Friday, November 28, 2008

undressed for the holidays

First, let me introduce the newest product in the collection of the Museum of Temporary Gratifications: Pumpkin & Goat's Milk Face Mask. Pumpkin is full of wrinkle and blemish fighting and collagen-boosting ingredients like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and zinc. Goat's milk plumps and hydrates. I use this one during break-outs and when I start fussing about the lines by my eyes. It leaves my face firm and smooth and dewy. Be warned however, that the Vitamin A (sold as retinol in many face products) is powerful, and this mask is best used just once or twice a week.

Second, I am pleased to announce the Museum's holiday sales bargain: totally free shipping on orders over $50! Load up for the new year on ridiculously well-made brownie mixes and lovingly crafted beauty products. Please order by December 15th to ensure delivery by Christmas.

Third, Jane of Lost in the Hostile City was kind enough to honor me with the Superior Scribbler Award, which I get to pass on to five other people. I love giving awards, so here goes.

The rules for this particular award:

1. Post the award on your blog.
2. Link me for giving it to you.
3. Link the originating post here.
4. Pass the award on to five more deserving people.
5. Post these rules for your recipients.

There are so many awesome blogs I've been reading lately. Fortunately Miss Jane already tagged Lux and Casey, but here goes:

1. Davka: Deer Girl Medicine I love this blog so much, I feel like I must have highlighted it before, but apparently not. She's amazing folks. Amazing voice, amazing stories.

2. I'm completely hooked on Letters from Johns, a blog where men (or, I suppose, women) post about their experiences as sexual consumers. Fascinating, eye-opening reading. Thanks to Susannah Breslin of Reverse Cowgirl for creating this site. I'd give Reverse Cowgirl it's own award, but Susannah Breslin is a rockstar and doesn't need my help.

3. Karmic Delusion, the blog about "Strippers, Prostitutes, Porn, and Buddhism." Finally.

4. Lauri Shaw of Servicing the Pole is posting an entire novel set in and around and among strippers and strip clubs and stripping, chapter by chapter. Good stuff. Check it out.

5. Panther in Pumps. Disturbing at times, but fierce and true.

Monday, November 10, 2008


"This makes no sense to me," Scarlett says. She shoves the textbook across the table at me. "I mean, I'm reading it, but I'm not reading it."

I scan the paragraph she's pointing at. I can't say it makes a lot of sense to me either. It's written in this horrible textbook-ese, all these dry words not quite adding up to information about colonial assemblies in pre-revolutionary America. "I think it's just saying that -- fuck, I have no idea what it's saying."

Scarlett slumps down and rests her forehead on the table for a second. It's not really that bad, though. Actually, she's been happier lately than I've seen her in a long time. On Saturday, she moved into her new house. She borrowed truck from our friend Jessie's husband, and I went over to the place she'd been staying to help her get the heavy stuff. We moved the dresser and then the mattress, but the bed frame wouldn't go. It was too big. So we picked it up -- it was light -- and carried it. The new house is only blocks away, which is good, because I like having Scarlett in the neighborhood.

A few months ago she got hooked up with a doozy of a job, managing a small commercial kitchen, which is work she knows and is good at. Her bosses are already talking about a promotion and a raise. And now this history class at community college. If she proves to them that she's dyslexic she can take her classes self-paced, and maybe this time she can finish, but she has to get a certification of disability from a doctor on a list of doctors they gave her, and that could cost a few hundred dollars. There are other expenses, too -- unpaid traffic tickets, old warrants, defaulted credit cards. When you've been poor a long time your poverty starts to have this life of it's own, starts to grow and feed on itself. Getting out is not all at once. Getting out is tough.

Me, I need money too, like I always do. The project, the project, the project. In relative terms, it is almost done, which means it won't be done for months, and we'll get a little money by the end of the year, but not nearly enough. I don't really worry. The project has had it's own weird will to live this whole time, and one way or another it will get finished. But this month I had to dip into my own money to pay the project's bills. Just a couple of hundred dollars, but it scared me.

We've started talking about dancing again. So far, just talk. Niether of us is crazy about the idea, but we are both of us getting to the point where it no longer seems optional, if it ever was really optional. So, we talk. We compare notes. We've heard from this old friend or that one that this club is bad, and that club is bad also. We heard the good manager everyone liked at Sugar's is dead and we hear there is no money anywhere. But they always say that and the only way to find out is just to go. I tell Scarlett pick a day and we'll go together, and if there's no money, there's no money. We'll be the Cool Girls Club and hang out in the locker-room all day long.

Scarlett sighs. "I'd like to be feeling better when I go back," she says. "I want to go in feeling a little sassy, not all sad and used-up." Early in the fall some pretty boy blew through town and broke Scarlett's heart. Dancing with a broken heart is no fun. I'm not entirely sad to see it, though, because I remember a time when Scarlett wouldn't have unbent her heart to break.

