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For ‘Lit Undressed: Fashion In Literature’…My Favorite Bellbottoms

Gentle Readers and Friends of Flesh and Republished Blogs,

We have been tied up in many projects of late and the Fall performance by the Lit Undressed group of Omaha, NE, looms large in our headlights. The Omaha Lit Fest, a wonderful event and one of the many cultural offerings to be found in the ‘NoDo’ (Northern Downtown) area of Omaha, is partly funded by the Nebraska Council for the Arts, as well as many other community-minded organizations. Omaha seems like a great place to live. The more we hear about it, the more we find to like.

The event takes place October 13-15 and rehearsals started this week. Here is a brief summary of the event, this go-round:

The focus of this year’s (downtown) Omaha lit fest is Silk & Sawdust, the heart and mechanics and literature. Authors will participate in panels, readings and discussions to lift the corner of the curtain on their methods and processes, and look at the literal tools of production—including book-making and design, and our curious nostalgia for the typewriter.

Included in this theme are fashions of famous literary characters—from the Tin Woodman’s heart of silk and sawdust in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, to Jay Gatsby’s pink rag of a suit in The Great Gatsby, to Jane Eyre’s grey and black gowns and Virginia Woolf’s explanation of fashion in Orlando, fashion plays a major role in many characters’ roles and sometimes the storyline.

When presented with ‘fashion’ as a subject, we immediately blogged about old shoes…a more recent blog which can be found by searching on this page. This time, we decided to write about…well, you can read the title….

My Favorite Bellbottoms

Getting my money’s worth out of the Nehru shirt I purchased was no easy feat. It could not be worn to catholic school because it would not work with a tie. Too nice to wear while out playing in the fields, there was no way my parents would let it see the inside of a church. If the flag of rebellious dress was to be foisted, the bellbottom jeans became the banner to wear.
There were many styles to choose from. Colored denim, red with black patch pockets, for example, were becoming passe’ as the low-riding, button fly, hip-hugger style with the slit pockets and wide flare took top wrung on the fashion ladder. I stuck with the zipping fly, being more practical than trendy. ‘Landlubbers’ was the brand of choice for the hip. Headshops and other counterculture stores sold them, while you could buy Wrangler, Lee and other popular brands, not near as cool, at Sears and other ‘straight’ stores.

Landlubber Jeans also advertised in Rolling Stone, so they had to be good. Dylan, Robert Plant, the Allman Brothers, the Rolling Stones…they all wore Landlubbers.
Eventually, the company expanded from jeans to corduroy offerings.
Worn correctly, they had to be long enough…preferrably, slightly too long. The ideal pair had the heels worn away at the back bottom seam from being tread under bare feet, platform shoes or a pair of Dingo boots with a metal ring on the side, as advertised in Rolling Stone!
Being well over six feet tall, I preferred Dingos and often enjoyed the sight of a friend caught in mud in the middle of a cornfield, trapped by thick sole and heels which had settled into plowed Earth as we stood in a circle and puffed. Enough said about The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys!
At first, bells were available in denim only, which presented a quandry in that denim jeans were ‘play clothes’. For school wear, we had the loud plaid pants with the wide cuffs which fell across the top of our platform shoes. Play clothes stuck around until replaced when worn out. School clothes needed to be new each year. This led many to cut straight-legged jeans up the inseam to the knee and insert a triangle of fabric to make the leg ‘flare’ into a ‘bell’. My mom was not going in for this. It was by skipping lunch and saving bus money by hitch-hiking to school that cash to get a store-bought pair became available.
At the headshop, stacked in neat piles between the vintage WWII gear, which was also en vogue, the slacks beaconed. The wide-wale corduroy, low-rise, slit-pocket with the little flowers, known as ‘Keith Richards pants’ due to a popular photo of him wearing them, proved the perfect ticket to trendiness. Not denim, the nuns could not say a word about them being jeans, just like they could not argue that the black ‘tails’ I kept hanging in my locker for daily wear was not a ‘jacket’. In retrospect, certainly I looked like an ass. This was done purposely to rile the ‘squares’ and the nuns, especially. They had dominated what we wore for all of grammar school and now, in high school, we could fight back. Brandishing the only tattoo on a student – a homemade starfish on my left hand – I had already trumped authority at 16 years of age. With hair to my shoulders, they didn’t even notice the earring. This was 1973.
The Nehru sold at a garage sale but those cords wore down to a frazzle. They attracted attention. Every non-polite epithet for ‘homosexual’ was hurled at me while hitch-hiking in such style…but when you are young, you like the attention! Now, everybody has tattoos and earrings. The starfish was surgically removed around 1990 and the earring came out long before. Both became too popular among the same group they used to annoy. Too old to wear three pairs of boxer shorts, and the tops of my jeans at mid-thigh to reveal them, soon I begin my 55th year…that may sound old to some but I would not be young again, if given the chance…I would miss growing up in the 1960s… things were much more fun.
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Spring is Here, With All Good Cheer. Birds Chirp. Frogs Burp.

