Hipsters: Chapter 3
2007: Music reporting on a gallery exhibition at a shoe store with an abusive boyfriend.
January 19 2007
TBC GALLERY PRESENTS: LIFE AFTER THE MIX TAPE
You know their Side A. Come out for Side B of your favorite musicians in their latest exposition as visual artists. […]Sponsored by Belevedere | Baby G-Shock | Ricoh GR II
The press release for the launch of The Billionaire’s Club was pretty impressive, I had to admit: a mix tape with liner notes that explained the where, when and what of the store opening, and the tape itself a mix of hip hop and vignettes of conversation off the street about how lame streetwear was. Note: The Billionaire’s Club was a streetwear boutique.
I went to cover the opening for XX not because I was a fan of hip hop or understood anything about mix tape culture (I wasn’t and I don’t), but because they announced a group photo exhibition of musicians who were finding second lives as visual artists. Among them was Patty Chang, ex-drummer for Campus, a 1990s Chicago math rock band I was obsessed with during college.
As I approached the Lower East Side address for TBC, I saw from a few blocks away a congregation of mostly young men, black and Asian, smoking cigarettes and being photographed by one of three different people wielding DSLR cameras. If I were smart I would most definitely have had a street photography section on XX but because I am very much not smart, I mostly found it to be insufferably narcissistic. The looks were on point, however. By the door was a tiny woman drowning in Stephen Sprouse for Louis Vuitton being shot by the youngest photographer there. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old. I heard someone call him Bongo.
Inside, I went straight to the open bar sponsored by Belvedere. I hated vodka but never ever refused a free drink. I took my plastic cocktail and started my way around the walls, trying hard to memorize the photographers’ names and racked my head trying to recall the bands they were each in. I reluctantly pulled out a small notepad and started jotting names, telling myself to look them up on my computer later but act like I knew them already. I stopped at one photograph that elicited chuckles and pointed fingers from the other side of the room. A picture of a naked woman wearing nothing but boxing gloves and boxing shorts, on a musical stage. I prayed to myself that it wasn’t the Patty Chang and thank god it was just someone named “Mister Fox.” Blech what a dumb alias.
I approached the photo and scrutinized the print. I couldn’t tell if the colors were retouched. It was a half-assed edit if it were, but this woman’s nipples were way too perfect if it weren’t. My face was within inches of the photo when someone said,
“Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
I looked up and laughed. I explained that I was searching the print for some evidence of editing. The young Asian man looked like a surfer crashed into an investment banker, in washed out Ben Davis pants and a slick comb over barely contained by a mesh trucker cap that read TBC on the front piece in large block letter embroidery. His heather grey t-shirt bore the same logo, screen-printed and he was wearing immaculate suede running shoes.
“That’s Matt Hearn, a.k.a. Mister Fox. He’s actually here somewhere, if you want to ask him personally if he photoshopped her nipples,” he said.
“Maybe I will,” I said. I wouldn’t.
“I’m Johnny Billionaire, by the way. Thanks for coming to the opening,” he said.
“Oh, you must be the owner. I’m Alice Shimada. We got the mix tape last week and I have to say: pretty impressive.” I looked him over and wondered what kind of enchanted life one must live to comfortably introduce yourself and your friends only by full name. Like you mattered most in the complete form of what you are, like the opposite of being on a “first name basis” with a celebrity.
“Thanks,” he said and put out a fist for me to bump. I hurriedly stowed my notepad into my shoulder bag while trying to keep my drink from spilling, and finally landed a light bump.
“Thank you, for the show I guess and uh…the free drinks,” I said.
“Is it any good? I have no idea because I don’t drink.”
“At all? Not even to celebrate the launch of your store?”
“Nah. Alcohol makes me crazy.”
A young woman came running up to Johnny from behind him and jumped on his back. She was wearing daisy dukes and a vintage letterman jacket over a tank top. I looked down at the Mexican house dress I was wearing over stockings and suddenly realized how out of style I must appear in this room. I could easily be someone’s mom. Maybe Bongo the Photographer’s.