I say maybe she'll find her sass again when she hits the stage. Maybe she'll find it because she has to. "Maybe," she says. She looks down, starts drawing her finger through a little pool of spilled coffee, making x's and swirls. "Do you ever feel're done with dancing, but dancing isn't done with you? Do you know what I mean?"

I nod. Because yes, I know what she means.

"I think maybe," she says, picking her words out one by one, "Maybe, you have certain experiences when you're younger, so that, you know, you end up knowing things most people, maybe, wouldn't even want to know. But since you already do know, you think, I should learn from this. I should just go forward, because I can't go back. I can't not know."

I touch the back of her hand. My fingers are a telegraph. They say: Go on.

"I know I've put myself in a lot of bad places," she says. "I've done things that some of my friends don't even know why you would want to do. But, I..."

Yes. Go on. Yes.

"And then yesterday I started crying while I was in the kitchen, cutting up vegetables. I was just thinking, you know, I'm not ever going to have that. What they have, you know? That...I guess I mean innocence. I'm never going to be innocent."

I reach up and touch her soft cheek. She is crying just a little bit. I love my friend so much. She is one of the easiest people to love that I've ever known. I think it's because she loves you back so whole-heartedly, and because she understands how important it is to love your friends and to be loved.

Scarlett and I were waitresses together at the same little diner by the highway when I was nineteen and she was twenty-five. She was the new girl, and I trained her. One day she asked me what I was doing after work. It was fall, just turning cold. I said I was going home to bake a pie and warm the kitchen up. She said she'd come over.

We sat out on my big front porch with our coats on rolling cigarettes out of her pouch of Drum tobacco and she told me a lot about herself right away, like she knew it was a strange story and she wanted to get it all out of the way at once. I put that story away and some of it we've never talked about since, or only obliquely, like we're talking now. I don't know everything, but I know enough to admire the strength and will that hurled that small body forward through the maze of grim statistics that was her early life, enough to understand why anger was her only friend for so long.

When Scarlett and I were first friends, I was not talking to my family much at all. I must have told her this. I think I said something like, I don't know why I should feel disappointed; it's not like I've ever had any family other than the one I have, so I don't know where I got the idea that it was supposed to be something different; maybe from TV. And Scarlett said, "You don't always get all the love you need from the people that raise you. But if you're lucky other people can love you, later."

Scarlett and I have been mothering, sistering, brothering, cousining each other for most of a decade now. My wayward daughter. My wisest aunt. I love my friend so much.

On Saturday we carried the bedframe over to her new place down quiet streets through lemon sunlight and a rain of yellow leaves. Her new room is big and bright, with lots of windows. She bitches about the state of the bathroom and the color of the paint, but I think she's happy. She takes me outside to show me the garden which comes with the apartment.

The garden is beautiful -- a crumbling red brick wall and a little greenhouse with only a few panes broken. The remains of some flower beds, vanishing under weeds and drifts of leaves, but easily salvaged. In the far corner, a hot tub that just needs some of the copper replaced, and a trench dug to lay in the electrical lines. The sketchy outlines of what could be paradise. She stands there looking a little scared and a little lost. And innocent. As innocent as I've ever seen anyone look.

"It could really be nice out here if somebody took some trouble with it," she says, half-heartedly. Half a heart is better than no heart. "It could really be something. It could really bloom."

Sunday, November 09, 2008

the anniversary

November 9th is an anniversary of sorts for me. It's the day in 1997 when my friend Sara died of a blast to the head from her meth-head half-brother's shotgun, one night while she was napping on the couch in front of the TV. He killed himself right afterwards. Sometimes I think about their mother, how she must've woken up to the noise, gone into the living room and found she had no children.

I met Sara on the first day of high school. She moved to town from some other small town a few counties over. I remember the first time I saw her. It was early, early morning, before the first class started, before the building even opened. The sky was pearly and a girl I'd never seen before walked up to me with long hair blowing around her like Botticelli's Venus. She asked me how to get to the choir room. I didn't know, but I was in choir, too. We found the room together. Together, we learned to make pear notes. We loved each other right away and easily, like you can do at that age.

Sara dressed like everyday was Halloween, an excuse to decorate herself -- long black dresses, tattered cheerleader skirts, horns, gloves, veils. This was new to me. My only aim for my appearance had ever been to be invisible. I let her take me to the Salvation Army and dress me up like a young Jim Morrison, in silk shirts, velvet jackets, boots. Dykes, they would hiss sometimes when we walked down the hall together. Sara hugged my arm. "Don't worry," she whispered. "They don't even know what they're talking about."

