"Smart girl. Nothing like being 22." - Joe Gillis to Betty Schaeffer in Sunset Boulevard
"When we were in Burma . . . when we were young . . when such much more exciting things were happening than have ever happened to you, who think you are fin de siècle . . . " from The Lacquer Lady by F. Tennyson Jesse
Earlier this month I visited my mother for a week to "go through the house." Anyone who's been through this type of exercise before knows that the Unexpected is only one case, box, or envelope away. My sister and I uncovered treasures, horrors, and ennui - the former capped by a box of beautiful bits of china from my grandmother's collection, the latter most evident in boxes of 20th-century bank statements.
Two unremembered boxes of my own were discovered in the attic (without bank statements). Among the detritus of 30 years ago, carefully preserved at the bottom of a cardboard box with a wide bottom, were three or four sheets of pink leopard skin wrapping paper. Insert Metaphor for Magic Carpet Here, 'cause they took me right back to who and where I was when.
The 1980s. Boston. College. Auditions, April, 1982. The Holiday Inn near Harvard with square bathtubs. Nearly having my pocket picked on the subway. Faneuil Hall Marketplace when Fiorucci, Greetings R.s.v.p. and Goods were still there. Goods! Goods was the best! And on Newbury Street, Greetings, Jules, High Society, and Blue Moon (the vintage store).
I remember things I purchased at Faneuil Hall on that first visit. A white cotton sweater. A silver ear cuff. (That look just didn't work for me.) And a lot of silly buttons that I still have someplace, including one of a smiley face with a bloody bullet hole between the eyes. I covered the lapels of my overcoat with those buttons. Somewhere (unfortunately) there is still a Polaroid of me taken in some tourist booth at the marketplace, wearing that overcoat, a vintage green and blue polka-dotted silk shirt, Dorothy Hamill's hair, and the village idiot's smile. I almost hope I never find it . . .
But Goods was where I found the pink leopard skin wrapping paper. Goods! What a fantastic little store of necessary oddities - but the chiefest of these was a roll of pink leopard skin wrapping paper. I needed it - needed - to wrap a wedding gift for a college friend getting married in another city. It was so important to be out of the ordinary, and this was so unlike anything else ever created. Mother talked me out of bringing it to the wedding - she was appalled by the idea of the wrapping paper, but also of actually bringing a gift to the wedding. The night of the wrapping paper I met a party of women who became friends, one of whom introduced me to The Lacquer Lady quoted above; the other I'm still in touch with today. It's funny how you meet people and they enter the weaving of your life's tapestry - and later leave or stay part of the design.
Actually, that's 1984, the year of my first apartment away from home. On the back side of Beacon Hill, the side where the Brahmins did NOT live. A fourth-floor walk-up with dozens of visible cockroaches, a fire escape, a futon on the floor, hippie bedspreads from high school, no air-conditioning, and an absent roommate who left his cat, Columbo, for me to take care of. That year, the year it was already too late say that you'd read Orwell's novel. The year turquoise blue was so fashionable. The year of Romancing the Stone. The year I was dragged to just about every screening there was at the Coolidge's Japanese film festival. Seeing Liquid Sky at the Orson Welles in Central Square at the midnight show. "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This." Madonna's "Bordeline."
Beacon Hill. Summer. Unspeakably hot for someone who grew up in central air conditioning. Trying to learn to cook and discovering thyme. Working at a Prominent Doughnut Chain behind the counter, and later, much more happily, at the Vendome. Walking home after midnight through either the North End or the Public Garden without too much fear. Living in the closet without really understanding what it was. Stretching out on the fire escape outside my bedroom window at night, peering down into the bedroom of a man two floors below . . .
What do I miss about the 80s? Color! Gawd, the original Calvin Klein briefs in shocking colors with white waistbands. The second floor of Jordan Marsh. Art Deco Revival. Shoulder pads. Pin-striped double-breasted suits with pleated pants. Skinny ties. Willi Smith. I miss my waistline! I think I still have my first Calvin Klein suit (1983), double-breasted pinstripes with shoulder pads. Now it's shiny as a stove pipe and the last time I even pretended to squeeze into it I couldn't get the closure past my hip bones.
I think about who I was then: thin to gawkiness (I miss the thin part!), unmistakably blond. Loud! Unseeing, uncomprehending. Alternately poised and oblivious. Lost, determined to get out of the ordinary, but without direction. Definitely fearful. Letting fear and mistrust keep me from taking advantage of my youth. Making some very bad fashion choices - as who does not?
This talisman has made me look back at the enthusiasms and fears of a part of my life I just haven't thought about in such a long time. I don't know how that makes me feel when I compare it to where I am now.
* As it happens, I never sent the wedding gift - a pair of Farberware candlesticks from Blue Moon that I still use - and decades later I learned the marriage didn't last either.