Sunday, August 9, 2009

Meet My Clothes: Leather Saddlebag


I found her on the floor of Dollar A Pound, the only thing I’ve ever found in that sea of stained sweatpants that was worth a damn. She was misshapen, dry, discolored. She’d been neglected. I saw potential – the even stitching, quality hardware, perfect cognac color, an inner pocket of fawn-colored leather. She was everything a vintage hunter dreams of.

It reminded me of a bag described in a short story from a 1979 issue of Young Miss, the kind of bag that inspires bullies to pour sulfuric acid on it when the science teacher isn’t looking.


I found her the summer before my sophomore year of college. I was just beginning to get a grip on my sense of style, just coming out of the self-esteem destroying earthquake that was freshman year. That summer I had my hair cut into a bob, hated it, and loved the pixie cut that I got two weeks later. All outward signs showed confidence, but it was an act. I was in shock.


I brought her home and used a cloth barely dampened with diluted baby shampoo to wipe off the dirt, then applied a layer of Mink Oil. I used books as weights to press out folds in the leather. When the leather was dry, I added a coat of shoe polish. A day after that, another coat of Mink Oil. You can’t rush leather rehab. It needs time to reflect, to absorb.


A few nights before I went back to school, I was up late and saw the initial reports of Princess Diana’s death. I was glued to the TV, painting my nails and steeling myself for the coming year. My moving boxes were stacked in the living room. I’d made plans for your standard back-to-school comeback, promising myself I’d do whatever I had to do to find my place. I could not, would not, waste another year of my life staring at walls. I had flared jeans and a vintage leather saddlebag purse. I had some idea of who I wanted to be and plans for impersonating her.


It is another August, eleven years later. The leather saddlebag hasn’t been used in a few years. She suffered an internal rip a few years ago, and migrated to the floor of the closet. I found her there and decided it’s time to clean her up again. That inner panel will have to come out, but the leather is still good. She just needs a few layers of Mink Oil.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Misty Watercolored Memories

I develop strong friendships with books. As a child there were books I'd flip through on a daily basis. I'd long since memorized the text and pictures, but revisiting them was a familiar ritual. I can recite entire passages from The Little House Cookbook and Beauty is No Big Deal (published in 1971, and truly a product of its time).

I've considered e-mailing my local library to see if they'd be willing to sell me a book right off their shelves. The book that most often makes me consider the offer is Looking Pretty and Feeling Fine, a style guide from 1981. I suspect the library keeps it on the shelf because it's been checked out seven times in the past ten years. I've been the one to check it out each of those times. I fear that some day I will visit my local branch, and it will be gone, and I'll never be able to find it on eBay. I fear this because...

It's already happened!! (tragic music)

Last week I went downstairs to the children's room to see if I could find a book I remembered from childhood. It was about sewing, and it was blue, and it was about two inches thick, and it showed you how to make a bikini out of old sheets. I've done everything I can to try to remember the title, and I've found other old familiar friends on the online catalog, but I can't find this book. It is gone. And I loved it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Things I Am Getting Rid Of: Eat, Pray, Love

#69 on The List was to read something suggested by a bookstore employee. The perky woman at River Run Books recommended Eat Pray Love, which had just been published. She didn't know that I was asking her for a suggestion because it was one of the One Hundred Things I Had To Do Before I Fell In Love For Good (whew), so she wasn't specifically suggesting this book about a woman who travels the world after her divorce to a woman following an ambitiously random list of goals following a breakup. To her, I was just another customer asking a polite question because I was sick of being asked if I needed any help. Which I was.



It was around the same time I was nagging Penguin Guy to get his stuff out of my basement. The night he finally did it, I invited a bunch of friends over for an I'm the Rhoda rehearsal, which of course involves sangria. It was a very Eat, Pray, Love moment - we were a gay best friend away from a chick flick.

This was before the book was a best seller, before it was in paperback and everyone was reading it. I rarely buy hardbacks, and suddenly I realized why people do. It's fun to read something before everyone tells you what it's about.

