Saturday, April 29, 2006

Get the Balance Right

So I know I left a "cliffhanger" a few weeks ago, but I can't continue that story until I tell you this story. I'm a little off "deadline" anyway, so you won't have much of a wait for "closure".
I am trying to tell this tale in the order it happened, but it gets difficult, because it was so long ago, and memories, alas, fade, or pop back into my mind at the wrong time...
I remember going to Paradise for the first time with Scott and Doug, wearing Doug's shoes, because his were one size smaller than mine, so they hurt my feet, but they matched my outfit perfectly, so, of course, I had to wear them. He really didn't want me to wear them, because they were a cream color, and he didn't want them scuffed.
"Be careful! You can wear them if you don't dance in them!" He said.
I was torn. I loved dancing.
" I don't think that would really be an issue at Paradise, Brian. Not unless you have to dance to Laura Branagan or The Pointer Sisters. The music sucks!" Scott said.
"Oh, I see..."
"It's a cool place that was great in 1980, but not any more. It has so much potential to be a really great place, and we keep going back to see if we were there on a 'bad night', but every night seems to be a bad night. I guess we go there now to imagine what it was like, or could be like, than to deal with what is really there." He grimaced, shaking his head.
"Then why are we going again?"
"I want you to meet Tony. And the weekday crowd is ok, I guess."
"Do you have your offering, Scott, or do you need to borrow something? Don't worry, Brian, I got you covered" Doug asked.
"No, I'm all set." Scott said. I said nothing.
Paradise was shabby disco on Broadway, that closed in '88 or so, where that Linen and Things mall is now, near Diversey. It really was a relic leftover from the 70's disco heyday, even though it opened in 1980. Now, don't get me wrong, I love disco, but it was the music of my childhood, and it didn't really fit in with my relax, don't do it lifestyle any more.
I worked with a guy who used to go there back in the day, and he had many stories to tell me when he found out I was going there. (I didn't have the heart to tell him we went there for the kitch and camp value only.) The best 'story' was the one about the night the thousand pound lighting system came crashing down onto the dance floor, killing one and injuring a half dozen. That was usually my day dream of choice whenever I went there: imagining if the music would still be on during the pandemonium of feathered hair and polyester dresses and broken strappy highheels and spilled drinks and "macho men" screaming...oh I could just go on and on in my morbid fantasy world.

Scott and I weren't 21 at the time, so we had to go really early, to get there before the bouncer did. We'd sit in the front bar and nurse a beer for two hours til the dance floor opened.
When the dance floor opened, the coat check opened. Year round. They made you check something. You had to check something if you wanted into the dance area. No choice. And if you bitched about it, you were asked to leave. We called this "the offering". Some article of clothing that wasn't necessary to your ensemble you could "check". I never understood why they just didn't charge a weekday cover or a higher cover, but it was really funny watching people freak out over this rule. I think maybe it was a way to get cute guys to take off their shirts? I dunno.
If you were a regular, they would sometimes ask if your shirt was part of your look, "Um, yeah, my shirt is part of my 'look' " and let you slide. But this wasn't guaranteed, so you had to be prepared. I guess if the coat check guy got his "fix", he was nice. (Kit-Kat bars? Baby casserole?)
This where I met Tony and David. (Yes, Cerda.) Tony and David both worked there. I didn't meet David right away, though. I was so in awe of him and jealous of his look, I was a afraid to meet him for fear he wouldn't like me, and I really wanted him to like me. "Gasp! I want to be his best friend!" I said to Scott.
He was tall and thin and was a speedy blur of all black tight clothes with fishnet hose in weird places and hair extensions, toting his barback tub on his shoulder, and his make up was exactly like Nina Hagen's! (I think I was mainly jealous of his ability to pull off black lipstick.)
Well, not exactly like Nina's, cause he wasn't in drag per say, he still looked like a boy: a Nina Boy. He was able to take Nina's look as an inspiration, a jumping-off point, if you will, and make it his own.
When I was a senior in highschool, my secret shame was that I would tie dozens of different colored bandanas in my hair til it looked like Boy George's hair, and put on Color by Numbers and dance dance dance like I was George at a concert, taking bows and waving to my fans in between songs in my room with the door locked. I always felt sorry for the kids who would dress up like him to see his concerts. There were seas and seas of bowler hats and braids and pouty lips and big white shirts. They looked like they had costumes on, not clothes. George wore those clothes because he was a fashionista, not because he was playing a part in a musical. I could see the difference. Other British bands dressed in a similar way. Visage. Haysi Fantayzee. Etcetera.
I would pretend to be him in my room, but never I had the courage to dress like that all the time, though I wanted to. Besides, George was "George" first. And I wanted people to dress like me!
So when I saw David, it all clicked. You can dress similar to your favorite star; dress with "Bowie undertones" or with "shades of Debbie" to get across the general idea, without it being a costume or being a clone. Your "look" was very important in the 1980's, and it was very important for truly creative people to respect other people's ideas and to be original. Otherwise, you were labeled a WANNBE. The label of death.
David and I are good friends to this day.
Also, Tony (Chris' roommate) worked at Paradise, and through him I got my first "real" job, and met my current close friend and co-worker Anthony.
I guess I owe a lot Paradise and it's inability to live up to it's potential. You never know where your life can be changed.