“Uncle Johnny!” she squealed.
Oh thank fucking god. I might have had a heart attack if she were his girlfriend. When she hopped down I saw that she was even younger than I’d initially thought, but was caught mesmerized by the maturity of her face. She had an aquiline nose and large brown eyes, and comically perfect teeth, which cumulatively had the effect of an outrageous beauty.
She stayed wrapped around Johnny’s neck and asked if he’d seen Charlene.
“She must be wherever Matt is,” he said.
“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” she said and rolled her eyes at me, then jutted her hand out to shake.
“Oh yeah sorry. This is Alice Shimada from the XX,” said Johnny.
“OH MY GOD! WAIT WHAT?!” Sabrina said.
“Nooooo my god, no. I’m from XX magazine. Very different,” I immediately corrected her.
“Wait, what’s the difference?” asked Johnny.
“Um, kind of everything? The XX is a band from England and XX is a website that sometimes gets confused for porn by search engines.”
“Oh, word?” said Johnny. I hated that use of the word “word.”
What appeared to be a Charlene approached us and hugged Sabrina before introducing herself to me. I smiled.
“Johnny mentioned this is your boyfriend’s?” I asked her, and gestured at the naked boxer.
“Yep!” she said. Charlene herself couldn’t have been much older than Sabrina, maybe 20 tops. I thought of how complicated it must feel for her to see a photograph of a sultry naked woman being objectified by her own boyfriend. Her “yep!” confirmed for me that she’d made herself oblivious to the cruelty of it.
“Yo where is that fool, anyway?” Johnny asked.
“I think he’s still outside smoking,” she said. Sabrina then pulled her away and ran toward a group of boys who were waving at them. She yelled back “nice to meet you” at me, as an older female photographer poked at Johnny, asking if she could take pictures of his shoes. She was asking him if he just got them, and I thought I overheard him say, “actually, Kobe sent me a pair.”
I waved at Johnny and made circular motions with my finger to indicate I would circulate the store now. As I did so and finally found the photo by Patty Chang, I was a little disappointed to see a boring picture of a city square in a nondescript European town. How could she compete with a naked woman in boxing gloves?
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
Since I was in the neighborhood I went to my favorite Cambodian restaurant and ordered noodle soup and their version of a margarita, which included passion fruit. I sat at a counter facing the window and watched as passersby made their way home from whatever Thursday night excursion led them out here. I recognized a few people who were at the TBC opening. I made short business of the food and then started writing down some notes from the night in my notepad while I waited for my check. I’d have to look into the boy photographer, the special sneakers Johnny was wearing, and laughed when I thought of Peter becoming a sneakerhead. How bewildered he would be if I bought him sherbet colored suede Nike high tops for his birthday. It would be as funny if he bought them for me.
From down the avenue, I heard a loud argument between a man and a woman. In front of the restaurant I saw pedestrians stop to gooseneck the fight. One man made a full stop and looked to almost intervene, before deciding against it and moving on. A waiter brought my check and I left the bill and tip in cash before dusting myself off and making my way out.
I was headed in the opposite direction of the argument but curiosity got the better of me so I detoured toward the noise. What I saw was a tall gangly man with Jesus hair, yelling at a little Asian woman. I took a hard look and realized the Asian woman was Charlene, who I’d just met at the store opening. Could this have been Matt, the photographer?
I stood and briefly panicked. I wasn’t sure what to do, as I did not know either of them. It occurred to me that I did know someone who does know them, and then ran to the store.
The launch party was over and the caterers were wrapping up the bar. Johnny was still in there laughing with a couple other guys. I walked in and waited for him to notice me.
“Hey, Alice, right?”
“Did you forget something?”
“No, uh…your friend Charlene is uh,” I stammered. I wasn’t sure what to say, but it felt awkward to tell him that she might be under attack by her boyfriend.
