Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Lupe really likes this story. This place sure sounds a lot like the Delmar Loop. Lupe thinks maybe the names have been changed to protect the innocent, or at least anyone that might sue. Lupe thought her readers might enjoy this, too, and if this chica Rudie has anymore stories about the old days in the Loop, she might post those, too.


Once Upon A Time, In a Land Far Away, When I was still a Magical Princess and ruled a Kingdom of my own…
Okay, next to King’s Road in London, or Saint Mark’s in New York’s Greenwich Village, or any of those clubs in Los Angeles from the movie THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, the coolest place in the world is The Loop in College City. Just one block west of the City Limits its about as urban and hip as this small Mid-western city can get.

I’m almost 16 and it’s Tuesday night over Christmas break. I am hanging out with my best friend Matthew Jeffries. Matt is gay. Matt is a fag. Matt is as queer as a three-dollar bill and damn proud of it. We are in the lobby of The Copenhagen Theater scamming free cokes and popcorn from Sean, the surrogate Daddy to all the Loop kids who need one. And that’s really most of us, except for the rich kids, who all have two Daddies and two fifty dollar allowances every week to prove it.

Sean is updating us on important Loop happenings: who came to the John Waters film festival last week, which films they came to see, and if they dressed up. Leather Loretta was in a lobster suit for MULTIPLE MANIACS and David Divine dressed in drag as Liz Renay for DESPERATE LIVING.

Matt and I exclaim in ecstasy over this news and mourn that we could not attend! Sean smiles his patient, amused smile at our childish delight. You are so young, his smile seems to say. Your world is still so easily joyful, so grand and great!

Sean is in his forties and looks like an Irish cop. He has one of those cop moustaches that come down over the corners of the mouth. But you can tell by Sean’s eyes that he isn’t a cop. Cops eyes are cynical and sharp and judgmental. Sean looks tired and a little sad, like he has seen too many things he didn’t want to see.

But Sean never judges, just accepts. He is always patient, or at least tolerant. And he knows everyone: young and old, bums and businessman, drunks and drug dealers, punkers and burn-outs. He has been around The Loop since it was just a couple of greasy coffee shops and a Laundromat and the bus and taxi loop that gave it its name.

Now it’s trendy bar and grill Heartbreak Hotel and hundreds of University students every night of the week. There are several record and comic book stores, a book store for Black Nationalists, another for Lesbians, and two movie theatres. One is The Copenhagen, and the other is The Sophmore.

The Copenhagen is an art house, but both theatres are cool. The Sophmore runs ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (which Matt and I have both seen over 150 times) every Friday and Saturday night. The Copenhagen is the only the theatre in St. Louis that would show THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILAZATION, Penelope Spheeris controversial documentary on Los Angeles’ punk rock scene.

Sean must leave us to go upstairs and count the night’s receipts. We bow and curtsy to him elaborately, making him laugh. Matt and I begin dancing around the lobby, doing Bob Fosse from SWEET CHARITY and ALL THAT JAZZ and Jerry Robbins from WEST SIDE STORY. And doing them badly.

We’re ignoring Karin, who works at the concession stand. She started it by ignoring us, because she is showing off for her new boyfriend, a black guy who dresses and acts like he thinks he’s Prince, but honey; he doesn’t look a thing like him!

But when Karin starts singing the theme from FAME it doesn’t matter if we are bad or good, or who is ignoring whom, because we are all jeteing and pirouetting around the lobby and singing along at the top of our lungs. Jennifer, little Miss “I’m a real dancer”, comes down from the projection booth, (where she has most certainly been flirting with the projectionist, Eric, who is good-looking beyond words, but way out of our league) to see what all the noise is.

When she starts spinning around, “this is how you spot” --giving us ballet lessons! The prima dona!-- Karin abruptly stops dancing to clean the popcorn machine. Prince stamps his feet and shakes his forelock of hair in front of his face and pretends he’s not watching Jennifer. Matt and I sniff angrily at such an affront and leave without saying goodbye.

Outside it is so very, very cold. Alternative Albums, the best and coolest record store in the world, is closing; we don’t have enough change between us for even one cup of coffee at Cyrano’s. Heartbreak Hotel cards everyone, even old people, like our mothers.

