Tea Time

by Michelle Tea on April 9, 2004

Boston, where I am from and where I sit today, visiting, has a reputation for being populated with raging assholes. The famous temperment leaches out from Boston proper and infects the entire state, giving rise to words like ‘Massholes’–the definition, of course, being People From Massachusetts.

The slander is true. Though nobody has behaved particulalry scaborously toward me in thge eighteen hours since I touched down at Logan airport, my own crankiness has bloomed. Back in San Francisco, where I was nice and kind and free-spirited, I rose gracefully at an absurdly early hour and traipsed dreamily through the Mission, the sun just beginning to lighten the sky, the air oddly balmy. Tweakers and drug dealers beat-boxed quietly to themselves, striding purposefully down the pre-dawn streets. A civilized escalator carried me and my stupidly enormous wheeled luggage down inot BART, and I rode the carpeted (!), upholstered (!) subway out to SFO station which, incredibly, is sequined. In case you haven’t seen it. Winds generated by trains and people shiver the tens of thousands of metallic scales pinned to the walls, creating flashy and delicate waves of shimmer and triggering a wave of what my boyfriend and I call Small World Feeling. Small World Feeling is the awestruck and overwhelmed sensation produced by a childhood sail on the It’s A Small World ride at Disney. It is the experience of being so moved by an artificial, person-made beauty that you are gripped by an anxious inspiration, a desire to create a monument as glittered and animated and complete, topped by the sinking suspicion that the closest you will come to fulfilling this dream is painting the trim in your bedroom and eccentric shade of lavender. You get it? Anyway, the BART station at SFO twinkled in the early-morning light and filled me with the need to nail a million individual sequins to my bedroom wall. Leaving the installation, I borded a cute, boxy tram that brought to mind the Tomorrowland People Mover of yore–the whole SFO BART experience is wicked Disney–and was glided to my terminal. Everything was so seamless and temperate and escalated. And then I touched down in Boston.

Boston is the old world. If we could chop our country into fragments and liken the shards to various other countries, Boston would be Russia. The Bay Area would be, um, the Bay Area. I felt my sunny Californian disposition begin to curdle with my view of the freezing downpour occuring beyond the sliding-glass doors of the baggage claim. I had attempted to pack for the weather, but even whrn this region was my home I had a hard time. I wore a ripped-up bunny fur coat I bought off leo, the homeless guy who sels stuff at 15th and Mission and likes to hold a finger to his lips and say ‘Sssssh!’ and crack himself up. I didn’t bring my umbrella and I hadn’t worn tights so my legs were bare beneath my skirt. I rolled my pack, a pack large enough to zip yourself into and o to sleep–out to catch the free shuttle to the subway. Unlike the stylish, sunset-hured AirBART buses that have an entry flush with the curb and easy to roll your luggageonto, the Boston shuttle appeared to be an old city bus that got put down in 1972–long, square and belching, with a tight little staircase to haul your bulky baggage up as the frosted-haired bus mean-mugs you. The bus dumps you off at the Airport T station, in East Boston. There are no glimmering, sequined art installations. The closest the Boston T comes to such subway art are the long bells you can ring with a hand-crank at a stop in Cambridge. The Airport station, incredibly, does not even have an escalotor. I gently heave my ridiculously huge pack down, down, down the stairs, to the bleak and rainy subway platform. At State Street I change trains. My pack makes an awful machine-gun sound as I roll it through the brick tunnel that conencts to the Orange Line, feeling honestly bad for the subway busker performing Beatles covers on his acoustic guitar as my luggage drowns out his cover of Rocky Racoon. At the end of the tunnel I pull my pack up two flights of stairs, because escalotors have not yet arrived on the east coast. I grip the rail to steady myself for each slow heave, dislocating my shoulder and aggravating my old eyeliner knee injury. I got one bum knee, and I’m certain it’s from all the years I spent kneeling on the bumpy wooden floor of my old apartment on 14th Street, putting eyeliner on in my mirror.

On the train into Jamaica Plain–the Mission District of Boston, essentially–I glare at my fellow passangers. They glare back. They glared first, if you must know. It’s not personal, it’s just our faces. Everyone has been miserably navigating the rain, the gloomy old subways with their lack of escalators, their joints creaking and twinging in the cold damp. Everyone’s Seasonal Affective Disorders are out in full force. The placards above our heads recruit medical research subjects for a host of mental disorders. A guy on crutches spare changes, to no avail. When half the subway door sticks closed at a stop, an oncoming passenger gives it a savage kick open and we all envy his brief release. I remember with relief that Stonybrook, my stop, is a newer station equipped with one of them new-fangled escalators. But when I disembark onto the chilled, wet platform, the giant metal staircase is still.

