I wanted to share a bit of this delightful and curious book on flower arranging, published in 1942, which I got for a song at the always-overwhelming Newberry Library book sale. I was attracted initially to the often-striking, occasionally gorgeous photographs--heavily-saturated compositions that are almost painterly in their effect--
--and I planned to plunder it for collage material. But a closer look has revealed some surprising dimensions to this otherwise-unassuming volume. The book, to begin with, beautiful as it is, turns out to be an 80-page advertisement for Coca-Cola. Bottles of ice-cold Coke are featured prominently in many of the arrangements, and the reader is frequently reminded of the soft drink's many virtues. Not only is Coca-Cola the perfect centerpiece for a Wistaria-covered balcony-for-two--
--it's also the refreshment of choice, the author notes, for everyone from defense workers to badminton players. Her 'Coke Party for the Teen-age,' complete with ice-sculptures and shrimp cocktail--
--promises 'social success' for the young hostess. At any rate, the product placement is anything but subtle. Then came the real surprise. The author's name was eerily familiar, and something about her expression in this frontispiece portrait also nagged at me:
An internet search confirmed my creeping suspicion: this Coke-shilling society dame was none other than William S. Burroughs' mother! And hang me if there's not a remarkable resemblance:
Now, I'd gathered that Laura Lee Burroughs was something of a square, but this is on a whole 'nuther level. 'There has never been a time when our homes were as dear to us as they are now,' she writes in her sappy introduction. We have become sentimental about them! Later, she presents an elaborate 'Sweet Land of Liberty' display ('For the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Washington's Birthday, or just any day when you feel particularly patriotic, which is practically all the time...') Still, despite the book's inherent WASPishness, and the ickiness of its corporate sponsorship, it's clear that Burroughs' mother had a creative streak, as well as some moxie. William Burroughs was, in 1942, a decade away from completing his first novel, Junky, but he was already a 'troubled young man,' as must have been evident to his mother Laura Lee; he'd severed half a finger over a gay hustler named Jack Anderson, been discharged from the Army due to mental instability, and was working as an exterminator in Chicago. With what grace, then, she is able to pull off this performance of normalcy, standing, as she does in the book, for those great American pillars of Home and Family (not to mention our national beverage, Coca-Cola.) There are so few cracks in her facade. For years, she admits at one point, my flower decorations were a source of annoyance to my family. One can only imagine! But it's there in her photograph, clear as day--that taunting, Burroughs sneer.
This, volume three, was to be the last; the series had sold in the millions, apparently (it went for a paltry ten cents; one wonders what Burroughs made of his mother's literary success), but wartime concerns and impending modernity were pushing such quaint pastimes as floral arranging aside. I still want to cut the book to pieces, but I'm torn; it's such an odd and loaded artifact that I hesitate to destroy it.
Note: there's a lengthy article on Laura Lee Burroughs and her 'Homes and Flowers' series here, for the curious.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
--"Gay Hell" being a coinage of famous gay-person Rufus Wainright, used to describe his one-time descent into substance abuse and sexual profligacy. Now, my misadventures have got to be pretty damn tame in the grand schema, but after several consecutive nights of Going Out, drinking and dancing and kissing and heavy petting with some very pretty boys, I wake up with an ominously sore throat that can only turn into something worse, and indeed by late in the afternoon I'm curled up in my bed at the Hotel Princess (so gay!) with a very high temperature, boiling sweat and freezing clammily by turns, drifting in + out of a succession of maximum-strength fever dreams--in short, very sick. In my delirium, I am at first convinced that the only explanation can be mononucleosis: the dreaded Kissing Disease! I kissed one too many boys and now I am being severely punished! And how desperate and odious does my filthy little pink-whitewashed hotel room begin to feel: mosquitoes lunging mockingly at any inch of exposed skin, the sickly stupor of the air, and the ambient hotel-sounds which vary from grating to inexplicable--one tenant has some DJ mix on repeat which plays only the two-or-three-second hooks from today's Top Songs, like an insta-vomit version of being at the Gay Club; some other lost soul is standing out in the hallway for over an hour, piteously repeating Lucia... Lucia... Lucia, until Lucia miraculously opens her door and tells him to get bent. Wait, mononucleosis lasts for like a month, right? I can barely muster the strength to walk the five feet over to the toilet. Am I going to be bedridden here in this awful Hotel Princess for weeks on end, paying for my piddling little sins? The only thing that's able to cool my overheated mind is watching the movie Mall Cop, dubbed into spanish on local TV. Even in my dilapidated state, I'm able to comprehend nearly all of the dialogue.
The next day I'm able to consider my situation a bit more lucidly. Who says it has to be mononucleosis--could be anything! I leaf through the Health section of my Mexico guidebook, probably a bad idea; with a painful sore throat and spiking fever, I'm just as easily a candidate for malaria, or the exotic-sounding dengue fever, which is transmitted through mosquito bites--yes, those fuckers have been chomping on me for weeks now, leaving monstrous welts all up my arms and neck. Or, it comes on like a lightbulb, maybe just yr. everyday flu! With the help of some horsepills of aspirin I'm able to sleep through most of the day and night, still too weak to change habitations though the cruelly-named Hotel Princess is becoming ever-more repugnant to me. And then today, the third full day of my mystery illness, I still feel awful but find the strength to pack my bag and change hotels--a few blocks eastward to the Hotel Tuxpan. And just as I get to my new fourth-story room and begin killing bugs, the room about me begins to slide about like a madman. For the first minute I think my fever hallucinations have returned; then the screaming of people out in the street suddenly wakes me up to EARTHQUAKE! The second minute or so I'm just spacing out, like, whoa, dude, an earthquake; and finally I have the presence of mind to evacuate the premises, as everyone else is doing. Out on the street, earth no longer trembling, it's a great chance to meet my new neighbors--this guy named Cholo introduces himself, says he lives in the same hotel, moved down here from SoCal ten years ago to avoid life imprisonment. Says if I need anything, weed, whatever, just holler Cholo. Normally I would, I say. Really. But I'm pretty sick right now. I think I just need to get some more rest. Hopefully I'll be feeling better soon.