I've held on to it for sentimental reasons, but I'm planning a yard sale and decided I can part with it for a dollar. It served it's purpose and it's everywhere now. If I need it, I can get it at the library.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dear MTV: Please Steal My Idea

I'm sure I'm not the first one to notice that MTV has been playing videos since Michael Jackson's death was announced. Not only that, they're playing them in their long-format glory, so we get the backstory about Bad-era Michael being a gang member/straight-A student and the extended ending with the a capella chorus.



I wonder what the ratings will be, and if the generation hooked on High School Musical are ready for a music video renaissance.

And then there's YouTube, where there are thousands of fan-created music videos and montages. Most of them are drivel, but between 10% and 17% of them are good.

So here's the set-up: A band releases a single. There's a nationawide contest for fan-made videos (following legal rules and blah blah blah), which are aired as a series of specials, then the public calls in and votes, and the winner gets (whatever) and the band plays live. Said song was only available as a special download, so money is made off of that. Product placement could be encouraged.

Please, take my idea, make money. If you make lots of money, please give me free cable. ALL the channels.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chicago Postcards, Days 5 & 6

The last days of vacation are the hardest to enjoy. You're so conscious of everything you want to do and how little time you have to do it. The more you try to do, the more you wear yourself out and don't enjoy it.

On Saturday I woke up as early as I could and made my way to the Art Institute of Chicago. It was my third visit, once for each time I've visited the city. It's hard to admit, but I'm not able to connect with the Art Institute. I know their collection is amazing and I do find things to look at, but I've never been able to get lost in any of the art there. I want to love it, I really do, but it ends up on the list of things I can't get into, right between the Harry Potter series and yoga.

There's a okay collection of religious paintings from the 16th century, which is what I'm most interested in seeing. There are a number of Monets which I'm sure look lovely reproduced on tote bags. The miniatures room supports my argument that dollhouses are wasted on the young. The new modern wing is very nice, but didn't really have anything that grabbed me.

I decided to leave when I overheard a guy looking at solid-color canvas say "I could've done that in an hour with a roller." Later I told Jill the story and she sneered "Yeah, well, you didn't." This led to a good old-fashioned session of reminding ourselves of why we went to art school. We were both in the SIM program and were in a class where someone submitted a project that consisted of getting on his bike and riding home. It's an education that left us uniquely qualified to explain that the emperor has no clothes and that's the point.

After two hours at the Art Institute, I walked over to the Field Museum. I didn't know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. There are several galleries of Native American art and artifacts, and a great exhibit on evolution.

I met Jill and Sara at their hotel, enjoying the irony of my visiting their city and staying in their building while they stay in a hotel (their apartment was still damaged from the plumbing incident earlier in the week) and we made a pilgrimage to Hot Doug's, the world-famous gourmet hot dog stand. We stood in line for 90 freakin' minutes and I ordered:
Duck fat fries: Good, but not worth the wait.
Classic Chicago style dog: Amazing, and worth the wait. Celery salt is made of pixie dust and laughter.
Smoked Mole Chicken Sausage with Jalapeno Mayonaise and Habanero-Jack Cheese: Quite good, but not as good as the classic dog, and I resented it for being my last sausage. I'd saved it for last because I knew it was spicy and I was afraid I'd ruin my palate.

I went back to the apartment for a disco nap before heading out to Irving Park to visit the ray of sunshine that is Craig. Craig and I are improv friends, and I've missed him since he moved out west. His new glasses are really cool, he has an awesome job as a scientist in a toothbrush factory, and his condo is a real grown-up house. He says hello to all of the Boston friends.

I had fun at the party and overslept on Sunday. I quickly got my things together and Jill and I took a trip to Kokorokoko, a vingtage clothing shop that our friend Sasha owns. (Sasha is also a SIM alum and was Live Girls.) This place is totally awesome, gnarly, like way cool, and other 80s cliches for "great". I bought a Pop Swatch and Jill bought a convertable duffel bag and in the car we both admitted that we each had an eye on the other's purchase before the decision was made.

