cool or crazy, and they walked it. Across the street was Woolworth's, still with an operating food counter. When I could afford it, I had a sandwich with a cup of coffee, slung by a brittle old waitress, all the while wondering if John Dillinger had ever done the same thing on this very stool. (The Biograph Theater is across the street. He hid out a few blocks away during his final days.) If I didn't eat lunch, I poked around the kitchy junk, hoping for a prize. The best time to shop there was during October, when they had the Halloween stuff out, and I would stock up on cheap, funky make-up. I had a penchant for orange lipstick back then, and it was impossilbe to find, save for October at Woolworth's.
At night, I was always the last to leave the salon. When I wasn't busy, I sat at the desk and watched the night fall through the trees in front of De Paul's mountainous old church. The sky slowly shifted through an impossible number of variations of dark blue, until it was black. I'm going to try and paint that someday I thought. I want to remember this moment for as long as I can.

Monday, September 25, 2006

No Time to Wallow

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I forgot to tell you how I met Jeff. Or 'Glamorous Jeff', as we called him back then. I met him at Berlin after the Cure concert. I was thinking I had met him after either the Siouxsie or Cult concerts, but they were in 1986, and I know Jeff was at the apartment I lived in with Kip and Jody, and that was '85. Thank God the internet can help me piece this all back together...

I'm finally coming to the end of '85 in this tale, but I feel like there is something I'm forgetting; things left unsaid, stories not told. That can't be all there was! Actually, what I'm forgetting can be explained in one sentence: my life had a duality back when I was 19; I had the surface life I and everyone else were witness to, and a life that was going on in my head, a life I talked to no one about.

I guess I'm still like that. I guess we're all like that, in some way.

Back in beauty school, in Appleton, before I moved to Chicago, my friend Bryan O. would pester me into talking about what was going on, really going on! in my life, but I was a 'mute witness'. I just could not talk to him about what was lurking around in my head.
"Bryan, let's just go to 1101 (eleven-oh-one) and get drunk, OK?" I would say.
"Come on, talk to me!" He pleaded.
"What's there to say? You know everything." I said.
"No I don't!" He replied, as he drove to our small-town gay bar.
I knew this upset him, me not sharing my life with him, but I was more upset for not having the ability to do so. Somewhere along the way I decided never to give a voice to my inner monologue; if I spoke my fears, hopes, or problems, they would turn into uncontrollable monsters.
Everything boils down to control, doesn't it? So boring.
Things were very out of control when I was a kid and in school, and my way of coping was to try and wrangle it all inside with the useless rope called denial. I didn't want more people knowing how shitty my life was; there were hundreds making it so, and hundreds more who already knew. And yet, the people who I felt should have known how bad it was, 'never seemed to notice'.
I wanted to look cool and unaffected, no matter what happened to me, but little did I realize that I came across as someone trying to look that way. There is no way to look cool and unaffected when you're getting beaten up, or when your classmates throw their books at you.
That way of coping became cemented in me, because Brad and I went to those schools together, where we shared an equally horrible existence, and rarely talked about how bad it was. We made an unspoken pact to never to do so, and crammed in as much fun and good times as we could create. We separated ourselves in every way possible from our classmates.

Old habits die so very hard...

