As an art student, I learned very quickly that one person’s neutral vessel is another person’s politically freighted, irreducibly marked load.
Home of the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company
September 10, 1990
Suffering the daily trek through life and matter I walk to work in my latest blouse, a soft feminine cut with a bold print: Mina in a nutshell: patterned with vivid yet somehow subdued fruit, I should be hung in Stephen Rodefer’s kitchen—what’s with this guy—a woman’s dress on the living room wall Olson’s autograph in the bathroom Bill Luoma draped beside the stove with a bottle of imported beer. I’m so ashamed of the way I acted at Rodefer’s housewarming, thrashing about in that non-heroic style—Quincey and I had broken up the previous week—I was a flurry of angles that kept shifting planes before your eyes erratic as some undergraduate’s attempt at Modern Art, a woman wailing that her heart had been decimated by an unnamed married man my 1940’s dress made it all seem so theatrical KK entered from stage left and announced that Quincey had just arrived—I grabbed your arm or at least made the verbal equivalent and we exited to the back porch where David Levi Strauss as always was having a meaningful conversation to which I had nothing to add—the air was cool as I leaned with you against the rails of Californian wood drinking and smoking, entirely and artlessly myself—it was sort of like being on drugs—besides immoral I must have seemed distracted and not very much fun. Mina in a nutshell.
It’s been six months since I slept with anyone other than my husband—and it hasn’t been that bad—at least now I always know which basket my eggs are in—sleeping with two men at once and so often two such different men I felt like a cross-eyed hooker mouthing the same endearments to both—one liked me active the other passive I became the Yin Yang symbol a drunken circle the white paisley threatening to devour the black or vice versa it was all so confusing who liked it hard who liked it soft who was bigger who was smaller I felt like Goldilocks grabbed his balls and squeezed all the while groaning out those dirty words he’s always asking for—KK’s voice rose an octave as he scuttled to safety, “Mina, did you learn that from Quincey … is he into pain?” Oops.
Bill, the past year has convinced me that in bed I could get into anything. This is why, as a character, I’m so universal.
You said one woman at a time was “more interesting.” Maybe you have a point because this summer has been great—and it’s all legal, sanctioned by KK’s insurance and 2000 years of patriarchy—who knows how much of it’s my husband, how much my weekly acupuncture treatments needles poke in two rows on either side of my spine—I lie on my stomach stitched up like Frankenstein, though stapled I suppose would be a more appropriate metaphor I sit here at the computer my hips spreading across the chair full and funky in a cotton nightgown (the one KK calls my “anti-sex garment”) a couple of striped socks dangle from ankles, the left foot is beige and yellow, the right foot beige and pink, my hair a messy French twist thrown together with a pair of chop sticks, stereo headphones pressing Leonard Cohen into my brain she said I’m tired of the war I want the kind of work I had before a wedding dress or something white to wear upon my swollen appetite—I am blessed, the Joan of Arc of monogamy translucent beams of sunlight stream through the Nottingham lace curtain glint off the edges of my sword glow softly along my deeply mysterious cheekbones in the fields among the sheep dead saints come to me whispering the evils of self-representation lalala lala la I don’t know how long I can stand such peace—remember this is Mina Harker speaking—I was Born to Be Bad—at least that’s the bible of my persona. Last night sprawled at the end of the couch with his shirt off a bit of post-orgasmic putty KK mused, “I’ve enjoyed being your lover lately.” I snapped back, “What do you mean by this ‘lately?’ What was wrong with it before?”
