Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mary,Mary quite contrary....

I am a Goodwill junkie. I frequent at least one store a week, if not multiple stores in a day, and have found ninety percent of my wardrobe there. Los Angeles is a city full of rich,fickle people who shop retail.Their fifteen hundred dollar navy boucle Chanel suit is mine for ten bucks. And no, I am not kidding. I am constantly amazed at what I find, and often mourn my childbearing hips when I come across a pair of skinny black tuxedo jeans with the tags still on them that would have fit me in third grade.
I have been going to Goodwill Stores since 1987, when they used to be the easy choice for people with community service time. While shopping, I heard lots of stories about dui's and general misdemeanor mishaps that landed all sorts of people in jail.Rather than pick up trash on the freeway, they opted to hang up unwanted clothing. There was something surreal about watching Lou Ferrigno,who obviously did something illegal, meander through the blouse section trying to determine if the pink peasant blouse he held should go in the pink section or the multicolored section.
Over time, I became a regular nameless face to the cashiers and managers at every Goodwill within a ten mile radius.My favorite branch is five minutes from my house. I exchange pleasantries with the other junkies as we search the racks, make small talk with Leonard the manager,but there is a clear understanding that no one is going out for coffee afterward.Our relationships exist inside the smudged windowed walls of the store.Anything exclusive of the store would feel way too personal.
The quality of used clothes available has ruined my taste for retail.  Over a long weekend trip, my lovely husband offered to buy me something. I found a perfect black and white plaid lightweight cotton summer shirt for only 189.00.Granted, we were in Santa Barbara, and it was a gesture of his appreciation that I never shop retail, but afterward, I remembered why. Despite the fact that it cost more than our hotel room,the minute we sat down to lunch, Little put a greasy paw on my right sleeve. I recoiled and rushed to the bathroom to wash the sleeve. Had I spent three dollars on the shirt, I may not have cared so much.Easy come easy go with thrift store clothes, but the retail world is just not the same. And, on the rare occasions I do shop retail, I find myself drawn to the thrift store version I already own.
Anyway, just this morning, after ditching hiking plans and hitting my favorite Goodwill, I was part of something kind of amazing. When I arrived, I saw the chick with tattoos and jet black hair.She looks like Keith Richards at about forty, very rock and roll and very cool. I have known her forever.I don't know her name, but she has watched me get pregnant, get married, have two kids, go up three dress sizes- she knows me pretty well for a complete stranger.  There was the heavy set black woman behind the register who is civil at best, if not a little over the daily grind. The only conversation we have had outside of her "that'll be ten seventy six" and my " no bag, thanks" was her proud admission that she personally invented the system of selling the dvd's by cataloging them in a book behind the register  and leaving the empty cases on display. She has been here forever, serving some of the most down trodden people on the planet-the mentally ill, tranny hookers, homeless alcoholics with a lot on their mind, low income families with seven kids allowed to run wild in the housewares department-all mixed in with middle class junkies like me. She doesn't take shit, but is also a very fair person. For the sake of the story, I will call her Mary.
Today, when I came in, around nine twenty, a guy was angrily moving huge armfuls of clothes from one side of the square counter to the other. All I heard was him say,acidly, " I don't need your attitude....can I talk with a manager?". I stopped in my tracks, as this sort of thing rarely happens,especially with Mary. I would know, I am here a lot. Mary said that she was not giving him attitude, and he cut her off and said "whatever, I am not dealing with you.."
He was a grayish gayish thirty something with a cool vintage t-shirt, long black shorts and Doc Martens.
I will call him Bruce. He was with a red haired woman who dressed head to toe in black.She had sort of chunky Cat Woman look going on, oddly accessorized with a mortified expression. She was clearly embarrassed by his outright bitchiness and stood semi facing the counter with her arms crossed awkwardly. Mary was extremely pissed, and smiling angrily, she called the manager on the store microphone.She then continued to take customers. She had a friend there who was shopping, a sauve looking black guy in a suit.He was on his phone. She said something to him and he said something back and Bruce said  loudly "that is what I am talking about.I know what you are doing. You are talking about me with your friend...". Mary stopped her transaction her customer and said, incredulously, "Sir, he is on the phone. I am not talking to him and he is not talking about you. He is on the phone, Sir".
