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“Reading Myself at the Japanese Reading Room (NYC)” outfit

A read is an insult pointing out one’s flaws, according to Urban Dictionary, which I consult for my job, OK? (One time a corporation I worked for blocked out this site for obscenity and I had to take it to the top…of the internal chat gossip thread.)

I love Cheep because, even after 11+ solid years, it makes me realize how mediocre I still am at so many things. It keeps me on my toes (literally, in strange modeling poses just Googled near the Guggenheim). It makes me look at and interact with the world strategically. Peculiarly. And pack my bag with intent.

When in New York, I tend to listen to New Yorker fiction stories and wander around town. This particular Monday, my only mission was to get a Cheep shot, any cheap shot, in the Upper East Side.

No sweat. Until you’re sweaty under a Central Park bridge like an outdated middle-aged fashion troll. For what…exactly? I tend to ask myself…at unusable photo 300.

TBH, I don’t really know how to take a good photo. (Or shoot my shot in gen.) My camera is generic and subpar and set to auto. My fashion is still often questionable. I do not know how to edit out even earbuds. I can only tweak the color badly. All of this…is OK.

The nature of a good creative project is that it keeps you guessing. Curious. Pushing yourself to make a fool of yourself. It makes memories of mere moments. It gives you the occasion to meet the occasion. To capture the inherent drama of that particular place and time.

This is why I Cheep.

Tori Richard Honolulu for McInerny vintage black & pink floral empire dress – $35, Antique World Mall | black & silver metallic clutch – $4.99, ReStyle thrift store | Betsey Johnson rabbit shoulder duster earrings – gift, aunt. Apple earbuds – gift, parents | Chloe butterfly rose-colored sunglasses – $70, Nordstrom’s Rack | Frye boots with brown antique leather (the perfect packable travel boot that go with anything) – $200, TheFryeCompany.com

Cheep it to get read in the ultimate reading room.

“The dress my grandma wore to my mom’s wedding” outfit

I officiate weddings in the dress my grandma wore to my mom’s wedding. This last Friday, I cried more than the bride, seeing her float toward her groom (and me, peripherally) through rows of perfectly arched trees in an idyllic rural Idaho garden in the glow of the golden hour.

I love that electric feeling of real love. Like that time I almost got struck by lightening in the Sawtooth peaks, you run your fingers through the air and feel the sparks. It makes magic of mortals.

The love stories in my family are legends. Epics. My grandparents loved their way through jungles and concentration camps in the war-torn Philippines. My parents found their way back to love after a tragic 10 year split. Though it seems unlikely, so do the plots of all great Lifetime movies, and I hope to someday have my own love story of legend (or psychological romantic thriller with shocking twists….oh, wait…*crosses off list*).

Until and if I do, I’ll feel the vibes in this dress.

vintage 1970s – no tag but looks like Gunne Sax light pink & cream boho wedding guest dress – passed down, Grandma Margaret Moule

Cheep it to the real love that sparks between your fingers (but does not electrocute).

“The Eyes Have It” outfit

In 1984, the Telescreen, peering into your room like a dull mirror inset in the wall, recorded every private act for the nosey overlords to look / listen in. “Never,” we claimed. Then came Alexa. And all our George Orwell / Jeff Bezos dreamscapes came true. “Watch me now,” said the Danger Twins, and the populace. In the end, we opted in.

Apropos for Apocalypse Capitalism, it’s like we got the Splenda version of the dystopia. Fake, saccharine…tastes like the uncanny valley…and conveniently comes in tiny packages.

OK, maybe I’m dark. But only dark in the sense of a Salvador Dali surrealist film obsessed with high contrast and the eyes. What we see and what we don’t see. What is visible and what is invisible. What we choose to look at. (Like Lou Reed.)

Sweet dreams.

no label (handmade?) 1960s electric blue starburst gown – $45, Antique World Mall.

Cheep it looking upside down and sideways.

“The House of the Rising Sun” outfit

This dressing gown would only be house-of-ill-repute hot in 1718, the year New Orleans was founded by French knaves, and reputable women were in scant supply. Meticulously unbutton with your eyes this Reformation Era chic boudoir cosplay in the French Quarter. Patterns for days. Swampy-heat languor for miles.

In my fevered imagination, this dressing gown is the mirror image of the one the woman—taken in the bloom of her youth by consumption—who haunts this historic house wears. Her gray train shuffles against the hardwood. “Did I hear something?” one asks. Just the wind near the French doors. You imagine.

Misslook dressing gown, $14. Antique World Mall

Cheep!

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being Dawn Baer” outfit

How people live without an alter ego I’ll never know. Lately, mine has been Dawn Baer. She wears vintage concert tees without bras. She wears wire-framed 70s dad glasses with thick lenses (so you can’t read her unspoken shade). She wears forest green wool berets hand-beaded with a tropical beach. She cadged her jacket during a stint in the Idaho Fish & Game. She inked her name on the label in all-caps: BAER DAWN.

When I think it’s finally time for Dawn Baer to hang up her beret, a bitter gust comes in. What’s blowing in the wind this time? Better put on your trusty Fish & Game jacket (that I found at the Antique World Mall), Dawn Baer.

