People often ask me about where I get the inspiration for my paintings...I guess that's the kind of question you're allowed to ask artists, but it always makes me feel like I forgot to study for the test. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should also note that people ask me where the bathroom is with equal frequency. I don't want you thinking that I'm wandering around in a smock and beret waxing poetic about my muse. Maybe it's my jovial non-threatening demeanor that allows for a comfortable social exchange, or my boyish face with its ubiquitous forehead curl that lets people assume I know where the “little boy’s room is”. In any event, I was asked both questions, in quick succession, at a recent gallery showing, and while I directed the young art aficionado to the restroom, I was left to ponder, the fount of inspiration.
I don't know that I can single out where my ideas come from, beyond the obvious "right brain"...like reflected light bouncing off a faceted surface, they're just there, and the magpie in my soul is drawn to investigate each sparkle. I asked a bunch of fellow artists the same questions, mostly about inspiration...once or twice about the bathroom. Among the expected pontification of a few "important" types, and the glimpse into many faces who appeared as clueless as mine, or at least as hesitant to look too closely, as if doing so might send "inspiration" scurrying off into the night, I was surprised at the number of people who suggested that their creativity was at least aided, if not ignited by the consumption of alcohol.
I don’t drink. I have nothing against it really, it’s just that alcohol doesn’t like me. I can’t stand the taste of beer, so I never developed a brand loyalty. Hard liquor goes down, and very quickly returns as projectile vomit…believe me, that can really kill a party. Wine, champagne…first sips, and I’m flushed, a couple more and I’m tipsy, finish the glass and I’m reclining with a flu like fever…fun, right?
We were at birthday brunch with friends a couple of years ago, 3 of the six people at the table were doctors, and as often happens in these situations, champagne was ordered. While I was visiting the men’s room, Dennis was unfolding his theory to the gathered crowd, about my issues with alcohol being "in my head". I returned to the table to a sea of expectant faces and a glass of champagne next to my, as yet untouched, eggs Benedict. I like champagne. Maybe because it’s a happy harbinger of a communal toast…maybe because it gets its own fancy glass, usually set on a shelf just waiting for a special occasion…maybe because I feel like a character from a PBS series when I’m drinking it…all of these thoughts were running through my head as the bubbles swirled around my tongue. I looked up from my reverie into the startled face of the doctor/friend sitting next to me. “Woah, Asian Flush” came out of Maria’s mouth. “It looks like you have an inability to metabolize alcohol…you should probably put that down” as she directed my glass of bubbly back to the table. Dennis asked a question, and she responded with a rambling of medical terms and information. “Blah blah …erythema…blah blah… acetaldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency…blah blah…genetic…blah blah blah.” I didn’t really hear much of it, as I was too busy floating in a sea of vindication, on a raft of “I told you so”…small victories, we take them where we find them.
I have great friends. They know I don’t like bars, they don’t really understand why, but they’re always considerate of my discomfort. For them it’s a fun destination filled with laughter and libations. For me it’s an awkward onslaught of people at their less than stellar best, on the slip-n-slide of limited inhibitions.
When our social schedule does involve alcohol, I “suck it up”, so that they can “throw um back”. I’m always sober. I’m always the responsible one. Always. Combine this with my selectively eidetic memory, and maybe you see why a trip to the bar is less than fun for me. Through your hangover haze you think you had a blast last night, think you totally killed on the mic, think you totally scored with the hottie at the bar…you might have a few unanswered questions, but “damn you’re fun” and so “unbelievably cool”.
That's not quite how I remember it all going down…I know why you can’t find your underwear, I know why your goldfish is in the ice bucket, I know why you have the Chinese symbol for “peace” written in sharpie on your ass. I know, and will probably never forget…I’ll never forget extinguishing your hair in the subway station at 2 am. I’ll never forget the 2 hours of hysterical sobbing and the subsequent choking/gagging on your dribbling snot the night before your wedding. I’ll never forget how, while on all fours, you were able to throw up in the waste basket, balancing your neck on its rim, simultaneously removing your pants, all the while promising me “the ride of a lifetime”. I’m gonna try, I’m just not ever going to forget.
Do you get it? Going to a bar is a precursor to these events…and before you start wondering who my alcoholic friend is, I should point out that all of these particulars were selected from a much larger collection. None of them feature repeat offenders, almost all of whom are pillars of society, pulled from 3 decades of friendship…Lawyers, Doctors, Bankers, Producers, Artists, the occasional Actor…normal people who simply had too much to drink, and had the foresight to wrangle me in as their designated driver and unwitting archivist of their debauchery.
The evenings always start with good intentions, and high hopes…but usually end with a slow slide into an alcohol induced hell of humiliation. Usually, I’m just a witness…every now and then, for comic relief, fate decides I need to be the victim. As has become my habit, I offer up this little tale of degradation...pulled from the cavernous archives of long term memory, for your entertainment.
