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Excerpt for How Do We Get to Greenwitch Village From Here? by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





How do we get to GreenWitch Village from Here?



By A.E. Grant





Copyright 2018 by A.E. Grant



Smashwords Edition







Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



Contents



Chapter 1- Hey You with the Stars in your eyes

Chapter 9 Stardust Dreams-the back story

Chapter 15 New York Fucking City

Chapter 22-Under Pressure

Chapter 39 Doubling Down

Chapter 55 Lowered Expectations

Chapter 88 Secret Codes

Chapter 96 Sound the Alarm

Chapter 100 Trouble in River City

Chapter 115 In Just Spring- Mr. X

Chapter 117 My Day in Court-Emancipation

Chapter 134 Resistance is Everything

Chapter 142 Pleasant Distractions

Chapter 151 In Conclusion



One



I have never been overly interested in details; I’m a big picture person. I happily exist in a world of my own design, a world of ideas which interest me, of imagination, of music. My life so far has been a continuous visit to life’s ample buffet, selecting the most delicious morsels for myself. I don’t give a second glance at the dishes I pass over because my appetite rules the day. It’s a simple “yes” or “no”. It is impossible for me to feign the slightest interest in certain people and topics. I am completely transparent, the thoughts running through my mind display clearly on my face. I glare at rude guests, I roll my eyes at their whining, I raise an eyebrow at ill-behaved children, and wrinkle my nose at yapping little dogs and their shit baggie carrying owners. I value good manners, charm, and wit. Maybe working as a hotel concierge was not the ideal occupation for me. The long hours and low pay depressed me. The trivial questions annoyed me. The cheapskate guests filled my heart with despair, yet I found myself working in such a position because the American banking system had begun to collapse upon itself, a sinkhole of greedy money lenders and their unwitting clients. I was sucked down in the maelstrom because I had failed to amass the gold needed to secure my fantasy duchess title on the phantom estate I should be raising unicorns on. I had failed to protect myself from the necessity of rising early in the morning like a peasant. I now face the animals—the general public. I cringe at the thought of it, it is too harsh of a penalty, even for me.

I’d recently moved to New York City after finding an apartment through a friend of a friend I had cat sit for. The cat sitting job involved shooting an ancient mummy of a cat up with insulin and wrestling a pill down the poor creature’s dry throat. Because of this feline wrangling adventure, I was able to sign a lease on a rent stabilized studio in the Upper East Side. This is precisely when the trouble began.

Two



My first order of business in New York was to find a job. I registered with employment agencies and met with twenty-something girl-bot recruiters who seemed to delight in discussing the gaps in my resume. I dodged the most troubling interview question,” Where do you see yourself in ten years?” I paused as the potential answers to this pesky human resource question flooded my mind. I considered each of these replies carefully:

a) Straddling a teller brandishing a machine gun at Chase Manhattan yelling, “Eat it, you fucking rat bastards!!”

b) In a grass hut on the beach, listening to the coconut short wave, working on a cross word puzzle.

c) Discussing my third novel with Regis.

d) In solitary confinement working on a frivolous master’s degree in romantic poetry. *

*I’ve been told both romance and poetry are irrelevant in the 21st century. Yes, so much seems completely immaterial at this point Madame and Monsieur, but poetry still matters, my dears.

Well I couldn’t say any of these answers aloud, could I? I could only keep them safely corked inside my head in little cartoon bubbles. (I found this to be the case quite often) I don’t remember what horseshit answer I fed them. I am terrible at selling myself, taking tests and often make a poor first impression. Needless to say, they weren’t very impressed with me, or my typing test results. I begin to grow desperate when the temp assignments didn’t start pouring in immediately. I worked at a friends of the NYPD non-profit for a week in a windowless hermetically sealed basement office typing documents and sharpening pencils. The lack of sunlight and fresh air made me feel a bit like a mushroom. Needless to say, it was an extremely poor fit because I enjoy natural light and I don’t care for law enforcement, though I do appreciate snappy police uniforms. I ended up roaming the streets doing the free or cheap activities in New York City, which for the most part meant milling around eating a lot of pizza slices and people watching. One afternoon in Ray’s Pizza in Hell’s Kitchen I was watching the news as George Jr. pushed for an economic stimulus plan to rescue the country from impending economic doom. The big shot money lenders were ringing their hands and threatening to throw themselves out windows, and I thought that’s a good start, you bastards. I wanted to see some real remorse for ruining working people’s futures. I am still waiting. (Arrivederci retirement!) I struck up a conversation with a woman watching the news, and we expressed our disgust over the current state of affairs in the country. I said, “How do you think I feel, I’m unemployed.” She gave me a business card and suggested I call her supervisor about a job. I absently tossed the card on the coffee table. A few weeks later I called her supervisor and was asked to come in for an interview. The interview went something like this:

“So why did you come to New York? I see you lived in San Francisco, what a beautiful city. The weather’s great there, isn’t it? Why did you come to New York? Why do you want this job? I see you have a degree and professional experience. You’ll be required to work holidays and weekends. It’s hard for young people such as yourself you to have a social life. Are you familiar with the city? Because we’re looking for people who know the city, and we only pay $34,000 to start. I see you were making much more- are you still interested?”

