A few years ago, having just moved back to San Francisco after two plus years of living and traveling in Italy, I noticed a domestic fashion trend that disturbed me. I’d decided to live in The Russian Hill/Marina District of San Francisco where lots of young urban professional women also live. They were all wearing, that Indian Summer (is Indian Summer un-PC?) sleeveless turtlenecks. Once I noticed the first one, I started seeing them everywhere, like when you decide to count how many people on a city street are using cell phones.
At first, I thought about my mom. She has her “dickies.” If a dickie were ordered at a deli counter you’d say, “Yeah, I’ll have a turtleneck but I want it all neck no turtle.” The neck-part of the turtleneck emerges out of the center of a piece of fabric with the approximate dimensions of a standard rectangular placemat. Mom wears them under sweaters so that she can keep her neck warm in the Massachusetts winter without being constricted by sleeves and a bodice under a thick crewneck or V neck sweater.
My mother, who I think is beautiful and who is always presentable, has never had a single interest in fashion. (One of the reasons I spent my teen years wondering how I could look so much like her but also be adopted). While a neck-sheath in the center of a placemat isn’t my idea of a “hot look” for the streets, I appreciate its functionality. As a kid, I liked to “borrow” her dickies during my “private playtime,” which usually took place in her bedroom when she and my father were at work and my brothers at soccer practice. I wore it on a my bare upper-body during a game I invented called “Cleopatra’s Necklace.”
This Early New Millennium piece (the sleeveless turtleneck) didn’t serve any kind of practical purpose like the dickie. I couldn’t think of a single game I could invent for it for private playtime. That’s what bugged me about them. Of course I know true fashion is rarely practical. If it were, there wouldn’t be spike heels or chaps. Both of those particular garments, while impractical, serve to show off a particular set of body parts.
Donna Karen says that almost all women have nice shoulders. And who am I to argue with Barbra Streisand’s favorite designer? I’m a shoulder fan myself. Most of the women I know do have cute ones indeed. So I get the sleeveless part. But the turtleneck suggests cold weather. It also covers the clavicle and throat, other potentially sexy body parts. Why would one want to combine the sexy summer shoulder with cold winter neck coverings? So then I think, I’m being close-minded and I start to imagine it being a useful piece to wear under a blazer in the office (with the same practical applications as my mother’s dickies. As in: warm neck with less arm restriction under blazer). I imagined all the women who were wearing them so busy with their PR jobs that the had to rush up from their desks to go out and meet clients. In doing so, they forgot their blazers. But it didn’t stick. I kept seeing them everywhere and they kept bothering me.
My nature is to process the things that disturb me. So I tried. And tried. Most of the time I couldn’t get through half of the back story before whoever had been listening stopped me. “Cleopatra’s Necklace?” My fried would say. Or, “Matthew, this is one of those times.” What do you mean? I’d ask. “When you need to drop it.”
I trudged onward. I figured I’d increase my odds by asking one of my classrooms. Surely one in thirty five could help me make sense of this mystery. “Does anyone want to explain the UST to me?” The what? “The Ubiquitous Sleeveless Turtleneck?”
They stared. My SGTH (Strict Gay Teacher Haters) (there are a couple in every class) probably used the time to mentally compose their scathing commentary for my evaluations and to post on Crucifyyourprofessor.com. “He marks us down for being late or not doing our homework but then uses class time to talk about sleeveless turtlenecks and some game called Persephone’s Bracelets.” (I wish those same students would put all of that energy and time and creativity into their stories...but I digress...)
When I got home I called Piercy Blue. Piercy is one of my best friends even if we got off to a rough start. We’re an unlikely duo, I think, because on the surface it seems at first like we’re interested in different things. I enjoy examining reality, for example. Piercy doesn’t. He likes Reality TV.