Trigger warning: Bambi. I’ve now passed off a memory that involves the Idaho Fish & Game to Dawn Baer. See? It’s good to have an alter ego. Get some distance between you and you.

There I was…I mean…there she was…a dorky doe-eyed information forest ranger in her mid-20s in Stanley, Idaho. A middle-aged man came in to the station and said, “Do I have something to show you.”

Never go with a rural man to a second location, was a rule she did not yet know, so found herself standing in the parking lot beside his jacked-up, too-big truck as he opened the passenger door.

He placed a doe in her hands. Yes, Julie Andrews. A deer. “I found it on the side of the road near a steep cliff. Thought I’d save it.” Then he took off.

When the Fish & Game officer finally called Dawn back, his fury for every act of human stupidity pointed directly at her head. “The mother was probably right there,” he spit out. “I’m going to have to shoot it.”

Her fate and the doe’s fate seemed so inextricably twined. Both powerless in bureaucracy.

Dawn and the doe waited for hours in the head ranger’s office, the one with the spectacular panorama view of the Sawtooths, long after the station closed and the dusk settled in. She cradled the mewling spotted baby deer, looked into its guileless black eyes…while vainly apologizing for everything humanity has ever done and softly cooing about its mama…as it suckled the tears cascading down her cheeks.

vintage-made in USA ACT [Action Clothing Technology] Idaho Fish & Game green jacket – $55, Antique World Mall | Creedence Clearwater Revival In Concert black tee – $12, Antique World Mall | Italian wool yarn NN07 No Nationality knitted rainbow sweater – $75 (down from $400), Nordstrom’s Rack | hand-beaded forest green beret – $14, Antique World Mall | ADAY teal leggings – $120, thisisaday.com | studded Frye boots – $75, Bombshell & Blokes Salon fall boots ale

Cheep it with Dawn Baer.

“To be or not to be in Death Valley” outfit

My longstanding quest for Cheep has been to capture the look of a disinterested bohemian model in an Anthropologie catalog. She side eyes you in her cotton patchwork gown against a distressed backdrop—fingering strange, decayed objets d’art—like an end-of-times queen of leisure.

At long last, a solid decade into thick of Cheep, I finally reached my goal in a ghost town in Death Valley called Panamit City. Here’s a step by step guide to achieving this rare look:

STEP 1: Get stupid lost and stranded in the desert. Idiotically go to the entirely wrong side of the mountain to the rockiest road in Death Valley. Foolishly drive straight up it and viciously slash your tire to bits. Fail to locate a jack. Contemplate your slow, lonely demise for at least one night and one morning.

STEP 2: Get jacked. Somehow get cell service for just the tense five minutes it takes to call your dad and get him to Google where Honda painstakingly hid the jack in 2001.

STEP 3: Stress shop in Pahrump, NV. In the day-long wait for a new tire, go on a Goodwill dress binge.

STEP 4: Backtrack through space and time. Find the right trailhead. Hike seven miles straight up a canyon. Follow a brick mine stack that looks like a fallen castle to an abandoned cabin littered with bones and backpacker detritus.

STEP 5: Strip naked to air dry while you liberally spread the highlighter you (wisely?) packed in all over your sweaty face. Throw on a boutique cast-off gown.

STEP 6: Stick a rusted thingamabob in your wrecked hair. Fondle a bone. Self style a photoshoot that, even after 10 years of practice, still takes 100 tries to achieve two decent pics.

STEP 7: Repeatedly, existentially question yourself. Is this really what I’m doing with my life? (Answer: yes.)

And that is how to Anthropologie anthropology.

no label boutique cast-off bohemian black & purple psychedelic cotton dress – $8.99, Goodwill thrift store | Maasai red, white & blue beaded bracelet – $2000 Kenyan shillings (about $20) 

Cheep it when you’re ghosting the rest of the world.

“Electric Kool-Aid acid test site” outfit

Two camo jet planes flew in between the Panamit Dunes of Death Valley directly behind me as I stood for the shot. I didn’t notice until the first one passed my line of sight. Then the second came through sideways beside me before horizontally sweeping below me through the desert floor.

I’ve encountered this once before in the dead silence of the deadest of desert. Because military test sites and the bleakest of wilderness get paired up side-by-side in the US, like toxic outdoor survival buddies. You spot the stealth jet first, nearly at eye level, alarming you with its massive size and strength and speed that comes from out of nowhere. Like a whale suddenly undulating beside you. Then the sonic boom knocks you flat. The aftershock sound terror somehow more power-packed than the sight surrealism.

I imagine the pilots this day….wondering *squawk* “what the hell’s this pale woman doing here” *over*. Done up in an acid-colored muumuu in the middle of godforsaken nowhere. Giving off eccentric 80s aunt vibes. She’s lit by your like-sands-through-the-hourglass surprise visit. Jumping with electric fear/joy. Flashing a peace sign in your wake.

vintage 80s Vanity Fair muumuu dressing gown, $8.99 – Goodwill thrift store in Pahrump, NV

Cheep it like The Little Prince passing by with the secrets of the universe when your plane goes down in the all-hope-lost desert.

