Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Days of Pearly Spencer

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Edward Hopper

Sonya lived for the moment more than any other person I had ever met. She was trim and athletic, probably due to her frequent all night dance-a-thons, was African-American, and wore her hair ala Miss Hendryx and her lipstick loud. I first met her and worked with her in 1985, at Demuel's on Halsted near Diversey. Her high energy and bubbly moods were always welcome to me there, and we quickly became each other's interlocutrice; a lot of the time I felt like I had wanderered into Bronte's Gateshead Hall...
Sonya and I were the outsiders, because the owner Demuel shacked up with one of his Iraqi stylists, and with her Iraqi-American sister working there as well, they ran the show.
I got the freaks that walked into the salon, Sonya got the African-Americans that Terry, the manager, couldn't do, and the sisters got everyone else. Not that there were a lot of everyone elses, but had the clients been spread out a little more evenly, Sonya and I would've been a lot happier. And healthier.
We shared each other's clothes and make up, and the richer of us would buy the other's lunch, and we would steal away for hours, either in the back room, where we would cry on each other's shoulders over our sorry, penniless plights, and kick ourselves as to why we didn't leave for a busier salon. It will get better, I promise! Don't leave! Demuel would often say, as he loaned us money, or we would pass out cards to the gang at the Belmont Rocks. Sonya always found someone she knew there she knew, and we would laugh our asses off til it was time to go back and face the music. Sonya and her friend's favorite phrases back then were That's the T! Damn girl, you're full! and OOO, that's woogie, chile!, meaning cool, drunk, and to be avoided, respectively. We would repeat and act those phrases out all day long.

At work, the sisters were fine alone, but when they were together, they would only speak Iraqi, and had loud, salon length conversations, and we couldn't help but think they were talking about us in a negative way. They seemed to have permanent scowls painted on their faces, and a bitterness toward anyone working when they weren't. But when the wind was right, Sonya and I could get them to talking about themselves, and we learned about their difficult, tragedy filled lives in Iraq before they came to the states. They were proud of their Iraqi heritage, and were quick to point out the difference between Iraq and Iran, probably because the hostage crisis was a not too distant memory for Americans. They lost some family members many of their belongings, when Iraq went to war with Iran, and their family barely made it out of alive.
I learned from them that some people divide the world into two different types of people: those who've survived war and unfettered abuse of power, and those who haven't. They could convey to you You think making fifty dollars a week is a tragedy! You think not having money for one lunch is something to get depressed about! You don't know from it! with a slight squint from one eye. I've met these types of people in former East Berlin, too. Twelve years ago, the sting of authoritarian rule and divided families was still fading, and the difference between former East and West Berlin was palpable, from the attitude of a lot of the people I came across. They mastered the You think because you can't speak German you have the right to feel exasperated! Try 28 years of socialism, and get back to me! look with one squint from their eye, too.

I was never sure where Sonya lived. When I started working with her, she updated me to her long, ongoing fight with her exceedingly religious mother, who disapproved of her late nights and questionable company. It all came quickly to a head when her mother found out about Sonya's girlfriends. As a lesbian forbidden entry to heaven, to lay down her weary soul, her mother felt she was given leave to forbid Sonya to lay down her earthly burdens, in her home. Ever.

"What are you going to do? Where are you going to live!?" I asked her
"I was hardly living there anyway. I have friends to help me out. I'll be OK." She said.

Underneath her constant singing and laughter, I could sense the shame she felt about what her mother did to her, and the stress of not having a true place to call home.
She was a different person after that, and only saw and experienced each moment, second to second, she took up space on this planet. She never let it get her down. She always had a smile on her face.
She did what she had to do to get what she needed, and if that meant she had to be felt up by the janitor in exchange for a bag of clothes from the consignment shop next door to the salon, or had to sleep in the hallway of a friend's apartment building, or had to hide the suitcase that held all her worldly possessions in the alley, so no one found out she had no where to go, she did it.
After she dosed me with acid, with only the best of intentions, after my break up with Doug, any consumable from her was suspect. (See Pleased to Meet Me) And because of my over-active imagination and slightly paranoid nature, everything I put in my body was suspect. A year or so later I embarrassedly confessed this to Brad, and his response was I wish! I hope there is acid everything I eat and drink! That would be great! His attitude, thankfully, shattered the spell I was under.

