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The International Writers Magazine: Fashion Asylum Pt 3

Fashion Asylum: Pt 3 Calderon
Dean Borok
Freakin Morris did me a lot of good. He made me an expert turner of edges by making me do the same job as the workers who were given large trays of tabs and belts to turn, using the bone tool, which resembles a letter opener on one side and a crocheting tool on the other. You raise the edge of the material using the flat side and then use the hook side to expertly flatten the leather over the filler material.


For his naturalistic novels of the nineteenth century, French writer Emile Zola would go into the workplace with a notebook and take notes about how the job was done. He described the workings inside coal mines, factories and artisan’s workshops for his readers. But Zola wore kid gloves. He was never able to describe the job from the standpoint of a worker who actually put his hands on the work. The whole time I was doing these jobs, I would dream of one day being able to recount my experiences for literature. So today the time has come, and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to fulfill my dream.

I became an expert leather cutter, which is a very desirable thing to know. I developed into as good a cutter as the workers who had been working for the company for 20 years. I learned to operate the splitter, which reduces the thickness of the leather, and the paring machine for thinning the edges for turning. Between Louie and Morris I was becoming a one-man show, and once I had that there would be no stopping me.

I was not a particularly sympathetic child. I never paid any attention to the authority of adults, who gave every indication of being imbecilic and slow-witted (oh how right I was!). In their turn, adults loathed me for discounting their authority. What’s the point of being a responsible representative of authority and a pillar of the community if you are being mocked, ridiculed and ignored by children?

I got beat up a lot, not by other kids but by adults – teachers, camp counselors, boarding school deans and relations because I had so much fun jerking them around. How could it be otherwise? They were paper tigers, and I had a visceral repugnance to the hypocricy that was the glue that cemented the social order.

The dysfunction eventually led to a total breakdown in relations between myself and authority, myself and society. I went my own separate way, and catch me if you can!
On the way out the door, I received one last verbal kick in the ass, a malediction that was absolutely society’s word of judgment to me regarding its complete and unanimous verdict of condemnation on me, consigning me to the lumpenproletariat underclass of untouchable trailer trash. This lady told me, with implacable and unyielding certitude, “You will end up working with your hands”.

That woman was right about my hands, but she would have been dismayed to see how far they took me, to places she could never even imagine. Trained hands are what built our material world. It’s all very well to have an agile and analytical mind, but if you can’t construct an edifice aor manufacture a product, what are you? A tank of hot gas, polluting the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. Sorry, but that’s my opinion. My hands got me far in life, and they would hav gotten me even farther if globalization had not destroyed American manufacturing.

I believe that manual dexterity and the use of tools is what got us out of the trees, as well as actuating the part of the brain that stimulates language comprehension. That is why human evolution is moving forward with the astonishing velocity of Gregor Mendel’s fruit flies, practically on a daily basis, instead of remaining static for hundreds of millions years like ants or crocodiles.

I believe that my styling talent and mechanical aptitudes make me far superior to most New York writers, who are useless parasites only good for wasting your time. And the fact that I am Saul Bellow’s nephew and portrayed in his most celebrated novel, “The Adventures of Augie March” propels me so far into the stratosphere of world literature that the other writers of New York are as apes in the trees by comparison.

This year, Viking Press is publishing a collection of Saul Bellow’s correspondence, including correspondence to me of a very intimate nature. At the same time British professor Zachery Leader is publishing a biography of Bellow commissioned by the Guggenheim Foundation including his relation to me. These references to me will be enough to stimulate an interest in me by future generations, and that is the reason I have begun to create my memoirs, to leave my footprint on human civilization for future generations.

Needless to say, I consider it to be my prerogative as an artist to use my pen as a weapon of attack or ridicule to settle old scores against persons or parties whom I feel have wronged me or unnecessarily stood in my way for no other reasons than self interest or envy. Bellow himself, who wrote in a letter to me urging me to “forgive all those who have sinned against” me, would probably liked to have been forgiven as well but, alas, that is not in my nature. I feel that my only obligation as a writer is to be entertaining. I don’t have to be accurate or truthful (although I can document everything in this memoir). If Oprah decides to invite me on her show to scream at me, I will just bray at her like a jackass.

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 inMontreal, 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 wire 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 for 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 garnishing. 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, 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.
© Dean Borok Oct 2010
Life in Fashion Hell
Dean Borok on Fashion Show Mayhem

If the world had evolved differently, I would have been at the top of my industry, with a beautiful Manhattan condo and a luxury automobile. Instead, I am stuck in a circle of hell.

Fashion Asylum One
Fashion Asylum Two
Fashion Asylum Four

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