Friday, April 14, 2006


During the weeks after Doug moved back to Wisconsin, I was a little freaked out. I guess because I felt rejected and hideous, and I would miss him, and felt to blame for him leaving Chicago. And with him gone, it meant I had to do this by myself. By this I mean live a life: I had to pay my own bills and feed myself and bring home the bacon and meet friends and do things. I wasn't all that confident I was up to the task.
It was just Steve and I for the summer of '85, because Tim, our seldom seen third roommate, took his summer break at home. The weather was so beautiful that year; it had such a sleepy serenity, like a peaceful summer of a care-free childhood. Maybe it seemed that way to me because mine were such a recent memory.
Doug had paid for the rent for a few months, so after that it was up to me. I spent a lot of time during the day alone, because Steve was at school. I would get up early and go buy a dollar's worth of doughnuts and some cigs, if I had the money, or walk the streets looking for "good" cigarette butts to smoke if I didn't. Yeah, I know it sounds gross, but when you're hooked, you're hooked. Gotta feed the monkey(s). There were a lot of factories in the Addison and Racine area back then, and those guys never had time to finish a cig.
And those streets were empty back then, if you can believe it. No one on the side walk and rarely a car on the road. It was almost like being back in Appleton. I usually walked down Addison to look in the windows of the cool vintage furniture stores that were near Southport, and at all the pretty greystone houses that looked like little castles.
When I got back I would watch two or three Lettermans. (See my past post: "Well it Was the Eighties..." from January, 2005.)
In the afternoon, I would sometimes walk down Racine to Diversey and visit Chris. She was Tony's roommate, and Tony went to art school with Scott in Pittsburgh, and Scott and Doug met out one night at Trianon. Got all that?
Trianon was a gay bar in a unique vintage building that played fab music which no one went to during the week but us. It later became Club La Ray and later yet a futon store, then obliterated to make way for Marshalls and DSW on Halstead by Belmont. (On that same block was also another gay bar, Windy City, and if you've ever been there, you'll understand me when I say that that is an entirely different blog for another time. I swear, proof of multiple addictions was required for entry. "Yikes!" is right.)
Anywho, Chris was going to school, too, and was a doctor's kid. She was obsessed with Bowie, and had all his rare posters and albums in her room. I never really "got" 70's Bowie until I met her. She had the most gorgeous skin: silk and suede somehow combined.
"Look at your skin! Look at it! It's just so...look at it!" I said as I gently squeezed her arm with both my hands.
"Whaaat!!??" She would giggle.
Tony told me later, after I would leave, Chris would squeeze her arm and ask:
"What does he mean by that?"
