Andrea Lambert is the author of Jet Set Desolate, Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin: Extrapolations on Los Angeles and the chapbooks G(u)ilt and Lexapro Diary. Anthologies: Impact, Golden State 2017, Haunting Muses, Writing the Walls Down and elsewhere. Her food essay series “Dining with a Cursed Bloodline.” appears monthly in Entropy Magazine. Writing in Luna Luna Magazine, OCCULUM, Grimoire and elsewhere. Twitter: @AndreaLamber.
Check out the full novel reading playlist on Youtube here. I’ll be adding to it over time until the whole book is on there.
Publishing is ableist AF. I want people to hear my stories. Read my unpublished manuscripts by whatever medium. I fully admit they’re not good enough for the gatekeepers I tried to publish them with for so many years. I am too mentally ill to be able to handle the financial complications of self-publishing. Or afford the initial financial outlay.
This is my last resort. Giving my books away for free by performing them. Think of it as bedtime stories for cynical adults. Disabled people do contribute, and our lives are valuable either way.
Please do not put me in an institution. Or euthanize me. Or take away my SSDI I paid into for 10 grueling years. Just because I can sit inside on a computer for a decade and write things no one wants to publish does not mean I can work any job. Neither does rudimentary iMovie video editing. Twelve year olds these days know how to do that now a days. We have tween Martin Scorcese’s all over TikTok.
Please just watch and enjoy the serial novels I feel compelled to put into the world.
But wow were my concerns trivial, no wonder no agent would take this book. So I’m playing film studio because my wife works long shifts and I can only watch so much TV. Having a bit of a dumb existential crisis over, “Why am I bothering to do all this when it’s not important, practical and who cares?” Perennial artist question, esp. as my lie is empty other then my wife and cats. Here’s the next three chapters:
Before Trump drove America to ruin, I used to be able to write books about taking nice little California train trips , trying to decide about marrying and even still care about becoming famous (HAHAHAHAHAHA right?) Yeah, I have real problems now.
But for what it’s worth, if this story is amusing you? Thanks so much for watching.
This is from a book I’ve given up on in the same milieu as Jet Set Desolate. Say no to drugs, kids.
San Francisco: 2004. I first met Mira after hours at The Rosetta Bar, my regular Saturday night haunt since I moved to San Francisco in 2000. The bar had just closed. Big Al shut the doors. The remaining few gathered around the bar for a last drink or several for friends of the bar staff and select regulars. I was one. The stalagmites on the ceiling shone blue like an ice cave. Stabbing down as I sat on a leather sofa. Sipped my gin. A blonde head rose by the right armrest and began to talk, fast.
“Hey, do you have a skate key?”
“I brought these roller skates and I’m about to lose a wheel. Hey, what’s your name? I’m Mira.” She was short. Bleached-blonde with sharply threaded eyebrows and expensive cosmetics on her round face.
“I’m Lena,” I said.
“Cool.” She had shoulder-length blonde hair that flipped as she talked, frenetically. Her lips smooth peach tint lacquered on and cracking. She wore no jewelry, but had on pink-wheeled roller skates. She was short. Maybe 5’1. She wasn’t drinking, but she seemed electrified. I figured some powder or another. A black beaded evening bag that seemed incongruous with her casual dress hung from her left wrist. She kept switching it from left to right nervously. I didn’t know it was stolen. Yet. I didn’t know a lot of things. Yet.
It was dark in the bar. The neon cobra hung over the bottles. The only light. I took a drink. Considered what to say.
“Do you want to come to the bathroom with me.” It was worth a try.
She smiled and followed. Gripping my shoulder cautiously so not to fall on the skates. I wondered how she had made it around the club the whole night. Bodies packed tight together perhaps they had been enough. In the bathroom, I pulled out a small plastic bag. Dipped in a key. Offered it to her. She tilted her head. Her nostrils flared, sucking up the cocaine. Her eyes snapped open.
“Oh, but do you know what’s even better? Do you know what’s even better than this?”
“Shit, what?” I said, taking my bump.
“Speed! Go-fast. Have you ever done it?”
“Maybe once in a while.” I would inhale pretty much anything that was put in front of me at this point. Once I moved to San Francisco from collegiate Portland, no drug was off limits. It just felt like adulthood. I did what I wanted.
“This stuff’s a little different. Here, I’ve got a little bit, I’ll share.”
“Cool! Yeah, I’m up for it, sure.” The dirty mirrors sparkled a little brighter. The red chandelier hung half-kilter above the sink. A lot of people peed in that sink. I had peed in that sink.
My new friend laid down two tiny lines on the vanity counter. They looked like salt, or a larger crystalline substance.
“Here, here, do you have a card?”
I passed her my Wells Fargo credit card. She took it. Laid it against the crystals. Ground it in a circular motion so that they became fine powder. She lined them up again, this time using the flat of the plastic. There was suddenly a lot more there then had been there before. She rolled up a dollar from that small purse. Passed it to me. I snorted one line. Clutched at my face as the pain slammed claw-like through my nose.
“What the shit, Mira?”
“It’s okay. It’s supposed to do that. It’ll go away. Here.” She took the dollar from me.
Bent to take her line. The powder vanished with a deep influx of breath.
Her eyes snapped open. “You’re going to like this, I think.”
I did like meth. I liked it a lot.
Mira called me the next morning at ten am because, as she said, “When I meet someone cool, I just have to call, I hate that three day thing.” She also still had my credit card.
I was still awake. I had been rearranging my room. Painting. Making outlines for projects. Typing gargantuan plans and sparkling ideas into my old PC. I was glad to hear Mira had my card, I had completely forgotten about it and her. We made plans to meet for lunch.
We met at Cafe Encore on Post Street, between Union Square and the Tenderloin. That space that landlords on craigslist called “Lower Nob Hill.” I called it “TL, bitches.” I stood before the chalkboards. Tried to figure out what kind of panini to get. My stomach ran circles around me. I settled for a chocolate croissant. I didn’t have very much money.
“Ooh! An elegant croissant!”
“Yep. What are you getting?”
“Oh, just a macaroon. That’s the specialty here. They’re delicious. And coffee, of course.”
“Yes, Oh, could I have a coffee, too. Iced. Large. Thanks.” I smiled at the guy behind the counter. He had plugs in his ears and a dour expression. He put a lid on my coffee. Passed me a straw.
There were three tables inside. Since it was a Tuesday morning, two of them were open. We sat.
“So, Mira. I’m going to ask that big question you’re not supposed to ask, but I’m dying to know. What do you do?”
She fiddled with the lid of her coffee cup. Hot.
“Oh, God,” Mira said. “That’s hard. Like, I guess you could say I’m a housewife? A muse? My boyfriend has a job. He works at Goodwill now. Oh my god, there’s so much I have to tell you. My boyfriend, my love, he was caught with other people’s mail in his backpack. Like on his bike. Got in trouble. Then we got evicted when he went in jail. I’ve been staying in weeklies and on people’s couches. My friend has been really cool about letting me stay for a few months, but yeah…”
“Oh, wow. I’m sorry. I had no idea. God, I totally didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Yeah, it’s okay. I mean, he works at Goodwill as a condition of his parole. It’s cool, like he gets first pick at the best records. I don’t get to see him all that much anymore. We used to have this awesome place together in the Mission. Had parties all the time. It was amazing but the landlord hated us.”
“I think I went to a party at your place once. I remember doing E with this guy and taking off and having pretty great sex I think, of what I remember.”
“Oh yeah, that was Angelina’s boyfriend.”
“She’s my best friend. You’ll meet her. You guys will totally get along, oh my god, pretty girls. Just don’t tell her you’re the girl that did E wither ex. She wouldn’t like that.”
I pulled the chocolate out of my croissant and sucked on it. This had the makings of a total shit-show.
I liked Mira, though. There was something about her openness, her manic energy, and the way she so readily took me into her life that I really liked. People in San Francisco were so often caught in little poses. Delicate arcs of conversation like minuets. They rarely confessed bold details of misfortunes unless drugged. Even then the etiquette was to forget it all, even the intimacy, especially the intimacy, in the morning. Here we were in the bald light of day and she had just told me things most people would hide like the bloodstains on their pillow.
A few days later when Mira called to invite me out with her and Angelina, I was pretty excited. I was going through a friend drought, having alienated my last party BFF Audrey by seeming too obviously in love with her.
“I think you want more out of this friendship than I prepared to give you,” were her last words. Toss of hair that she only had blow-dried in the salon. My type of woman was very high maintenance and very unavailable. Stone high femme? Does that exist?
