Era’s End

The first piece I remember buying with my Grandmother was this clover design porcelain covered dish. She taught me to look for the red maker’s mark because it might be Prussian, which she considered the best. I always assumed this one was until 50 years later I looked again and saw, to my horror, it was only Limoges.

Grandmother was a serious antique collector. From the age of 10 until I moved to San Francisco I would attend auctions with her. She’d pack our lunch, take her knitting and stay for the day.

She always sat towards the front and a little to the right of the podium so she could be seen. The auctioneers knew her well. When an item she was interested in came up they would glance at her as they yodeled incomprehensible garble. I’m not sure exactly what Grandmother’s mysterious consent gesture was but the auctioneer knew. She was one of the few bidders who were named in the call. “I have Mrs. Kimmer at 55!”

Unlike her grandson, she was a penny-pincher and knew her limits. Her assent motion may have been imperceptible but when the bids went too high she’d shake her head dramatically while mouthing the word “No!” She seemed offended by the price, as if it was the most disgusting thing she’d ever heard.

Wheelchair access in Aisle 5 also allowed for additional performance space. Thank you ADA!

I sometimes bemoan the fact that in the second coming of my San Francisco life I don’t have the connections I had the first time around. There used to be parties, dinners, and openings every day of the week. And in the years I hung out with David Gillette we could be stacked 3 or 4 deep over JFK with nightly invites.

So it was a great thrill two weeks ago to be asked at the last minute to the Nob Hill Theatre closing day barbecue. My friend got us in for free and we had a leisurely stroll through the premises. I particularly enjoyed the go-go boys in their stretch terry hot pants.

Fucking wall of fame.

Behind the stage was a door I’d never seen before. Outside it were circular steps leading down to a deck and the entrance to the owners residence. The apartment, which supposedly had been featured in Architectural Digest, could only be accessed through the theater. Very La Cage aux Folles. Having Mom over for dinner while they screened Seven in a Barn must have been an interesting evening.

The back of the property abutted the former Williams-Sonoma Mail Order patio where we once found the California Bay Laurel doused in dog piss. And, yes, abutment is the proper term for discussing the physical attributes of a gay porn theater.

In addition to the closing day festivities, my connection (who was empowered with price negotiation status) took me on a private tour of their Touch Our Junk sale yesterday.  All the glory hole panels had been sold by the time I got there but there were still stripper poles, autographed porn star 8×10’s and half priced lube to be had.

Skilled performers on stage expertly worked both the lip and the tongue.

In 1996 I took Mother on a Jackie O Getaway to Manhattan. We saw Zoe Caldwell in Master Class, took a long walk through Central Park by the 1040 Fifth Avenue condo, ate oysters at Grand Central, marched through Bergdorfs  and attended the preview of The Jackie Estate Sale at Sotheby’s. I left only one bid, an excessive $1100 for the monogrammed cocktail shaker. The eventual winner paid about $6500.

I did not get shut out at the Nob Hill sale yesterday though. I scored an original Justin Simpson painting “Spring” from the 2008 Men of Wine Collection. Done in a sickening Lawrence Welk teal, it has the unsettling thematic quality of a Keane painting (minus the eyes) with just a soupcon of Linda Blair’s Excorist menace thrown in.

One can almost see Grandmother doing her phantom “No!”

 

The Joy of Man’s Desiring

Ecce homo, you homo.

I blame my financial problems on Lucille Ball. When I was sick as a child I would lie on the couch and watch I Love Lucy reruns. For Lucy, money was just an obstacle to be dealt with at some point. It was not the most important thing in life. Ideas were.

America was sympathetic to her financial struggles. I was captivated by her imagination and optimism. If she needed a deep freezer for a side of beef, it would be delivered and installed before ever thinking about how she’d pay for it.

Adopting her nonchalant attitude has created many hills and valleys in my life. After the abuses of the 1970’s, my credit score was in Death Valley. When I received an unsolicited charge card from Bergdorf Goodman in 1981 it was completely unexpected.