The framed poster rattles on the wall behind me—don’t worry, it isn’t another earthquake just some heavy-footed neighbor climbing the stairs space as openness in more dimensions than the spatial …
Barefoot in T-shirt yeasty armpits sleep-encrusted eyes and jeans I heat up minestrone in an old pot. Axl Rose blasts outside my kitchen window—I’m trying to construct my opening paragraph but my attention is divided as the time I had sex with A. on the floor while watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I want to pitch that god damned radio in a hydrotherapy tank fry the bastard who cranked up the volume—again I want to be the noisy neighbor—why else this letter—last weekend I threw open the window and climbed into KK’s side of the bed … his hands should be patented … I screamed out, my lungs quivering all over the mattress, the page. Then I heard the brat next door ask, “Daddy, what’s that?” “Nothing, come on inside.” Perhaps A. was right when he wrote, “She’s more of an exhibitionist than a narcissist.” I’m pushing 40 and I’ve just learned how to keep my whites white—as an artist, Bill, you can appreciate the offense of dingy greys or the abruptly autumnal crotch—folding my wash I’m prim and proud as a femme in a daytime TV commercial my panties so bright I need sunglasses to look at them it was deep into his fiery heart he took the dust of Joan of Arc and then she clearly understood if he was fire oh she must be wood. In his youth Quincey worked in a paper mil—you may think “insignificant local color” or “too-clever transition from bonfire to ecriture—and I suppose if I were on top of my plot I’d let you operate under this illusion for a bit, then pull out the plugs, the magic rabbit, the purloined letter: this: the salient fact in our break-up: QUINCEY SAID HE COULDN’T TAKE ME (SERIOUSLY) BECAUSE OF MY BLUE COLLAR BACKGROUND! You probably don’t know, but I’m the student of Dr. Van Helsing, Disillusioned Marxist Revolutionary, together we flapped our black bat wings and soared above the city from the Mission to the Marina our subatomic sonar ferreting out the Politically Incorrect Quincey was asking for it the thought of a life with me brought forth Bosch-like visions of pushing around pulp with a pitch fork beside his alcoholic father … sweaty … twisted … ineffectual … during sex I could be pushy as he asked me but I’d never be much of a husband, would never keep him in line keep him in the style he’d grown accustomed to. Okay, I’m bitching, but, Bill, I offered him my fabled nectar that ruby burst of divinity—mortals have sold their souls for it—and was Quincey Morris grateful? Not on your life—he plummeted me with the mundane, flailed me with tedious tales of his weasel-eyed wife her medication her vacancy her hand-knit sweater her suspicions her sexual indifference her American Express card her New Age pretensions her hysteria her rich warring parents herfood preferences her awkward kissing techniques it isn’t ink that forms this dot-matrixed missive but my bruises.
If I only could see these major experiences as meditative opportunities rather than crises or traumas, we’d all move on a lot quicker.
Beyond that, the lean sentences, barely long enough to hold the verbs still. We are disarmed and her villains become our villains. All the same, without any intention of misleading us, she has transformed her life into a finished artifact, with all the awkward ends tucked in.
Some of the other women I’d seen there were turning tricks but I was having an affair. Quincey paid $30 for an hour and a half in the hot tub and two Calistogas—it was his wife’s money, so why not? We walked down a hallway under neon track lighting the pale blue glow adding an avant garde twist to an old story. Quincey locked the door as I sat on the double bed, really a muslin-covered slab of foam on a platform—sometimes we didn’t even get wet, and when we did it was just an afterthought. Our love chamber was stark with concrete and chlorine—the only light wavered from the bottom of the whirring tiled pool, eerie and steamy like the mouth of a volcano. After Rodefer’s party I fucked him only twice—Bill, here we are—in the midst of the penultimate moment—we’re going at it with the intensity of people in the movies he should have ripped my clothes off instead he put on my slip—black with a lace bodice—he looked so luxurious black silk night clinging to the creamy skin of his torso, Elizabeth Taylor, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof I tied my braided leather belt around his wrists and turned up the Jacuzzi to muffle the slaps. Even though I was giving him this special true extra-marital treat he was absent, lost to me, his pleasure incongruous and insubstantial like the hologram of Liz in Michael Jackson’s video of “Leave Me Alone.” I’ve never been much of a formalist so when we repeated the above a week later at my place, I sat up lit a cigarette and murmured, “I’m having an anxiety attack.” Desired ends were no longer attainable: this was it: our final telesis THAT WHICH WAS IS OVER.
When I untied his wrists the braided leather left an impression exactly like an inch wide tire track. I exclaimed, “You look like you’ve just been run over by a Tonka truck!”