So I showed up at Angelina’s Tenderloin apartment. Right at the border of Union square like so many things. We are all just looking in. It was an elegant building with a massage parlor next door. It was ten o’clock. I tried to remember her apartment number, than called Mira.
“Oh, hi! You’re here, great! I’ll buzz you in.”
The gate squealed. I opened it and the inner door as well. The lobby was small and utilitarian. Brown molding over beige walls with a small portrait of Louis XIV on the far wall. A succession of mail slots. I realized I still didn’t know the apartment number. A head popped out of the first door. Apartment 1. Angelina was beautiful. Long chestnut brown hair, flowing sideways past a face tilted with a querulous smile.
“Are you Lena?”
She pulled up. Opened the door. Let me into a studio apartment with a Murphy bed tilted at a 45-degree angle from the wall. The walk-in closet bulged with fabulous clothes. The rest of the apartment was strangely bare. There were no CDs or records. No TV. Simple furniture. An abundance of band paraphernalia on the walls. Most of it was for her boyfriend’s band.
Angelina was wearing tight black jeans and a sequined tube top. So was I. That was my regulation going out look. We laughed. She said, “Well, I should change something about this outfit.” She disappeared into the voluminous closet. Came out with a blouse and a leather jacket. Mira and I went into the kitchen while she changed. I thought about her long, pale arms. I thought about the marks on them.
We went back in. Mira said, “Does anyone want a line before we go?”
“Oh. I brought some coke if you’re interested.” I said.
“You girls go ahead, I’ve got something to finish up in the bathroom,” Angelina said. She picked up a make-up bag from a low table. Walked down the hall.
Mira said, “Speed and coke cancel each other out. You want to do one or the other and speed lasts longer. We can do your stuff at the end of the night if people come over, because social people, they don’t usually like to do speed. Oh, I forgot to tell you. Don’t tell people we’re doing this. It’s our secret. Speed’s sort of less socially acceptable than coke.”
“Ok, that’s cool.”
She laid out tiny lines and we did them quickly. Waiting. Talking. We waited longer. Angelina took what felt like an hour.
“Is she okay in there? I said. “She looked great already, I don’t get it.”
“That’s another secret,” Mira said. “She’s shooting up in there.”
At the Cat Club, Mira swirled in and out of the dancers. Angelina and I sat clustered close and talked. We did a little coke and talked some more. She told me about her ex.
“We were the most beautiful couple. People would see us in restaurants and come up to us and ask us if we were famous. I felt famous with him. Like we were Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful. His band was doing so well for awhile. And we were going to get married. He told me he was shopping for rings. I loved him. I loved him so much. We were doing heroin every day. His parents had given him a credit card for food and band expenses. Everyday we would go to the ATM and cash advance $100 from it for heroin for the day. It was like a dream. I was high all the time. We wore beautiful clothes. Rolling Stones every day.”
“Is he here tonight?”
“No. No. Let me tell you what happened. It’s horrible. It all went wrong. It’s sort of my fault, or his family thinks it’s my fault. They found out, of course. his parents noticed the credit card was being bled dry. Called him up. Were like, what the fuck. He tried not to tell them but his brother found out from one of his band-mates. Told his parents. They came down. Had an intervention with him. Told him he couldn’t see me anymore. I died inside. I was practically living with him. The band had bought a house in the Sunset with the money from their first advance from the record company. I was over there every day. Then suddenly, no Sunset house. Back at my apartment. And I noticed little things were missing. I gave Mira a key to just look over things. You know…”
Angelina leaned closer. Whispered in my ear. Her perfume intoxicating above the sweat and beer. “She pawned things. Things were missing. You can’t trust Mira. I know you asked her what she does. I know you guys are friends now. That’s great. She needs good friends. You seem like a good person. But watch out. Don’t be too naive with her. She does credit card scams. She does gift card scams. I do too. I had to once I lost my boyfriend. I haven’t worked in years. He used to support me and before that my mom did. Lately I’ve been scraping by on pawning things, boosting and scamming stuff. You can steal things from department stores and return them for a lot of money. It’s called boosting.”
“Here, have another bump.”
Without getting up, I fed it to her on the edge of my key. There were so many people pressed tight around us that no one noticed. She kept talking, “It’s nice to talk to someone who isn’t in the life. What do you do, like how do you make it?”
“I temp, here and there. It’s alright. I don’t make a lot of money, but it’s okay.”
“Yeah, that’s good.”
“Where is he now?”
“Oh.” Her face crumpled. “He’s either in rehab or he’s back in the Sunset recording with his band. He’s not allowed to contact me.”
“I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about that.”
“Let’s not. Let’s dance, Lena. Didn’t we come here to dance? Of course we didn’t, but let’s dance anyway.” She grabbed my hand. We blended into the mass of people cramming in small dance floor. Hands raised. Bodies writhing. Her body against mine. Pulling away and then close and then away again.
This I wrote to be on a signboard with other stories about West Hollywood at an LGBT art show in 2014.
I remember West Hollywood both drunk at the Abbey and processing in a circle of chairs in my outpatient rehab. Walking past the bars where I used to drink on the way to get Starbucks with an ex-meth addict I saw West Hollywood as if for the first time. West Hollywood Recovery Center. The rooms. No longer was it just the exhausting search for a parking spot on a rainy night. Grappling with and losing friends who had had several too many. Suddenly the light rain in the spring air opened forth a pink cloud halo of sobriety.
I remember West Hollywood as the place my wife and I dressed up as the brides we later became and were photographed for the newspaper at a Prop. 8 rally. That day she and I realized we could really get married. When Katie proposed I cried and said yes. Before we were done planning our wedding the courts put a stay on gay marriages. We signed a domestic partnership. On May 11, 2011, Katie and I had a beautiful but not legal wedding at a Japanese garden in Little Toyko.
A year later my wife was dead by suicide. Two years later gay marriage became legal in California. By then it was too late for us. My wife did not live to see this day that brought so many others such joy. It was a bittersweet day for me. But I remember feeling that same joy with her in West Hollywood the day of that rally, as we cheered with our brothers and sisters for the right to love that had finally been granted.
I finished the wedding album years after my wife’s ashes were scattered in Echo Park Lake. When I look at the album I see in our idealistic faces and Louis Verdad gowns the dream that so many lovers have to make a life together. Our dream was dashed. But dreams live again in time. And that same dream of marriage may now be lived by so many other queers.
It wasn’t until my wife was but spirit that I had the courage to enter rehab and let go of the stranglehold that liquid spirits had on my life. I popped in to the Abbey this Christmas Eve to drink a tonic water with a friend. Rejoiced that I lived somewhere where I could see a muscular go-go dancer in Santa shorts dance on Christmas Eve. Rejoiced that I didn’t need to drink any more.
Queer mecca. Healing and hope in sobriety. Drag shows at Hamburger Mary’s. The Abbey. The Log Cabin. Plummer Park. Getting sober with a redheaded model over Matcha green tea lattés at Urth Café. The lingering ghosts of memories hang over these streets with the bright palm trees and nail salons. In West Hollywood I both lost and found myself again. Each rainbow crosswalk is an untapped treasure. I will never forget West Hollywood.
This essay was probably one of the most controversial ones I’ve written short of witchcraft bathing in menstrual blood. This essay was written in 2014 and published in now defunct Queer Mental Health. Soon after, I posted it in an alcoholism support group and got an epic pile on and run out on a rail. So, if you disagree, that’s nice, that’s your business, everyone’s experience is different, just please don’t do that again. This is my honest experience.
Urged by an outpatient rehab after 20 years of alcoholism, I attended Alcoholics Anonymous for 1 year. Long enough to attend countless meetings. Get a sponsor, a kind ex-stripper. On her guidance, I signed up for service commitments at meetings and did free menial labor. I worked the steps up to step 4. Relapsed.
Failure is built into the punitive, guilt-ridden fabric of AA. An archaic framework of Christian dogma marketed as the only way to get sober. If you fail it’s your fault. If you succeed it’s God’s miracle. Every meeting we recited that those who drink after AA are “naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.” According to AA honesty in confession to unscrupulous strangers will keep you from drinking. That and the will of God.
AA and rehab encouraged me to break ties with old, “using friends” and form a new social group in AA. I lost my dear old friends. Made 2 good new friends. Had a lot of strangers give me their number and disappear. There is some truth that more sober friends will encourage sobriety. But the isolation bred from this technique and the false doctrine of trusting other AA members is actively dangerous. Members of the cult are pressured to give their phone number out to strangers. Accept rides home from strangers, as many are carless from DUIs. Tell strangers their secrets and woes. There is a culture of boundary-less-ness where people are exploited. Every year women are raped by AA members and sponsors that they are pressured to trust. Scam artists borrow money and run scams on wealthier AA members. AA covers it up.