Only a fool would persist. I was hired. In retrospect, my blind enthusiasm and cheerleader “Yes” (Go bankruptcy!!!) to the job offer was the second step toward financial ruin. The first step was getting myself into credit card jail.

Three



I began working at a real armpit training desk near Penn Station with a sweet guy who was a disinterested trainer. In the beginning I mainly stood by and observed the guest transactions. The interactions went something like this:

Trainer: Ok, so you’d like to book the airport shuttle, right? What time is your flight?

Guests: We want to be at the airport at 5:00.

Trainer: What time is your flight?

Guest: We’re going to John F Kennedy.

Trainer: What time is your flight?

Guest: Our flight number is 141.

Trainer: WHAT TIME IS YOUR FLIGHT?

Guest: How much is the shuttle? Oh, that’s too much, we paid $17 each for the blue van.

Trainer: Why don’t you book the blue van then? We don’t work with that company, call the 800 number and make a reservation.

Guest: We can’t make the phone work in our room. It doesn’t work. What will we do?

You get the idea. There was a lot of repetition involved.

Many of the guests were cheap, mistrustful, terrible listeners. For instance, they would ask, “How do I get to Penn Station from here? “

Trainer: Go out the front door, take a left and go down Seventh until you reach 33rd street.

Guest: So, you go out this door and take a left and then, go where?

Go left out the front door until you get to 33rd street. Ok so go left to 33rd Street.

The station is at 33rd and 7th, 33rd and 7th, 33 and 7th, 33 and 7th. Repetition, hand signals, or increasing your volume didn’t seem to help guests with information retention.

Guest: Are you sure? Because the taxi driver took another street from Penn Station and I don’t remember going that way. Would you circle it on the map for us?

It went on like this all day for twelve hours with only two twenty-minute breaks to disrupt the tedious madness. The rule was absolutely no eye contact with the guests the last ten minutes of your shift- the hotel could be on fire, but we would be looking wistfully toward the horizon ignoring the wail of the sirens. Every ounce of our energy was focused on a clean exit. No quick questions, no quotes for Mamma Mia tickets, no assistance mapping routes to Long Island, it’s strictly lights out and good night.

Four



My life in New York City was so different from the life I’d left behind. I gave up a decent paying job, health insurance, cheap rent, clean air, a fast Italian scooter, and best friends who lived nearby. The specific action that precipitated the move was my landlord selling the building. I could either stay in San Francisco and try to find a comparable apartment for double the price in a less desirable neighborhood, or move to a new place like New York City, a city I’d always been intrigued by. To tell the truth the time was ripe for me to shake things up. After thirteen years I had become complacent in San Francisco. I gave up security for adventure, it’s as simple as that. Did I know the economic crash was coming? No. Did I consider what could go wrong? No. I was ready to act and when I’m ready to act nothing and no one can deter me. I’m headstrong. I’d operated my intuition for so long that careful planning didn’t seem necessary.

For the most part I welcomed the new challenge, but a nagging subconscious resistance began to develop as I began to compare New York to my idealized version of San Francisco. (Bad idea) For one thing, I had trouble adjusting to the cynical New York attitude prevalent among my colleague’s and fellow New Yorkers. Perhaps I had been ruined by living in California for too long, by having developed the ability to smile, trust people, and eat well. First of all, no one smiles freely on the street in NYC unless they are some kind of lunatic. And they won’t invite you in to their apartment either unless they have run a background check. (I would understand their mistrust and caution later) While I smiled and said, “thank you ma’am,” they stared me down. They weren’t having any of my nice bullshit, good manners, or new suit. They were probably taking bets as to how long I would last. As I traveled from desk to desk at the company’s many properties in Manhattan I received all kind of receptions, ranging from disinterest, to amusement, to open hostility. I was elbowed a couple times and I pushed back. Mostly the agents simply yawned or grimaced, allowing me to process the most laborious transactions- the airport shuttles and bus tours.

The bus tours packages had a whole spiel which the more experienced agents had reduced to mere bullet points. Using the brochure map as a prop my rooky version went something like this:

“A great do it yourself city tour is the All Loops hop on hop off bus tour which provides you with two days access to Manhattan’s neighborhoods and attractions. The Uptown loop covers Central Park, the Museums, and Harlem. The Downtown loop goes through Little Italy, Chinatown, Soho, United Nations, Empire State Building, Battery Park, Macy’s … You also have access to the Brooklyn tour and the evening tour which runs on the Downtown tour loop in the evenings. The buses run daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, departing approximately every 30 minutes from the visitor center in Times Square. It’s a great way to get an overview of the Big Apple. An informed guide gives you background on all the sites as you go.” Fascinating.

