Eviction Countdown: Day 4

Meet me at Henry's. With my newest best friend who I've known for 50 years.
Meet me at Henry’s. With my newest best friend who I’ve known for 50 years.

I spent the day visiting my brother who had just completed a brutal round of chemotherapy and then the evening with my best friend in Fort Wayne, Billy.

Billy owned the Corner House Salon where my Mother had her hair done every week of her life from the 1960’s until she died six years ago. She always called him Steve because that was how he was introduced to her. And she wasn’t one for playing games.

Billy’s first job in the 1950’s was at the city’s leading department store, Wolf & Dessauer, where the salon manager decided they already had one Billy and that his name would be Steve. It was like Upstairs Downstairs when Lady Marjorie named the new maid Sarah because she didn’t like the name Clemence.

Mother may have referred to him by his professional name but their friendship soon became anything but. Her visits to the Corner House were always at the end of the day so after closing she would go out for drinks or dinner with a  group from the shop led by Billy. Or sometimes it would just be the two of them There was a whole network of Rat Pack like cocktail lounges and restaurants around town and they knew them all.

For my Mother their excursions represented liberation from 18 years of living the nuclear family life. In this rock red conservative “City of Churches” they would do or say anything for a good time. When the first major porn movie came out, Behind the Green Door or I am Curious Yellow maybe, he took my Mother to see it. They laughed through the whole thing but snuck out a side door afterwards so they wouldn’t be seen.

When I became of age, I would occasionally go with them on their night club rounds. By then I was in living in Bloomington or San Francisco, however, and would only see him once or twice a year when I was home. If our schedules didn’t coincide we could go a couple of years without seeing each other. But I would hear about Billy every week when I called home.

Billy is the Andy Warhol of Fort Wayne, he knows everyone in town and never misses an event. And being of Warhol’s generation, both he and my Mother were somewhat starstruck. I think the movie star system was kind of the internet of their age, an innovation that marked them for life. But Billy took the obsession to the next level.

His house is full of memorabilia like his collection of autographed Oscar programs from the ceremonies he attended. Or his correspondence with Joan Fontaine and Lisa Gay (who, as everyone knows, was Debra Paget’s sister.) He’s always dropping interesting nuggets into the conversation, having dinner with George Cukor or being roommates with Mickey Hargitay when they were in art school. And he knows every B movie star of the 40’s and 50’s. His tidbits are always fascinating but I swear if I hear one more Sonja Henie story…

When my Mother died in 2009 Billy Steve said we should get together while I was still here. We had dinner the next week. Since then I’ve spent several months a year in Fort Wayne and speak to or see him every day I’m in town.

We share many interests and he’s always fun to hang out with. When we’re not laughing he’s someone I can confide in and tell anything to. He could care less. All he ever wants to talk about is himself.

 

At Zesto, our favorite ice cream place. Billy's mind is sharp as a tack although lately I've noticed some confusion with the concept of "seasons."
At Zesto, our favorite ice cream place. Billy’s mind is sharp as a tack although lately I’ve noticed some confusion with the concept of “seasons.”

Next: Eviction Countdown Day 3, The Whole World is Watching
Previous: Eviction Countdown Day 5, Je Suis Nobody
The Complete Countdown
The complete saga, From the Beginning

Sensitivity Training

 

Such sweet facades masking such depraved minds. With Jim and Marilyn on campus.
Such sweet facades masking such depraved minds. With Jim and Marilyn on campus.

In my Margaret Mead mode I remained obsessed with the queenie old school claque. I even moved in with them for about a month. Then, one day I realized “it’s not a game, they really believe this shit.” As funny as they were, they were really quite offensive. There was a heavy strain of misogyny in their humor, like the buffoonery of breasts, that I didn’t like.  So I backed off but remained friendly with them.  I needed good turn-outs for my parties, after all.

What intrigued me more than their acts were the superficial accoutrements they thought made you a woman: hair, makeup, fabric selection. It made no sense that genitalia dictated whether you could wear eyeliner or not. It either looked good or it didn’t. Being young and androgynous, I made a spectacle of myself. Everyone loved it. And once I had an audience there was no stopping me.

Jim and I hooked up daily, usually in the evening in Dunn Meadow with a bottle of Boones Farm.  He tried to nurture my appreciation for poetry but it was like jazz, I just didn’t get it. So he brought me along slowly with things like Bird on a Wire. I got that.

In turn I offered up the Stone’s latest single Wild Horses. He agreed that it was a beautiful song and reluctantly conceded it had “a certain” poetry to it. The Stones were more commercial than Leonard Cohen so we would hear Wild Horses on jukeboxes, on the radio, wafting from stereos out of open windows. It became the backdrop for the summer.

There was a sexual tension in our relationship that both of us were too naive and too shy to act upon. It was strange having such a strong infatuation that was never consummated. He later had an affair with a kid he fell for on the first night. What sealed the deal was when they woke up in the morning and he saw my name tattooed on the guy’s arm. Our relationship was kind of sick. And not in the fun way the kids use that word today.

He was working on a novella about me called “Image of Veta.” He insisted that I was going to become a star. I asked, “doing what?” I couldn’t sing, couldn’t act, I didn’t think I had any talent.

He replied, “your talent is being yourself. Become famous and the rest will follow.”  It was a formula used successfully by Madonna 10 years later.

Where Fort Wayne's elite meet
Where Fort Wayne’s elite meet

Jim left Bloomington for Fort Wayne. I moved to San Francisco. We hadn’t known each other growing up but Fort Wayne was my home too. We would see each other whenever I was there.

When he needed money Jim would tap into his local funeral home connection. The director loved his poems so Jim would dumb it down and churn out pap like  “autumn’s road to winter’s stillness.” Even I knew it was bad. We would take his earnings and the latest edition of Funeral Memories down to our favorite bar, Henrys. Sitting in the mahogany booth we drank and laughed as we read the poems to each other.

Jim was feeling the limitations of poetry. We both wanted more.

***

The Story of Jim