I wasn't allowed to leave Chicago without trying deep dish pizza. We went to Edwardo's, which is not as famous as other restaurants but I was told had the best pizza. It was like a cheese and tomato sauce sandwich. I quite liked it and brought half of it home on the plane. Which leads me to home, which is where I am now. The pizza is gone.

Chicago Pictures

I found Nemo. Now he's it.

Nothing is better than a good diorama. I miss having reasons to build them.

Saint Apollonia holds her dental instruments and Saint Margaret has her dragon on a leash. As it should be.

Rock out with your Bach out.

This guy had a squirrel companion on the other side of the door. Why does he look so worried?

The detailing on this shoe is thrilling, isn't it?

This guy looks friendly. "I made a Fluffernutter. You want half?"

Creepy burned-out doll heads from the Chicago fire exhibit at the history museum. Haunted dolls keep turning up in my life and I love it.


Chicago Postcard - Day 4

I came to Chicago to stalk the Bubble Gum Princess.

When I came here in 1995, I spotted her in the lobby of my hotel. She was about 12 years old, with a haircut that better suited a woman of 40, and she was wearing a pink hat/blouse/skirt ensemble better suited to an eight-year-old in 1983. I was sketching people as they walked by, and I labeled the drawing of her "sad little bubble gum princess".

The name has been stuck in my head for 14 years. Every time I tried to write about her, I stalled. It's gotten to the point that I don't care if her story is worth telling, I just want to know what it is.

She wasn't on my mind when I set out today. Still looking for that bookstore I can't remember much about, I wound up in Lincoln Square. I had no idea what I'd find and was delighted to discover a quaint German-American neighborhood. It was early afternoon, and the streets were quiet except for a street fair being set up for later that evening. My first stop was Merz Apothecary, an old-fashioned drugstore with high wooden counters stacked with exotic grooming products from all over the world. Concentrated mouthwash from Germany? Check. Carmel flavored toothpaste from Japan? Got it. They also carry homeopathic remedies.I envied the woman with a sore throat because the man behind the counter so confidently recommended a remedy. Needless to say, I was in product-junkie heaven and had to force myself to stick to purchases I could carry on to the plane.

The Chicago Brauhaus was across the street, and I knew when I saw it that I had to eat there. I questioned the decision when I walked in and found just a handful of people in the giant restaurant. The hostess assured me that they did serve lunch, so I settled in and looked at the folk instruments on the wall. The decor is mid-70s Tyrolean, kitschy but earnest. Imagine the Hilltop Steak House as decorated by the Von Trapp children. (Yes, I know that's Austria. It's hard to think of a famously quaint German.) There's a stage in the corner where a traditional oom-pah band plays at night, but this afternoon I was listening to a muzak version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

I couldn't decide what to get, so the waiter suggested the boiled spareribs. They came with a liver dumpling soup that stopped the vacation in its tracks. It was a giant liver meatball in a cup of the most comforting, fortifying broth. It tasted familiar. It tasted experienced. This soup knew what it was doing. As I ate, I looked around the room and was drawn to a wooden carving of a man with a moustache. The waiter didn't know who it was, but told me a little bit about the restaurant. I'm glad they haven't really changed since the 70s. These are the places I want to survive, the independent stores and restaurants that have character. What's the point of traveling if you find the same chain food and the same mall stores everywhere. The world needs more places where you can be served things you've never heard of. I started writing about why I'd never find the Bubble Gum Princess in the Brauhaus, why she wouldn't have even been in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. And that's when I found her, or at least a part of her story that I hadn't expected.

Apophenia is the mental process of linking unrelated elements. I've become very aware of the phonemenon watching LOST, a show where clues are so numerous that nearly every scene can be twisted around to suit the story as you want it to play out. That's what I'm doing with Bubble Gum Princess on this trip. Something catches my eye, and I imagine how she would have seen it. Chicago is her town. She's leaving clues for me everywhere.

