Friday, August 28, 2009

Life Without Buildings


The scene opens with a long shot of our hero with his head lying on his folded arms, asleep on his desk, in front of his active computer monitor. Zoom in. You can tell by looking at his rumpled clothes and scruffy face, he's done this many times before. In fact, he spends most nights here sleeping, if you can call it that. As his brain crawls it's way through as much REM time it can get, the computer monitor flashes an endless parade of images and stories related to the object of his search, his raison d'etre. He's read them all, they barely scratch the surface. His months of searching only reveals what he already knows: not much. He hopes his vigilance will yield better results. He hopes if he stays at his computer twenty hours a day, he might find what he's looking for. He hopes if he closes his eyes just for a second, he might find some peace. And the object of this search? If you saw The Matrix, you might guess Morpheus. If you knew our hero, you'd say a pink rhinestone bracelet he bought at Kohl's in 1984, that he just knows is lurking somewhere in a sixty piece 'buy it now' jewelery lot on ebay...

Chris and I floated around our large, sparsely furnished apartment for a couple months or so after Scot left, like two drunk ghosts, before Cathy moved in. Our place was so empty, it reminded me of the many 80's videos set in a smokey, fake street at night, newspapers caught in the wind. Or sometimes, it would look robbed. We'd come home to find our few possessions left askew, everything seemingly rifled through. When you did as much drugs and drank as much as we did, you got used to your life looking like that. We kept our couch and TV in the dining room which was next to the kitchen, and left the living room empty. We hadn't the money to furnish it.
Rex's curtain was still up in the dining room, from when he stayed there, when Scot was still living with us. Chris' friend Tony stayed there for a while, too, after Danny did. I forgot how many glamorous and wonderful people lived behind that curtain.

Looking at the curtain, I often thought of the night, we all were there. Rex, Danny, Scot, Chris, Tony, and I had a little pre-party before hitting the clubs, and went to "Danny's place". (Rex had moved out and was just visiting.) We lay on his futon, dreaming about our futures, sharing some sad stories from our childhood, (Tony in particular; his parents kicked him out at a young age for being gay.) smoking, drinking, and laughing, but there was someone else there with us, unseen. We all felt it; we knew this was a special moment in our lives, all of us coming together like this. It was a cold night in December, yet we were together and warm and safe- I think we knew that we were in the presence of people who would be there for each other when we needed them. We also knew on some level this would be our last night together as a group: in two years, two of us would be dead.
But that was yet to be, and Chris and I tried to go on with our lives as best we could. For me, Scot's moving was the latest in a long line of friends who had left Chicago, and I felt lost and overwhelmed. The life I began creating for myself in 1985 when I moved to Chicago had crumbled around me. And if my friends hadn't moved away, we moved in different directions with our lives, and that can be just as distant. I knew we still cared for each other, but we weren't building our lives together any more.
I became, as much as I could, the stable person in Chris' life, and helped him save his money, made dinner and breakfast when I could, and scolded him when he 'kept the party going' in his room with bar friends til daybreak. I say as much as I could, because I knew this was the role Chris wanted me to perform for him, and I was up to the challenge of the part of a responsible adult, but my coping mechanism at the time was drugs and alcohol, and I easily dashed any amount of respectability I managed to build for myself, and joined Chris in his all night binges.
My irresponsibility came to a head one night after a particularly close K call, and one too many out of body experiences bearing witness to my shocking and embarrassing behavior.
"Oh Christ, what am I doing- put down the straw and put some clothes on??!! "
Chris' actions started to disturb me, for his life seemed to turn into one long continuous binge, and I didn't know how long he could keep it up. We would get into these long talks about his behavior, like I did with Brad, and one day I learned he was an accomplished trumpet player. I begged him to go back to music; to make his life about that, something other than partying. I told him having my hair career and hobbies gave me something other to focus on than going out, and I told him about the friends I knew that hadn't anything else, got into trouble or ODed.
He just looked at me, as you would a child who asked you why the sky was blue.
"It just is, honey."
He would then describe his plight to me, that he was a 'victim of himself'. The damage was done. He was resigned to that idea, no matter how much I pleaded to the contrary.
We needed another person to live with us, and I had someone in mind, and I hoped Cathy's motherly instincts would kick in, and help me help Chris...

