Personal Pieces postsTuesday December 08, 2015
I wrote this about 17 years ago, at the dawn of the Internet age, but I never sold it; I might not even have tried. I thought of it again when Playboy decided to stop featuring nude women in their magazines.
Recently I was surfing the Web for pictures of pretty girls when a name I hadn’t thought of in years popped into my head: Gig Gangel. She had been Playboy’s Miss January 1980. I remembered her not just for the usual anatomical reasons, nor for the happy coincidence of the four hard G’s in her name, but because she was the only playmate I ever pinned to my wall.
I was 16, living in an all-male household—the divorce had split us up along gender lines—and I already had posters of several booby actresses in my room (Cheryl Ladd, Lt. Uhura); so why not a naked one? Yet Gig lasted less than a week. One night my father brought home a date, a woman I’d never met, whose politeness I mistook, with the egotism of adolescence, for flirtation. Wasn’t I wearing a high school letter jacket? What woman could resist?
I was waiting for friends to pick me up so we could cruise around town and do our not much of anything, and for some reason my father wanted to show her my room. Because I was so neat? I forget. Anyway, they were halfway up the steps when I remembered Gig. I think I made some noise of protest but it was too late. The lights were flicked and there she hung. The next day, still mortified, I took Gig down, and, as the saying goes, we lost track of one another.
The Web gave us a chance to reunite. Typing Gig’s name into the search engine elicited a surprising number of sites—I thought her more obscure than that—but I immediately focused on the only one that didn’t sound like a perverted man panting. The URL was Japanese, and after several seconds, lo and behold, Gig began to download. It was her centerfold shot: a Bob Fosse fedora tilted seductively over one eye, red red lipstick, and a fishnet body suit. For the week she was on my wall I used to mentally trace the lines of that fishnet, which stretched to the point of bursting over her voluminous chest, and then slowly converged until the lines became indistinguishable and intermingled with whatever was going on below her waist. (Full disclosure: I had no idea what was going on below her waist.)
Gig: mid download
Manipulating the URL I discovered I could call up other centerfolds from my teen years, such as Candy Loving, the 25th anniversary playmate, and Lou Ann Fernald, Miss June 1979, playfully pouring a pitcher a water over herself, as girls do.
But I soon became less interested in the centerfolds than in the stat sheets accompanying them: Turn-Ons, Turn-Offs, Favorite Movies, Secret Dreams. These have long been a national joke (a big warm bed on a cold rainy night, etc.) but provoked interest now for cultural reasons. Generally, a playmate’s favorites include both high culture (to make the girls appear smart) and low culture (to make them appear fun), and the two don’t mix well after 20 years. Gig’s favorite movies, for example, were The Godfather and The End; and apparently when Liz Glazowski, April 1980, was done finished with Harold Robbins she loved nothing more than to curl up with a little Ernest Hemingway.
Overall, there wasn’t a lot of difference in these various likes/dislikes. One prefered autumn, the other spring; one blue eyes, the other brown. Most liked roses. No one cared much for crowds or traffic or hairy backs. The September ’79 playmate, Vicki McCarty, said she was tired of hearing about Ronald Reagan, so you get the feeling the’80s were a bit of a drag for her. Well, not just for her.
It was when I began reading the “Goals” and “Secret Dreams” of these girls, though, that the whole thing turned sadder than I’d anticipated. It was like flipping through an old yearbook and wondering whatever happened to this “Most Likely to Succeed” or that “Most Talented.” Did Sandra Joyce Cagle (February 1980) get to ride a hot air balloon cross-country? Did Henriette Allais (March 1980) learn to play the flute? Was Vicki Witt (August 1978) ever shipwrecked on a desert island with Lee Majors?
Most wanted to be famous actresses, of course, but a quick search through IMDb reveals that neither noun nor adjective took much hold. Rosanne Katon, Miss September 1978, was featured in The Swinging Cheerleaders and Motel Hell, and even managed to share scenes with future Oscar winner Tom Hanks in Bachelor Party; but then “Girl #3” roles began to go to younger playmates and her career fizzled.
Yet Ms. Katon is Meryl Streep compared with the other playmates. More common is the experience of Lee Ann Michelle (February 1979), Sylvie Garant (November 1979), and Liz Glazowski (April 1980). Each hoped to light up the silver screen; each appeared in not much. Garant wound up on two episodes of two Canadian TV shows, while Glazowski’s sole credit is a bit part (as “Liz”) in “The Happy Goes to Hollywood.” I find nothing on Michelle.
As for Gig, who wanted to be a famous singer? She did appear in the 1993 straight-to-video actioner “Killing Device,” opposite Alan Alda’s son Antony, and under the stage name (or married name?) “Gig Rauch.” But there’s nothing on her on iTunes.
In my youth, playmates seemed mythical beings; they generated such fantasies. Now I realize they're just another group of people for whom the world didn’t turn out as planned.
Dreamin' World War III Blues
Some time ago a crazy dream came to me
I dreamt I was walkin' into World War Three
-- Bob Dylan, “Talkin' World War III Blues,” 1963
That was my dream last night. Not fun.
