Twenty-seven-year-old Dolan Geiman, a charming, well-mannered, and extremely handsome Shenandoah Valley expat (and man, does he milk that), is a regular Renaissance boy–he silk-screens, he collages, he paints, he reconstructs clothing, and he creates art for shops and bars on a for-hire basis. On March 7 he launched an e-commerce site, dolangeimanartist.com, and the next night he threw a party at Rockit Bar & Grill (where he designed back bars and frames for the TV) to promote it, focusing on his Rescued Clothing line. Partygoers were encouraged to bring along a garment that had been hanging too long in the closet; for just $53.29, Geiman would “rescue” it by applying hand-printed and -stitched patches and other “accents.” Proceeds went to his Rescued Family project, which supports rural families dedicated to “ecological farming practices.”
Geiman moved to Chicago in 2002. For his first winter he ran Gallery 1313 in a three-story building owned by a friend of his uncle. It was slated for demolition, so he was allowed to stay there for free and do whatever he wanted to the place as long as he paid the utility bills. He pulled out carpet and knocked down walls and turned it into a gallery. After it was torn down in April 2003, he and his girlfriend, Ali Walsh, moved to Pilsen and started Hockshop, a sort of roving gallery, selling art out of cars and bars. Last June Geiman took a ceramics residency in Virginia; he has plans to start a dinnerware line this fall. He and Walsh came back in November to “reconnect with clients,” Geiman says.
For the party, Geiman gave Rockit a kind of a chain-store flea-market vibe–think Anthropologie, but less pro. Everybody got a gift bag containing, among other things, a recipe for Sweet Redeye Cornbread: “For years Dolan has been inviting guests over to enjoy a hearty serving of cornbread, a cup of hot tea, and a few stories from the Southland,” says the preface to the recipe, which adds honey and maraschino cherries to boxed corn muffin mix. “Though the city life has smoothed some of his rougher edges, Dolan remains true to his southern instinct, and would like to pass on a recipe he no doubt found floating around the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.”
Geiman’s models kept it casual, wearing unconventional updos and Mohawks, walking around in his clothes, yakking it up with potential buyers. But it was the same stuff you’ve seen a zillion times already: big baggy jeans turned into a low-slung skirt, irregularly shaped patches of fabric sewn on in calculatedly random places, hems ripped, seams exposed. There were racks of bright clothing and regular art hung on what looked like chunks of picket fence and old doors: a pastiche of old block letters, seashells, revolvers, Far East imagery, big-bloomed flowers, feathers, wildlife, constables, and bingo cards, all screenprinted and patched so as to look olde.
Getting warm texture like that out of a screen print takes a lot of talent, but the canvas in a case like this has just as much to do with the result as what’s on it. You can use the shiniest thread to sew the prettiest swatch of silk bearing the clearest, coolest image of a gun onto a boxy, pilled, olive green Henley from the 90s and it’ll still hang like a boxy, pilled, olive green Henley from the 90s.
Theater people are nuts. It’s all about sweatpants and backrubs with them, and talking loudly on purpose in the lobby in hopes that even people they’re not addressing directly will find what they’re saying clever. Hey–sounds a lot like me and my friends, right?
Not surprisingly, it turns out I have some crucial things in common with one particular theater person who’s declared himself my sworn enemy. According to his MySpace profile, for instance, we’re both Libras. Eric Strom, or Eric Lab Rat, as he refers to himself, belongs to an “irreverent” six-person sketch comedy troupe called the Gentlemen Callers (even though it includes a woman, har har) and maintains a highly detailed hate blog about me called LizWatch (lizwatch.blogspot.com). He claims it channels the spirit of Neil Steinberg’s mid-90s Reader column, BobWatch, in which Steinberg railed on hapless middle-aged striver Bob Greene.
Mostly I just find it flattering that someone would take the time to stop and piss on me–agonizing over each of my sentences and even doing outside research on my personal life. (I have to say, though, that some of the intelligence he’s collected is pretty twisted. I’m most offended by his insinuations that I’m a feminist, that I pay for my drugs, and that I’d actually take public transportation on a cold Friday night.)
So on Saturday night I went to see the Gentlemen Callers at the Theatre Building, where they’ve been performing most Saturdays at 11 PM or so since February 5. This coming Saturday is their last performance of the run and their last with original member Spain Willingham, who’s moving to San Francisco to start a similar troupe.
The hour-plus-long revue began with two guys at the Vatican dealing with a dead pope, a parody combining the worst elements of EuroTrip and Weekend at Bernie’s. They quickly followed with a skit about a guidance counselor who tries to persuade a student to really do something important with his life and become a rock star. Then came the “obligatory weed sketch,” as someone announced from backstage, where two guys sat at a table with a pack of salami, bought a pound of pot over the phone, then tried to calculate how many Js that would be. So far, I hadn’t cracked a smile.
Just when I thought I might settle into my little black cloud of hate for the rest of the evening, Gus Menary, who sort of reminded me of Elijah Wood, emerged from the wings. “Gus!” the guys doing the weed calculations exclaimed. “You’re not in this sketch!”
Menary pulled out a cell phone and started describing the Gentlemen Callers to an imaginary third party. “Sketch comedy is dead,” he said into the phone. “What is this, 1985?”
As soon as Menary got off the stage, the Callers turned into a foulmouthed, filthy-minded group with many off-color things to say about race, religion, the government, pop culture, rich people, sex, southerners, and the American dream. The skit that made everyone suck in their breath was the one where Joshua Bermont, as a guidance counselor (a running theme), advised Eric Lab Rat, who has Hebrew lettering tattooed for real on the back of his neck, to join the Nazis. Just for signing up, Bermont explained, he’d get a complimentary oven mitt. When Bermont called Steven Spielberg and Jeff Goldblum “horse-faced Zionists,” the guys in front of me shuddered in their chairs, yelling, “Oh shit!” and “Hell naw!”
Plus, they had some actual jokes. A president has the same mentality as a serial rapist, said Bermont, in character as a presidential candidate: “You have to love people enough to fuck ’em even if they don’t want you to.”
So a personal shout-out to my fellow Libra Eric Lab Rat: The bait-and-switch opener, the self-parody, the utter lack of respect for the disenfranchised? I can’t believe we’re not already great friends.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer, Andi Baider.