Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Viva Hate

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I'm not sure why people hated Bob. Or Healthy Bob, as he was known. Maybe hated is too strong of a word. Maybe he just annoyed people to the point of, to the edge of, hatred. All I know is people, my friends mainly, didn't like to be around him.
I don't remember how or why he was always around Donnie's and Erin's Belle Plaine apartment, but he was there a lot the summer of 88.
Oh God, Healthy Bob is here I would think to myself as I walked into their kitchen on a Saturday night, to put away the beer. We usually hung out at their place drinking before we went out. He'd be front and center, at the kitchen table, among piles of beer and wine bottles, dominating our party with his unwelcome presence, nursing an iced tea.
He called and asked to come over, and I couldn't say no! Donnie would whisper to me.
He seemed oblivious to our feelings toward him, and stuck around us despite our feelings toward him. I could never quite figure that out about him.
He would sometimes show up to our pre-party parties with glamorous guests in tow. A politician's son springs immediately to mind. Whomever it was that night, sulked in a corner til it was time to go. They all came from Planet Bob, and intensely disliked visiting our planet. Or maybe just Planet Erin and Brian, because Donnie seemed to get chummy with them after a while.
Erin and I would ensconce ourselves in her room for most of the night, drinking and putting on make-up, for being around them would remind me of certain people in my past, who I'm being deliberately vague about, and who, during the holidays of my boyhood, would position themselves as far away as possible from me, where we would then engage in our version of a staring contest: they would look at a wall, and I at them, while I would think to myself: They are just going to sit there and stare at that wall and ignore me all day, even though I am standing here, plain as day, in front of everyone, staring at them. Does anyone else see this!
Over the years they warmed up to me a bit, but you can always tell when someone has been forced to invite you to their party.

Anyway, with those past bad memories rising to the surface whenever they were around, it wasn't long before Erin came over to my place to hang out.
But sometime during those evenings with Bob, he would corner me into this inevitable conversation, apple in hand: (His constant apple eating drove Erin nuts.)
"Brian, why do you party so much?" He would ask, with the look of a priest who worked in a really rough part of town, playing upon his face. Bob was very good looking, and had a strong, muscled body, and just radiated this sickening aura of happiness and self acceptance.
"Um, it's fun?" I said back.
"You don't look like you are having fun. You look kind of sad. I used to party a lot when I was sad, but it only made me sadder."
Jody spent months trying to pry out of me any type of deep personal conversation, so I wasn't about to spill my guts to a total stranger. Maybe had I known him while he was still a sad partier, things might have been different.
"Any time you feel like you want to stop drinking, give me a call."
I don't know if Bob stopped drinking because he born again, or if because he went to AA, but I had been around both types of people before, and they scared the crap out of me. But I did spend a lot of time thinking about Healthy Bob, envying him his seemingly total self-love of himself; the self-love that he had for himself despite whatever may have happened in his past, and despite whatever was going on around him, and his ability to have a good time out at the clubs without drinking or doing drugs.
I did want the kind of life he had, but I knew it would be a while before I would be ready for it.
I was sad to hear a few years later, while in Puerto Rico, he was killed. Maybe he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he was in my life at the right time.

In the fall of '88, Maria and I signed up for a make-up class downtown, and Consita, our boss, was livid. The real reason, I think she was mad at us for doing this, on our free time, was that she was upset we didn't invite her, but she couldn't admit it. Her reaction to our taking this class is what started me resenting her. Maria and I spent hours together alone at work when we weren't busy, analysing the hair and make-up we saw in the fashion magazines, and from that grew a desire to experiment with the idea of moving our careers in the direction of make-up, by taking the class, but Consita saw it as a personal snub. She called our idea a waste of time and money. I saw in her her inability to truly see the people around her, and yes, I've been putting off writing about her. My experience and time with her is valuable to me, but for all the wrong reasons: I wanted to grow into a person that was the exact opposite of her, because here were all the things I disliked about myself, walking and talking and signing my paychecks.
But the real thing that made her tick, the main reason I grew to dislike her, and the main thing I learned from her, was her distain toward anyone who she perceived to achieve more success than her, on any level. I started to feel hindered by her presence, with no where to go but down. And down I was going, destroying myself a little more each day with drugs and alcohol, eight feet away from her, five days a week, 52 weeks of the year, for the six years I worked for her.

