Stories|Part of Something in the Air

Doris Day blows against

Writer Dodie Bellamy – whose birthname is Doris – recalls the characteristic facial expressions and airy exhalations of her namesake, Doris Day. Dodie’s memories of watching the actress on the small screen are inextricably linked with one intense summer in her college years.

Words by Dodie Bellamy|artwork by Michael Salu

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Mixed media artwork depicting a detail from a larger diorama. The scene is rich in details. In the centre is a cluster of small floating squares which together make up a much a larger square. The square is brightly coloured grading from orange at the top, to yellow in the middle to blue at the base. The many small squares are arranged in such a way to create the image of a human face with its mouth wide open. Behind the coloured face is a fragmented abstract satellite, solar panel wings outstretched. Surrounding the satellite are lots of angular floating shapes resembling a field of debris.
Respiratory Matrix. © Michael Salu for Wellcome Collection.

After our first year of college, Nance and I went home for summer break. Northern Indiana was sweltering and boring, the air so polluted from steel mills and oil refineries, just breathing it was said to be the equivalent of smoking seven cigarettes a day.

My mother, of course, was determined to resume her default mode of surveillance and control. I overheard her saying to her best friend, Stella, “I never should have let her go away. She’s changed.”

Nance and I met in kindergarten and had been lovers forever. She never got along with her sister, who was a couple of years younger, but out of desperation we started hanging out with Sharon and her boyfriend John. We’d drive around aimlessly in John’s messy car, invariably ending up at a diner, where we’d smoke menthols over French fries and Cokes.

Once, when Sharon set her long hair using empty frozen orange-juice cans as rollers, in order to dry her hair quickly we zoomed down Interstate 80/94 with the windows rolled down, the wind whipping our cheeks pink. Some nights, when Nance and I got off work from our shitty part-time restaurant jobs, the four of us would end up at Lake Michigan, and, still wearing our greasy uniforms, walk into the moonlit water and shriek.

Mostly we’d get stoned and stay up all night blasting the stereo, sprawled across Sharon’s bed, shouting over the music. Nance’s parents were deaf, so we could make as much noise as we wanted to.

Flutters of fury

When we grew tired of the tinny stereo, we’d watch the vintage movie channel. Each night it was either a Western, a gangster film, or something starring Doris Day. We loved Marlene Dietrich in ‘Destry Rides Again’. “He would rather be cheated by me than married to you,” we’d said to one another in bad German accents. But we loved Doris Day more.

Mixed media artwork depicting a detail from a larger diorama. The scene is rich in details. In the centre is a cluster of small floating squares which together make up a much a larger square. The square is brightly coloured grading from orange at the top, to yellow in the middle to blue at the base. Surrounding the face are lots of angular floating shapes resembling a field of debris.
Detail from, Respiratory Matrix. © Michael Salu for Wellcome Collection.

“We blew our own bangs in the air and bounced around the plastic-covered living-room furniture, laughing our asses off.”

“She’s going to do her mad,” we’d scream, and whoever had wandered into the kitchen or bathroom would dash back to witness Doris put her hands on her hips, scrunch her face, exhale a puff of rage that made her bangs flutter and part. We blew our own bangs in the air – even if we didn’t have any – and bounced around the plastic-covered living-room furniture, laughing our asses off.

The air thick with the muck of mid-20th-century sexism, Doris brightly clicks her heels down a Manhattan sidewalk. All those lying bastards pretending to be someone else. Men treat her like a dumb cunt. She opens her mouth wide and bellows “OOOOH!”

She steps up to a kerb holding a newspaper above her head. When Cary Grant’s limo drives through a puddle, splashing grime all over her job-interview outfit, Doris shrieks, then forms her mouth into a tense rectangle/ejects a guttural snarl/stoops down/emits an “OHHH”/sways backwards/stretches open her mouth/spews a gust so powerful her body rebounds forward.

Nance’s mother enters the bedroom unannounced. Sharon sticks the joint we were smoking out of sight, along the far side of the bed. Their mother points to her nose. Then she places her hands in front of her, palms up, fingers spread, hunches her shoulders, juts her head, scoops her hands slightly forward and to the sides while making a “what the fuck?” face.