Quincey. So, how did I love a man I couldn’t respect? Because he’d come in my arms and then start weeping—he made me feel like his salvation the flames they followed Joan of Arc as she came riding though the dark—and I am salvation, Bill, I really am, salvation personified, I am the new voice America’s been waiting for—first there was Lenny Bruce then there was me then Christian Slater in Pump Up the Volume the pirate radio DJ stands on a jeep as the FCC closes in. He squints at the crowd with his Jack Nicholson eyes and shouts through the microphone: “High school is hell, but suffering teens everywhere, the point is to Get Through It.” A most satisfying escape from the baggage of subtlety. Rebel DJ wears glasses and hunches over when he walks: this means he’s a sensitive intellectual right up my alley I could teach that Christian a thing or two rolling about on his parents’ lawn his shirt finally off moles spattering his back like the Milky Way such a perfectly imperfect body get rid of that little tramp you’re with drive your stake through my heart I won’t complain he saw me wince he saw me cry he saw the glory in my eye. The point is: there is nothing to get through—high school is an existential condition—my hormones have been raging for centuries the point is: how can two people fuck like demons then keep it casual.
Out of context out of mind.
This afternoon I threw out my old cosmetics (anything dried up or non-hypoallergenic)—they crashed to the bottom of a Hefty bag—then I dumped dirty kitty litter on top of this Elizabeth Arden nightmare. Feminist protest or merely an irresistible cave of Hefty green in my hallway crying to be filled? Some things are so inherently symbolic their meaning breaks apart erratically and incompletely like biodegradable plastic or the Jungians who perform analysis on coma victims by following the twitches in their eyeballs and fingers it should be evident that cognition is not possible without at least some degree of arousal I look out my/window and I/am important.
Hair as blond as Quincey’s, though not the same eyes—these are bluer and rounder—like the world. Let’s call him Rendezvous. He’s sitting across from me in the Mexican restaurant, antlers and stuffed birds hang with Christmas glitter above our chatting heads. Why just push my chile relleno across the plate, why not push him a bit: “Do you know why I wanted to know you, it’s because I dreamt about you, I had these very intense dreams about you.” Rendezvous says he’s flattered to be part of my unconscious, rather than the typical line women use on him: “you’ve got such big blue eyes. ” Blue eyes seem to trail me there is something very private about them ever since my Puerto Rican husband all the men I’ve slept with have had them … dreamlike, the sea, the sky; needles … to be more precise I’ve had four in a row, a statistic that says more about the demographics of San Francisco intelligensia than my desire they call her the Aryan mistress—naked together their skin is so white you need sunglasses just to look at it. I continue, “Rendezvous, you don’t seem like the kind of guy who’d be lacking in interested women.” “Oh, quite the opposite.” The opposite of what? I can tell from his tone he isn’t talking drought but he isn’t bragging either—as always Rendezvous is understated. Across the room, Latin men with stringed instruments begin a serenade. How could this be happening that I, The Immemorial Mina Harker, could be having dinner with a textbook heterosexual, a man in a million, sexually secure, in charge, unlike the geeks mauditsI’ve known who squirm and fret every time they look at a mirror where are the interesting little wormholes for me to poke my fingers into? After a few more sips of margarita he comments, “There’s something very male about you.” He says this casually, as if observing my shoe size. Fidgeting there in my black lace bra and panties I feel like one of those cross-dressing married men Dear Abby’s always featuring, who get run over by a car and at the hospital their secret is found out. Get this guy in the Fredericks of Hollywood! I wipe the cheese from my chin, “Male about me?” This is where I tell him that getting to know a person feels like crucifixion. He puts down his fork peers sincerely through his glasses and replies, “No one’s ever put it to me quite like that before.” DODIE ARE YOU OUT THERE? THIS IS MINA SPEAKING. DAMN IT, GIRL, YOU’VE GOT TO DO BETTER BY ME THAN THIS!