Earlier that year, we went to a hair cutting class in Minnesota, where the educator, John English, related a story about his experience of working closely with someone who had committed suicide, and how he vowed never to be that oblivious to the feelings and lives of the people he's around on a daily basis.
I sometimes wish we all had heard him that day.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Limelight Ghost, 1987

Ok, so I like totally screamed a little when I saw this; Erin just sent it to me, and I hadn't seen this in a couple years. See that thing by Erin and my heads? I wasn't wearing a bow that night....
So I thought I remembered it grinning, but I guess it was we who were grinning. But you can see the eyes in the mask, right?
From left to right: Brad, Scarlett, Wickie-Poo, Erin, Me.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pull Back the Curtains

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Sometimes I wish I had better stories to tell, like my friends do. Bigger stories to tell. You know, a story so big, I'd have to lay down after I told it. A story so big that I would have to be institutionalised after I told it to Monty and Kate, and a gay southern genius would turn it into a play. Well, maybe not that big. Um, ok, that big.

Scot, a frequent character in this story, was visiting me in Chicago last weekend, and told me some of his tales from 'back in the day'. Like when he and Beth and Carly stopped all conversation at a crowded Melrose because they were dressed so glamorously, or like the night almost every underground 80's band had camped out around Orbit Room, where the three of them worked. Or the night I fucking missed Divine again, performing, at Limelight.
"Oh, I was there alright." Scot reminded me.
Then there is Beth's famous story, one I can only pray to top some day, that I never tire of hearing from him:
Nunzio, the owner of Orbit Room, called Beth to chew her out because she wasn't at work. Oh shit! I'll be there as soon as I can! she answered back, and ran out the door. Luckily, there was a bus pulling up to the corner as she got there, and she ran on. I'm late for work! Can you drive as fast as you can?! She yelled at the driver.
Now this question (!) was coming from a woman who's fashion creations ran from Nina Hagen meets Dressy Bessy meets Oliver from the Brady Bunch, to That Girl meets Sharon Tate meets Strawberry Shortcake. No one dressed like her. She stood out in a crowd, like a scarecrow. A pretty scarecrow, but a scarecrow none the less.
OK! said the driver, as he hit the gas. Where do you work?!
The Orbit Room on Broadway and Waveland! she yelled.
He drove her all the way to Orbit Room, speeding past all the bus stops, as the would-be passengers gasped in shock or shook their fists. He didn't stop once for another passenger.
Beth crashes into Orbit Room (Beth never 'just opened a door', she always made an entrance, Scot added) ten minutes after her you're late! phone call, and proceeds to tell everyone what just happened.
The CTA may suck now, but it sure didn't back then...

Scot and Beth have a lot of great stories, for they were glued to each other's side for most of 87 and all of 88, and I used to love hearing them back then, but I never wanted to become a character in them. I would occasionally go with them to Smart Bar or Neo, but I preferred their experiences second hand, because they were such a perfect compliment to each other; Scot, long and lean, and an attentive listener, in his mis-matched, tight fitting, all plaid ensembles, crowned with a thrifted top hat, and Beth in her ingenious, well balanced, inspired creations, and her non-stop, mile a minute, frequently nonsensical, but always hilarious ramblings, made me feel like a pudgy, druggy third wheel that shattered their magic.

My friend B. has even bigger stories to tell: getting slapped by our 8th grade science teacher, probably because he hit too close to home, when he screamed kiss her! right in the teacher's face when he was demonstrating on a female student how to prick our fingers so we could learn our blood type, or the night he guarded the men's room at Limelight so a Duran could have a little girl fun, (he worked there, all told, less than two weeks, but got to wait on a band we had spent every free minute listening to in 1982) and more tragic stories, such as the night he was driving back from Florida, and he had to help his sister miscarry by the side of the road, and no one would stop to help them, or tell them where they could find a hospital.
But, alas, they're not telling their stories, so you'll just have to settle for mine, such as they are:

In the summer of 88, Patrick, from Looking for Clues, had rented a great vintage apartment on the second floor on the corner of Halsted and Webster. He had let his hair grow into dread locks, and one day while visiting me at work, my boss told us he had a client who had a 'dread lock dog', and her house was littered with it's locks. I asked him to tell her to save them, and I would try working them into Patrick's hair. When the day finally came, and I had a bag full of dog-locks, I spent the evening sewing them on his head, under a low light from a coffee table, and dying it all to match, while we listened to The The's Soul Mining and Bouncing off the Satellites, (I could not get enough of those albums back then) as a gentle breeze and the sounds of summer trickled into the window. I told him about the ancient cabbie who I rode with a few months prior, and his stories of Halsted's old trolley car, and about the day he saw a woman stuck and killed by it, when he was a little boy, right on his very corner. Can you imagine the horrible noise you had to bear if you lived here back then? I said.
His hair turned out great. So great, as a matter of fact, Milio paid him to model my hair creation under Milio's salon's name. I guess it was pay back for the Looking for Clues moment.
Soon after, news of Billy Idol coming to Limelight after a concert hit the scene, and I had to be there. Patrick worked the ropes for the VIP lounge, so I knew I could be there. When the night came, I had never seen Limelight so packed, and Erin and I ran upstairs to find a bedraggled Patrick guarding the lounge.
"Brian, I could retire off all the money I've been offered by these people trying to get in to see Billy." he said.
"Then why don't you! Take the money!" I said.
"I can't! My boss warned me no one with out a pass can get in, and no bribes."
Patrick gave his only free passes to me and Erin. Nothing spectacular happened that night in the VIP lounge, Billy and Steve looked great, but they just sat there drinking with dozens of floozied up babes. Erin and I stuck together, and pretended to be way more interested in each other, than to what was happening in the room.
The best celebrity advice I've ever read, and that I still (mostly) stick to, is the advice I read in Edie: An American Biography. Andy (I think) was recounting the story of the time when Judy Garland showed up alone one night to the Factory for a party, and everyone ignored her. That took collective balls to do that, to do that to the person who held the title everyone in that room wanted; to the patron saint of iconic celebrity and drug addiction. I took from that to mean the highest complement you can give your idols is to appear like you have more to offer them than they to you. This world might be a less tedious place if more people behaved like Andy.
Many more famous faces wandered into Limelight during the years Erin and I 'lived' there, but if they weren't interested in us first, we weren't interested in them.

Some of those faces never left...
It is a dark and stormy night as I write this, so I'll tell you a scary story.
No, not the scary story about the guy who thought it would be fun to try to slide down the stair railing from the top floor, but ended up falling to his death (sadly, I was there), and no, not the scary story about the prostitutes who got into a bloody knife fight right next to me and Erin, on the dance floor, over a rich john , but an even scarier one...

About ten years ago, I was watching a Halloween special on a local channel about famous ghosts and haunted places in Chicago. It featured Resurrection Mary, and the Red Lion pub on Lincoln by the Biograph, and it's attic ghost, but it also featured a story I hadn't heard before, about the ghost seen at the old Limelight building, which is now Excaliber, and was built in the late 1800's as a city building or something.
"I knew it!" I yelled at the TV. "It was a ghost!"

Me, Erin, Brad, and Wickie-Poo all posed for a bunch of pics in the VIP lounge, and when we got them back, Erin found something weird in one photo. It was so weird to her, in fact, she couldn't look at it any more, and shoved the picture over to me to see if I could see it, too. In the back round was an image of a face so scary and evil looking, I shudder to even write about it. It had a wide maniacal grin, big dark eyes, and looked to be wearing a hood. It looked more like a demon than a ghost. It didn't look like a shadow from the wall, but seemed to be sitting with us, floating next to our heads. I showed it to a lot of people, and some saw it right away, but once it was pointed out, you couldn't unsee it. I kept that picture out and framed for years, until one day Erin came over and said I don't have a picture of Brad and took it from me. I guess we both had made peace with the demon lurking in that picture, for our collective histories with each other were the scariest things of all.
She says she still has it, so one day you will get to see it, too.

Patrick and a Limelight beauty, whose name I can't remember, but David might, 1987.
'Eva', Patrick (with short locks), me with a weird looking head, and Erin, Limelight VIPs, 1987.
A simply gorgeous Margie and 'Annie', in our brittle apartment on Wilton, 1988.
Pudgy and druggy with Margie, Wilton apartment, 1988.