Bergies was the nation’s most exclusive retailer and Jackie’s favorite store. I fantasized she’d put up one of her watches as collateral, how else could I have gotten the account? I didn’t get to New York often and they only did one catalog a year but I was still able to max out the account with a major purchase every now and then

Detail of the hand painted silk.

San Francisco’s most exclusive retailer at the time was Wilkes Bashford where my friend Cass worked. She was Wilkes’ left nut for years and, at times, his right one too. She swung both ways.

We were in Paris once and she snuck me into a Jean-Paul Gaultier show. The models paraded around in such exaggerated slouches, the backs of their heads were practically sliding down their cracks. It was the mid-90’s and the anti-smoking campaign was at its most rabid. M. Gaultier pointedly made each model puff away on a Camel as they strutted. It was quite dramatic.

I knew the collections created press and brand recognition for the designers. But I wondered why merchandise in stores was rarely as bizarre as what was in the shows.

Cass said it was artistic license, over-emphasizing what the couturier was thinking for the season. Whether it was color palette, shoulder padding or a key accessory, it was exploited to the point of absurdity on the models. The same design elements would be on both runway and rack, just in varying degrees.

This year’s conclave of Jesi return to the stage to see who will wear the thorns.

In the late 80’s we both were working in New York and met for tea in The Palm Court at the Plaza. As we finished Cass said, “let’s go next door and march through Bergdorf’s.”

Bergdorf Goodman is a holy experience and, like most religions, you either get it or you don’t. They’re so ahead of the game you come across items you’ve never seen before and wonder if you even like them.  They linger in your mind, haunt you until you buy them based only on gut feeling. Talk about a leap of faith.

Such was the case with a $1500 Swiss blanket I wanted to show Cass. It was one of a half-dozen uniquely hand painted ones in the home department.  They reminded me of art in a Phillip Johnson lobby: abstract. splashy and colorful set against the clean modern lines of the building.

Cass was supportive but noncommittal. She knew it was a matter of conviction and ultimately up to me. So I bought it, came to truly love it but could never find the right place for it. Until Palm Springs when I realized it belonged on the wall where Phil would have wanted it.

Last week I rehung it as the backdrop for my Porno Jesus Portrait. The artwork is from the same junk store gallery, Finders Keepers, in Fort Wayne where I bought my naive winterscape. I gaze at it often thinking about who painted it, why they painted it and what the hell was going through their mind.

Butt Crack Jesus confers with Gun Control Jesus backstage. GCJ’s slogan: shoot cum not guns.

Working with the painting put me in the mood for a real-time redeemer in the flesh. On Sunday I took off for Golden Gate Park and the 39th Annual Hunky Jesus Contest. This year’s winner was a little Puerto Rican pepperpot who won over the crowd by tossing rolls of paper towels. Who says we don’t have an inspirational President?

After a taxing week of interior decoration, it was great being outdoors on a beautiful, sunny day. Spiritual (but not carnal) congress was achieved and I feel I can carry on for another year.

Here’s hoping the Easter Bunny didn’t shit in your basket.

Easter in San Francisco

 

Pilgrimage On the 75% Off Trail

"The Kennedy" swimsuit from Barneys. Couldn't resist.
“The Kennedy” swimsuit from Barneys. Couldn’t resist.

After the success of last winter’s Manhattan shopping blitz I decided to take advantage of the low rates again and do another overnight. There were complications.

In the residual moving mess I live in I was able to locate a winter coat. But no gloves, scarves, or ear protection. I had to brave the elements without them.

Then, when I started scoping out the merchandise at Barneys, I realized my established shopping strategy no loner works. The deeply discounted winter fashions that translated easily to San Francisco life were worthless for Palm Springs. There was hardly anything I could wear here.