My plans for the night were dinner and Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind with Jill and Sara. The show has been running for over twenty years and changes every weekend. They do 30 short experimental plays in 60 minutes. It's a wild mess of thrown confetti, topless men, confessional monologues, a woman holding her head underwater, and whipped cream. It was amazing, as expected.

I got back to the hotel a little too awake and fell asleep watching Carrie on the Sci-Fi channel. Not the good one, a recent remake where Emilie De Ravin from LOST played the mean girl. I fell asleep wondering what that had to do with the island.

Chicago Postcard, Days 2 & 3

My brother Paul lives in Minneapolis. We're 13 years apart and he's lived in the midwest most of my life. He went to college in Indianapolis and started his career there, moved back to Boston when I was in high school, and relocated to Minneapolis two years ago. Despite the age difference and distance, we've always been close friends. He managed the start of my pop culture education, recommending movies and red-faced explaining my questions about the subtext on Three's Company. Since Minneapolis is only an hour's flight away from Chicago, we made plans for him to visit while I'm here.

He flew in on Thursday morning, planning to buy tickets for a Cubs game. We took the El to the Wrigley area and found an unremarkable place to eat lunch. Over a reuben (him) and eggs benedict (me) we discussed our shame at following the Jon & Kate Plus 8 situation and the progress we've made in turning into our parents. Afterwards, he went to find tickets and I headed to Lakeville to find a bookstore I can't remember the name or location of. I never found it, but I did find Ragstock and some thrift stores, and bought a crochet beret that I will wear all summer and see in pictures next year and wonder what the hell I was thinking.

On Friday morning we were off to the Chicago History Museum. It's field trip season and we were there at the same time as Ms. Hayward's class. A short summary: Chicago is named after a stinky wild onion, it's perfectly situated to be a trading post, race/class riots, Mrs. O'Leary's cow didn't really kick over the lantern that started the fire, trains are awesome, and the 1968 Democratic Convention was held at the Conrad Hilton. Each time I read the hotel name my brain immediately asked "The Conrad Bain Hilton"? and I pictured a crowd of Yippies chanting "The whole world is wat'choo talking 'bout Willis?"

Paul had to head to the airport to catch his flight, and I headed towards Old Town without any plans. My stomach brought me to Minnies, a restaurant that takes the whole sliders fad to a new level. Their menu is full of mini sandwiches, and you order several of them. Their frite sauce doesn't live up to the hype, though. I resorted to catsup.

On my way back to the El, I found Aroma Work Shop, a fantastic little place where you can mix your own fragrances and add the scents to beauty products. I was the only one in the store, had the perfumer's full attention, and went full olafactory geek as I sniffed everything. They have a "baby" scent, which I mixed with honesuckle in an exfoliating scrub, which pairs with a grapefuit & pink sugar bubble bath. As I was leaving, I found the perfect keep-it-forever souvenir of this trip: a little pomander to wear around my neck, filled with lilac scent. The lilacs have been in bloom the entire time I've been in Chicago, and every few blocks I'd be hit by the scent and I'd have to stop to find the source so I could literally stop and smell the - well, lilacs.

I started to feel a headache coming on, no doubt brought on by the schedule distruption and not having had any caffine. I went back to the apartment to get rid of it and ended up getting some work done even though Jon & Kate Plus 8 was on. Again.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chicago Postcard, Day 1

I’ve come to Chicago to write. That’s the simple answer. I’m going to museums and I’m going to shop and visit friends, but I’m also planning a lot of time working on unfinished projects. This is my third trip to the city. My first was a weekend stay when I was in high school, because I thought I wanted to attend the School at the Art Institute of Chicago. More on that later. My second trip was in 2007, when one of Noah’s plays was produced here. During that trip I got to see the cool Chicago, which was not the one I saw when I was considering colleges, and I began to think that maybe I was a bit too hasty about the decision to go to school in Massachusetts.

