Wednesday, September 27, 2006
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.
Posted by BC at 11:17 PM
Monday, September 25, 2006
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.
Posted by BC at 2:02 PM
Sunday, September 17, 2006
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...
Posted by BC at 8:26 PM
Sunday, September 10, 2006
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
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!"
Posted by BC at 9:37 PM
Monday, September 04, 2006
One October day in 1985, in the slow, somewhat lame salon in Lakeview I worked in, my friend Tony came to see me.
"Girl! Can you do my hair tonight? We're having a big party at Limelight; Marilyn is performing! Can you believe it?! My boss is in town, and I want to impress him! Rumor has it Marilyn is being forced to perform here, because of a huge bar tab he owes the London Limelight. Here's a pass to get in!" He said.
I was a little disappointed Marilyn had a mohawk in the photo on the invite, but he still looked amazing. (I wish I had saved it! When my friend Ava got a job in the offices there, a few months later, she would let me dig through all the invitations they saved, to try and find one, but, alas, to no avail...I have a few others, though.)
"Huge bar tabs? How glamorous! Sure! Come back at 5!" I said.
I first saw Marilyn when I was a teenager in the midwest, in a short documentary called Stepping Out in London, which HBO would sometimes air between features in the early 80's. It starred mainly Steve Strange from Visage, as I remember, and featured a not-yet-famous Boy George, and Marilyn. It was about the New Romantic/Blitz scene and their music and crazy fashions and nightclubs in London at the time. I would giddily check the movie schedules each week, and try and figure out when they had enough time to air it, because it was never scheduled; they would just pop it on every now and then. (Much to my chagrin.) It was actually made to run as a short before the movie Alien. I don't follow the logic for that, but...
I remember the movie beginning with Marilyn walking down the street in cha-cha heels, tight jeans and a black sweater. Somehow, with very little make-up, but perfect bleach-blonde hair, but he was the reincarnation Marilyn Monroe. I was riveted, and seriously made plans as to how I could runaway to London, so I could hang out with them. Words cannot describe the breath of freedom this documentary blew into my stifling, narrow-minded, smalltown life. I didn't know Marilyn had made a record he could perform at Limelight, but I couldn't wait to see him in person.
Later, when Tony came back, and I was making his hair as tall humanly possible, using the edge of a super-hot iron and cans of Aqua-Net, he whispered some news to me:
"I told one of my bar patrons you are looking for a job, cause she is opening a new salon in the DePaul area. She's fun and cool, so I think you should talk to her. You gotta get out of this place!"
He gave me her number, and I promised to call.
My life was in so much turmoil at the time, I didn't know if I could handle any more change. But I needed to do something, cause I made so little money at that salon. The turmoil started when Jody and I got into a huge fight/misunderstanding with Scot and Brad, after Brad had come back, and we moved out of the apartment and into Jody's friend Kip's place, off Belmont near the lake.
Kip's large apartment was definitely a huge step up from the slum we lived in, but I loathed Kip. He was a trust fund kid who pretended he wasn't, and a black-hearted snob. When Jody was around, Kip was fun to be with, but he had such a scary, secretive nature, I dreaded being alone with him because he liked to turn everything I said around, and into more fodder for his gossipy games. Whenever he went on one of his one-upmanship rants, because my experiences/life/friends were so inferior to his, I took quiet solace in the unspoken fact that I had a perfect complexion, and most people liked me, while he bore the cross of huge and painful facial and bodily skin problems, and most people didn't like him. I hated turning but I have perfect skin and everyone likes me into a subconscious mantra, but he left me no choice; I had to do something! (I would never have stooped to his level and told him those things to his face.) He also had an annoying "club" he created and imagined everyone wanted to be in, for 'cool people only', which I was refused membership to.
Why that made me so mad, I'll never know.
While Jody and I lived there, I put Pierre et Gilles and Siouxsie Xeroxes on the wall in our bedroom, we slept til 5pm every weekend, I sewed pants out of old curtains for us, and read every Prisoner: Cell block H book I could find at the thrift store. I was hooked on that PBS show as a kid. Oh yeah, and Jody almost killed us both in bed one morning, because she fell asleep with a lit cigarette. I slept right through the mayhem, and was confused when I woke up with a giant burn hole in the middle of the futon. She felt horrible, and promised never to do it again. (I was secretly elated, because it was so Edie-esque.) I asked her the next day why she didn't wake me up so I wouldn't burn to death, and she said she tried, and then said that I sat up and looked at the fire for a second, mumbled something, and went back to sleep.
"Such is the life of an elf..."
My turmoil grew even greater when I sadly decided I needed to move back home. I just didn't make enough money, especially now, with the big increase in my rent. Jody and I had a long talk one night about this, and she refused let me move, and said she would help me out financially. (I wouldn't be in Chicago today if it weren't for her generosity.)
I put all that aside as we excitedly got ready to go to Limelight to see Marilyn. The club was packed, so I was grateful Brad was working there, cause he got us into the VIP lounge. He and I had made a secret pact to pretend to be mad at each other, so as to not upset Jody and Scot, one night while doing drugs in the enrtyway of my new apartment. The glamorous occasion was good cover for his friendly actions, for don't all glamorous occasions over-ride any petty quarrels?
He told us about the photo shoot in the basement with Marilyn, and how great he was, and how no one expected the show to start til about 2am.
We sat around for hours, getting wasted on free long islands, courtesy of Tony, waiting for Marilyn. When he finally did get on stage, wearing uninspired clothing and hair choices, he sang Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky. (This was before Doctor and the Medics had their big hit with it. I always wondered who decided to cover it first, and if Marilyn was jealous of their huge success with it.) He seemed a little nervous, I think, because the crowd to see him was so big, and he wasn't sure if we were there to 'bury him or praise him'. He did get booed when he left the stage after that song, because that's the only one he sang.
The next day I called Consita, the owner of the salon Tony told me about, and we hit it off well, so we set up a time for me to 'audition' a haircut for them. That went well, too, so I gave my two weeks notice at work.
A few nights later was the Adam Ant concert for Vive Le Rock at the Aragon. Jody was running late, and parked her car in a permit-only space while she ran in to get me. During the five minutes it took her to do that, her car was towed. We freaked-out, and tore the apartment apart to find the 90 cents we each needed to take the bus there, for we literally had no money. I could sense Kip's barely masked glee at our misfortune as he pretended to help us look for quarters in the couch. We eventually did come up with enough to get there, cause Kip 'found' some money in his room, but not enough to get back home. We decided the five mile walk home in the cold rain would be worth it, cause we would get to see Adam. The concert had little in the way of an audience, but excess in terms of showmanship and energy. He looked so sexy in his so-ripped-up-they-were-barely-there jeans and t-shirt. Jody and I floated out of that concert, oblivious to the weather. Soon a car load of friends we didn't know were at the show stopped to give us a ride home.
A few weeks later, I start work at my new salon, on the first of November, and walked right past the writing on the wall, because moments after I came in the door, what does Consita do, but launch right into an hour long behind-the-back attack about someone she had just hired. My stomach started turning, because I knew it was going to take me years to get out of this mess...
Posted by BC at 7:27 PM