“She’s Sabrina’s friend, but she works here part time,” Johnny corrected.
“She’s being attacked,” I blurt-yelled.
“What?!” Johnny jolted up and told me to take him to her.
“I mean I don’t know but it looks like it might be her boyfriend. He’s yelling at her and she’s holding her face, just taking it,” I said, while we both speedily walked out the store and toward the fight. I worried they’d be gone by the time we got there but it was even worse when we arrived.
“Shit. It is Matt,” said Johnny.
Matt had a fist raised at Charlene, and she was cowering.
A rock hard fist.
“Do something!” I shook Johnny.
“Fuck,” he said, and ran. I stayed where I was, scared. I saw that Matt was about to throw his punch when Johnny lunged in and caught him by the chest. Matt kicked and made contact with Charlene.
The neighborhood stood still and waited for something to happen.
Johnny was now pushing Matt down the street as far as he could from Charlene.
“What’s going on?!” I heard from behind me. It was Sabrina.
“I think Matt just attacked your friend,” I said.
Sabrina stood petrified and covered her mouth. Her eyes started to well up.
“I’m sorry,” I said, adding, “do you maybe want to go to her?”
Sabrina remained planted by me and started crying. I didn’t know what to do, so I wrapped an arm around her and squeezed her shoulder. I asked if I should call someone. The police, maybe.
“No! Please don’t do that.” She said.
“I know how scary this is but I think your friend might want to press charges,” I said.
“No, I know. It’s just…Matt’s my brother,” said Sabrina.
Not Exactly 16
I thought of calling Peter once I got home from the Lower East Side but knew it would be complicated on our day away from each other to try to get him away from his family. Instead, I called Chris. The most I’d be interrupting if I called her was a winning streak on Halo.
She answered and had me on speaker phone as she was in fact playing some kind of shooter RPG. I heard a tinny facsimile of assault rifle fire and an over-articulate black market transaction take place in the background.
I explained to her that I’d just had the most ridiculous night out and wasn’t sure we should run the story on TBC anymore. She paused her game play and took me off speaker. I told her about the horrible photographs, the free Vodka, the photographers, and then ramped up to the central drama: the fight and the fact that everyone seemed to be related.
Chris was apoplectic. Did I call the cops? Did Charlene hit him back? Why didn’t anyone stop him sooner? Did I think he was doing this regularly?
“He needs to be stopped,” she said.
I told her that someone did actually call the police, despite his people insisting they handle it internally, but then Charlene refused to press charges. She seemed more annoyed than anything, at having to placate Matt, which made this abuse so much the more tragic. She ceremoniously quit her job to punctuate her irritation. Johnny would have been hard pressed to insist on keeping her, were it not for Matt then playing the caring protector. I told Chris I felt almost sorry for Johnny after that, and felt mostly horrible for this girl Sabrina.
I knew I was pandering to Chris as a lesbian, but I shifted focus and told her how beautiful Sabrina was. I wanted Chris to know I was capable of finding women attractive, though I had no idea why.
“Didn’t you say she was like, 16?”
“I guess around that, yeah,” I said.
“That’s gross,” she said.
“You’re right never mind. Burn your phone.”
We kept talking about what would happen to everyone and speculated the worst for Matt. We were fantasizing.
On top of it being tragic, it was cliché: a hot woman staying with an abusive guy, a cool kid. He was a musician. It was 2007. Musicians couldn’t get away with hitting their girlfriends in this age, could they? I wondered if Ike Turner was still alive.
“We should do a piece on famous wife beating musicians,” I said to change the subject again. I knew we were both independently fantasizing about the resolution of Matt Hearn a.k.a. Mister Fox’s crimes, and we both knew that justice for Charlene was a fantasy precisely because she did stay with him, and would stay with him, and her future would be full of Mister Foxes. She would take him back and he would never learn.
I had no desire to look up his past as a musician anymore.