I’mma Gonna Do Something!

Kathy was one of the few friends who saw my bedroom last year in transition purgatory. With a dismayed look she commented, “I would never have guessed the state of things from the photos.”

That was not by hazard. In focusing only on elements of design I wasn’t addressing overall living conditions. It was perpetual squalor. Especially on the bed that doubled as a work bench. Many nights I would roll over to feel the sharp pain of a staple gun in my back. Or sometimes the pain was from a stud finder–and not the good kind.

The pressures of the blog demanded that I keep posting results that were awesome! And a success!! Yes!!! I did it!!!! No one wants to read a bummer.

In reality I was spinning a project that evolved from the abstract, was fraught with a lack of money and skill, and plagued with numerous do-overs. I was uneasy describing it plus I couldn’t really photograph the perseverance. But persevere I did and finally I can go wide-angle. This time it is well and truly done. (Almost.)

My bedroom is a hodge-podge of things I’ve accumulated and loved through the years. They are a small portion of the larger inventory headed to the Antique Emporium. By whim these few items were given a reprieve to be used one last time.

I’ve always enjoyed the power of the unexpected in decorating, like small things in big rooms or big things in small rooms. It confuses the hell out of people: “what style is this?”

In retrospect, if I were to flatter myself with having a style, I would like to think it’s along the lines of a Joseph Cornell box. The juxtaposition of found objects that make you feel “aahhh.” He’s sui generis, however, and off-limits. There will never be another.

Then I thought of the Sir John Soane House in London. He was an eccentric collector who threw everything on the walls without much design or planning. There’s a cluttered sense to his messy presentation of high quality pieces. Sadly, my decision-making never rose to the level of choosing placement for the Hogarth or the Watteau.

 

In 1974 I went with friends to South Central Los Angeles. We’d read a newspaper article about this hidden gem called Watts Towers and were determined to find it.

We stayed with my friend Bob who I knew from Bloomington. He was the Curator of Education at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and felt it was his duty to familiarize himself with a local attraction he’d only read about. It still didn’t prevent him from continuously mumbling on the drive out, “I can’t believe you’re making me go into this neighborhood.” It had only been seven years since the Watts riots and this area of town was not exactly a day at the beach for locals.

Upon finding the towers, their incongruity did not disappoint. Strangely wonderful, they soared above their desolate surroundings evoking early concepts of space age design. Like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or Lucy and Ethel on top of the Empire State Building posing as Martians.

Watts Towers was the creation of Simon Rodia, a first generation Italian-American. They consist of 17 inter-connected towers that were added on as needed. They were made from steel rods that were covered with wire mesh and concrete. He embellished the wet concrete with pieces of broken pottery or glass that was either found or donated. The color scheme for each day’s work depended on pieces he had on hand.

Built on his private property from 1921-1954, the City of Los Angeles tried for decades to tear them down. When they failed to bust him on permit violations they went after him over stress conditions. The towers were so well constructed the process destroyed the City’s testing equipment.

Today Watts Towers is a state park. When he was once interviewed about his motivation for constructing the towers, all Simon Rodia could do was to keep repeating “I’mma gonna do something! I’mma gonna do something!”

Those who question my “style” baffle me. It implies it’s been copied or that it could be replicated again. Who would want to? But if I were to associate my thinking with anyone’s it would come closest to Mr. Rodia’s. The bedroom plan created itself as it happened. And it seemed to take 30 years.

To the great schools of 20th Century design like Bauhaus, Mid-Century Modern, and Hollywood Regency we should add Watts Tower. I hope that’s what my style is perceived as anyway. And not as Hamburger Mary’s.

*****

Tomorrow begins a four-part visit to my private bed chamber. Most guests don’t last fifteen minutes in there. Lucky you will have four days.

I’m ready for my long shot Mr. DeMille.

 

Mama Was a Rollin’ Stone, Part Three

Pat Henderson House. This was home to the foresisters of the gay liberation movement. It was the official gay headquarters for IU students and was known around the country as an openly gay collective. At the time most of the nation’s homosexuals, including Harvey Milk, chose to remain in the closet. To have a house labeled as gay, with five occupants who identified as gay men, was a very bold move.

There were growing pains, however. When a supposed lesbian started making out with a straight guy at one of the parties, there was an uproar from the purists. The offenders were thrown out and given a lifetime suspension.  (Tolerance had yet to be incorporated into the philosophy.)

Dale was instrumental in organizing the household as well as the movement on campus. He ran for the Student Senate on the Gay Revolutionary Party ticket and won.

As Daniel Webster was the Lion of the U.S. Senate, Dale was the Persian Cat of our student forum. He found the sessions monotonous and ineffective so he stopped attending. When the august body moved to expel him, Kitten reared, bared his claws and threatened a discrimination lawsuit against that farce of a litter box.

It’s how the Revolution was won: one heart, one mind at a time.

402 N. Park Street. This house felt like one of Jackie’s Georgetown homes. How a bunch of Speed Queens got their names on the lease is still a mystery.

For six weeks I lived with some hard core drag queens. I was fascinated by the non-stop camp, their obscure lingo, and the way they would riff on these complicated personalities they’d invented. It was so much fun until it dawned on me: it’s not a game, they really believe this shit. Although I remained friends with them, I got out quickly.

333 S. Lincoln. Today’s  Fox Hole was once the home to Bloomington’s legendary A-Hole. Little Miss Amanda Jones ran the last fun house of my college career in 1972. Amanda later shortened his name to the more arty, and more provocative, A-Hole.

I stayed in school as a means of supporting myself. By registering I remained eligible for grants, student loans and work-study jobs. Little effort went into academics, life was a constant stream of F’s and Incompletes.  The interminable senior year tolled on and on.

