Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Glowing in the Darkness

Slacking, slacking. Sometimes I slack. I wish I lacked slack, but I don't...
To pick up the cliffhanger from a few weeks ago, I had an idea that would help my roommate and I with our rent problems. Our lack of rent problems. Now, I bet you think I am going to talk about Jody and Caren. Well, I'm not. They come later. Not much later, but later. I am going to tell you about Terri.
Terri was the old-school queen I worked with at the hair salon on Halsted, who told me the Paradise "stories". When I worked with him in '85, he was close to 40. I started going to gay bars when I was 16, in '82, and that was a "changing of the guard" time in the gay bar world. Changing from the '70's disco scene to the '80's new wave scene. Not to get too off subject, but maybe it's just me and my self-sabotaging ways, but I find gay bars to be very pop-culture and youth obsessed. Either you pick up the pace and change with the times; you comb your hair the right way and wear the right cut of pants, or you will be ignored and talked about. And not in the good way. Are straight bars like this? Murphy's Bleachers or Mother's? I'm sure as long as the game is on, and the chicks have some semblance of a chesty-breasty area, I doubt any of the guys care that you're wearing last season's Prada. (Unless you're in a dance club, I suppose.) As a friend of mine recently said about a gay cruise he took: "Who wants to see a bunch of fifty year-old queens dance to Brittany Spears, thinking they're hip?" Sad-but-truer words were never spoken.
I mention this because I understood Terri, and won him over during the job interview. I had to convince them their salon needed to hire this small town kid with 12 inch spiked hair on top and a paisley bleached into his shaved side (my roommate Steve colored it in for me every morning). His prime was in the 1970's, and that was when I fantasized about the day I was an adult and could go down the lane to the disco, (preferably Studio 54) and be cool and dance and have fun. Back in the small town gay bar I went to, it was still very disco oriented. Feathered hair and polyester shirts ruled the night. So he was like all the queens back home.
We were fast friends. He was so much fun to work with and to be around. But he was a little aloof; you always left him too soon.
"Bye girl, bye! Bye! Get out!"
It was funny to watch him scam our bosses out of 40 bucks with each of his client's bills. I think they were on to him, because they would always "just happen" to show up at the pay-desk at the right time, to try and catch him "in the act". He was so good at double talk though, the bosses would walk away shaking their heads, not sure what had just happened. He tried to teach me to do it, but I didn't have the nerve, let alone the clients. (I'm my own boss now, so just calm down.)
He rarely said a word to his clients while he worked. He smoked, he had a cigg going at all times on his station, and he whistled. But he did his job well, so he was always busy.
One day he asked me if he could stay at my place for a while, so his could be painted. At first I thought he was trying to scam a way into my pants, because I was a red-head at the time, and his attraction to red-heads was no secrect.
"It's like they have see-through dicks!" He said to me once. "Umm, ok..."
Well, ploy or no ploy, I needed the money. But Terri came on a bit strong with his loud, queeny, albeit endearing, personality, and I needed to be sure my roommate Steve could handle it.
I decided honesty was the best way to go, and Steve was more than happy to have anyone there, as long as they were paying.
Terri showed up on our doorstep with a lone suitcase, and stayed with us about a week. I think I saw him in our apartment two or three times. He was always out! He was out every night to find the perfect balance of coke and grass and gin. He went to the grossest gay bars he could find. Every night! He took me with him once, to Cheeks, yes Cheeks, on Clark. It was about where that vitamin shop is now, by Diversey.
He dressed me in some "normal" clothes of his, and when we entered the bar to the tired sounds of Alicia Bridges, me not having an ID didn't seen to be an issue. (I was 19.) He right away runs to the back somewhere, and I try to keep up, because I didn't like the looks I was getting from the guys who seemed to be growing out of those barstools.
He ran out the back door to an outdoor, pitch-black, maze-like "patio".
"What the hell is this?" I whisper. Standing still, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness, it didn't take me long to figure out what was happening: moaning silhouettes standing on oddly damp asphalt...
I hated myself back then, but I didn't hate myself that much. I ran out and caught up with Scott at Berlin.
The next morning, I wake up to the sound (I slept on the couch we took from the alley) of Terri putting quarters into a large, clear bag that contained hundreds of them.
"That is a shit-load of quarters you got there, Ter."
"This is how I keep track of what I spend and how much I drink when I go out. My drink costs a dollar seventy-five, so when I come home with a pocketful, I know it was a fun night!" he said as he walked into the bathroom for his shower.
When the door shut, I was in that bag of quarters, taking enough for breakfast and some smokes. I was into that bag of quarters like I was ten years old, and this was my step-dad's dresser. I was into that bag of quarters like I was 13, and it was my dad's work pants, hanging on the hook on the bathroom door.
"I'm gross." I think to myself.
Sitting on the curb in front of the little store, eating and smoking, I vow to never take money like that any more. I was sickened to realize I was always sneaking things from the important men in my life. I would ask for what I needed from now on. I they said no, they said no. I could handle it. I'm an adult now.
When Terri was out of the shower, I told him what I did.
"Oh hon, take the whole bag! Just leave me some for laundry..."
Terri has sinced passed on, but I still have the bracelet he gave me his grandmother wore. It was the start of another famous Terri story:
"Girl, my grama wore this and a mink coat and nothin' else during those blazin' Louisiana summers.."

p.s. Glowing in the Dark by Experimental Products is a great song from the 80's that can be found on itunes.

1 comment:

David said...

I love this post...