We head up to The Late Edition to see if anyone left a quarter in the Centipede machine (“Spendipede”) and to look at The Face magazine imported from London. There aren’t any quarters, but we bump into Scooter’s dad on his way to work. He informs us that Scooter is up at Dairy Queen, hanging out.

I have a boyfriend, Rick. He is from New York and goes to college. He is the bitchinest thing to ever happen to me, but I’ve known Scooter forever, or at least since I was fourteen, and I’ve always had a crush on him. Scooter is sans girlfriend right now.

Cosmo magazine uses sans a lot, and I explain to Matt that it means “without.” He curtly informs me that he took French in Junior High, and besides, he reads Cosmo, too.

Scooter has left Dairy Queen by the time we sing and jete our way up there. I want to go to Scooter’s house but Matt wants to go home. Besides, he wonders, weren’t we going to cut your hair? So we walk toward Matt’s, the snow crunching underfoot, the sky clear and bright above us. There is supposed to be a big storm coming in, but we think it must have passed.

We pause in front of the Lesbian bookstore and Matt jokes that he should go to one of their meetings in drag. I say "I’ll go too and wear something low-cut." He says "lesbians aren’t into big boobs the way straight guys are." I counter "oh, yes they are!" And just as we are saying these things two women come out of the door. We shriek in mock horror and run off down the alley.

We both know the women, Sheila and her girlfriend Terry, but we are high on ourselves and being free from school and the cleverness of our conversations when we are together. We cannot imagine that our catty remarks wouldn’t offend-- that they could be dismissed as youthful high spirits. Or that our incredibly cool and humorous opinions could be dismissed at all!

As we run we try to sing CONCRETE JUNGLE by The Specials, but we both smoke and our lungs finally decide either running or singing must stop. We run to the end of the alley and when we reach the street we start to sing again. A police cruiser slows to pace us and Matt starts yelling after them in his best cockney accent.

“Off the pigs! Eat the rich! Anarchy in the UK and the US!”

We defiantly serenade the coppers with The Sex Pistols’ ANARCHY IN THE U.K. The cruiser moves back into the flow of traffic. We are no threat, at least not at that moment. Both of us have seen the back of a police car, usually for indecent exposure leaving ROCKY HORROR, or underage drinking, and the reasons will only increase in the coming years.

After they are gone we break into The Clash’ LONDON CALLING. We always try to come up with new lyrics to songs, to better suit our purposes, but we are too soon back on residential side streets and must be quiet, unless we want the cruiser called back to us. Besides, it’s hard to re-write The Clash, we agree. Joe Strummer is a genius.

We pause to light cigarettes and make fun of Karin’s new boyfriend. Does he know how stupid he looks with that backward mullet hanging down his forehead? We skirt around the real issue: that Karin hardly paid either one of us any attention at all. Matt has known Karin since grade school and he tells me how she is really deeply in love with him and crushed that he is queer! I staunchly believe every word my friend says, even though common sense and my own observation would say otherwise.

We arrive, eventually, at Matt’s apartment. We don’t have to put out our cigarettes, like we usually do when we see someone’s parents. Matt’s mom doesn’t care if we smoke, because she smokes too, but we have to go in his room, because we can’t smoke around the baby. Matt’s half-sister is half-black. In College City this isn’t unusual. This is partly because The Loop slices the city in half, North and South. North is black and South is white, so all of us freaks meet in the middle. Matt and I discuss this quietly in his room while we prepare for our beauty makeovers.

First my hair must be cut. Matt does a terrible job, but not as bad as I would have. The only important thing is that it is short short short but not shaved, and spiky. Then we decide to do facials.

I am very much into Marilyn Monroe. I have read several books about her and know that towards the end of her life she would rub Vaseline into her face at night. This was to make the light hairs on her face grow. She believed that those fine hairs on her cheeks and forehead were what gave her that glow, and I believe it, too.

Matt thinks this is bad idea, but what does he know? He likes Jayne Mansfield! I rub it on my face, and then I decide to do my hair, too. Matt thinks this is an even worse idea, but his knowledge is shrinking every time he disagrees with me. We have a spat.

The Vaseline is a disaster. I can’t get it to wash off or rub out of my hair. Matt feels bad for me and he says it really doesn’t look so bad and it will wash out in a few days anyhow. I am somewhat consoled and we are friends again. We sit on his bed and eat cupcakes his mom brought us, and stare at his David Bowie posters.

