Boomtown Boudoir


People Like Us Have Needs

Jocelyn Kirsch and Edward Anderton

“If they had more they would need less.

A proposal from the squinting logician.

Seems we are legal, seems we are ill.

Ponderous purpose, are you weather, are you wheel?”

–Karen Volkman, from Spar

For the longest time, the only thoughts in my head regarding Philadelphia’s notorious “Bonnie and Clyde” identity-theft lovebirds Jocelyn Kirsch and Edward Anderton were “Man, I bet she works hard on those eyebrows,” and upon a slightly closer inspection of photos of the pair, “that dude just got taken for the ride of his fucking life.” A few weeks ago, though, Kirsch plead guilty to charges of, among other things, conspiracy, access-device fraud, aggravated identity theft, bank fraud, and money laundering. She’s due to spend two years in jail, beginning in October. Anderton faces up to five years for the same charges beginning in September. Somehow, I knew Kirsch would get off with the lighter sentence. The whole thing had this familiar aftertaste, as though we’d all heard this story a hundred times already. And I wondered, as I always do when knee-deep in the details of someone else’s crimes, if I would have done the same thing if I thought I could get away with it.

If you haven’t been keeping up with your Philadelphia glamour-crimes, Jocelyn Kirsch is a 22 year-old Drexel student who is now the subject of a Facebook group called Jocelyn Kirsch is Scandalous that one gets the feeling she would have deserved even if she were not facing hard time. She’s the daughter of a North Carolinian plastic surgery, which would explain the fake boobs. While not actually of Lithuanian heritage, that was how she always explained the unlikely violet color of her eyes (they were contact lenses). Neither did she actually qualify for the 2004 Olympic pole vaulting championships or ever prove herself to be a fluent speaker of Afrikaans, two of Kirsch’s frequent claims. We do know that she was in a sorority. And she definitely performed in a university production of “The Vagina Monologues.” Then there’s that whole thing about how she was instrumental in scamming over $116,000 from various friends, colleagues, neighbors, and complete strangers for what, at first glance, seems to be absolutely no explicable motive. We know a lot about that, because without it, there would be no excuse to ooh and ahh over one of the general populace’s most beloved archetypes of all times: the histrionic sexpot with a penchant for doing Bad Things.

Edward Anderton, a 25 year-old University of Pennsylvania grad, seems almost an afterthought in the wake of Kirsch’s pneumatic tabloid appeal. He consistently told one lie, which was that he made double the $65K salary he actually made working for a financial analysis firm. Oh, and he also told his employers that he was out sick when he was really escorting Kirsch on fabulous international vacations long enough to give him a nice tan, which eventually got him fired, and of course he lied about that, too. But other than that, he seems pretty normal: supportive parents still married and playing board games together out in Washington State, a mixed review on whether or not he was a “dick” from his fraternity brothers, perfectly average John Doe looks, and the standard inferiority complex that most Penn kids walk away from their education with if they were not born on third base and primed to hit a triple. One gets the feeling that Anderton could have been almost anyone. Which is, I suppose, reason enough for a love-soaked crime spree.

And it really was love-soaked, the entire year of it, if you can believe all the Facebook pictures Kirsch and Anderton took of themselves enjoying the high life: a $3,000 a month apartment in Rittenhouse Square, luxurious vacations to Paris, London, and Hawaii, nice clothes, big nights out at the hookah bar, and of course, the $2500 Giovanni and Pileggi hair extensions that eventually sunk the whole ship.

To be fair, the hair extensions didn’t cost that much. The $2500 Giovanni and Pileggi is suing the pair for includes gratuity, interest, late fees, and lawyer’s fees. Kirsch paid for her seven and a half hour-long appointment with a fake credit card and two bounced checks, one of which included a $250 tip to stylist Jen Bisicchia. After placing a few calls to Kirsch wondering where her money was, Bisicchia received a text that said: “HELLO JEN BISICCHIA. YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME. BUT I KNOW YOURS. I ALSO KNOW UR NICE PLACE ON … ST AND HOW U GET HOME AT NIGHT. YOURE THE ONE WHO SHOULD BE WORRIED ABOUT VISITORS AT UR DOOR. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’VE GOTTEN URSELF INTO. YOU SEEM LIKE A SMART GIRL. WALK AWAY NOW OR YOU WILL REGRET IT.” Anderton and Kirsch didn’t get a chance to go on the vacation to Morocco that they’d planned for later in the week because they were arrested later that day. It had been coming before the hair extension debacle. They hadn’t been particularly sneaky about scamming their friends and neighbors. For whatever reason, they had not looked far enough into the future to realize that when you steal from people you already know, the chances are fairly high that one of them will not only notice, but be able to figure out exactly who did it.