AA only has a 5% success rate. It’s extremely dangerous both financially and sexually. Spilling your innermost secrets to a room full of low-lifes and criminals is not a safe situation. It is less likely to make you sober than to put you into dangerous and drama-filled situations. Most people who achieve lasting sobriety do it on their own out of will, harm reduction and simply being “done.” The revolving door of relapses is caused by the endless obsession with drugs and alcohol that comes with lifelong meeting attendance.
I spent meetings with my sponsor arguing over every sentence I read of the Big Book. Being an atheist, I couldn’t find any way for God’s healing miracle to occur. The universe I saw then as a higher power was too vast and pitiless to care about my problems. The universe is better suited as a print for leggings than a stardust solution to my drinking problem.
The forced powerlessness was demoralizing. I am a woman, I already know I am powerless. The first step of AA is “I admitted I was powerless over alcohol.” Telling an alcoholic they have no control and cannot help themselves without submitting completely and praying for a miracle from a Christian daddy-in-the-sky God is not effective medicine. Would we ask cancer patients to pray it away? Yet we are asking this of alcoholics. Court-ordered faith healing.
As much as I wanted desperately to get sober, my three relapses spoke otherwise. Not coincidentally, they were all triggered by things that occurred in AA.
My first relapse I was kicked out of the AT Center where I had been going to most of my meetings. A hostile old-timer contested me taking my rehab “court card” back when I had to leave the meeting early. A burly butch, she chased me out of the meeting yelling. On a dogmatic technicality, I was banned from the place where I was getting sober. I relapsed that night.
My next relapse was driven by the stress of the 4th step. The 12 steps are unpleasant and stressful ordeals involving humiliation and self-flagellation. Seemingly designed and in fact promised to test you.
“So many people relapse on the 4th step,” I was told.
I fatalistically anticipated relapsing with the 9th step also. The 9th step dictates making amends to everyone we have wronged as a result of our using. An exhaustive and humiliating project of tracking down past employers and drug buddies. I couldn’t stomach the degradation. I didn’t want to look those people in the eye another time.
I was told over and over I needed to do all of these seemingly unrelated, incredibly unpleasant things to get sober. Who was making these crazy rules? A womanizing alcoholic in the 1930s, apparently. Dread and anxiety over the ordeal of the steps drove me to relapse again. I ask you, why do these steps exist if they explicitly cause relapses? Isn’t the whole point to get sober, not run a relay race built for failure?
The powerless party line completely absolves the alcoholic of any personal responsibility when they relapse. I felt powerless during my third relapse as I went to the liquor store. It wasn’t until I got ahold of my willpower from enough therapy that I had the power to get sober. And sober I became.
I was told in rehab that AA was the only way. I gave it a try.
I finally decided I would be better off leaving the sketchy cesspool of AA and pursuing harm reduction with medical marijuana and a private therapist. Safety, security, creativity and happiness returned. I came back to myself from the self-abnegating shell I had been in AA. AA was useful in learning how to run a cult. I decided I would rather be a cult leader than a cult follower. I took up witchcraft. Got back into writing and painting. When I was in AA I did none of this because AA was such a time and energy suck. When I left AA, my creativity blossomed. I had my life back from the cult.
Before I wrote this article I visited with my best friend, an ex-model who I met in detox and rehab. We went to many AA meetings together in 2013. It was with her that I received the good I was to get out of AA. It helped to hear all of the drunkalogue stories and know that I was not alone. I was not the only troubled broken person who had struggled with addiction. Although some had barely suffered compared to what I had been through, some stories were so much darker. AA gave me perspective. As a writer it was an invaluable glimpse into the human psyche.
My friend cautioned me about writing this article about AA, citing the “anonymity in press, radio and film,” dictated by the 12 Traditions. She argued that it might be illegal to publicly criticize AA as they were so in bed with the government. AA has a literal gag order on their members to talk publicly about the cult. The first rule of AA is we don’t talk about AA. This only made me want to write my article more. A check with the editor at Queer Mental Health and googling various online AA criticism reassured me that critiques were plentiful and necessary. I don’t care if AA demagogues prohibit me writing about it on the Internet. I will tell my story. I’m not in their cult anymore. I don’t have to follow cult rules.
If we raise our voices loud enough we can throw off the shackles of this paternalistic, Christian, 1930s-outdated addiction recovery model and reach towards new and better recovery methods. Harm reduction has a 90% success rate. I have 479 days and counting sober without a single AA meeting. My sobriety date corresponds to the day I got my medical marijuana card.
Life has gotten so much better since I don’t have to hang out with leering felons. Confess things I don’t even think are sins to strangers in anguished dirty rooms. Rake my life over the coals and relapse again and again because going to meetings and talking about alcohol 3-7 times a week is making me obsessed with it.
Now I just don’t drink. I’ve moved on. I don’t need AA anymore. I am “happy, joyous and free” without it.
This is a revised writing exercise from my MFA that I have been working with for years. I submitted it to a big journal who rejected it. Once again realized that I should only send out new work.
I stared out at the rooftops from my lounge on Micah’s bed. The expanse swathed with cowboy sheets and bloodstains. Two weeks since I was fired. Timothy out of town. I was over at Micah’s. I was about to leave Golden Hill forever.
The French doors opened onto the summer night. The sky luminescent with stars over palm trees bursting to the skyline. Micah smoked a cigarette out the balcony. Stared fiercely into the night. His arms were marred with bandages. His jaw clenched. The fairy-wisps of smoke drifted up along the tall green stripes on the walls surrounding.
The bang came suddenly. Like artillery downstairs with a guttural roar behind. I took a long drink of the Shiraz on the bedside table. Band-Aids. Dior Pour Homme. The roar came again with the sound of breaking glass.
I ran a hand across my short, bleached hair. Smoothed it over the two cowboys on the sheets traipsing around a campfire in lockstep. The bed Micah shared with his boyfriend.
Micah spoke, “There’s nothing we can do.”
“Are you sure? Can’t we call the police?”
“I’ve tried. They tell me that as long as he doesn’t actually come into the apartment, there’s nothing that they can do.”
“Good lord.” I took another drink. My lips stained purple.
I curled up into a ball on the bed. Cupped my knees. The ceiling fan turned and turned above us. Beads of moisture formed on the blades.
Micah got up in his boxers. Tossed the Camel out the window. Stalked into the bathroom. A huge wooden carousel rooster stood guard along the wall. Orange beak curved to steal, to bite.
My bare legs stretched behind me in shirt and panties only, I turned away. Waited. I was good at waiting.
It was too hot to wear clothes. We had crept out of our clothes slowly with the wine. The daytime heat not abated with the night’s advancing. Timothy was away working.
There was a wrenching sound from below. I cringed. A yell. I yelped. Skittered off the bed towards the stairs. Up or down, there was no relief. Only upwards. Outwards. Towards the sky to fly. Over the narrow courtyard with its row of kiddy pools. Cacti. To the spines.
When I still lived with my parents in 2005, I had a recurring dream of leaving my body in my bed. Floating down the hall up through my parents bedroom. Out of their balcony to fly over the beautiful canyon and freeway wending to the water. To the ocean. To be free. I wonder if I was astral projecting. I don’t know. I will never know.
Micah emerged in his bedroom.
“Look, he said, “I don’t know. I don’t know anywhere else I can go. I know you can go home. You should. There’s no need to stay here with me.”
I stared up at him. Shredded the sheets beneath my fingers. Knew this was his boyfriend’s apartment and not my own. It was wrong for me to lay half-naked in his bed. To stay past the designated hour. Yet I lingered.
I was just so attracted to Micah. My dashing bisexual friend. I was so alone in the world. I knew that whatever I gave him sexually would not matter. I was about to leave town.
“No, I can’t.”
“I wouldn’t be mad. You can.”
“Then let’s dance.” He turned to the record player. Put on a Johnny Mathis record. “Twelfth of Never” came on. Micah reached out to me.
I rose. Let him wrap me in a waltz. Ballroom dancing to records was something Micah and I did together. Part of our pantomime of romance. I fumbled in my steps as his broad arms wrapped my waist. A rattle and a shriek came from downstairs.
“Don’t think,” said Micah. He twirled me. I stepped free. Wrapped back into his arms as he flicked his wrist. We were practiced. Just as practiced at turning away.
I fell to kiss his neck.
“That’s entirely enough of that.” Micah smiled softly. Let me go.