We would lie in bed some afternoons and I would pull her long hair over me, a sheet of copper silk, like my mother's hair before chemo. Sometimes she would ask me to dress her, turn her back and let me do up the buttons. I would pull the fabric tight around her tiny waist, her small, perfect breasts, easing each button into its hole, watching the white curve of her spine disappear beneath her clothes.

We took turns planning the perfect suicide. I chose getting drunk in a snowstorm, passing out and freezing to death. That's stupid, Sara said. Everyone will think it's an accident. She said she would rig up a camera so that the noose, as it dropped, would trip the shutter. Everyone would see her face at the moment of decision.

We planned our funerals, too. I wanted an epic funeral procession, driving all night, through rain if possible, and throwing my body off a pier at dawn. Sara wanted crowds of people in elaborate costumes, Ozzy Osborne, drugs. But when it came it was nothing like that.

I was not at home when she died. I was at school in another city. My mother drove the two hours to see me, to tell me what had happened in person. She didn't know how to tell me on the phone. At first I didn't believe her. "You're lying", I said. "I'm not going back with you. Get out of here. Go away."

She said, "Baby, why would I come all this way to lie to you?" She held out her arms to me and I felt myself smash, like a glass dropped on the floor.

The last time I saw her was in the city park. I kissed her goodbye. One the drive back to school, the sky was purple with clouds. I stared at them and saw her lips, her hair, her lips. Two weeks later she was dead.

I went home for the funeral, which was cheap and stupid in every detail. A church that was four trailer homes in the shape of a cross. A preacher who remembered her only vaguely, as a little girl. Carnations, the flower for ugly prom dates. Gladioluses in horrible hunter's orange and a tape recording of organ music.

Afterwards Miss Bobbie stopped me, the lady who owned the antique store where Sara and I would go and try on hats after school. In a shocked whisper she told me she'd heard that they -- whoever they were, whoever it is who tidies up after a murder-suicide -- found jewelry with pentagrams Sara's bedroom, a copy of The Satanic Bible. I remembered her reading it out loud to me: "Man has always created his gods," in her steady, husky voice, "rather than his gods creating him." Miss Bobbie said she knew I was a good girl and she had known my grandmother and to remember that God sees everything and there will always be a judgement. "You don't know what you're talking about," I said. "I'm sorry, but you have no idea."

After the funeral, I went to my parents house for lunch. The first bites of food fell into my stomach like lumps of clay, and it felt like they would sit there forever, because my insides were not moving at all. Inside me everything was still as stone. I did not feel like flesh and blood anymore. I got up and went outside and my father yelled after me "You're excused." My mother followed me, asked me if I wanted a coat. I said no. I wanted to be cold. I walked out a long way into the middle of the pasture, the sea of bone-colored winter wheat. She didn't want to die. It was all just talk. She was more alive, more bright, more warm, than anyone in the world.

I knew her so well, or felt I did. I knew what she would say before she said, what she would do before it was done. I knew her better than I knew myself and loved her when I did not love myself at all. That she loved me too was almost the first I knew that there was anything in me to love. I held myself in the cold. Don't worry, chickadee. I'll never let you go. I will keep you. I know you so well. I know what you like, what you do, what you are. I will be you. I will make a place inside of me and you will live there. Nobody will take you from me while I live.

She didn't want to die. Those fantasies were only fantasies of leaving, escaping into the real world. Escape at any price, even if it meant you had to leave things behind, like your clothes, your body, your name, who you were. Out there we would have new clothes, new bodies, new names.

After the funeral, I went back to school in the city. To my complete surprise, life went on as usual. For a while I grieved every day and all day. After a while, only parts of every day. Then only some days.

It was a fairytale, of course, that dream of keeping her forever. Like love always is. I couldn't have kept her forever even if she'd lived. Especially if she lived. It was a promise made at the very, very end of childhood. I couldn't have made that promise if I'd been any older, wouldn't have believed so fiercely in the alchemy of love and grief that I could have transmuted, by will alone, her soul into my body.

Because it is true, I know only now, years later. She is still in me. If I forget it, it is because having her in me feels so natural now. Even in the mirror, I see how our features have grown alike. I see where and how my life would have been different if I had not been living it for both of us. Everyone who's ever touched me has touched her, too.

If she had lived we might not even know each other any more. Anything could have happened. And yet here she is -- I even see her face, her white face sitting underneath my heart, blurred a little as though through ice, but there.

I am so sorry, love. I didn't mean to take you prisoner. If there ever were a way to set you free, I'd do it, even if it meant I'd never see you again. But for now it's safest here, inside me where it's safe and warm, and we can keep each other company.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

a good night for freaks

C. was at school yesterday, Tuesday classes running well into the evening, and when he called at 8 p.m. it was to say he was going over to a friend's house to watch the results come in. So I was on my own, toggling back and forth between the CNN website and nytimes, watching the east coast hover between red and blue.

