Me and Susie Had So Much Fun

There’s got to be a morning after. Susan with her friend Richie, mid-70’s.

As I worked with the gilded faux crocodile hide on the bathroom door, the Elton John song kept repeating in my head. His attempt at rocking out really was just a fluff piece of pop, When it was released it made me realize what cheap sentiment nostalgia was. And, how effective it could be. I would listen to the song in bed and cry.

It was December 1972 and my college chums were starting to leave campus. There would never be another time where I would become so close to so many people so quickly. Almost all of them ended up life-long friends. At that time, I wondered if I’d ever see them again.

To compound the anxiety, I was having my first serious relationship. What started out as a notch on the belt escalated into a torrid four-month affair.

Buzz was the hottest number to hit Bloomington’s insular gay community in ages. Everybody wanted him but he wanted me. Being with him was an excuse to delay decisions about where to move or what to do. He would go to work in the mornings leaving me alone listening to Crocodile Rock.

In 2008 I had a new boss. Susan was so open, she had an enveloping smile and, from the moment I met her, spoke to me as if she’d known me forever. I didn’t trust her for a second.

I thought this was the latest in management techniques, kill them with kindness before stabbing them in the back. My instincts were partially correct. Surprise lay-offs followed in January 2009. Susan had been privy to the preparations and resigned in October after only eight months on the job. She wanted no part of the blood-letting.

I wanted to remain friends after we left the firm but it’s hard translating workplace friendships into real ones. The office environment forces close connections to coworkers that make the work day palatable.  It’s an artificial comradery. Outside work, there’s often little common ground once the topic switches from year-end projections.

This was not the case with Susan. Intimate details of her life flowed freely. She told me things my oldest friends never share. And she did it in such a calm, non-dramatic way.

The memory evoking reptilian hide.
The memory evoking reptilian hide.

She helped me start this blog. When I was mulling over how to begin, Susan quietly got out her iphone and pulled up WordPress. Instantly she created an account and posted an item. Her unspoken words were “now get on with it” as she seemed a little perturbed with the person who was once in charge of her department’s technology.

Unlike many megalomaniac queens I know, her name-dropping CV does not come locked and loaded ready to explode in your face. It seeps out in dribs and drabs.

I told her about standing behind a man at O’Hare who was wearing this gorgeous black suit. The fabric was so exquisite I wanted to touch it. When he turned around it was Anderson Cooper.

She told a story about an awards ceremony honoring her brother where she was seated next to Anderson for the evening. She was matter of fact, it could have been morning traffic on the 101 she was talking about.

When rock was young we’d been on parallel tracks of fanaticism, liking the same music, seeing the same bands. I could mention Richard Hell and the Voidoids and she wouldn’t flinch. Love comes in spurts. Sometimes it hurts.

I told her about the Stones ’72 tour dates at Madison Square Garden. There’d been a New York Times ad announcing a random ticket draw so I submitted 200 postcards. 40 cards each under five different names.

Hi-Tech was just a gleam in Bill Hewlitt’s eye back then. I thought if a computer did the selection it could key on zip codes. Most entries would come from New York, Bloomington’s 47401 might get me a ticket.

All five of my names won. Non-photo IDs were still accepted so I took my friends’ drivers licenses to Manhattan and stood in line to buy the maximum four tickets per name. After completing the sale for one, I went to the back of a different line to use the next ID. I saw every show. Scalping the surplus tickets funded the trip.

Life is a pop of the cherry. Me at the St. Regis trying to crash Mick’s Birthday, July 1972.

Susan liked my story but, being a native New Yorker, had one that trumped mine. Although we’ve never been competitive, I listened intently while lingering over my steak tartare. Susan is a vegetarian.

As a dare she told a college friend she’d get him a meeting with his idol, Jerry Garcia. She began calling the Dead’s record label saying she was a CREEM Magazine reporter. Over a period of months they received concert tickets, backstage passes, and finally clearance to interview Jerry.

When they went to meet him, her friend posed as a photographer with his professional looking but non-functioning Nikon. He was supposed to do the talking but froze in the presence of his hero. Susan had to wing it.

Noticing a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book on the table, she began a conversation with Jerry on South American novelists. This led to a discussion of post-war German filmmakers, the bizarre lay-out of Washington DC and various other topics. Music was never mentioned. As they parted Jerry said it was the most intelligent conversation he’d had in some time. Susan answered, “if that’s true, I feel sorry for you!”

Her entrée with Jerry led to subsequent meetings when the group was in town. She hung out with the original Saturday Night Live cast when the Dead were on the show; there were week-long stays at the New York Hilton with the band; and, she watched their Garden concerts from onstage behind Jerry’s amps.

Susan had to psyche herself up for the occasional consorting part. She channeled Margaret Mead exploring some lost tribe. She was a punk rocking kid after all. Jerry at 35 was an ancient hippie.

