Recently I found myself backstage at a show. I’m not really into shows anymore, especially not large ones. I used to work in the music industry and I have attended more than my fair share of loud rock and roll concerts. But last week when my friend invited me and I tried to make an excuse not to attend, she countered with, “come on, it’ll be fun.” And even though I knew that it wasn’t going to be fun, I somehow let her talk me into it. It’s not just that I don’t really go see live music anymore, it’s also that I’m not the social type. I don’t really enjoy standing around making small talk in a room full of people. And yes, my friend is here, and so are her friends, and friends of friends, but it still feels awkward. And now here I am stuck in the corner a of a crowded dressing-room, surrounded by people drinking a ton of alcohol, as some wannabe Hollywood scriptwriter that I have just been introduced to, yammers away about herself. Feeling trapped and disingenuous I try to nod my head in response at the appropriate moments, yet all the while wishing I were anywhere else but here.
These types of situations are why alcohol was invented. And years ago if I was stuck at such an event I would have headed straight to the booze and after a few quick shots, none of this would have mattered. Only I no longer have that card to play. I used up my “getting loaded” allotment a long time ago. Besides alcohol just wasn’t doing it for me, I needed something much stronger. I needed to feel the warm rush of heroin, and only then was I comfortable enough to deal with life and all the people in it. Yet, the same old story prevailed, my addiction took over and what had once helped me cope was now ruling me. I went from being a musician/artist to junkie/criminal, and then my addict career abruptly ended when I was arrested and incarcerated.
I make some lame excuse to free myself from being corralled by the wannabe scriptwriter and slowly back away. But when I turn around I’m face to face with a table full of junk food. Band riders always call for snacks, and this one is no exception. There are bowls of chips, cold cuts, pizza and the customary cookies and candy. And herein lies my other addictive behavior—eating. Years before I ever discovered drugs or alcohol I learned to abuse food as a way to suppress my feelings. My parents were more involved in their lives than they were in mine and I was left alone a lot. This led to many hours spent in front of the TV while shoving copious amounts of food into my mouth in an early attempt to lessen the pain of abandonment. Yet something about overeating triggered a self-loathing that was years ahead of my then adolescent self, and I soon found myself purging the junk food I was eating. This led to a learned behavior that I didn’t even realize others suffered from. It was something that I thought I had invented. Only my binge eating and purging faded away when I found that drugs and alcohol worked a lot better. Yet now here I was an adult in his fifties with fourteen years clean off drugs and suddenly I’m dealing with bulimia all over again.
It was quite a shock when my “dormant” eating disorder returned. I had switched careers and moved to a different city with the idea of reinventing myself. Although I had no connections and little in the way of support, I had high hopes and many expectations that I would be able to piece it all together. Luckily things did come together, but not without a lot of stress. Plus I was attempting to achieve greater goals in my life than I had ever tried before. And with this all came an anxiety that I was ill prepared for. I experienced panic attacks for the first time in my life, and then, seeking that old familiar solace, I started abusing food. Segue to four years later and I was purging on a daily basis, only with years of recovery from drugs and alcohol under my belt I figured I should be more evolved than that, which led to even more guilt and shame, and instead of seeking help I pretended it just wasn’t there. But my teeth and gums were suffering, I was not losing weight, I was gaining, I was getting more and more depressed and I constantly felt that I was living a lie.
Eventually I was so stressed out that I told my Narcotics Anonymous sponsor. He has worked with me for years and even though this wasn’t about drugs, it was about my addictive behaviors. Surprisingly, well at least to me it was, my sponsor totally understood, in fact he himself has issues around overeating. Yet when he pointed out that the first step of NA states: “We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction; that our lives had become unmanageable.” I realized just how powerless and unmanageable my life had once again become. But this also gave me hope. I have fourteen years clean off drugs and alcohol and I have kept clean by attending meetings, working the 12 steps, and maintaining a rigorous involvement in the program. My situation had originally seemed so hopeless, yet here I was years later still off drugs. I could do this with my eating disorder.
A week ago I went to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. It had been years since I’d attended one, and unlike that first time when I was new to the idea of recovery, and not quite able to grasp the concept that it could also help me with my bulimia, this time I felt totally at home. Instead of just being a silent observer I introduced myself and shared my struggle. I was given a newcomer packet and phone numbers. And I walked out of there with a renewed sense of hope. I have yet to implement an OA plan of recovery, but I am taking it one day at a time, and feel like I am finally in the solution.