Bruce waved her off as the manger arrived, Fred or Fritz or something. He is a fiftyish Armenian looking fellow with kind eyes and a poker face.He wears a lot of Hawaiian shirts. Bruce insisted that Mary had given him attitude, and he didn't feel like dealing with it. He asked  Fred to ring up his huge pile of clothes and then said " we come here every two weeks and spend like two hundred and fifty dollars on clothes.I don't need this aggravation...". He sounded just like Paul Lynde. Fred said nothing and started counting his items. My first thought was, "I have never seen you before, Bitchy Bitch, but take your two fifty elsewhere." I said nothing and watched, pretending to shop in the general vicinity of the register.
For the next ten minutes Mary stood,slightly hostilely,next to the register assisting Fred in bagging the clothes. She didn't look  Bruce in the face but chose to continue chatting and ringing up customers while he glared at her. I hovered, deciding if I was going to say anything to the Bruce,as did Keith Richards. She was particularly pissed and actually went to Mary to discuss her anger and how to deal with it.Mary assured her that she needed to let it go, but did note that if the incident had occurred on "the streets" the outcome would surely be different. Bruce could hear every word and shook his head while his pile slowly got smaller. I tried to imagine a throwdown with Mary and Bruce.Mary could probably kick some ass, but Bruce struck me as a biter. Not an altercation with a good outcome, I'd bet on that. Just then, the guy on the phone came to the counter and announced good naturedly, in Bruce's general direction, " excuse me, Mary? I would like your service, please, although it was just declined by another customer, I welcome your attitude." He bowed to her and went back to his phone conversation. She smiled,stifling a laugh and kept her back to Bruce,who rolled his eyes. His friend looked a little pained. Fred carefully rang up each item and handed them to Mary to be bagged,while Bruce pursed his lips and occassionally questioned the price of an item. When  he was finally finished and his purchases were all bagged, he had to go behind the counter to pick up the bags and actually pass by Mary, who stood half blocking the entrance. Not only did she make no effort to move aside, but she stood as still as a statue and made no effort to help him get his things. He slung the bags over his shoulders and, as he headed for the door, looked back at us and shook his head in disgust, muttering "unbelieeeeeeevable". We had unknowlingly formed a semi-circle of junkies, a zombie like brigade,who watched the entire exchange in silence.We were all glaring right back at him as he left, and,  when the door closed on his sorry ass, a literal cheer went up.Everyone began to rehash their version of it. We all agreed that he was,as Mary said "straight up asshole".I fantasized about seeing him at Trader Joe's and reminding him of just how much of an asshole he'd been to pick on the cashier at a thrift store.
I leaned in to Fred, who was behind the counter, and said what I had wanted to say to Bruce directly,which was the an uninspired "I've been coming here weekly for fifteen years.In that time, she has never given me attitude,not to mention that in all that time, I have never laid eyes on you", which I am sure would have just killed him. I was actually a little afraid of what he might say back since he really was a mean asshole, so,I waited until he left. Fred smiled at me and said "she gives me attitude every day" and shrugged. Mary beamed from ear to ear.I felt downright jubilant for some reason, and I think it's because, for ten minutes,one of the more depressing places to be was actually the happiest place on earth.There was a sense of community the likes of which I haven't felt, well, ever, really. Here we were,a group of people from all different walks of life and vastly different backgrounds, brought together by our addiction to other people's old shit, and someone came in to our house and tried to mess with our girl, Mary, and we all got her back.We said a collective "Eff off ,dude" to someone really deserving, and it felt great.We can only hope he gets wool moths from one of his purchases.
 Go to Bloomingdale's, Bruce, where they get paid to take your shit. Didn't  you read the sign on the door?
It says GOODWILL, Mother Fucker!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jail Bait

