Monday, January 21, 2008

Uncharted Wrecks of Wonder


I was thinking about clothes last week, because of my last post, mainly thinking about how much money I spend on them, way too much money, when I remembered I decided to become 'classy' sometime during 1987, not '88.
Jody bought me a beautiful shirt, in tune with my new aesthetic, from Cignal in the Century Mall, in '87, for my 21st birthday. A Le Garage shirt, I believe, and while watching TV yesterday, (PBS, the Jane Austin marathon) I was reminded of the stunning silver silk brocade vest Terry, a roommate from 1985, gave me for Christmas that year. I hadn't thought of that vest in years. I was shocked he gave me a present so lovely and thoughtful, for I had assumed he didn't like me very much. Maybe he was trying to make up for keeping dozens of his unpacked moving boxes in our hallway...

I found my new apartment with the help of an apartment finder, because I had good luck with one a few years ago. I played the part of a young man with his shit together fairly well, but I don't think the 'finder' really gave a crap. As long as I passed the credit check, I was the apartment owner's problem (or blessing) from then on.
It was pleasant and sunny the day I walked into the condo building on the corner of Pinegrove and Patterson, in May of 1988. From the outside, the building looked scaled down and smallish, but inside, the studio had tall ceilings, and large rooms; even a walk-in closet. It was wonderfully vintage, with great art-deco lines, and had a working fireplace. It also had an air of gloom and moodiness, despite it's crisp lines, so I thought it was perfect:
Wandering around the rooms I was soon to be occupying, I could feel the distance presence of dignified desperation during the depression, a mourning WW II secret lover, the tense dinners and sleepless nights of a failing marriage of the 1950's, an octogenarian shut-in longing for the 1920's while bearing witness to the free love of the '60's, and the beer can littered, protest poster walled life of a matriculating interracial couple; and all of it being swept away to set the stage for me to find my life of self invention and success and fame and fortune in the 1980's.
That was the plan, anyway...

I remember we also looked at an apartment in the building my friend Patrick used to live in, and a few others, but the the price wasn't right, and the current renters of all the other places were very dirty and sloppy, which destroyed any enthusiasm one may have possessed prior to the key turning in the lock.
I moved in with the feeling that this was going to be a great place to live, and I could get my life on track and find some happiness. My scary New Year's Eve experience earlier that year 'shook me awake', and sent me on a path of change. I partied a little less, and consumed less intoxicants, and even though I had been in this same place a few times before, meaning a glaring awareness of my destructive habits, and the short lived, monk-like life I would lead as a result, I was determined to change and stay changed.
I bought an exercise bicycle one hung over morning with my roommate Stephanie, prior to moving out, and used it every other day. Stephanie yelled at me while putting the bike in her car, because I was mean to the salesman at the store.
"Steph, I'm tired and hung over. I just wanted to get out of there as fast as I could." I said.
"Well, you could've been more polite. You didn't have to say 'Shut up and get me the damn bike' mid sales pitch." She answered back.
"Yea, well... "
I was making better money at my new salon, with my old boss, who helped me move with her little Mustang. I didn't have much to move, and looked forward to buying things for the new place. Looking back, I don't remember buying much. The large kitchen was empty, I kept my little black and white TV on my record player, which sat on the floor, and I had a futon couch and a butterfly chair in the main room. No coffee table, but there was a torchiere Consita had given me. I put some money down to buy a large colorful framed poster to put over the fireplace, but never finished paying for it.
Maybe because this was my first apartment on my own, I remember so many details:
Terracotta tiles in the kitchen, a built in dry bar in the main room, and the haunting glow cast into it's mirror from the recessed lighting, the minuscule, useless balcony, and the middle aged neighbor who sunned herself on it on sunny weekends, the way the apartment smelled when it rained, and the way my closet smelled of Obsession, and my medicine cabinet, crammed with hundreds of beauty products.
That summer, I spent every Saturday night watching Saturday Night Live, and Showtime at the Appollo, while waiting for Erin to pick me up so we could go to Limelight and Berlin, and our new favorite, Bistro Too.
Bistro Too was a trashy, drinks-crazy disco in the then somewhat rough area known as Andersonville, which we ran to from our parking spot by the hospital. (If we got beat up, we thought, it would be a short crawl to the ER.)
I hated the music at Bistro, and I always felt like a high school senior crashing a junior high prom, but the long islands were big, and the frenzy at the bar was very entertaining. There was a large evil blond bartender at the main bar who liked to have annoying patrons thrown out for the tiniest of infractions, and watching that was worth the price of admission.
The DJ could usually be bribed to play Buffalo Stance, my new anthem, a couple times a night, and that was all I would dance to there. OK, that and I Gotta CD by Disco 2000. (A song that is still great and really hard to find. If you have it, please send it to me! It went: I gotta Ceee-Deee! I gotta M-T-P! , or something like that. Another brill song/video from Neneh, from a few years later. I was to try and turn myself into one of the boys in white.)
Try as I might, I could never get the gas man to turn on my stove. I gave up after three attempts, and ate sandwiches, ordered pizza, and warmed soup on my Mr. Coffee for the year I lived there.
As summer turned to fall, the nights I wasn't out with Erin and her gang, I was out with Dehli, my friend from Wisconsin, who got tired of flying down every weekend, and moved into an apartment down the street from me. I can still see her brown, dilapidated, 1970's Mercedes sedan tooling down Pinegrove to pick me up for our nightly visit to Limelight, so she could fawn over, and occasionally bribe, her bartender crush, Jimmy.
My self discipline and abstinence were starting to slip away, and with Brad's recent request for a place to live, I knew it wouldn't be long before I threw it all out the window...

