A Memoir. August 4, 2014, The Prague Revue
The Blue Room was designed and built for sex. It had walls of blue molded plastic, all soft corners. Oddly shaped ledges were built into the walls around the room at various heights, each ledge the length of a body lying down perhaps, like a window seat—only there were no windows in the Blue Room. Someone had screwed metal hooks into the walls, high and low, decorative hooks, painted blue. Everything was blue. Even the glittering silver slide, which I supposed was meant for a quick bare-ass ride from the upper loft down to the floor below, reflected the blue of the Blue Room. My mother and I were there to break up the blue monotony. We were making patchwork-beaded pillows for the Blue Room, the sex room. It was a job.
In 1971, I was fifteen years old, sewing pillows to decorate a sex den in what was then—and still is—the gay Mecca, Provincetown, Massachusetts.
My mother was in her mid-forties and had just divorced my father after having been married for twenty-five years. The Sixties had been hard on my parents. My father was a political conservative. He wore the white shirt and narrow tie and dark gray suit that was the uniform of the men from the Greatest Generation. He believed in his government and in his job, a job that supported the Military Industrial Complex. My father believed in a world that was. My mother, on the other hand, was a dreamer. She was vehemently against the Vietnam War and dragged me to protests and marches. She was a civil rights activist, as much as anyone could be while living in our all-white suburban Connecticut neighborhood where the only interesting cultural diversion was the Jewish family who lived on the corner of Oak Street. Our neighbors were quietly pissed off when our family, against my father’s wishes, hosted “city kids” at our house for the summer. The neighbors waved pleasantly enough when we caught their eye, but we were persona non grata at neighborhood picnics. My mom joined a local migrant workers organization, the Asociación de Trabajadores Agrícolas, to get better working conditions for the local tobacco pickers. She was a supporter of Cesar Chavez; we didn’t eat lettuce for years. And she was a feminist.
It was too much for my parents’ marriage to bear.
After their divorce, my mother and I moved to Provincetown. We packed her 1966 navy blue Ford Mustang with her record albums and paintings. She had played at being an artist; her wild abstract paintings, like Rorschach’s designs, were whatever the observer thought they were. We took only as much from our life pre-divorce as the car could hold. I took one last walk around the house I had grown up in, running my hand over the rough shingles as if tracing a line around my memories, tying them neatly with string, my childhood sold, packed into boxes, or thrown away. I sat on my swing for a few minutes and memorized the backyard—the trees, the hill, the Sanderson’s house across the street. Then I got in the Mustang with my mom, our two cats, and a cardboard box labeled “Memorabilia.”
Provincetown is a small fishing community at Land’s End, the very tip of Cape Cod. It was—and still is—an artist colony, which as far as I can tell is just another way of saying the lunatics are allowed to run free. In 1971, the lunatics were abundant. The winter population of Provincetown more than doubled that year. Artists and professors on sabbatical, draft dodgers and college dropouts, and a middle-aged, formerly-upper-middle-class, divorced, suburban white woman with her fifteen-year-old daughter. It was a time of war protests and free love, hippies and pot, civil rights and honest-to-God feminism. The background music was the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, and the Steve Miller Band, “Let it Be” and “Instant Karma” and “All Things Must Pass.” The musical memory of Woodstock hung in the air around us, riding on the scent of patchouli.
If you weren’t alive then, I kind of feel sorry for you.
Although my father gave my mom money to support me, she refused any alimony for herself. She wanted to be free, and that meant living on her own, earning her own living. That meant she couldn’t refuse a job to make pillows for a blue room sex den.
The Blue Room was in a large bayside apartment on the second floor of a house on Commercial Street. On the first floor of the building was a head shop owned and run by the woman who had designed the Blue Room. Billy was a large woman in her forties, dynamic and funny, and high on something whenever I saw her. She would flit like an elephant in a muumuu from her yellow and orange kitchen (she baked the best brownies) into the Blue Room, rubbing her hands together, twittering, I love blue! I love blue!
My mom ran fabric through the sewing machine and I stitched little beads on the pillows. I hate to sew. To this day, I have panic attacks when I pick up a needle and thread. I come from a long line of devout sewers and knitters, crocheters and rug weavers; and as a kid I was dragged on daylong outings to every fabric mill and knitting shop within a six-hour drive, which for the women in my family was nirvana but for me was hell. The lingering smell of fabric sizing haunts me, sending shivers down my spine and tying a knot in my throat. I was willing to overcome my anxiety for this job, though; having to sweat through the tangle of a needle and thread was a small price to pay for the daily show I was privy to.
A steady stream of Billy’s flamboyant friends came in and out of her apartment, checking on the Blue Room’s progress. It’s enough to put your tits in a spin! Dennis, he was my favorite, petite with blond hair and a uniform of paisley bellbottoms and a vest with no shirt. He died in 1984. Many of Billy’s friends were gone by the mid-1980s.
I became a kind of Blue Room mascot, often dragged away from my pillow stitching (thank god!) and waltzed through the burgeoning Blue Room. Isn’t it too wonderful for words! I was a fifteen-year-old kid from suburban Connecticut. I had trouble imagining what heterosexual sex was like, let alone the kind of sex that I assumed was supposed to happen in the Blue Room. All I knew was that everyone in town was …titillated.
When the last pillow was stitched and the final touches added to the Blue Room–strategically placed lava lamps and black lights–Billy had a little party for my mom and me. I was kind of hoping for an invitation to the grand opening of the Blue Room, but, well, yeah … Most of Billy’s friends came; they had become our friends, too, during the stitching of the pillows. She made a large cauldron of Portuguese soup and Portuguese bread, and we drank glasses of Mateus Rosé and ate her wonderful brownies. I had one brownie. My mother had three.
We sat on the pillows we had made for the Blue Room. We laughed and talked and listened to Sly and the Family Stone’s Stand! album. But then someone put on the Beatles You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. The room fell into a post-pot-high melancholia, quiet. The party was over.
My mom and I headed back to our snug three-room apartment overlooking Cape Cod Bay. She soared down Commercial Street as if she were running through knee-high water, her arms out wide, raising her knees to her chest and tippy toeing her foot to the ground, like a marionette in the hands of a drunk puppeteer. I grabbed her hand to keep her from flying off into the starry, starry night. We’re almost home!
Those were some good brownies, she giggled, holding tight to my hand and tripping high over cracks in the sidewalk. I’ll have to get the recipe.
“The Blue Room” is an excerpt from Lucy Gregg Muir’s work-in-progress, a collection of creative nonfiction, entitled The Autobiography of Toto, a Memoir.