Monday, March 12, 2012
It turns out that the Teatro Coliseo, across the street from my rat's-ass hotel, is not a derelict porno theater as I had assumed, but is in fact one of D.F.'s two lucha libre arenas, with fights every Sunday at five, and with balcony seats going at a mere thirty pesos apiece, attending was a no-thinker. And how excited was I? Very! But the truth is, friends, from my balcony-vantage at least, that lucha libre is a teensy bit boring--just regular "wrestling," with predictable good guys-bad guys scenarios, laboriously-choreographed fight sequences and marginally-sillier costumes than the American breed. Really, the most interesting part was the crowd commentary--I doubt I'll ever hear such colorful variations on the word puta as long as I live, and the fat, shoeless man down the row from me who kept up a persistent chinga-tu-madre whistle throughout the show was the very model of obstinate, brainless raunch. Not even the female wrestlers were spared--in fact the heckling intensified during their segment. But, for all that, I'll probably be back next weekend.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
|Plaza Garibaldi (not my photo)|
Or, check this: this afternoon, actually just an hour or two ago, I head over by the Insurgentes metro stop, where there seems to always be something interesting happening, and in fact there's a little blues festival going on, this band of pretty frazzled old Mexican dudes with an incredible woman singer is playing, and of course, what should they dive into as I approach but Sweet Home Chicago. "Esta cancion is sobre mi ciudad," I beam to the blissed-out alcoholic next to me, who gives me a big hi-five. But actually the band is totally righteous, way better than any blues band I've ever seen in Chicago. And then this other band starts playing, and I head across the plaza to dash off a blog post at the internet cafe, and as I'm typing it starts raining, and then it really starts raining, monsoon-strength, and the music cuts out and I peek outside and the tent above the stage has collapsed, and the whole crowd is trapped inside, and then so help me god it starts hailing, hailing like a stone-cold motherfucker, and the whole plaza is covered in a thick blanket of hailstones, right now. I gather this does not happen often here. Actually, I really don't know what does and doesn't happen here but it seems like some rather Surreal things tend to happen here.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
|Earth from Tejamulco|
Filing a little report from San Cristobal de Las Casas, a city in Chiapas, Mexico about which I know pretty much zip, and in which I plan to stay just long enough to rest my head a few hours and brush my teeth--call it snap-judgement, but hearing the strains of B. Marley's Redemption Song emanating from a gringo bar is pretty much a deal-breaker as far as I'm concerned.
I didn't particularly want to leave Xela! I was developing fond feelings for the place. But, en el mismo tiempo, the western highlands were beginning, after two weeks, to make me feel penned-in, claustrophobic--the literal crunch of a valley-town, bounded by misty-mountains, but also a more general claustrophobia: the obscenely-crowded buses, the markets so thick with humanity that movement is hardly possible, the sidewalks that can't accomodate even two simultaneous pedestrians. This trapped feeling came to an appropriate head on my way out of Guatemala, when our bus got mired in a traffic jam for the ages, the road from Huehuetanango to the Mexican border closed by a mudslide, apparently a chronic problem in the area--cars immobile for miles, and, tipicalmente, the logjam used as an impromptu open-market, vendedores by the dozens hawking Pollo Camparo and peanuts to marooned drivers. When finally the road was cleared and we pushed through to la frontera, the change was sudden and dramatic--crossing the Mexican border, the land seemed to open up with a great sigh, with room at last to breathe.
Also, to be honest, certain aspects of Xela were starting to turn on me, after only two short weeks; the slimy pupusas were beginning to make me queasy, the local firewater, Queztalteca, was making me even queasier, and my beloved student protesters, La Huelga, who seemed to be in the park every other day, were starting to make me a bit uncomfortable with their unrelenting provocation--for all their high-minded ideals, every other word they uttered was a puta or a verga, and my feelings were admittedly hurt when one of their orators singled me out of the crowd and mockingly addressed me as Mr. Jones, as in You know something's happening here but you don't know what it is/Do you, M.J.? (R. Zimmerman). Hurt my feelings, because, I'd actually put a great deal of effort into understanding what was happening, spending several hours painstakingly translating their obtuse boletines. I mean, anyway, singling gringos out of the crowd is too easy, shooting crabs in a bucket or whatever.
But, for all that, what a thrilling final few days in the highlands! A bizarre sex-encounter up in the hills (right in the shadow of Cristo Viene, in fact); a grueling and invigorating two-day hike up Tajumulco, the volcanic peak that is the highest point in Central America; an almost-equally grueling + invigorating crush on an adorable Belgian boy on said hike (unfulfilled!); and the dramatic return of normal bowel functions, after a long stretch of inoperability. Needless to say, wholly new and different adventures await me in Mexico City, after God-knows-what kind of bus trip, and I'll try to check in again before terribly long.