The folk singer and the wallpaper photo incident


We were in the Sheraton hotel, having played some gigs somewhere, and we had to catch a plane to somewhere else. I say we, but I mean she. We had the same first name and did everything together for nearly a month, except she went on stage and sang songs and I hovered round the back, watching the hummus turn brown, the carrot sticks curl up and trying to count cash, to see if we had enough to pay for the hotel that night. Her manager told me to put it on my credit card, but I didn’t have one, I had no money at all except the 200 quid a week they were paying me, which come to think of it is more than I earn right now, in the modern world.
We stayed in the Sheraton a lot. I loved it. Clean sheets, air con, toilet wrapped like a present with a cellophane wrapper. And all the little soaps and creams. I thought if she were not crazy, or if I didn’t feel that she was crazy in way that was not compatible with my own craziness, I could do this forever. Just get on the plane or tour bus, get to the next city, set up her guitars, her mandolin, make sure she made the sound check on time, her interviews with local rags or glossy mags on time, and stand in the wings, listening to the same old spiel every night. Her patter was basically along the lines of , if you are homeless, and a woman, they will lock you up and say you are crazy. But she was missing the point which is that you can be homeless and crazy, and anyway, that was a lifetime ago, man, we were staying at the Sheraton. That’s like, the opposite of homelessness, but not the opposite of crazy.
Her American team had suggested a mini tour of homes for juvenile delinquents, kid prisons, only not ones for little offences like taking drugs or setting little fires easily put out, or robbing seven elevens. No, these kids had done really bad things like murder or attempted murder. That was one leg of the tour I really didn’t like. She would say to the audience how much she related to them, but it really wasn’t like Cash at Folsom. These were just fucked up kids who had maybe killed their own parents. She had not killed her parents. Her father was a lovely guy, an air of long suffering about him. He joined us for a while. Dollar Bill, we called him. He loved first editions by Jack London. We used to talk about books when she was on stage, but sometimes he went up with her.
But back at one of those Sheratons, I noticed we were running really short on time. We had to be at an airport in a few hours, and she had a man from People magazine chasing her for three states. I had no concept, til then, how she was really pretty big that year. People magazine. Three states. Why her? Why not, like, Cher? The guy from people kept ringing my room. He was in the lobby, had been for some time, he had had too much coffee, I could hear it in his voice. He was sick of the chase. After all, she was a folk singer on the up, not Cher, or Meatloaf. Mr. Loaf, as the New York Times had to call him.I said, stop with the coffee, have a real drink, we’ll be down in ten minutes. I did this for about four hours, just kept telling him to get drinks, we’d be right down. The more coffee he drank ( he was not drunk) the more desperate he sounded. “Look! You promised! Where is she? I need to file this story. You said whatever you are going to lie to me right now, you said that last time.”
He was right. I kept ringing her room but she would not answer. I didn’t want to knock the door in case she didn’t answer in live person and the bus boy had to use his swipe card and we’d find her swinging from a light fixture with an orange in her mouth. She didn’t seem the strange auto sex or suicidal type, but anything was possible and the main thing was to avoid a scandal. I rang and rang. Finally she answered. I said, hey look, the really important guy from People is here, and we have to leave in less than an hour, and he’s really pissed off.
She said, Oh,ok, well you can come into my room, I’m doing something really important, maybe he can come to the airport with us?
I said the magazine was more important than whatever she was doing. The only excuse would be near death illness, or perhaps an exorcism. She said oh just come up but don’t bring the guy.
So I went to her room and all over the bedspread with her clothes and bags and stuff were SX70 poloroid shots of what appeared to be the wallpaper.
I said, oh, OK, are you using these in the act? Is it a symbol? Wouldn’t it be faster just to tear a bit of wallpaper off and we could see if we could blow it up or something. Someone somewhere has the technology.
Yes, it’s a symbol. Look at it closely. What does it look like to you, this symbol, this symbol of evil?
Um, it looks like an S. My guess is that it stands for Sheraton.
She said, really?
I said, yeah, really, it makes sense. This is a Sheraton hotel. We see this S in every Sheraton hotel. It doesn’t stand for sugar or shit or Sherry, vicar, a small glass? It’s the name of the hotel, the first letter of it.
She said, I think it’s a swastika.
I said, you think the Nazi’s have taken over a nice hotel like the Sheraton? Um, please don’t share this idea with the guy from People.
She said, oh, but not just that, look in the bathroom, someone has turned the S’s into swastikas with a pen.
OK, I said, maybe a Nazi stayed here, a neo Nazi, and doodled in the bathroom, but it’s not a good reason to not do the interview and drive the guy crazy and shit, our plane leaves in one hour, we should be checked in right now. We have to go right now. He’ll have to come with us.
I threw all her dirty leggings in a bag, gathered up the instruments, went to get my own stuff, and just kept saying to myself “I can’t do this any more. This is nuts. But I’ll quit or get sacked after People.”
We got downstairs. The guy was hopping mad. I said how sorry we were, that the singer had been indisposed, and that now we had to go to the airport, but he could come with us. He didn’t like this and said right away, to her, that name you use, it’s not your real name, that age you use, it’s not your real age. Both of these things were true, I had the passport, but boy this was a bad opening gambit. But it startled her. She said, we could do an on the road piece.
He said, I can’t follow you for any more states. It’s been three.
She said I mean on the road to the airport.
He said that takes like 15 minutes.
She looked at him like, take it or leave it. That’s all you got.
He took it. We squeezed in the back of a cab and for the first and last time in my life I said to the driver, “Step on it, Mister.”
He asked some questions. She may or may not have answered. I was having a panic attack and trying not to throw up, or throw myself out of the car.
We made the plane. I dunno if she ever got into People.
That was 27 years ago. She is still around,doing gigs, giving someone else a nervous breakdown, maybe. I work right near where I live and don’t have to manage anyone. I polish glasses. It’s not all that, but it doesn’t make me nervous. I haven’t stayed in a Sheraton since then, I’m pretty sure. I hope it’s the same, with the soaps and Ss and gift wrapped toilets.