When Indiana and Florida got stuck too close to call, I went out and bought a bottle of cheap red wine at the big Eastside grocery store where all the checkers speak Spanish. I voted there, early, last week. I voted there in the last two elections, too, and voting there always gives me hope because the people in the line with me are people from my neighborhood, people who look like me. I can stand in the line and think, this is going somewhere.

I bike home with my bottle of red wine. I check the computer. Indiana and Florida still deadlocked, but CNN has just called Pennsylvania for Obama, and screaming and cheering errupts from backyards all around the block. Here and there, a bottle rocket goes off, pow.

Texas has been Bush country since 1994, you remember. For fourteen years we've seen whole swathes of citizenry edged closer and closer to the margins. Children dumped from the public insurance roles. Emergency rooms over-flowing night and day with sick people who can't afford to see a doctor until they are more or less dead. Kids whose sex education classes don't teach them about birth control, and if they get knocked up the doctors show them government-mandated bloody flashcards and tell them abortion could make them infertile, could give them cancer. No money for special education, no money for mental healthcare, and the jails and prisons overflowing with the illiterate, the sick, and the desperate.

I pour myself a glass of wine, and a second. In summer of 2000, my friends and I laughed at the idea that our governor would be elected president. "People are too smart," we said, and standing in line at the grocery store with my neighbors, I really thought that. But it turned out that a lot of the country, maybe half, didn't agree with us. I remember writing in my journal after the election, "This country is going to swing the the right so hard and fast we aren't even going to recognize it in a few years." I remember saying to friends that the best thing that could happen now would be if Bush fucked things up so hard five ways from Friday that it brought about a great populist revival. And in 2004 we tried again, but it didn't happen.

Tonight something is happening. I hear the yelling go up all around me and I hit "refresh" again and again to see the map turn blue. I am not an Obama fanatic. I don't even really like to call myself a Democrat or a liberal. I just want a president who might care about me and people like me. What everybody wants. But it feels like it's been somebody else's turn for a long time now. I want it to be our turn.

More wine. CNN calls Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado, sweeping towards the coast, and then all of a sudden it's over and everybody is saying Obama is the next president, it's popping up on every screen and the yelling outside is ecstatic, more fireworks. I don't want to be alone. I don't want to be inside. I hit the last slug of wine from the bottle, go outside and get on my bike. I head downtown, toward the bar district. It's dark and cloudy and then a pack of bikers swoop past me, going the other way, yelling. I yell back and then cars start honking. People are leaning out the windows of apartment buildings, shaking the Obama/Biden signs torn out of front lawns.

Then more bikes join me and as we turn onto Sixth Street it's a little parade of us, all hollering and throwing kisses. It's a regular Tuesday night down there, more or less. Drunks talking into their fists and a few packs of lonely dressed-up girls buying pizza from the street carts. They look startled, but some of them yell back and the bars open up their doors so the music can spill out into the street. We swoop west down the street, picking up up speed and sound, till there is yelling and honking all around us and then the corner outside the five-star Driscoll Hotel is packed with people screaming, running into the street to high-five people leaning out of cars. I pull my bike over and join the crowd on the sidewalk, waving at the cars like all of us are one big parade. Yelling from the balconies and yelling from the street and yelling from the cars, new cars, beat-up junkers, taxis, delivery vans, and these are all my neighbors, these people yelling. People who look like me.

About the time the police get there to control the scene, I push off. I am screamed hoarse. I don't even know if I feel happy. I think I might feel hopeful, but I don't want to be let down. I don't want us to let ourselves down. I want this to mean something. I've been in the streets before, but always to protest, never to celebrate.

On the corner at a red-light, a black woman in a heavy flannel waves and gives me the power fist. I wave back. She walks over and I see she is missing an eye, the lid pulled down smooth and stitched to the cheek. "Right on," she says, and I agree, "Right on." She asks me if I have a dollar. I have three quarters. I give them to her.

A block or two away from Sixth Street, it is just a regular Tuesday night, bone-quiet and a little cold. I realize how hard I'm sweating, how wet my shirt is. I pass the homeless shelter, people outside coughing and sorting through their stuff. I pass the corner with the crack dealers and the crack heads and the people hanging out for no reason, and they don't even look up as I go past. I want to whoop at them and tell them everything around us is changing and thing that were never possible before are possible now, for us, for our children, forever. I want to say something, but I don't. I know it's harder than that. I want to think that something is happening, but we don't know yet if anything will happen, if the yelling in the streets tonight will go anywhere, or mean anything or if it's just more yelling because people like to yell.

I don't know. We won't know for a long time. We just have to keep trying. The hardest part is now.