With my weapons I was a woman and if I was to die I would not die as an insect in the jaws of the spider monster. I know how it feels to be torn apart by strange desires, how it feels to tear apart the thing you love limb from limb until the parts are scattered through the wood. Dismemberment, however, has this advantage we get to see all the parts. Thus, Rendezvous is teaching me this fall. He has me where he wants me—on his Freshman Lit syllabus sandwiched between Aeschylus and Ibsen, a neuter to observe rather than enter Mina Harker an assignment, a literature machine. How can I proceed? I NEED AN OBJECT OF ILLICIT SEXUAL FASCINATION! Will you be that for me Bill, a little erotic trinket, the latest charm dangling from my bracelet? To be realistic, it would have to be a necklace to hold all of my charms, one of those flapper necklaces that descends to the navel. As everybody knows, I’ve been at this a long time.
Flipping through the channels I land on a woman in a hospital bed. In her persistent vegetative state she doesn’t look anything like her graduation photo (mascara-globbed lashes hair swept back from her cheeks like wings)—until her watery-eyed father mentions a pronoun I think I’m watching a young boy as she rolls her close-cropped head about incessantly chomping her front teeth up and down over her lower lip like a distracted Bugs Bunny. I am completely shaken by this incredible interplay of noble simplicity and high culture something’s very male about her.
I don’t know if it was the event I had just returned from or the white wine, but I was-in a foul humor, steeped in the futility of me trying to get to know anybody I’m such a weirdo everybody hates me—the usual shit. So I was pouting among the dirty dishes when KK walked into the kitchen and handed me a manila envelope, “Look, a card from Bill. ”
Waking this morning I could barely move my head against my ear a rumbling both like and unlike a motor … biologic … Blanche was sleeping on my hair gray blur in the periphery straining under the weight of that feline slumber I dreamt I was a statue coming to life … images approached me unbuttoning their meaning like a lover his shirt … or the collaged card you sent the resultant interaction between innate and surround I find the card so sad, funereal … gold filigreed oval over black cardboard … a cage or the frame of a daguerreotype … harkening back to the dawn of an art form, before people forgot photography was an agent of death suddenly an emerald throat inside the oblong a tropical bird parrotlike but with a squished beak, long whooshing “C” of a tail … I think Christian or spit curl … Carneval red and gold plumage sizzling within a white aura … the branch beneath it is the Natural World which pales beside those surprising blue claws … still further beneath juts an upside-down diagonal “E” a three-pronged white screech superimposed with a black “LesseR” climbing upwards, the cap “R” a growl. Lesser. Such a cruel word to be perched upon … poor avian captive … its back is turned to “PARADISE” (pressed white plastic) Bill, do you think it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?
The image a fountain spilling forth … words.
Slaughter High: the school dork, as a practical joke, was blown up in Chem Lab. Now he haunts the high school reunion. His face looks like Play-Doh gone insane. How typical. What’s odd about this film is that it’s made in England, but masquerades as an American movie. The British actors impersonate Americans by guzzling beer and throwing their bodies around like deranged Texans. KK and I giggle our way through two hours of blood bath: linguistic conglomerates of both sexes are hung by the neck, impaled, dunked in a claw-footed tub of acid (skin foaming and sputtering like Mr. Bubbles), crushed, slashed, poked in the eye with a hypodermic needle. My favorite is the gum-chewing blonde in bubble hair and fur stole who plays the wife of a wealthy ’80s businessman with the finesse of a ’50s moll. No explanation is given for the double bed on the second floor of a high school—the moll/housewife sneaks up there to fuck her old steady anemic flesh and her large drooping breasts bobbing up and down she grabs the metal head board which ZAP electrocutes her (the school dork must have gotten an A in Shop) the blonde’s deathbed histrionics remind me of Judy Holliday having a nervous breakdown … I stop laughing when I realize THIS COULD HAPPEN TO ME a self-image, an object-image, and an affect between the two afterwards I said to Quincey, “No brass beds—this is California—futons are nice or a nice redwood table. I’m allergic to metal, didn’t I tell you?” No matter how much the director slathers on the gore, it can’t compete with the actors’ outrageous accents: New England, Virginia, the Valley and British idioms blended together in a single sentence, the effect unworldly: because of language I’m not any of these people; there was no crack for them to invade my writing.