     Bargainhunters, Runts and Punters,

     If the title of this post sounds familiar to you, it is because it was lifted from a book by the late Bennett Cerf, called Write Me A Poem, Baby.  This was a favourite book from my youth, in which Cerf asked children to write poems and collected them into a book, maybe even a second volume.

     What does that have to do with ratty, old shoes?  What?  Do you think we start these blogs without a solid purpose in mind for each and every one? Of course we don’t!  We write these by the seat of our pants for a few lovely people who look forward to them.  The shoes, by the by, have seen more wildlife than many children who live in the city.  They have been thrown at rabbits, squirrels, dogs and a few other small mammals. 

     Purchased in December of 2002, while picking up a pair of black oxfords to wear to my dad’s funeral, these became my ‘going to the office shoes’ until we were downsized in 2004.  They had an easy life for a year after that, until they were no longer fit for casual wear in public.  At that point, a new pair of dock shoes were purchased and these became the ‘lawnmowing/snowshoveling’ shoes.  They have weathered feet of snow, countless walks through my lawn, which by any definition is not actually a lawn.  At this time, it is mostly pretty, blue violets, as you can see…

     This sort of thing drives my neighbors crazy, as they think lawns should be green and comprised of grass.  We do not have a lawn so much as some grass mixed with violets, strawberries, dandelions and whatever the birds drop there.  The birds come for the flowers, we think.  We also believe that the creator puts those blue flowers there to sooth us and get us through the days of Spring Fever.  We enjoy sitting on the porch and letting our eyes relax to a blur and letting the colours sink in while we listen to the laboured grunts of all the neighbors who are on hands and knees on their lawns, digging and poisoning these little gifts of the season.  These people wear big boots and use noisy equipment in the maintenance of their yards, protecting their tootsies from mower blades, slips from ladders, icy patches and all those thing we ignore while shovelling and mowing barefoot in worn-out dock shoes.  These people have a work costume for each season.  It is the only funny thing about living here.

     The birds do enjoy my yard, as the returning families of robins, bluejays, cardinals and doves attest.  Plants are put in for their benefit, so that they swoop in and expose themselves to my cats, who sit in the window and think about what they would do to them.  This year, we may build a small chicken-wire-and-wood house for the kitties, so they can be outside on nice days.  Up until now, they have had to settle for the fresh catnip which grows out back and is already about eight inches tall, as you can see…

      If you have cats and do not grow catnip for them, shame on you.  You need to be a better pet owner and that is the fact, jack.  It is pleasant to see the catnip up so early and our pals, Inkie and Budderz, are quite happy with the fact.  What does worry us a bit is the early bloom of the lilacs.  We love the smell.  Some are put in a bedroom vase to evoke dream images from Springs Gone By.  It seems that they usually do not bloom until late May or early June but it is time, as you can see…

     That smell sure brings back the memories.  It reminds me of Mother’s Day and the hope of Summer.  The lilacs are nice and we are proud of them, even though they were here when we bought the house.  Prouder still are we of the fern, which we planted along the whole North side of the house and the tendrils of which are just pushing through the soil and reaching to the sky, like so…

     If you were to see the neighborhood the house is situated in, a white trash hell where Nascar is King and the proof is in the trucks parked on the lawns, you might understand why plants and pollen are so important.  Most of these plants upset those boot-people near me, since they cannot cut them to a height of one inch nor be sure all the blades of grass point in the same direction.  Birds appreciate what humans do not.

     As we started this rambling tome with a poem, allow us to end it with a piece of primordial literature, mined from the files and spilled from the skull of a nine-year-old Michael Hendrick, who in the Fifth Grade showed great slyness in using words to waste space in order to avoid being ruler-whipped by a nun who was easily enraged by blank spots on sheets of paper.  This may be one of the earliest works of art by the young Poet, as he learned words were to become his salvation.  Please enjoy ‘Spring’s Charms’.

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On Language (contains explicit vocabulary)

     Dearest Readers,

We have not gone on a porn tangent caused by too much time alone.  We show the cover of an old copy of National Screw to exemplify the meaning of this blog, one which we touched on here once before, that being

“Cunt is the Nigger of the Nouns”.

     They are simply words, mind you, no different from other words, except for the power they are given by the denial of them.  Mark Twain famously used the word nigger in Huck Finn, as did John Lennon in Woman Is the Nigger of the World, from which we obviously stole our catchphrase.  R.P. McMurphy called Big Nurse a cunt in the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Jack Nicholson mouthed it in that role in the 1975 movie.

