Monday, January 29, 2007

We Can Get Together

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I forgot to tell you a story. In the summer of '86 I went to Little Rock with Jody to visit my family. I hadn't officially 'come out' to my parents, but I never hid anything from them, either. I wanted Jody to be with me on that trip, and she said she would be glad to go. I told my parents I was bringing a dear friend with me, who I happened to live with, and left it at that. They instantly hit it off. I'm sure they read more into that statement, for my year-long relationship with my high school girl friend, Amy, was only a two year old memory.
We dragged my parents all over town, forcing them to listen to our Cramps and Bauhaus tapes, looking for good thrift stores, and to my favorite 'punk store', Armadillo's Hand. There Jody found an amazing black pencil skirt, marblized with pink. It looked great with her combat boots.
During that trip, I was in an all black wearing, dyed-black hair and whitened skin and black eyeliner phase, but they took my extreme look in stride. Try as I might, I could never shock my parents. When I first got into the 'alternative' look, in 1980, there were a few rumblings, but not many. I guess they still saw the golden-tanned, brown feathered-hair boy I was in the 70's. And I think that they thought I took wearing a dozen rosaries a little more seriously than I had actually meant, and were happy to see me embracing 'religion'.
My mom told me Amy heard I was coming to town, and wanted to see me. She and I dated my senior year; she a few years younger than me. Back then, we talked everyday on the phone, and spent every weekend together at her house, eating Ro-tel and drinking Sprite and me smoking a million ciggs, renting movies and watching MTV.
"I've never seen two people drink so much soda in my life! And light a candle! It smells like a dive bar in here!" Her mother would chide us.
Amy's and my relationship never really got past the make-out phase, but I loved every moment I spent with her. My sophomore and junior years at school in Wisconsin were very rough, and I grew up really fast during those summers in between. My last year of high school in Arkansas was so wonderful, it was as if those two years had never happened, and Amy was a big part of that.
Walking back into Amy's home with Jody was bizarre. She had a boyfriend, and gave me We have SEX! looks whenever she sat near him, and the look on his face, the whole night, was What a fag!. I guessed he hadn't watched any MTV in a while. Needless to say, the night was very long and uncomfortable. But I was glad to see her happy, and with a guy who was obviously nuts about her. I can only imagine what was going through Jody's mind that night.

Early in 1987, I was spending the weekends with Erin. She had moved into Donny's apartment on Belle Plain and Broadway, with their friend Kelli down the hall. This was also my 'glamour pill' phase. They were just some speedy diet pills you could order from the back of trashy magazines. On the way to her place, I would stop by the liquor store by her house (it's still there) and buy some wine or beer, take some pills, and we would spend a couple hours in her room, getting ready for the night out, and laughing our asses off and blasting music. Usually Debbie Harry, (I requested Rush Rush or Feel the Spin so many times at Limelight, the DJ's would play Debbie whenever we walked onto the dance floor) or Duran Duran. I put her in wigs, did her make-up, and dressed her up in kooky out-fits.
"You're wearing it!"
"But I look like an idiot!"
"That's what's cool!"
After about an hour, the pills would kick in, and things got crazier.
"You're like a psycho girl at a slumber party." Erin said, as I put on a dress of hers and all her jewelry and rolled on the floor screaming like an extra from The Poseidon Adventure.
"What does that mean?" I asked, as I tried to pull her dresser on top of me.
"At slumber parties, when I was a kid, there was always a 'psycho girl' that would be bouncing off the walls, freaking everyone out, because she couldn't handle the freedom away from her parents for a night."
"Hey! I like that! Psycho Girl! That's the name of our band! I'll have t-shirts done up!"
Driving to Limelight or Berlin was always awful, because the speed would start to over-ride the alcohol, and I felt like I had just drank ten pots of coffee.
"Erin, I need a drink NOW! Drive faster!" I yelled as I rocked back and forth in my seat.
"God I hate those pills you take. STOP TAKING THEM!"
"No. They're fun. DRIVE FASTER!"
At Limelight, Tony knew my number, and usually had a Long Island waiting for me, and held it up when he saw me racing up to his bar.
Sunday mornings I would crawl over to her house again, and we'd order some food and draw all the curtains and watch movies. Usually old ones, like Pandora's Box, Mildred Pierce, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, or The Bad and the Beautiful. And sometimes new ones like Blue Velvet, Blood Simple, Crimes of Passion, or a John Hughes movie.

"So when are we gonna start this band?" She asked.
"I already did. I wrote two songs."

