conspicuous-romance

Your Hair is Beautiful, Alan

Alan and Wendy met in the summer of 1983, at the birthday party of a mutual friend’s excitable and tyrannous blind child. San Francisco was more affordable then, though you wouldn’t have known it from the cars that lined the street that day. In the backyard of a cavernous Pacific Heights Victorian house, they met first through a savory cloud of hickory smoke and then more at a small wicker table beneath a gaunt little Japanese maple. Their quiet, brisk conversation about the excess around them came easily, each having long ago traded the trappings of financial gain for the smug embrace of voluntary near-poverty.

“This house has more bathrooms than people,” she said.

I’m stealing these forks,” he whispered.

On their fifth date, they splashed soy milk into organic tea and discussed the ominous successes of a fledgling membership warehouse store called “Costco.” The business section of the Chronicle had suggested that this was the future of American consumerism – everything would be made bigger, nothing would be made smaller. They were aghast and trembling with rage when they decided to travel to the flagship Costco store in Seattle. They would smuggle a camera inside and, under cover of giant bags of kibble, photograph each other pinned and crushed beneath giant mayonnaise, giant peanut butter, giant paper towels and giant chicken nuggets. The photos would be artfully staged, capturing the confused stares of passing shoppers, and they would display them in the warehouse art gallery of the blind child’s mother. They decided these things before they leaned in close across the table, breathless, their faces and lives just moments away.

We will change the perceptions of few, but they will be precious,” she whispered.

“We will be famous and we will loathe it,” he said.

Six months later, “Crushed by Capitalism” opened to overwhelming local then national acclaim, propelling them suddenly and brilliantly into the daylight of 1984’s diminutive artistic counter-culture. They were called “bold” and “incisive” and “the hope of the Nippies,” which they understood to mean “new hippies” even though the term would never really enjoy mainstream status. They were inspired to co-author a book based on the premise of the CBC installation and it was bid on by multiple publishing houses, all smelling the cult phenomenon of their ideology. Modest soft cover batches were printed a year later to a thrilling blip on the NY Times Bestseller list. Soaring, they made frantic love atop a kitchen table that was littered with positive reviews.

“I’ve never known joys like these,” she gasped.

“I think my hair has started to thin,” he sighed.

Their book tour skipped quickly across the country and they gave stern lectures to small gatherings at liberal arts colleges and alternative book stores. To the small world that adored them, they were beautiful and unstoppable until they were abruptly neither. In truth, Alan had grown increasingly distant and sullen since Andy Rooney had referred to their book as “over-hyped horse hockey” on his 60 Minutes segment the prior summer. Andy Rooney, like most of America, wanted the giant mayonnaise.

It would be an unseasonably beautiful January day when Alan would finally and dramatically succumb to, in CBC lexicon, “the lure of the Lu$h Darkness.” Details of their bitter fallout were made public to those who cared. There was a small press conference at which the two of them appeared together, speaking in hollow platitudes about artistic differences and the need to grow as individuals. No, the giant screen television, bulk cashews and three dozen silk bathrobes would not be discussed at this time. Yes, it is true that the DeLorean parked outside belongs to Alan. No, it does not actually run on garbage. Thank you for coming, thispressconferenceisover.

“You’ve made us look like fools,” she said.

“I have car doors that open upwards, instead of outwards,” he said.

Their estrangement was as ambitious as their coupling and they had no contact with each other for many years after that press conference. Susan, the blind child’s mother, kept in touch with both and occasionally relayed to them the endeavors of the other. Wendy understood that Alan’s capitalist flame had burned out in less than a year, that after intense affairs with Italian loafers, quarter-horse racing and a recreational vehicle named the “Loves-A-Lot,” he was stricken with a remorse that sequestered him inside of a small Northern California monastery, nestled in the picturesque foothills of Mt. Shasta.

And Alan, he knew that Wendy had immediately met and married a fiery environmentalist with the unfortunate name of Ed Koppel. Her Koppel was passionate but one-dimensional and they would be amicably divorced less than two years later, without children. She attempted to publish an uninspired follow-up to “Crushed by Capitalism,” called “Crushed Again by Capitalism,” but the nation was schizophrenic and distracted by the disorienting hum of the Gulf War. She settled instead for teaching women’s studies at a small community college on the southern shore of the Puget Sound. And she immersed herself in the local music culture and became a devoted volunteer at Seattle’s annual Bumbershoot music festival, the very place that she would see Alan after nearly a decade apart.

They met on opposite sides of the turnstile and she dropped her bag of orange plastic armbands to hug him without pause. They enjoyed the prolonged and easy embrace of old lovers who’ve traded resentment for nostalgia, youth for understanding. When they finally let go, she led him away by hand, through the crowd, until it was quiet around them.

I heard that Costco’s become the most profitable warehouse retailer in the country,” she whispered.

“I’m so very sorry,” he said.

Alan and Wendy laid facing each other on a grassy field, sharing an oversized glass of carrot juice in the shadow of the festival’s World Music Stage. They caught up quickly and superficially, taking much greater pleasure in staring quietly at one another across the blades of grass between them. Wendy leaned close to whisper something in Alan’s ear and his eyes watered, almost imperceptibly. He smiled, touched her cheek and said “I wasn’t sure I liked it this way” as their laughter gave way again to silence and the gentle, up-tempo rustle of a South African monkey fruit rattle, wafting past them on an endless summer breeze.

9 Responses to “Your Hair is Beautiful, Alan”

  1. Sloan's sister

    Is this an excerpt from a book you are writing…..?

  2. kate

    Best line: “They enjoyed the prolonged and easy embrace of old lovers who’ve traded resentment for nostalgia, youth for understanding.” If you ever publish a book of photos like the one you mention, can I pose under a giant can of pork-n-beans?

  3. sloan's younger lovelier shorter tanner sister

    Invest? I think not.
    Hey do you know any good photographers in the tampa area? oh wait i meant to email you that.

  4. z.rain

    Very nice, Mr. Schang. You are adept at romantic antidisestablishmentarianistic parody.

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