Both words have the tendency to get the user into trouble ~ but why is that?  Like Lenny Bruce used to note, it is perfectly fine for movies and media to show violence, murder, war, mass murder, torture, etc…but the motion picture advisory group draws the line at making love.  You are not allowed to watch closely simulated sex, which is a legal act, usually, but you can see some pretty macabre violence without looking too far.

What does that say about us as a society?

Many years ago, as the result of not being a racist, fate found me living in Newport News, VA.  Previously, my residence was in Norfolk, where my ‘schtick’ at the time was running telemarketing rooms for performing arts companies.  This was a particularly daunting enterprise, as it put me in the position of trying to get southerners to communicate intelligently on a phone.  This was in the mid-1980s, before the internet, when people still had very strong regional dialects and a ‘southern’ accent could be baffling to one from North of the Mason Dixon.

One bright light was a woman who answered my newspaper ad.  Her name was Miriam and she was a school teacher who spoke superbly understandably.  The only problem was that she was a black woman.  While running the telephone room was my duty, the theatre company we were selling tickets for was the client.  One day, the client asked me to get rid of Miriam because it did not seem like a good idea to have a black woman represent the theatre.  That evening, Miriam got a $50 bonus.  She would not be fired by me.

We finished the sales campaign and it was back north for me, doing a fund drive at the New York City Ballet Company in Lincoln Center.  My employer, who lived on the west coast, was in New York and wanted to see me.  We met at the great Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel on 44th Street.  The scene of the famous Algonquin Round Table, it was a thrill for me to be there…until the subject of Miriam came up.  Explaining the situation, it came down to one thing – the client is where the money comes from.  Choosing the side of an employee over the client, all racism considered, was wrong, he told me.  While it had been one of my best jobs yet, sticking to my guns was the only way to go.  Miriam will never know that my job was taken away because of her and that is better because she was so sweet, she would have blamed herself.  I had principles, damn it.

My return to Virginia, precipitated by an offer of a place to live from Ferd, was not so much fun as the first stay.  It was summer, it was hot, Ferd’s wife was a bitch and she prevailed upon him to have me move elsewhere.  A guy in the apartment complex had an extra bedroom and he ran a landscaping business.  Free lodging came with a job, so weed-eater operating became my latest vocation, trimming the edges of lawns while three other guys, two black, one white, mowed them.

The white guy, an idiot of epic proportions, wore headphones most of the time and carried an extra-large ‘Big Gulp’ cup in one hand while he pushed the mower with the other.  The two blacks guys were always laughing at him and it left me no choice but to join them.  They were alright and we worked close.  We sweated into each other when we sat in the hot truck.  We drank beer out of the same 40 ounce bottles at lunch.  We smoked the same funny, hand-rolled cigarettes and sometimes even smoked tobacco together.

With these two guys, nigger was a word they managed to work into almost every sentence.  They called each other nigger, they called me nigger, it was niggerniggernigger, all the time.  One day, on the pretence of getting some angel dust, the author gave one of them five dollars to buy it with.  Then he disappeared for a few days, as always seems to happen when lending money.  Both guys lived in an apartment near ours, so while drinking beer on a Saturday, he cut across the parkinglot below.  While knowing we are all in full control of whatever comes out of our mouths, when “Hey, where’s my five bucks, nigger?” came out of mine, it was not meant as an insult, since he had niggered me so many times.

In response, he charged the stairs to the balcony in an PCP-induced rage, forcing me to kick him in the chest when he reached the top of the steps.  It seemed like only seconds from the time he rolled down the steps until he tried again, only with a baseball bat.  That was good enough for me to retreat, since he was taking this much more seriously than myself.  It was only five bucks.  Grabbing the biggest knife in the apartment, a butcher job with a 14-inch blade, but not really wanting to hurt anybody, a flush of relief hit me when the police showed up – now that was a real first for me!

Bottomline was that, due to me being white and having kicked the black man down the stairs, it would only cause trouble for my caucasian employer if he kept me there, so a move was forced upon me.  Bottomline was – because I would not act like a racist, I ended up in a position where I was forced to head back north…all over a word.  Since then, I have been called a racist because I think Obama is a bad president.  Such idiocy is usually overlooked by me, but why is it just fine for one group of people to use a word and not another?  It is the power of the Word.

While never having gotten into any bad situations as regards my use of the word cunt, one has to admit that it carries the same aura of exclusivity.  Merriam-Webster’s ‘Learner’s Dictionary’ tells us that “Cunt is an extremely offensive word in all of its uses and should be avoided.”  Why not cock?  The ‘Learners’ are not cautioned away from using the word cock.  They sort of go together (or used to when the author was young) so why is one more offensive?