I survey the food table and spot a platter of crudités, arranged around a bowl of gloppy blue cheese dip. I fill a small plate with broccoli florets, celery stalks, and baby carrots and slowly start eating them. Having something healthy to munch on takes my mind off the junk food, which lessens the cravings, and I am able to not indulge in any of the other snacks that I know will trigger another episode of purging. A quick glance across the room and I see that the wannabe scriptwriter has captured another victim, and the crowd by the liquor has grown considerably. The show is now over and the backstage area has become incredibly even more crowded. I casually make my way towards the exit and walk outside. The cool air hits me and I toss the empty paper plate into the trashcan. I have another day of not eating badly or purging, and I know I can do this.
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Originally published in Make Peace With Food 9th May 2015
The rain’s pouring down, streaking black soot across my window like rivulets of runny mascara tears. I touch the glass and feel the cold outside, another winter afternoon and everything is gray. The only color a neon Budweiser sign glowing red from the bar across the street. An unmarked police car slides to the curb as a wino pushing a shopping cart stops to snatch a discarded umbrella off the street.
I press my face to the cold glass to get a view down the alley that runs into the parking lot behind my apartment building. Strips of faded white paint designate where cars should be parked. But there aren’t any. There’s only the flattened yellow crime scene tape broken free and plastered to the ground in front of where the cops had cordoned off the area around the body by the chain link fence. I stand on my toes to see if there’s a chalk outline on the asphalt, but can’t see one, not even sure if they do that any more, and besides the rain probably washed it away if they did.
Heard three gunshots last night. Then screams. Then sirens. Saw the police response, lights flashing. By then I was out back by the alley with a few of the other tenants. At least the ones that weren’t too loaded to get up and go see what all the commotion was about. It’s like those nights someone set off the building’s fire alarm. Everyone out there bitching, waiting for the firemen to tells us we could go back inside. Only this is a little more real and we’re all just staring at the cops and the paramedics standing around.
“Know who it is?” I ask.
“Ya mean was?” says the lady from apartment 10. Black doo-rag wrapped so tight she looks like a pinhead. In one hand a diet coke, the other clutching the floral print robe to her chest.
“What the hell ya think?”
The droning helicopter is blocks away and still the vibrations hit the air around us. Its searchlight approaching faster than the sound, and suddenly we’re all illuminated in a bright white light.
“Fuck… never get to sleep tonight,” says the kid from next-door, saggy pants and baseball cap all tilted backwards. First time I’ve ever seen him without a joint in his mouth.
“Hey dude, you gots cable?”
“Do I what?”
“Gots cable? Aint a quiz. Either ya got it, or ya don’t.”
“No man,” I say. “Don’t watch TV.”
“Don’t watch TV? What the fucks wrong with you?”
“Man, shut the fuck up.”
“What kinda mutha-fucka don’t watch TV?” He says, but no one answers.
I ignore him and turn back to the woman from apartment 10. “So, they got shot, they’re dead?”
“You kinda quick tonight, huh?”
“No, I’m just… I’m just asking.”
“Look, there a pay-per-view fight tomorrow night homie, wanna see it,” says the kid from next door.
I check him out and wonder just what the hell his story is. The little I know is he smokes a shit load of weed, plays heavy metal, and hangs out with at least one slutty chick that screams a lot at night when they’re having sex.
“I can’t help you, man.” I say.
“Who the fuck don’t watch TV?” He says and wanders off in the direction of his apartment.
“Never mind him,” says the girl from upstairs. “Dude’s a douche bag extraordinaire.”
She’s got a kind of slutty look to her and I wonder if she’s the one that screams at night.
“What happened?” She asks, and lights a cigarette.
“Girl got murdered,” says the woman from apartment 10.
“You know that building across the alley?”
“One with all them junkies?”
“Well, wait, which one?”
“Stucco one got methheads an’ gangbangers. Brick one fulla junkies and ho’s.”
“Yeah, yeah. Brick one. Know that girl with all the tattoos?”
“Honey, you gonna hav-ta narrow it down a bit more than that. All them bitches gots tats. All over them.”
“She the blonde, work the corner by the liquor store.”
The helicopter booms overhead as it makes a complete circle above us in the sky. For a second we’re all lit up. The downward shaft of light causing dark shadows under our foreheads and chins, momentarily we all look like dead-ass zombies and then we’re in the dark again.