A little story I call: WHORE
As within any circle of friends, there is often a difference of opinion when selecting a movie for a group outing…it’s no different in our clique. For the most part we like the same things, we are friends after all, but some in the group have drawn a line in the cinematic sand they choose not to cross. I know, for example, if I’m dying to see the latest Disney or Pixar offering and don’t want to go alone, I’ll either need to bribe my husband or hijack a Brownie troupe. Dennis likes movies where animals talk, Tommy can’t get enough of Medea (no matter where she’s going or what she’s doing), Paul can’t resist a journalistic tour de force…you get the picture. Most of the time our tendencies trend towards art films, and there’s nary a bodice we haven’t seen ripped in a long and varied string of lush period dramas…that being said, every now and then you just want to watch “Big Momma’s House 2” (cuz “Big Mamma’s House 1” was so fun). So, one weekend, when our group appointed monitor of style and taste was out of town, four of us decided to go see a movie that we knew would never be nominated for an academy award.
We had a blast, laughed hysterically, and exited the theatre, with nothing to do at 8:30. Well that was too early to call it quits. So a new plan must be concocted. Now, I’m going to let you in on a little insider information…Conservative Pundits will talk about the “Gay Agenda” like it really exists. Poppycock! There is no agreed upon “Agenda” for the gay populace. Don’t believe me? Just ask a group of gay men to pick a restaurant for brunch, or in this specific instant, ask them to decide what to do for the next 4 hours.
When Jim tentatively asked "anyone up for a drag show…there’s a new bar in south city…the finale is supposed to be killer”. I quickly flew through my mental archives…I like finales…and since no recollection of an unfortunate alcohol related incident, while watching a drag show, came flooding forward, I said "oh...that sounds like fun"! Actually, it was fun. The performers were talented, and after standing to the side for a while, we eventually found seats. 12:30 was approaching with the promised “show stopping” finale, and I was about to brand the evening an unqualified success, when Dennis came back from the bar to let me know that we were gonna move on to a bar called "Just John’s”. Wait, “what?” I was confused. “But we have seats…the finale…”
One side effect of alcohol that I’ve noticed, not to be found on any warning label, is that people who imbibe seem to lose the ability to hear people who don’t, in direct proportion to the amount of liquor consumed. Before I could finish my “Designated Driver” (that’s a watered down diet Coke if you're wondering), my happy go lucky crew was bounding out the doors in route to the car. Dennis gave me his “puppy dog” face, and I folded like a lawn chair.
As I drove to our next destination, I thought “this won’t be too bad…the bars close at 1:30 anyway”.
I'd like to take this opportunity to point out a piece of irony. The only facts that my drinking mates seem to retain, besides the location and special events happening at every drinking establishment, are said establishment’s hours of operation…something that does not appear to be housed in my personal wheelhouse of information.
You guessed it, this bar wasn’t closing at 1:30; it had “after hours” status…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
We of the non-drinking persuasion tend to overlook traditional drinking holidays like Fat Tuesday and St. Pats…rookie mistake.
We forced our way into the crowded foyer of the bar, past patrons in swathes of beads…realization hit, as what can only be described as an “eek” escaped my rapidly closing windpipe…OMG, I was standing in a bar, after midnight, on Mardi Gras weekend. Coats were quickly shoved into my hands as my boys broke on the gathered masses like waves on the rocks. They were swallowed into the crowd as I tried to get a grip.
First priority, evaluate the severity of the situation. A quick perusal of the posters on the wall let me know that I was walking into hour 10 of Mardi Gras Madness, with 3 more to go.
Oh sweet Jesus…think!
Second priority, find my boys. Tom would have headed to the loo, Dennis to the bar, followed quickly by the patio to smoke, Jim…arguably the most social of the group, would have spotted friends and headed in that direction. Before I could decide whom to go after first, Jim came back into view with a stranger in tow. I was right, he had spotted a friend. Deciding to introduce us, as it appeared we would both be serving on the same charity board of directors, Jim had returned for a quick "meet and greet"…and then back into the crowd…presumably hunting for more acquaintances. I talked animatedly with the gentleman, something I tend to do while uncomfortable, all the while keeping one eye out for my wayward charges.
I noticed an inebriated young man off to our right. It appeared he was intently watching us too. I assumed he must be with the gentleman to whom I had just been introduced. In my peripheral vision I could sense him moving towards us. I turned to acknowledge his approach and we made eye contact. His were as pink as a newborn rat’s, and as I tried to gage the amount of Madness ala Mardi Gras necessary to achieve that particular shade, I watched his lips as he mouthed a single word. I turned back to the conversation at hand, hoping for a proper introduction, or at least an explanation, only to encounter a face as shocked and confused as mine.
I turned back to Ben (I didn’t then, nor do I now, know his actual name…but with the pink eyed resemblance to the rodent in the 1971 horror classic, Willard, the name seemed to fit, and has since stuck in my memory). Now Ben was closer, and louder…“WHORE”! His lips seemed to undulate around the one syllable word as it left his mouth over, and over…and over again.