I was amazed. What would corporate think? I loved the story though I’ve never cared for the Grateful Dead’s music. I couldn’t imagine she would either. When I questioned her about it she was blunt: “it’s some of the most tedious music ever made.”

Susan is leaving tonight on a plane (oh Jesus, enough John already). Actually she’s moving to New York to be with her family. If I’ve learned nothing else since that Bloomington winter it’s you don’t need to live in close proximity to remain good friends.

Spare Change

I’ve hit it again.

Several summers ago I met Kathy and Linda in Chicago before we drove to The Winter Palace in Indiana (my condo). After a day of excursions in the heat and humidity we looked for a restaurant near the hotel.

Every interesting place either had a long wait or was closing. It was only 8:30, the herd grazes early there. In frustration we ended up at a dive across the street.

It was a place that tried to do everything–pizza, steak house, California cuisine–but did none well. I could barely stomach the jello-flavored gimlet at the Rock Bottom.

I’d forgotten about it until I happened by on my trip a few weeks ago. I knew better than to patronize it again. Spiritually, I was already there.

Because I’m broke I haven’t been home in two years. Twice I’ve purchased tickets only to cancel at the last minute forfeiting the fare. I realized too late I didn’t have money to cover the travel costs.

I was determined to go this time, even if by the skin of my teeth. To get the best airfare I left the day before my Social Security was to be deposited. I had $25 to live on for 24 hours. When I woke up the next morning in Chicago I paniced. I had $1, my balance online was zero. It was a time zone issue, by 9:00 a.m. I was solvent again.

I’d cashed in miles for a room that night at an airport Four Points. It had all the charm of the cinder blocks it was built with. There was a spirited discussion at check-in over running my card for “incidentals.” I said there would be none. The clerk was adamant until the charge did not go through. I had to sign a release accepting responsibility for charges I would be blocked from charging.

The Four Points would not have been my first choice in better times. I love good hotels and have stayed at The Grand in Berlin, The Goldener Hirsch in Salzburg, The Imperial and The Bristol in Vienna. London’s Park Lane would give me free upgrades and complimentary French 75’s in the lobby.

I was on a private island in the Maldives at the Soneva Fushi. And in Paris I stayed a few times at the Prince de Galles and once down the block at the Georges Cinq (or, as one pretentious queen called it, the George Vee.)

Down Soneva Fushi way.

In Chicago I’ve frequented the Conrad Hilton where Queen Lilibet visited in the 1950’s and been a guest at The Palmer House many times. Although its rooms are ordinary, it’s worth it for the spectacular lobby.

In route home each Christmas I stopped over at the Continental on North Michigan. After a frozen shopping spree I’d put on the complimentary robe and have a chicken pot pie in my room. At the Westin River North I had a fling with the lotto guy who called numbers on the local TV station. Lucky me.

My last glam stay in the city was when Ian Schrager first opened Public. It was the old Ambassadors East where I once rolled with Rodney.

The first ever was at the YMCA on a fifth grade class trip. In the days leading up to that outing I was excited beyond belief. Mother tried to reel me in but did encourage me to try something new since I was going somewhere I’d never been.

So at dinner in a cafeteria-style steak house, a forerunner to the Rock Bottom. I ordered my meat very rare. I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, I was 11. The joys of a steak saignant were not yet appreciated. Eating blood disgusted me.

Back home Mother asked me what I’d tried. I told her about the steak.  She responded, “well you didn’t have to go that far.”

Attendng my first Indiana same sex wedding.

Before I slept this trip, I went downtown to walk through the Loop. With my $25 I bought subway tickets, a bottle of cremant bourgogne and some cheese. I had $4 left so I thought of taking a slice of pizza back with me.

I was in line behind a woman and a young boy, obviously tourists. Under a 70’s helmet hairdo her thoughts raced from the thrill of being in the Windy City. She bubbled with questions for the servers. “Now the mashed potatoes, are they mashed?” Occasionally she’d glance at me to crack a joke or apologize for taking so long. I politely smiled.

During her endless banter I learned quite a bit: this was her first trip to Chicago; she was with her 10 year old grandson; the cab driver recommended the place; and, her husband couldn’t have the peppers. I did deadly eye rolls in my mind then remembered my first time and exhibited infinite patience.

We were the only customers there but it took 10 minutes to get to the register. I was shocked when she told the cashier she was paying for me too. Strangers don’t do that in the big city. I protested like I had the money of Bill Gates (while wondering if I had the give of a 6th Street bag lady). I thanked her genuinely then took the train back to the Four Points.

I believe the Lord never gives us more spare change than we can handle but this is ridiculous. I need a job. And just because I constantly reference the Joads doesn’t mean I’m willing to pick fruit. Although I might.

Entertaining the kids for a few minutes, traumatizing them for a lifetime.