When I was in eighth grade, and my sister was in eleventh grade, we threw our hats in the teen pop queen ring for a few months. One night over Christmas break 1982, while we stayed in Denver with my Dad and his wife,Jane, my sister and I started writing a song. My Dad also helped us write some of the lyrics.I have no idea what prompted us to write it but here are the first few verses:

License to Kill

"too close too close for comfort
no one understood
diagnosis pyschotic
crazy lust for blood
caught a ride to Argentina
saw my name in the neon lights
couldn't get any meaner
CIA in the CIA in the CIA
I went throught the training
taught me all the skills
bizarre graduation
license to kill
license to kill
license to kill
Psycho psycho in the CIA
If you're on my list
You'll never never get away
If you think you can run, do what you will
'Cause you know I'm a lady
with a license to kill

They gave me my first assignment
People to die
Killing is so easy
when you don't ask why
blood on the windshield
headlights in the rain
after the first one
they all look the same"

You get the idea.No love ballads or popcorn fluff here,folks. We were raised on The Runaways,The Rolling Stones and The Who, after all.

My Dad had been in a psychedelic band in the late sixties called Lothar and the Hand People that had a whole lot more success than he will admit to.He sang and played the theremin. He was in the heart of the New York music scene and played with or hung out with most of the music legends that defined the Rock generation-Clapton, Hendrix,Sam Shepard,Velvet Underground to name a few.His band had a few records and toured all over the country. He opened for The Grateful Dead in 1966 when my sister was born and and one of the songs bubbled under the Billboard charts for a spell.. I mention this because when he discovered us writing songs, he must have been thrilled.I know he was thrilled because he arranged for us to record  at a professional studio with real live musicians. My sister was much better at singing and writing (and pretty much everything), so she wrote two more songs "Crying All Night"  and " I Don't Wanna Deal With Love".  In hindsight, I might have suggested a therapist were I in the parent role. There was nothing remotely popcorn  about her content, even though she was no more brooding or nihlistic than the average teen.But let's be honest-she co-wrote a song about becoming a professional assassin, a song about crying all night from a broken heart and a song eschewing love of any kind. Hell, we would have eaten Miley Cyrus for breakfast.

The guy who ran the studio called himself Bruzz (Henry, but Bruzz is way cooler), and he had a musician friend named Donny, who I thought was just dreamy-he looked exactly like a member of Kagagoogoo- emaciated with gigantic blonde rocker mullet.Very hip in 1982.

We were also given a song to record written by a local singer in Denver, named Lannie Garrett, called "Signs of Love".In total four songs were on the schedule. We memorized the songs at home and practiced in the shower( separately) and the car. Then the big day came.

The recording studio had a sound bay with the glass window that overlooked the sound proof room where we sang.It looked just like the studio in every movie you've ever seen where someone is making an album. We put on the gigantic headphones and did sound checks for volume. It was all very ,very, very cool. Our tone was pretty good but Simon Cowell would definitely have had some notes. Because this was before all of the current technology that can take an average singer, like Ashlee Simpson, and make her sound radio worthy, we recorded each song multiple times and Bruzz would dub our performance over itself to sweeten the sound.  I was the Ann Wilson to my sister's Nancy and was simply too young to command the microphone like she did. I feel I should mention that I wasn't nearly as large as Ann, just sort of the more natural back up singer.
The recording sessions were long and tiring and there were a lot of those moments right out of a movie where the singer( me) can't quite get the note right, or forgets that the mike is on and the booth can hear every word. My favorite moment was,after about forty five minutes of singing "Signs of Love", with Donny, my sister and I-all big gaping exhaling mouths holding long extended notes into a single mike, three inches from one another.Donny took a break and my sister whispered "your breath smells". Everyone in the booth looked up, and I turned beet red. It explained why Donny's expressions got so pained sometimes when he sang,something that was hard to miss when standing that close to someone.  I guess that must also be why he never asked for my number.It couldn't have had anything to do with the fact that I was thirteen, nah...this was rock n' roll,after all. He actually died a few years later from heart failure.Evidently something genetic, but I was really glad it hadn't happened while we were recording.I always would have wondered if my fetid breath had done him in.

