Category Archives: the 90’s

the burning clock of time.

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I was just sitting on the couch crying at long island medium on netflix, of all things. crying for the simple reason that in every episode, the running theme in what the dead are trying to communicate to their living loved ones is: don’t feel guilty. don’t feel like you could have done more. you did all you could. our beloved dead, they just want us to be happy. I could have used that message a long time ago, but here it is, now. I suppose I will need it again, soon enough.

last week I saw n. for the first time in a decade, really. she’s one of my good friends from high school. we’d lost touch because she was in a supreme downward spiral. she pushed everyone away & then disappeared. I had no idea what happened to her, and her birth name is a very common one, so she’s hard to track on the internet. but then last spring we ran into each other on the street in Oakland. she lives in santa cruz, not far from here, and last weekend I was down there & I gave her a call. she picked me up & we drove to the beach, trying to encapsulate the past decade when there was so much to say.

I said, “I thought you were dead.” she says, “I really did almost die,” and then told me how she came to live. she is healthier than i’d ever seen her. we saw people swimming in the ocean and we decided to go. to the nude beach, because we didn’t have bathing suits. the pacific ocean, in October. I haven’t been in this body of water yet, it’s too cold up where I live. it was kind of too cold then, but the water helped us focus. I put my head under and let out an involuntary yelp and she laughed so hard. it was sunny and here we are, this girl I love so much, who I honestly thought was gone forever, I mean even when I saw her she acted like a ghost, it was impossible to talk, she wasn’t even there. and now she is here, and I am here, and we were there, and I got salt on my face like I was craving, and we were so cold but we didn’t mind, every nerve in our skin firing, the discomfort reminding us that we are still alive.

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farewell, bikey. 1998-2013.

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here is a shitty picture of me and a good picture of you, at the beginning of our biggest adventure yet–crossing state lines, living in the woods, really going somewhere. but that was in 2010. let’s start at the beginning.

my dad got you for me when i was sixteen, which was sweet of him, but i didn’t ride bikes then because i smoked too much and worked too much. my town had too many hills. i could walk to work. i could make it back up the hill on foot but not on bike. so i let you languish in the garage for two years. when i was 18 i had a change of heart. realized that one could bike everywhere. that shitty winter, you showed me the magic and fun that could be had on long island. we biked through the drive-thru and all the mcdonald’s employees laughed. i took you on the LIRR, every day, three stops, to a town seven miles away. the conductor always talked to me because of you, and didn’t take my ticket.

i got kicked out. left my family behind and moved to memphis. for the first time in my life i lived in a city. i got pretty much everywhere i needed to go with you. i’ve never known how to drive, always been dependent on other people or public transit. but with you i slogged through the humid heat, in the bike-hating south. my co-workers called you my cadillac, and i smiled and said you were better than one.

i fled back north, to philly. your tire blew out the same time the towers were getting hit a hundred miles north. i pushed you home in a crowd of weeping, panicking philadelphians. i’d spent my last dollar that day. waiting for a sketchy check to get cashed. i tried so hard to repair that hole with no money. patches, duct tape, friends’ old tubes. it just would not work. i got my money and spent $15 getting someone else to fix your flat & felt so stupid. eventually i learned how to change tubes, patch flats.

you were my favorite for so long. so many good times, too many to list here. sharon and i ran a red light to beat that snarling motorcycle and laughed in his face. amanda and i decided we were going to be social. we went to a party despite the snow but the most fun part of the evening was biking by the river singing “parentheses” by the blow. or when we rode around the whole city with aaryn and branden. i know these memories are mostly good because of the people in them, but you were there too.