At Michael and Jessica’s New Year’s party, Quincey and I pushed our secret affair to the limit by having a fight in the window seat, two “virtual strangers” making faces at one another and whispering angrily. Whenever his wife would peek around the corner we’d freeze—his German lips pursed, me fiddling with a slice of cheese and a Triscuit—the effect was definitely dada when KK appeared and exclaimed, “Guess who’s here? Bill—from San Diego!” My face lit up like a jack-o-lantern—I snatched up this unexpected visitation, this opportunity to dismiss Quincey as a piece of fluff in the glittering social phenomenon known as Mina Harker. I swaggered into the kitchen and said something seductively snotty to you. As I leaned against the sink full of crushed ice you leaned your leg against mine cooing that letters were made for flirtation the camera was off kilter I felt so Dr. Caligari then you shifted the angle of your hip fusing our unavailable bodies from knee to waist we were practically superimposed I nervously took a sip of Johnnie Walker and really started getting into your ideas. I know you were drunk beyond remembering but how delicious this lack of acknowledgement—slipping the little naughties past the censors—in a woman’s dressing gown Cary Grant leaps into the air and shrieks, “I’m suddenly gay!” WHAT AM I DOING? I’m sorry, Bill, to objectify you, your visit your leg your name what’s private what’s public I CAN’T STOP MYSELF is there anything out there that isn’t sexual I’m a prisoner of jouissance and then Bill pressed his thigh against mine and I thought of pistons churning my intestines were slippery longing in their formlessness to consume an unusual external and yes I have a cunt and yes it was involved in all of this the “L” of Bill a slit softening into the “O” of Luoma lips of cool copper beckoning HELP ME TURN IT OFF I bang my metaphorical fists against the door of meaning for you one woman at a time is more interesting—tell your girlfriend to pay no attention, stretch out your arms and yawn Oh, that’s just Mina being Mina, poor thing, trapped in the midst of her literary conventions.
When the filmmaker asked if I had a marriage of convenience I snooted back, “No, we have lots of sex just like NORMAL PEOPLE do!”
In college I was pals with a gay man named Ted. This was in Southern Indiana and Ku Klux were performing their hooded hijinx in the next town. Since Ted was black we decided to play Interracial Couple. After midnight, arms locked about various parts of one another’s bodies we staggered down the jasmine scented streets in bell bottoms drunk and high. We had our moments of glory: on Kirkwood a boonie in overalls stared hostilely, and outside the Bluebird a guy hollered something rude from a pick-up truck. Laughing our asses off we yelped Honey, if you only knew! Then we stopped beneath a street light to make out my tongue slithering down to meet his tonsils sometimes we’d forget we were pretending and then things would get tense between us. Eventually Ted fell in love with a Law student and moved to Indianapolis. To liven things up, Ted suggested we check out a drag show at The Golden Door—the acts were imported from Chicago, supposedly the best in the Midwest. Ted said things got pretty wild. I was hesitant, intimidated even—never having been to a drag bar before I was afraid I’d lose my edges there, get trapped in some Isherwood Cabaret timewarp, my fingernails green my gender so bent children would snicker and throw rocks at me, my sexuality a gnarled hump upon my back Elephant Girl. A couple of frail old-timers sang in thin off-key altos, but most of the performers lip synched like Sasha D’Or, flashing her boas and cleavage through a smashing Donna Summer. When she leaped on stage at least a dozen lesbians ran up and stuffed dollar bills into Sasha’s bikini panties. They didn’t seem to care there was a penis hidden beneath the scarlet nylon, that their greenbacks were seeding a male pubis. And after a couple of Black Russians neither did I. It was all great fun—I marveled to Ted how these queens were so much better at being women than I would ever be … femininity as a conditioned response … all young women should come and see this, as a sort of rite of passage, then some consciousnesses would really start getting raised. Love to love you baby. I stumbled to the restroom through the hooting continuum of men and women and wooden chairs—there was only one stall, so I squeezed in line with the herd of drunk, bawdy, apparently females. I admired myself in the mirror: flushed but acceptable in jeans and a see-through blouse spattered with a jungle print I was a walking Wild Kingdom monkeys mastodons exotic birds—if only I still had that blouse I’d send you a snapshot of me modeling it with your parrot card, Mina Harker, a study of blurred boundaries … the chubby dyke in front of me turned around, poked her finger at the sheer menagerie which gamboled across my breasts, and whispered, “I like your elephants!”