Both Anderton and Kirsch’s parents were right there to bail them out. Anderton returned to his parents’ cozy board games in Washington state. Kirsch moved in with her mother, who had moved to Napa Valley, California, after getting a divorce from her father back when Kirsch was in high school. Kirsch settled in and got a job as a barista at Starbucks. Kirsch had always loved drinking Starbucks, why the hell not? But after awhile, with Anderton more or less willingly rotting back in his old bedroom, Kirsch got itchy. She just did a little here and there, a little trip to Target with a Starbucks co-worker’s credit card, that fake 9-1-1 call, the $2,000 bicycle that she just kinda… rode off on. Eventually, she got caught. Turned herself in. Was brought back to Philly and placed under house arrest. All accounts state that she looked cute at the hearing.

Much has been made, both locally and nationally, of the pair’s outrageous sense of entitlement. But the thought that two bright, attractive, ambitious young adults who were fully capable of holding down decent jobs would shit all over it in exchange for one measly year of living in rap video excess doesn’t really shout entitlement to me. People who feel entitled to things ask for them and expect to get them. They don’t section off an entire room of their apartment for things like out of state IDs soaking in bleach baths and several different computers and article clippings about fraud when they know damn well that they are at best white collar crime amateurs. They don’t victimize the people next door or their best friend or the hair extension stylist or girl who left her purse at the bar by mistake. They don’t go out and actually work for it. If Anderton and Kirsch had truly felt entitled, they would simply have sat back and waited for the rest of their promising lives to unfold. I don’t think they felt entitled to more than this. I think they needed it.

What we don’t want to understand about this is why Anderton and Kirsch would have needed more, when in their places, many of us would not have. They’re just kids. Rich kids, even. What the hell were they even worried about?

But for their own private reasons, Kirsch and Anderton were desperate people, or at least they thought that they were. Super-intense relationships are a law unto themselves. Kirsch seems to be a girl who exists quite naturally at the center of her own personal black hole, vital and happy only when she can suck it out of as many other people as possible. We all know a Kirsch or two, and we are also familiar with the Andertons of the world, the ones whose considerable resources require a certain tapping. And I mean, yeah, welcome to co-dependent heaven. Under different circumstances, the two might have contented themselves with playing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? well into old age. But maybe that’s exactly what they were running from: that tedious shit everyone else has to relate to. You know, worrying about money. Fighting about money. Missing out on things because you don’t have enough money. Watching the lack of money erode that which is most precious to you. Anderton and Kirsch’s utter kamikaze unwillingness to be like pretty much everyone else is also the point where their crimes start to sound plausible.

But hey, Anderton and Kirsch, fuck you too! By now, you’re probably starting to become very familiar with the needs of everyone else. Namely, the need to watch people who refuse to play by the rules of life get smacked down. It validates the choices made by the rest of us to abide more or less by the law, hold down our jobs, eat our meat before our pudding, fight with partners about money, resign ourselves to living out our own desperation quietly, blah blah blah, stroke stroke stroke. But more importantly, it reminds us that this has always been not only an autonomous choice, but one to be more or less happy about. It’s what allows us to now rifle through all of those sexy vacation photos and judge your eyebrows while munching on popcorn and realizing that life is pretty good.

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Eastern European Folk Florals
July 27, 2008, 7:01 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole | Tags: ,

… are all I want to look at right now.



Musings on a Twofold Nature
July 27, 2008, 6:42 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole, strippers | Tags: , , ,

“What drives me insane is the twofold nature of this nymphet–of every nymphet, perhaps; this mixture in my Lolita of tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity, stemming from the snub-nosed cuteness of ads and magazine pictures, from the blurry pinkness of adolescent maidservants in the Old Country (smelling of crushed daisies and sweat); and from very young harlots disguised as children in provincial brothels; and then again, all this gets mixed up with the exquisite stainless tenderness seeping through the musk and the mud, through the dirt and the death, oh God, oh God.”

–Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

The fastest track toward the most titillating kind of filth often lies in the age-old device of draping it in some universal concept of innocence. This is by no means a plot unfamiliar to us, and we no longer judge ourselves for the feeling of satisfaction derived from an old theme soundly realized even as we are horrified by this innocence’s inevitable corruption. Nabokov’s Lolita is the kind of deliciously despicable novel that gives (and really, should give) responsible adults the sick willies even as they find themselves unable to stop turning the pages. Humbert Humbert, a grown man of worldliness and intelligence, is fixated on the pubescent Lolita to a degree that, while undoubtedly gross, also has the kind of idealistic luminescence that mirrors what adults find charming about children. This makes it very difficult not to sympathize with his character, even as he commits the sorts of crimes that if revealed in real life would result in public outrage. At the novel’s end, we must reassess whether the loss of innocence is perhaps a necessary part of growing up–a part which the seducer, lost in his obsessive dreamworld, has somehow not completed himself. I know that by the end of the book, I inevitably feel sorrier for the ruined Humbert Humbert than the compromised but seemingly well-adjusted adult Lolita.

Perhaps the most fascinating and disgusting part of Humbert Humbert’s inappropriate attraction to his nymphet is his certainty that it has been specifically engineered by her for the purpose of attracting him. To read this book as a grown woman is a leap of faith–I am sure there are few of us out there who have not been around enough men to understand that they all think like that, criminal or Eagle Scout. The point of the book–which is that it takes a special kind of perv to act on this secret everyman certainty with a thirteen year old–is not lost on me. However, the loving detail with which Humbert Humbert recalls every offhand gesture of his Lolita’s as a sexual overture intended for him resonates right between the bones of sorest misunderstanding between women and men. To read Lolita as a woman is to realize all over again that dreadful sense of recognition the first time you heard that boys didn’t really want to be your friend. You don’t really have to be thirteen or dating a pedophile to feel threatened by this.

Scratch what I said earlier about feeling sorry for Humbert Humbert: after completing this novel, I felt far sorrier for myself than any of the characters involved. The whole idea that women are still seen (by men) as passive in their relations with men even while participating in them is scary, upsetting, and completely paralyzing if you, you know, care. It forces you into making an unfair and distasteful choice: rejecting entirely this idea of yourself as some kind of zoo exhibit to be observed and judged and therefore finding yourself constantly misunderstanding and misunderstood by men, or manipulating it to your own advantage, which involves a certain degree of both acceptance and pandering.

On a good day, a safe day, the kind where the men in your life are loving and familiar and supportive, the idea of making this choice seems ludicrous, like something only a desperate woman would even consider. It doesn’t take much to flip a safe day, though. There will be some guy in the park, some offhand comment from a boyfriend about another woman, some line on a TV show, some book like Lolita, some reminder of the way some men really do see women, at least sometimes, perhaps on unsafe days of their own. And in either desperation or a kind of cold-blooded rationality, you will find yourself wondering whether to shave your head entirely or put your hair into some cutesy pigtails. To snarl at the inevitable catcall or to smile. To demand more or trick yourself somehow into needing less. None of this will be what you actually want for yourself. It will be purely defensive. When you realize what you have been doing, it will seem far more humane for a car to come barreling out of a convenient plot device and run you over than to untangle all of this into something you can actually live with. Meanwhile, part of you is still thinking, “poor guy. I make his life so hard.”

I thought I was making peace with this conundrum when I worked in strip clubs. The idea of pandering to an idea of what men wanted from women was comfortable when I knew what I was doing and why I was doing it. Before I danced, the male gaze often just seemed inappropriately omnipresent and malignant, something I begrudgingly had to take into consideration while trying to live my life. In the strip club, it was just cut-and-dry commodity. And I felt a hell of a lot safer pandering than rejecting. It is a perfect temporary solution to feeling unsafe. But wait for the resentment to build up. Wait until you see yourself turn into some angry bitch who really isn’t satisfied with anything. Then comes the part where you realize and try to blame yourself for even that in hopes that with claiming responsibility, it will go away. Watch it persist anyway until you find yourself in the middle of a conversation with a man where you are trying to get what you want and he is being resistant and you are getting frustrated and then you look up at him and can see that he’s trying to be on your side, lizard brain and all. He wants the same basic thing Humbert Humbert wanted from Lolita, which is for you to hang out with him so that he can watch you be you up close for awhile, in peace and quiet, but he wants this badly enough to work out the rest of it. After all the shit you’ve been through, thinking about this stuff, this will be simple enough to make you want to scream.

