Last time in this series, I discussed my own 9/11 craziness and explored Professor Joseph K’s “Madness in Literature” course. It’s been a while since I’ve written any installments for this series, so here’s a link to the introduction if you want to read up. This latest entry is the story of a friend I met in the program.
If any of my MFA experiences were like Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories or Cabaret, then Liza Radley was my Sally Bowles. She had that classic gamine appeal, somewhere between Audrey Hepburn and Liza Minelli*. Artsy and free spirited without having the affected persona that often accompanies those traits, Liza commanded attention nonetheless. Though small in stature, she was outgoing, openly passionate, and loudly opinionated, which made her a memorable presence as a poet.
I met Liza at the first or second week mixer for new MFA’s. It is difficult to remember everything about someone at those meetings. I also met her on the bus ride home from one of my fiction workshops and on a bus evacuation of the campus during 9/11, but neither of those meetings had much impact on me. Even though she was never my girlfriend, a date had the most impact on me in getting to know her as my friend. Since Liza was new to town, she often took new friends to Hipps, a notorious drag queen nightclub was in the district where she lived. Somewhere between my time at Professor K. office doing journal work and her time at the poetry journal office, we agreed to meet at Hipps at the end of the week. I put on my favorite iridescent shirt and boots, while Liza showed up in a simple red chemise. Oddly, some blonde women who looked like they were from the more conservative eastern part of the county thought Liza was a drag queen. We both found that perception strange and amusing, and something about conspiratorially watching the drag queens humiliate selected patrons was fun. After Hipps had its run, we went down to a British styled pub, where Liza flirted with an Irish bartender who knew nothing of Seamus Heaney. At the end of the night and our drinks, we walked arm and arm for a couple of more blocks and crashed at her apartment. We had breakfast at a Russian restaurant a block north of her place, which was good for our hangovers.
I soon started to hang out with Liza and Alexandra, a gifted, but conservative poet who pursued having a close friendship with Liza. Occasionally in the orbit of the Liza/Alexandra nucleus were Brandon, the mid-western surfer poet who sounded had more of a southern California accent than I, and Gabriel, a textbook Gen-X type who always had something sarcastic to say about everyone. There were a few times where Alexandra, Brandon, Gabriel, and I hung out and played cards and drank lots of red wine. Then there was the time where we went to Monster Trucks at the stadium. Liza made spontaneous plans to go to to the event and got Alexandra and Gabriel on board. I got the message late, so I bought a ticket from a scalper and tried to find them once there. If I had a cell phone, locating them would have been easy. However, I spent an hour canvassing a few levels, and finally met my friends by chance. I described it as a “happy accident,” which Gabriel would make fun of for a while. That night, I also met Topher, her on and off boyfriend of the past few years who would become central to the drama of her life in the next year.
Before Topher was back in her life, she dated a nerdy guy from the Essay Composition department. I don’t remember if I’ve met him on any outings, but I do remember hanging out with him for a bit at the Halloween party at her boyfriend’s house. Liza wore a small, tight black dress, a cowboy hat and boots, transforming the outfit with spiderwebs and Arachne on her skin, done with eyeliner. My skirt was longer, of course. I had a Chinaman’s cheongsam and I wore that. Some other people, such as Brandon dressed up as an Australian outbacker and Gabriel in a priest’s outfit, were present. There was one guy, Hosea, whose form-fitting skeleton costume highlighted the shape of his ass, which I kept looking at throughout the entire party. For a while afterwards, I would refer to him having a nice ass if I couldn’t or didn’t want to remember his name. Liza and her boyfriend retreated at one point from the party to his room, where they had loud sex that could be heard by everyone in the living room. They would date for a short while more, though the Halloween party is the last time I can concretely remember them being together.
Since Brandon and I were quick friends and we were in the “Teaching Composition” course together, we would often talk about our mutual crush on Liza Radley. Mine was the gay man’s type, which doesn’t go anywhere and is often expressed in an admiration and friendship, while Brandon’s was very strong. Of course, I had an attraction to Brandon, making this a “bizarre love triange” of sorts.
After the Christmas break, with Liza Radley, Brandon, and Alexandra back in town, there was a small get-together. I met up with Liza, Alexandra, and Gabriel at a Japanese restaurant for dinner and the party later moved to Liza’s apartment with card playing, conversation, and copious amounts of red wine. Brandon crashed the party, drank wine out of a Pyrex measuring cup, and took his shirt off and gave me a lapdance while I commented on how sexy he was. When the party was over, Alexandra went home and I got a ride with Gabriel. However, Brandon remained, and then it would be a story of he said/she said.
to be continued…
*Liza Minelli’s portrayal of Sally Bowles in Cabaret.