Those who know me really well wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I would break into Hell to steal the black off the devil rather than go without six tonnes of it painted in wings on my eyelids at any given time, even when weather like this melts it over my face. The reason being that eye make-up is for me the point at which all of my life and loves converge: from the 1920s to Mods to Boy George to the spectre of Glamour that haunts the white nights of all fatalists and sentimental junkies.
I have so far resisted making any typical malicious Shitsville comments while the guest of me old, old and obviously painted aunties, who are potty as ducks. From noon to three they sit in a row (like Russian dolls) on a tiny couch in the parlour, lit only by the glinting off a lot of Chinky crap and the collected vertebrae of incendiary Marxist mice. The blinds are down; the tea is eternal; they attempt to feed me dry fruitcake and those biscuits with clocks on them while stretching their minds to the utmost limits summoning from memory the unique habits of their old dogs Chi-Chi, Pick and Henry.
The richness of the dust in the room can give you the impression that you are walking on thick, lustrous carpets, where in fact there are only floorboards. Meantime the fronds of mould in the bathroom are so abundant, a real estate agent might try to pass off the shower as a terrarium with a water feature that trickles through misty knolls and fields of glistening mushrooms; it’s hard to know whether the windows are amber-tinted or the glass has simply been economically begrimed by the movement of Time. But because of this somewhat lax attitude towards godliness, my aunts’ house has a truly endearing as well as physically sticky quality; the air itself is as dark blue and as kitsch and beautiful as the Uncanny. (The beer-bottle light and the sparkling dust also means you don’t have to Irish up your coffee with as much as usual before you start to feel like you’re under it.)
I have spent a couple of days now digging through the dust of the centuries to look for Faberge eggs and my great-great-great aunt Alexandra Shitsville’s wedding ring: it has a black-and-white setting famous for looking like chicken-shit, but apparently your fingers could be crushed under the weight of the diamonds, so it will be worthy of my consideration when I find it.
But it will take me a while to find anything at all (even the light switch) in the tiger shadows of six-foot potted palms & the fragrant dregs of the last bunch of roses Aunt Olga ever received (in 1933). I could be here for weeks.
I happen to know that when it’s warm, lamé stinks like the cages at the zoo and ivory bangles emit the scent of semen, and so for kicks (in the downtimes, i.e. between sherry after supper and my whisky nightcap) Aunt Tatiana and I both moon around in long, backless dresses smelling like sexual pre-history and trailing gold flecks through the rooms. It occurs to me now that what was once probably a tasteful bourgeois parlour slathered with carnage and the spoils of the Empire looks a lot like the interior of the big Biba store back in 1973 & this I really don’t mind at all.
Dr. V is really Mother’s doctor, inane, as most doctors tend to be, in between taking shots of morphine. In fact he birthed me and prophetically claimed, “She’s perfect!” where other doctors would be content to note a child had the correct number of unwebbed fingers and toes. Dr. V has a famous approach to patient care, which is to blame for Mother’s longevity. Loosely summarising, Dr. V’s theory positions dipsomaniacs and cynical youths such as myself as standing at the precise intersection of a psychological, physiological and spiritual malaise. As any fool knows, repressed libidinous desires lead to ill health; without relief, ill health, having in effect “hollowed out” the patient’s cells, will let the fulfilling effects of all constructive social, political and spiritual activities simply flow out, as through a sieve, into a void. The body, perceiving thus, cries out for another airy kind of sustenance, then depending on the type of initial repression, the subject attempts to “stop up” this gap, but only develops a boundless appetite: for food, drink, dope, tobacco, abnormal sex, self-obsession, murder, theft, or whatever the case may be.
“However,” says Dr. V, in scientific tones, by isolating and then relieving all of the original symptoms, with a complete, if complex, combination of modern medicines and products to aid mental and physical exercises – starting at bottom with Eno’s Fruit Salts and Barbitol for sleeping, then varieties of rubberised girdles and electrified massage devices, and so on. And then, once all of the “delicate and spiritualised machinery” of the physical body has been worked out and a fix applied, the subject will experience the “fullness” of health, develop “normal reactions” to constructive [Christian-Capitalist] activity and hence the natural cessation of his (or her) mania.
“Criminal activity was once thought to be incurable,” said the Doctor, and so on, and so forth, a whole theory worked out and expounded upon across three consecutive half-hour sessions (at $70 per half hour), at the bottom of which was a quite sincere and originally harmless belief in the benefits of Eno’s Fruit Salts. “O ye gods of health—.”
I had gone to see him on the Friday after the vegan thing, afraid I’d become all too used to weeping. In the end he said I simply had to gain some Rest & Perspective. Obviously Dr V was unaware that I’ve already had long years of Rest (i.e. uninterrupted idleness) and have gained a very long Perspective indeed due in no small part to the telescoping properties of real Texas peyote, which can make everything come to a neat, sharp point then wink once, like a boat in the sun before it disappears over the horizon line.