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you were crappy, ornery, after tens of thousands of miles, too many lousy fixes by people who didn’t quite know what they were doing (mostly me). when i brought you into the fancy bike shop to get tuned up before our big journey, the mechanic called me at work to yell, “i can’t fix this thing. you shouldn’t be riding this. i can’t believe you haven’t gotten killed yet! you’ll never make it to DC, never.” i got my ex to pick it up for me and drop it off at a more low-end shop. got a new chain, and made it all the way to DC with only one flat tire. all the long, slow, heavy miles. we learned something then, but i’m not entirely sure what. about strength, endurance, something, maybe. i don’t know.

the years wore on. many people tried to convince me to give up on you. but i wouldn’t. then i moved to the bay area and everything went to hell with you. brakes, pedals, spokes, seat. 9 flat tires in 6 months. i bought a new back wheel because your spokes wouldn’t stop breaking. as i handed the bike guy my credit card i thought, “this thing’s gonna get stolen.” and i was right. 3 months later, it did. right out of my own backyard.

i’d promised myself, after the wheel, that i was done putting money into this shitty bike. with the amount i’d spent since moving i could’ve bought a new, infinitely nicer bike. i would borrow my housemates’ bikes when you weren’t functioning & i’d get jealous. i’d fantasize about getting a new bike, one that wasn’t so old, so heavy; one that would let me fly. remember how we used to fly?

i guess it makes sense. you were so much a part of my youth and i guess i just don’t feel young anymore. like wild dance parties will never again be a part of my regular life. like biking down the street isn’t an adventure anymore, now it’s just what i do. now it’s just how i live. now you’re in the basement and i won’t ride you again. the last time i rode you was fun, sleep-deprived, heading home from a good show. i guess you (usually) never know when something’s gonna be the end. whitney houston and jawbreaker shuffling on my headphones. i don’t remember too much about this particular ride, just that we were happy.

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last night i had a moment. dancing hysterically with steph & danny at lez liquor hour of all freakin’ places. drunk and silly and it felt like a junior high dance in the best way. it’s been so long since i have danced in public. steph said, “we can dance any way we want, because we don’t know anyone here and we don’t care what they think!” and in pittsburgh, it’s rare to be somewhere and not know anyone. but she was right! so i danced, & i thought, why do i always have the best times during the worst times? not that i was gonna question it or try to make it go away. i was just wondering.

later, we were at the bar, going to town on a vegetable-and-cheese platter that someone had left behind. at one point, i put a piece of broccoli in my mouth, and i was transported back to this place: winter 2004. sitting in a cold punk house (that has now been divided into yuppie apartments) with sharon & axi, on a torn-up couch. the only lights are christmas lights wrapped around the TV, which we don’t really use. i am secretly overly happy about this, that we are those kinds of people who use the TV as a shelf. anyway, we all had a really great conversation that lasted for hours. the only line i can remember is the one that i wrote down: “if i have to be a raver, i TOTALLY want a broccoli floret as my pacifier!” i forget who said it, me or axi.

so here i am, 2011, the stem in my mouth, the leafy part out, remembering that moment, that long-ago moment with two wonderful ladies who i never see anymore. looking at my reflection in my mirror across the bar, my eyes so huge without glasses. smushing my face up, trying to pretend that i’m a cheeky 90’s raver sucking on my pacifier just to be weird or whatever.  i thought i want a picture of this, and then caldwell came barrelling in the door with their camera slung around their neck like always. so they took a picture of me and all i could think was, oh, 2011. oh, how did i ever wind up here?

drinks & fun & apocalypse.

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so, you know how most of the time, getting drunk won’t solve anything? last night was one of those rare nights when it kind of did! i was feeling really stressed out and awful, like a tense little toad (as we say around my house) but it was my friend’s birthday and she was hanging out at the local gay bar, so i went and it was super fun, lots of peeps were buying me drinks too due to MY recent birthday, and drunkness & loudness ensued.

so fun, & kind of just what i needed. danny & i went to the diner late at night & we were giggly driving talking so fast and so loud, and i said, “i feel ALIVE again!” he said, “yeah me too,” and it was a sweet moment.