So the perfect theme song for this post was We Can Get Together, from Icehouse's eponymous titled 1980 release, but someone from youtube yanked it off, so I put Hey Little Girl in it's stead. I love that song, too, but I felt you should know my first choice. In reguard to that song referring directly to the girls I wrote about, or to myself as the 'girl', draw your own conclusions....

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sleep the Clock Around

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Candy, darling.

Jody was asleep on the sofa, her bright, ivory skin looking even brighter in contrast to the deep black upholstery. She didn't hear us walk in to the apartment, us being me and my entire family. We must've looked quite a sight, the seven of us standing in a clump, peering down upon her, as she slowly stirred from my gentle nudging, and turned to see what was going on.

My parents drove up from Arkansas with my four brothers to Chicago to pick me up and drive me to Wisconsin for Christmas. One of my brothers had just enlisted in the armed services, and my mom knew it could be a couple years until we were together again.
After they found my apartment, I drove around with them for a half hour or so, to help them find a parking spot. Even if most of Lincoln Park was torn down and paved over, there still wouldn't be enough parking. My dad was less than thrilled about parking his custom van out of his sight, but I did my best to assure him my neighborhood was safe.

"Look! There's a spot in front of the temple. What could be better than a spot by a temple!" I said, trying to reassure them.
"What's a temple?" My twelve year old brother said.
"A Jewish church." My mother said.
The streets were deserted this cold December morning in 1986, and even though the sun had barely risen, a crazy was lurking in the bushes by the synagogue.
"Can I give you a hug? You look like such nice people."
She wasn't dressed crazy, and had I not seen her sitting on the ground in the bushes, I might've thought she was an early riser, come to welcome us to the congregation. But the eyes. You can always tell by the eyes. Someone was always wandering around the Broadway and Waveland area back then, asking for money or yelling at invisible people, probably due to the seedy hotel down the street. We never walked past it at night.
"No" I said quietly, running in front of my mom, trying to block her from this woman lurching toward her, arms outstretched.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my younger brothers, half asleep from the long car ride, looking for an escape route, and my dad starting to get mad.
As she started asking for just a handshake, then!, or a dollar!, I'm a very sick lady. I should be in the hospital. Can you drive me there? I motioned with my arm behind my back for them to start walking down the sidewalk.
I smiled at her, with a pleading look, please don't freak out on my family! as I said No. I'm sorry. No, I can't.

I walked behind my family, blocking any further contact, speeding them along.
"Hurry! She might come back!"
Great. It's six fucking am, the streets are fucking deserted, and the one freak out here has to find us! Jesus! Can't I ever get a break? I thought to myself as we walked in silence to my building.

In Wisconsin, my parents dropped me and my brothers at my other dad's house, and I immediately called Bryan O.
"Wonderful! You're in town! There's going to be a fun party tonight! I'll pick you up at nine!"
Ugh. That party.
It was at some rich old queen's place, a couple miles from my dad's. I was the life of the party that night, because of my big city cache and reckless youth. I ran to the bar in the den.
"Tequlia shots all around!"
"Jack Daniels shots all around!"
"Let's make martinis!"
What is it with the holidays and booze? We all were trying our damnedest to drink away the clouds of wasted lives and utter disappointment that can hang especially thick over the families of gay men and women.
A little later, Bryan and I were in the bathroom, probably making out. He opened the mirrored cabinet, and in it sat countless prescription bottles.
"Let's take some pills." He said.
We each took one from about, oh, I don't know, five? six? seven? bottles, and went back to the party. Soon everyone wanted to go to a bar, but I knew I had had enough, and wanted to go home. I knew Bryan wouldn't let me, so I snuck out the back door, planning on walking home. I had once walked seven miles in below zero weather, stoned out of my mind, in the late seventies, so I knew I could do it.
I don't remember much of the walk home, but I know I ducked down the side streets, to call less attention to myself, and I do remember the hang-over.
"Oh God, those fucking pills!" I thought to myself as I crawled out of bed.
I could hardly lift my arms, let alone meet my family at the mall for a group picture, but I did, and the ghost of that hang-over still makes me cringe whenever I look at it.
The next day was Christmas Eve, and we all met at the house of friends of my parents, who were out of town, but let us reunite there. The modest home was decorated to the hilt for the holidays, with tons of someone else's presents under the large tree. It was as if they let us borrow their Christmas. A feeling of finality hung in the room; our family was ending. Well, not ending ending, but changing forever. I didn't know families ended. But my mom did.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Whisper Loud and Clear