Digression over. Back to Jeff. After the Cure concert, Jody, Brad, Scott and I went home to get ready to go out. Brad had scored some 'happy stars' from Collette, and we decided to take them before we went to Berlin. Happy stars were a low grade home-made acid that were floating around Chicago back then. One of my friends, who shall remain nameless, (cause we all have 'real' jobs now) liked to extol the virtues of mind expansion, through acid. 'They' told me about Aldous Huxley's famous book, The Doors of Perception, (where The Doors got their name) in which he writes about his life-altering experiences with mescaline, in the name of 'science', like it made him 'more intelligent' or something. This friend of mine was very smart and well educated, but the person who gave Brad this acid was far, so very far, from smart:
Collette's eyes never quite focused when she talked to you. She always managed to look cool and put together, but the years of fun were starting to show in her young life. My friend Carla actually witnessed Collette's 5 inch fall from the curb in front of Medusa's one night, breaking both her legs. As I remember, I think she tried to swim across Lake Michigan one night, too. She was also kicked out of England, and told never to return. My mind boggled as to how she did those things, but she fascinated me, none the less.
Brad went to her apartment under the guise of buying only one hit, "cause I'm broke!" he said, because he discovered there were dozens of hits embedded in the living room carpet, and he would pick them up whenever she left the room.
"Collette, can I get a glass of water?" Brad said.
"Sure!" she said as she went to the kitchen. Brad picks up some acid.
"A piece of bread?" He said.
"OK." More hits.
"Another glass of water?" Brad asked.
"Jesus! Alright!" More acid.
He left with enough to last for weeks.
After I read the Huxley book, and saw how my friends who had taken that acid didn't 'go crazy' from it, I decided to take the mild dose myself. We sat around our living room drinking vodka, waiting for it to take effect.
"When you feel a little nauseous, that means it's about to hit you." Brad said.
I didn't get nauseous, but I did need to poop. After I finished, I looked in the mirror, and saw red streaks on my face. When I came back in the room, I could tell they were all tripping.
"Wow! What did you do in there, Brian? You look great!" Brad said. Acid wisdom number one: poo-stress makes you ugly, I thought to myself.
"I crapped. Do you guys see these red marks on my face?"
"That's another sign it's about to hit you." Jody said. They all seemed to be staring at me, waiting for my trip to start.
A little later, I noticed how amazing the music was.
"What is this? This is the coolest record I ever heard!" I said.
"The Cult! You've played this a million times! I think somebody's tripping!" They said.
The music really did sound incredible. It was as if The Cult had tapped into a subconscious, ancient tribal rhythm.
"I wanna hear The Caterpiller!" I said.
"Wow. This song is so great." We all agreed.
"Now put on How Soon is Now?" I said.
After a minute, we had to turn it off. The soul-crushing wail from John's guitar, and Morrissey's 'criminal vulgarity' was just too much on acid. It struck us all too close to home.
"Let's go to Berlin!" Scot said.
We left through the back door, and out the alley. Our alley was paved with bricks, as some streets are in Chicago, and something caught my eye, so I knelt down to look at it.
"Jody, come look at this." I said.
She came over and knelt down with me. Thousands of pieces of glitter twinkled between the bricks in the moonlight. I knew I wasn't acually seeing glitter, but I was dumbstuck by the fact there was no denying the beauty I never knew existed in these ordinary objects. I tried to will the beauty away, but it wouldn't budge. I started to think I was seeing remnants of the people who had walked on these bricks for the past hundred years, and how little pieces of my life are stuck in there now, too.
"You freaks! We're walking ahead. We'll meet you there." Scot and Brad said.
"Jody, I think we've been staring at these bricks for a really long time. We better go." I said.
We ran down School Street to find Brad and Scot. The homes seemed to turn into doll houses as we ran past them. We saw our friends standing on the corner a few blocks away, staring at something. When we rejoined them, we saw what they were looking at. Someone's house was burning down. The fire trucks hadn't arrived yet, and the house was almost half burned. The sobbing owners and their friends were doing their best with some garden hoses, with little effect. A hysterical woman kept trying to run in and get something, and three people were holding her back. Dozens of neighbors were standing in the street in their robes and pajamas, holding each other, tears in their eyes. As the sirens approached, and the four of us stared in shock, I noticed how unstoppable the fire looked to me. I saw the pure and only intention of fire: to consume.
"Let's go." Someone said.
By the time we got to Berlin, the 'happy' effects of the drug had worn off, and I was left with a horrible speedy feeling, that I tried to quell with gin and tonics. Thankfully, it worked. A little later, a gorgeous kid with huge, spiked hair and silver eye shadow accented with swirling black eyeliner lines walked up to me.
"Were you guys at the Cure show tonight?" He asked.
"Yes! It was great, wasn't it?" I said. He told me his name was Jeff, and he wanted to talk to me at the show, but was too shy.
"I'm glad you're talking to me now!" I said.
"I'm here with my roommates and some friends from Kansas City, where I'm from." He said, as he pointed to two girls, Ava and Kristin, (the roommates) and two dreamy guys, whose names I forget (the friends). The guys were impeccably understated in their all black ensembles and long brown hair. I'm moving to Kansas City! I thought to myself.
When we exchanged numbers, he told me he was going back home for a few weeks for the Christmas break from Loyola, and would call me when he was back in town.
Scot, Jody, Brad and I all left Chicago and went home for Christmas that year. When I flew back to Chicago, and got out of the cab I took from O'Hare, I saw a scary sight when I approached my building. The entry way for the rear apartments was on the side of the building, and the door was smashed open, and there was soot everywhere. The stairs were soaking wet, and the door to the first floor apartment was gone, and I saw most of the apartment was charred. I tore up the stairs to my apartment, because it was right above this one. Scot was home, and told me about the fire:
Yesterday, he smelled smoke and called the fire department, who quickly came and put it out, and that no one was hurt.
"It all happened so fast, Brian. Our place isn't damaged at all. Not even smoke damage! If I hadn't been home when I was, this building would be gone." He said.
"Let's get out of here. Let's go to Louie's and pick up Gidget (our cat)." I said.
Louie made us a big bowl of his famous guacamole, in his large, homey kitchen, as we told him what happened. We stayed at his place until well into the night, and dozed on his couch, while watching rented movies, surrounded by the comforting glow of his Christmas tree. I silently thanked God for the miracle He had just granted me, and asked for more divine intervention in 1986, because at the rate things were going, I knew I was going to need it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Looking for Clues