“That fat girl with the boob job?”
“Yeah, think so.”
I know her. She gots kids, and shit.”
“Now that’s a shame.”
“I think her name was Martha?”
“Martha? What kinda hooker be named Martha?”
“Well, sure as hell she didn’t go by that. They all do Candy, and Monique and shit like that.”
“I know, right?”
“That girl was fat though. Don’t know how she do it?”
“Honey, men will fuck anything. Oh, sorry, no offense, didn’t mean you, babe.”
“None taken,” I say, and then walk towards the back gate.
“None taken?” whispers the girl from upstairs. “Don’t he talk all funny, and shit?”
The helicopter hovers over the courtyard and lights up the bushes. Shadows play across the walkway, and down from the balconies. I fumble with my keys trying to get them in the lock. Door to the adjacent apartment abruptly opens up.
“Look man, So ok, I knows I ain’t the best neighbor and all that, but I really needs to see this fight.”
“Dude,” I say. “Not lying man, I do not have cable.”
“Yeah, but wait a minute. Why the fuck don’t you have cable?”
“Can’t afford that shit.”
“Then why you think I can?”
“You white, right?”
“What the fuck are you?”
“Well, I ain’t white like you’re white.”
A gust of wind hits as rain spatters the window. The cop car is still there and the wino’s trying to get the umbrella to stay open. I didn’t know Martha, if that was her name. I couldn’t tell you which one of the hookers she was by the liquor store. They all look a mess and one by one had given up on asking me if I want a date. Sadly, I’m amazed that anyone has sex with them. Even more amazed anyone pays for it.
There’s loud banging as someone hammers on my door. I pull it open about to tell the kid next-door to leave this pay-per-view fight thing alone. But instead I’m staring at two cops in plainclothes. One of them shows me his shield. The other asks if I know anything about last night’s murder.
“Know someone’s dead. Think her name was Martha.”
“You knew her?”
“Then how you know her name?”
“Girl lives upstairs said it.”
“She gotta name?”
“Don’t know it.”
“What do you know?”
“What I just told you.”
“Think her name was Martha.”
The cop stares at me hard for few seconds and we stand there in silence. I shrug my shoulders and raise my hands, palms up.
“Like I said, that’s all I got.”
“Hope someone cares more about you when it’s your turn to die,” says the other cop that until then hadn’t said anything.
“If I’m dead?” I say. “Not gonna give a shit.”
“Where can I find that girl, one knows the deceased?”
“Lives upstairs, don’t know the apartment.”
“Just what do you know?”
“Already asked me that. Told you.”
“You fuckin’ people…” says the first cop as they both turn and walk away.
I lean against the doorframe and look up at the sky. Rain is still pouring down flooding the courtyard. Glancing down I notice the center walkway is under water.
The kid from next-door opens his door just a crack.
“Why you snitchin’ bro?” He whispers and I can see into his apartment. There’s an unmade bed, clothes tossed on the floor, and some horrid dropped D tuned Cookie Monster metal turned down low playing in the background.
“Why you such a dumbass?” I say, and we lock eyes before I break it off and go inside and close the door.
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Originally published in Sparkle & Blink 42 5th August 2013 and translated and published as “Elle S’Appelait Martha, Je Crois” in Bookalicious February 8th, 2015
Bruno wasn’t an attractive man. He was even more unattractive as a woman. A union truck driver for 37 years, he’d held it together and then when his wife, that bitch Darlene, said she’d found true love with some muffler repairman she’d been engaging in cybersex with on the internet, Bruno had to admit he wasn’t a very happy guy. Mainly because he wasn’t very happy as a guy. But he didn’t know that yet.
Stuck in the urban sprawl that had once been a highly sought after suburb of San Francisco, but now, in Bruno’s opinion, was more an extension of Southeast Asia – hundreds of little brown families having invaded over the past twenty years – it had gotten so Bruno didn’t even recognize the old neighborhood and worse the signs were all in a writing he couldn’t decipher. Bilingual wasn’t in Bruno’s vocabulary, plus he just didn’t give a shit.
Sitting in their half empty duplex, Darlene having taken exactly half of everything, well at least what all she could fit in a 5×8 utility trailer pulled by a Ford Galaxy, the car Bruno had bought when they first married, and she had insisted on keeping well past its prime.
