CHICAGO BLUES: Dust my Broom...
Our mail finally caught up with us at
this point and I got some cheques from Germany where some Batik had sold in my
show in Cologne. So I was solvent
again but my poor old tired workhorse of a Chevy Station Wagon badly needed
some work done on it before it could move on again. An old friend of Carol's, Roderick, lived in Chicago and had a
small house cleaning business there.
Carol talked to him and he invited us to come and stay with him and help
him out with his work. Some steady
work was just what we needed, so we loaded up the VW bus and left Wichita at
the start of October. As usual, the
Baldwin/Evans combine functioned best while in motion and in spite of heavy
rain, we made good time to Des Moines.
We finally got into Chicago at three in the morning, found Roderick's
flat and crashed. When we woke in the
late morning, we found that the bus had been broken into and we lost a stereo,
some tapes and a movie camera. Oh
well, easy come...
Roderick seemed very nice, was
openly gay and had been a close friend of Carol's first husband, whom it
transpired, had also been gay. He was
tall and dark with a goatee beard and dressed rather flamboyantly. I think he was very pleased to see us and
needed the help as badly as we needed the money. But before we started work we had a few days off and had a look
around the city and checked out the art museum and gallery situation which was
pretty good. Chicago was an intriguing
place and as capital of the Mid West, was a great center for commerce of all
kinds. There was a street of small
modern galleries which was especially interesting and I thought of trying to
get a show of some kind together. But
first we had to get down to work and help Roderick out with his house
cleaning. It was a job that I turned
out to be rather good at. He only
needed one of us at a time so that we took turns to work with him at
first. We each had one day on then one
day off which left us free to get into art projects too which worked out very
Or at least it looked as if it
should work out very well for us both.
This was a situation in which my anal compulsion and attention to
details came in really useful. Roderick
took me out with him to help him do his weekly clean of a local restaurant and
then to do an apartment and although I couldn't honestly say that I enjoyed the
work, it was familiar and easy. I
think I performed my chores efficiently.
We got back to Carol in one of her depressed and unpleasant moods and
this went on for a few days, the two of us alternating between housecleaning
for eight hours a day and days off when we could work on other projects or go
out to explore the city. Carol
continued to be in a bad head and was obviously not liking the situation. After two weeks, Roderick announced that
Carol wasn't a conscientious enough worker and that he didn't want to work with
her any more. So it was just Roderick
and me from then on, which was eventually quite stressful. Usually we cleaned the same houses,
apartments and restaurants every week and soon the routine became quite
familiar to me. I got quite used to
getting the bad jobs like cleaning bathrooms and toilets but started to form
bad opinions of the people who just threw their things all over the place. They never picked up or cleaned anything
but preferred to pay invisible elves to slip in during the days to straighten
out the chaos and clean up the mess.
Deeply embedded in my conditioning was the idea that we should all take
responsibility for our own stuff, which was hardly the right attitude to have
if you were being employed as a housecleaning service. But I learnt to keep quiet and to do my job
the best I could. We needed the money,
I liked Chicago and usually managed to work on automatic pilot.
One house stood out from the others
however. Firstly it was enormous, five
or six vast high downstairs rooms including a great library and at least the
same number of huge rooms upstairs. It
was apparently owned by a gay Hospital Administrator and his lover who ran a
gay Adult bookstore and heavens knows what else. In the garage, I found a giant wheel like a torture rack that
was designed to have people strapped to it.
One room was full of whips and clamps and strange looking instruments of
one kind or another while another had walls covered in rank smelling black
leather. In fact the whole house smelt
of funky leather and there were gay porno photos and paintings hung all
over. Or should I say well hung all
over. There was a large impressive
full figure portrait of the owner hung above his desk. He looked to be a small, neat looking man
but had been painted naked with his penis massively erect in his hand. The atmosphere there was both confused and
charged and the smell of thousands of books was mixed with an odour of
decadence and debauchery. I am not a
homophile but felt acutely uncomfortable there after a few visits and cleaning
sessions there. I certainly didn't
want Carol to come and work there for I knew that she would have hated it. Conversely, I used to look forward to going
to clean the Scott family's house up near the University for they always fed us
and used to hang out and talk with us while we did the cleaning. The
family always treated us like individuals unlike most of our clients whom we
never even saw. It was a pleasure to
work for them.
Meanwhile we managed to get to some
good concerts in the evenings.
Ebenezer Obey and his Nigerian JuJu Music stood out as a fantastic
evening of African culture with an incredibly dressed audience and some
frenetic dancing which we took part in.
The Municipal Art Institute was a wonderful place to hang out and we
went there at least once a week. We
saw a very interesting show by an elderly lady called Elizabeth Layton there, a
woman with a history of depression who had taken up pencil drawing at a late
age and was producing some startlingly original pictures of herself and her
life, full of humour and truth and meaning.
But generally, I was starting to struggle in Chicago. I had started to loath the work with
Roderick and found myself with almost no quality free time. I would stagger home each day after another
day cleaning toilets to find a bored but energized Carol dying for some
action. And I had stopped making art
completely. I had neither energy nor
time for any kind of art and actually didn't even know what medium to work
in. And as always happens to me when
I'm not making art, I began to lose my sense of personal identity and didn't
know who I was any more. Carol seemed
to have no sympathy for my predicament.
I only knew that if I saw her coming back broken and depressed from work
every day, I would have made an effort and would have taken some of the burden
off her. All she ever wanted to do was
to go out and party in the evenings, which I was less and less up for.
Meanwhile our VW bus was in poor
shape. It had never been in great shape
in the first place. Carol had bought
it very second hand from a friend and had spent quite a lot of money fixing it
up. In a moment of quasi-inspiration,
she had had an old transverse Corvair engine which also fitted a rear mounted
VW body, put into the bus. The only
drawback to this was the fact that Corvair engines hadn't been manufactured in
years and there were only about five garages in the whole country which knew
how to work on them. So we had to
take the bus a long way to be worked on.
But there was a lot of work to be done before it would be safe to take
on a long trip. Carol decided to fly
back to Wichita to spend Thanksgiving with her family and would drive my Chevy
back to Chicago so that we'd be free to move on. My attitude towards the cleaning work had begun to show itself
in my efficiency and Roderick wasn't as pleased with me as he used to be. The day that Carol left for Wichita,
Roderick told us that he wanted us to move out when she got back, which was
fine with me. Meanwhile, I went back
to work with him and somehow found myself doing the most horrible jobs
imaginable. One day, I spent literally
eight hours down on my knees cleaning wax off a long long hall and collapsed
with a broken back at the end of the day.
There seemed to be long, endless walls to be washed, dozens of sinks to
be scrubbed and thousands of toilet bowls to be cleaned out and left polished
and spotless. Perhaps this was
Roderick's revenge or was he trying to break me? Somehow I hung in and kept on working. I took to wearing headphones and listening
to my Walkman stereo all day which definitely helped the situation. Towards the end of that awful week,
Roderick's attitude towards me softened somewhat and we started to get on
better. Carol got back with my car at
the end of the month to save me and we packed up and got ready to drive
East. A sudden bitter winter snowstorm
held up our departure for a day but we finally decided to take off on the first
of December. We ended up saying fond
good-byes to Roderick and I gave him a nice batik before we left. So, driving two laden vehicles, we left
Chicago on a freezing winter day with snow falling and an icy road and headed
East towards Virginia and the Gesundheit Institute once again.