His shoulder bandage fell. It was a drunken mirror accident: Vicodin. Red wine. He crushed his way into his boyfriend’s floor-length mirror. This earned him a substantial phone lecture earlier that weekend from Timothy.
I stared at his arms from the other side of the bed as he talked on the phone that afternoon. My finger traced forwards from time to time. Withdrew again. Extended with longing. Clamped around the sheet.
Micah had to know I wanted him. Was it just that he was so financially dependent on his boyfriend? Perhaps. Yet still I tried.
There was blood all over the sheets now from Micah’s wound. Dried blood. I knew it was HIV+ infected blood but I didn’t care. I rolled around in it. Sprawling. My legs tunneling through the sheets.
I kissed Micah’s neck again.
“No, Lena, I can’t. I really can’t.”
“But – “
“It’s more than just Tim. It’s the fact that you’re about to leave forever. I don’t want my parting present to you to be that. My AIDS. You know this. Even with a condom there is risk.”
“No. For the last time, no.”
I stared down at my hands. Micah walked again to the window. Stared out fiercely. He possibly just saved my life.
What I would have done for him. Now that’s love or loneliness.
Micah reached for his cigarettes. Pulled one out slowly.
“It’s a warm night,” he said.
I put my clothes back on. Gathered my things.
Downstairs, there was the sound of breaking glass.
This is a combination of short stories I wrote during my MFA (2008) about living in San Francisco, much the same milieu as Jet Set Desolate. This piece was rejected from a magazine. I decided to quit sending out old work
I was in the back of the car. Mira was in the front with Jeff. His arms whirled as he swerved down McAllister to Fillmore. Painted ladies with boarded up fronts. Bean Bag Crêperie. A Popeye’s. A rock venue: The Independent, with its low red bulk shimmering below an iron cut-out marquee. The sun was bright.
“Thanks for the ride,” said Mira. Tossed her hair. “You’re a sweetie.”
“Gotta help my best customer.” Jeff was Mira’s speed dealer.
I giggled. “Yeah, last night was awesome.”
“And take good care of my Lena, right. She just needs to get home.”
“Of course. I know Lena from way back. I’ve got a little business I need to take care of first, but I’ll take her home. Don’t you worry. Jeff-style.”
Business. Business as usual. Mira’s business was the Haight boutique Quadra, where a mid-century white vinyl pedicure chair sat in state with a $3,000 price tag. Young couples gawked in the window, fantasizing about their lofts. Mira’s business was smiling. Nodding. She swiffered the black and white checked floor. Peeled off the Twiggy magnets. Replaced them with sugar skulls. She wore clothes carefully chosen for their hipster credibility. Treading the line between “Fendi scarf as tube top, are you joking?” and “Well, if she’s wearing it, it must be the nouveau vague. I guess. Where’s the Whole Foods in this stinking town?”
The Stinking Rose sits in state on Columbus, North Beach with its stained glass windows and burgundy curtains, pesto primavera and Gorgonzola gnocchi. Cannelloni. Fraying basketry around empty bottles of Chianti. They made garlic ice cream.
But I was not a waitress, as I crossed my ankles in the back of Jeff’s car. After we dropped Mira at Quadra, we begin to wend our way down Laguna. Up and through the hills. My business was words, lately. I had to get to Bernal Heights and Dustin that night to work through the new article I was writing for warhookers.com, the now-defunct porn site that I wrote for in 2004. I’d been twisting my lip and mauling my zits over this piece, bent over the keyboard. Dare I?
This is the piece of erotica I was so worried about:
Two weeks later, I climbed Mount Tam in a filmy disco dress. Stumbled heels in the underbrush. I heard rustling behind me. By the third hour I was numbed just to climbing. Not listening. Not wanting. Not knowing exactly when it would fall. Silence of this twilight. Soft leaf cover showing purple sky. I grabbed a branch to pull myself forwards. Lurched into a pine.
There was a thunder of footsteps. He jerked my neck back. Spasmodic. I felt the chill edge of a knife against my nape. The terror hit me even though I knew, this could still be another crazy. He growled: “Yell and I’ll cut you.”
I tried to check. He gouged nails into my shoulder. Whispered tight into my ear, “Fucking bitch.” He was warm and utterly alien, I couldn’t know, I fell limp with fear. He dragged me, arms held, to toss against the dried leaves. The knife traced ravenously along my collarbone to slash at the dress. Steel through chiffon. Pale scraps wrecked against spider-webs. A hot spine of fear slapped through me as I saw the ski mask. Brown with red circles around the eyes.
I was naked. I writhed as he reached for my thong. Cut it off. He slapped my shoulders back down. Ran rough hands over my breasts. I curved inward to hide but was throw open as he slapped me. Fumbled with his fly.
I tried not to look at his dick as he fell on top of me, faltering. I could feel it jabbing down between my pussy lips. Thrusting inside. I gasped. He pulled back. I was dry. It hurt like a motherfucker as he hammered away in the woods, under the pine. I ground my eyes to a sparrow hopping tenuous through the needles. Tears cut down my cheeks and then it was over.
My boyfriend fell limp on top of me. The knife thrown reckless to the side. An arm wrapped lovingly around my shoulders. He rolled to the side and held me as we cried. The fury and the outrage falling cathartic as he took off the ski mask and I could see that it was him. He curled inward around my nude body. Held me as if I was the most delicate violet in a cake of candied velveteen.
That night in 2004 Dustin jogged his pen back and forth between two fingers. He took the mirror I handed him. Sniffed the cocaine. With his head tilted back, said, “I think this will work. Some women have rape fantasies. This has a boyfriend actualizing the fantasy. This was what I wanted you to write.”
“It doesn’t work for me and I wrote it.” I said.
“You’re one of those born of Mother Jones, aren’t you. Steinem in the womb.”
“Well, of course.” I sniffed. “Why do you think I took this gig?”
“Because you were sick of fish sticks and vodka.” Dustin did pay me well. Porn writing paid better then office temp work. I would take whatever work I could get at this point, sex work or no.
“No, I thought you had a mission.” Warhookers was described to me as a feminist site. I was a sex-positive feminist. I thought I could get behind the Warhookers mission but I was conflicted, as one so often is in sex work.
The curtains part in a small café: Paris, 1812.
I wrote the Warhooker Manifesto. I goes a little something like this:
Run with substantial female control, this site strives to depict women who are saucy and strong. Vicious and vampy. The hot ladies depicted are prime vixens. Chicks that would love to slap you around a little bit then go work on their performance art.
Our purposes are thus:
To provide a saucy yet aesthetically charged forum for women to explore and experiment with their sexuality.
To tease, tantalize, and run rampant over the nerve endings of either sex.
Through written text, to raise questions of gender, arousal, appropriateness and perversity.
To be prurient without degrading. Flagrant without withholding. Edgy without gratuitous garnishment.
To make you so utterly, deliciously, wildly hot that you come all over your keyboard.
To this we invite the viewer to transgress through the tulips and sample. It’s the mating of G.I. Joe and Barbie. The union of aggression and luster. A henhouse of hedonism that invokes great shy glances and much secret running off to canoodle.
So take a look. Come on in. We welcome you.
“So, yeah Dustin, when I wrote that and you edited the fuck out of it, I told you we were playing up the stripper goes to grad school cliché way too much. Not all naked girls read Kristeva.”
“That wasn’t what I said.”
“Anyway. But, yeah, I thought you had this big cause, this mission. Now you want me to encourage lil’ Jeffrey Dahmer’s?” The night outside his attic window was streaked with streetlights. A low hum of laughter from the taqueria downstairs could be heard along with the wail of a car alarm.
“Calm the fuck down. Finish your drink.”
“Do you have any ice?”
“No. I don’t believe in refilling ice cube trays. It’s bourgeois.”
Mira stood like a paper doll against the Quadra display window. Her hands were wide on either side of her. Her co-worker draped polka-dotted scarves from her wrists and blown glass Christmas ornaments from her hands.
“Here, crook that finger up a little bit – wait – oh yeah! This is going to be awesome.” The girl’s narrow body folded to impossible postures as she climbed around Mira. Pinned things to her Pucci scarf as butterfly top (really, darling, safety pins only go so far). Mira’s face was slack. Her mouth half-open. Eyes blank. Her heels sunk into her Irregular Choice flats. Sinking into the floor. Anchored there.
Business. Jeff had his own business with small plastic bags. Cash only.
Last night there was only the shimmer and white hands upwards on the dance floor. Dust on the mirror of a Studio Fix as I leaned against the red streaked walls of the bathroom.
“Yeah,” I told Jeff. “I’d love to see your etchings.”