“Don’t like change,” was Darlene’s motto. But if that was true why was she off banging Mr. Goodwrench and Bruno was still here?
Bruno, in the reclined position of the La-Z-Boy, his feet up so he could stare at his legs encased in nylon pantyhose sticking out of a red cocktail dress – one of many Darlene had left behind. Thankfully she and Bruno were somewhat close to being the same size, and so every night after work he’d come home, slip on a bra, pantyhose, and this dress, pop open a beer, and watch TV until it was time to fall asleep. In other words essentially nothing had changed in Bruno’s life, except Darlene was gone and now he felt free enough to indulge in what he’d only fantasized before.
But as Bruno watched TV he kept seeing a world out there he’d never really thought about, or even considered. And slowly he realized he’d been living a lie. Him and Darlene hadn’t had sex in twenty-three years. The only thing that’d turned him on was fingering her lingerie, and that was only when she wasn’t in it. Night after night they’d shared a bed, not touching, and Bruno laying flat on his back wondering why he couldn’t stop thinking about that prison sex exposé on MSNBC’s Lockdown. Visions of sweaty muscle-bound tattooed convicts fudge-packing each other all night in their dank prison cells ran on a continuous loop through his brain until he feared he’d somehow gotten infected with the homo-gene.
And yeah, there was that one dude at work, Stevie. Everyone sweared he was gay. But him and Bruno had always eaten lunch together, everyday for years. Maybe Stevie was gay, and it’d somehow rubbed off? But then why’d Bruno only get a stiffy when he slipped on a pair of Darlene’s old polyester rayon panties, and not when he’d stared at Stevie’s ass?
“Have I turned gay?” Bruno asked himself as he straightened the A-Line of Darlene’s… well, actually it was his red cocktail dress now.
Segue to the present, after numerous sessions with his therapist, Bruno was no longer Bruno, he was Bridget. His house in the suburbs sold, Darlene forgotten, Bridget had moved into what was known as transitional housing. Otherwise referred to as a “county subsidized single occupancy environment” that San Francisco provided for mental health and recovering drug addicts. Bridget had entered into treatment for GID, gender identity disorder, and because of this qualified for hormone replacement therapy – Bruno had made the decision.
Shaved her legs and then he was a she. She says, “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.”
“Wish it was that fuckin’ easy,” said Bruno.
He had to live for at least a year as a woman. Dress like one, and go about life, before he could even think about getting the tuck-and-roll surgery. Of course this made keeping his job almost impossible. If the guys thought Stevie was gay, what were they going to say when he showed up as Bridget? Not to mention the double D’s he’d just gotten implanted. No, it wasn’t going to be pretty and Bruno had no intention of living through that hell. Fuck them. San Francisco was where it was at.
I step into the elevator and there’s a large unattractive woman, or at least I think it’s a woman, but in this building it could be anybody’s guess, and really I don’t care. I turn my back on her and press the button for the lobby. Damn elevator won’t go straight to the ground floor as there used to be a security desk on the 2nd floor, back when it was a building just for clients fresh out of rehab, and they’d hooked it up so that everyone had to check in with a uniformed guard. But now it just stopped on the second floor, the door opening to an empty desk, and then it’d continue its decent to the lobby, where there was nothing to prevent any scumbag from gaining access.
“You smell good,” says the large ugly woman behind me.
“Thanks,” I say. “Must be my hair goo.”
“Pineappley coconut, like a Mai Tai.”
“Name’s Bridget. I could just eat you up.”
I turn and look into Bridget’s eyes and see sadness and pain and shitload of fear that belies her outspoken bravado. Then notice her outstretched hand and quickly grab it to shake. It’s unbelievably rough and calloused, makes mine look nancy-boy soft, her grip like a macho jock.
“Easy there, Bridget.” I pull my hand back, shake it lose. “Kinda partial to havin’ all my digits intact and working.”
“Sorry,” she says with what I assume she must think is the voice of a young girl. Only that girl would’ve had to been smoking twelve packs a day for fifty years to achieve that gravel.
The door opens and we’re at the lobby. There’s sun coming in and a stumbling wino is weaving his way towards us.
“Hole da ‘vator!” he screams and I step out of the way, but he collides into Bridget, the impact sending him backwards onto his ass.
“Holy shit!” he screams. “Ya play fo da Niners?”