I’m staying in the guest studio in my friend Jill’s building. Jill and I went to MassArt together and shared an apartment for one tumultuous year after I graduated. When I arrived at the building to check in, it was raining. Not outside. A pipe had burst in the building and water was dripping from the lobby ceiling. The building manager was nice enough to let me leave my things in her (dry) office, and I went out to explore.

I didn’t have a destination in mind, so I got off the subway at a stop that looked interesting and started walking. I thought I recognized the Art Institute, but when I got closer I found out it was the Aquarium. Oh well, fish are pretty too, so I bought a ticket.
Geez, Al, my head is killing me!
You too? I can't get rid of my headache.
Moray Eels look like they're from a horrible nightmare. They live in caves and stare at you, and when you see the whole body they look like unfinished sock puppets with sharp teeth.I spent a long time sitting in front of the newly renovated dolphin and whale tanks. These are underground, with piped-in whale sounds, and the glow from the glass is ethereal. Every now and then a dolphin would speed by, then disappear. When I'm a criminal mastermind, my hideout will be in an abandoned aquarium. (I still reserve the right to make fun of dolphin tattoos.)Anemones, also the stuff of nightmares. If a doctor showed me this picture and said this was growing inside of me and needed to be removed, I'd believe him.

The gift shop does not sell the home version of this game. I checked.

Back at the apartment, I learned that the burst pipe had been right next to Jill's apartment, and her place was a wreck because they had to rip down walls to get to the problem. She'd planned on us going out and spending the night on the town, but once she'd called the insurance company and the building manager found her a new apartment to stay in for the night, take-out was a better option. We stayed up too late catching up and playing with her cats. When I got back to the studio I fired up the computer... and promptly fell asleep.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chicago Prep: The LOST Soundtrack

My vacations always have soundtracks.1985, Disney World, "Manic Monday". 2003, London, "I Believe In a Thing Called Love". 2006, San Francisco, "Da Dip", "Defying Gravity" and "Lovely Day".

Sometimes they find me just by being in constant rotation on the radio, but lately I've found myself stacking the iPod with songs that suit the situation. Since the upcoming Chicago trip is largely inspired by LOST and because I expect to be spending lots of time under the headphones, I've made a mix of songs from and inspired by the show.

Laugh all you want. I'm part of a cultural phenomenon.

Everyday - Buddy Holly
"Cabin Fever". But for me, this song will always be from Rags to Riches:

With the way Broadway is going, in thirty years there will be "LOST: The Musical." God help us all.

Make Your Own Kind of Music - Mama Cass
"Man of Science, Man of Faith" and, I think, "Flashes Before Your Eyes."

Beyond the Sea - Bobby Darin
I have the French version later, but this just seems fitting. The English lyrics don't fit the melody, making the song rather mournful.

Over the Rainbow - Judy Garland
Never featured in the show, but in honor of Henry Gale. (Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.)

It's Getting Better - Mama Cass
"Meet Kevin Johnson". Oh how ironic.

Walkin' After Midnight - Patsy Cline
"What Kate Did". They'll run through the entire Patsy Cline catalog on Kate. It all sounds the same to me.

The End of the World - Skeeter Davis
"What Kate Did" again.

Shambala - Three Dog Night
"Tricia Tanaka is Dead" and "The Man Behind the Curtain". In the former, it's featured in one of my favorite scenes of the series so far. When I watched it, I felt like I was there with the characters and gosh isn't it great to feel hopeful again!?! I'm putting off listening to this one until I'm actually in Chicago, because I have a weird feeling about it. Also, this song gets stuck in your head like a steel spike.

Strawberry Field Forever - The Beatles
For Charlie, who has "living is easy with eyes closed" tattooed on his arm. Or rather, the actor Dominic Monaghan has this tattooed on his arm, but it suits the character perfectly.

Downtown - Petula Clark
"A Tale of Two Cities" and "One of Us". Oh, Juliet. You've got troubles, but you can't go anywhere.

Catch a Falling Star
"Raised By Another" and "Par Avion". I feel like there's a hidden message in this song, because it came up so early in the series. That's what this show does - gives you obsessive apophenia.