Links: Adverts, Neneh Cherry

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Someone a Bit Like You


Tranay and Chris used to call drag queens 'Larries': Hey Chris! Get a load of that Larry at 3 o'clock!
I think it came about because of the transvestite prostitutes that used to hang around Lawrence and Broadway in the late eighties, not far from where Tranay used to live back then. You know, Larry is short for Lawrence...
I call anything that starts with the letter L, Larry. Lost is Larry. Law and Order is Larry Order, Larry is a Pigsty, Little Red Larry, well, you get the idea.
Tranay also coined a good description for the mood created while walking around having to go to the bathroom, when you know you can't: poo stress. I have the worst poo-stress right now! Tranay would say. Just go! Chris would yell back. I can't! The bar's too crowded I'll sneak out to the restaurant across the street later! Chris and Tranay used to work at Neo together, back in the 80's, and being there a few weeks ago brought back their memories...
Speaking of Larries, I call Madonna, Eadozza, because of a poster of hers I had on my kitchen wall in 1990; her name ran down along the side: EADOZZA; the M turned into an E. It's pronounced ee-doe-za. Just something I thought you should know...

Sometime during the summer of 1988, I decided to become classy. Going to work as a goth or a hipster started to become tiring and time consuming, and I needed to sleep off the previous night's debauchery for as long as possible. I was inspired by one of my new co-workers, Patty. She was a legendary beauty, party girl, and trend setter. She could pull off any look, and all clothes looked great on her. On the eve of her first day of working at my salon, we all went out to celebrate and welcome her. The boozing went late into the night, and I barely got a few hours sleep, and the next day Patty confessed to me she got a ride home to change and came to work without any sleep at all. She looked fabulous. Her outfit from the night before was scandalous and futuristic; her style could best be described as Dale Bozzio meets a WWII fighter pilot, but her outfit that day was all about clean lines and order, aside from her huge, multi-colored, spiked hair, and her slight, yet still becoming, hang-over grimace.
What a great idea! Save the kooky clothes for the clubs!
My boss back then always dragged us to hair cutting classes around town, and a few times to Minnesota to the Aveda school. The well paid stylists who taught these classes all had the Hairdresser on Fire look, and cut hair like they were doing Tai Chi. They were taken seriously, and took themselves seriously. I've found when you're feeling crappy or hung over, a perfectly cut and designed outfit enters the room before everything else. You stand up straighter; you have more poise.
My ex-boyfriend Doug was a master at dressing that way. When we went out, I would stare at him from across the room as he chatted and giggled with his equally poised friends, praying to someday posses their unaffected nonchalance. His clothes were simple and modern and timeless, but always with a dash of Excalibur-like eccentricity thrown in: only he would think of wearing, and could pull off, a double strand of pearls with his brown vintage blazer.
But the secret is to don that perfect outfit, and forget about it as you walk out the door. You must have faith in it's power, for if you don't, your clothes wear you.
The wild girl Patty never dressed at work how she did in the clubs, the short time we worked together, and her taste rubbed off on me.
I bought my 'classy' clothes from Le Chateau, Flashy Trash, Xanadu, or Russo, if there was a sale. Once a month, I would shoo away the crazy teenagers who worked at Le Chateau, and looked at everything they had, and tried it all on, and did the fashion algebra (as coined by the great Anna Piaggi) in my head: What all in my closet will this go with? Can I make this look cooler somehow?
Russo was like dying and going to heaven, only to find the gates locked. Richard, the buyer and manager, had the most perfect taste, and called me (thank god!) the second things went on sale. (I creamed my jeans every time he complimented my ensemble: his approval meant I got it 'right') We both loved fashion, and I would hang out at his store and talk for hours about it, as we studied the clothes as if they were paintings by old masters. He and his boss, Mrs. Russo, were the perfect example of how to wear and not wear clothes: she wore a Gaultier jacket, he wore a great jacket. She wore Moschino pumps, he wore great shoes. They had on the same designers, but she was all too aware of the price tag.
One week, in 1988, I contemplated buying a 250.00 Gaultier t-shirt for hours. I visited it everyday. I loved it; it was black, with a cartoon of a 1940's teenage girl and a 1940's older businessman, dancing by a little portable record player, with 45's strewn about, and if you looked closely, you noticed they were wearing weird punk accessories in odd places, and the 45's were punk classics. It was brilliant. I settled for the not quite as pricey, but still pricey 100 dollar Moschino one. I still have it.
I still shopped at thrift stores to find clothes, but I usually only could wear them out to clubs. I had better luck thrifting in the early 90's, jumping on the 70's revival bandwagon before it was all snapped up. Shockingly, in thrift stores, I occasionally run across some of the clothes I studied at Russo and other expensive stores, and buy them, regardless of the fit, just to finally be able to put them in my closet.