Last night I leaned back on a white couch at Jeff’s house. My eyes were closed under sharply plucked brows. A smudge of purple shadow on the crease of one lid. My hair lay loose around my face. My lips were open in a delirious smile. Yellow teeth. Lipstick.
There were two lines on the table.
Jeff, next to me, had a handlebar mustache. Shoulder-length black hair. His leather jacket rubbed my bare shoulders. My yellow silk top draped black lace into cleavage. Or, not to say, cleavage: that blank space that exists between palm-sized breasts. Like the space between two words that strive to express.
Is it Mira, or is it me that speaks? Or are all the nights the same? It was all about that moment.
I believe in words not bodies. Not words not bodies. Not anything at all to give.
“So what do you do?” said Jeff. The car sped down a street that wasn’t mine. Down through the lower Haight. Up Van Ness with the boarded up Walgreen’s. Scaffolding over a pockmarked corner with homeless women huddled by the tatters of trash bags and shopping carts. Screaming up the street past the gleaming dome of City Hall, reputed to be real gold leafing the cerulean blue. I had often chewed on my straw and joked about scaling the ornate columns to the cupola and chipping it off rosette by flake.
“I’m, um, a waitress,” I said.
“Where?” His big hands wrapped the steering wheel with assurance. Twirling a CD on one finger, he slid it in. “Cars that Go Boom” flooded from the speakers.
“The Rose Pistola. It’s in North Beach.”
“Oh, you wanna go up there, get some food? You wanna get us some lunch?”
“No, I think they’re closed. They’re closed Thursdays. That’s when they overhaul the menu and reassign the sections, I think.”
I hunched over in my seat.
“No, no. That’s okay.”
Jeff disappeared into the ochre glow of the lobby. Spindly columns hit the pavement on either side, where a smashed bottle of Smirnoff Ice festooned a condom wrapper.
Jeff revved the engine. I looked up. His lips curled in a smile. Q-ball eyes. I shivered.
“Okay I have one more place to stop at, and then lunch, and then I’ll drop you home.”
“Um… I have a lot of…um…stuff I need to go home and do.”
“Well, this is what I need to get done today. This is how I make it all go. Do you want to do a bump? Perk you up a little bit?”
“Okay…” I nodded. My hands hovered above my knees. The car moved through the dense streets of the Tenderloin. Past the cracked-out maws of residence hotels. The hopeful curtains at the windows torn of sheets and dishrags. I remembered it had been some years since I had owned at the same time paper towels, toilet paper, napkins and Kleenex to boot. Diversification of paper products was a level of adulthood that I was not up to yet. A sodden mattress tilted against a dumpster seeping flies. A flower shop hoisted blue-dyed carnations to a cloister of men outside the M & K Market. A transvestite hooker in Lucite platforms sauntered past a row of boarded up storefronts that promised, “Coming soon, Anton’s tax services. A1 ASAP.”
Towering apartments laced with fire escapes like dead tinsel strewn reckless yet regular sped past. Each one was unique like a starfish. Jeff pulled in to an alley between Polk and Larkin. He looked around cursorily. Fumbled in his sock. Deep into the crevice between ankle and tube sock. Pulled out a bullet. Handed it to me. I wound the silver cylinder. Glanced around at the chain link. Snorted it quickly, my head tilted back. Dropping it into his palm, I shimmered. Felt momentarily, thrilled.
“So, yeah how long have you been doing this? It must be so interesting! Oh, wait, I’m not supposed to ask that. Okay, what do you want to get for lunch? I don’t think I’ve eaten in a couple days. I keep forgetting. Things are just too exciting. Do you – “
“Yeah. Okay, kiddo. Let’s go see Tonya.”
I leaned against the wall in Tonya’s apartment. Tonya and I were friends, neighbors and lovers in Portland in Scaffolding. She moved to San Francisco after me. Got really into meth. We didn’t really talk anymore. There was simply nothing more to talk about except everything, and that was too much.
The piles of disemboweled electronics in her place. Gilt-framed mirrors. My little ponies with scrawls on their faces. The remains of a pizza. Three ashtrays, one shaped like a cat. Three cats, one shaped like an ashtray. Big, fuzzy fur person. I blinked rapidly. Repressing the urge to talk. Tonya was freaking out about something. She’d been doing meth for the last five days. Thought Jeff was trying to rip her off. He tried to convince her that a 60 was quite enough.
“No, but I’m not like other people,” Tonya said.
“You’re exactly like other people,” Jeff said.
Tonya said, ”I’m really onto something with this theory of language, I think it was the sparrows. Not speaking is the new speaking. I’ve got my own telepathic language that they’ve been telling me. I’m transcribing it. Do you want to see my notebooks? Oh wait, I’ve been writing in my own language. I’ll read it to you.”
“I think we have to go.”
“Oh.” Her hand twitched. She ran it through her ragged brown hair. Her white T-shirt with a sharpie-inscribed “META!” rippled above her small breasts.
“But, wait, here’s another 20 if you’ve got some cash. Gotta help my best customer.”
In front of Love ‘N’ Haight, Jeff whisked out the door. Yelled, “One sec!” I slouched in the grey leather seat. Picked at my cuticles. Flipped a nail along one lip gloss-smeared finger. I felt my stomach growl and flutter. The hand-lettered sign, with a giant heart hung above wide windows stuck with posters for mock duck and tempeh. Cars whizzed by around us. We were double-parked against a blue Vespa. I hoped the owner wouldn’t pop out of the falafel place and key us. I lifted tense shoulders. Closed my eyes. Blinked them instantly open. Bright. Wide. It was a wonderful day.
Jeff bounded out. Handed me a warm paper bag.
“Gonna get cigarettes!” He disappeared again, this time to the liquor store on the corner. I slid a hand inside the paper bag. Pulled out two diagonally cut sandwich-halves. The wax paper revealed a moist spine of avocado, mock chicken and sprouts. I began to eat. As I ate, the jitter and the tension and the fear and the worry of the past day, the driving and the dealing and the shiver of my palms began to go. I reached into the bag. I continued to chew. Masticate. Swallow. My eyes glassily aligned with the silver Mitsubishi logo helming the glove compartment. A long glowing wail swerved from a siren around the corner. It passed.
Jeff settled both hands on the open windowsill. Said, “Okay, girl. Give me my sandwich.”
I reached into the bag. Grasped at nothing. Heavens. In my furor I must have eaten both sandwiches.
“How do you feel about Sun Chips?” I asked.
Mira leaned on the edge of the Wasteland counter. Idly fooled with a rack of Chanel-C earrings. Each CC lay above a skull and crossbones. The plastic mimicked the Rosetta Bar flyers Mira and I were MySpaced that morning that in turn begged John Solo’s Improperazzi buttons, that he’d been handing out at Bordello two weeks ago. His ragged blond hair around a face worn thirty-five over everyone else’s twenty-two. Solo had taken on the role of culture manufacturer to a rack full of overexposed ingénues. Limone and John talked close together in the club lately
Mira’s ankles hurt. Her eyes took in the splayed silk kimonos hanging high on the fifteen foot walls. Gold and crystal gowns past bound waists. Taut, seamless jeans. Below, she fingered each C and the gold chains supporting. At the bottom of the counter a hand-lettered sign read, “No checks accepted. Credit/debit with ID only. It’s not that we don’t trust you, it’s that WE DON’T TRUST YO MAMA.” There were red contour lines around the T’s, around the M’s.
Limone, Mira and I were Bordello the night before. The club was dark. A boy in eyeliner shoved past my shoulder. My lips were tight.
Limone had an arm loosely around my shoulder. She wore a simple black dress and a necklace with a white guitar pick. Her long brown hair fell lushly over her shoulders.
My dark hair was slicked down with pomade, around long earrings of twining gold chains. They touched the puffed shoulders of my denim blazer, above a cigarette burn. My tight gold turtleneck hugged my body, over black jeans. My hand was loose around a gin and tonic. Well gin. No ice. A neon green straw stabbed upwards against my breast.
Limone’s head turned. Her lips whispered against my ear. “Hey, do you want to go to the bathroom?”
I nodded slowly. A flicker of excitement creased across my eyes. I turned to follow.
We threw all of our money and effort into nights where we strove to be brilliant and gorgeous and decadent. Then we went back to our tiny, dirty apartment. Ate a bowl of cheese grits with the last of the red onion. Waited to go to sleep while the cocaine percolated through our systems. I talked. Limone talked. Mira talked. But we lost interest. Ended up lying side by side on the bed staring at the phone numbers scrawled on the wall.