I dreamt I was in my apartment in San Diego (disclosure for those who don't know me: I live in Seattle, and have never been to San Diego). There were rumors about a possible nuclear attack, which I didn't believe. But in bed, I heard and then saw a giant mushroom cloud appearing over the Pacific shore; then another, then another. It was the end. My life was over; I would die. I closed my eyes and braced myself for the inferno and for whatever happened after that. Would I just cease? Would something else happen? I waited and wait and yet remained alive. But wouldn't that be worse? Wasn't that what John Hershey wrote in “Hiroshima”? Those who didn't die immediately, died from radiation a few days, or weeks, or months later, their skin peeling away? My skin felt warm but somehow I stayed alive.
I went outside and joined a group of people wandering. People were hooking up—trying to get in one last bit of pleasure before the end. A woman on a streetcar was separated from a man running alongside it, and I helped him on board to unite them.
I was with three younger people who were going to sit at a low table and eat Mexican food. It was in front of two big picture windows and didn't look safe if more bombs came, so I began to walk back to my apartment. I felt like I should let family know I was still alive. I felt like I should talk to them one last time, if this was the end.
At a cavernous train station, I ran into Pres. Obama, who was on the phone and seemed to be fending off accusations; he seemed to be politicking. The train station was almost empty and he didn't have any security detail. Donald Trump was there, too, quiet and serious, and seemed more helpmate than rival.
When I got home and to my cellphone again, it wouldn't work. Because it had been damaged or because the lines were jammed?
Anyway, I was happy to wake up from that dream.
Do Editors Dream of Fixing Quotes About Sheep?
A lot of odd dreams last night including one in which I came across a quote carved into the sidewalk in, I believe, London. A public art kind of thing. My dream self had heard the quote before, and I'd attributed it to Bill Bryson, the author of “A Walk in the Woods,” but on the sidewalk it was attributed to J.R.R. Tolkien? Really? I thought. Tolkien?
It was a quote about a medieval period in England in which the rulers were hoping to better educate the public (so right away you know it's a dream), but they couldn't figure out how. The peasants and farmers weren't interested. But it was a somewhat prosperous period, or maybe there were fewer wars or a greater sense of rule of law, because the sheep farms began to grow. The farmers began to get more and more sheep. And as they accrued more and more sheep to their respective farms, they needed to be able to count them all, to keep tracked of what they owned. And that's when they became interested in education—or at least math.
The quote went something like:
They tried to teach them about sheep but they learned arithmetic.
That quote doesn't quite go with the story above, and in my dream I may have been turning it over to try to make it better. Yes, editing even in my dreams. When I woke up I checked to see if there was such a quote about sheep and arithmetic but couldn't find anything.
Happy Anniversary to Me
I arrived in Seattle 24 years ago today. I'd been bouncing around from place to place since graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1987—Taipei, Minnesota, New Jersey, Minnesota, Taipei—and wanted something new. I wanted the states but not Minnesota (too familiar), nor the east coast (too rushed), nor the South or Southwest (too racist/hot, respectively). Plus my sister was here. Our stays overlapped by a day but she gave me connections; she set me up with her friends.
The nice thing about moving to a new place is how all your senses come alive. Everything is new and thus memorable. I remember my first few weeks well: the long walks in search of a place to live, and a job, and a thing to write on. I remember being surprised by how early Seattle shut down. Taipei was a 24/7 city while Seattle turned off at 9 PM. I was amazed by the lush gardens and landscaping and fresh air but was surprised by how long it took for the city to warm up. It was mid-June and still in the 50s and raining? The fuck? I would get used to Seattle's seasons soon enough. Other aspects of Seattle never warmed up.
A few months after I arrived, I published my first piece in Seattle Weekly, called “All I Want is a Room Somewhere,” about the travails of the Seattle housing search: run-down rooms and shared-housing interviews. But I quickly began to make, if not enemies, at least unfriends. I thought honesty and insight (or “insight”) was a good way to impress, which shows how young I was. I also didn't know how much of an insular town Seattle was; how incestuous.
But I found a place to live, then another, then another. Seattle allowed me time to heal, even as it opened new wounds. There were plenty of opportunities in Seattle in the '90s but I missed most of them. I wrote about that, too, after many of them went away.
It's been 24 years but my view of Seattle hasn't changed much. I still find it a naturally beautiful place that we haven't done much to improve. But it's home. For now. I guess I still feel that, too. “For now.”
My Gay Talese Story
A friend pointed me toward Gay Talese's article in the New York Times today about Selma and its aftermaths, and it led me to relay my Gay Talese story, which has nothing to do with Selma (I was 2 at the time), but which some might find interesting nonetheless.
I think it was 1991 or '92. I'd just moved to Seattle and was working part-time as a cashier at University Book Store when a dapper man walked in and asked to see the store manager. I said I didn't know who that was. I think I was thinking, “General books manager? Personnel manager? Overall store manager?” He started to tease me. “You work here and you don't know who your manager is?” As he was saying this, though, I realized who he was, and he realized I realized. “You're Gay Talese,” I said. “Yes, I'm here to sign some books.” As I led him back to where the managers' offices were, I told him, “I just read your piece in [some university review I've since forgotten]. I liked it.” Then I blushed. Not because he was famous but because I was lying. I hadn't really thought much of the piece. But I delivered him to the General Books manager and walked back to my post, admonishing myself about blushing. I told myself never to blush again. About 10 minutes later, he came back out, and, before leaving, made a point of stopping by my post to shake my hand. Which, of course, made me blush all over again. Lesson unlearned.
Actually there are lessons from this story:
- Always tell the truth, kids.
- If you work in a bookstore and don't know the managers, at least know visiting authors on sight.