Collage is the implementation of strange bedfellows, on the brink of sensory overload, which equals amnesia I rush from one nodding head to another gather bits of data like a lint brush leaving behind bits of the last nodding head’s life.
The burden of Modern Art weighs so heavy on my shoulders.
Bill, you really know how to make an exit, trading your Bogart hat for Oriane’s headband—like a choo choo train you shuffled out the door and into the new year, crowned in your female finery, smugly waving bye-bye a polymorphous good will an ancient creature like myself appreciates you should have been at the OutWrite party last March—the gala event was held in a vacant mansion—a gilt elevator rattled and art nouveau banisters snaked to the second floor. As I tunneled aimlessly through the maze of empty rooms the festivities took on the aura of Mysteries of Udolpho: anybody with this much money who would choose red flocked wallpaper had to be demonic. In the grand ballroom an apparition, the seamstress son of a Wisconsin welder, with this glorious creation flouncing from his waist: more than a skirt … a tutu … ruffle upon ruffle of stiff sequined netting in violet, red, gold, and green … the top layer an inspiration of camouflage-patterned cotton, colliding blobs of khaki and brown—scary when neofascist youths parade it on Haight Street—but on a tutu it gives the effect of lush tropical plumage peeking through the bush. I ran up to the dressmaker and gushed, “Do you make those for women too?” He undid the drawstring, stepped out of it and handed it over! I slipped the tutu over my party dress then rolled the waistband, drawing up the hemline from midcalves to knees in honor of the occasion. The dressmaker threw his arms in the air and exclaimed, “There, you’re officially a fairy!” And I was—in every sense of the word—transcending gender, transcending species Tinkerbell à la mode.
I thought I loved Quincey, but in the end realized he was nothing but a myoclonic jerk.
It must be understood that Mina consists of two parts: essence and personality. Essence in Mina is what is her own, personality in Mina is what is “not her own.” “Not her own” means what has come from outside, what she has learned, or reflects, all traces of exterior impressions, all feeling created by imitation—all this is “not her own,” all this is personality.
Has it really been a year since Dodie wrote to you! If you were to write back at this rate, once or twice a year and the three of us lived, say another 30 years, I think that would add up to a relationship, don’t you? Or a chapbook. I remember the first text you gave me—we were in a Greek restaurant—your freshly laundered clothes looked like they’d been slept in and I thought to myself here’s a man I could stand to know you fumbled in your pants pocket and pulled out a xeroxed card—on the back you scrawled: permanent. I still carry it in my wallet beside my social security card. A man of multi-syllables but few words … mysterious maybe, but difficult when on a map of the US we’re several inches apart. If only we lived in the same city … you could be as silent as you desired and I could chatter on endlessly, over food and maybe a bit of wine—red—precisely because of its potential to be messier than white.
Bill, you are the dressmaker’s dummy I project my fantasies on—the robins and mice and I rush in with ribbons and satin and voila! you stand there radiant with a twinkle in your eye.
As I walked to North Beach a young woman in greasy hair and jeans was seated on the sidewalk about two blocks from the top of Nob Hill, eating a powdered donut. Suddenly she yelled at an approaching pigeon, “What the fuck do you want you little bastard!” I suspected her outburst was over-reaction. Don’t you think it’s futile to yell out your dissatisfactions at a species that doesn’t understand English? Then I bumped into a Chinese funeral—brass band in dark uniforms with gold piping, marching up Vallejo. Behind it a smallish white car with a distraught man maybe 30 sitting behind a large photograph of an old woman. (His mother?) The picture framed in a splash of red and yellow flowers topped with a white plastic dove. Behind that a white hearse then black limousine then half a block of compact cars and I thought to myself—this is Bill’s color scheme.