“Run like a bunny.” But I didn’t know what bunnies ran like. I was from NY and had only every seen chocolate ones. If she had said run like a squirrel I might not have been sacked.


mama k's true stories

It was a whole summer of dog day afternoon killer heat in NYC, the sort when you can see it , in a certain light, come off in waves from the pavement. That if you dropped your shopping from Associated, and it had eggs in it, they might just fry lightly ( over easy) on the side walk.
I can recall my mother in her suit and sneakers. It was the look back then, suit to show you were professional, sneakers to show you walked faster than tourists or people who didn’t have jobs to run to. Shoulder pads to, I dunno what they were for, I guess to make us look like footballers, athletic. Or Joan Crawford. It was a look that said getthefuggouddamyway, I got a briefcase, I gotta life, I got letters to type and phone calls to answer and I am going to do this faster…

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“Run like a bunny.” But I didn’t know what bunnies ran like. I was from NY and had only every seen chocolate ones. If she had said run like a squirrel I might not have been sacked.


It was a whole summer of dog day afternoon killer heat in NYC, the sort when you can see it , in a certain light, come off in waves from the pavement. That if you dropped your shopping from Associated, and it had eggs in it, they might just fry lightly ( over easy) on the side walk.
I can recall my mother in her suit and sneakers. It was the look back then, suit to show you were professional, sneakers to show you walked faster than tourists or people who didn’t have jobs to run to. Shoulder pads to, I dunno what they were for, I guess to make us look like footballers, athletic. Or Joan Crawford. It was a look that said getthefuggouddamyway, I got a briefcase, I gotta life, I got letters to type and phone calls to answer and I am going to do this faster than you. And L’Eggs pantyhose to make you sweat in places you never knew you could sweat from. They came in egg shaped containers, so they if you were a little kinky, you could be forgiven for thinking they were edible chocolate pantyhose. Actually can you imagine anything less sexy? Or impractical? It was a terrible ensemble, and every woman with an office job back then wore some version of it.
My mother and I both had temp jobs through an agency that hired temps. Her one sounded kind of fun. She had to answer phones for a porno mag called Jugs. She had to answer the phone “Jugs!” every time. My mother is from Liverpool but trained herself out of her accent to sound all RP, so she said it in a very posh English accent. “Jugs. How may I help you?” She told me a lot of the callers, poor things, seemed to have breathing difficulties. Perhaps asthma, from all the pollution hanging heavy in a cloud over the frying city, but never raining and putting us all out of our suited, L’eggs misery. Sometimes she would give then the name of our family doctor. Very good with chesty problems, she said. “And you know Michele, sometimes they would just laugh when I said that. Or hang up. Most peculiar.