David Bowie is a God. A God! And anyone who thinks different is an idiot and deserves only contempt! Matt puts on a Bowie record. We stay up until two in the morning talking about David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe and if I could, and if I would, and when we will this, and when will we that, and if if if if, and when when when when. And we need no How? Because we know that our destinies will unfold before us effortlessly.

When we decide to go to sleep it is snowing. Matt asks me would I sleep with him? At first I think he means in his tiny bed and then I say "What? No. No! Forget it, besides aren’t you gay?" And he says he wants to know what it’s like with a girl and I am the only girl he can do it with. I tell him he’s crazy and there is no way, besides, I have boyfriend. He says “uh-huh” and I say what does that mean? And he says “nothing.” But then he adds “Scooter” under his breath.

I ignore the implied insult and tell him, “Matt you’re my best friend and I don’t want to sleep with you!” He asks me to marry him! He tells me that I am the only girl he could go straight for. I tell him he is really insane.

Plus I call him on it. He has stolen something I told him in complete, total, cross-your-heart-hope-to-die, never to be repeated confidence: when I was a runaway in California a gay street hustler named Tony begged me to marry him. Tony got on his knees and begged me because I was the only girl he’d go straight for. Those exact words! This was before I was into punk rock and still a burn-out, so it didn’t really count. But still! How low is that? To steal my best confidence!

Matt gets sad and melodramatic and tells me things about his life and how depressed he is and how he hates his Mother and stepfather and this apartment. I think to myself that he is a total drama queen and out loud I tell him forget it! I am still not sleeping with him! Besides, he should have sex period first before he goes and decides he is missing something with me! Or any girl!

He says “Fine!” in a whoosh as he turns over on his side facing the wall, his back to me. I curl up inside the sleeping bag on the floor and dream about Scooter, and David Bowie. I am drifting off when Matt says “Rudie?” I know he is really sorry when calls me that, the nickname I chose for myself because I am a Rude Girl, not just a Punk Rocker. So I answer “yeah?” instead of pretending to already be asleep.

“I really would marry you, you know. You’re the only girl I’ve ever loved.”

It doesn’t sound like a scam this time, so I tell him thanks, I love him too, but not in that way. He agrees, “yeah, I know,” and we both fall asleep.

When we wake up we find it has snowed sixteen inches overnight! Because of wind and drifts, and all the snow from before, it is up to the windowsills! We are so excited we can hardly wait to get outside! But Matt’s Mom wants us to eat breakfast and his stepfather says Matt has to clean the bathroom before he can go out. Matt is mad but I help and soon we are free! Free! Except for the milk Matt must buy at the Quik Mart on his way home.

Matt wants to leave immediately and foregoes decorating his own face, but I make him wait while I put on eyeliner, thick and black, around my eyes, and purple frosted eyeshadow, but on my lips, like lipstick. I start to draw in a black beauty mark on my cheek, but Matt tells me it looks like I have skin cancer when I wear that thing! Secretly I think he is just impatient, but I decide I look okay without it.

We run outside only to stop dead, staring in delight. The world is still and silent and it is almost noon on a weekday. There are no noises from traffic. There are no colours but grey and white. No one is out except for us. The snow is waist deep. We can barely make it to the street, and even there it is above our knees.

We are so excited that we want to run, but it’s like running hurdles in heavy quicksand just getting one leg in front of the other. Matt clasps my hand in his and starts singing Bowie’s ROCK AND ROLL SUICIDE at full voice. I try to join him at the chorus. We are not very musical under such circumstances. We shout breathless non-musical lyrics in between gasps as we plough our way down the street.

Karin comes out on her porch in a robe yelling to us, “where are you going?” “The Loop!” We answer in unison, and struggle on. She shakes her head you-guys-are-crazy and goes back inside. Nothing can stop The Loop; it will not fail us. The rest of the world may be shut down, but not The Loop! We persevere against the unyielding snow.

We make it to the main road after two more Bowie songs. It hasn’t been ploughed either! We are delighted to find a police cruiser stranded in the middle of the road, right near the alley. Could it be the same one that slowed to scrutinize us last night? Yes! It must, how could it not? Matt writes “Pig” in the snow on the windshield. We are triumphant. Then, suddenly, we become scared someone has seen us, and hurry away as fast as the thigh high snow will allow.