A few months after I left Demuel's, Sonya asked me to put in a good word with my new boss so she could work with me again. I did, and when I walked in the door on her first day there, I knew I was in for a long ride...
She was singing to my co-worker Jim, with her arms flailing, and the animation in her already bright face somehow doubling, while he had this weird look of deep, profound enjoyment on his face, watching her. She was singing a gospel song she learned as a girl, and Jim made her promise she would give him singing lessons.
"I would love to be able to sing like that!"
Sonya's time at my new salon was doomed, because of The Mail-Woman. Oh shit! It's the Mail-Woman! Sonya! Don't let her in here! Goddammit! The Mail-Woman is here again! Aaah!

The Mail-Woman, Lucy, was in love with Sonya. She was white and blond, and looked bedraggled, like she spent the last year crying her eyes out instead of sleeping. They were a couple once, and lived together for a while (thank God), but Sonya soon felt smothered by her constant attention and lack of freedoms. But for months after their break up, Lucy would get drunk after work and drive her mail truck to the salon a couple times a week, first, to beg her to come back, and then to have it out with her, and demand the things back she accused Sonya of stealing.
Their row would start in the mail truck (she somehow always found a parking spot in front of the salon) Lucy, no. Please leave. But I love you, Sonya!, and spill into the street, Get out of here! But I love you! I LOVE YOU!, and tumble into the salon: Are you trying to get me fired? Get the fuck out of here! I hate you! Give me my shit back! You took that necklace! I hate you, TOO!
Needless to say, it drove me and my boss Consita nuts. Jim was jealous of the passion in her life, and secretly looked forward to Lucy's 'visits'.
"Isn't it great! She really loves her. I doubt my boyfriend would ever do that for me."

After complaining to me for weeks about the Lucy incidents, Consita finally fired Sonya. I don't remember ever hearing from her again, bit I feel safe in assuming, because of her indomitable spirit, Sonya is healthy and happy, and laying her head down on a pillow she can call her own.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Know Who You Are at Every Age

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Cindy Sherman

Not Sonya's story yet, but a little flashback to 1987. Some stories I forgot to tell...

I never thought I would forget her name. I never thought to write it down, because I never thought I would need to. I spent time with her almost everyday that summer of '87, and now she's only a fleeting memory; a collage of fragments: her black hair, her beautiful smile, her green eyes, and lovely skin. Try as I might, I can't put the pieces of her back together.
She worked at Ringo-Levio, and I met her there, because I went there twice a week. I sometimes bought things, but the things I really liked were too expensive. She would tell me when a sale was coming up, and put stuff aside for me. I eventually started going just so I could hang out with her. Sometimes we had lunch, but usually we stood outside and smoked.
She was also an au pair, and would bring the kids to the salon with her for a visit. She visited almost everyday.
The kids were gorgeous and perfect, and I would stare at them and imagine their futures: I got my acceptance for Cornell, today...I'm moving into Grandma's co-op on 52nd...
The kid's aura of wealth and security was palpable, and so was hers. I often fantasized we might share a life together, me as a struggling writer/fashion designer, and her working her way to a degree in art, and the modest apartment we would share in Paris, her parents paying our rent.
I wish I could be this person, I thought to myself, I wish I could trust myself enough to be in a relationship with her, knowing it wouldn't blow up into a mess of tears and accusations five years from now, when she caught me looking at yet another man's ass, exclaiming But honey, I love you for who you are, for the millionth time. Was that enough for her? Should she have more? Was that enough for me? I doubted it.

I still run those little scenarios in my head all the time with everyone I interact with throughout my day; introducing my parents to the ugly checker at the grocer, planning our second anniversary with the pretty blond pedestrian in front of me, or looking for condos with the shady looking guy fulfilling his community service.
Wouldn't that be funny if that really happened? I think to myself. My imagination has no sexual preference, it seems.

One day she was missing from Ringo-Levio, because she had to go to the hospital unexpectedly.
What happened? I said to a co worker.
She inhaled the back of her nose-ring.
Is she ok? I asked.
Um, I guess. He said, non-plussed, and mad he had to take over her shift.
The next day she told me the doctor couldn't take it out, it had to stay there forever. I thought of the little gold back, languishing in her tertiary bronchi like a pirate's lost treasure, never to be seen again.
She brought me soup when I was sick, and old copies of Face magazine, and even though she sensed my attraction to her, she also brought me Dale...