Chris & Roxy, above
twentysomething, and hating it, 1991

Monday, August 24, 2009

Left To My Own Devices


Once upon a time, I did so much laundry with Todd, I can't help but think of him every time I do mine now, in my murky 1910 basement.
When I was sixteen, I lived down the street from him, and during that summer of '82, I bore witness to his every waking moment. Happily so. Like Tonto, or 'the Professor and Mary Ann', I was never center stage, but enough for a supporting role, in his story. Yes, Todd saw himself as a star. He was beautiful after all, with his bright green eyes, curly blond hair, and quarter back's build, and he loved the attention it got him. He transformed himself into the role of a 'star' from the one he was forced into as a teen: that of the town pariah. If you grew up gay in the 70's, chances are you know what I mean.
He lived above his landlady Bernie, who smoked despite her oxygen tank, who would shout quit smoking Brian! whenever I passed her door on the way up the stairs to Todd's. I would smile and nod and wave.
We walked the few blocks to the laundromat lugging his baskets. (Both the Laundromat and Bernie's house have since been torn down.)
We would talk about guys we liked, and school, and I would help him shake the lint and wrinkles out each piece of his wet laundry before it went into the dryer.
"Doesn't it all get smashed up in the dryer, anyway? Doesn't the lint trap catch it all?" I would ask.
"I don't care! Every piece must be shook out!" He'd reply.
Todd was a few years older than me, and starting culinary school, and I envied his independent life, and asked myself internal questions about my own, as I watched him live his. Would my life be like his, after high school? What will I study for a career? Where will I live?

His apartment was a little threadbare and depressing, with it's greying white paint and bare bulbs. The few pieces of furniture were clean but over used, and cheap when it was new, in the sixties. Littered about were hand me downs of hand me downs, small attempts by his mother and sister to add a sense of home. But it was his.
To cheer the place up, I painted him a picture of Marilyn Monroe, based off of a photo of her with Carl Sandburg.
Todd was often overwhelmed by the demands of school, and cursed his plight, and instead of studying, ran out to the gay bars every chance he got. He eventually ran off to Colorado for a year with his boy friend Opey, so he could quit school without listening to the wrath of his family, who payed for it.
I moved out of state later that year to finish high school, and watched, through the letters he wrote to me, his enthusiasm for Colorado, and Opey, wane.
Todd's is a long story I hope to tell in more depth sometime, but hopefully you get an idea of him. I don't know if it's Todd's or Bernie's ghost, or just my imagination, but as write here in the Viceroy, and breathe deeply, I get the distinct waftings of their old Memorial Drive duplex. I mention where I am right now because I am meeting two old stars of my story from the eighties, tomorrow for lunch. What, it's only been twenty years since I've seen them?!

Now why did start telling you about Todd? Oh yes, because I saw him as a kind of mentor, and I studied his life as a way of figuring out my own, and that reminds me of my state during 1991. I hated I hadn't a person in my life like Todd, because I had no idea what the hell I was going to do with me life any more. I felt so stagnant and stuck somewhere I didn't want to be, but I had no idea where to start changing.
So when Erin asked me to co-host eighties night at Neo with her and Carlisa, I jumped at the chance. I was nostalgic for a life yet lived, and went back to the past to live for a while. I knew the answers to any question about my life back then, and I basked in the warmth of old news.
They were fun, crazy, drunken nights, and we dressed up to the hilt. Neo is where I got my first taste of performing on stage. We paid homage to our idols by lipsynching to their songs to a mostly disinterested audience.

At the time, my past had little comfort for me, but it was all I had, so I stuck around...

At Neo 1991
'Nona Hendryx & Boy George' at Neo
'Nina Hagen & Boy George' at Neo
Disinteresting: Boy George
Disinteresting: Nina Hagen


Monday, August 10, 2009

It All Started With a Phone Call From Brett...

The following is a guest post from my friend Sarah, about her infamous night with Bowie, in 1990. If you would like to guest star on my pages, please do... send me a story. Scroll down in a few minues for a new episode from my saga...

It all started with a phone call from Brett. Around 5pm Saturday, he rang me up wanting to know if I wanted to go to the Bowie concert. The concert was in Tinley Park. We had no tickets. I had already seen Bowie twice. This was not a do or die sort of situation for me. My response was not positive.

However, after some momentary cajoling by my smooth talking friend I had agreed to drive from my parents’ North Shore home to his parents’ Northwest suburban home and then to Tinley Park to see David Bowie.

As we had a bit of a time crunch, I rushed about threw on something…well, I don’t remember what I wore, but let’s assume it was black, and I was out the door and on the road in my recently received college graduation present. About an hour later I was in Brett’s kitchen when realized I had made a tactical error. “I forgot to stop for beer,” I said.