Nance, all innocence, spells out i-n-c-e-n-s-e with her fingers. Nance has been translating for her parents since grade school, haggling with insurance salesmen, etc. She was raised with far too much power for a child. Once, when she was little and pissed off, she took a chair and banged a wall until it made a hole in the plaster, then she told her parents that Sharon did it, and stood there and watched them spank her.

For me, it was the opposite – if I complained about my parents’ fucked-up behaviour, I was punished. So I pouted dramatically. My mother would mock me. “If your lower lip drops down any further,” she’d say, “you’re going to step on it.” Then she’d smirk at how witty she was. Doris is my birth name, and I was blonde with freckles. I hated the association.

Mixed media artwork depicting a detail from a larger diorama. The scene is rich in details. In the top left is a cluster of small floating squares which together make up a much a larger square. The square is brightly coloured grading from orange at the top, to yellow in the middle to blue at the base. The many small squares are arranged in such a way to create the image of a human face with its mouth wide open. In front of the coloured face are lots of thread-like floating shapes.
Detail from, Respiratory Matrix. © Michael Salu for Wellcome Collection.

“The air thick with the muck of mid-20th-century sexism, Doris brightly clicks her heels down a Manhattan sidewalk.”

Doris moves the world

Doris sucks up all the air in the room, then expels it in an explosion. From her round mouth, she emits a high pitched “ooooh oo oh”, like a feral little beast. “How could you do this to me!” Doris is locked out of her house, her arms full of groceries, her housecoat caught in the door. Breakables tumbling to the sidewalk make a godawful mess.

Air is not empty: it is a field, a matrix Doris gesticulates through.

Freckled mouth clenched shut, air sizzles out through her tight lip-slit. Air is not empty: it is a field, a matrix Doris gesticulates through. “Uuuuughh!” Doris learns she’s been duped. She makes a little whimper, forms her mouth into an O. She rolls her head from side to side, bugs her eyes. She stares into the abyss and the abyss stares back at her. “OH. OH. OOOH! OH!” From her mouth gushes a vortex around which her body whips and jerks and sways.

We’re on acid. Earlier that day, John said he wouldn’t do it if we had to listen to Sharon’s crappy stereo, so we used his credit card to buy a better one, which we plan to return tomorrow.

Through the excellent speakers Rod Stewart is screeching “Every picture tells a story, don’t it,” over and over, which is provoking so much pleasure it’s scaring us, like it’s never going to end, “every picture tells a story, don’t it, every picture” and John is hyperventilating and Nance is biting her lower lip and holding her breath like she does right before she comes, and the four of us feel way too much for Sharon’s double bed with its fluttering tufts of pink chenille.

Doris puckers her mouth, shakes her head, crosses her eyes. If her lip drops down any further, she’s going to step on it. Men like piranhas circle not only her virtue, but her agency as well. She gets a plan, squints, emits a sexy “oooohhh”. Doris huffs and puffs and blows down the straw house of patriarchy. The effect is homeopathic, and within the philanderer’s hairy chest a desire to protect her purity sprouts.

When Rock Hudson picks her up against her will, she flaps her legs in the air, frantic as a hooked fish. Doris Day is doing her mad. We bend over, clutch our guts, and from our gaping mouths spittle flies through the air, glistening little spores of love. Like a wind spirit at the edge of a map, Doris bulges her cheeks huge, purses her lips and whooshes the world into motion.

About the contributors

Dodie Bellamy

Author

Dodie Bellamy is an American novelist, nonfiction author, journalist, educator and editor. Her latest book is ‘Bee Reaved’, from Semiotext(e).

Head and shoulders, black and white photographic portrait of Michael Salu.

Michael Salu

Artist

Michael Salu is a British-born Nigerian writer, artist, critic, and creative strategist. He has produced creative and critical work on technological and geopolitical changes in society and culture, and his writing has appeared in many literary journals, magazines and art publications, and he has exhibited art internationally. Michael has directed the creative output of many cultural brands and organisations. He has held several advisory roles, contributed to academia and spoken at many events and symposiums, including 5x15. He has won awards and received commendations across design, art and literature. He runs House of Thought, an artistic research practice and consultancy focusing on bridging creative, critical thinking and technology.