In Wasteland Mira turned to Karyn. She was ringing up a short man in a scarf.
“Hey, do you know of anything good going on this weekend?” Patter of her eyelashes against over-powdered cheeks marred by acne and the gouges of narcotic-sped nails. Blink up. She looked up.
“Yeah,” she said. “I know this girl who’s doing a fashion show at the Silver Fox. We need models. Do you want to be in it? Do you know anyone?”
“Do I have to be naked?”
“No, silly. This isn’t Cheetahs. Do you do scantily clad?”
“Depends on how much you pay me and if the door’s left open. Drafty, no go.”
“Oh, get real. No. There’s no money. We will do hair and makeup. The outfits are cute. Sarah Damage made them. It’s her show. I think the place has a leather curtain over the door. Black. There’s an awning. Come on, you know you don’t have anything better to do.”
“Sure, okay. Drink tickets?”
There’s something about the stubbly skin-lilt of an eighteen-year-old boy. Something that makes the chicken hawk in me squirm. Yet there’s something so outrageous about their insouciance. Case in point: The other day, I meandered home after an afterparty. Boy in arm with satchel and bicycle. He stepped up onto my stoop when we got to my apartment in the Mission. Said, “Since I’m using your restroom, can I just crash here?” I wasn’t about to refuse. Watched the dewy curve of his arm under that crisp shirt as he hefted his bicycle up. Anticipated favors exploited and taken. When the young man surmised my Stoli Vanil on ice he seemed none too surprised. Given and taken. It was on the second sip that he lunged. Third when I said fine. The glass was tossed as he yelped, “Come to bed NOW.” Amused, I tossed winsomely so.
I lounged. Watched as he whisked up the shirt. Down the Dickies. Threw man-panties to the wind. Plucked condom from said bag in one swoop of utterly, terribly, ridiculously bad etiquette. It wasn’t until he leapt on top and began grinding that I reached down and thought, Darling, you have a cock the size of a baby carrot.
Fumbling through the rubble of cosmetics on the table, I plucked out the Revitalift eye cream. Dipped a finger in the pearlescent jar. I smoothed a dollop over each eye. Glanced up. Began to pick through my hair. It hung in knives around my face. I pushed back my part. Examined my roots. Disconcerting. I was aging. There was nothing I could do. Soon I would be thirty.
The space heater smoothed warmth on my ankles. I let the kimono fall open slightly. I pinched my arm. Pulled back a wedge of skin. My young lover Jay in Jet Set Desolate told me he had a fetish for such things. Loose skin. Like cheesecake.
My cold sheets and take-out egg rolls had become a constant. I sank down on a pillow in front of the mirror. Kneaded my hands into the red velvet.
“Do I really need it that bad?” I looked around my room to the box of condoms that had sat in the drawer for two months before opening. Now it lolled, ripped, on the bedside table.
“Hells to the yes. Apparently.” I reached for the vodka tonic on the vanity table. Took a long swig.
Dustin was drinking a forty oz. when I got to his house. The midday sun wrecked havoc on his attic dust. He leaned back in his swivel chair. His computer was alight with a SuicideGirls screensaver.
“Lena! Wahoo, baby!” Dustin said. “What have you got for me today?”
I was in the middle of fallen down his attic steps when I heard him. I extricated myself painfully from the steps and roller skates. “Right. I finished the one about the Power Exchange, and the third sex tip about the etiquette of polyamory.”
“Let’s see it.” He outstretched his hand.
“This one’s called, ‘How to fuck in small circles and avoid that foul reputation that you all truly deserve.’” It went a little like this:
It is right to declare yourself amoral, but don’t claim polyamorous as you open yourself to talk of earth mother malignancy. First thing to remember: You are a free frolicker. As long as you have not had “the exclusivity talk” with some smoldering amour you are free to fuck on with whoever. As long as they are not this person’s best friend or housemate. Best friend’s housemate, however, is fine. It’s all about the degrees of separation, i.e., a direct-intense line from one of your current partners to another is bad, but a second degree is a-ok. Choice two knowing said fuck is fine. The two partaking in bathroom conferences is fine. Fingerbanging one in the other’s best friend’s housemate’s bathroom is not. Am I making myself perfectly clear?
Perhaps I am not.
This is why it’s important to keep your booty calls, comfort fucks and true yet obstinately unattainable loves separate. If you taking one home; yet see another and must grope them in the vestibule, remember that choice one will likely come up behind you and bash you in with her handbag. Well and good. Because you see, once the choice for the evening is made, it is considered bad form to reverse. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but expect a little bitch-out.
Additionally, try not to talk too much smack. A bit of comparing notes is reasonable since the San Francisco sex lottery runs like a deck of cards thrown up in the air and matched. Remember that once you and your friendsters have all fucked the same ilk, the cock sizes will have been detailed and the rattiness of panties and relative palatial vs. stench of boudoir refined. After a certain point it’s all hot air for the five am coke conversation anyway. You’ll forget all the tragedies in ten years.
“Polyamory,” Dustin said. “What do you know about polyamory? You haven’t had a boyfriend in three years.”
“Thanks for reminded me, darling. No, I specialize in the fly-by-night secret sex. They find the claw-marks later.”
“Oh, black widow. I see.”
I laughed. Glancing at his altar with the ritual blade and Goat of Mendes statuary. A Spanish rag doll lolled between candles.
“Oh, God. Last night he was eighteen,” I said.
“Whoa! That’s really wrong.”
“Like you wouldn’t do it.”
“I think I did a nineteen-year-old once,” he said. Goat skull, toothed and sharp.
“Was it Jamie?”
“Dude, that crazy bitch came up here for a photo shoot, took all of her clothes off, and would not leave until I had sex with her. I didn’t want to, I swear. She just would not stop!”
“Thanks for sharing. Anyway, let’s look at the material, alright?”
“This one’s called, “Cab Driver,” I said. I read it to him. “Legs crossed in tart heels, tracing up to fleeting skirt. Lara rode a cab up Mission Street. It was past four am. The party sunk in absolute dreariness. She had escaped without gleaning prey and was irked.”
Dustin swiveled around in his chair and looked at my computer screen. Read.
The cabdriver pattered. She tuned in, “’Silent one back there? How was your party?’
“Oh, boring. Total waste of a good outfit.”
“You like to party, hmmm?” She looked up from her hands. Noticed the white teeth. Benevolent voice. Accent Argentinian.
“Umm, yeah. I guess so.”
“You like blow?”
She chuckled, “Sure, I like blow.” This was getting good.
He pulled over. Flipped the parking brake. Moved catlike to the back seat. “Here, I’ll give you a bump.” He picked up a tape case. Dished out lines the size of cigarettes. White glow like calla lilies. He passed her the case. She swooped hers up whole. Leaned back for that cellophane thrill. She shivered. Watched him take two delicate sniffs.
He looked like an old friend of hers, she decided. One long gone. So not to worry when the flare exploded through her legs. He crept his hand onto her knee and further and further up while she leaned her head back in the streetlight’s yellow glare. Double parked by Taqueria Cancun and rising. He flipped a hand in her panties. She sighed blissfully as he slid two fingers in. Wet.
He did look like her friend, she decided. She slid her bleached curls along his shoulder. Warm. Smelling of martinis. Her head slipped farther down to his pants, regulation brown. Shopping cart rattles down the sidewalk outside as she unzipped his fly. Slipped her hand in. Pulled his cock out. Gave it a soft, leisurely lick. He sighed. She began to suck it in earnest. Working her red lips up and down. Twirling her tongue along the purple head.
He still had a few fingers inside of her. Thrummed them on her clit. She felt the phosphorescent jangling of an orgasm hitting on. He grabbed her by the shoulder.
“I am sorry,” he said. Came in a white-hot spattering down her throat.
Dustin twiddled his pen against the mouse pad. Reached for his forty. Nodded.
“These are great,” he said. “We’ll post “Cab Driver’ Monday with some minor edits that we can go over now. The polyamory one we’ll wait a few week until “It’s About Subtlety,” your other Dolores Switch advice piece, has gotten more page views.”
At the makeshift fashion show the makeup artist daubed Benefit High Beam under my eyes. Smudged it across the apples of my cheeks. My deconstructed sailor suit, pared down to a halter-top and boy shorts, hastily pulled on a moment ago. I was freezing. The room, an anonymous bedroom off of Capp Street, was full of girls and boys in various stages of undress.
“Hey, you okay?” said some guy. Long fingers wrapped around a half-pint of Maker’s Mark. He held it out to me. “Here, warm yourself up.”
“Thanks. What’s your name?” I said.