We called ourselves Jail Bait, which was so far from reality in any practical sense that it was kind of funny.Neither of us were very Drew Barrymore in  "Poison Ivy". We were no Lolitas, either, though perfectly capable of looking the part, but unlikely to trade sexual favors for a music career or be seduced by a bald middle aged producer with grey mutton chops left over from the previous decade. My sister was destined to do something great ( now a surgeon) and I was headed for LA to act eventually,but, even later, the casting couch wasn't my thing. I wanted to be taken seriously.I guess I wanted to do it the hard way. And no one ever patted a couch cushion in my direction anyway, so it was just as well. Nothing worse than an actress in search of a casting couch.

We scheduled a photo shoot at a beautiful mansion outside of Denver that was owned by an antique collector,Otis Taylor, who later became a  very well known blues artist. First we went to the salon,Shear Productions, or something equally hair salon-ish. I got a groovy mullet, just like Donny's, and dabbled with dying the tips electric blue.With the make up looking so cool and the funky clothes and the whole vibe feeling so fucking groovy, I almost did it.Then I remembered the time a few years back that  I got all groovy vibed into putting on my mothers electric green lame`( read lam-AY) disco pants and a hawiian shirt and letting her friend do peacock green eye shadow up to my eyebrows for the fifth grade dance. I was having a blast until they dropped me off  outside the pizza parlor where the dance was held, under aggressive over head lighting, and everyone stared when I walked in, like I had a hachet buried in my skull. I felt like a drag queen who had accidentally walked into a Youth Ministry Mixer, but  I couldn't escape because my heels were too high to walk home. That experience reminded me that after all the fun, I had to return to my real life in eighth grade, with my  preppy, WASP-y Montecito bred classmates. I declined the blue tips.

We returned to school and sometime in March, my Dad called and said that an "A and R"  person wanted to meet us. The date was set for mid-April  1983, and my sister and I met in LA somewhere on Melrose,back when it was actually a grungy but hip spot. I have no recollection of how I got there,or who escorted us. The record company was called Dudley Gorov, and they were in "independent promotion" in Hollywood,whatever that means. They were A list and we were, well, two private school kids who had a really cool Dad. We had lunch at an italian place that  I imagine was filled with lots of polite well educated "teen to adult professional" conversation.Neither of us wore nearly enough black eyeliner to the meeting and, from what I recall, were hopelessly preppy.My sister's Topsiders probably reeked of horse manure ( she went to horsey boarding school) and the only black fishnets were in the photographs we sent them months earlier. It never occured to me to dress that part, and I am not sure why. Needless to say, they passed, which was really a blessing in disguise. Who knows,we might have ended up like Amy Winehouse or Dana Plato or any of the young women who get sucked in, chewed up and spat out by the entertainment business. I still have the music:
click here

Though the meeting was a bit of a blur,  the telling part is the photo booth picture we took minutes before going to the meeting.It is four consecutive photo booth shots of my sister and I just goofing- no cool rock star shots . I think we are even sticking out our tongues in a couple of them.We look like two puppies clamoring for a chew toy, tongues lolling around, our little hearts beating too fast from all the excitement.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Queen of the staircase....

I love a snappy comeback.The kind that shuts the other person right up.The kind that compels a person to raise their arms up like the tenth round boxer, vic-fucking-torious and possibly the smartest one in the room for a fleeting moment. An example that I LOVE happened to my father at the gym a few years back. He was shaving at the sink and a man at the end of the dressing counter said " Hey,Chief,easy on the water consumption there...". My father rinsed his razor, and, as he began another pass along his face, said " Who made you scoutmaster?". He got a few snickers and the guy didn't say another word. Now, yes, the water could have been turned off, but no one likes to be admonished,especially with the use of "chief" as the softener.
I am on this subject because I rarely have that kind of comeback.I am usually left feeling pissed and speechless, sometimes ruminating for days. The French have a phrase for it: "L’esprit de l’escalier or esprit d'escalier (staircase wit) is thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late. The phrase can be used to describe a riposte to an insult or any witty remark that comes to mind too late to be useful—after one has left the scene of the encounter. The phenomenon is usually accompanied by a feeling of regret at not having thought of it when it was most needed or suitable".