All the action took place in the back of their apartment. The kitchen was always a mess, food and dirty dishes everywhere, over-flowing ashtrays and magazines cluttering the kitchen table. Their bedrooms were the same way. Stuff everywhere. Typical student apartment. But the front of the house, that was a different story. Totally immaculate. And not a stick of furniture. Only a stereo. They said it was "cool" that way. You would walk in and get this minimalist Japanese vibe, which was promptly shattered when someone said "let's hang out in the kitchen."
We would spend some time in the empty living room smoking and getting high and blasting Joy Division and Bauhaus and Beethoven.
"Come over and watch some Lettermans with me. We have chairs." I said.
"No! No. Noooo....(whimper)"
"Aww, come on. Let's go to the water, then. It's so nice out. Sunny even. I know how you like some sun."
"Well, yeah I do, but..."
"Come on Chris, I can't handle this hardwood floor any more."
Chris was afraid of the city, so it was hard to get her to leave the house.
"Well, how do you get to school?" I asked.
"I run to the El."
"Run. You run to the El." I said, not believing her.
"Yes! I run as fast as I can down Diversey! Then run back home!"
I just stare at her.
And there's Tony standing behind her, quietly nodding his head, buldging his eyes, giving me that "she's-not-kidding" look.
I refused to let her fear be anything more than a tiny blip on my radar, and I would drag her down Diversey to the lake front, kicking and screaming. Tony was grateful whenever I came over.
"Get her out of the house before she dies of scurvy!" He would yell.
We had a great time once we got there. Smoking and gabbing and playing our headphones and getting in the way of the bicyclists. One time on the way back a car load of Mexican guys found her quite alluring, and told her so.
"Do you have your gun money? Get your gun money ready" She said.
"You know, gun money! I need a GUN!"
"Oh for Christ's sake, Chris" I said as I rolled my eyes and grabbed her hand and quickly walked her home.
Scott would come over after work, and we'd head to his place. He lived across the street. We would eat up all his food and try on his clothes and use his artist's chalk for make-up, and stink up his place with our cigs and laugh laugh laugh while we got ready to go out. He didn't have a working tv, just a very cool plastic red and white decorative one, so another way I would pass the time 'til we left was to make hats. Fez-type hat were tres chic back then, and they were easy to make with a needle and thread and a groovy 60's tie and a piece of cardboard. I would usually add a few Boy Georgie-type braids to the back. We'd wear them, a little back on our head, and tease up our bangs nice and big, usually off to one side to cover over an eye. Then Scott and I were off to Berlin. Always Berlin during the week; dancing in their little corner of a dance area.
Get up the next day and do it all over again, like that song.
By the third month, Steve, sadly, had to give me an ultimatum. He very sweetly, very gently, asked me to pay my share, or move out. He was floating me for the past month.
"Sure, Steve, of course," I said. "But I have an idea that may help us both....."

p.s. The comments are back!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pleased to Meet Me