Brett began rooting about in the family fridge. Much to his teenage brother’s horror, Brett emerged with a box of white Grenache. “Man, they’re going to blame me!”

“It’s okay,” I soothed, “We can replace it.”

Somehow, someway we got to the arena before the show had started. We pulled into what was by now a very short line up for the parking lot. A fresh faced college kid asked me if I was going to the VIP lot. “Yes,” I answered and we were directed to a three row strip of blacktop near the arena entrance. After parking in the front row, we downed a glass of the white Grenache and made our way to the box office.

Two women were in line before us were asking for theatre seats. The ticket agent was valiantly trying to locate a pair but could only find two seats with an obstructed view. The women began to debate the value of these seats versus sitting on the lawn. My friend jumps in and says, “I was here last week for Depeche Mode and had seats behind a column. It sucked! You’re better off on the lawn. Really.” Did I mention Brett had the velvet tongue of a con artist? A moment later the women were moving away with their newly purchased lawn seats in hand.

Brett leapt to window and said, “We’ll take those two seats.” The agent said she’d try and see if there was anything better and typed away on her keypad. “I have two seats in the tenth row,” she smiled.

After stopping for a couple giant beers, we found our way to our awesome seats. Bowie rocked. We sang and danced. For a short time life was good for two recent college grads with no job prospects during the recession.

When the show ended, we climbed atop the hood of my car and enjoyed a couple glasses of boxed wine. VIP parking does not mean VIP exiting so we hung out there looking at the moon and chatting. At some point we began to refer to ourselves as Ron and Carol. I think it was the cheap, warm, stolen wine talking. During our conversation, I casually mentioned that I knew where Bowie was staying. One of the other Planned Parenthood volunteers knew somebody in security at the Ritz who was not all about discretion and had told her that the Thin White Duke was in residence. Upon hearing this tidbit, Brett jumped up and said, “Let’s go!”

An hour or so later we were on the Gold Coast and had secured a miracle parking spot in front of Holy Family. With no more of a plan than “Let’s go” in our heads, we made our way to the Ritz where we waltzed past the doormen and into an elevator. The doors closed.

As we stared at the floor buttons not knowing what to do next, the other elevator occupant, a woman, said to us, “Are you looking for David Bowie?” Seeing as how one word kept working for us that night, we said it again,” Yes!”

“He’s at Buddy Guy’s. I’m a producer with CBS and I’m doing a story on Buddy Guy. Adrian Belew is there and so is Paul Reiser [the comedian]. Phil Collins is rumored to be coming, too.”

We thanked the woman for the information and hightailed it back to Holy Family. Now, we had to have a discussion. I had four dollars in cash left. Brett had an Amex. Would this be enough to get us into the club?

We shot over to the south loop and secured yet again another convenient parking space. Approaching the doorman, I asked, “What is the cover and do you take Amex?”

“Two dollars per person and we take Amex,” was the bouncer’s answer. I don’t think we hugged him but we should have. I unloaded my cash and we entered the bar. Brett went to get beer and I headed towards the stage. A woman was sitting up front and I noticed she had empty seats at her table. “Are these taken?” I asked. She shook her head no and I sat down just feet away from where Buddy Guy and Adrian Belew were jamming on guitar and Paul Reiser (I know, Paul Buchman) was playing the piano. Off to the side of the stage, in a roped off area was David Bowie. I was in love.

Brett found me and took his seat. The woman at the table noticing my fixation on the former Ziggy Stardust said he’d been singing earlier. She started chatting about how she’d just like to talk to him. I said, “He wouldn’t have to talk to me. He could just point.”

Bowie never did get up to sing again that night but Adrian Belew was on fire playing with Buddy Guy and Paul Reiser (really) was doing a fine job on the piano so it was well worth the $4.00 and Amex charges. Phil Collins never showed up but I really didn’t miss him.

Sometime after 6AM, I was back in bed on the North Shore rerunning the night through my head til sleep took me.