“I’m Travis. But wait, you’re Lena, right? I think I’ve seen you on MySpace.” He tugged at the lining escaping one sleeve, the blazer now deconstructing itself. Tan. Smooth. His cheeks were unblemished and soft. I knew instantly that I shouldn’t. He was too young. The first sip of the whiskey hit me. Turned my insides all rosy.
Brush clenched, the make-up artist gripped my chin and turned me forwards. Her lips pursed with concentration as she lined my lids with MAC turquoise.
Flat faced, I mouthed, “I go by Lena. I’m no one, really.”
“Oh well then.” He tucked the whiskey into a tailored pocket. The seam where the paisley ties had been sewn together began to unravel. “Shit. I wonder if they can do triage.”
“I think you’re fucked.”
“Well, you’re really fucked if that starts to go.”
“Oh, don’t think I haven’t thought of that.” I pulled a silver staple-gun out of my clutch.
Motion. Light. Bodies moving around me. More whiskey. More powder. Lashes curled with a speculum. As a body, as a motion, the six girls and six boys moved through the procedure. Dresses. Places. Stitches. Moans. Staples and out into the rapidly falling night.
Backstage at the Silver Fox, in a cramped utility closet with crates of Popov and Anchor Steam, I sulked. I watched as Mira flounced her golden locks at Travis. She said, “It’s all about the Blonde Brigade! Are you with me or against me?”
An Amazon with a botched bleach job, tendrils falling into dreadlocks and a silver clip anchoring the rest, said, “Oh yeah, baby! Oh yeah! Blonde brigade! I’m in.”
“Awesome. I think if we choreograph this it will really work.”
“You have got to be kidding,” I said, leaning against kegs. “This is so off-off Project Runway. I don’t think we even have a runway. Come on.”
“Oh, cheer up.”
“No,” said Travis. He peered through the indigo curtain at the smeared faces lining the bar. “We’ve got card tables.”
“Dare to dream Lena. Come on.”
“I don’t know.” Mira said. “I think I look weird. You got the hot outfit. It’s so Querelle. I look like an Oompa Loompa.”
“A leprechaun, maybe,” I said.
“Hey!” said Mira. “No, really, green Capri pants? This jacket? Leafy? I don’t care how many semesters at FIDM she has. This is so not okay.”
“Look, I think we’re going on. Calm down, alright. Put on a happy face,” said Travis. “Do you want some whiskey?”
“You have beautiful breasts for someone of your age, Lena,” said Travis, caressing one of them lightly. The blue fairy lights warred with the dawn. Outside, delivery trucks pulled up to Ti Couz.
I ran a finger across my rouged eyelid and said, “Just try to avoid that thought, shall we?”
The fog machine giveth, and the fog machine taketh away.
First published in the now offline Skirt the Issue Blog.
I love wearing leggings as pants. Every day. Fifteen pairs of leggings sit in my dresser drawer. Adidas. American Apparel. Under Armour. Beloved Shirts cat print. Pill print for the mental illness that demands I take ten pills a day. Pine trees for Christmas. Stars and stripes for Fourth of July.
I never want to wear pants again. I remember in my teens and twenties trying on twenty pairs of jeans at a time. Trying to squeeze my big ass into pair after pair that never fit. Finally leaving the dressing room empty handed. Disappointed. With leggings, I just pull on a stretchy pair and they instantly fit perfectly.
I remember reading about Lindsey Lohan in 2005’s D-Listed gossip blog being shamed for wearing leggings as pants. I gobbled the posts like sugary Sweet-Tarts but still loved LiLo and her style. Inspired by Lohan, I bought my first pair of shiny black latex-look leggings. A revelation!
When wearing leggings, body acceptance is mandatory. They show every bend, bulge and declivity. Make a changing body visible. Over the last year I battled becoming dangerously, accidentally underweight. My boyfriend, best friend, mother, sister, and therapist all thought something was seriously wrong with me. My boyfriend yelled at me for being too skinny when I got in his car. Yeah, he’s not my boyfriend anymore. So I saw a doctor. Did hyperthyroidism testing. I was perfectly healthy.
Wearing skintight XS leggings in public gives me a way to reclaim my contested battleground body as my own. I revel in the confrontation of display. Female bodies whatever their sizes are consistently considered fair game for judgement, attack, monitoring and policing by others. Seeing my bony legs forces others to accept and recognize my reality. People comment. I respond. My explanation of healthy blood tests sometimes opens their minds. If they still think I’m dying? Not my problem. I know I’m healthy with each yoga posture I breath into. Each ice cream sandwich I savor.
Over the centuries female clothing has evolved from excruciatingly uncomfortable to wearable. Corsets? Hoop-skirts? Bound feet? The battle for more comfortable woman’s wear parallels the battle for women’s rights. At a recent family dinner my aunt reminisced how women used to not even be able to wear pants to work. Skirts were required. Suffragettes wore bloomers in protest and were arrested.
“We shall overcome,” activists chant. On this year’s international Women’s Day, a feminist “Life in Leggings,” march for woman’s rights solidarity took place in the Trinidad and was broadcast on Twitter. All these badass ladies in Africa marching in their leggings with protest signs. It gave me hope.
I’m too disabled to be able to go to protests as I can’t be arrested and taken off my meds. But I’ll wear leggings as pants to normalize body acceptance. That’s slacktivism I can do. Twist my arm. We do what we can. As a disabled woman I can’t do much. A lot of days I can’t even leave the house. I certainly can’t work ever again. Marry. Bear children. Have a family. Have anything resembling a normal real life.
I’m not a “real” person with “real problems” as I am constantly told. I am an emaciated mentally unbalanced legging clad glamour phantasm. So reclusive, I’m practically imaginary. Haunting the Internet as it’s the only place I can exist. I’m too afraid to go outside from being raped countless times. Appalling atrocities served on an MFA platter doused with Sephora eye cream and Prozac sprinkles. It’s what’s for dinner.
Being allowed to wear something that I can both do yoga poses and walk down the street in is a form of liberation. Would still be nice to be able to walk down the street without being catcalled and fearing rape. But at least it’s not a corset hoop-skirt combo where I have to ride sidesaddle. I‘ll take what I can get, here. Women are used to oppression being loosened gradually like a waist cinch-er unlaced. It feels good to breathe again.
Leggings allow me to reclaim control over how people see my body. A rebuttal to people gossiping about my weight fluctuation: I’m here! This is what my body wants to be! Go fuck yourselves! The women at the march in Trinidad believed in the power and liberation of leggings enough to name their march in their honor. I believe in leggings too. Comfortable athleisure I can wear anywhere to do anything. After thirty years of never being able to fit into any jeans in Buffalo Exchange? Leggings are fashion deliverance.
The ERA Amendment introduced by suffragettes in the early 1920s still hasn’t passed yet. Leggings as pants are not enough to deliver the liberation women may forever be striving for. Fashion progress is itty bitty baby steps. But they’re spandex steps I’d like to take. The feminist act is not what I wear, but my choice to reclaim how I am seen. Sinewed bones but mine alone.
This essay was written in 2015 for Entropy’s “On Weather” Series. I didn’t have the energy to rewrite the whole thing differently as the editor asked so gave up on it.
The nausea begins with the Barbacoa Super Burrito Mojado I wolf down at El Arco Iris while my boyfriend sips a beer and munches on guacamole. Or does the heatwave catalyze the nausea? Or is it taking my sleepytime anti-psychotic Saphris at irregular times and not often enough? Or am I pregnant?
“It is a perfect storm,” the voices in my head repeat as I fall asleep at dawn after a phone call with a friend in Miami. He texts me a photo of a male stripper in a gay bar the night before the Orlando shooting. I watch in Xanax-ed stupor the tear-jerking Anderson Cooper CNN coverage. Reflect how close we all are to death.
It is a perfect storm of haphazard violence and a sense of danger as the heatwave hits. Fast on the heels of my burrito orgasm. When I awake at my boyfriend’s house I vomit again and again without him noticing. I don’t tell him I’m sick as we fight over something I said on Twitter. Have make-up sex. Too much is going on.
When I return home it is to cockroach-infested cat food and my own private hell. I watch queers get shot on CNN then Tangerine on Netflix. Do yoga reflecting on the mean streets of Hollywood outside my door. I vomit again and again not knowing why. The heat climbs in my apartment. I blast the A/C from the wall mount unit. It proves inadequate.
I stay inside my apartment because it is far too hot to go to the grocery store. I don’t eat for three days. Only vomit. Take the Saphris twice in a twenty-four hour period which I really shouldn’t do because I want only to sleep. To sleep without the voices in my head and nausea.