Wonderwall - Oasis
"Flashes Before Your Eyes". When Oasis was popular, I wanted to like them but I thought I wasn't cool enough to listen to them. (I have a fucked up relationship with music.)

Dharma Lady - Geronimo Jackson
"316" and "Namaste". This is a new one, written just for the show, and another one I'm saving for the trip.

La Mer - Charles Trenet
The original lyrics have nothing to do with a lost love; they're about the sea being beautiful and a source of healing. Does this change your interpretation of Danielle?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

For Lack of a Better Subject

A partial list of things keeping me from diving head-on into the projects I have almost started and those I have half-finished:
Competitiveness. Jealousy. Insecurity. Other people's success. My inner critic. Fear of failure. The fear of success and then having to find a second act. General inertia. The cat wants attention. The laundry needs folding. I'd write better if I were thinner. Fear of being ripped off. Lack of discipline. Lack of focus. Lack of fire under my feet.

A partial list of reasons why I sat down in front of the computer anyway:
I promised myself I would. I have read stupid inspirational posters. I need practice. I am trying to learn discipline. Fear. Itchiness. Jealousy. Competitiveness. Inspiration. Several unrelated people have told me they like my writing. They say it is "honest", and while I'm not really sure what that means, I can tell by their voices it is something that is powerful, so if honest is what they want, honest is what they get.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Eff You, Bell.

I own a cell phone, but I don't turn it on unless I expect to need it. The outgoing message tells callers to try me at home instead. When people call me at home, I run equations in my head before I answer: There’s X chance this person is calling with an emergency; (tv show) is on in Y minutes; is it more trouble to talk now or check the voice mail later? At work I answer the phone, but only because it’s my job. I dream of the day I only have to answer my own line, and, later, when I can let everything go to voice mail and have an outgoing message that says it’s better to e-mail me. When I come back to my desk and see the red light lit up, I sigh dramatically and audibly as long as no one is around.

This is just the latest stage in phone behavior. When I was in high school, I was constantly attached to the phone. My record, not that I’m proud to admit it, was a 10-hour conversation. Some of my friends lived in other area codes and I racked up ridiculous bills. When I was a flaky jerk, he told me that he never checked his voice mail and it was better to just keep calling. One night I called him over twenty times, which I now realize is pretty damn batshit. I claim temporary insanity, as evidenced by my dating him in the first place.

I’m not convinced that having a phone that could ring at any moment will improve my quality of life. Humans survived for thousands of years without any phones at all, and the Amish look pretty happy if you ask me. At some point I’m going to convert to having an iPhone. I like the idea of having an all-inclusive handheld organizer, and the phone capabilities… I can tolerate. If I have to.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Flight is Not 815. I Checked.

I'm going to Chicago in May. It's time for another solo vacation, and I'm hoping to get work done on Bubble Gum Princess and the One Hundred Things... book? I still have no idea what to do with that story.

I went to Chicago in 1995, and again when Noah's play was produced there a few years ago. When I went in 1995 it was to interview at the School at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was pretty sure I wanted to go there, but I came home ranting about how the admissions rep was rude to my parents and the pigeons in Chicago are ugly. I didn't go to school there.

I'm happy with my MassArt education and after all this distance I can say that SIM was one of the best experiences of my life. I think I made a very good decision, but lately I haven't been comfortable with my reasons for that decision. It wasn't the pigeons, or at least not just the pigeons. If I stayed in Boston I'd be closer to my family and my then-baby nephew. I had friends who were also going to school in Boston. MassArt was cheaper. They were very good reasons and they made sense, but I could have disregarded them and pursued the unknown.

I think a lot about LOST, and the ideas of destiny and fate. Sometimes I think my life would be very different if I'd gone to school in Chicago. I might have come out of my shell earlier, almost certainly would have learned a different set of skills. I can't help but think that there was something I was supposed to learn in Chicago, so I'm going there to learn it. I'm going to see what the smoke monster brings me.

All things go. All things go.