Five years later, Brett and I had a huge falling out and we haven’t spoken since. Regardless of what actions ruined our friendship, I’ll always be glad he talked me into going to see David Bowie that night and I hope he feels the same way.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Here Comes The 21st Century


When Scot moved out, in January of 1990 -no, wait, '91. He moved in 1991. I'm on a new year now. I told you all about my 1990: New York, London, gun shots, being slutty, etc. There are some stories I haven't told you about yet though: Rhineland, Mark, a good Ronnie story, the party I threw for Erin, or the night I almost died buying Boy George records. I'll tell you those sooner or later...
So in 1991, I needed to get a stereo, because Scot took it and his TV with him.
For me, music comes first, so Chris and I went a few months with out TV, til Kathy moved in, now that I think about it, and brought hers. I had somehow managed to trash the stereo system Jody bought for me in the mid-eighties. Too many nights coming home drunk and "accidentally" kicking it, I imagine. It was very compact, like an end table, and I kept it on the floor near the front door. I knew that was a mistake.
I wanted to be a modern, a hip and now, and to buy a CD player, but a whole new stereo system was more than I could manage at the time, so I settled on a CD boom box. I loved it. I had that thing for years.
Erin drove me out to the suburbs to buy it, because she said I could get a better price out there, so I bought it in Elmhurst. My first CD was a Boy George single for One on One, which sadly, I sold on Ebay a few years ago for movin' money. (And oh yea, I hope you like Boy George, because my story is going to get very Boy Georgie for a while, because of Renee.)
I hated to replace that player- all those memories and cool stickers, about to take up space in a landfill. (Where else are you going to put stickers?)
...All those nights coming home from work and turning it on, only to have it blast so loud I jumped out of my skin.
This is how loud Chris plays this thing when I'm not here? I'm surprised we haven't been kicked out of here yet. I thought to myself.
...All those hours spent with my boom box and Listen Without Prejudice, I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got, Kill Uncle, ABC's Up, You Can Dance, Anarchy in the UK, Louder Than Bombs, Def Dumb and Blonde, The White Room, but to name a few.
I bring this up now because I just got my replacement boom box in the mail, for the one I replaced my first one with. I guess a new one every ten years is pretty good. And my new one has an MP3 wire, along with the very necessary cassette and CD players, so I'm still a modern, even though I'm dragging a lot of the 20th century along with me. I happen to like the 20th century. My old one has this great sticker I bought at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Berlin in the nineties, and I hate to part with it, so I will try to pry it off.
(I just saw this sticker story in NY Mag, and it got me on a kick. I lifted this one recently myself, because I passed it for months whenever I ran in the park, so I took it to put on my fridge to remind me to run. I call it A Viking Wants To Blow You.)

When Tony introduced me to Renee one night in Berlin in late 1990, we acted more like we were long lost friends than two who had just met. Almost like we picked up where we left off. We went to Berlin that year for Halloween, the bar, not the city, and she said she was coming in costume. I hadn't made plans to dress up, but when I saw her walk in the door, I wished I had. She drove for an hour from the 'burbs as Laura, the dead girl from Twin Peaks. Plastic wrap and all. Now here's a girl I can relate to! I thought to myself.
"I want to marry you!" I told her. "Right now! Let's drive to Vegas!"

The year before, Scot put a personal ad in the paper, to meet a guy. Back then, people mailed responses with pictures in care of the paper, and they then sent you a big envelope of replies, if you were lucky, a small one if you weren't. At first they had put his 'I'm a skater boy looking for love' in the boy meets girl section. Oops. The best reply, other than the one from the 'I'm a jeans and lace kinda gal', was from this cute Asian girl, Oyster. I begged him to respond to her, just as a friend, but he refused.
When the next batch of replies came, it took us hours to sift through them all. There were dozens. A letter at the bottom of the pile caught my attention most. It was short and to the point, and came with some great photo booth shots.
"Wow Scott, I want this guy!" I said
"You can have him. He's not really my type."
"Alright!" I said
I never did respond to him, for he sent the letter to Scot after all, and I forgot about this event until one night I was sitting in my boyfriend's kitchen, and a light went on.
I remembered back when Scot and I were looking at the letters and pictures from the men who wanted his company, and I saw a guy in a photo booth, I wanted him so much, I felt like I time traveled to the future for a second, just a second, to take a peek to see if I would ever have him, almost like I was cheating at the game of life, and turning to the back for the answers.
"It was you, wasn't it! Last year, did you respond to a Reader ad from a 'blonde skater boy', and send him a photo booth picture?" I asked Mark
"Umm, yes? How did you know!"
The night I met Mark at Berlin, in the winter of 1990, he was leaning against the wall, wearing a black motorcycle jacket with a Soviet t-shirt, tight blue jeans that accentuated his long legs, and his gorgeous ash brown hair tumbled down his forehead, obscuring one eye. He was so beautiful and perfect to me, and I was so afraid of him, so extremely terrified, that I ran right up to him and introduced myself, and not out the door. This is exactly how I initially felt about all the guys I cared about and loved, in my past. Sometimes, in spite of myself, I make the right move.


Debbie the Hobo