After offering the guest the guided tours, the seasoned agents would simply hand the guest a brochure and say, “then there’s the red bus.” And don’t get me started on that son of bitch Statue of Liberty that everybody wants to visit. Ooh la la, thanks France! God they wanted to know all about it- the ferry schedule, the ID required, whether they could skip Ellis Island. My answer was, only if your ancestors could. One of my co-workers, who I would later think fondly of, told me I talked too much. (You don’t say.) Eventually I began to pare down my sales pitches to conserve energy. After a few months of working twelve-hour days for very little pay I was able to distinguish the buying, tipping customers from the energy sucking vampire loiterers, and adjust my pitches accordingly. I was beginning to understand the reasons for my coworkers’ bad attitudes and work habits. Here’s a few typical guest interactions:

Let me get this straight, you want to wait in the discount ticket line, you want to ride the free ferry, you want to use a twenty percent off coupon, you want to experience the New York City subway in the summer? Ok, hope you enjoy boiling in your pants.

Help yourself, the business center with free wi “fee” is at the end of the hallway, next to the toilets. Good day.

Yes, sir we can assist you with booking a deluxe city tour, making a reservation at Per Se, and purchasing premium Broadway tickets. Sure, anything you like. What a lovely watch you’re wearing, I can see you have very good taste and that is so rare these days.

I know it’s not nice to favor certain guests, but cash is king in NYC because without it you are so fucking hungry.

Five



The days flew by during my three-month training period. I was introduced to employment in the hospitality industry in New York. It was difficult for me to adjust to a few things- for example standing up in one position for ten to twelve hours a day was hard on my body. And mentally it was also tough for me to work solo at a desk for those hours. It could be depressing, it could be lonely if you were working at a slow desk tucked away in a dimly lit corner of the hotel near the exit stairs. There was plenty of time to scrutinize my life decisions. I had to develop a strong mental game. I also found running around the city back and forth between the company’s many desks disorientating. Sometimes you were scheduled to work an am shift at say the Holiday Inn, way out by the West Side Highway and a pm shift at the Hilton in Midtown. The minimum shift was six hours, but it was unusual to be scheduled just one shift a day. The average work day was twelve hours, and many of my co-workers worked two or three consecutive doubles. In the beginning, I worked the hours the managers scheduled me without protest, but eventually I set boundaries. I discovered that my limit was working two consecutive doubles, and that on day two I was foul mood by the eighth hour. And all bets were off in my final hour. I did my best to avoid guests because I was exhausted. I was usually in the back hallway, or chatting with the front desk staff, or on a break for my own sanity. In the beginning it was difficult for me to remember each desk’s specific services. There were usually notes at the desks and the phone number of the regular desk agent listed if you had questions. Many desks used different venders for transportation. Some booked transportation services, some did not. A few properties were sales only desks, some were full concierge service desks. I never really knew where I was. I wasn’t looking at the map just to assist the customers. So off to Midtown I went, off the Times Square, off to the East Side I ran. I did my best to remember the locations, employee entrances, and break room pass codes. I ate in the hotel’s employee cafeterias in the bowels of the big hotels. They struck me as prison cafeterias equipped with glaring lights, low ceilings, substandard food, and a real potential for violence if supplies ran low. And I am talking about the best ones. In the worst one’s I couldn’t tell what the meal was intended to be. It was like modern art with dash of botulism thrown in for good measure. The lettuce was wilted, the soup resembled primordial ooze, and the hot dogs were antique meat sticks. I stuck to french fries. chicken fingers, oh delicious fried manna from heaven! When I wasn’t eating I was standing thinking murderous thoughts about getting even with my employer, the rude guests, and New York in general. I day dreamed of becoming a rock star and giving candid interviews about working in hospitality, a world rife with labor law violations, nasty customers and smarmy general managers- turds with legs slinking around stinking up everything. I knew someone would notice my special spark, style, and whisk me away in his/her limo into a life of opulence. The People’s Court in Times Square did ask me if I’d like to comment about a case’s verdict on tv and I said, “Absolutely not.” I think they liked the jaunty Madmen look I was sporting. I was studying music in New York. I had enrolled in voice lessons and piano lessons at Turtle Bay Music School. In San Francisco I’d become an enthusiastic karaoke singer -a hobby I discovered late in life. I took voice lessons at Blue Bear Music School in San Francisco. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed performing. I took drama classes in junior high and performed in school productions when I was younger. I possessed passion and a unique style but needed to develop my vocal range. I figured this was the time to go all out and didn’t understand what I had been waiting for. I wasn’t sure exactly how to excel, but I wanted to see what the big City could offer. I couldn’t contain myself anymore, I had to be me! It is easy to get a little stardust in your eyes in New York, it’s the energy, the lights, the money, the alcohol. You get caught up in the excitement and you say to yourself I want to be a part of that, I want to be an insider, someone who gets to go behind the velvet rope. Everyone wants to be special.

