Freak of the week -- Jojo Baby

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If you're into doll heads, puppets, costumes and voodoo love oil, whatever that is, Jojo Baby of Wicker Park is your guy.

You can find his studio at the Flat iron building, but beware it's a tiny closet of a space, and there are hundreds, maybe thousands of glass doll eyes staring at you at all times.

Below is his story.

(If you know someone in the city with a great story to tell, drop me a line.)

When he was a boy, Joe Arguellas would wake to the sound of his mother's gentle voice. "Jojo baby," she'd call. "Time to get up."

A few weeks back, Arguellas had his name legally changed to "Jojo Baby" -- an alias inspired by those memories of his mom that he took years ago as part of a "club kid" persona that made him mildly infamous.

Changing his name is especially important to him now. He doesn't want to say he's dying. But he might be. Cancer.

"I'm a pretty sick person," he says. "I don't know if I'll be around much longer. But my name is something that I'll be able to take with me to the grave."

It's not what I expected to talk about with a guy who tromps around Wicker Park dressed as a superhero or Big Bird, and frequents Chicago's most peacocky clubs in elaborate costumes and 3-foot platform shoes.

"When you see him out at a club, you know it's going to be a good party, something other than the norm," says Byron Dorsey, a manager at Green Dolphin Street on Ashland where Jojo Baby hosts a gay bar industry night on Mondays.

After all, Jojo Baby, who's a hairdresser and doll maker by day, has spent his entire adult life being all-out freak.

That's made him more than just someone to point at in Wicker Park. He got national attention when he dyed a jaguar print on Dennis Rodman's dome during the Bulls' championship years.

And nightclub promoters from across the county have hired him just to stand around at wild parties. He even scored a bit role in the 2003 movie "Party Monster" about the flamboyant club scene in New York City.

But for a few hours inside his ghoulish studio -- a tiny space in the Flat Iron Building on Milwaukee packed floor-to-ceiling with doll heads, puppets, silky fabrics and glam art -- Jojo Baby sits hunched in a salon chair. He's plain-faced and exhausted and anything but flamboyant.

"I think about dying every day," he says. "I just try to keep upbeat and stay as busy as I can. This disease makes you really tired all the time. And the amount of radiation I've taken, I think I glow at night."

Even with all this talk of dying, Jojo Baby says he hasn't given up on being out there among the living. He wants to keep visible in the neighborhood and concentrate on his art. He's still throwing parties, creating punk-rock hairstyles and turning scraps into dolls and puppets that he sells.

His creations start with a skeleton of wood, wire and plastic. Then, he decorates them with glass eyes, porcelain teeth and human hair, douses them in "voodoo love oil," places a heart-shaped crystal in each doll's chest and writes "love me" above it.

"I do that because I believe everyone has a desire to be loved," he says softly, surrounded by his dolls with their tiny crystal hearts.

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on June 22, 2007 9:11 AM.

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