Well, it wasn't too hard to kick Brad and Ray out of Scot's apartment. They weren't paying rent! Why Scott didn't kick them out earlier, I'll never know. But Brad was such a smooth talker, and always the life of the party, so his charms could be pretty hard to resist. Brad and Ray moved into Patrick's place off Irving, by the cemetery. Patrick, tall and beautiful, with long curly blonde hair, was studying at the Art Institute, and had moved in temporarily with Steve after Jody and I left. Steve brought him over one day to introduce us, a few months earlier. Patrick was gay and new to the city, and Steve wanted us to take him under our wings, thinking we would hit it off. We all fell instantly in love with him and his sweet, genuine personality, but he didn't seem like someone who needed any help; he with his worldly air and his fresh-off-the-Milan-runway look. We introduced him to all our friends, and told him the cool clubs to go to. He and John seemed to especially hit it off.
You remember John, right? He was the 'skirt guy' from Berlin, who we had finally met and became friends with. Brad wormed John's secret out of him one day, something we all wondered about, by asking him why he always had money, but was never seen going to work. He came home and told us the shocking news.
"You'll never guess who is an 'escort'!" He said. He opened up a gay weekly, and pointed to an ad.
"Does this phone number look familiar? Brian, get your phone book out, and look up John."
"Oh my God!" We gasped, when we saw the numbers match up.
"This is a BIG secret. You can't tell anyone!" Brad said.
I was in a quandary. Do I tell Patrick or not? Would I want someone to tell me if the guy I was dating was an escort? (Yes!) I decided that John would probably tell Patrick himself. Mainly because John, it seemed to me, wasn't ashamed of his 'job'. Brad told John I knew his secret, one day while we were hanging out at John's place, and had a long talk about it. He said it started out with one guy asking if he would have sex with him for a hundred bucks, and this guy had some lonely friends with deep pockets.
"It's easy, and I make a lot of money doing it, so why should I stop?" He said.
And John worshipped Breakfast at Tiffany's, and adopted many of Holly Golightly's habits for his own: He put a mirror and lipstick in his mail box, but not cologne, cause the mailman always took it; his apartment was sparsely furnished, he had a cat named 'Cat', and often talked about landing a 'rich husband'. Another reason I didn't tell Patrick about John was because I had faith Patrick would 'have some questions' about John's mysterious lifestyle.

