In Honor of Spring Cleaning: Seven Days. Seven Dresses. (Probably) Seven Bad Puns.
It was a cotton-blend shirt dress, roughly forty years old, in a brown tartan print with a hint of antifreeze blue woven through the plaid. The bodice was unflatteringly long-waisted and missing two of the five covered buttons that otherwise gaped over my breasts. The skirt fanned out into uneven box pleats at the hips. Worn to shine in patches and reeking of mothballs, it looked like something that had been fished out of a garbage bin moments before it was enlisted as oil rag. I found it buried in the back of a vintage store, past the racks of delicate, fairy princess party dresses made for delicate, tiny-waisted fairy princesses, and not fat nineteen-year-old punk rockers determined to take a level in ugly. When I asked the proprietor what he wanted for it, he gave me a shrug, I dunno. A dollar seem reasonable?
At the time, I was hanging out with the safety-pinned gas station jacket enthusiast set. Like me, they were mostly white kids with fucked-up hair. They were pretty sure the American experiment was over, that any day The People would swarm the streets to demand a radical restructuring of society. There was a lot of talk about the coming revolution; all I was ever able to suss out was that it would definitely involve bicycles, a bunch of bands I liked, and probably a vegan cookout. Until then, the most important thing we could do was keep making flyers and not sell out to a major label.
I thought I might refashion myself as a radical leftist. I was (and still am) attracted to angry with people with a barbed sense of humor. The type of person inclined to go apoplectic when human beings treat other human beings like less than. I figured the far left was as good a place as any to make friends and find lovers. I read the books. I tried to sort out the factions, such as they were, in the college district of a New South city with a complicated racial history and a (still) deeply segregated population. I scrawled Emma Goldman quotations on my book bag in black marker. I tried to get into Crass.
I went to an anti-death penalty protest. I didn’t make any new friends. Most of my fellow protesters were vehemently Pro-Life in all contexts, a fact I only discovered after complaining loudly to the women around me about the terrible anti-abortion protesters that showed up every Saturday to picket the clinic across the street from my apartment. I was met with cold stares and the glint of candlelight reflected off crosses. Turns out the modern nun wears tailored cardigans and slacks and/or a nice pencil skirt. No veil. Who knew? Reader: I have never felt so Protestant.
I had already registered as a Democrat, but I signed up for the Communist Party when I found an ad in the back of a zine. Are you now or have you ever been? Duh. Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman were one of my favorite celebrity couples. I sent a form and $5; they sent me a lapel pin and a list of regional meetings. The closest one took place in an afterhours classroom on campus. There, I found a room of four people quietly writing postcards to Zapatistas, while a forty-something dude leered at the girls and tried to lead the group in a Woody Guthrie sing-along. It didn’t really feel like my scene, so I cracked a joke about Stalin and skedaddled out of there as fast as my lug-soled Mary Janes would take me.
Punk Rock Roommate didn’t ask where I’d been.She was student of both the Russian Language and Revolution(in general) as a historical subject, but had little use for political pieties. I met her for dinner (free, vegetarian, hosted by the Hari Krishnas at the campus interfaith house). We sat on the porch swing while and discussed bankrupt ideologies, how you could never trust a man with both a bald head and a ponytail and how maybe the reason we didn’t hate the Clintons entirely was that they reminded me of our parents, who we couldn’t really bring ourselves to hate. One of the Krishna dudes interrupted us to say that the meals were only free so long as we gave a donation. Punk Rock roommate gave him about four word-perfect definitions of the word “free,” and then suggested he fuck off. And that’s how we got banned from free Krishna dinners.
We went to a noisy, smelly house show to see a bunch of noisy, smelly punk rock bands. Between sets, we sat on a derelict upholstered sofa that had been left to rot on the front porch through all four seasons of Piedmont humidity. We smoked cigarettes among skinny white boys arguing points of ideological purity seemingly indistinguishable from music taste. An abandoned old school with shattered palladian windows loomed on a hill over us surrounded by long-rusted chain link. Periodically, I would imagine I saw shadows inside. I suspected they were benign.
I was mostly unhappy in those days—no one who wears that much brown by choice can possibly be emotionally stable–but I liked the house shows and the zines and that romantic end of the world feeling.
The dress exhausted itself in late 1997, I drove home from a Jesus Lizard show at Cat’s Cradle and the fabric disintegrated at the seams when I took the dress off. For a time, I had a few of the buttons saved in an old Band-Aid box, but eventually it too was lost to time.