I earned at least three credits that fall semester because I was in a modern dance class with Dale and A-Hole. My attendance was perfect for this class because it was more about building friendships than schoolwork. As our final project we were asked to choreograph and then perform a dance involving negative space.

We chose the The Ikettes’s I’m Blue (The Gong Gong Song). To that gutsy blues beat we did a series of geometric shapes without touching and unified movements without being connected. The sight of three men in black tights doing an incongruous dance to a song no one had ever heard had our classmates laughing throughout. We received a hearty round of applause at the end and it taught me a valuable lesson: the more seriously I take things, the more thought I put into them, the funnier it will be.

After Christmas break my friends started leaving town. I followed a few weeks later.

 

401 E. Second Street. In the fall of 1973 I went back to IU to get the last six credits for my degree. I rented a basement apartment from this crabby woman who had carved her house into four units to gouge students. She came by everyday, ostensibly to vacuum the hall but really to snoop around. When I signed the lease she told me, “I know what goes on in this town and I won’t stand for half of it.” I was the perfect fit.

Mr. Sarah was my only friend left. He had recently been gifted a slightly used Ford Galaxy by his brother. It was as big as a barge but to have any vehicle was a luxury. We called it Cougar.

The Coug had a couple of problems. Like no brakes. Mr. Sarah rarely would go over 30 because he couldn’t make sudden stops. If he saw a sign or light ahead, the deceleration process would start half a block away. If he still was moving when he reached the intersection he would hit the emergency brake.

In the winter, having no heater made it very uncomfortable. Having no defroster made it very unsafe. But The Coug had a wide dashboard so Mr. Sarah would light a series of votive candles to take care of the windows. Like a lugubrious, holy flotilla on the Ganges, the candlelit Cougar slowly wended its way through the streets of the 47401.

My friend Tokyo (aka Ruth Roman, aka The Biblical Ruth) had grown up in Bloomington. He was away doing an internship but I knew his Mother and Aunt who lived close to campus. After I was hospitalized with my second case of hepatitis in two years, Peggy and Sissy started mothering me.

They invited me over for dinner once a week, told me stories and then sent me back with leftovers. They could have cared less that I was the town’s most notorious wild child. The sisters were thrilled to have someone to dote on.

Peggy was the firebrand and ringleader. Sissy was the Ethel Mertz. They’d lived in the area their whole lives and pronounced it “exparred” like the waitress at the motel. Peggy’s expression of incredulity was always “Well shit-fart.”

For years she had operated her own beauty shop. Peggy told of the time one of the town strumpets, who’d dyed her hair every color under the sun, came in and said she wanted to go back to her natural hue. “We had to take her in the back room and pull down her panties to see what her real color was.”

She still practiced her art by styling wigs for herself and Sissy. On the living room floor behind the plastic covered sofa flanked by the plastic covered table lamps, were about 15 head forms with freshly styled wigs ready to go. As a cultural reference to the Whirly Bird, a popular child’s helicopter toy, they proudly showed me the most recent addition to their collection: The Curly Bird. Those two women had no qualms about leaving work one day as a sensible brunette then coming back the next as a sultry red head.

Peggy worked in the University Registrar’s Office. At one dinner she told me she’d overheard a professor and staff member reviewing a student’s transcript. The professor remarked the student had been doing so well but that something had obviously happened in their life to cause them to suddenly do very poorly. After they put the folder in the stack to refile, Peggy took a look. “It was your file, doll-baby.”

By the skin of my teeth I graduated. When I told the landlady I was leaving mid-year she was furious. She yelled I was in violation of my lease, she was going to sue, she would see to it that I could never rent an apartment in Bloomington again. I handed her the keys.

A month later I was up late in San Francisco talking to Wena. I told him about the cranky landlady. He said she’d probably enjoy hearing from me so we placed a collect call from John Wilkes Booth. As we held the receiver to our ears we heard a resounding “NO!”

Wena then tried Pope John XXIII. Same result.

I tried one last time. The operator asked, “I have a collect call from Judas Iscariot, will you accept the charges?”The landlady screamed, “Operator! You should know better than to put a fucking call like that through!”

My college days were over.

 

 

Eviction Countdown: Day 12

I mentioned yesterday the bay windows. What I didn’t tell you was they had a western exposure and just how intense that sun was.

The first year I lived here alone I went for a spartan, fish bowl look in the front room. No window treatments. I had a white lacquered desk in one of the bays with a small stack of books on the corner. After about six months I moved the books for a routine dusting. They left an outline of pristine white on a larger field of dingy, yellow-white.  I realized I had to get something up in the windows.

My friend Bob worked at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art back in the 1970’s. The museum was just starting to blossom then and it was an exciting time for him. Once I was there and he introduced me to Chris Burden who was still relatively unknown. Other times he would tell me about dating Robin William’s secretary or how he picked up Joel Gray on Santa Monica Boulevard.

On another visit he showed me a Warhol Marilyn and several Irving Blum posters someone had given him. I ended up with the Jasper Johns poster. Even though I tried to protect it in the front room, just having the blinds open for a couple hours a day was enough to fade it. It’s damaged but still treasured.

About the same time Rags gave me a Red Grooms Doughnut Girl poster. I wanted to hang it in the kitchen so, to protect it, I had it laminated which severally affected its value. Who knew?

Cut me some slack, I was only 25.

12b

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POST SCRIPT

  Mark and Charley were watching Laura the other evening and they noticed my Eve Harrington lamp in the background. Both films were made by 20th Century Fox and the story I wanted to spread was that, because Liz bankrupted the studio with Cleopatra, they were forced to recycle props. Alas, both films were made years before Cleo so all we can conclude is they were really cheap.

 

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