For anyone who has been to a Beauty Bar – there are ten locations across the country – there is an intoxicating feeling of community infused in the air, something you’d find at a barber shop or ladies beauty parlor; namely, you’re all meant to relax while being doted on. Manicure tables attract a bevy of ladies in one room and blow dryer chairs line the walls opposite of the drinks in another. Paired with the strong come hither pull of the bar rail and its seated congregants with their priestly bartenders, the mise en scéne of Chicago’s Beauty Bar sets the stage for a curious mix of encouraged repose amid the birl of busywork, even if that work finds its origins on the rocks or straight up…with French tips.
This is where I met up with Victor David Giron for a chat about the current state of American letters, the absence of the Latino voice in Chicago’s literary community, vocation and music.
For those who are unfamiliar with Giron, he’s an accountant. In a country where people often identify who they are with what they do, Victor David Giron, the accountant, is an outsider in as much as Edward Norton was in Fight Club. Or perhaps Clark Kent in the bullpen, bespeckled but distracted. Indeed, to qualify Giron as an accountant is to describe Superman as a reporter who did a lot of stuff outside of work.
A husband, a father, a music aficionado and an accountant, Giron also co-owns Beauty Bar. On the night we talked, Beauty Bar was hosting a fundraiser for the Chicago Underground Library. On other nights, Beauty Bar plays scenic backdrop to a reading series organized by Two With Water, an online magazine and prescription for art-induced catharsis. And every night or almost every night, Giron stays up until the wee hours penning yet another novel because Giron is also a writer and as of last year, author and publisher.
“Late into my 20’s, I started writing stories about high school memories and post-high school parties,” explains Giron. One night Giron met Richard Miller, a professional editor. “Until that point, I hadn’t even met a writer.” Along with reading Catcher in the Rye and watching High Fidelity, among other things, Giron reached a momentum to write an autobiographical novel, Sophomoric Philosophy. “These all gave me permission to write.” Miller’s advice and guidance helped along the finished product, but landing a publisher seemed an impossible find. More and more, self-publishing seemed the way to go. And this is how Giron came up with Curbside Splendor .
“What we’re trying to do is capture realism as a genre,” explains Giron, “urban, Chicago, my background, not academic but real–” It’s the gritty and very personal voice of Chicago residents that attracts Giron. “And another thing, when you talk about the literary scene in Chicago (e.g. in the Tribune or journals), it flows on a certain demographic: Caucasian. No Latino or other groups…and it’s not because it’s not happening. And so, I’ve been making moves on that front – at readings, spoken word events, social media like Facebook.”
Making inroads in such silence, seeking out those unheard writers, poets and artists is difficult. In an article for The New Yorker – “Hear Me Purr” – James Wolcott wrote in 1996 of the emergence of a new kind of writer and really, a new kind of writing. What’s now known to us as Chick Lit, Wolcott saw in the person of Maureen Dowd, Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times. And one of the marks of her writing making her worthy of helming a new movement in the realm of writing and beyond was her emphasis on “personality over process.”
Now we think of Sex in the City and Bridgette Jones’s Diary when we think of Chick Lit. Shopping, drinking, youth, sex, frivolity and triumph are heavy-weight themes. But at its core was something altogether feminine, altogether intelligent and altogether without Manolo Blahniks and Cosmopolitans. Guy lit, something that still hasn’t been minted with a Wikipedia page, seems to capture the zeitgeist of the modern Generation X man with attention paid in the now emblematic Nick Hornby novels, High Fidelity and About a Boy.
What Giron is attempting to do with his own work and Curbside Splendor seems to be fashioning a new type of Guy Lit that’s Chicago-specific and given a voice through the story of Giron.
In undergrad, Giron was a philosophy major, but not for long. His first-generation parents from Mexico and Guatemala worked long hours almost every day. Studying philosophy, no matter how good it felt, quickly showed itself as impractical. And this is how Clark Kent, the accountant, was born. But the philosopher never went away.
“I grew up in Des Plaines, a blue collar neighborhood with first-generation immigrants and their first-generation kids but not just Latinos,” explains Giron. “The parents worked hard and with bad babysitters who didn’t watch us close enough, we were naughty. Polish, Indian, Mexican, German, we were all different. But we dealt with [the difference of ethnicity] with humor. Spicks, pollocks… [it was] coming of age American style.”
Giron goes on to explain a watershed issue of his youth: hair metal versus heavy metal. Navigating the divide and caring at all to do so was the mark of a music lover. Giron has never let go of this love of music. In a book notes series featured on the music blog, “largehearted boy,” Giron gives an annotated music bibliography to Sophomoric Philosophy. With his new novel that’s still in the works – White Hallways – Neil Diamond, The Bee Gees, Diana Ross, Old Mariachi, Crosby, Stills, and Nash are making up the play list that Giron listens to on repeat while writing. His process also involves reading aloud his prose, finding inherent a musicality to his writing. The process seems even more complicated as the subject matter of his book involves his relationship with his sibling, the death of his alcoholic and abusive father and more Latin-American themes contextualized with growing up in Logan Square.
There’s a list of famous Chicago writers that often begins with Hemmingway, Saul Bellow and the like. For the spectators, hindsight helps to fill in the missing places. For writers like Victor David Giron, hard work, passion and that unfinished philosophy degree nagging at him from always a distance give him the tools to carve out not only a place for himself but for those many that are still searching for permission and a place to write their stories.