But here’s the point: you’re not Lolita. You’re a good fifteen years away from that, making his interest in you fully legal, mature, normal, and therefore something you should also be able to deal with as an adult. And considering that you’d been identifying with a thirteen year old this whole time, isn’t it maybe time to rewrite yourself out of the one about The Hapless Dude and His Object and into something that suits you a little better?



Arte Y Pico Blogging Award
July 27, 2008, 5:57 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole

No one seems to really know what this is or where it came from, but the Arte Y Pico Blogging Award was recently passed on to me by none other than Grace Undressed, one of my favorite blogs of all times ever. Which was super flattering, and put a smile on my face that lasted for a good 24 hours. If that is the point of the Arte Y Pico Award, it is point enough. I’d be like the cyberspace grinch if I didn’t jump on the opportunity to recognize a few of my fellow blog brethren and pass it along. So, in no particular order, here are some exemplary blogs written by a few extraordinary folks that I think everyone should have bookmarked:

Memory and Desire

I have long admired Heather’s ability to fearlessly nail the emotional links between perfume and poetry, two seemingly ephemeral subjects, while also proving herself a stickler for perfect academic grammar and formatting. It’s not often you find conscientious gravitas and sensual reeling sharing the same bed, but over at her place, they get along famously. This is The New Yorker of perfume blogs, a place where the themes are fully realized, the subject matter is as specialized as it feels like being, the ellipses are banished to hell where they belong, and by the end of a post, the reader is left feeling fully sated, as though they’d learned something presented in whole by an author unafraid to offer it that way.

The Daily Miltonian

The Daily Miltonian is the website for Fort St. David’s Press, an independent publishing company interested in comic books, music, scenery, hanging out, television, poetry, the early nineties, and cats. It’s also where my old friend, colleague, and cohort Erik Bader unloads his ineffable Baderness onto the internet. Alex Zahradnik did the design, and I’m super jealous of how slick and real it looks. Just read it; you’ll like it.

Broad&Market

I’ve never met Maggie, the mistress of my favorite Philadelphia street style site, but her dogged optimism that Philadelphians, too, can be fashionable is fresh and endearing in a city full of people who’d sooner give you the finger than directions to the Ben Franklin Bridge and sooner go out in the exact same thing all of their jerk friends are wearing than take a few risks. The premise is simple: she takes pictures of diverse local cutie pies of all ages, races, and genders, has a brief conversation with them, transcribes it, and throws it up under their pictures. The effect of this is that you feel like you’re talking to them. It is her interjected commentary, though, that makes you step back and recognize how smart and sneaky these mini-portraits really are. Case in point: “Her comments on girls not wearing skirts here may seem trivial, or you may think that girls here do wear skirts, but she does have a point. Have you seen many girls in Philly walking around in skirts looking really cute lately? Like on a demure tip? With nice tights and a nice overcoat and whatnot, where you just wanna take her out to lunch somewhere nice and get coffee after?”

Maggie, you make me want to try harder.

The Stripper Hates You

This blog almost creeps me out with the way it puts me right back into the strip club every time I visit it. There’s something about Josephine’s rough-around-the-edges, tell-it-like-it-is bravado that is, to me, pure stripper, straight out of the dressing room. It’s like she’s standing next to you at the mirror, you’re handing her a lipstick, you’re both a little drunk, there aren’t any dudes around, the money sucks, and this girl is just letting it all out: how pissed she is at her last customer, how she should really find another job, this crazy other bar she worked in once just to do it, how she needs another beer… all of it. Reading this is like being able to secretly tap back into those shaky but sweet dressing room bonds strippers form with other strippers out of basic camaraderie and mutual frustration. It makes me realize that I can’t believe how much I miss that sometimes.



She Was Like a Half-Opened Carnation
July 12, 2008, 12:05 am
Filed under: Perfume | Tags: ,

“That’s what I need,” said a few-years-ago date, pointing to a large display of passionflowers on top of the piano in the steakhouse where we were having dinner. “My last girlfriend was like… a half opened carnation.”