Six



I hung on to go all out. As I mentioned previously I arrived in New York carrying significant credit card debt. I expected to pay down the debt as I had done many times before once I found a good job. This time, however, the situation was different because of bad timing. The deeper I waded into financial ruin the more determined I became to recover. I sweated making the rent. I worried about my credit score. I worried about returning to San Francisco humbled. I simply couldn’t bear crawling back defeated. So, I dodged the landlord and the super. Unfortunately, there was only one building entrance. I avoided the calls from my concerned family who wanted me to move home to Florida. My brother suggested that I stay with him and his wife until I got on my feet. I ground my teeth at night. My eyelids twitched during the day. What do you mean, you don’t want the King of the Lion’s tickets? You just bought them lady! Even though I was afraid, I had to stay and make my own way no matter how homesick I was for San Francisco, no matter how tempting it was to be among friends in the promised land of California. So I played Russian roulette with my life and future wellbeing, because of pride, because of stubbornness. I’m aware how insane I might seem from an outsider’s perspective, when we’re talking about what seems to be an endorsement for poverty, for career suicide. Well, I never really was traveling on a career track, so it was more like embracing inertia. So there I was, adrift without any viable prospects--single, uninsured, broke, working a nonsense job in New York City. Yet I still believed I had a chance to be someone, to make something worthwhile of my life. Holy shit.

Seven



In the beginning the days passed without incident for the most part. My job training continued. I was scheduled at one of the training desks and met two very interesting characters at this desk-- one who would really fascinate me. The first salesperson was a tough talking Puerto Rican single mom from the Bronx. She let me know right away that she was nobody’s fool, resting her foot on the bottom step of the desk, hand on her hip. She’s was a selling machine who let me know she was the senior desk agent honey- a role I never fully understood the benefits of. I was told the pay difference was minimal and that the privileges were a better schedule, maybe your own floor personalized mat? She was quite knowledgeable about the company’s products and services, one of the best salespeople I’d seen at the company and completely in control. The only time she lost her composure was when her kids called her at the desk to tattle on each other or ask for money and she lost it. The sting of obscenities that floated from the back office would have made a drill sergeant blush. Phrase by phrase she constructed a masterwork of vulgarity. “You 4444##$$&&**))(*&&##### little sob bastards, just wait till I get home and I’ll give you something to firkin cry about you little fuckers, etc.” She enjoyed a good swear and the company with bad boys who drove low riders. Well what the hell, life is short. I really liked her because she was real thing, and she was very kind to me. She never received the recognition she deserved from management for her Wonder Woman sales prowess which was very unfair. She wanted to be promoted to management and maybe the company thought she wasn’t polished enough. Well, if I ever start my own company I’ll recruit her as my Sales Director. You talkin to me, bitches? Hey honey, want to buy some tickets? Her desk counterpart, J, was a force to be reckoned with as well. She was a sexy, mature, dark haired woman of the world, and more importantly, a denizen of the Upper East Side. Her confidence in her place in the world was evident, and as an employee trainer she was no nonsense. The first thing she told me was, “We don’t bullshit around at this desk.” She quizzed me on tour information and Empire State Building operating hours. She reminded me about dropping my cash envelopes in the safe and completing the logs accurately. She raised a sculpted eye brow, peered over her reading glasses, and asked, “Am I boring you?” I stood up a little straighter and replied, “No Ma’am.” She arrived at work a half hour before her shift, greeting all the hotel managers and admirers by name. She was also a selling machine and used an efficient air traffic controller’s sweep to redirect non-sales transactions elsewhere. This particular desk was strictly a sales only desk, the hotel employed their own concierge staff. Questions about restaurant reservations, directions to Green WITCH Village, the address to American Girl-- concierge desk please. (Oh, the sweet, sweet sounds of the sales only desk- the idyllic clover covered pastures of better days, sigh) J was and is a force of nature. I traveled home with her often because we were neighbors. She would interrogate me about the mode of transportation we should take. She’s fond of speaking in bullet points.

E to the 6, to 86th?

M31 four blocks and walk four blocks up?

Taxi? We must walk fast to catch the bus. Can you walk fast?

What’s doing? Who was fired?

