Jan 5, 2014

Hotter Than Hell: The Tanyas

Headmistress of NY School of Burlesque Jo Weldon's photos from her headliner stripping days as "Tanya Hyde". This is the photo that inspired this post. Photo re-posted with Jo's permission.
It seemed like every girl I knew named Tanya (or Tonya) where I grew up in Texas was either a bully, white trash or a stripper. Sometimes all three. Let's see. There was a Tanya in my junior high school who made fun of me every day during Home Room by calling me names like "Girl Who Looks Like a Boy" (I had a pixie hair cut back then) and a few times she even called me "chink" along with the other white trash guys in class. It was weird because she was Vietnamese herself so I hope she has dealt with her self-loathing issues by now, or I hope unapologetically, she passed on her self-loathing to her kids ideally a daughter as bitchy and mean as she was. Then there was Tonya Harding. That was one batshit crazy ice skater conspiring with her ex-husband to break Nancy Kerrigan's leg. What was she thinking about? Jeez. Even now when you look at photos of her losing at an event, her crumpled face, slacked mouth and eyebrows comically pointed down to form this impossible and grotesque triangle, you know she cray cray. Poor, poor white girl.

When I was thirteen we lived in a shady part of Grand Prairie, TX in an all-utilities-included apartment complex called Grand Manor Apartments. It was $300 a month for a two bedroom apartment. My older brother got his own room, and my parents bought a sheet of thin plywood from Home Depot and sectioned off half the living room for my room. The carpet was always in a neutral color, thin and moldy. The sliding glass door that opened to a shitty, 3-by-4 wooden fenced balcony was frequently the point of forced entry when other apartments were burglarized. The other people who lived in these complexes were mostly Black and Mexican. The few white families spent their weekends sitting outside by the parking lot or if they had the upstairs apartment, they lounged on plastic chairs drinking beer and wearing trucker caps emblazoned with beer or sports logos. These were the people who called me "chink" or "oriental" and probably why I still hate the hipsters going for the trucker look. I wanna kick their faces! It was what we could afford for two years.

Above us lived a mother and daughter alone. I can't remember the mom much, but I remember the teenage daughter named, you guessed it, Tanya. Oh and what a Tanya she was. She truly lived up to every image, sensation, and impression that a name like "Tanya" can conjure. It is not an elegant name like Sophia or Anne. It does not evoke visions of chandeliers and gowns nor does it perfume your lips as you pronounce it. It is a common, girl-next-door name. Tanya's are all-American, approachable, and easy. My Tanya was a hair metal chic. She had big blonde hair teased way up with dark roots. Black eyeliner. She wore an acid-washed jean jacket, really tight jeans, and I remember her wearing a pair of intimidating fringe high heeled boots. It was the early 90's. It was no secret that she liked Motley Crüe. Her bedroom was above my brother's and she would blast music late into the night. I didn't listen to metal music. I was going through my Madonna-Tiffany-teeny bopper phase, and my brother was strictly listening to only 50s and 60s music. When Tanya wasn't listening to heavy metal she vacuumed. I would lie awake listening to the vacuum sucking away dirt and dust so all you got after was just a pathetic, threadbare carpet.

Tanya went out at night. Her boyfriends would come screeching up to the parking lot in pick-up trucks to get her. Sometimes there were three guys (I peeped out the kitchen window) sometimes two. They were dressed similarly to her and listened to the same music. You heard the music approaching first then the engine idling and the unmistakable click-clack of Tanya's heels as she raced down the stairs to her almighty Ford chariot waiting to whisk her away from Grand Manor Apartments. Once she was coming home as I was leaving for school early in the morning. She passed right by me. She was so close that I could see that she used a blue eyeliner and it was smudged from a night of having fun with boys that noticed you and wanted you and maybe doing drugs or smoking marijuana. She wore tangly silver crucifix earrings and her left ear had a row of more piercings. Her hair was soft, fine, blonde and pretty. Not coarse, thick and hideous like Asian hair. She didn't notice me, but as she walked by, I caught a whiff of what I now know as good ol' yeasty beer from the night before. But even with that bread-y smell and messy eye makeup, her life was SO glamorous.

Tanya must have gotten in big trouble with her mom that night because we heard a lot of fighting and stomping around. My parents were fighting a lot then too mainly over lack of money and how to make more money etc. All the fighting made me feel closer to Tanya like we both shared a "troubled" family life and we both had parents and teachers who didn't get us. We passed by each other again the following day on the stairs. Her mom was screaming at her as she slammed the door and stormed down the stairs to another car waiting for her. She made eye contact with me this time and I said, "Parents suuuuck." To my disbelief, she smiled and said, "Yea right?" I quickly added sarcastically, "Yeah you better go read your Bible and pray to God or something." I hated God. I had just been pulled out of a private Christian school where I actually had friends, but because my parents couldn't afford the tuition anymore I was transferred to a crappy public school where nobody cared about anything (but there were a lot of cute skater boys! another story). I hated the Christian school too to make things more confusing. And I certainly did not believe in God anyway the point was, my little rebellious anti-Christ quip made Tanya laugh. I felt SO cool. We were the same! We were sister rebels together. I could be her.

Tanya must have gotten grounded from missing her curfew, because a few more days later, my brother told me he saw her sneaking out of her second floor window to meet some guys in a pickup. He said he heard something knock on his window really late at night so he looked out and saw her half tangling and half climbing down to meet these guys. This story made an epic impression to my thirteen-year-old mind and inspired me to do the same a few years later when I sneaked out to meet my Jamaican boyfriend to devastating consequences. No one died but...that's another story for another day when the water is shut down in my apartment.

We stayed in Grand Manor Apartments for two years. My parents were worried about the public school education quality in that area. My band teacher called my mom several times about my behavior in class. My brother was getting into fights and his growing collection of porn magazines was starting to worry my parents. We moved to a nicer area. Gradually our financial situation improved. I graduated Salutatorian in my high school class. I went to Cornell University. Settled down in NYC. Met amazing women with storied pasts like Jo Weldon whose photo above reminded me of my own storied past and the women who made impressions on me for better or worse. This is Google Satellite's photo of Grand Manor Apartment. Shocking that this shack is still there. Maybe now its called Palace of Grandeur.

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