We wade through the drifts in the alley until Matt notices that The Loop has been partially ploughed. We make it to the road and walk in snow that comes only above our ankles. There are no cars out driving, just big, motionless lumps of white on the side of the road where the curb should be. When we get up near The Copenhagen there have been enough feet before us that we no longer sink, the snow is packed down. University students and neighbourhood regulars swarm in and out of Alternative Albums and the coffee shop.

On some subconscious level there is an understanding in every nod, and hello, and wave of a mittened hand, that only those that truly belong to the Loop are there. That no one who is not a local is present. No lame West County kids, no poseurs, no rich kids slumming. The snow has made all the businesses honest. The greasy spoon coffee shop is open, but the trendy pastry shop is not. Alternative Albums is open, but the chain record store is not. This magical day belongs wholly to the neighbourhood.

As we pass The Copenhagen, Roland, the janitor, waves to us from the lobby and pushes open one of the glass doors. “What are you kids doing?” He asks, fiddling with the expensive watch on his wrist. Roland is sixty years old and cannot read. He cannot recognise the alphabet or numbers. Roland was born to sharecroppers in the South and never went to school. He works four janitorial jobs and probably has never slept more than few hours a night in his whole life. But he drives a Cadillac and has put all of his children and several of his grandchildren through college.

After a few minutes of pointless conversation and more watch fiddling, I realise that Roland needs to know what time it is. I ask him for the time and then read the clock face out loud, as if to confirm it for myself. Roland becomes immediately and visibly nervous. The day is getting away from him, he remarks. He needs to get to his next job. He’s not sure how since he can’t get to his car. We say good-bye and leave him to his dilemma.

Matt and I decide to go into Alternative Albums and look through the Punk section. This is proof positive of Alternative Album’s coolness; they have a Punk section. The Sex Pistols and PIL each have their own dividers and they are cross referenced for the really lame West County kids who don’t know that Johnny Rotten, the ex-lead singer of the Sex Pistols, is the founder of Public Image Limited. And that, further, if you are referring to PIL you should call him by his birth name: Johnny Lydon. In our world this is very important information.

I used to argue with Vaughn, one of the owners, that Ska should have its own section until he pointed out that Jamaican Ska did. Vaughn informed me that Rude Boys (and Girls) used to be Jamaicans in London, and that we white suburban kids had just stolen the title for ourselves.

So The Beat, called The English Beat everywhere in America except The Loop, sits in the Punk Section, right before the Buzzcocks. I console myself that at least they aren’t in the E’s.

Joel King, the other owner, lives in The Loop, and is holding court behind the counter. He is telling everyone that if this kind of snow fell in New York City no one would even notice. The snow-ploughs would come out and get it all cleared up before anyone was inconvenienced. Joel is from New York City and never lets you forget it. He and Vaughn met there years ago and went into business together.

Usually I believe everything Joel says-- I love him and Vaughn fiercely and never question anything they say---but I look outside at the trapped cars and the drifts as tall as I am and I wonder. I think even the Big Apple would have been slowed down by this storm. But Joel believes that New York City is invincible, and wouldn’t have listened to my reasoning, anyhow.

Joel sees me and winks. I give him a big smile in return. A rare and wondrous feeling of belonging washes over me. I am at home here. These are my people. They all know who I am, and they like and accept me-- purple lips and Vaseline hair included.

When there are no customers at the counter I ask Joel if he has any change I can have? He gives me four quarters and a few dimes and Matt and I run off without thanking him to buy a real breakfast of Mello Yellos and candybars.

I want to go to The Late Edition but Matt wants a candy bar that they don’t carry, so we head across the street to the Quik Mart. We stop in surprise as we enter. There are over a hundred people in line! It stretches all around the aisles to the back of the store! Matt and I check the milk case but it is empty. Matt is glad, we have more money for candy and we can go get coffee and cheese fries at Cyrano’s if and when they open.

We are in the candy aisle looking for Matt’s candy bar when a man bursts through the door and runs to the counter screaming. At first everyone stands shocked, until we collectively realise he is robbing the store!