I had a great time trying to keep up with her. Over time we developed a friendship and I discovered that she put as much effort in to having fun as she did in to conducting business. One of the first days we made plans to spend time together she told me she likes to do more than one activity a day. We were out all day, crisscrossing Manhattan a few times. I came home exhausted. She was so charming and fun I couldn’t say no. I might add that she has considerable sex appeal too and often elicited stares and lingering looks from men of all ages. It was fun to be behind the hurricane of J. She knew everything about everybody’s business and then some. If I wanted to know what was going down I called her. The reporting was better than CNN’s. One thing I neglected to mention is that J has a big heart staying up late with me when I had too much to drink, watching me eat waffles at seedy dinners. The truth is I adore her and want her to be mine. Unfortunately, she’s not available and she’s not interested in my shenanigans. And since we’re telling the truth, it is really troubling me. For a very practical person I’ve never been sensible about love, never. I’ve had crushes on puppies. I’ve fallen in love with gay men, had crushes on married men, friends, but rarely fall in love with anyone who returns my love. What is wrong with me in the love department? I’m bad on paper and have no serious prospects right now. What can I do to change this? What can I do to have a beautiful stranger on each arm by nightfall? Or well at least one who is ode worthy.

Eight



I look in the mirror and ask who is that woman looking back? Who indeed? The one with wrinkles forming around the eyes and forehead. Sometimes I feel ok. Sometimes I feel like disappearing. On summer mornings when I look out my apartment window into the courtyard trees, listening to the birds sing and the cars honking, I smile and feel everything is going to be ok. I fell in love with New York City, in spite of its noisy exclamations, funky smells, crowds, and dismissive manner. NYC couldn’t give a damn if you live or die. But if you persist, if you can endure to meander down the narrow cobblestone Village streets, through the leafy pedestrian mall at Central Park, through the majestic halls of the Metropolitan Museum, past the very fine Chrysler Building- its sexy, heroic, powerful lines gleaming -gargoyles peering down; you know this city is everything you ever dreamed of and will ever dream of. Damn all your financial obligations, your mental health, your lack of job prospects, you are in the heart beat of life itself, you are finally alive. You are really alive and in tune with all humanity and their collective dream to transcend the ordinary. Once you are pricked by the electricity of this city, there is no turning back. You cannot return to the stupor, the coma of your former life. There is no return.

Nine



The suburbs are not for me; the business of waiting to grow old is not for me. I grew up in a small Florida beach town and every day I was clawing to get out, even at twelve years old. I remember sitting in the living room in my grand-parent’s big old house reading National Geographic Magazines, dreaming of faraway places and people I was going to meet when I grew up. I also recall sitting with my grandmother watching Itzak Pearlman perform on PBS, seeing her face light up as she swayed to his ethereal playing. I knew as a child that I wanted to experience the world, all of it that lay beyond the identical houses, the strip malls, the drive through liquor stores, and the chain restaurants. I didn’t know another way of life, but I could certainly imagine one.

Growing up in the suburbs I sensed I was different from other girls, and in the suburbs being different is strongly discouraged. The trouble began when I was a toddler. I wanted to play with trucks instead of dolls. God bless my mom, she bought me toy dump trucks. In elementary school I played football with the boys until they started lifting up my dress and looking at my underwear. My mother made me stop playing with those little hooligans. I skateboarded with high school boys down the block, I played baseball in the vacant lot across the street. I had aspirations of being a boxer, or fighter pilot, a photographer, a writer. I was influenced by the tough guy movies-- many I watched with my father. We really liked Clint Eastwood and Humphrey Bogart. My dad popped the popcorn and we watched Dirty Harry, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon, and Casablanca. On the other end of the spectrum, in the romantic comedy genre I idolized the witty, idealistic movies of Cary Grant. Archibold Alexander Leach on his birth certificate, Cary was the only child of working class parents in Bristol. An artistic gypsy, he would invent the very debonair character of himself, and create the archetype of the twentieth century gentleman millions would admire. Cary had an unhappy childhood, his mother suffered from clinical depression. His father institutionalized his mother when Cary was ten, telling him she was on a long holiday, abandoning him shortly after marrying a younger woman and starting a new family. (Cary believed his mother was dead until he was 31 and found out that she was alive in a care facility.) Cary had a dream of escaping his unhappy childhood. He got himself expelled from school in 1918 and joined the Bob Pender Stage Troupe performing as a stilt walker. He traveled with the group for two years and when they came to the United States he stayed in the States to pursue his stage career. Grant arrived in Hollywood in 1931. Cary Grant, what a presence, he made a big impression on me. He inspired me to gallantry, he schooled me on how to conduct a charm offensive. Everything I know about witty banter I owe to his movies. I lived through his films, my language came from the dialogue of those films. I wanted a dramatic adventure filled life riding in a Rolls Royce on the French Riviera, not a Leave it to Beaver existence. No wonder I would later develop an interest in beautiful women, hand guns, smoking, champagne cocktails, and tuxedos. I don’t know if I wanted to be with Cary Grant or Bogart or be them. Their silver screen characters stirred my imagination in that drowsy little beach town, which slumbered after the summer season.