Still, I was able to have Pemaquids at the Oyster Bar and paid full price for a bathing suit at Barneys. You can’t have too many in the desert, the pool party invites are going to start flooding in any day now. And I took advantage of the 75% off at Bergdorfs to pick up a couple of accessories.

This was the first trip from my new home. In order to appreciate where I live I need the ability to get in and out of town quickly and conveniently. So far The Springs has passed the test. I even hailed a cab on the street at 5:00 in the morning. Who knew?

The heavier, darker leathers of urban life have yielded to the more pastel hides of the Coachella Valley.
The heavier, darker leathers of urban life have yielded to the more pastel hides of the Coachella Valley.

***

The Last Temptation of Me

Halston Wept

The Derby Hats were nothing Roy would have produced in his Bergdorf salon but in the land of Walmart shoppers you have to give them credit for trying. And I do.

(Click any photo to open slide show.)

Next: The Great Un-Quashed
Previous: When You’re Sitting Back in Your Rose Pink Cadillac
The complete saga, From the Beginning

Contact: ellistoellis@gmail.com

I Feel Good

Like I knew that I would.

So relevant. The same tile dude who did the Oyster Bar did the Admissions Hall on Ellis Island.
So relevant. The same tile dude who did the Oyster Bar did the Admissions Hall on Ellis Island.

Tuesday was strenuous mainly because I left the apartment at 5:00 am. I’m always afraid I’m going to oversleep on these early morning flights so sleep comes in fitful, 20 minute spurts. I might have got an hour in.

I was exhausted all day but started to snap out of it as we made our approach into La Guardia. We were close to touching down when the poor guy in front of me accidentally hit the call button.

I’ve seen this before and I think at this point in the flight only the lead attendant can get up to answer it. Usually it comes with a school marm scowl or some other kind of pissed off passive aggressiveness.

He was signalling her that it was a mistake and was apologizing profusely. She came anyway and was understanding about it. With a flourish that reminded us we were only a couple of miles from Broadway she exclaimed, “thank gaawd everyone is okay.”

The urban energy hit me the minute I was off the jet bridge. That chip on their shoulder, make you wrong effort New Yorkers do to engage you. At first it seems rude but then you realize there’s not much behind it. It’s just a nervous form of high anxiety communication that comes with population density. I think it’s been proven in lab rats.

On the bus into Grand Central there was another reminder why I love New York. A boy sprawled out on the seats in front of me listening to his iPod. He looked Russian (the island is crawling with Russkies), so languid and luscious. In any other city he would be a standout, in Manhattan he’s kind of the norm.

The Chrysler Building. I always wonder if the blue panels are original, they look like a 1960's remodel.
The Chrysler Building. I always wonder if the blue panels are original, they look like a 1960’s remodel.

Walking down 42nd Street to the hotel there were more appealing boys. Arabs, Europeans, Jews, Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Asians–they all had this wonderful give that ethnicity wasn’t the most important thing about them. When I think of all the cultural and political strife around the world the solution just seems so obvious to me: homosexuality. Or at least the way I practice it.

My hotel was a Westin I’d stayed in a couple of years ago after they’d just taken it over from Leona. It was kind of a dump back then but it now had the full brand treatment: heavenly bed, heavenly shower, and hellish room service prices. With my last ounce of energy I decided to go out to eat.

My new friends, the Pemaquids of Maine.
My new friends, the Pemaquids of Maine.

I walked over to the Oyster Bar for dinner and a cocktail. I enjoyed my Manhattan so much I had a second one. After overtipping I walked back feeling toasty and nice. Sugar and spice.

Sleeping was not a problem but forcing myself out of bed Wednesday morning took some work. I had coffee, checked my bag and walked 20 blocks to Barneys. The temperature was a “feels like” 17 and even with gloves my hands froze.

I took my time perusing the merchandise, and the warmth, on all eight floors. I was drawn to things like a gray wooly mammoth Givenchy sweater vest with fluorescent orange trim but realized it was probably not age appropriate.