When I wake from the second sweaty, fitful sleep I call my best friend. We talk for eight hours until the sun comes up. We confess to each other. She tells me she’s worried about me. Mutual pity juxtaposed with admiration welds us.
“Stay up all night to avoid the heat,” sing The New Bad Things in “Knott St.” The New Bad Things encapsulate the golden, “front porch drinking Hamm’s in the summertime,” moments that I remember so fondly from college in Portland. I listen as I frenetically polish a nineties punk Portland novel called Scaffolding. Racing to get that perfect final draft before the small press I recently queried requests a full manuscript. If they do. I have been scouring my mostly inconsequential email with intensity.
The voices in my head tell me that, “Your intensity is uncomfortable.” I am aware of this yet I persist. Maybe it’s okay. It’s what I’m doing because I don’t know how to do anything else anymore.
A different New Bad Things song lingers in my mind after watching the epic twenty-minute battle scene on Sunday’s Game of Thrones. The intensity of that is uncomfortable too. In my horror over the medieval bloodshed I want only to vomit again. The think pieces I read tell me this is the appropriate response.
The song “Krankenhaus” rings in my mind throughout the subsequent day. “At the hospital: There’s three square meals a day. At the hospital: no one asks if you’re okay. At the hospital: there are people who are trained to take care of you.”
I wonder what is wrong with me. Do I need to go to the hospital? I have done my time in psych wards, detox and outpatient rehab. I would really prefer not to. The hospital is a possibility that mounts with ever-pressing potentiality as the heatwave, nausea, fever and heatstroke intensify. It is a perfect storm.
I look at an article about the dangers of heatstroke. I have all of the symptoms but I so do not want to call 9-11. I read how people are dying in this heat. I do not want to die, but I also do not want the embarrassing spectacle of an ambulance and expense of an ER visit if it can be at all avoided.
I look at the Wikipedia entry for Nausea. Pregnancy is a possibility. With my IUD and his on point pull-out game that seems unlikely. Every time I think of the possibility I feel a mounting roar of terror that I refuse to quell with more Xanax. I already took one to bear witness to Orlando. I don’t want to take too many so that they stop working. Yet I am terrified on a myriad of levels. It is a perfect storm.
I text my sister and friends about my fear that I might be pregnant. Women understand these things. There are some things that only women endure.
It is 100 degrees in Los Angeles today. I spend the day drinking iced coffee with coconut milk. Nitpicking my novel in a blue maribou bathrobe filled with mounting disgust at myself. I can smell my sweat. My book makes me want to take a shower. This heat makes me want to take a shower.
I tweet, “To get the perfect smokey eye: vomit, wipe face, reapply eyeliner, gag repeatedly, wipe eyes.” Glamour and abjection are not strange bedfellows.
After exchanging panicked texts with a sympathetic married friend I arrange for my boyfriend to pick me up. I read CNN articles about wildfires. Hikers dying in Arizona. Record-setting temperatures as the summer I so wanted for half of June hits with the force of a thousand suns.
My skin burns. I put on leopard leggings and the Good Vibes tank top that I fear will identify me to doctors as a stoner. I feel the inadequacy of my emaciated frame. Wish only for health. It becomes less of a bikini body and more of a humiliating statement of not-okay-ness when I’m 40 and my hand-span thighs are concave.
An eating disorder hospital was suggested to me recently by the terminally ill best friend who must spend more time in hospitals than I prefer to. I said no. I can drink enough Venti Frappuccinos with whip, eat enough pizza that I will put on a healthy amount of weight again. I believe this so hopefully.
I so dislike institutions given the pleasures of outside. I would prefer not to spend my life in one. I have worried that I might.
I rock back and forth directly in front of the A/C in the rising tide of afternoon heatstroke panic. Pack my medication, extra keys and a sweater so I will be prepared if I do indeed have to go to the hospital. Wait for my heroic boyfriend to pick me up and rescue me from my inferno of an apartment.
My cat who can sense that I don’t know when I am coming back twines around my hands. Cuddles with me. I wonder if I should take her with me. I wonder if she will be alive when I return. There is a distinct sense of disaster.
I do not know if it is the hospital which awaits me as I shoulder my medication tote bag and fringed purse. Bid farewell to my cat who may be a charred skeleton when I return. Put on sunglasses to walk down the steps of my apartment building to the street where my boyfriend waits. He stands by his yellow Smart Car. I don’t know if he realizes that he is rescuing me. We can never know the thoughts of another.
My boyfriend is my hero as we whiz through traffic. Pick up tacos and french fries in Glendale. I tell him I can’t even handle getting out of a car and going into a restaurant. I want only to be as low-maintenance as possible as I answer his questions with “Yes, okay. Yes.” When he is high-maintenance at the drive-through it amuses me because as someone has to freak out here it helps for it not to be me. If getting extra salsa and ranch dressing will help that is fine.
At my boyfriend’s house I consume a Carne Asada Taco and many French Fries with the fervor of someone who wants to be healed. I lie on his orange couch. Put my feet on the pillow he wants me to. His Brussels Griffon snorfles to my hand. Leaps in my lap.
“They flew golden retriever therapy dogs into Orlando to comfort the traumatized. I saw it on Twitter,” I tell him.
I live my life on the Internet because it is a place where I can be both private and public. Isolated and communal. Alone and together. Hidden and confessional. Socially awkward and flamboyant. Reclusive and talking to everyone all the time. A world mediated by screens because I never leave my apartment where I sit day after day writing dreadful things. I’m on SSDI because I’m too mentally ill to work. This frees me up to write into the void of the iCloud and Internet chasing some illusory impossible success as swirls of voices both flattering and upsetting echo in my ears.
It is what it is. Both luxury and tragedy. I accept it as I have no choice.
The voices ring about me as night falls. I smoke a bowl under the Strawberry moon. Contemplate the pinkish-silver moon as humans have since we began being awake at night. As Oscar Wilde does in my favorite of his plays, Salome.
My boyfriend and I watch the moonlight ignite the dark air through the open windows. We sit in anxious vigil throughout the hot night. My nausea and fever come and go. I try not to vomit up the food he so kindly bought for me out of a sense of both thriftiness and not knowing how soon we will next be able to eat.
He sleeps fitfully on the couch. Wakes to yelp then falls asleep again.
I fiddle with my phone on a mid-century chair patterned like a heartbeat. Calendar the healthiest time every day to take my medication and sleep normal hours like the healthy person I want to be. Asses expenses. Beat my iPhone at Scrabble a couple of times although I can rarely beat my boyfriend. That he consistently beats me at Scrabble tells me I have the right one.
A darting faerie breeze comes through the stagnant air from the open windows. The New Bad Things song in my head finally changes from “Krankenhaus” to “Knott St.” “Front porch drinking Hamm’s in the summertime. Stay up all night to avoid the heat.” I realize as the hospital dirge leaves my head that I will make it through this hot night to finish my nineties novel. It’s going to be okay.
When I wake again the heat and fever have broken. It is afternoon.
My boyfriend who I watched with tenderness through that long Strawberry moon vigil feeds me another taco. I finally tell him over pico de gallo that “I was low-key having a pregnancy scare.” It was a conversation that I did not even want to begin the feverish night before.
I already knew the name and phone number of my gynocologaist who would give me the abortion if that was needed. I got an abortion in college so I could graduate and I would do it again. There was not even the question of a decision. My ambition outstrips my maternal instinct. Childbearing is not in the cards for me. It’s not a responsible choice for anyone including the child given my situation.
That night I tweet, “How many of these tweets & Internet essays are a cry for help, I wonder? So much pain yet we all cope collectively.” This essay is not a cry for help as that moment has passed. Please don’t send ambulances to my apartment, thanks. I would like to hope that it’s all fine for now.
The heatwave is over. For now.
In the cool of the 3 am air conditioning I sip iced coffee and compose the essay my mind churned over throughout that hot night. Writing about it later was the main thing that kept me going. Writers are such vultures. We arise from the corpse of a tragedy with poignant text in hand for submission. I suppose it’s something to do. I can only spend so much time in therapy.
It is a desire to have one’s pain understood and witnessed that drives confessional text. There is an indecency too confession. Why am I so compelled?
The other thing that kept me going through the heatwave was knowing I was not alone in this global warming crisis. As I know I am not alone in my desire to read and write confessional essays. I saw on Twitter under #heatwave that everyone in the Southwest burned that day. It was hot all over. It will be hot all summer in Los Angeles.
I said to my boyfriend in the car as he drove me home, “Everyone has a story and a struggle. I learned that in rehab. You never know until you ask.”