We do have some things in common, though. Like the night we met we both had crushes on the same guy. That night we all had dinner in a nice restaurant. Me, Piercy, his roommate (who is a friend of mine), and Luca, the guy we both had a crush on. The table felt like a more like a gladiator stadium or roller derby. He and I were the sudden-death fighters. Luca, Vicki, and the waiter the audience members who were uncomfortable but somehow couldn’t stop watching. The prize for the survivor? We thought it was Luca.
It was pulpy. Piercy pointed out his observation that with a “bird chest” I should play up my face. Play it up? I asked. Yeah, he said, with plastic surgery.
I went on some diatribe about self-hatred and how he epitomized the homosexual who had internalized the messages of hatred he received as a sissy-boy. Piercy rolled his very vibrantly blue eyes. Yawned.
No one “won,” “the prize” per se. Niether one of us turned out to be Luca’s “type.” I did leave the Coliseum/rink considering rhinoplasty and hating someone more than I had in a long time. Certainly more interesting than Rice-A-Roni.
Years later he and his roommate let me stay in their apartment’s spare bedroom rent-free for the month before I left SF and for another three months when I first moved back. The second time I lived with him, I’d been going through an extremely rough time and working hard to keep it a secret. Without Luca to fight for, he was a great friend. His kindness and sense of humor and generosity really helped me hang on. So, when I couldn’t anyone else to understand my dilemma, I called Piercy-Blue that night after teaching my class.
“Hey Donice.” Piercy answered, seeing my name on his CallerID. We’ve never discussed why and I don’t remember when it started, but when talking on the phone he calls me Donice and I call him Daizy. In person he calls me Kinz (short for Matty-Kinz) and I call him P. Blue (short for Piercy Blue).
“Hey Daize,” I said and then proceeded to give him every single detail listed above about the UST.
He listened intently. Didn’t interrupt. “Mmmhmm’d” at all of the right spots. When he was sure that I’d gotten it all out, a nice long pause opened up. And then finally, he said the words that made it all bearable. The words that let the healing begin:
“It’s like open-toed snow boots.”
Now Piercy Blue lives in New York. A couple of years ago he decided to fulfill a lifelong dream and learn Spanish. He moved to Central then South America for a year. While in Venezuela, he decided to travel to Bolivar and trek for four days through the rainforest and jungle to visit Salto Angel and Salto El Sapo. Two of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls.
Another thing Piercy-Blue and I have in common is a childhood full of attention. He too had to have “Private Playtime” for his own harmless and creative games. I don’t think he ever heard his father or teachers or schoolyard boys say to him, “Son, if you ever want to see one of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls, I believe you have the strength, endurance, and courage to brave the rainforest and the eight days you’ll need to hike through while sleeping with pythons.”
But he did it. And it changed his life. Yes the waterfalls were “totally cute.” But much more than that, he proved to himself that he could do anything. Or at least try anything. And that what people said to him in his childhood was no longer that relevant.
So a few months ago, having always wanted to 1) drive across country and 2) live in New York, he rented a big truck and did both.
The other night we had a Daizy and Donice reunion and went out. Here's a pic I took of him and one he took of me.
He reports that life in New York City is what life is anywhere. Life. Full of the stuff that makes it life. Which I related to because whenever anyone hears me talking about the years I spent in Italy (which I talk about all the time) they ask questions that make it clear they want a version of Under The Tuscan Sun. And while it had its charming moments, mostly it was life. My version of braving the rainforest to see the falls.
We stayed out until three, hopping from locale to locale, walking through the city, taking in the scene. We talked and laughed and talked. At this point, Piercy and I have our own language. So much of what we say is referential. To the outside listener I’m sure it sounds like gibberish, but to us it makes perfect sense. What a joy. What a relief.
When I got the grant and Greg and Michael invited me to use their place as a place to write I of course got really excited. The first person I called was Piercy Blue because he inspires me.
In San Francisco we lived diagonally across the street from one another. Less than a block away but only saw each other in person every couple of weeks. We talk on the phone a lot, but just knowing that he was across the street comforted me. Right now we’re both working a lot so we’ve only seen each other once. But it feels like home to me in NYC knowing he’s here.