My job was in an office owned by two men, both called Mr. Jones. Neither were ever there. So I would answer the phone and say “Mr. Jones office.” And the caller would ask to speak to Mr. Jones. And I would say, “Which one?” and they would say, the older one, or the younger one, never anything more descriptive, like the fat one in head to toe polyester, or the one with the disco haircut and too much chest hair. And I’d say just one moment, please. And I would look around the tiny office, and wait thirty seconds, and say, “I’m ever so sorry, Mr Jones has popped out to a meeting. May I take a message?” and the person would sigh and say “Oh OK, I’ll speak to the other Jones.” And I’d do the pause and say, sorry, he doesn’t seem to be here either.” And then they would leave a message, or say oh forfucksake and slam the phone down. And I would say to myself, for there was no one else to talk to, “No need to be rude.” and then either get out my nail file (I’d seen it in movies, it’s what bored secretaries do) or practice my typing. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy brown dog.” or asdf;lkj. I didn’t even know what the Joneses did, so I could not keep up with them, if they even existed. It seemed to a front for something else. There were two sets of lavatory keys. Both toilets were awful, but one had doors on the stalls. And toilet paper. So I used that one, even though that one was for the Mr. Joneses. I rang the agency and said you know, there is nothing to do here, there isn’t even anyone here, ever, and they said oh, that’s OK, because we have a vacancy right here in the temp office. Can you do switchboard?
And I said “Can I do switchboard??? Of course, even blindfolded.”
I’d never been near a switchboard in my life.
She said, “No need to do it blindfolded. Just get over here first thing tomorrow morning and I’ll show you the system.”
The next morning I put on my suit and my L’eggs and sneakers and ran to the subway, ran from the subway stop in midtown to the office, ran to the elevator. The woman said, oh, good, here you are, on time. We get hundreds of calls a minute. The main thing to do is be really nice and just get rid of them. She showed me, pressing all sorts of buttons very quickly, saying hello, number one temps, or whatever they were called, and “certainly,” and it was all a bit of a blur. She left me to it and as soon as the first person rang, I disconnected them. Then the second. In fact within the first five minutes I had hung up on everyone. The admin lady came back and said “whatthefuckiswrong with you?” and I said, “But you said, just get rid of them” And she said “oh fuckjesuschristwhataretard” and said, “I meant, get them hooked up to the person they need to speak to or take a message.”
She looked me up and down. She said, “OK, you don’t do switchboard. You do errands. Take this franking machine to the post office, fast fast fast. Get a hundred bucks put on it and run back, fast. Run. Run like a bunny.”
“”Run like a bunny? Like, hop? Surely that would be slower?”
She swore a whole bunch so I took the franking machine which weighed a ton, ran out of the office, and just out of badness, when I got to the street, I hopped, I hopped like the bunnies I’d seen in cartoons. Then I walked the rest of the way in my more natural tortoise gait. When I got back, hours later, I was fired.
My mother and I agreed to meet on the steps of the big library in midtown, with the lions. It’s in all the movies. We saw each other, even though we looked like everyone else in suits and sneakers and L’eggs. And I told her I was fired and she said she had been fired too. Maybe for the unsolicited medical advice, she was not sure. We treated ourselves to Orange Julius, a foamy orange drink which was like a cold orange cappuccino. It was, I recall, disgusting. But cold. On the F train home, I mused, “I think we are too artistic and sensitive for the working world.” She nodded. We’ve both been pretty poor ever since.

