An Associate Professor’s 111th Dream

I hope that was an empty bottle, George. You can’t afford to waste good liquor.
Not on your salary. Not on an associate professor’s salary.
Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

At midnight on Mick Jagger’s birthday in 1972 I waited for Deene in front of the St. Regis Hotel. We’d been to the Garden to see the Stone’s perform the last concert of their tour. We attended separately so planned to rendezvous afterwards at her hotel.

Deene’s father booked the room for her when she heard the group would stay there. She picked up this tidbit giving Keith a massage in his hotel room after the Indianapolis concert.

Although I’d been to see her a couple of times, that night I could not get past the front door. Not only was the St. Regis hosting the Stones, they were throwing Mick’s birthday bash on their rooftop as well. Security was tight.

Deene ordered room service.

From the sidewalk I watched the swells arrive while waiting for Deene. There was no one interesting until this tiny figure alighted from her limo. She was swathed in a charmeuse cocktail dress void of adornment. Whatever breeze there was in the July heat caught the fabric and made it billow on her 100 pound frame. A deeply saturated apricot, the dress was exquisite.

Ascending the stairs the woman acknowledged us with a wary half-smile and the attitude of someone who’d seen it all. Being Jackie’s sister, she probably had.

A simple evening at home with the things she loved: her fabrics, antiques, and daughter. In that order.

Lee Radziwill’s death this week marked the end of an era for certain social graces. She exemplified the upper classes love for glamorous cocktails. When the Princess offered, “you’ll have a vodka won’t you,” it came with layers of codependent enabling. It was tempered by her Forrest Gump-like presence in high society’s perpetual 20th century cocktail party.

When the cocktail fad started in the 20’s and 30’s she would have seen her parents cavorting amongst the Fred Astaire crowd. With a Moderne backdrop, they pursued the most esoteric liquors and the most elaborate concoctions with the most exotic names. To stay atop this ever-changing scene was a mark of true status.

In the 40’s and 50’s when cocktails became more middle class, the elite hung out at their clubs. With their casual attitude towards working they acted as if they could drink anytime, anywhere, without any consequences. Hit and run accident? Burned down the guest house? The attorneys will handle that.

The first few decades of the craze the downside to drinking was never mentioned. Like the billion Muslim women who all voluntarily “choose” to wear the hijab, no one ever seemed to have a problem with alcohol. Then in the 1960’s the perils were discussed openly. And treatment programs were developed.

In the era of recognizing alcoholism, Princess Radziwill could be found floating on her perfumed barge down de Nile. Usually with her bestie, the shit-faced booze hound Truman Capote.

Rumored to have done a couple of stints in rehab, it doesn’t seem she ever stopped drinking. In the clip of her offering the vodka her subtext is clear: “go ahead, one won’t hurt. You’re hip, you know these things.” Her tone is as smooth as that silk dress she wore.

My life with liquor has been checkered. In Dad’s family there was beer when the men went bowling but none was kept in the house. My Grandma, though, always smelled like the essence of Strohs. With a top note of stale Parliaments and Jungle Gardenia. We didn’t talk about any of that.

My other Grandmother led the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union. While being an unrelenting advocate. she neither challenged nor coerced those who disagreed with her. Her example and infinite patience she felt would eventually win out.

My parents were light social drinkers when I was growing up. More urgency was added in my teenage years.

Then there’s my boozing. Sadly, word count prevents me from elaborating on the topic in this piece. I can, however, mention hooch’s role in decorating my kitchen.

The loneliest part of kitchen cabinetry is the cupboard that juts out above the refrigerator. Sometimes it holds liquor but usually it’s just junk. It’s always under appreciated, never decorated. Until now.

Leafing through a box I found one of Jackie’s White House liquor bills. The perfect piece to hang in the lonely corner.

I cherish these kinds of historical documents/perverse curios. Visitors can now study the fuel that ran Camelot (in addition to the “B12” injections administered by Dr. Feelgood). And schoolchildren passing through are given an important lesson too.

How can they ever hope to understand our nation’s past if they don’t know what our First Ladies drank?

 

 

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

 

Back Pages

How could something that was worthless 45 years ago still be worthless today? In the mind of a collector this should never happen. The mere act of preserving something fragile for that many decades should add some value.

In the case of tabloid newspapers it doesn’t. My stack of Jackie National Enquirers, International Tattlers. and Weekly World News that cost me 10 to 50 cents back in the day don’t even fetch the $4.95 of a current issue.

After all that effort, the archivist in me couldn’t allow them to be tossed or destroyed. I thought of salvaging them as bathroom art but who among us wants to see another door papered with Jackie Kennedy covers?

Then I decided rather than focus solely on her I would celebrate the toilet bowl genre of journalism that fed her celebrity so effectively.  There are a few Jackie front pages included but they are among more hard-hitting pieces like: the tallest known traveling salesman in the world at 8′ 2″; the woman who sprouted porcupine quills; and, the first ever pictures of the Antichrist.

To honor her lifelong struggle of protecting herself and her children from the hordes, Privacy Film was used to cover the articles. And the borders are neon yellow to warn of potential hazard: there are some dangerous ways of thinking out there.

It’s fascinating to think how appalled this refined woman must have been to have her gawkish likeness on two-bit tea towels and coffee cups. Then how she was turned into a cartoon character for the tabloids by the Kennedy publicity machine. They had no problem using her because it only increased the power of the family brand among the masses. Plus it gave her a few bargaining chips in life.

It’s also hard to reconcile that figure with the one who studied art with Bernard Berenson and debated philosophy with Andre Malraux; who was the only one ever to convince the French to temporarily lend the Mona Lisa; whose influence brought the Temple of Dendur to the Met; and, who would charge clothing to Onassis’ haute couture accounts then immediately sell them to second hand shops to pad her cash on hand. You gotta do, girl, what you gotta do. It was the perversity of how she got ahead, and not so much idolatry, that appealed to me.

That was the inspiration for starting the collection 50 years ago. I was so much older then I’m younger than that now.