Link: Gary Numan, Morrissey

Tuesday, January 01, 2008



On Sunday nights, during high school, I felt like I was gently floating on a raft, slowly headed toward a towering, rocky waterfall. I enjoyed every moment, absorbed every second, and loved every minute of those nights, usually spent watching TV or playing games with my brothers, until it was time to be alone in my room with my music and books, for I knew Monday was coming, and I would be crashing into my oblivion, at dawn. Well, every night felt like that, but the sting of the carefree weekend ending was harder to bear.
High school was pretty dismal.
I was always there to greet the dawn, alone, after my dad went to work, and before everyone else got up, as it rose over the farm and the giant old trees that lined the train tracks, across the street. I would often pretend I was titled, in nineteenth century France or England, and made an elaborate breakfast for myself: eggs and sausage and oj and french toast and tea, using the good china our grandparents gave us, careful not to chip anything, as I quietly washed it and put it away, as I watched Underdog or Mission: Magic on the little black and white TV in the kitchen. I miss being ten... I would sigh to myself.
Winter time was always the worst, because I would have to give up the peaceful isolation of my bicycle, and ride the torturous bus to school. I worked doubly hard making the Sunday nights of winter back then feel special, by being with my brothers or neighborhood friends, or walking my dog in the backyard snow for hours, til he whined to go back inside, while listening to the newly imported magical sounds of Culture Club, The English Beat, or Scary Monsters on my Walkman. George's first sigh in Do You Really Want to Hurt Me carried me a million miles away, every time. But try as I might to keep it away, the heaviness of Monday morning's coming shadow lay dark upon me, and on the Wisconsin snow, like the night it's self.

I offer these memories up to you now, for our latest snow storm has stirred up a bunch of these memories, as they usually do. Not any winter night will unlock those memories for me, only a bone-chilling, snow covered night in January or February can thaw them.
I saw the circumstances of my life as a teenager as inevitable and unalterable, like a mountain that had to be climbed everyday, and carried the 'Sunday night' habits of my boyhood into my young adulthood. It is only now I realise I unconsciously created good memories around the bad ones I was forced to endure. Maybe we all do that to some degree. My time with my friends became my respite from the pain and confusion in my life, and I lived for them.
In the mid-eighties, when I moved to Chicago, Erin, Scot, Jody, Brad, Danny, and everyone else gave me a reason to keep on going, for I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could. I would not be here without them, or my brothers, for at times their unconditional love felt like the only thing flowing in my veins. I wanted to solve the mysteries of their lives, and use those secrets in my own. I tried to keep the worlds of my joy and pain away from each other, for I felt if they knew each other, my world of joy would be forever tainted, or worse yet, cease to exist.
But, as I learned, you can't do that forever. There came a time when I told the people I loved all there was to know about me, for only they could help me find a way to understand and solve the mysteries of my own life.
That is my new year wish for you. Happy oh-eight.

Link: Television, Culture Club, English Beat, Bowie