Monday, October 13, 2008

<3 Madison <3

Thursday night I'm heading off to Madison, Wisconsin to be a part of the Wisconsin Book Festival. I read on Saturday the 18th at 4 pm at A Room of One's Own (my all-time favorite bookstore in Madison!) which is at 307 W. Johnson St. for anyone who is in the area and interested in coming out. This reading is going to be extra special for me for a variety of reasons. One, since IWBYJR is set in Southern Wisconsin, I have been really eager to get up there and do an event. I am hugely honored that I was selected to be a part of the huge annual humanities event that is the Wisconsin Book Festival. Two, Chelsie and Justinne, who are my MySpace friends, street team members and just all around awesome girls are going to come to the event! Three, some of my friends from Madison who I haven't seen in years will be there.

I've started doing some press for my event, which has made me extra nostalgic for the Mad Town. Here is an interview with their alt-weeklie the Isthmus and here you will find a podcast of a radio interview I did with Madison's Progressive Talk Radio Station, 92.1 (I am in segments 1 and 2 of the 10/12/08 Sunday Journal program.) Check them out, it should get you hyped up if you are coming to see me this weekend or fill the void if you can't. (Though if you are in Chicago, you have the opportunity to see me tomorrow, the 14th at 7 pm at the Forest Park Public Library at 7555 Jackson in Forest Park, so please come to that!)

But now I want to reflect on Madison in my own way. I've seriously missed the place. It was my home for two and a half years and at the time it felt more like a home than Chicago had ever been. For a while, I had mixed emotions about Madison. I still loved the place intensely (how could you not, look at how beautiful it is in that photo above), but I had too many bad memories. My last year in Madison is a blur of substance abuse and arguments with my boyfriend-at-the-time. I had to get out of there in order to gain control of my life, to stay alive, which is ironic considering that in the zine I wrote on my typewriter on top of a TV tray in my first apartment in Madison I talk about how I didn't have to die to get out of Oak Park like I always thought I might. I guess that's not really irony though, just an illustration that running to a new town didn't solve my problems. It provided temporary relief, but until I turned and faced them I would never really get to where I am today.

But this isn't about that. This is about what I loved about Madison, about what I'm so eager to revisit. Other than a quick stop for my favorite soup at Himul Chuli and a pit stop at East Towne Mall's food court on two occasions when I was on the way back from Northern Wisconsin, I haven't been back to Madison since right after the unfortunate re-election of George W. Bush (and my memory of that visit is rather blurred due to consuming way way way too many "Fuck Bush!" shots with Kevin). So almost four years. Hope is on the horizon for our country with Obama ahead in the polls. He stands for change and lots has changed for me personally. I'm in a healthy relationship. My past is firmly my past. I've learned from my mistakes and now Madison can just be Madison. The city I fell in love with at 17, my place of hope and change.

I graduated high school a semester early because I felt I needed to escape from my hometown. Fortunately my dear friend Tai felt the same way. So we moved into a one-bedroom apartment on Wilson Street in downtown Madison. In January. When we moved in, the parking lot was full of snow and I had a sprained ankle. My best friend Katie helped us move. She was a year younger than me hence her not moving with me because otherwise I certainly would have begged her to. When she and my mom left and our phone wasn't working (this was before cell phones) and I realized I was in this strange place with just one friend and my cat, both of whom had only been in my life for a little over a year, I started to sob. I was scared to death. Tai comforted me, of course. She's always been braver and wiser and more put together. And we started to unpack and get settled into our new world.

Tai turned the living room into her bedroom. My bedroom consisted of futon, stereo, music collection, and typewriter. All the essentials. We didn't have a computer, so instead of emailing friends we wrote letters. We had an antique TV that we watched movies on occassionally (rented from Four Star Video Heaven, the best video rental place EVER), but mostly we read and wrote zines and journaled and healed. My cat, Sid, prowled the place. He especially liked to sleep on top of the kitchen cabinets. I went fully vegan then because Tai was vegan as well and she taught me the art of vegan cooking. I remember buying soy milk by the case and making potato soup by the vat. We were two blocks from a small playground that overlooked Lake Monona. We'd walk there waiting for the snow to melt so we could play and for the ice to melt on the Lake.

We tried to get jobs at some of the cool little stores on State Street, though we wouldn't succeed. We had high hopes to work at a book store or a record store or a movie theatre, but Tai ended up working at a gas station and me at a small grocery store where all the other cashiers were UW students who worked part-time. The only other non-student was this guy in his thirties who had an unfortunate mullet (he was already balding) and played Vampire: the Gathering live role playing games. He liked to flirt with me, which was creepy, seeing as I was 17, which everyone knew because I'd had to go to elaborate lengths to prove I'd graduated high school to get the job because Madison had some sort of law about people under 18 working forty hours a week. I was pretty desperate to get that job because the only other one I'd almost gotten was as a hotel maid. The head housekeeper who looked older than my mother, but probably was still in her thirties told me she wouldn't give me the job because it would completely break my spirit. The conversation we had about maid work in a room that basically amounted to a custodial closet has led me to tip maids very, very well.