Do we even know why we consider the word cunt to be so terrible, while big, old swinging cock is allowed to enjoy itself in common language?  Take the Spanish language; instead of cock and cunt, you have concha (meaning seashell) and cojones (meaning balls).  It makes you wonder why it is an insult to be compared to a seashell but why it is a sign of power to have cojones.

This photo probably did not do much to help the situation:

…but it is funny so we stick it there.  Research says that cunt is the dirtiest word in the world, yet many claim that the cunt can be a very good thing, indeed.  So, while we do not have the following or the glitz of the National Screw, we admire how the late Al Goldstein put the world’s best literary talent in his magazine, in between the cunts.  He tried to demystify, and get rich, from such taboos, as did Lenny and George Carlin, as did Rabelais.

What we still do not know for positive is why Cunt is the Nigger of the Nouns.

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Hush…People Are Getting Naked In Omaha

                                                                                          Listen Closely, 

         Gentle Readers, 

        And you may be able to hear people getting undressed in Omaha, NE.

They are getting ready for tonight’s performance of Lit Undressed: The Spirit of the Female Beats.

Your Humble Narrator, was lucky enough to be asked by the Group to write an original composition for the event.  The piece, which appeared on this blog a month or two ago, was written about the strength of my mother and will be performed on stage this evening.

This is an honour for Your Narrator, as anytime someone requests me to write for them, I take it as the most high sort of compliment.  The East Coast is a far fly from Omaha, so the author will not be able to see his work as it is read.  It is very gratifying, though, to have the attention of such intellectual activists.

There is a reason for all of this, which is best spoken by Timothy Schaffert, Director and Founder of the Omaha Lit Fest.  As he posted on the LU Facebook page:

 
With much respect to nude performance artistry such as Marina Abramovi, and performance poet Hedwig Gorski, Lit Undressed is a project combining nude performance with fiction reading with an emphasis on literature beyond the naked.

In September, in cooperation with (downtown) omaha lit fest, the first Lit Undressed performance ensued at RNG Gallery. “Undressed/Untold: A Body/Text Event” featured original fiction written by contemporary published authors, as well as excerpts from classic literature in reference to the body in some respect. The writings were read aloud by six male and female readers to a sold-out audience of 50. Selected readers were also adorned with body-text-paint.

When one reads a book, they are immersed into the atmosphere of the piece; not in their real-world anymore, not clothed or unclothed, not worrying about looks or happenings; simply naked in all senses. This project also hopes to encourage comfort with all body-types and forms.

“We at the (downtown) omaha lit fest are very intrigued with the project Sally Deskins has developed—the first of what I hope will be many events under her “Lit Undressed” title. Sally, an artist’s model, first approached me with an idea—she wanted to read literary works, naked, for an audience. She’d heard tell of such events in other cities, and wondered if it might work in Omaha.

Why not? Though the mayor of Omaha once run Gypsy Rose Lee out of town before she had a chance to fan even a single feather, that was more than seventy years ago.

I loved the idea of the silent artist’s model finally speaking. No longer would she (or he—Sally’s event includes men) stand still as a figure-lesson in a classroom, a series of shadows and lines inspiring another person’s art, but rather she’d become the art and artist herself, the storyteller, the centerpiece not just of our gaze and technical scrutiny, but of our attention, our interest, conveying emotion, ideas.

It eventually became clear, as the project developed, that Sally’s interests were in the tradition of any number of body-related art projects, from literature itself (in among works by contemporary authors, the artist’s models at the “Undressed/Untold” event at RNG Gallery will also read excerpts from “Frankenstein,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People,” and the very adult work of the children’s book author Roald Dahl: his classic horror tale “Skin”) to the films of Peter Greenaway and Matthew Barney, the body-altering performances of Bob Flanagan and Orlan, the organized-civil-disobedience of photographer Spencer Tunick, and the body/text experiments of author Shelley Jackson, who famously oversees an ongoing fiction project for which more than 2,000 people have had single words from her short story tattooed on their skin. The new works for “Undressed/Untold” include those by Omaha authors (the sensual realism of Trilety Wade, the confessional erotica of Karen Bowerman, the poetic discord of Tim Siragusa, and the playful and meditative poetry of Deskins herself) and by authors with Omaha roots (Rachel Shukert and Zachary Shomburg). The new work includes short-short stories and poems that ask you to see familiar tales (“The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Goodnight, Moon,” to name a few) in unfamiliar ways.

But, of course, beyond all that, there’s the simple fact of the nudity (live!), which, in our neo-puritan culture, we tend to relegate to the dark halls of the peep show. To be naked in a public space is to collide with our sense of the private space, and it’s that marriage of the public and the private that so often gets folks’ panties in a bunch. To unclothe, to allow your body to be read—scars and all—may be the most primitive and powerful expression of all.”

So, if you are in the area, go and enjoy it. I wish i could!!!

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