My Calderon Years, Part 2

By on Sep 13, 2011 in Essays

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My Calderon Years graphic

But just because Louie was working with me, in compliance with his agreement with Bill Daniels, that didn’t mean he was making life easy or agreeable for me. He wasn’t. He would fly off the handle without warning if something was not to his liking, if the margin of the pattern was not narrowed from 5/16” to ¼” going around a point. Some days I would have all three of them — Louie, Morris and Dornbusch — all screaming at me even though I was doing a perfectly serviceable job. Sometimes Morris and Louis Would be screaming at each other over a production problem and Morris would turn and start screaming me for no reason at all. “What the hell has this got to do with me?” I would protest. “It’s all because of your stupidity,” he would scream back, and stand there scowling at me menacingly.
Forget them! I had been worked over far worse than that. For several of my last years in Montreal, in addition to operating my boutique on Ste. Catherine Street, I had started doing a comedy act in the clubs, as a sideline. As I previously stated, I wished I had become a musician but was unwilling to distract myself from the design area. Comedy was easier, since I have got a big mouth to start with, and I could write a little bit.
I got a lot of publicity from that act right from the start, and I didn’t have to practice or rehearse a lot like you do with a musical act. My main influences were wild men like Lenny Bruce, Frank Zappa and Richard Pryor, and I discovered that the comedy stage gave me quite a bit of latitude for extreme behavior.
In 1980, I came up with the concept of combining comedy with designing. I wanted to throw a Halloween comedy fashion show. In Montreal, there is wide acceptance of innovation in fashion, whereas it is a strictly bourgeois pursuit in New York, controlled by the big money, and there is not much innovation at the artistic end. In Montreal, anybody with a concept and a space can throw a fashion show. I had been to fashion shows based on themes like feathers, chain mail created from hooking together pull-top tabs from beer cans, whatever. I once attended a fashion show of what the French call “cache-sexe,” g-strings and jock straps, where the models paraded around nude except for their genitals wrapped in supermarket meat packaging, complete with even the little sprig of parsley for garnish. Throwing a fashion show in Montreal doesn’t necessarily mean you’re trying to break into prêt-à-porter, although there is plenty of that all the time. But it can be a social occasion, an excuse for a party, to get drunk and maybe get some recognition. Fashion at the popular level in Montreal is a little peculiar, but it is a lot more innovative.
I was a little farther along than the meat market concept. Mark Breslin, the owner of Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Kabaret, was receptive to my concept, because it wouldn’t cost him any money. He could just add on the fashion show at the end of his regular performance. I had a lot of willing models among my friends and customers, a lot of whom were willing to model outfits I had already custom-made for them. I had a choreographer, a dancer named Michael Ross, and I even had a makeup artist, Jacques Lee Pelletier, who specialized in avant-garde theatrical styling, the likes of which I have never seen since. Even Madonna or Lady Gaga don’t have that kind of makeup.
Some of the models were beautiful professional strippers from the Supersexe club, who didn’t mind showing a little female charm. Comedy and strippers, a concept from past ages that harkens back to Montreal’s rich burlesque traditions. I would perform a comedy monologue interrupted by musical segments of the models parading onstage. As amateur fashion shows go, it would be fairly high-gloss and glitzy.
I sent a note of invitation to Iona Monahan, the fashion editor of the Montreal Gazette, and she responded that she would send one of her reporters, Beverly Mitchell, to cover the event. I knew this Beverly Mitchell. She was an obese, odiferous pachyderm of a person with a huge feminine ego. But this was out of my control.
The show went off great. My act was solid, and the performers all had a lot of beauty and charm. The models paraded around while I did my monologue, and for a climax we had Michael Ross in a leotard, who did a slinky, sinuous modern dance around the stage, where the models were proudly assembled.
The show went off great. My act was solid, and the performers all had a lot of beauty and charm. The club was happy, because the show was sold out and everybody drank a lot. The show even got a good review on the radio.
The only person who wasn’t thrilled was the Gazette reporter, Beverly Mitchell, an obese meatball dressed in what looked like a Persian rug and too much lipstick that made her mouth cover half her face, like a grotesque circus clown. Who appointed this elephant a fashion expert? Oh yeah, her boss, another broken-down loser. She insisted on watching the whole show standing up in the aisle with her notepad and pen in her hand, like she was covering the opening of parliament, in order to bring attention to herself, the working press, blah blah blah…
This Beverly Mitchell decided that she was going to slam me good in the paper and put me in my place — a place that she had decided for me — and what was I going to do about it? When the review came out, it was a slap in the face. Mitchell took a high moralistic tone for her low, sarcastic digs, reminiscent of that douchebag Andrea Peyser, the resident moralistic den mother at the New York Post. She insinuated, without frontally accusing me, that I had stolen my styling concepts from a French Canadian designer who had just shown a few weeks previously. She used my own jokes against me to portray me as “tacky” (hey, I never disputed that!). She took a smarmy, sarcastic tone to suggest my show was dreary, derivative and boring. The point of the article was to publicly humiliate me and make me look like a laughing stock.
Remember, it was a Halloween fashion show in a comedy club. I wasn’t trying to compete with Yves St. Laurent. This Mitchell individual, an obese no-talent drip, was motivated by envy and resentment. I was operating a nice boutique on Ste. Catherine Street and doing a comedy act in the clubs. She couldn’t contain her envy.
My first reaction was denial. I reasoned, this is all a big mistake. They’ll never let her get away with this, out of fairness. The Gazette is a pathetic rag of bourgeois garbage. They’ll never let Beverly Mitchell get away with this malevolent slander. They aren’t totally out of their minds, right? I wrote a letter to Iona Monahan, insisting on a retraction. A few days later I got a response stating, in effect, that if you invite the Gazette to review an event, you have to accept whatever it chooses to publish. As far as the Gazette was concerned, the matter was closed. I was the patsy.

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Dean Borok, a nephew of Saul Bellow, is the winner of the 2009 New York Magazine political fictions literary competition with his award winning short story "A Wall Street Christmas Carol". He operates an experimental comedy web site at