It is no coincidence that every time I feel close to having a nervous breakdown I think about going back to Texas. When Dr. V recommended Rest & Perspective I immediately thought of Mineral Wells, TX, (“Where America drinks its way to health”) which I passed through on my way to Shitsville last year. Picture postcards show downtown Mineral Wells dominated by the The Baker Hotel, “a famous spa and health resort”, with 14 storeys and over 400 rooms. The Baker was opened in 1929, shut up in 1972, and has since been empty and rotting. It’s supposed to be haunted, for the benefit of the few tourists who still will fag to Mineral Wells, TX, without the promise of a first class resort (meanwhile everything is bigger in Texas and everywhere in Texas is supposed to be haunted), when I would have thought the most frightening thing is that anyone would lock up an Art Deco glory and let it rot.
You can find some really awful, digitally blurred photographs of the interior of The Baker Hotel on the internet. They’re awful because the artless photographer has set their digital camera to “Black-and-White” and under-exposed the pictures, in order to convey a sense of decrepitude and hauntedness in James Cameron’s Titanic-at-the-heart-of-the-ocean style. In short, it’s cheap sentiment, where a good photographer will have some sensitivity to subtleties and can let an image speak for itself.
In decent pictures you can see there’s a particular shade of faded-out art deco aqua-mint-green everywhere: on the far wall of the lobby beside the elevator doors; the bathroom fixtures; the lie-down, strap-in exercise machines (still there) and a fountain near the empty swimming pool.
I got stuck the other day trying to convey this particular shade of Texas-tourist green to a shop girl, who would say things like, “I like the way this jacket is… ‘cropped’ at the back,” and then appeared bewildered when I said, “I think it’s revolting… I’ll buy it.” This in a shop where the music shouted some repellent number, “I’M A FASH-SHON SLUT!” (I’d prefer respectful silence). Guess is a brand that makes that perennial oxy-moron: good quality trash “fashions” – without irony – and it’s incredible tasteless shit, but every now and then they’ll come up with something that I adore precisely because it’s truly awful. The type of green I long for in eyeshadow reminds me of – empty swimming pools, Texas Motels and caravans with 70s print lino, plywood cupboard doors and bathroom sinks painted to look ‘hygienic’, and even though there’s no worse a scent than mint (unless it’s something fecal like ocean breeze), when I was in Texas, in my fagged mind the shade somehow became associated with relief.
That is, respite from carrying a pair of black lungs through the shimmering, baking desert, trying to breathe through a screen of golden dust and always struggling to focus my poor eyes through vintage Dior pink sunglasses in order to read un-syntactical evangelical signs apparently written in mock-biblical pidgin (“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness”) and ads for Coca-Cola, all faded to a nostalgic brown, on the outskirts of a one-horse town famous for their “Chicken Shack.”
The Baker Hotel depressed me no end, until I heard somewhere that the Baker Hotel was almost a copy of the New Arlington Hotel (Hot Springs, Arkansas) and that the Arlington has been maintained through the years. So I high-tailed it to Arkansas when I could (stopping at the famed Chicken Shack on the way).
The New Arlington was built in 1924, replacing the second Arlington Hotel, which had burned down the year before. A souvenir picture postcard shows the dramatic event. Then, when I got there, glory of glories – there was Coca-Cola! Air-conditioning! A pool with water and chlorine in it…!
The lobby of the New Arlington is yellow, and at either end is an alcove, one is the “lobby bar” and the other is the band stand – and the alcove walls are painted with fanciful murals: jungle scenes in Henri Rousseau fashion, cheeky monkeys and juicy oranges, glossy leaves, big flowers that look like oversize daisies, impossible birds, and that very particular shade of aqua-mint deco green… A Rousseau-like jungle scene being quite spectacularly out of place and unexpected in the arid cultural backwaters of the US, and for that reason one of the most fantastic, beautiful things I have ever seen.
From experience you can sit at home and not meet anyone; or you can go out and meet people, and provided you apply yourself to this form of masochism over a period of time you will meet more and more people, and in time you will have met so many people you may find yourself wishing that you had stuck at home alone by yourself afterall. If of course you have a glorious home filled with riches such as I do this last won’t be such a stretch for you. I have six bathrooms, one is tarted up like the red bathroom in Graceland, one is original (with Palm trees on the walls) and one has a puzzle of black-and-white tiles so I can pose topless in front of the full floor-to-ceiling vanity mirror like a Beardsley character.