A long time ago I slept with the stars, sort of.

I slept with a bunch of celebs over a long weekend in the 80s.


Well OK, not live in person. 
For one long weekend in the early 80s, I was locked up in a small room in New York’s West Village. The sole furnishings were thousands of back issues of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. This was a storage space for unsold copies and my good friend Buzz was squatting in it, his taxi-driver wages not sufficient to cover any sort of rent. It was uninhabitable. He lived there for two years.

It was early on in the Reagan era. We had such a mutual horror of this president and, looking back on it, of life in general, that we decided it might be best to hide away, read poetry and spend any spare money on Valium. It was so easily available on prescription back then, or you could always find some junkie on Delancy St, who would sell you some. We lived day to day. It never occurred to us that Reagan would get in for a second term. We were not romantically involved, just two sedated souls sitting out the Republican years in friendship and squalor. 
I was a school teacher, sharing a very small “railroad” apartment in Brooklyn with an optometry nurse and another girl who did something in finance. I had no privacy. So when Buzz asked me to come and stay in the Warhol bunker while he went upstate to visit a friend, I hopped on the F train and was there before either of us had time to change our minds.
The room was about ten by five, maybe bigger, but so stacked with unsold copies of Interview that it was hard to gauge where walls ended and magazines began. There was a small sink at the back, for clean drinkable water. And for pissing in. 

The covers were all just faces, painterly photos of Madonna, Sting, Tom Cruise, Grace Jones Debbie Harry, and Buzz had created furniture out of them. The bed was made from the Brooke Shields issue. She’d been in a film where her tits were covered by her hair the whole time. That was all I knew about her. The pillows were Bianca Jagger. I remember a sort of desk made entirely out of Tom Cruise’s face, a good, non-distracting choice. The chair was Grace Jones, and this presented me with a problem. I didn’t mind sitting on her face, but her teeth were bared like fangs and I always felt I might get bitten.

Sanitation was rudimentary, downright crude. Number ones were in the sink, pleasantly flushed. Number twos, however, were – in an emergency – a hollowed out chair with a bin bag containing shredded copies of the magazines, shredded faces staring up at you, expectantly. But I didn’t need to do that for the entire three days because there was no food. I’d been accidentally 
   locked in. Buzz had forgotten to give me the keys, and I’d forgotten to ask for them. We were heavily sedated at the time, but still. He could have remembered maybe by the time his train was a couple of hours up the Hudson Valley, but he didn’t. 
So I made the best of it and read a lot over that long weekend – the interviews in Interview, transcriptions of famous people asking other famous people to pass the salt in some famous restaurant. Buzz also had a volume of Baudelaire, in French, which I couldn’t read, apart from the words “chat” and “mal”  He also had a record player with one record, the Velvet Underground and Nico, keeping with the Warhol scheme of things and also a very good record.
Years later, apropos of nothing, he wrote me a letter which said, “Of course, any society that would hold Warhol up as an artist is one in deep malaise.”
Even more years later, in London, I went to a Warhol opening with my best friend. We bunged our way in, uninvited. I had an urge to tell Andy my storage space story, so that he would think oh, hey, like an installation. Or say “How cute. But you owe me a lot of rent.” He watched his money very carefully, I gleaned from his diaries. Every cab fare, every tip went recorded. But I thought better of it and anyway it was impossible to get near him, surrounded by sycophants and press. All I heard him say was that his favourite British band was “Banaaanaraaama”
During that very long weekend in the squat, I had no idea how I would get out, let alone eventually move to London and start a new kind of life.  I played that one record over and over, read French poems with no comprehension, took drugs and slept on Brooke Shields face. Buzz came back on the third day. I was ink stained, hungry, and really in need of some fresh air. He just said, “Oh, sorry, I forgot to give you the key.”
Buzz is dead now. Warhol is dead. My best friend is dead, It’s probably safe to tell this story now without getting anyone into trouble.
by Michele Kirsch