Soon after Jody and I moved back into our old apartment, Karen came over with an invitation for me.
"A friend of mine is an understudy for Cats, and some rich fan is throwing a party for the cast at his apartment, and I want you to come with me and Greg."
I really had no interest in Cats, mainly because Kip, our horrible ex-roommate, was such an avid fan, and had tons of Cats crap cluttering up our place, and liked to brag about being there on Broadway opening night, and liking the show before everyone else did. But I was very interested in going to such a glamorous event. I decided to go for an understated look for the party, as opposed to a super-punk one, and wore the black and white herringbone pants I made, a black turtle-neck with a vintage blazer, a few well placed brooches, and two dozen noisy bangles.
We drove over to Fullerton and Clark, on a cold and rainy November night, parked by the grocery store where Tower Records is now, and walked to the party on Lake Shore Drive.
It was an old apartment building, built around 1900 or so, and the lobby was rehabbed and modern, but the host's ('Jim') apartment had definitely seen better days. His mother moved in around 1930, and decorated it in the style of the time, and decided that was gonna hold them over for the next fifty years. Faded linoleum, chipped paint, creaky wood floors, and the musty smell of old rugs and curtains surrounded the priceless artwork and 18th century antiques in their large, dark, labyrnthine apartment. Despite it's tony address, this place was only a few notches better than the hovel I lived in.
We were the first to arrive, and were greeted by a manservant, who told us to help ourselves to what ever we wanted. We asked for a tour, and about a half hour later, the host came out of some hiding place to give us one. 'Jim' was an quiet, older man, about 60, with a youthfulness that betrayed his pathos. This looks like a guy with a lot of secrets, I thought to myself.
He walked up to us and looked me up and down like I was going to rob him or something, and asked if we were in Cats.
"No, we're just friends of friends", I said with a smile.
"Then, why are you here?" He asked.
"Umm, we're friends of someone in the cast? Here's the invitation." We said, feeling less sure of ourselves.
"Oh. I see." He said.
Karen and Greg, with their model good looks and dancer's bodies, escaped his scrutiny.
He told us most of the house was off limits, cause his mother was old and ill and still living there, and walked us through the sitting rooms, dining room and kitchen, pointing out a few antiques as we walked. He quickly disappeared when the doorbell started ringing.
I, of course, imagined his mother as a 'Mrs. Havisham', languishing in a wedding gown and an oxygen mask, and I desperately wanted a peek, but the manservant was flying all over that party, and would pop up in weird places, as if the apartment was riddled with secret passages, so I decided not to risk it.
Karen had warned me most of the cast hadn't decided if they were going to show up or not. About half of them did, and huddled in a clump in the corner, ignoring everyone. I guess 'Jim' hosted parties like this before, for the actors in the productions he liked, and had a bit of a reputation for being a little odd. He was living up to that reputation so far...
It was a sign of a hit show back then; getting one of his parties.
Karen, Greg and I busied ourselves by studying the wonderful artwork, and grabbing the manservant whenever we could, to fill us in on some piece of furniture that caught our eye. The host and the manservant were obviously sleeping together. We had hushed conversations as to what was going on with them, the run-down apartment, and if there really was a sick old woman locked away in a bedroom.
Our surroundings were much more interesting to us than the actors were, until they started playing the piano and singing some songs. 'Jim' had a huge helium tank in the living room, and, oddly, not a balloon in sight. The cast took turns inhaling the helium, and singing Kate Bush songs. That was pretty funny, so we decided to stay a little longer. But the actors quickly grew bored, and left after an hour, and us as well.