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Sometime during the summer of 1985:
I came home one grey and rainy Sunday to find Scott taking a nap in his room. It looked like he had been meditating, with his legs crossed, and then laid down and fell asleep, with his arms crossed, too. He looked so peaceful in that position, with his little black and white TV mumbling in the corner. I tried sleeping in that position a few times, but couldn't do it. I still try. He soon got up and was out the door. I sat on his futon, and changed channels. I found a movie that had just started on PBS. It was the French film, Diva. The giant lofts, the misty scenes in the Tuileries, the haunting arias, the zen-like grace of Wilhelmenia, and the intense obsession of Jules for Cynthia kept me spellbound. I played the cassette of the sound track til it wouldn't play anymore. I tried to become that movie after I saw it. I let that movie fill me to the brim; I tried to live my life for the next few weeks like someone with complete and utter confidence in my abilities and choices, and walked and talked like a beautiful black woman, until the spell wore off, and I went back to my old, sloppy ways.

In the fall of '86, my friend from Wisconsin, Bryan O., came for a visit. He and I met practically the very day I moved back to Wisconsin to start beauty school. His quick wit and love of a good time kept me glued to his side til the day I moved away. He was the youngest of eight kids, with a ten year gap between the next youngest, so he was alone and bored on the farm with his elderly parents. He wanted me to exorcise the farm boy out of him, and often said Make my hair cool! What clothes should I buy! What shoes! What are they latest funny gay phrases! What music should I listen to! I bleached his hair on the top, and dyed the rest dark brown every month, took him to Maurice's for Girbaud, and turned him on to Nina Hagen's Fearless, Ministry's With Sympathy and The B-52's Whammy, cause we liked to dance and drink at my dad's place before we went out. He tried to turn me on to Bronski Beat, and although I did love Smalltown Boy, I could only handle Jimmy's falsetto four minutes at a time. He did find me a great Divine EP, Love Reaction, that he gave me as a going away present, which I still have.
Bryan was one of those people who was always in a good mood, and he never let anything bother him. And boy, did he like to talk. I mean talk. All his hopes and fears and random thoughts and deep secrets and scary personal stories. He tried and tried to get me to open up to him, but I just never learned how to communicate at all, and we got into many fights about this.
"I can't hang out with you anymore. We're supposedly friends, yet I know nothing about you! Why won't you tell me about you!" He would say.
"I love you Bryan, I love being with you, and I couldn't imagine my life without you, but I just don't know what I'm not saying."
He quickly learned in order to get anything out of me, he had to ask very specific questions, and that seemed to satisfy him for a while.
His visit was just what I needed, during this depressing time I was going though. I got him caught up with my Doug drama, and how it was still affecting me, a year later. He did his best to get me to talk about it, and to try and cheer me up, but he knew he could only get so far with me, and soon suggested his favorite way out of a depression: getting rip-roarin' drunk. He immediately fell in love with Berlin and it's great music, so we went every night during his visit. One night we caught one of those 1950's looking cabs, and when we got in, every square inch was decorated for Christmas.
"Is this just for the holiday coming up?" I asked.
"No." the driver said. "I have this up year round."
Bryan and I stared at each other, mouths agape. Back in Appleton, he and I spent many nights at Cleo's, a tiny bar that was always decorated like this cab.
"We're in a mini Cleo's!" We said, almost in unison.
On the nights I felt my hair was too big, or my outfit was too crazy for Cleo's, but not too big and crazy for 1101, (our little small town gay bar) he would go without me before he picked me up, and I sometimes spent hours looking out my kitchen window, all decked out, waiting for his headlights to come rolling down my street, cursing him, and regretting my fashion choices. Why can't I be normal!

During Bryan's visit, I noticed his life seemed to be getting better. He was in great shape and was happy and healthy, no ups and downs, he just went along at an even keel, and didn't seem to need my influences any more. He found who he was. I chalked it up to our age difference, and hoped I could be in the place where he was someday.

Friendships are strange, sometimes. We can have decades with people, or just months. Maybe people come into our lives when we need them. My memories of this person I was very close to for a year are all wrapped up in a big 80's bow. A song from that time comes on, and I'm whisked into the past and sitting in my dad's den with Bryan, doing shots and laughing about Gino, The Weekend Alcoholic, and his latest scandal at the bar. Bryan and I fell out of touch not long after this visit, because he didn't like the change he saw in me as a result of my move to Chicago, and kept asking me to move back. You were happy here! he would say.
I came across his picture a few months ago, and tried to find him on Ancestry. I found a death certificate that matched his name and age. Is he really gone? I thought to myself. Am I not able to talk to him anymore? Am I not able to tell him that the person he enlisted to help him change was changed for the better by him?

Today I found an old letter he wrote to me, complete with his family's old address. I'll write them and see what happens.