This morning,I started my ailing station wagon to see if it was driveable.I barely made it home yesterday and wanted to get it to Mike, my mechanic, as soon as possible.I put in the key and turned it on. As the engine warmed, a HUGE cloud of thick gray smoke burped out of the tailpipe,slowly wrapped around the car and hung in the street. I turned the car off and proceeded to remove all important items before I called the tow truck. As I leaned in and gathered the puzzle pieces, dried cereal bar chunks, single socks and melted crayons, a guy rode by on his bicycle. I heard him say " We all have to breathe that" as he passed. I stood up, incredulous at the snotty tone in his voice and said loudly after him " Sorry, but my car is broken!" to which he replied "fix it" without turning around.
 It has already been a tense week. I have been on steroids for a strep infection and am on the second week of Spring Break (aka. at home with the kids for two weeks). I haven't exercised in four days and have eaten Easter Candy for every meal since Sunday. He has no idea who he is fucking with. If I had a rock, or a machette or a driveable car, I might be writing this from jail. I roared back something lame like "THANKS FOR YOUR HELP!!" and stormed inside.My husband tried to talk me down, but I couldn't shake it. That asshole threw me a shit ball, and I was still holding it. It is one of the worst feelings because I know that he is the asshole, yet I still feel terrible. I needed a comeback to make it right, and it didn't come.

I know this feeling well.When I was much younger,my sister and I played raquetball at the Bally's on Sunset.There were two courts, one in full view of the juice bar and cafe area and one that was virtually impossible to see unless you looked in the window. We liked the latter because we were just learning how to play and preferred to keep our ineptness to ourselves. One afternoon, after we had booked the more private court for an hour, we arrived to find two women already on the court.One was blonde and probably thirty and the other was Asian and maybe twenty.We opened the door and very politely mentioned that we had booked this court and that they had the one next door. They made faces like eighth graders and shrugged and rolled their eyes and said " well, the other one is free" and went back to playing. We were flabbergasted. We were raised to be polite to strangers and accomodate other people's needs, often before our own.We wouldn't dream of taking someone's seat,parking space, reservation,wallet or raquetball court ever.We went to the desk.We told the guy there (some seventeen year old pimple faced geek who had this job so he could pick up women just like the girls who took our court) what had happened.He clearly saw this as some scary chick issue and told us we could go on the other court or wait for them to finish. We went to the other court, furiously, and began to play.We knew that they took the court that was private for the same reason that we booked it- because it was private.  We hit the ball back and forth,with a bunch of banal smoothie slurping gym rats watching us, for maybe ten minutes,when the door opens and in prance the two girls from our rightful court next door.
" Excuse me? this is our court??!! We booked this court?? ". They were mocking us, snorting and giggling like a couple of hyenas. I was frozen with total amazement that they not only hijacked our court but chose to come back and hassle us before they left. My sister hit a ball at them and screamed "BITCH!!" as loud as she could. It hit the back window hard and they left, snorting and whinnying as they went. We were silenced. Where the fuck was my snappy comeback? and who acts like that anyway? That experience stayed with us, well, forever, because, again- we weren't in the wrong, but still felt like shit.