The real prize at Barneys was the clerk on the first floor. 6’3″, sexy in his skin-tight black sweater and pants. His head was shaved and his skin had a natural gleam, no makeup. But I would swear on a pair of Marilyn Miglin Super Sweepers he was wearing false eyelashes. They were so long and so black it was like he wanted them to look fake. And they did, a stark contrast to his handsome face. Kind of an updated version of Louise Nevelson.

The find. At $560 I'll wait and take my chances at the season ending clearance sale.
The find. At $560 I’ll wait and take my chances at the season ending clearance sale.

Over at Bergdorf’s I spent an hour in home furnishings then I crossed the street to the Men’s Store. I loved a Matisse-like cutout beach shirt that was too expensive. There was also a pair of Tom Ford red velvet high tops that were stunning. Even at half price, too much.

I did end up buying a couple of shirts at 75% off. On the walk down Fifth Avenue I also picked up a Warhol dance step t-shirt for $10. In essence my mission was accomplished, I had something tangible to bring back with me. The real treasure, however, was just the thrill of being in Manhattan.

Cobwebs vanquished, I’m ready to get on the good foot.

What's not to love? Bergdorf's window.
What’s not to love? Bergdorf’s window.

Previous: Clearing the Cobwebs
The complete saga, From the Beginning

Clearing the Cobwebs

As we endure the interminable wait for the ending of Mad Men, I think of Peggy and Don and all the things she has learned from him. Personally, the only finale I will be satisfied with is his complete subjugation to her. But, of the many tricks she’s learned, my favorite is that they go to the movies when they need to clear their heads. Me? I prefer to go to Bergdorf Goodman.

My affinity for the store dates back to the late 70’s when my finances were in such shambles no store in their right mind would issue me credit. Bergdorf’s did and I accepted their card as a cosmic sign that I belonged.

Shopping there leaves me with a feeling of exhilaration. Most stores hit you at the door with displays that say “you don’t know what you want but THIS IS IT!!!” Bergdorf’s approach is more “we got it, you figure it out.” It’s this process of discovery I enjoy. Plus the quality is so good it’s pretty hard to make a mistake.

Department stores usually capitalize on trends when a designer spots something new or fresh on the street. Corporate meetings are held and studies are conducted. Tiny, pre-teen Laotian hands are then lined up to do the delicate stitching. After several months preparing the marketing campaign, the shipping of mass quantities begins. The item hits the store to the fanfare of “Look What’s New!” The arty kids see it and think, “oh yeah, we did that a year ago.”

Bergdorf’s feels different. Their production schedule may be just as lengthy but their merchandise always appears unique and challenging. Maybe they are more nimble because they aren’t a chain.

They are also not afraid to take chances (see above re: my credit). The store’s reputation for excellent taste makes them easy to trust. Do I really need a pair of crotchless ski pants? If Bergdorf is carrying them maybe I do.

The Halston note
The Halston note

Whenever I visit I’m exposed to new designers I’ve never heard of. Bergdorf’s knows talent. After all, Halston got his start here. And Jackie was a customer for decades. What’s not to love?

Still it’s hard to justify cross-country shopping when Manhattan is so expensive. If you are willing to travel at certain times of year, however, it can be affordable. Those times would be any of the days in mid to late January.

These two-day trips are completely dependent on the weather and the airlines cooperating. Day 1 is consumed by flying time and zone changes. You no more finish your breakfast sandwich than, theoretically, it’s time for dinner. I often end up ordering the over-priced room service burger at 10:00 pm to conserve energy and fool the body clock.

That energy is needed for Day 2 when you force yourself up at 7 am (4 am California time) to find coffee, shower, and walk over for the 10:00 opening. There’s a five hour window before you need to return to the airport. You can sleep on the way home (maybe).

So, having secured cheap airfare and a very cheap rate at the Westin, I’m going cobweb clearing.

 

***

The Jackie Obsession