marksimpson.com

The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Menu Close

Tag: John Waters

A Hitchhikers Guide to Freeloading

Mark Simpson fondly remembers when he depended on the kindness of strangers

When an ambulance rushing to Plymouth General Hospital with a man suffering from a life-threatening blood clot stopped to pick up a couple of hitchhikers, one of whom engaged the man, writhing in agony, in chit chat it made the headlines.

Probably because most people found it difficult to believe that people still hitch-hiked at all, let alone that anyone – ambulance drivers or otherwise – actually stopped to pick them up.

Likewise, the incredulity that greeted 66 year-old John Waters’ new bookCarsick, about an attempt to hitch from the East Coast of the US to the West, shocked people not just for its apparent recklessness but because he actually succeeded.

Hitchhiking seems to belong to the era of cassette players and leaded petrol. The outstretched thumb and bit of cardboard box with a hopeful destination scribbled on it in marker pen was once a staple of the driving scenery in the UK. No longer. Insurance issues, fears of crime, and probably a rise in general contempt towards ‘freeloaders’ have reduced the willingness of people to stop.

But the supply of hikers has also been stemmed by increased car ownership and by the arrival of stupendously cheap coach tickets. Megabus will get you from the North East to London for £5. And frequently stops to pick up punters in places, such as Scotch Corner Services, that would have been used by hitchhikers trying to thumb a ride. Megabus are in many ways a kind of commercial hitchhiking service.

As a freeloading layabout in the 80′s I used to do a lot of hitching. And it wasn’t entirely because I had no money and plenty of time. I used to enjoy the promiscuity of hitchhiking. And by that I don’t mean sex – the nearest I came to that was a pock-marked Frenchman near Perpignan, who was so embarrassed by my polite refusal that he drove 80 km out of his way.

No the promiscuity of hitchhiking is the casual randomness of whoever stopped to offer you a ride – which you almost never would reject unless they weren’t going your way – and the intimacy of the hour or so car journey with the ‘ride’. Who would often tell you, a complete stranger that they will never see again, more about their lives and their hopes and fears than their mates. Though admittedly quite often they would tell you mostly about their holidays. The one they’d just had or the one they were looking forwards to. ‘Only five weeks now. Can’t wait.’

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was always on holiday.

Many’s the time I stood at start of the M1 at Brent Cross – a spot once so popular with hitchhikers there was actually a queuing system – with my thumb outstretched to the world. And the world can answer your digital prayers in the strangest ways.

Such as the day in the Summer of 1985 when a brand new Volvo Turbo came to a precision-engineered halt in front of me. Behind the wheel wasn’t the expected sales rep (a common hitchhiking ‘john’), but a precision-groomed Max Hastings, first journalist to enter a liberated Port Stanley in the Falklands War and soon to be editor of The Daily Telegraph, on his way home to Northampton. We spent a very pleasant forty minutes together chatting, and I marvelled at his then very rare car phone, which he used to call his wife, who was disappointed because fog meant she couldn’t ride her horse that day.

Hitchhiking was a truly classless society – at least for the time you’re sharing someone’s posh car.

Probably my best hitchhiking experiences were on the Continent. I was once picked up north of Paris by a Professor of Philosophy at Lille University. Since I had just dropped out of a philosophy course at Oxford University we had a great deal to talk about – in his strained English and my much worse French. A glutton for punishment he ended up taking me for a meal with his wife at a swanky brasserie in Lille and putting me up for the night.

Gallic generosity didn’t stop there, however. The very next day I was given a lift by two young sisters on their way to a wedding dinner. They insisted on taking me along, and everyone was ridiculously kind and friendly to this sunburned, dishevelled English freeloader with very little French sat at the table gobbling their (very tasty) food and guzzling their fine wine. Afterwards they dropped me off at the ferry terminal in Calais.

Sometimes you ended up accepting lifts that you probably shouldn’t. Back in the UK, hitching to Brighton, I was picked up by a motorcyclist on a frighteningly powerful bike. We arrived, me riding pillion, breathlessly quickly. But doing a ton on a bike with no helmet can be very noisy, apart from anything else, and I was deaf for days.

Waiting times in the 80′s varied, and sometimes you could end up a bit stuck at a windswept roundabout, as the paranoia and the rain soaked into your soul. But the wait was generally a lot shorter if you were hitching with a young woman: one of the pair e given a lift by the Plymouth ambulance driver was a woman – reportedly dressed in a short skirt and blouse ‘despite the foggy weather’.

I once hitched back from Cambridge with a female friend. Although she wasn’t wearing a short skirt and blouse, I don’t mind admitting that I hid in the bushes while she stood by the side of the road. We waited all of two minutes before a Ford Sierra screeched to a halt. I can still see the crestfallen look on the driver’s face when he saw me scrambling out of the hedgerow. ‘Oh, and this is my mate,’ she said, smiling sweetly. ‘You don’t mind giving him a ride too, do you?’

Now that I’m a car owner myself do I stop to give lifts to hitchhikers? Well, no, not really. Largely because they’re so few and far between these days that the sight of one by the side of the road is so surprising that by the time you’ve got over the shock they’ve disappeared into the distance.

Plus I hate freeloaders. Unless they’re John Waters. Or cute.

Originally appeared on easiertoleaseplean

‘Get Your Filthy Hands Off Me!’ Gorgeous George’s Glamorous Legacy

Rather than watch the Olympics, and all that noble, serious sporting uplift, I’ve been reading a book about a carny, corny, shameless 1940s-50s American wrestler: Gorgeous George: The Outrageous Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Created American Pop Culture, by John Capouya.