 My mother's first question was "were they prettier than you?". Sigh... really? Is that what it was all about?
That angle always reminds me of  some lame 80's movie, where we challenge them to a dance off in the parking lot to show who is the hottest. In my opinion, pretty becomes a matter of taste in situations where women get into altercations. If you like Hot Rod Magazine, then they won in that department. If you are partial to the Great Masters,or Wyeth, well, that would be a win for us. They were little c*nty bitches, and we weren't.But we still went home feeling terrible. And I still don't know what I would say if I saw them today,which reminds me of this joke:

Johnny loves the circus,especially the clowns, and his secret dream is to be a clown in the circus. He is poor and has been all his life. He doesn't mind it much, except for the fact that every year when the circus comes to town, he never gets to see it. The years pass and every year he watches the circus come and go with a tear in his eye. Then one year as the circus is leaving, he snaps. "Fuck it," he says." I'm going to get myself a job so I can see the circus."

The next day he applies for a job at a supermarket stacking shelves. He gets this job and works his heart out. He works every night stacking shelves, earning money. He spends very little, and saves heaps. He is the best worker the supermarket has ever seen. A year passes, and the circus comes to town.
As soon as the gates to the circus open, Johnny races up, first in line to buy a ticket. the excitement overwhelms him. He walks around the circus. He sees the animals, the freak show, buys a hot dog. And then he sees it, what he's been waiting for all these years...The Big Top.
Johnny races into the tent and takes a seat. Pretty soon the tent fills up and the show begins. It's a packed house and the buzz is electric. The dancing horses come out, then the elephants, then everyone's favorite, the clowns. The clowns run around and do their act making everyone laugh. When all this is finished, the head clown picks up a microphone and says "Now we'd like to pick a member of the audience to help with our show."
All the lights go out and a spotlight circles the crowd. and, as luck should have it, it lands on Johnny. Johnny is ecstatic, he can't believe his luck. The head clown comes up to him and says..
"Hey mister, are you the horse's head?"
"No." Johnny replies.
"Are you the horse's ear?"
"Are you the horse's tail?"
"Then you must be the horse's ASS!!!!"

And then whole tent erupts into fits of laughter all at Johnny's expense. Everyone is laughing, except for Johnny. He's enraged. He vows then and there that next year, when the circus comes to town, he'll get his revenge on the clown.
As he's walking home, still fuming from the humiliation that the clown caused, Johnny thinks of ways that he can get back at the clown. Death, violence, poisoning....and then it hits him. Johnny will give the clown a taste of his own medicine. Next year, Johnny will blast the clown with the biggest insult ever!
The next morning Johnny flips through the phonebook looking for someone who can help him with his revenge. Then he finds an ad.
Sick of being picked on? Come to our school and soon you'll be verbally attacking people with vigor!"

'This is just what I need!!!" says Johnny. So he rings up the school and enrolls the next day.
Every day Johnny goes to the insult school, studying hard so he can learn the best and most harsh insult so he can get back at the clown. On top of this, he still stacks shelves at the supermarket to get the money for the circus. Day in, day out Johnny works harder and harder.Then his day arrives...
As soon as the circus opens the gates, Johnny barges to the front of the line, pushing people out of his way. No longer is he a kind, considerate man. He's  pissed off and  hell bent on revenge. He give the ticket seller the money, snatches the ticket and storms off.
He takes the same seat he had last year and waits...
The dancing horses come out, Johnny yawns. Then the elephants, Johnny tries to stay awake. And then the act Johnny has waited a year for, the clowns. The clowns run around and do their act making everyone laugh. Johnny wonders why everyone is laughing, it's the same show they did last year. When all this is finished, the head clown picks up a microphone, exactly the same as last year, and says "Now we'd like to pick a member of the audience to help with our show."
All the lights go out and a spotlight circles the crowd. and, as luck should have it again, it lands on Johnny. Johnny is sits cool, calm and collected. The head clown comes up to him and says..
"Hey mister, are you the horse's head?"
"No." Johnny replies.
"Are you the horse's ear?"
"Are you the horse's tail?"
"Then you must be the horse's ASS!!!!"
And again the whole tent erupts with laughter. Except for Johnny. He sits there staring straight at the clown, a look of pure evil and hate on his face. The laughter quickly dies down as everyone knows something is going to happen. The crowd watched. This is Johnny's moment. He takes a deep breath, looks at the clown and says...

I think that pretty much sums it up....