i went to bed at 1:45 and woke up at 5 to the tweeting of the birds. even though it was a mostly successful night socially, i laid awake obsessively replaying my one  faux pas of the eve. whenever i remember something stupid that i’ve said or done, i often say, “fuck!” or “blah!” to myself. i kept doing that as i replayed the moment in my head. i thought i was being quiet but then ray said, in a very exasperated tone of voice, “baby, your blah-ing is keeping me awake!” and we had a giggle.

this afternoon i was eating lunch at a certain corporate-yet-delicious burrito chain, sitting at a window facing the street, when i saw five vans with this exact message:

hmm! apparently someone has used a very confusing math equation with the bible & gotten that exact date. normally i’m one for getting at least a little scared about apocalypse hysteria, but this is just too silly. here’s an article about these people who are, uh, spreading the word…

in other fundamentalist news, i have found one of my favorite magazine articles of all time! from spin magazine, spring 1996, where elizabeth gilbert (an unknown hack at the time, now the powerhouse behind “eat pray love”) goes undercover at exodus (kind of a boot camp for ex-gays.) it’s hilarious and heartbreaking and reading it at age 14 probably shaped my queer consciousness at least a little bit.

and i was locked/into being my mother’s daughter. i was just eating bread & water, thinking, “nothing ever changes.”

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i wasn’t really paying much attention a few months ago when the blogosphere was blabbing about the “it gets better” project. in case you didn’t know, it’s a project started by sex columnist dan savage where QUILTBAG (queer, intersex, lesbian, trans, bi, ally/asexual, gay. my friend alicia made this up, i cannot take credit, but isn’t that amazing?!?) adults write stories and make videos for QUILTBAG teens telling them that life doesn’t always suck as badly as it does in high school, basically a plea not to kill themselves.

a lot of peeps i know critiqued the project, mainly because life is hard and, you know, it’s always gonna be hard, and selling teens a sparkly gay future isn’t always the best idea, the most responsible idea.

i agree, sort of. i was thinking about it today, mostly because my job bears a stunning resemblance to high school (i get in trouble for thinking for myself, the stupidest/meanest people are the most popular [and the loudest!], i get summer vacation!, and people make fun of my outfits on a semi-regular basis [mostly clients on the elevator or in the hallway. no co-workers have made fun of me to my face, yet]) and i was wondering if anything has really changed in the 10.5 years since high school ended, in the 10 years since i left my parents’ house.

but then i thought, of course it has. and even though this past decade has been um, challenging, it’s still way better than being an angsty suicidal high schooler. even though i am still struggling, every day, to keep the fuckin’ faith in a hostile environment; to not hate myself even though i am surrounded by forces that say i should; to keep living and fighting even when it seems so pointless. even though these are the exact same struggles that i thought maybe would be over when i left high school and my family’s house. not that i thought everything would be perfect; i thought i’d have new problems, different problems. and i do, and i have; but the old ones keep on cycling back every few years.

but even though, even though, even though i’m still in this swamp, there are some ways that it’s easier. like, i now have indisputable evidence that there is life out there worth living, instead of just a vague notion, a silly hope. like, i have a home that is actually a sanctuary now, somewhere i feel safe and loved, somewhere that is not just an extra nightmare at the end of a long hard day. no violence, very little judgment, none of those awful things that just seemed so normal for so long. and i don’t ever want to take that for granted. and i don’t want to de-emphasize the effect that has had on me, on my well-being and general happiness levels, to finally have a safe space. it has changed my life so, so profoundly.

another good thing is that i now get paid $15/hour to be surrounded by negativity, and in high school i did that shit for free! never again, my friends.

of course, it took a long time to get to a space marked “okay,” many years of psychotic housemates, low-wage soul-deadening jobs, crappy relationships, teetering piles of self-doubt. and even those years, i think, were better than those achingly empty afternoons on long island.

and even those years, those long long years, i still had fun & they still taught me something, i still had a weird hope, no matter how many cigarettes i smoked. no matter how many times i listened to “out of range”by ani difranco (the song, not the album) on repeat. no matter how many times that weird thing she did with her voice on the chorus pierced straight through my ribcage, when i knew she knew, this stranger singing my life. i knew she’d been there too. and maybe i would get stuck too, or maybe i could make it out; maybe i could make it to the other side.

oh, the things one thinks about when one is bored.