A few days later, a sobbing Patrick rings my bell, wanting to talk to me. Oh shit, I think to myself. It turns out John hadn't told him anything, he wasn't curious about John's lack of a job, and Brad had said to him: "I think it's great that you are dating John, and you don't mind he's an escort." Needless to say, he did mind, and was furious at me for not telling him, when I knew all along. I told him I thought John's 'secret' wasn't so secret, and that he and everyone else had known it. Many drinks and many tears later, he forgave me, and went home.
I was already nervous about John and Brad's frienship, cause John's soul spoke to mine the moment we met, and said STAY AWAY, so I got more worried when I heard how badly John was taking his and Patrick's horrible break-up. I was also nervous because Brad has large lazy and self-destructive streaks, and I didn't want him to go John's route. John medicated his pain with acid back then , and he and Brad spent weeks terrorizing the North Side, and me at the salon, while tripping their brains out, and doing God knows what else. I was secretly jealous of them at how they could throw themselves with such a committed, unabashed abandon into their drugged-out escapism, and often contemplated joining them, but I knew if I threw myself into that life like they did, there would be no turning back, and it would get very ugly.

A couple years later, Greg read a story in the paper, and called to tell me the manservant from the party bludgeoned 'Jim' to death, and went to prison. I never found out what had pushed him over the edge, and made him murder 'Jim' like that, but I have a feeling the fight may have been about him not wanting to move out...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Cults of Personalities

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For Halloween, 1985, I went dressed as an idiot. Kip, my insufferable roommate, had some how talked us into dressing like 'clones', to make some sort of 'statement' about his disdain over most of the world's fashion choices. He made us all wear white dress shirts and 'curtain' pants. Granted, I did see his point, because in the mid-eighties, some of us took the decade's DIY sensibilities to the extreme. It was fun and cheap, but it was polarizing, which is why you don't see me writing too much about life on Halsted Street back then, the heart of Chicago's gay neighborhood. We would sometimes take a stab at Halsted, but we were often refused entry. Chistopher Street, where Manhole Hydrate is now, Roscoe's and Side Tracks never let us in. Now, I've been refused enrty to many bars and clubs, straight and gay, during the 80's, all over the country, so I'm not trying to single out Chicago's gay bars. We did have many great places to go; places that classified themselves as straight, or 'straight with extras', but the gay bar world was not having it, when it came to us wild children. I guess us gay boys with eyeliner and 12' spiked hair, had too much baggage for those bars to bear.

That Halloween, I decided I needed to at least have great hair and make-up, so I bleached my hair blonde, cut it into a mohawk, dyed a big chunk of that magenta, and went to the perfume store at the Century Mall to buy some new eyeliner. My ex wore Borghese's silver, and looked amazing in it, so I bought a copper one. The elderly woman at the counter was super nice, and let me try it on there, and said I would look great in any make-up. I told her I wasn't trying to look like a woman, and she said I know that, honey.
When the four or five us went out that night, I could see the disappointment in the eyes of the other clubbers, for we were usually such a decked-out bunch, and they had high expectations for us to be pulling some crazy punk-looking costume. Jody and I called it an early night and caught up with Carla and the Barry Avenue gang's much better party, in our yucky outfits.
When we got home, we ran into the dozens of moving boxes that were squeezed into the hallway, because it was dark, and we were drunk, and we forgot they were there. Evan, a chef, had moved in when he ran out of money for his hotel, because he just moved here from the south, to start a restaurant job. Kip had recently met him out one night, so I'm not sure what possessed him to invite him home. Maybe because Evan was gorgeous; he looked just like Stephen Mallinder from Cabaret Voltaire. I don't think he was gay, but conveniently bi. My and Jody's whispered theory was that Kip was so smitten with him, he confessed his trust fund secret to him, and told him he could stay at his place til he got back on his feet, the morning after their tryst. Their only tryst, because Evan told me one day, that although he and Kip slept in the same bed, they only 'did it' once.
We had some fun nights while we lived there, eating the many wonderful meals Evan would prepare for us, and getting stoned and drunk, while we played Love, Hounds of Love, Fables of the Reconstruction, and Cities in Dust over and over, but Evan was in Kip's club, and gave me you sad, retarded asshole looks whenever he passed me in the hallway or ran into me in the kitchen. I could only imagine the crap Kip filled his head with. Evan's and my relationship eventually took a turn better once he found out Kip's deep, secret love for him, and how that must have looked like to Jody and me. After he moved out of Kip's bed and onto the couch, he always had a lot of pot at the ready.
Evan had an equally gorgeous sister, Josie, who I fixed up with Marty, which lasted about two weeks. I was to soon regret fixing them up, because she and I had way too many teary why doesn't Marty love me! conversations at Berlin, and I had way too many I wish Josie didn't love me! conversations with Marty, and somehow, somehow, the whole mess was my fault.