One gloomy hung-over morning, a young chap in a fedora was lurking about the sidewalk in front of Roma's, the greasy spoon across the street from my salon.
Oh my God, oh my God, I can hear it slamming! I was in a panic. Why? Why is this happening! I thought to myself. I saw it slam shut, I heard it slam shut. I was pacing around the salon, not knowing what to do, hoping he was seeing me freak out, and changing his mind about getting his haircut that morning. But no, he came in.
The girl from Ringo-Levio sent Dale to me, thinking we would hit it off. He walked in and took off his hat to reveal a bright shock of strawberry blond hair, and with a big smile he said Hi I'm Dale, you must be Brian!
I knew never in a million years would he go out with me. I knew the part of my life where I had intimate relationships was over for a while. I knew that because I heard the doors to my love life slamming shut, and a distant, echoey voice saying this is going to take sometime; I'm closing these doors, hopefully I'll be back and we'll see what we can do....
After I washed his hair, I said So, do you like the new Depeche Mode? Let's have a black celebration, ha ha. After he left, I cried.
I was right, too. I didn't have my next real relationship (if you can call it that- what a mess that was) until 1993. Looking back, I think it was my subconscious trying to tell me I needed a different approach when I came to relationships. I was extremely attracted to Dale, but too much of my last two relationships had been built around attraction, and they didn't really go anywhere; well they went somewhere, just not very far, and I really wanted to 'go the distance'. I guess this means be careful what you wish for...or at least be certain.

Take Me with You...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

How Could It be Different?

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I guess things happen for a reason. I didn't feel like doing this tonight, because when I prepare to write a post (or anything) I think about it for a while, and eventually sit down and do it. I get the narrative all whirling around up in my brain, and pick it out when it has come into place. But sometimes I just have to sit down and let the words flow, regardless of the outcome...

I wanted to tell you about Sonya, I girl I worked with once upon a time, but first I need to talk about my last post. I don't like to this, because I am such a fan of puzzles and crosswords, and I hate getting hints to any answers. I like to try and figure them out for myself, only looking up the solution when I'm absolutely ready to give up. And because I am such a fan of riddles and such, I like to put them into my stories, and let you try and figure them out. Maybe you didn't even know they were there... but they are. And who really likes things spelled out for them, anyway?
I saw Joan as Policewoman the other night at Shubas, with one of the Joans, and she sang my favorite song of hers, The Ride. Before she performed it, she told us the song was about Whitney Houston, and her tragic relationship with Bobby. Did that ruin it for me? Maybe a little. I had my own meaning about that song, and it wasn't that. She did add that she forgets her inspiration for it, sometimes, but she told us anyway. Maybe in a couple years I'll forget, too, but I doubt it.
Spoilers from my last entry: these are the hidden meanings I put in the post, but if you saw it a different way, that's ok, too:
About the title, Viva Hate: It come from Morrissey's first solo collection, from the year of my post, right after the ending of the Smiths. I can't speak of his meaning of the title, but besides it being kind of funny, for me it means he has accepted hatred as a part of life, and that can be turned into art, and art has a meaning outside of itself. Also, to me, he diffused any bombs out there about what the world at large may be thinking about his motives for a quick solo release. I know my first thought back then, when I heard he had a new album out, was so soon after the end of the Smiths? And it also put the spotlight on the other Smiths as to who may have ended the group, intentionally or not, because he obviously didn't hate his band. All this relates to how I feel about Consita, my old boss, because hatred can be a motivator, and, although I don't hate the person Consita, her actions, and lack of action, greatly upset me, during a time in my life when I really hated myself, and actions, and lack of action. Sometimes hate keeps you alive. It makes you want to live long enough to enjoy a life without it.
The song in the title link; Such a Shame by Talk Talk: A perfect songs that illustrates how I felt about Consita; also represents being on the other side of those feelings, by writing about it, like they did. Most importantly, he's kept his sense of humor.
The Picture; Gene Tierny. Besides being an inspiration for me to try and write as clean and simply as the photos I choose, her Hollywood story mirrors that of Lana Turner's, (I can't be that obvious and put her picture up, now can I? Oops, I already have. I love her.) in that she was on a tour of a movie studio with her family when she was discovered by a talent agent. It represents one of those classic moments we all have in our life when we think about our pasts, and wonder what if I had never met so and so?, or if I had only turned left instead of right that day. Would we know Lana Turner if she chose to eat somewhere other than Schuab's that fateful day? Consita and Bob are a part of me, and paint the picture of me, like the picture also represents. Like it or not, everyone we've ever known is in the picture that could be painted of our lives.
The last line, I sometimes wish we all had heard him that day, has as much meaning for myself as it does for Consita. I was on a very self-destructive path back then, and couldn't open my eyes to the millions of paths that are out there. Sometimes a little nudge from the people around us is all we need to get off it, and sometimes a giant shove. Hearing John English speak that day in 1987 was my ten thousandth 'little nudge' to date, and I was mainly upset by Consita because I recall no 'nudges' from her.
Ultimately, what I meant by this post is that hatred lives, but it's subjective; illusory, and I ask myself How could it be different? It may appear only as a small blip on our radar, but it can consume us.

I'll tell you about Sonya next time...