Saltwater 4: After children, two gambles
After several years of marriage and two children, a certain malaise began to eat at the foundations of BaBa and YaYa. Each of them ventured a risk; each of them sought a fix. Their fixes were profoundly different in nature.
This is the fourth of five excerpts the Beacon will run from "Saltwater," Gail Cassilly’s soon-to-be-published autobiography.
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They fell like confetti curlicues sprawled about me, the permed locks upon which I had relied to secure my female identity for nearly 18 years. From time to time, I had considered tackling life without them, but I always wound up chickening out. for there was grave danger and severe consequence tied to such risky foolishness. Example: I feared that my husband might reject me outright without them, or that whatever womanly charm I possessed would vanish in thin air, or worse, that the entire realm of my worth would be trimmed to non-existent.
My presence at the salon that day was an intense distraction for stylists and clients alike – especially for Roc, my forever-long stylist. Year after year I had asked and paid for the same treatment: perm, hi-lights, trim, perm, hi-lights, trim. … Uncertain as to the full nature of my why and why now, I nonetheless arrived there one day fully open to change: “I want a new color … red, I think … deep terracotta red.”
That’s why the clipped curlicues dusting my feet an hour later were the color of brick. My color transformation alone ranked breathtakingly sufficient as real change, but I was on a hot gambling streak so I wagered everything: “Now cut!”
Even the walls of the salon seemed to catch their breath at the sound of my daring, an order that sentenced me to either a new beginning or the end of me all together. After a tensely nervous Roc finished the cut with an audible sigh of relief, I gazed into the mirror from all angles, viewing a short punked-out lush red do long on attitude. Coordinating the do with a slightly browner shade of dyed eyebrows, I strode out of the salon feeling as free as if I’d been released from Alcatraz – as if oppression exhaled right off the top of my liberated head. My skull tingled with a feathery freshness. Oh, I could skip! Oh, I could sing! You see, my appointment dealt with hair, but my decision to change dealt with courage.
Decked out in dark shades, tight black jeans, a black tank top, I sashayed into our place of business knowing that I’d find my husband and his crew there busy at work. Strutting down the red carpet of my imagination, I moved across the long stretch of warehouse space leading towards the smelly fabrication area where they were gathered. As if intuitively sensing eau de female, Bob’s head lifted while I was yet a distance away, and without a hint of recognition I heard him mutter conspiratorially to the others, “Check it out guys!”
A small tribe of heads popped up from tasks at hand and lips curled in sly and manly ways. Bob’s eyes stayed riveted upon me with a predatory focus and I knew in a flash that I was experiencing first-hand how he scoured and devoured the sight of attractive females when I was out of sight. I was on parade before his eyes, but he was the one standing naked before mine. With the dueling impulses of a stroked ego and a jealous heart, I faced him up close. “Can I help you?” he asked. A game and flirtatious smile shaped my lips before answering back, “Well, I don’t know, can you?” At the sound of my voice, color erupted on his cheeks, speeding crazily up his forehead and down his bull neck; his eyes held the epitome of startled, with a spark of fear tossed in. “It’s you!” is all he could muster.
Gail Cassilly's 'Saltwater' Appearances
Where: St. Louis County Library, 1640 S. Lindbergh, 63131
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7
Where: Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid, 63108
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13
Where: City Museum entrance, 701 North 15th St., 63103
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16
Cost: Free, museum admission not necessary
To order the book: www.gailcassillybook.com
Those few moments of his utter incapacitation are what I remember most, the seconds during which he was rendered vulnerable and uncertain, the brief time during which I stood more like him and he stood more like me. He claimed to love and crave spontaneity, but he preferred his own whims to dictate the when, the how, and the where of it. That day they didn’t …
My husband took the next shot at orchestrating a risky move of an all-together different nature – his move as grandiose in nature as mine was personal.
Bob’s eyes gravitated magnetically towards more than attractive women, they also zeroed in on unwanted buildings, mostly commercial ones floating in a sea of bargain basement prices like damsels in distress. He displayed a clever knack for climbing the real estate ladder by purchasing in our name − thus rescuing − one such neglected building and resourcefully transforming it into an income generating opportunity for us before selling it off and using the proceeds to rescue a broader, full-bodied damsel in distress, and so on. …
His brick and mortar transformations were actualized through the renaissance-like magic of a creative mind, brute manpower, and quality (though salvaged) materials. Additionally, Bob was close to clairvoyant in pinpointing a deplorable site with the potential of one day evolving into a must-have-site for a nearby business or institution caught on the upswing with no space to expand.
That’s precisely how the sale of approximately 60,000 square feet of filthy, sooty, contaminated, oil-saturated foundry space catapulted us into downtown St. Louis real estate entrepreneurs. The gi-normous profit on the sale of this suddenly “must-have-to-expand land” sent him on a merry and grand scale shopping spree along a fairly derelict stretch of downtown’s Washington Avenue: a thoroughfare of partially abandoned, architecturally significant buildings that had once housed a reputation for thriving commerce in shoes and garments.
The International Shoe Co., at one time the world’s largest shoemaker, had built its headquarters there, establishing itself as one foot of the old triangular St. Louis expression: “First in shoes, first in booze, and last in the American League.” The grand building, designed by architect Theodore Link and opened for business in 1910, was up for sale. It had been sitting on the market for quite some time, for in 1993 no one was gobbling up property in this semi-blighted neck of the woods. Bob’s friends advised him to buy small in the area or not buy at all - advice falling on deaf ears. Giddy with cash in hand, he (we) made an insanely low offer on the giant two-building edifice, and, astonishingly, it was accepted. We acquired title to 700,000 square feet of space, more space than we ever dreamed of owning – more than I ever dreamed of owning, I should correct.
Along with the vast hulk of it came a smattering of paying tenants occupying space in the rear factory/warehouse portion of the building where, supposedly, Tennessee Williams had once been employed. The architectural gem of the front office building facing Washington Avenue with its stone façade and ornate detail, however, was entirely empty and in dire need of an infusion of tender loving care that could only be dispensed with cash: “credit” as we came to call it. Empty space wound up being our most demanding and costly tenant: “opportunity” as Bob called it.
As with prior makeovers, we tackled the building’s exterior first in hopes of generating a curious buzz throughout the weary area.,…
Most notably (crazily many thought), we erected a massive and long running concrete fence sculpted into the shape of an undulating serpent to enclose and define the back building’s parking lot. The formidable serpentine fence all but guaranteed making the news in the same manner that the giant Praying Mantis erected on our shop rooftop had; after all, loonies erecting zany and costly extravagance in an off-the-beaten-path part of old downtown clearly classified as newsworthy. What’s going on there? people wondered. We had no sensible answer.