Outside, under the elevated freeway that serves as the roof to our building’s front entrance, I stop to light a cigarette.
“Have a nice day,” coos Bridget as she teeters off on high heels, navigating the usual detritus of broken bottles, human waste, and spent syringes that’s always present here on the sidewalks of the yet to be gentrified SoMa district. And I’m standing there thinking how does it come down to whoever Bridget was before she decided to become Bridget making that decision and then living with it? My life is pretty simple right now. All I got to do is stay clean, steer clear of the law, and avoid those deep holes of depression that pop up every now and then. Not like I’m in the wrong body. Or even wondering who I am. Unfortunately, I know who I am. That’s why I’m here. So, I guess I’ve answered my question, because that’s why Bridget’s here too.
I suck in smoke, like my life depends on it. Mixed in with the fine black soot that’s raining down from the freeway and I’m probably looking at emphysema and a host of other terminal pulmonary disorders that will result in my having lived here for years.
“Everybody’s gotta die sometime,” I mumble to myself.
Two days later I’m in the laundry room, switching my clothes from the washer to the dryer, and in walks Bridget with a portable hamper in her arms. Only she’s not dressed as Bridget. No makeup, no wig, no dress, no heels. Just sweats, hoodie, pair of converse, and a flattop haircut.
“Hi Mr. Pineapplehead,” she gushes. But the effect is a little bit unnerving. It’s like as if my soccer coach from eight grade was imitating Marilyn Monroe, and very badly.
“Ya know Bridget, you ain’t gotta do all that with me.”
“Nah, we’re cool just the way it is. Ok?”
“Sure,” and the she’s loading her clothes into the machine I just vacated.
“Thanks,” she whispers.
“No problem,” I say.
It’s a hot afternoon. I’m on the roof in the shade of the utility tower watching the cars come off the Bay Bridge. Up here I’m almost even with the elevated highway, and there’s this melodic rhythm of rolling rubber across concrete that’s deafening, but at the same time hypnotic. When I first came to look at the apartment in this building the county was offering me I said to the lady that showed it that I wasn’t sure I could get used to the constant noise of traffic.
“After awhile,” she said. “Starts to sound like waves in the ocean.”
“Waves honking horns maybe,” I said.
Although now, unless I’m up here, I really don’t notice, and being somewhat mesmerized, I didn’t so much as see or hear Bridget walk up as felt her presence behind me.
“Gotta extra smoke?” she asks.
“Of course, here.”
I pass her the pack of Camels and the lighter. She sits down, lights up, and hands them back.
“Ever feel like bein’ someone else?”
I have to think about it for a second, I mean sure there’s vague desire to be like a rock star I’m sure most everyone’s gone through. Always wanted to be thinner, have a better body, or look real good. But to truly want to be someone other than me?
“Don’t think so,” I say.
“Ya know, I wasn’t always Bridget.”
And instead of making a snide remark, or some of my usual smartassness, I continue smoking as she talks. Telling me all about Darlene leaving, thirty-seven years driving trucks, and why she prefers to dress in women’s clothes. Feels like some sort of confessional, only I ain’t no goddamn priest.
“Don’t like change,” she mumbles.
“Nobody does,” I say, and then there’s just the sound of traffic as we sit there in the shade.
When the sun hits the top of Twin Peaks, and light changes to a softer hue, I notice Bridget is gone. I light another cigarette and wonder why she’d told me her life story and then quietly left without even saying goodbye.
The ambulance is outside, along with the fire trucks and police. They’ve all got their lights flashing. I make my way through, and get accosted at the front door by a cop.
“Checkin’ everybody’s ID,” he says.
“You live in this building?”
“Yeah. Do you?”
“Smart guy, huh?”
“Just tryin’ to get home.”
“What floor you on?”
“Have ta use the stairs, taking the body down now.”
“Nother suicide. This building, y’all should be used to it.”
The elevator door opens. Two EMS workers push the gurney out. There’s a black body bag on it, whoever’s dead was large. The cop puts his arm out, moves me out of the way.
“Make room,” he shouts. But it’s only me and him and the paramedics.
“Who killed themselves?” I ask.
“Ugliest tranny I’ve ever seen,” says the paramedic as he shoves the rolling gurney through the door out onto the sidewalk. “And believe me, I seen a lot.”
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Originally published by The Weeklings April 26th, 2014