In my spare time I drove like a stunt car driver, plunging down into the ditch to cross the interstate divider on 1-4 after missing my exit, I spun the wheel hard to head back East. I admit to doing donuts in people’s front lawns, speeding down the highway over inclines to catch air. Screeching to a halt at red lights and taking turns on two wheels was standard for me. There was a series of expensive speeding tickets I begged my mother to keep secret from my father. If there had been a ring of fire I would have driven through it or ripped around the racetrack at Daytona given the chance. I was out for thrills, taking the risks afforded in a small town. As a teenager I may have admired Cary Grant’s charm and sophistication, but I was more in a James Dean mode of living making the public uneasy with my sullen stares, rolled up jeans, t-shirts, boots and bad girl attitude. My grandmother always asked, “Why don’t you smile more? You should smile more, you have a lovely smile.” She bought me dresses with bows, and shiny patent leather shoes. I hated them. As I kid I felt ridiculous wearing girly clothes, as if I were playing dress up. Nevertheless, I tried fitting in as a young girl. I tried conforming; I was not very successful at being like my peers.

Ten



As you’ve probably guessed I didn’t enjoy giggling or reading Seventeen magazine as a teen. In general, I thought being a girl was a terrible burden to be overcome. The activities I was supposed to enjoy were of no interest to me whatsoever. Instead I drove fast and drank hard with the boys. I remember jumping on a friend’s parents' bed (fortunately they weren’t lying in the bed at the time) in my combat boots during a vodka fueled party. In the morning I woke up with my coworker, who I rejected after making out with him. He asked never to mention our interaction because he planned to run for office. As if discretion was something politicians had to be the least bit concerned about. He was a budding Bill Clinton. I remember telling him I needed an artist, so forget it but I’ll let you borrow my toothbrush in the morning. This was me at twenty-one, so idealistic, so naïve, so likely to be disappointed. I was a bit of a freak in a suburban town and no one dared do anything about it. I was and am tough and won’t apologize for who I am anymore. An older male coworker at a very conservative company once said to me, only you can get away with the combat boots. I was known for stepping on the customers boxes at the warehouse club where I worked when they gave me attitude. One of my fellow cashiers egged this kind of behavior on my mumbling, “paper or your ass kicked?” to the customers. This bad girl behavior was just for show though, inside I was secretly terrified of talking to strangers. When you’re different you need a hard-boiled outer crust to survive. No one ever sat me down and said you should really behave more like a girl, wear dresses, walk this way etc., but it was inferred. I was pushing the envelope, just by being myself. My mother would always tell me, “Talk like a lady”, and I would yell, “I don’t want to be a lady!” People like to be able to classify you, and if they can’t it is very unsettling for them. You are either this, or that. I was neither. Somehow just being myself as discreetly as I could seemed to upset the natural order. And eventually I found it impossible to repress the real me, there I was speaking from the stage, breaking rackets on the tennis courts, arguing about gays in the military at Thanksgiving dinner (that was a fun Holiday) or running for class President in a high school where I knew a total of three people. My family moved my senior year of high school to Charlotte, North Carolina because they thought my sister was running with the wrong crowd and they wanted a fresh start for our family. North Carolina didn’t take. My father, swearing, was loading the

U-HAUL truck the next year. That year in Charlotte was surreal. To sum up the experience it wasn’t fun, most the people were racist rednecks. Our family’s response to any mention of that period was, “I hate to think”, a common phrase uttered by our neighbors. Most of them really did hate to think of anything post-civil war. However, I did make a few nice friends from my part-time job at Chick fil-A in the mall. Alan, the night manager, took me to the arcade with a bank box of quarters, and to record stores on company time. He was a wry political science major who reminded me a bit of Kurt Vonnegut with his dead pan humor, wiry physique, and dislike of authority figures. He really could make me laugh sliding around the greasy kitchen yelping orders, flour on his hands, glasses steamed up. He gave me a necklace as a high school graduation gift. I really liked Alan and wonder whatever happened to him. I wonder if he works for the government, or if he’s running for office in some unsuspecting sleepy burg. Washington could sure use a few independent thinkers like him. I also met sister’s, Len and Shannon, who whisked me away to spring break in Myrtle Beach. We swigged wine coolers and stayed up until midnight dancing to 80-s music until we couldn’t stand it: we embraced nerdy debauchery. Any who, I lost the senior class presidential campaign, despite my passionate commanding speech. It was good in the context of high school. My cool, logical plans for improving the high school and confidence didn’t matter to the glee club or the football team. Popularity in high school and beyond trumps intelligence, ambition, ability. Oh well. Would it have changed the course for my high school life, would I have morphed into a popular kid? I doubt it, and I doubt my life would have been as interesting as it’s been if I was one of the popular kids. Most of the time I chose to immerse myself in my imagination, the place where I could always win. I wrote poetry and won awards. I took photos and developed prints in photography class. I simply amused myself in a cultural wasteland and waited to grow up and leave. I had little interest in suburban life, I even tried taking an extended alcoholic holiday to break the monotony. “Candy’s dandy but liquor’s quicker.” I was plotting my escape from the suburbs every waking moment. I was dreaming up a movie life with an award-winning soundtrack.

