Every August the Sunset Junction Street Fair marks the end of another long, hot summer with sweaty hugs and dissonant sounds amid the ever-changing shopscape of Silver Lake’s independently owned businesses. It always makes me think of a weekend in ’87 — the first at my first job ever, at a li’l Junction store called Y-Que (“So what” in Spanish). The funky curio shop melded barrio cool with punk rock ’tude by merchandising graffiti culture, religious iconography and retrobilia.
Tucked just north of Sanborn (and now under new ownership on Vermont Avenue), the shop belonged to a relative, which is probably the only reason my mom let me spend so much time in a neighborhood that she thought was a bit “shady.” (The Detour, a notorious leather dive, was just across the street, although it would later become the safely hetero 4100 Bar.)
During those days in late August, I was the kid who ran away to join the circus. See! The shirtless men with tribal tattoos and Mohawks. Hear! The trashy Latina drag queens with the sharpest one-liners ever. Meet! Real live rockers you’ve only read about, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and X.
On that first chaotic Saturday I stood in front of the store behind a giant table piled high with Y-Que T-shirts and assorted tchotchkes, while chatting up passersby and beckoning customers inside.
“I wish I was as cool as her,” I thought, “and her and her,” as purple, pink and Raggedy Ann red-haired girls paraded past me, wrists wrapped in bangles that jingled like windchimes, and all wearing vibrant anti-mall garb: country-girl frocks and cowboy boots with embroidered roses, Marcia Brady dresses and Doc Marten combat stompers. (I blew my first paycheck at vintage store Ozzie Dots down the street, where I bought some similarly Cindy Lauperesque mismatched getup.)
Three beers, four greasy chicken skewers and a blur of spiffy rockabilly dudes, scary modern-primitive punks and sassy gay guys later, darkness fell and my first shift was over. I was free to run wild in the streets with my gothboy co-workers and their friends. Like a scene out of The Lost Boys, we vamped through the crowds, cool air caressing our still-warm faces, the thumping beats from different music stages clashing then bleeding into the distance behind us. We hopped from vendor booths to neighboring shops and eateries that would later become regular hangs for me and that are all long gone now: Charlie’s Antiques next door, the Bitter End coffeehouse, Marilyn’s hamburger hut.
Our group included a scruffy, curly haired fella with pale, but intensely piercing sky-blue eyes that looked my way often enough to make me uncomfortable yet excited. He was a little too pretty for my tastes, but he rode a motorcycle and wrote poetry. Ah yes, just arty and bad-boyish enough.
By Sunday we were holding hands and getting woozy on cheap beer poured into Styrofoam cups and drunk behind the port-a-potties. We rode every creaky old carny ride including the Ferris wheel. I soon became dizzy and nauseous with desire and joy. Or was it something else? I ran over to a dark curb and spewed out the excesses of the weekend, though I didn’t want to. I wanted to keep it all inside, so that I might be transformed by it. Didn’t matter, though. I may have hurled my guts dry, but my head was forever stoked on loud music, fascinating, eccentric people and, most significantly, the excitement of my own possibility.
I’m not the only one with a “day at the fair” coming-of-age-like tale (or vomit story), but the thing is, I never really got off the ride. I ended up working 10 years in the wacky world of boho retail growing from teenager to adult in front of a regular cast of characters and customers who liked to buy freaky shit: movie producers who burned candles for prosperity, average Joes obsessed with both pinup girls and the Virgin de Guadalupe, and kitsch horders who just had to have the Kroft Superstars lunchbox of their childhood.
My work was also my social life (still is I guess), and when it was time to move on, I felt completely lost — the circus had gone away. Still, I never miss a street fair (okay, I live two blocks away now, so it ain’t hard). The neighborhood looks a lot different these days, but there’s still an energy that’s easy to get enchanted by. My fate was decided that long-ago weekend. I wasn’t sure where my life would go, but looking down from atop that Ferris wheel into the pandemonious streets that I would stomp for many years to come, I resolved never to get a straight 9-to-5 job, or wear “office attire” or work in a damn cubicle. And I never did.