But back to that first day of job-hunting on State Street. I remember taking a break to see the People Vs. Larry Flynt at the Orpheum Theatre. This beautiful old movie house from the vaudeville days. It wasn't your average cineplex, it was so huge it doubled as a concert venue. That January day, Tai and I had completely to ourselves, furthering that feeling that Madison was our own little world.

We also stopped to eat the best dahl soup in the world at Himul Chuli, which we always just referred to as "the Nepalese place." It's still my favorite restaurant in Madison, though there was a great vegan restaurant on Willy Street (short for Williamson), in the hippie neighborhood where I always wanted to live but Tai and I couldn't afford it and after that I was too goth to admit I wanted to live among hippies. They also had a great co-op though, but the one near our apartment was pretty good, too. I remember the giant vegan cupcakes fondly. Oh, and Mother Fools, the coffee shop on Willy Street, where Tai and I would play board games and eat vegan desert. Our adventures were so simple then. The coffee shop. The grocery store. The Nepalese place. The late night drives out into the country, picking random County Highways to drive along, the glimpses of small, rural towns that would eventually inspire my book. One time we stopped into a bar to see if we could get away with ordering a drink. I don't remember if we did or not.

Drinking was not a big thing for the first three months of the six we lived there. We'd rather have parties with vegan desserts, like when we had a birthday party for Sid and made a tasty treat called Tiger Balls that involved peanut butter, chocolate and graham crackers and though years later when we were living together again we searched desperately for the recipie, we couldn't find it. Once we had a "Queen is Dead" party, which basically involved listening to that Smiths album and jumping on Tai's bed and chasing Sid around the house. There is a picture of us looking flushed and holding up plastic Care Bears cups that you'd probably think contained booze, but no, it was water. Back then clubbing was limited to seeing Sleater-Kinney at O'Cayz Corral (and meeting them! We took pictures with them and gave them our zines and felt like we'd just had the hugest celebrity encounter ever!) and drinking was limited to Mai Tais at the Phoenix Dragon (at least I think that was the name, it closed a couple years after I left) our favorite Chinese place on East Washington that never carded even though I definitely looked seventeen and though Tai was eighteen, she looked twelve. We'd get buzzed off of one drink and once Tai forgot to put her headlights on when we left and we got pulled over and were scared to death, but the cop just smiled at us and asked us to turn on our lights because we wouldn't want to be mistaken for those bad kids who spent their weekends "cruising" on East Wash. Ah, Madison, so innocent compared to our Chicago where the problem with kids and cars was driveby shootings.

Madison was innocent and we were innocent up until about halfway through when we let this homeless goth boy move in with us for a week and at the end of that week we went to Inferno. A real club. 21 and over. Where we weren't supposed to go in. I remember Ryel (one of those dear friends I am so incredibly eager to see this weekend), who was also our age and dating a DJ who worked there, showing us the basement, where we were supposed to go if the place got raided. That first night, Tai and I were so naive we didn't know what to order at a real bar where we couldn't just get Mai Tai's like the Chinese place or wine, which was the limit of my drinking experience of the time. So we ordered a vodka and cranberry and split it. Tai woke up that night to find the homeless goth boy we'd invited into our home fucking this skanky girl right next to her bed. Innocence was over.

That's not to say that the good times were over too. We met new people, sure some would become exs who we still can't really speak of as friends, but some remain very dear like Kevin and Ryel and then there are those that I loved and miss and only get to talk to now and then via MySpace, Facebook and what-have-you: Sigrid, Kelly, Erika, Amy, Jeffrey... There were adventures at Inferno and the cemetary GR and that lake in Cambridge with the playground and the graveyard. And goth went from being something that interested me/music I enjoyed to a lifestyle and it was both good and bad. And maybe I shouldn't have moved back to Madison after I dropped out of college. Maybe those six months with Tai in the Wilson Street apartment were all I was meant to have, but I had to return because there was so much I loved and so much I still do. But these memories of Madison that I just shared, those are the ones that are really my heart.


Keri Mikulski said...

Madison looks beautiful. I love seeing pics of cities because I'm usually too scared to fly. :) Your memories of your first place make me nostalgic for that confusing, but amazing time after graduating high school.

desparapluies said...

i'm so glad we did that! thanks for writing about it. i have great memories, and there are a lot of different reasons i loved it, but just think how many hours we could spend doubled over in laughter just about the homeless goth kid and each and every ridiculous day with him! oh, god. even now i play tones on tail when i need cheering up.