Eleven



Fortunately for me there were older, wiser mentors in my life to help me through the awkwardness of adolescence in a small town. I remember a handful of caring teachers in junior high and high school who took an interest in my welfare. They helped guide me through with their faith and kindness even when I didn’t know how to believe in myself. My tennis coach, Mr. Anderson, was a caring mentor who paid attention to me, encouraging me through all the wins and disappoints in tennis and life. I had an explosive temper on the court. I think the rage was linked to a couple factors- one, the frustration of not knowing how to verbally express myself, and two, the desperate need to be noticed. I destroyed countless rackets and cussed like a drunken sailor on leave, manhandling my opponents with aces and down the line winners every chance I had. At home I retreated to write poetry and prose in notebooks scattered around my room. My tenth grade English teacher, Mrs. Carlin, nurtured the writer in me by encouraging me to work on my short stories. When I wasn’t writing I was holed up in my room with the door closed reading books. I would read up to seven library books a week, devouring nonfiction adventure stories, fiction, travel logs, whatever I could get my hands on. I remember my father shouting under my bedroom door, attempting to lure me out with promises of waffles. When I was hungry I reluctantly emerged to the din of the breakfast table, my siblings shouting over each other, chasing each other around the dining room table like rabid monkeys. I did my best to ignore the chaos generated by my large family, retreating once again to my room to take care of important personal business as shouting and wrestling matches occurred, and idle threats ensued.

Twelve



In my early twenties, when I was still hanging out in purgatory the Sunshine State waiting for my real life to begin, the only people I listened to were straight shooters, who treated me as an adult with the capacity for understanding the adult world. I think of my friend Sandy when I write this. After graduating from college in St. Augustine I moved back home. I shared a room with my two sisters while I saved money to move to California. An average day at home in the “girl's” room was filled with murderous threats. From the bottom bunk my sister Lori would routinely shout, “I’m going to kill you, bitch”, at our little sister Ella when she borrowed some of her clothes or jewelry. There were shoving matches in the walk-in closet and throttling when my sister Lori wasn’t busy reclining with her pet lizard on her stomach as she chatted on the phone with boyfriends. My sister Lori was generally plotting a midnight escapade where she’d utilize the window exit. Ella would usually be reading her bible in the top bunk trying to ignore Lori’s graphic tales of premarital sex and debauchery, la la la la I can’t hear you. During all this I was trying my damnest to concentrate on finishing Crime and Punishment. Son of a bitch, what I would have done for a moment of peace and quiet.

As you can imagine, work at the time was a welcomed distraction even though it wasn’t on my desired career track. (What is a real job anyway? I have heard tales of them, but I am still skeptical.) My career ambitions had been dampened a bit when I met Sandy. I was working in a Publix grocery store as a check out girl for minimum wage, which was $4.25 in Florida in 1995. I had just tripped over a pallet in the storeroom and almost fallen. I was probably thinking how I was going to make payments on my $25,000 in student loans. I was in the front office getting change when Sandy asked, “What do you need, kid?” Her brashness smile and good humor immediately drew me in. On walks to turtle park and lunches I discovered that she’d already experienced so much in life. She’d lived in Boston and New York, been married and divorced, been successful, been broke, and lost her mother young. So nothing and no one was that much of a big deal to her. She is Italian. Her ancestors are from Abruzzi Italy, just north of where my father’s ancestors are from in Molise. She immigrated to America when she was twelve, and still remembers her village in Italy. She says her grandmother had an orphaned wolf for a pet who they would hide in the abandoned chicken coop when the workmen came. We have a lot in common-- our irreverence, our humor, and heritage. She’s taught me how to exist in the world, and how to survive with a smile and firm handshake. She has done what she’s had to do to make a living from working at ATT, running the cafeteria at a private catholic school, working at the speedway during the summer, to working as a cleaning lady. She knows exactly who she is and carries herself with dignity no matter what situation she finds herself in. She’s a strong, independent woman who is on her own in this world, and she has been through a lot. Yet still she speaks her mind while treating others like royalty, with kindness, living with humor and grace. She’s grateful for every kindness she experiences. On paper she might not have much, but she has valuable possessions- that aren’t for sale, that can’t be stolen: dignity, strength, humility, compassion. Sandy taught me how to live by example. She also taught me how to swear properly in Italian. And though I don’t see her as often as I’d like to, it’s good to know that like-minded comrades exist, even if I don’t see them every day. My people are out there in this world fighting to be themselves. I am so grateful for my friends and loves. Even those who put love in the past tense have made a big impression on me. I think of them from time to time.