When I wrote about my and Doug's break-up a few posts ago, I didn't tell you the whole story. I didn't take the break-up very well. He moved back! Back to Wisconsin! He left Chicago, left our relationship, left me to sink or swim! How dare he! I took it very badly, truth be told. I thought everything was ok with us before I moved here. I really thought he wanted me to be with him here in Chicago. I asked him point blank: "Do you want me to move in with you?" He said yes. But after a month, he was gone. I liked him soo much. I, dare I say, loved him. When he was away at class, I would open the closet to feel and look at his clothes. He had the most amazing taste. Everything was beautiful and everything fit him perfectly. "Don't spray cologne on my shirt! It will degrade the fabric over time!" He would chide me. His tattoo was perfect. His haircut was perfect. His art work was perfect. Maybe it was the writer/actor in me, but I would stare at his being and contemplate his existence when he wasn't looking. (And when he was.) "How does he do this? What is a person like this born from?" I would marvel to myself. He could walk into any store and find the most wonderful things. Our first month together here was really special. We did so much in that short time. Everyday was a new friend in a new bar or restaurant or neighborhood. One time on the train I was writing a letter:" Dear Dad, As I write this I am riding on the Loop..."
"We're on the El, not the Loop. The El is a train; elevated, and the loop is a place."
"Oh, I thought L was short for Loop."
" Uhh, no."
He half-heartedly asked me to go back to Wisconsin with him, because, as much as he wanted to go to the Art Institute, he couldn't afford it. Maybe by "it" he meant me and school. I told him to stay and to try to make it work, because I could have a job any day now, and because he took me there with him a few times, and he fit in so well at that school. But I knew I couldn't go back. As a goodbye present I copied his understated brown Parachute blazer in a wild paisley fabric he picked out. (I moved here with my sewing machine.)
When the day rolled around for him to move back, I had had a job for a few weeks at a salon on Halstead and Diversey. It didn't pay very well because my awful, mean co-worker (who's sister was pregnant by the boss) got all the walk-in business, and I got the stray "freak" spill-over from Milio's she was too afraid to even talk to, let alone do their hair. I was a fool to stay there, but the other stylists were great. When they found out what was going on, they had a little "party" for me the night Doug left.
We started the night at my apartment with some beer and wine. After a while, they wanted to go to Waterworks, but I had heard way too many war stories of their all-night acid trip dance-a-thons there, and opted out. Wateworks was hot in the early days of "house".
Instead, Scott and I went to Octagon on Clark Street. It was a pretty quiet night, so we danced (alone) to a song or two, and watched videos. But when Heaven by the Psychedelic Furs came on, and I felt the rain drops on my skin, the ones that were falling on Richard's skin in the video, I knew I was in trouble. My co-workers were trying to help me "forget" my problems with Doug.
I was unwittingly dosed once before, about three months prior to this with LSD. It was not fun. Control freaks do not have fun on acid or LSD. I saw God. I saw the Devil. I saw little white mice marching on my blankets. I saw polka dots, each with a different cartoon going on in them, then felt them on my skin, too. So I knew what was going on. But the first time I was dosed I had smoked it, and this night, I had ingested it. Someone put it in my beer. Taking it that way makes it a lot more intense and longer lasting.
So I said a quick good bye to Scott and ran home. I didn't want him to have to deal with bringing me to the hospital (or the police station) in case I flipped-out.
"Look at MEEE!! I can FLYYYYyyyyy.......Splat!"
I jump into the bathtub, turn on the shower, sit down with all my clothes on, and start bawling. After a moment, I get up and walk into the living room, dripping water everywhere, grab the wine, walk back into the shower, and proceed to drink the entire gallon, hoping it will quell the effects of the drug. "MY LIFE SUCKS!! Doug is gone, I have no money, I can't pay my rent or my bills, my parents will make me come home if I ask them for any more money, and I'm fucking tripping on fucking acid AGAIN. And I'm drinking a whole gallon of wine IN THE FUCKING SHOWER LIKE A LUNATIC!!"
The next thing I remember was my roommate Steve nudging me awake. "Brian. Brian. Where's the TV. Where's the VCR? " I start laughing, thinking he's joking. "Huh? What? Whadda ya mean?"
"I'm serious, they're not here." I get up and try to look for them.
"Oh my God, one of Sarah's friends must've taken them! But I saw them leave, so they must've come back, or, oh shit, took stuff out when I was in getting ready in my room! Oh fuck. I'm so sorry Steve, I'm so stupid."
"They got us good, 'cause my cameras hidden in the kitchen are gone, too. But hey, don't freak out over this. My parent's insurance will replace what was taken. And what's all that stuff in the bathtub? Wet clothes, wine bottles, ciggarette butts...?"
"Welcome to the rest of your life..." I think to myself.