“Military fatigued” outfit

I was into dystopias before dystopias were de rigueur. Among the things I carried on a spur-of-the-moment exchange trip to Russia in 1998: worn-out copies of A Clockwork Orange and The Gulag Archipelago.

Dumb American style, I unwittingly landed into political and economic turmoil. The ruble was in freefall. Yeltsin’s rule…spiraling too. Putin, then head of the ruthless FSB, would soon take his place. Never to leave.

Masha Gessen best explains the crushing impact of the iron fist of Putin in The Man Without a Face. Here is the little I know: Russians love a strongman. Every town in Russia had multiple busts of Lenin. (By then the lingering Stalin statues had been exhiled.)

I wandered through the streets of Moscow wondering which ordinary buildings hid the secret prisons of the Gulag. I wondered how ordinary people could accept the state-sponsored disappearing and the society-wide gaslighting.

But no matter how bitter and cold it was outside, inside their homes, Russian hearts and minds were brilliantly warm and open. Now I understand, just as Russians were born in a totalitarian oligarchy, I was born into a capitalist oligarchy, and the illusion of choice often eludes us all politically.

How dare one (weak)man override the will of billions of souls? May Ukraine—and all of us—soon be free.

Anne Taylor army green wool dress – $3 (half off coupon), Restyle thrift store Boise | brown leather bullet carrying belt – $2, artist Erin Cunningham’s yard sale | Frye “Paige” brown leather riding boots, $120 – LUX Fashion Lounge (MSRP: $388) | copper, silver & brass braided jewelry – $50, vintage family pass-on from friend

artwork: “Strange Loop Tondo: Nesting Dolls” by Marcus Pierce

Cheep it to the brave hearts of Ukraine.

“Quitting cherry bomb” outfit

My first real quit: DirecTV call center, February 2002. Crippling social anxiety and a lifelong phone phobia had my number, so I excelled at awkward pauses, nervous laughter, and average call times.

Even if custom designed by the damned to torture me singularly, no greater corporate hellscape could exist. With its fluorescent lighting. Forced cheery attitude. And “this call will be recorded for quality assurance”s.

This “O Fortuna” doomed workplace realization hit hard on September 11th, 2001. I squirmed in a vaguely ergonomic desk chair, staring up at the reality show terror on the big screen surrounds, while numbly guiding shell-shocked midwesterners through common billing question. This, I’ve come to learn time after time, is what we do during a disaster in America. Put on our capitalist blinders. Pretend everything’s normal. Vainly attempt to blandly exist.

Blessedly, in the back of my mind, I had a plan. An Edward Abbey-style monkey-wrench one to wander in the wilderness for months on end. Every needling workaday torture concealed the tiny gem of my freedom. I put in for a two-week vacation when I finally earned the PTO. But really I put my hidden plan into motion. I disconnected my landline. Cleaned out my apartment. Departed for the desert. Never to be seen (on DirecTV) again.

This recent quit was more professional…everything wrapped up in tidy LinkedIn-approved bows. Underneath, tho, the quitting spirit is the same. You know exactly when you light that fuse. You watch the slow burn until it blows. And boom you are the smokeshow.

Poof. Cherry.

Onia Kelly black cherry one piece swimsuit – $60, Poshmark | gold studded Boy Scouts of America official uniform green cargo shorts – $5, Restyle thrift store | purple & black sarong wrap – gift | Dolce Vita sage green velvet slip-ons – $7, Idaho Youth Ranch thrift store | green agate stone three strand necklace, 8,000,000 Turkish lira (in 2004, this was like, $6), Istanbul street vendor

Cheep it at The Great Resignation on Isla Mujeres.

“Soy el amor de mi vida” outfit

I wondered as I wandered solo down the boardwalk on Isla Mujeres in Mexico… in a wave-like refrain while staring into the “where is my mind” Caribbean… who will be the love of my life?

On the next turn, in a splash of spray paint and Spanish, the concrete answer: “Soy el amor de mi vida.”

I wasted many years steeped in a bitter hate of myself. No matter which way I looked at me: I did not fit in. Anywhere. Too little. Too much. (Somehow simultaneously.) Too weird. Too black sheep. I spent many years vainly attempting to escape myself. Thus, a little wonderer becomes a little wanderer.

“Wherever you go, there you are,” my uncle (a ceramics artist-now gone from this world) warned before I left on my first wild hare of a trip to Russia at age 18.

He was right. There I am. Wherever I go. And I have been to hell and back. Routinely. Like a sick commute.

But I found that I can turn the worst of times into the best of stories. Or at least a solid gold joke. Cosmically, lo I play the Fool, I rise as the Magician.  

And, truly, I am the love of my life. I am the person of my wildest dreams. And my dreams are only growing more feral, as my love blooms everywhere I look.

handmade – no label vintage acid flower print halter dress, $3 (ReStyle thrift store) | Dovecote pink flower silk scarf, $55 – end of year sale (Rifle Paper Company) | Kenneth Cole strappy wedges, $7 (Serendipity Boutique)

Cheep it to where the Mayan women played en la playa.