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remember school? remember the hours of sitting, pointlessly, how it wore on you, how it brought strange things to the top of your head? work gets boring, yes, but it’s different than school, because there’s usually some work, or gossip, or drama to distract you from your own boredom.
i’m in training for my new job, all week, and it’s kind of like school. sitting numbly in a windowless room, watching power point presentations and trying to sift through an endless stream of rules, policies and forms, often making little to no sense, or contradicting each other. such is the life of a government worker, i know. and every so often my brain can’t take it any more, and i check out.
i’ve been reading the most excellent and highly recommended (by me, and probably a lot of other people too) book a visit from the goon squad by jennifer egan. it’s the kind of book that gets you into other peoples’ heads, makes you know them, understand them, sympathize with them even when they’re awful people. so this has made me more aware of my own thoughts, made me remember things more in-depth and meaningfully.
one memory that i’ve been dwelling on is so mundane. i don’t know why i’m even thinking about it. it’s just a food not bombs cooking from seven years ago. my friend walt0r and i sat on the couch of my girlfriend-at-the-time’s punk house and made sandwiches for serving from a garbage bag full of almost-stale bagels. slice bagel, smear with veganaise, lettuce, tomato, wrap in saran wrap. nothing interesting or poignant happened. we made sandwiches until we ran out of veganaise. i remember nothing else of that day, but i’ve been reliving that strange, pointless memory over and over again at work. why? i have no clue. when my brain tires of that it moves to another strange lettuce-and-tomato related memory–this thing, which i don’t remember ever owning as a kid but i must have played with it at someone’s house, and i’m thinking about how you could put a tiny blob of play-doh under the lever and press it down and a tiny, perfectly-indented tomato would come out. it was so cool, and as i sit there pretending to pay attention my brain does it again, and again, and again.

cause i’m a sucker for yr lucky pretty eyes

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yesterday i was packing & i found a tube of bubbles that i trash-picked from bryn mawr (fancy all girls’ college in the philly burbs) three years ago, on one of the funnest trash-picking episodes of my whole life. i’ve never used them. i thought, “god damnit, how many times have i packed and unpacked these fucking things? i am going to use them today!”

amanda & i had a platonic date after she got off work, so i put them in my backpack & headed towards oakland. we sat in front of the library and talked. i blew bubbles & she read me this amazing letter she wrote to our friend emily on a diner napkin. the sun was sinking, references to the great early 90’s song “whoomp! there it is” were made, and we had one of those long conversations where everything is understood. it was nice.

i’m at work (duh) and the other day, one of the radio DJ’s on this very bland station my boss forces me to listen to said, “did you know that sitting at your desk and constantly refreshing your email triggers the same part of your brain that is triggered in rodents performing the same task, over and over again, to get a food pellet?” it was a sobering realization. and nobody’s in the office yet, so i could theoretically do whatever the hell i want, plus i haven’t gotten any emails in days anyway. plus i spend a lot of time at home sitting in front of a computer, bangin out the novel, so, like, why would i want to do it some more here? but oh, here in the office we have the internet, where i can stalk stupid people who went to my skool, read blogs of marginally famous lesbians, and generally waste my youth and tendons. hoorah!

least favorite memory #1

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so lately i’ve been doing a lot of reading about ACT-UP & the AIDS crisis in new york city in the 80’s/early 90’s. i was around new york in that time, but i was a child being raised in a white middle class heterosexual nuclear family in the burbs, so i was mostly sheltered from that whole brou-ha-ha.

but there was this one time. i was 12 or 13, i think, although i could have been a little younger or a little older. i think i was at that angsty teen stage, which started for me at 10. i was just beginning to realize how fucked the world is, doing a little reading, hanging out with rough ladies who’d already been through a lot. but this was the day i realized, 100%, just how fucked everything really was (and is).