I looked around. The gentleman I had been talking to had melted back into the crowd; my friends were nowhere in sight. I found myself standing alone in the center of the room, with an armful of other people’s coats, as the gathered masses seemed to pull back into a circle of fascination, not unlike those around an elementary school playground fist fight.
The difference was instead of someone yelling “fight…fight…fight”, I heard “WHooooRE…WHOOOOOOre…wHORe” repeated as Ben pressed himself against my side. I was frantically trying to figure out how to extricate myself from the situation, when a subtle burst of clarity appeared on his face… he gave a quiet, sincere, “I’m sorry”. I felt a wash of instant relief as I confirmed what I had been sure of all along, this was just a silly misunderstanding.
In a brilliant move, that would have made any adolescent bully proud, he followed his “sorry” with a “...that you’re such a WHORE!”, as he ran the back of his sweaty hand up the side of my face, and then spun off into the night. Shocked, shattered, and still in possession of 4 coats, I was left with little choice but to gather to me any shreds of my remaining dignity, while scouting a wall to lean against. I saw our friends Daum and Dallas in the gathered crowd.
It seems that Dallas had enjoyed several hours of “Madness” himself, but Daum, a college student, was no worse for wear, as he had nursed a single drink all night, knowing that he had a paper to write the following day.
I should point out that Daum is tall, like 6’5”ish tall, like can see over the top of a crowd tall…which quickly became obvious he had just done, as he asked “Why was that guy calling you a whore?” “Did you know that guy who was calling you a whore?” “It was 'whore' he was calling you, right?” “It was hard to hear, but I was sure he kept saying whore?”
I’d like to mention that English is not Daum’s first language, and like many people trying to convey information to someone who appears not to understand the gist of what’s being said, his volume tends to increase.
I brought Dallas, who evidently had failed to witness my actual encounter "live", up to speed...he was thoroughly amused by the replay. “Don’t worry” he said “nobody here knows you”. At this moment I heard “Tim, Tim Kent? I thought that was you!” I turned to see the smiling face of an old friend, and longtime crush…”hey, why was that guy calling you a whore?” Dallas whispered in my ear “this is your idea of hell, isn’t it?” I thought, “at least hell would be warm”, as cold sweat ran down my back.
I stood to the side, coats in tow, alternately watching Ben, from a distance, give new meaning to the definition of “whore” as he ground himself against a bar stool, and checking out the time on my phone. 1:28, 1:29, 1:30…any second now the lights would pop on, and they’d send people away. When this didn’t happen, I asked a staff member about closing, and was informed about their after-hours status.
I’d reached my breaking point, but before I could throw down a tantrum like a toddler in a Target, my boys appeared with smiling faces to tell me it was “time to go”. My joy was short lived, as they began chanting “JJ’s, JJ’s, JJ’s” as we exited the bar…what fresh hell is this? Back to the long term memory archives...JJ's...JJ's...wait, the troll bar?
A little "side bar" for my straight readers: The gay community likes to label its occupants. "Twinks", derived from "Twinkies" cream filled and always in pairs, are the young ones. "Bears" are big, burly, and like "Otters", their trim counterparts, tend to be hirsute. Old desperate queens who hang out in the dark corners of bars waiting for some unsuspecting "goats" to come skipping along, are called "Trolls". Every young homosexual is taught to be afraid of trolls...to not fall into their clutches, and, god forbid, to avoid becoming one.
And now, "back to our regularly scheduled program".
This particular bar is labeled a "leather bar" the traditional hangout for Otters and Bears...oh my! It happens to be located on a dead end side street tucked under the highway overpass...in other words, it's under a bridge, and we all know who lives under there.
After the night I'd had, I decided that the risk of encounters of the troll kind, or more likely, the potential for being mistaken for one, were just too great. I informed my cavorting passengers, that I would be happy to take everyone home, or to drop them off at the aforementioned troll emporium, but that I "was heading home". They may have been drunk, but they were still "with it" enough to realize that I was at my limit. They put on their best sober faces, begged to be dropped off at the bar, and told me how easy it would be to get a cab. I made sure they had their wallets and phones, and left their drunk asses on the curb.
I didn't look back as I headed home. I climbed guilt free into bed, and was fast asleep when they encountered "last call" at the bar. I was enjoying REM sleep about the time they figured out that it was closing time in every bar in the city, on Mardi Gras weekend, and their chance of catching a cab was right up there with that infamous snowball in hell. When they finally got a ride, after waiting in the cold for three hours, all the while failing to realize they were a 15 minute walk from home, I was snuggling with the puppy on my pillow. As Dennis was staggering up the stairs and crawling into bed, I was dreaming about color and light. I woke up refreshed and rejuvenated. Dennis woke up hungover and bloated. Watching him stagger around with a cold, wet towel on his head provided me with endless inspiration. I continued to find abundant ways to make loud, unexpected, startling noises throughout the day. I even derived a sophisticated color palate around his sallow complexion and its sharp contrast to the jewel toned throw pillow collecting his drool. Pretty handy!
Well what do you know? It turns out that alcohol consumption can inspire creativity...even if you're not the one to consume it.