The robber grabs the woman behind the counter and starts shaking her. Matt and I look around and see that no one is breaking the line to go stop the robber! Matt and I are the youngest people in the store, and we are scared, but we decide to go up there. After all, there are two of us and he doesn’t have a gun. We creep down the aisle as swift as snails.

We are almost there when a man comes through the door, just to shop, and, seeing what’s happening, runs and tackles the robber. Matt and I are simultaneously relieved and disappointed. The man shouts for someone to call the police. Then the man yells at the line, why didn’t anyone do anything? No one notices our pre-empted heroism or us. We leave, dejected. We stand outside, not sure what to do next. Tom, the owner of The Late Edition, comes out of his store across the street and waves us over.

Tom is one of the first black businessman in The Loop. He is quiet and smart, and he always has time to listen to us talk about boyfriend troubles. He frequently advises us to never get married. He does not believe that the government should regulate love.

We always nod in vigorous agreement, even though we are going to be big stars and probably marry many times (well, I will anyhow) and have many lovers. We adore Tom as much as we adore Sean, The Loop’s surrogate daddy, or Joel and Vaughn, the New York City daddies.

We run across the street and begin breathlessly telling him our story. It spills out of us before we can stop it. As we tell it we realize that we are heroes. Us! Kids! Heroes! We were braver than anyone in the store was! Tom is smiling at us. “Well, that’s what you get for not coming over here to spend your money,” he chides us. “Why were you there in the first place?”

Exasperated, I explain that we needed milk, which his news-stand and video arcade does not carry. Tom agrees with a “yeah, okay.” But Matt pipes up that he doesn’t carry enough kinds of candy bars. Tom says he’ll get more, if we tell him what we buy. Tom loves money, and if he thinks he can get more of yours, he will do whatever it takes to get it.

But today, because we are heroes, he gives us free sodas and doesn’t yell at us for getting thumbprints on the New Musical Express. He still won’t sell us cigarettes, though. Tom doesn’t love money enough to do anything illegal or unethical. All of the kids find this annoying, rather than inspiring. It doesn’t matter; we’ll just come back when his brother is working. His brother will sell us anything in the store, cigarettes and dirty magazines included.

The police are out in front of the Quik Mart with the robber. The robber is in handcuffs, but the police just stand there. They are on foot. We leave The Late Edition and go outside to see what is happening and why everyone is just standing around. One lone cruiser is inching its way down the snow slick street, doing a Dorothy Hamill every few yards.

Ruth comes up behind us and asks us what is happening? Ruth is terrified of police, or anyone in uniform. She is old and Polish and spent her youth in a Nazi concentration camp. She has numbers on her arm that won’t wash out and voices in her head that tell her what she can and can’t do.

Most of the Loop’s older Jewish inhabitants have the numbers, but if they hear the voices they keep them in their own heads. All of them but Ruth carry bags of food from the Farmer’s Market with them everywhere they go, as if they are afraid they will never be able to get any again.

Ruth comes into The Copenhagen every night with a glass and gets free Diet Coke. No one minds giving Ruth free soda. Inventory is done with cups, and no one misses the few ounces of carbonated water and flavoured syrup.

But Ruth doesn’t like charity so she brings in cake that she has baked herself. We used to eat it. But one night Ruth came in angry and disoriented. The Magic, as she calls the voices in her head, would not let her go home and she had been sleeping in the Laundromat and eating at Dairy Queen.

That night, Sean asked her who The Magic was? She said that they had killed her family. Ruth has only a son who lives in Hawaii, and he never visits or calls. Everyone else in her family died in Nazi concentration camps. After that night we could never bring ourselves to eat Ruth’s cake again. What if The Magic told her to poison us?

And Ruth knows that we don’t eat it, and it makes her angry, so she doesn’t always speak to us now. Some nights she will come in with her glass and set it on the counter and wait for her drink and leave, all without speaking a word. But today she is scared, so she talks to us.

We tell her that the Quik Mart was almost robbed and she lets out a sigh, as if she has been holding her breath. The Copenhagen will be open today, yes? Because of her English we aren’t certain if it is question or not. She repeats it again and gestures towards the theatre. We see a line at the box office and realise it is open. We are thrilled; we have somewhere to go until Cyrano’s opens up!