Somewhere inside my tight red dress and Cleopatra eyeliner, I winced for her. It was impossible not to suspect that deep down, I too was more like a half-opened carnation than a passionflower. And even if I wasn’t… Jesus, what a thing to say.

I’ve always liked carnations. They were in the bouquets my parents would give me after school plays, the corsages my dates would give me for school dances, and there were even some planted in one of my mother’s flower gardens. Their presence during some of the most exciting nights of my formative years were so consistent that it never occurred to me to find them humble or common. And that smell: spicy and creamy and sweet, like the weird purple clove flavored Necco wafers that I always ate first. Nothing else smells like that. Except maybe carnation perfume. Easy like Sunday morning to the end, carnation is a simple note for perfumers to get right. It always smells exactly like the real thing is lurking around somewhere inside the composition, just to say thank you or congratulations or I am so stoked that you are here with me. What could be sweeter than a half-opened carnation?

My first carnation love was Caron Bellodgia, a fragrance that dresses up the flower’s ethereal, misty qualities with a sharp-starched edge, like the stiff tulle of a tutu. Rather than pretending to be anything other than a carnation fragrance, Bellodgia takes the carnation and gives it hyperreal dimensions, as though it were a flower more capable of filling a whole room with its unassuming fragrance. I wear Bellodgia with sleek jersey pieces that feel like pajamas, messy updos, and flat shoes. Something about it just feels like an off-duty ballerina.

Yves St. Laurent Opium is a perfume that seems to be coming from roughly the same place as my steakhouse date and his lust for passionflowers of the world. The carnation is there to smooth out the brisk, almost mentholated spices up top and the formal woodiness of the base, but there are moments when it dominates the blend with an even-handed calm in the eye of the storm. While the rest of the perfume shrieks like Anne Sexton at a dinner party thrown for someone else, the carnation in Opium provides moments of much-needed respite. Call me a rube, but Opium mostly scares me. I don’t wear it, but sometimes I admire it.

Most recently, I’ve been breathlessly semi-monogamous with Cacharel’s Anais Anais, a fragrance referred to by Luca Turin of Perfumes: The Guide as being “vaguely dykey.” I see how this could be true. It’s girlish to a degree that it could not possibly have been invented for the enjoyment of boys. Smelling it on myself even now, I’m never sure why I like this–I just know that I do. It feels right. More lily than carnation, it has a soapy kind of feminine product assurance about it, like some hygiene video from the 70s assuring young women that their vaginas smell perfectly fine, especially if they douche regularly. I wore it for the duration of a debaucherous 4th of July weekend, and upon sniffing my shirt for potential grossness the day after wearing it during an all-day drinkfest that culminated in taxi kissing, I discovered that it smelled not the slightest bit like B.O. or smoke or beer. Just Anais Anais, fresh and clean and unsoiled to the very end. Just like me, if only because I passed out before things got interesting. While I don’t smell a ton of carnation in Anais Anais, it seems to embody the idea of a person who is more like a half-opened carnation than a passionflower. Some sweet naif, jazzed up on keg beer and fireworks and good intentions.

The evil pushers over at the Philly LUSH store made the mistake of informing me that they’d have limited edition retro products available the Saturday after the 4th. Guess who was there, nursing a wicked hangover. It was here that I discovered Potion, body lotion of gods. Milky and thin but unexpectedly emollient, Potion‘s most salient feature is its amazingly rich, thick clove-carnation-tangerine fragrance. It’s a carnation that is rendered sexy and juicy and spicy and sweet and thoroughly up to no good. I am obsessed. My legs are smoother than they’ve ever been, and the fragrance speaks of a less firm intention to keep them firmly closed than say, Anais Anais. It’s for that reason that I’ve been layering the two. It just feels like me right now.

Sometimes I think about my strange date and his passionflower predilection, although nothing he said during the duration of that evening has stuck in my head as iconically as the carnation comment. We never got together again, although we talked on the phone a few more times. He called me before slipping away into obscurity to tell me that he’d sold his business and was going to sail around the world. I’d have sent him a passionflower for his lapel, but it would have looked pretty goofy. Especially on a sailboat. I think I just said, “congratulations.”