That was last night. This morning I rode the subway in open-toed shoes, umbrellaless. It’s pouring. I had been rather proud of myself for wearing socks with my open-toed shoes, but my pride melted as I learned that the socks are just one more layer of soaked freezingness clinging to my numbed feet. The hem of my jeans absord the flooded sidewalks, my glasses are sprayed with rain and the rest of my clothing is constructed of synthetic material that just smear the drops around the glass when I try to dry them. I look through my smudged lenses at my fellow passengers giving me a traditional New England suspicious once-over. I thought: These are my people. I inspected their walled-off little faces, already weary from the day at 10AM. I thought: I am one of them. I’d even worn a blazer. But really, I wasn’t feeling it. Even the misanthropic weather and my stupid fashion decisions couldn’t dampen my native and somewhat Californian optimism, my habit of shooting quick little smiles at the people I ride public transportation with. Of course these gestures of friendliness get stomped on everywhere, not just in Boston, but back home of the 14 Mission bus the hostility is likely to come in the form of a thirteen year-old girl with painted-on eyebrows, or a red-eyed, ranting gentleman who is clearly crazypants. Here in Boston, where any gesture of noncomformity, such as a smile, is viewed as a sort of treason to the state of Normalcy everyone;s pledged alliegance to, my flower-child grin is met with grim blankness. What am I, a fucking hippie?

I miss San Francisco. My travels are causing me to miss Evidence, an art opening at The lexington Club. Evidence is a dual show, featuring the photography of Rebecca McBride, whose pictures turn up around town quite often. Rebecca took the picture on the cover of my book Valencia. Portraits of curb-dwelling, malt-liquor-sucking miniskirted femmes are her province, as are the strong and tender bodies of women surviving cancer, or the birch tree scarred with the carved declaration Thank god for all the good looking ladies.

Showing with Rebecca McBride is the delightful, deliberate, whimsical and clever installation artist Laurel Frank. Frank makes “tweaker art without the tweaking.” The first Frank craetion I ever beheld gave me some wicked bad Small World Feelings. It was an actual, operating Hovercraft, a one-person module that looked like the Vespa of the UFO world. Covered in long-haired white fake-fur, it invited you to climb into it’s recliner-like insides and make yourself loungey. Once settled in, you could search the many pockets sewn into the vehicle’s pelt, perhaps selecting a glamorous pair of sunglasses, or a volume of Cookie Mueller’s writings. Finally, you hit a button and the thing whirs to life, lifting you straight off the floor. Incredibly, you hover It’s a Hovercraft. Frank calls her AC-powered contraption “a tethered escape mechanism”, and, alas, it will not be part of the show at the Lexington Club because there is simply no room for such a thing in the bar and besides, it’s snowy fur would get sioled and matted with the spilled liquor of tipsy ladies. What will be shown in the Evidence show is a showgirl headress of delicate paper flowers meticulously fashioned from the fragile yellow paper of credit card receipts. Thousands of itty-bitty boats origamied from a pile of non-winning Lotto tickets left behind by a hopeful ex-girlfriend. Clothing sewn from deconstructed men’s underwear, including the child’s dress featured at the ‘Panty Waste’ underwear show at Balazo Gallery some months back. The dress will be joined by “a cravat, and giant, faggy sleeves,” says the artist. “I’m embroidering them with my own hair, fuzzy little hearts. It’s kind of about my own personal gender identity.” Frank’s hair is it’s own art installation, a fabulous fountain of enviable, glossy black curls, and she’s been in the habit of holding on to every stran she sheds. “I feel funny about them lying around,” she shrugged.

Evidence opens at the Lexington Club Tuesday, April 6th. The art remains up until May 14th. The Lexington Club is located at 3463 19th Street, in the Mission.

Michelle Tea is the author of the memoir The Chelsea Whistle, the Lambda Award-Winning dyke drama Valencia, and the editor of the recently released Without a Net: Anthology of Writing by Working-Class Women. She can be reached via www.purpleglitter.com

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