The theatre which employs my exceptional talents also employs actors doing acting, dumpy wailing strumpets whose papa’s may or may not be someone important in Mushroom records, and converts to a cinema during black weeks, so that I have seen the best and worst of humanity on stage and off. One fine example of theatre-in-the-round occurred yesterday, when a very fine young gent and his awful, boy-thin, bobble-headed, orange-coloured girl chum deposited themselves in Stalls, row AA. We were showing a Greta Garbo double, Grand Hotel (1932) and Ninotschka (1939), while the girl friend practised a particularly charming trick she had, in her boyfriend’s trouser pocket, involving a hooked forefinger and double-jointed thumb. Grand Hotel is the one starring Garbo as a ballerina and Joan Crawford as a loose stenographer and John Barrymore as a gentleman thief and Garbo saying, “I vant to be alo-o-one…” Meanwhile the deco interior of the Grand Hotel is supposed to represent a kind of vortex of madness, tho I cannot see it myself, as half of my life is deco, all spatial interferences and mirrored walls and see-through chairs and horizontal window panes that look like mail slots and porcelain deers and greyhounds entwined and the “Spirit of Freedom” flying woman on the bonnet of my yellow Rolls Royce, but I digress. Ninotschka is about a communist party leader who comes to Paris and falls in love with a man who represents everything she is supposed to hate, which is true of most relationships I think. Anyway it was definitely true in the case of these two, who must have a fine time together, pushing each other out of bed on their bad days and smacking each other over the head on their good days.
From an opportune wallstanding position in the cosy darkness I could hear them talking. It turns out the girl was French. Half of what she said was swearwords and the only English words she knew were swearwords. There was so much dust in the air it smelled like chalk. So ‘Caitlin’ got sentimental in the darkness and the silver light, which reminded her of… Then she began to wax lyrical on the existence of her elderly mother. The more she went on the more the mother sounded like a bit she’d once seen in a film, possibly set in Russia. Anyway it had definitely occurred to her that having a mother was a good thing, as though it made her unique. So she would impress this point upon him.
She was sunk very low in her seat leaning with her cheek against the boy’s arm. There was a distinct hum every time she exhaled through her nose. ‘Mama’ was a lace-maker, half blind and entirely arthritic, a paragon of Catholic virtue, and seemed to be much older than it is usual for mothers of girls Caitlin’s age to be. The object of all of this arthritic lace-making was her daughter’s tuition at a posh school in Paris – and an odd expression, “The good in life…” Caitlin couldn’t define it. When the boyfriend expressed such scepticism as was only natural as to the existence of such a saint in the modern world, mama’s suffering increased threefold. Caitlin kept up the tremulous note in her voice. “Dear mama… what would she think… what if she knew…” as though her lifetime of hard work had been erased by his scepticism.
“So your mother bought you that dress, Caitlin?” (Alex Perry-esque; slut taste, new money.)
“Oui. Good mama!”
“Your mother bought you that bag, Caitlin?” (interlocked C’s – Chanel… or trying to be.)
“Oui. Dear mama! ”
“You have been receiving the tuition?”
“Oui. –Yeah, no…” (without explanation): “Poor mama.”
“What’s happened to the money? You’ve lost your mother’s money, Caitlin?!”
“[A curse]! —It’s in the bank!”
“A bank,” she replied craftily, as though he had intended to steal it.
“Enfant, you’re clearly upset. We should get some air.”
Then they went into the foyer. That is only marginally less stuffy than the theatre and filled with 1960s monster movie posters and some pretty 50-foot ladies. He bought her popcorn, chocolates, but refused to buy her a postcard. She said nothing. But then in the theatre again they took their seats and she made a sudden sound like “Gi-aack!” It was half of a shriek like when a bird is pipped by a schoolboy with a popgun. It filled the whole theatre. All of a sudden the old mother came into the picture like a banshee, “My mama… my dear mama… my poor mama… my dear old poor mama…” interspersed with cursing. She had the quickest and most virulent undertone and sort of snapped like a dog around the end of her words, while her top notes would crack in the middle of “Gi-aack!”
“And where is your mother now, enfant?”
“In Yonville, my lad!”
“Why don’t you go back to Yonville, enfant? To see your mother?”
At this point my duty was to intervene and silence them with a look of poisonous death. Up on screen Garbo was being inscrutable Garbo, I have heard she had size twelve feet and became a hermit in later life, and got seriously cut at Cecil Beaton when he wrote about their relationship in his stinking memoirs, “The Unexpurgated Beaton” – yes, fucking Cecil Beaton, who I hate, will haunt us throughout our lovely life, it seems… Anyway I didn’t hear from them again as she put her hand back in his trousers as soon as the feature got romantic, the dear little slut. I have never understood these lovely gents who will put up with a whiney girlfriend just because they have their tits out everyday, even Sundays. The least I can say for her is she had nice posture and a wonderfully fertile glow.