My American chum Chris Supermarky recommended it to me, thinking it would be of interest. He wasn’t wrong. It was nothing less than a revelation. It was like finding the Rosetta Stone of metrosexuality. Or at least, post-war male glamorousness.

George Wagner was a baby-faced brunette, pint-sized, somewhat unremarkable 1940s US wrestler who decided he needed a gimmick to get noticed. And boy, did he find one. By turning himself into Gorgeous George, a vain, primping, preening peacock who peroxided his hair, had it meticulously tonsured, fussily held in place by gold-painted ‘Georgie’ pins, and wearing flamboyant robes that were outrageous creations of lace and silk and chiffon in mauves and pale pinks, he succeeded in inventing perhaps the most persistent and successful gimmick of the post-war world: The glamorous, decadent, ‘effeminate’ male star.

Before Beckham. Before Boy George. Before Bowie. Before Jagger. Before Elvis. Before Liberace. Before Little Richard. Before James Brown there was Gorgeous George.

Under the shrewd guidance of his Svengali wife Betty (there’s no evidence, aside from his gorgeousness, that George was anything other than heterosexual), who made many of his most daring robes herself, The ‘Human Orchid’ as he liked to be known, had deduced that the best way to get ‘heat’ from a wrestling audience – and thus bookings – was to transgress 1940s gender norms. Wildly. And cheat. Equally wildly. Not for nothing was his favourite slogan: ‘Win if you can. Lose if you must. But always cheat.’

The Sensation of the Nation’s pantomime performance of sissyness was a kind of cheating in itself: in 1940s and early 50s America men, particularly the blue-collar kind that Wagner wrestled for, were not allowed to enjoy chiffon and affectation. George was bending the rules and gender.

To help milk his act, and multiply his crimes, Wagner would hold his pre-match press conferences in local beauty parlours while having his hair marcelled and employed a tail-coated valet (a device later appropriated by GG fan James Brown) who would snobbishly spray the ring with cologne before George would deign to grace it with his aristocratic presence. When the referee tried to search George before the match as required by wrestling rules he would recoil offended, shouting ‘GET YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF ME!!’

Such were the passions aroused by George’s gorgeousness that his incendiary appearance often led to fights and sometimes mini-riots when incensed members of the public would storm the ring in an indignant fury and try to take him on themselves. The director John Waters recalls watching GG on TV as a kid, spellbound by this apparition of queeniness – while his offended parents yelled insults at the lacey freak. GG was someone that America loved to hate but ended up just loving.

Although largely forgotten today, GG was about as famous as you could get back then: a by-word for fame itself – even making an appearance in a Bugs Bunny Warner Bros cartoon (as ‘Ravishing Ronald’), and one of the first proper stars of the new medium of television. Wrestling had been taken up by the early networks as a cheaply-staged way of interesting the masses in this new-fangled gadget. The small screen turned out to have been made for GG’s big glam head.

Many claimed to have been influenced by GG (including Bob Dylan of all people) but perhaps his most famous disciple was a young, relatively downbeat Mohammed Ali, who decided to adopt GG’s vainglorious, provocative persona – to devastating effect:

‘I made up my mind after [meeting] Gorgeous George to make people angry at me…. I saw fifteen thousand people comin’ to see this man get beat. And his talking did it. I said this is a gooood idea!’

And so Ali became the mouthy black boxer who bragged about being the ‘prettiest thing you’ve ever seen’ – ‘The Greatest’. Ali really was gorgeous. Facially and bodily. Wagner on the other hand… slightly less so. I’m not suggesting of course for one moment that GG was ugly – but at 5′ 9″, with a Roman nose and a bit of a pot belly his gorgeousness was perhaps more aspirational than Ali’s. Particularly in the latter part of his career George’s appearance puts me in mind of Freud’s famous phrase: ‘His majesty the baby.’

There was a dark side to all this glamorousness. Wagner reportedly began to believe his own publicity and insisted his own children refer to him as ‘Gorgeous George’, or ‘GG’. He was also, even by the standards of the time and his profession, a hardened drinker. After both his marriages failed he took to drinking even more. And as TV fell out of love with wrestling, and the years – and the boozing – took their toll, he of course drank even more.

By the late 50s early 60s Gorgeous George was reduced to novelty fights in which he was billed as forfeiting his lovely locks if he lost. And of course, he did – submitting to the indignity of being clippered seated on a stool in the centre of the ring, like a latter day Samson. A great box-office success the first time, this ritual humiliation became less and less so the more he repeated it. Even seeing Gorgeous George finally getting what had been coming to him all these years wasn’t enough of a draw second or third time around.

When the final bell rang in 1963 and George Wagner died of liver disease and heart failure, aged 48, all the large wedges of cash that had passed through his hands during his stunningly successful career had vanished without trace: he was penniless. But family and friends made sure he was given a glamorous send off.

The Human Orchid was dressed in his favourite purple satin robe (the ‘George Washington’), his hair was tonsured and pinned one last time and he was exhibited in a highly polished purple casket – before being ‘planted’ in the ground.

While he may have been largely forgotten, George’s glamorous ‘gimmick’ of course took root in the culture, and lives on.

 

 

Copyright © 1994 - 2017 Mark Simpson All Rights Reserved.