we had some cousins visiting from out of town, the ones from san diego i think, and so we went to the city to do tourist-y stuff. we went to the FAO schwartz store, which, if you didn’t know, is this very opulent toy store in a wealthy part of town. lots of songs, lots of things with faces. normally something i would have enjoyed, even though i was a disgruntled teen.

but outside, on the sidewalk, there was this dude. he was sitting on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign saying that he had AIDS and needed something like 50 bucks to get to florida to see his family again before he died. he was about the age i am now, white, slightly artsy, probably gay although i wasn’t looking for that yet. he was sitting on the sidewalk but leaning forward on his hands. he was crying hysterically, so hard that he was turning red, saliva dripping from his mouth in long ropes. he was screaming, in this truly desperate scream that i’ve rarely heard: “NONE OF YOU PEOPLE GIVE A SHIT! I AM DYING, AND NONE OF YOU PEOPLE GIVE A SHIT! NONE OF YOU HAVE ANY HEARTS! I’M DYING AND YOU JUST WALK ON BY!!” i stood, transfixed, utterly horrified. i think i might have cried a little too, although very subtly (years of being abused left me a very subtle crier, because i didn’t want my abusers to have the satisfaction of seeing me cry). i was just shocked at this raw humanity in front of me, at how bad life could get. my parents noticed, and hustled me away.

my mom said, “just ignore him.”

my dad said, “these people, they just want ya money! he’s not going to florida, he just wants drugs.”

and so we went into fao schwartz, where a gigantic three-story clock sang a cheerful song, where families of all types flocked around gaily, where employees with high pitched voices wished us a nice day, where cute toys smiled at us from every shelf, where everyone was brightly lit and every color of the rainbow jumped out at us. people danced on the giant piano keys and played with acres of legos. and all i could think, the whole time, was, “every single person in here saw that man. every single one. and nobody cares. he’s right, we all have no heart. he’s right.” and every little bit of artificial happiness inside the store made it even worse. to this day, i can’t go into or walk by any FAO schwartz without my skin crawling (ironically, i still love cute things, perhaps to a nauseating degree).

i cried the whole time we were there. again, very subtly, so it just looked like i was being sullen and wiping my face a lot. maybe i found a bathroom and broke down, or maybe i just held it in the whole time, i don’t really remember. all the other kidz in our party frolicked and had fun. i was silent, arms crossed. that guy wasn’t there when we left, but i felt much better once we were back on the cold, gritty streets of manhattan. at least we weren’t being completely utterly lied to. my mom asked me, “everyone had so much fun, except for you. why do you always have to ruin everything?”

no, i don’t want no scrubs.

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last night i sang “no scrubs” at blue moon karaoke with amanda & amy, and it was really gratifying (even if TLC do repeat themselves over and over again). i love that song. i remember one summer when it was popular, me and eric and kastoory were driving around listening to the radio, and that song was on, and we were by this basketball court where all these hot-but-losery townies played ball, and kastoory randomly leaned out the window (of her best friend’s ride) and hollered “GO TO COLLEGE! DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIVES!” just as TLC was warning of the scrubs doing just that. well, probably not yelling “go to college,” but you know. it was a truly great moment of synchronicity, and i felt very happy to be living my life and hanging out with my friends.

everything is kind of in this weird space with me. i found my dream house, like utter dream house, but i’m not sure if i’m going to pass the credit check because i have a bunch of unpaid medical bills from my most recent health scare. but i’m not sure if medical bills infect your credit rating. i feel like i read somewhere that they do not. maybe they do. other than that i’ve been mailing out lots of zines, being anxious and scared about everything, watching good 90’s tv shows (does anyone remember “popular”?) making kale smoothies and the best burritos i’ve ever had (hope in burrito form! and you don’t even have to stand over a hot stove!), etc.