Thirteen



Sunny is someone I’ve thought of over the years. She is someone I’ve desperately tied to preserve to memory even though they say memory can be false. I have hammered out the credible details. I met Sunny on a cross country train trip I took with my best friend Brian from high school. I planned to check out San Francisco to see if I wanted to live there. I had purchased an open return plane ticket. Brian and I were on the train as it pulled out of New Orleans. Brian was drinking in the dining car and playing cards when he met Sunny and introduced us. She proceeded to tell me how to sneak into the first-class showers and where to smoke pot in the baggage area. I was amused but I had no idea what an impact she would have on my life then. If you were to tell me any one of those strangers on that train would have any effect on me whatsoever I would have laughed and crossed my arms. Back then I wasn’t having any of it from anybody. And I didn’t trust anyone, and I didn’t impress easily. I would have answered like Brando in the Wild One, when asked about what he was rebelling against, “Whatta ya got?” So yes, Sunny was a surprise from the universe, a torpedo who would ram my skeptical skittish heart and rattle my being. She took me in when I was unsure about remaining in San Francisco. The day Sunny invited me to lunch I was recovering from having been up all night listening to crazy talk from my Green Tortoise hostel bunkmate who kept the bright overhead light on throughout the entire night. Let’s just say I found myself more open to entertaining suggestions and reasonable offers than usual. Over lunch at an Ethiopian restaurant in the Haight she invited me to stay with her until I got on my feet. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t really know her very well, but I accepted. I trusted her because I had to. She trusted me and believed in me because she chose to and looking back I know she went with her gut, that’s the way she goes. I remember the taxi ride to her house clearly. It was a sunny day, I hailed a cab and threw my duffel bag in the back seat. The driver played loud jazz music and we attempted to chat. We got lost looking for her little side street tucked off upper Market Street. When we finally found her building I rung the bell, climbed the stairs to the second floor and let myself in to a whole new universe. I remember the loud disco music the upstairs neighbor played. I remembered looking out over the city from the roof top, down past the Castro theater marque, out to Delores Park, following the tiny chain of cars moving downtown on Market Street. I remember drinking her fresh squeezed lemonade. I remember sleeping on the leaky air mattress in the living room and waking up stiff and cold with the San Francisco damp. I remember quietly dressing early in the morning creeping out of the apartment before anyone woke up, walking down to Market Street to catch the street car to work at the bakery in the financial district. I remember Sunny’s face when it grew soft with empathy when I showed her my bruised shoulder after I’d crashed riding my skateboard down a steep hill in the Haight. (The people waiting at the bus top across the street gasped when I hit the pavement) I remember her little dimple and her big laugh. I remember her asking if I wanted to take a nap? I was so proper I tried napping in the living room lying stiff like a toy soldier staring at the ceiling, waiting for her to wake up, duh. I remember her thoughtful look of concentration as she lay down her Tarot cards on the table, searching for the signs, looking for the hidden meanings behind the enigmatic images fascinated her. I remember her soft pale skin, her strong gymnast legs. I remember looking away as we hugged in parting after she left my room the first time she visited me after we became involved. She asked me why I looked away. I never answered her, but I know now I was afraid of being hurt. So many secrets we humans keep, even from ourselves. I still think about Sunny when I read my horoscope, when I go to the theatre and hear a woman laughing I still instinctively turn, still hoping but not really expecting…. I was not expecting to find a love that would linger. I was not expecting to find a mirror of myself. We were so alike that when we disagreed, we disagreed intensely. I would charge holding my point refusing to relent, tiring myself and exhausting her. It was battles of will which resulted in a lot of stalemates. Each conversation was a witty intellectual duel that could remain playful or take a serious turn. She helped me begin to piece together the mystery of myself. She helped me begin to understand who I was. I wasn’t even aware of what I lacked before I met her. I still believe it was a miracle we met. I understand the rarity of miracles now. I fell in love with her and I didn’t know how to stop loving her for years. Part of me still doesn’t know how to stop. It’s been a big problem. I think a piece of me lingered with the memories of what we were so briefly, a piece of me clung to the feelings of those moments to remind me this is what you can feel when you allow yourself to feel. I try not to compare others to her, I know it’s not fair. Though I’ve made progress over the years chipping away at any fantasy expectations for a shared future, I’d be lying to say I’ve forgotten anything. I’ve tried to forget everything she was to me. I loved her more than anyone and demanded more of her than anyone at a time when she couldn’t meet my demands, at a time when I had no right to make such demands. Much of my memories I keep to myself, safe and sheltered in a private emotional safety deposit box. In this life there are moments that carry more weight than others.


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