From my seat at the back of the 38 Geary, I could see every stitch in the stripper’s pink bra. I assumed she was a stripper, anyway, the flamboyant thighs dripping from a spandex miniskirt, the bra straps lolling from an off-the-shoulder top. I wouldn’t judge. My pink chiffon scarf was wrapped silky and dubious around my hair, I was visiting Frank in the Serrano Hotel. His voice on the phone had intrigued me, gruff, low, inviting me to room #1455. It was registered under the name “Joseph Ernst.” With an evening ahead of watching the ceiling fan shake as it spun, gilt curtains and min-bars enthralled me. No matter that I had met him two days ago, and after a night of pills found myself making out with a bald man missing a tooth.
“Fuck, I have to get to work on time, and you’re going way below the speed limit!” sneered the woman. The driver scowled. Cars staggered through the Market Street traffic, blearing angry honks at the bus that stalled at every stop, laboring like a pregnant woman with a missing limb to crawl past civic center station. Furious neon from the titty bars screamed of delights impossible, unreasonable, truly concerning your immediate attention.
“I’m going as fast as is reasonable, lady. Try walking.”
“No, you’re lagging so bad. Let me out, here. No, let me out. I’ve had it with this.” The woman reared on angry motorcycles boots to stomp off the 38 Geary and out into the night. It was suddenly very quiet. I drew my leather jacket closer. Two more stops.
“Union Square!” exclaimed the driver. I lurched up, reeling, and climbed down the stairs to the street. There was a glacial sheen upon the shop windows, as I trotted up Powell Street. The flower cart with the gardenias boutonnieres was shuttered and bare, Urban Outfitters let forth a dim haze of thinly veiled cliché, and the cable cars were thankfully defunct. Quiet. All mine. I laid a cautious finger on the railing of the cable car roundabout, as if it would hurt to encroach. Nothing bit back. I slid my fingers around it and ran them along its length, watching the copper oxidize with filth.
I let my hand fall from the railing and turned upwards to the opalescent span of the streetlight. I felt isolated in the city, grappling through the days. And the gleaming shelves of lip gloss palates and plasticized Dior in the Sephora window just confirmed this. Looking promised so much and left me still, still outside, still left to pace up the long street to the gleaming mass of the square, equally pristine and barren.
I pressed my lips together and tried to shake off the feeling of unease. Moments later, I stepped up the curb and onto the sparkling concrete outside the Serrano. A doorman in a bow tie swept the door wide, and I strode in, approximating the sort of dignity I had learned gets you far on no credentials. “I belong here. I have stayed in many places like this. I am visiting a friend. It is all perfectly legitimate. No, I am not a hooker.” Ahem.
The lobby was marble and mirrored, reflecting velvet ottomans and a gargantuan fireplace. Tiny, piquant streaks of flame went darting across logs like fingernails on thighs. It was absolutely quiet except for a “Click. Click. Scratch,” as my nail-worn heels tip-tapped across the parquet. Layers of slotted, glossy wood pressed up at me as I shot my eyes straight ahead, past the concierge to the red lacquer doors of the elevator. Framed in black wood, the squares above and below bisected me into concern and confusion, disruption and the continual dissonance of what was I doing here, where was that room number, what exactly was my agenda with this trip, anyway? I rustled in my purse for the scrap with Frank’s information, peering anxiously over my hand.
The elevator rose, trapping me with a low, whirring roar. With a resonant tone, the doors parted, releasing me into a hall wallpapered in cream with gold-whorled lattice. I wavered, glancing at the floral arrangement on the pillar, turning from one door to another. Room #1455 was before me, the “Do not disturb” sign hanging at jaunty angle.
I knocked. Lightly. Harder. The door creaked open to reveal Frank with a drink in his hand, his baldness shining with grease, stubby hand raised in greeting. He smiled impishly, revealing the missing tooth. In the amber light of the hotel room, the home-done tattoos seemed forgivable. I realized Frank had once been quite attractive, but 35 years and heavy speed use had left its mark.
I belong to everyone and no one. I am at once the woman everyone has slept with and a complete mystery. Mary Magdalene I am. Salome I am. I face much danger but I cannot be destroyed because I am part god and part cockroach. Bunny army rat army rat army cat army dog army dragon army we arise as phoenix unrelenting we arise from ashes of reputation and become again as we cannot die. Trans human I am trans human I am part machine and part spirit I am a cyborb of pharmaceuticals and coconut oil. I am forever 28. I will always be 28. I will always be in that moment in the Serrano Hotel. About to unveil.
“Hey, come in.” He beckoned me, backing away into the warm cream womb of the room. I slunk in, taking off my pink scarf and setting it on an end table. I looked past him to see the bed, huge with red and white striped pillows, a massive cream down comforter, and gold pillows streaked with incoherent French. He poured me a rum and coke from the mini-bar.