my goals for the summer are 1) stop being embarrassing 2) get rid of my backne, which could conceivably fall under goal #1. i am making good progress on the backne. i don’t know about being embarrassing. i feel really bad and embarrassed pretty much every time i open my mouth, but i keep trying anyway. it doesn’t help that while i was walking to the giant eagle yesterday, a middle-aged woman looked at me and very loudly said, “oooooooooooooookay,” which was kind of funny, but also kind of mean.

my current favorite thing is this slab of plywood on eden way (between 44th & 45th. look for it if you’re in the hood). when i moved in, there was this beautiful drawing on a piece of cloth glued to it. then, a few months later, someone wheatpasted what appeared to be a woodcut print beneath it. then, a few days ago, someone put what looked like a print-out of a graphic design. then, a line drawing of birds. then, a few days later, a tag. it is so spontaneous and beautiful. amanda suggested i put up a poem; i’m thinking of it. pictures to follow, once branden gets his ass back to pittsburgh and helps me pick out a quality digital camera!

you gotta keep on, keep on livin’

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a lot of funny things have been happening. the unfunny ones are what is plaguing me, but perhaps the funny ones would make a more interesting blog entry. like: we have two clients at the law firm who are twin brothers. they are both very socially awkward & troubled–my unscientific diagnosis is asbergers’ syndrome in the quiet, well-groomed one and unmedicated manic-depression in the wild-haired one. this is just a guess. they are both very sweet, even if they do call me at work 5 times a day asking questions like, “my phone has been shut off. what do i do?”

anyway, they are selling their dead father’s house, which is why they are in here. yesterday they were hanging out in the waiting room, right next to my desk, waiting for my lawyer to see them. their perky, normal-person real-estate agent was there. i overheard the following conversation:

perky, normal real-estate agent: so, did you get rid of those…problems in your house? [the wild-haired twin has been having roommate issues, to put it lightly.]

wild-haired twin: huh? [pause, then his eyes grow wide, crazy, and bright] oh, you mean the demons and the concubine? i kicked ’em out!

the demons and the concubine. what precise nicknames. i heart my job.

i also heart a lot of our other clients: the 80-year-old black lady with a foot-high blonde bouffant; the lady who tells the funniest fucking stories about playing pranks on a woman who wore spandex pants with her adult diaper; and more. i could go on and on, but i shan’t.

things are kind of lousy with me, honestly. i am dealing with something that could either be life-ruining or totally benign & i won’t know for a while. the list of evidence in the “life-ruining” column is escalating & the list of evidence in the “not a big deal” column is dwindling. i don’t know how to talk about it, mainly because i am highly superstitious & don’t want to jinx anything. also because it is too scary, because opening my mouth makes my throat close up. mostly i feel like i can deal with anything, but sometimes i don’t think i can deal with this. i asked some girl to come home with me largely because i want someone’s arms around me because i am tired of dealing with this alone. did you know that in acupressure, the trigger points for letting go of grief and deep sadness is at the front of your chest, exactly where someone else’s chest presses against yours when you hug them? i learned this while researching a paper years ago, and i’ve never forgotten it. anyway, that girl didn’t come home with me but i had a good phone convo with one of my best friends, who’s been through this sort of thing before, and in a way that was a lot better.

in brighter news, i have become a karaoke fiend and gotten far more recognition for it than i had ever expected. i remember i lost my stage fright around this time last year at the queer studies department end-of-the-year party, reading poems & finishing up with an amazing piece by david wojnarowicz and i had everyone, i mean they were really truly with me, and they all cheered, and it felt so good. an ex-zine pal once said, “being up at the mic is better than fucking, better than being fucked.” and it’s true.

i don’t have any poetry outlets in the burgh so i just sing songs from the 90’s that i remember hearing on the radio back when the radio mattered. i didn’t think it would mean as much, or be as satisfying, but it’s pretty close. close enough. cindy from doris wrote this amazing piece in “doris” #24 about how she never felt okay until she sang in a band because her scream was powerful & she never knew she had it in her. i scream a lot anyway, but i can totally relate.