As I wrote earlier, my new salon job started early November, 1985. The salon was on Sheffield near Webster, and I used to love walking down Webster in the daytime, looking at all the beautiful old homes, making up stories about who used to live there a hundred years ago, and what their lives were like. I walked a little quicker around there at night, though, because I was constantly besieged by the nam myoho renge kyo gang. They were nice, and nice looking kids who hung around the area, probably because of the close proximity to DePaul University, but they tricked me into having conversations about the life-changing affects of chanting. Maybe they spied the copy of Don't Fall Off the Mountain I had tucked under my arm, and saw an easy mark:
"Come with us, come chant with us! You seem like someone in need of a direction and power in your life. Can you say it now with us? Nam myoho renge kyo. It'll change your life!" They cooed.
I was scared to death. I was scared to death to be happy and loving and powerful. I was not ready for that. I was miserable and insecure, I felt worthless and ugly, but dammit, those were my problems, and I would figure my own way out of them. I had no idea at the time they were talking about Buddhism; I thought they wanted to brainwash me into white-slavery or something, and I ran from every group of good-looking kids that looked like they were about to talk to me, from then on. I was shocked when I saw Tina Turner's 'enlightenment' scene, in her bio-pic, What's Love Got to Do with It?, repeating that same chant, and I was even more shocked when I found myself meditating almost daily, on the sound of my breath, for the past 13 years or so, and how much better off I am for doing so. But I must admit, back then, whenever I got myself into sticky situations, or when I took too many drugs, I would do that chant. I can't remember if it worked or not...

So one of my new bosses, Consita, had made a really bad first impression with me, and I debated quitting, but couldn't, because I was fascinated by her. She was only a few years older than me, but she was so worldly and self-made, and had the gift of gab. She was fun, and liked to have a good time, and always wore great clothes and hair-dos. Her and my other bosses, her business partners, loved to eat out, and they would take me with them, (after they taught me how to tone down my look a bit) and introduced me to the many different types of food Chicago has to offer. I learned through them there wasn't a cuisine I wouldn't happily devour.
They loved to tell me the tales of their adventures through Europe, and I vowed then and there to go with them one day. I enjoyed working there at first, and they respected my talents, but it didn't dawn on me until years later how much work I did for them for no pay. The conversations we had about my tiny paychecks would usually dissolve into a thinly veiled excuse about of the 'priceless' knowledge I was gaining from 'assisting' them.
"All the good salons do it!" They would say.
I was making just enough money to squeak by, and they had a life I wanted, so I decided to stick it out.

Back at home, things went from bad to worse with Kip for Jody and me, when we decided to drive up to my hometown in Wisconsin for a few days, for Thanksgiving. The night we got back, we couldn't get into the apartment, cause Kip changed all the locks. We didn't give him rent money, so he had a right to be mad, but he at least could've said move the fuck out! I kicked in the backdoor, we got enough clothes for a few days, and checked into a hotel. That night, we begged Scot to come over, so we could tell him our plight, and to beg of him to let us move back into our old apartment. He also had every right to be mad at us, because we skipped out of the lease we had all signed, and left him trapped with Brad and Ray. Ray was a kindred soul we met at Medusa's one night, who we quickly adopted into our little gang. His parents had recently kicked him out of their house after he came out to them, and he and Brad spent the past month bonding over many hits of acid, their crappy families, and endless hours of Hatful of Hollow, while not working and stealing thousands of dollars from Scot's poorly hidden stash, and secretly hating him and laughing at him behind his back.
"Sure, you can move back in!" He said with a smile in his face, knowing what was coming next:
"If you kick Brad and Ray out!"