Sunday, April 29, 2007

Very Expressive Cigarette Holder

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Diane Arbus

I met my new roommates, Margie and Steph, through my ex, Jeff. Jeff had a way of attracting arty, bookish girls into his ever widening flock of fans. His flock of girls were usually single and hated it, but because they were light years ahead of the guys their own age, I knew they would be married to lawyers and professors when they were out of school, and in the world of men and experience. He and I, of late, and by 'of late' I mean the summer of '87, had taken to going to Neo on Wednesdays for ladies night. We loved the cave like darkness, the close quarters, mobs of hipsters and great music. Margie and Steph were students at the time, going to Mundeline, which is now a part of Loyola, and we would meet them every Wednesday.
Jeff sent them both to me to do their hair. Margie had a porcelain white complexion and black bobbed hair, and usually wore Paloma's Mon Rouge . Whenever I twisted and wrapped and spiked her hair into the latest 80's look, I aways asked her: are you sure this isn't too much for the train ride home?
"People sometimes laugh and point, but I don't care!" She said.
Margie was an old soul. She wore the subconscious weight of thousands of years of existence with the ease of a heroine from Greek mythology. Her aura read: Yes, this is my 681st human form, but hey, it's addictive and I still give it my all.
She was wise. She knew the inner workings of the human soul and could communicate that to you with a tilt of her head and a purse of her lips. I loved her.

When Steph came to the salon, she got on every one's nerves. The salon was small, and her out sized personality commanded ever one's attention, as she roared through her appointment. She was a big, buxom girl, and had big blond hair to match. She liked to talk about Sex! with Men! and Lady Parts! But her fondest way to unnerve me was to say, over and over, it's just your imagination, Brian.
Now, I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and if you're going to tell me something that weird, you must have a good reason, so I allowed her to repeat this to me, until I figured out her Magritte-like riddle... or was it more a What is the sound of one hand clapping?
She was an art student after all. I never did find out what she meant by that. Maybe that's the point.
Stephanie had weight issues, and mother issues. They came to a head soon after I had moved in, when Margie confided in me Steph's mother was glad she had diarrhea for the past two weeks, because maybe then she would lose some weight.
"Just pile it on, Mom! Put it with all the rest of the baggage you've given me!" She yelled into the phone.
Steph was a big boned gal, but by no means large. She wore her ample frame with womanly pride, liberally doused with fake Poison. Or 'pwah-ssauwn', as she called it. The constant assault of fake Poison's malodorous fist drove Margie nuts.
Steph identified with strong women, and often blasted the music of Janice and Sinead. I sometimes thought she acted too well the part of a loud, large woman, as if she had been labeled such in her junior high school days, and found a way to embrace her moniker and push it into the room ahead of her, as if to say I already know what I am, so shove your assumptions up your ass!
I say that because she and I had quiet, profound moments together, and her understanding of the hearts of the artists she loved was quite vast. But she would quickly shatter those moments with a well timed shove, sending me toppling onto the coffee table, sending her into gales of laughter.
"Aww, come on, that didn't hurt!"
I loved her, too.

During one appointment, Margie mentioned to me she needed a third roommate, as theirs was moving out. I jumped at the chance, and asked if it could be me.

On my first night living on Wilton and Addison, Margie and I sat in the kitchen and talked for hours while we drank cup after cup of tea and I chain smoked. I usually preferred to quietly observe people, but she caught me in one of my rare talkative moods, and she had a way of making me spill my guts:

I'm making some clothes to sell at a fair I love to make clothes I'm gonna be a big designer some day When I was a kid I saw pictures of this designer-guy who made a big splash in the early seventies with these woman's suits that had these weird pointy shoulders and I said "that's gonna be me someday!" Crazy, huh? I'm so excited my dad said he'd pay for me to take make-up classes at this school in the loop It's some kind of lame modeling school but hey I could learn something! Could I practice on you You have such a great face What kind of tea is this it's good God I smoke too much Do you think Steph would mind if I ate some of that pizza in the freezer What time does she get home...

The best way to describe the apartment would be to say it was brittle. And highly flammable. It was an old brick and wood two-flat, that I am sure is torn down by now. The fire place still worked, and I know the century of use dried that place to toast. Steph had a bizarre, gigantic Mexican chair and table set made of bark and wicker in the living room, and the wiring hadn't looked updated in fifty years, so we rarely put bulbs in anything. We all had our own room, and Steph and I had to keep our doors closed, because the sight of piles of clothes everywhere embarrassed Margie and her guests. Whenever I dared to enter Steph's room, to find something of mine she had borrowed, her messiness would scare me straight for a while, but my resolve quickly got buried under records and magazines and t-shirts.
The basement doors didn't lock, so a homeless man 'lived' there for a while. Thank God the washer and dryer was near the door, for that was the creepiest place I'd ever been. I loaded the machines with one foot out the door, in case I needed to make a quick getaway. I knew someone was watching me when I did my laundry.


Aaron said...

So you must've gotten a good view of the L, too! A few years ago, I dated a guy who lived about a block from there, and I asked "How can you put up with this all night long?" Because it just runs on metal tracks there, and the sound is deafening. He said "You get used to it."

Sarah said...

Oh good! You're back!

Basement laundry rooms scare me, too.

Aaron, you do get used to the el when you live next to it. However, once you move away from it, you realize getting used to it probably wasn't a good thing.

Aaron said...

Ironically, I live next to it now. :-) Although I live on the other side of the building, so I just hear it go by--it's not really loud. It's kind of reassuring, really. (The fact that are trains ARE still running is kind of an event these days! :-))

BC said...

I don't remember it beeing too loud, I think because I lived near the Addison stop. It's when they race by at 1000 miles per hour that it gets annoying.

Sarah said...

I lived right on the el just south of Irving. We had 10 ft high windows running the side of our illegal loft and my room was mere feet from the tracks. A friend of mine pointed out that my roommates and I were trying to speak above the noise. It was like we had made a silent pact that we weren't going to admit it was bothersome. Once we realized that yelling in mid-sentence wasn't doing much good we began to wait the train out quietly.

Aaron said...

It's sort of like Linda Darnell's house in "A Letter To Three Wives," where the trains run right next to the window and make the whole house shake!

Sarah said...

The noise of the train drove her to badgirlness.