Matt and I decide to go see if we are needed for questioning. We will set aside our dislike of the lackey oppressor pigs to do our duty, and, of course, to tell our heroic story. As we cross the street we discover that under the snow there is ice, and we can slide. We abandon our civic duty and go sliding up and down the street, past Alternative Albums, past The Copenhagen, down to the parking lot, and then turning around and running and sliding back up again.

Matt starts to sing one of our favourite songs, about Jackie Onassis and wearing dark sunglasses, but he has come up with new lyrics. Both of us had recently read Marge Piercy’s novel VIDA, about the Weather Underground, and Matt is a sixties aficionado. He sings “I want to be like Kathy Boudeen/I want to carry an M-16/ Oh yeah/ Oh yeah/ I said I’d be happy to be Kathy.”

I join in after the first refrain. One of the policemen turns around to stare at us, confounded that anyone would be shouting such words. This makes us ebullient! We sing louder. We run faster. We are sixteen! We are amazing! We are triumphant! We rule The Loop! And that is to say, we rule the whole world!

We do not know what lies ahead. We do not know that The Sophmore will close and ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW will move to The Copenhagen. That the next generation of audience participants will ruin the ROCKY experience by acting out the entire movie in The Copenhagen’s aisles, and by not allowing more than one costumed main character per audience.

We cannot foresee that Alternative Albums will expand into three large stores, the Loop location moving into the Sophmore’s space, and then as MP3’s and downloads become popular, shrink back to just the one Loop location. As of January 2008, they will be the last remaining music store in the Loop.

Heartbreak Hotel will expand into Cyrano's space, and Cyrano's will move up the street and become the largest bar, restaurant and nightclub in the Loop. Heartbreak Hotel will refurbish the street to the point that the lame West County kids’ and all of their spawn will crowd the neighbourhood on weekends, mostly walking back and forth, wearing Clash and Sex Pistols T-shirts, and eating at the hideous fast food restaurants.

We have no way of knowing that The Late Edition will fail, and that Tom will marry, divorce, and then brutally murder his estranged wife. We do not even guess that Ruth’s son will eventually come for her and take her to Hawaii with him, and that she will die there. Or that both Karin and I will move to Los Angeles, a few years apart, and that I, in a stupid rivalry over a boyfriend, will end our friendship.

Or that Sean, twenty-five years later, will have survived four sales of The Copenhagen-- until it is finally purchased and renovated by Heartbreak Hotel and declared a city landmark. Only to be repurchased by Landmark Theatres—with ROCKY showing on Saturday’s at midnight, until the millennium. (And once a year, “on a night in November”, after that.)

In many ways, Sean will become a kind of custodian and guardian of The Loop and its’ history and inhabitants. Sean will become the link that keeps all of us Loop kids in sporadic, third-party contact. And there will be times, many of them, when Sean’s letters and checks will be the only things that keep me alive.

Matt and I do know that one day we will become singers, but neither of us knows how short-lived or unremarkable our separate careers will be. We know that we will have many affairs, but neither of us knows how much heartbreak we will suffer.

We pointedly do not see the years of addictions ahead of us, and the many more years of methods and meetings struggling to rid ourselves of them. Neither of us could have foreseen that 18 years later I would turn this moment into a story during a dark and near-suicidal period in my life. Or that writing this story would save my life, the way that writing always does.

And we have only begun to feel the dark spectre of AIDS that, at that moment, has already fallen across Matt’s community, taking many of our friends and acquaintances without warning. Or, that within a generation, this horrifying disease will have become, if not commonplace, than accepted. Or that Matt himself will eventually succumb to HIV, but thankfully living with it, mostly healthy, for the rest of his still-continuing, and hopefully very long, life.

We do not know that in just three short years we will lose track of each other, and only see each once or twice in the next twenty five years, until I return here in 2007, to make peace with my old karma and the ghosts that have haunted me across two thousand miles and two decades.

We don’t see any of that, not at that moment. The real future has no place in our world yet. Only our dreams of the future.

What we do know at that moment-- at that perfect, beautiful, eternal moment--- is that we are perfect! That we are beautiful! That we are eternal! That we are heroes! And that David Bowie is a God. A God! And anyone who thinks differently is an idiot and deserves only contempt!

And that, at least, will never change.


Copyright 2000, 2008