I just committed a forbidden act in a public restroom. Afterwards, for the first time in two weeks, when I looked in the mirror I felt attractive.
Every time you open your eyes environmental bits and pieces find you, stick to your fingers like angry birds squawking for a context. The magic of collage … images freed of the burden of meaning, jarring against one another, become something other an old woman lying on her back with her skirt hiked high the requisite cinematic position for any beauty who is slaughtered/attacked/faints … adding “old” to the formula we collide then flirt with the Obscene … Melanie Griffith vacuuming her boss’ apartment in bra and garter belt no purpose but to be nasty his penis twitching irrationally against my thigh electrocuted it had been dayshe said, “I’m overdue like a library book.”
A process of freezing boundaries in the emptiness of the mind … plot is black cover stock onto which I paste whatever sparkles. I was spending the summer in Sarasota with my friend Dennis who was groundskeeper at the Selby Botanical Gardens—orchids grew from banyan trees in my backyard. Tourists paid $2 a head to come in and look at them. I expected to stumble upon a pretzel-legged Siddhartha, those floral parasites floating above his head their bright waxy petals announcing Paradise. Instead, I stumbled down the road to the only “hip” bar in the city. At 23 my hair hung to my waist and no amount of feigned sophistication would eradicate my freckled nose—bouncers saw me as moving prey—after the usual hassle over my expired student ID why don’t you get a driver’s license little girl I draped myself on a stool like a seductive alien fauna, drinking wine and writing in my diary. A blond man with a burr haircut pointed to my notebook and said, “I never expected to find someone like you in a place like this.” He worked with collage too, Bill, made sculptures out of driftwood and bicycle tires, anything he found wandering through the sweltering seaside town—I don’t remember his name, but he was an Aquarian like me. Later that night we had sex on the front steps of a stucco church—they were stubby little steps, no more than three inches high, so it was relatively easy to lie down on them. I loved the erotics of the landscape—the salty gulf breeze, his cum gleaming beneath the street light, palm tree shadows skittering across the tan on my normally pale Northern flesh I was a trinket he’d found on one of his walks he glued me to his cock an incredible feat of visual condensation. I worked at a bookstore, and since this was Florida, the most popular items were greeting cards that said things like, “Happy 80th Birthday.” The next morning I waited for the bus in a denim jumper exhausted, headachy, gloating over how perfectly the church step escapade fit in with my project of leading The Most Decadent Life Ever Lived By a Girl From Indiana—the only time women in Indiana had sex outdoors was when they went camping—and that was in a tent—I had really done it this time. An old woman sitting beside me on the wooden bench struck up a conversation. When it came up that I was just visiting for the summer, the woman said, “Did your parents let you come?” What an insult! Here I was trying to be Christine Keeler and she was treating me like a high school girl! A self-image an object-image and an affect. To make matters worse, when we finally got around to doing it in the artist’s bed the sex was dull. He went in the living room to sulk among his piles of junk. I put on his boxer shorts (this was years before Madonna fetishized them in Desperately Seeking Susan) and told my woes to his roommate, who’d been having psychic piano-playing experiences ever since he’d taken an overdose of mescaline in Canada. As the roommate and I fucked I could hear the artist kicking a hubcap across the living room floor he just couldn’t see the potential in it. and then I came—the first time ever, with a man—the musician had a more varied palette, let me rub myself against his thigh until I went as crazy as he. Afterwards we broke into that same church and there in the stuccoed dark he played some incredible channeled music on the pipe organ—a scene straight out of Phantom of the Opera only better because it was orchestrated by the Beyond.
When I returned from the bathroom he was lying on his back his shirt unbuttoned and crumpled around his shoulders his pants unzipped exposing an erect penis languishing to the left. By the way he ran his hand through his brown mane of hair I could tell that more than his clothes were undone. The pink lampshade made his flesh so rosy against the muted green of his garments he looked like a sex angel, like the cover of a gay novel instead of my husband. When I crossed my wrists in front of his face and chimed, “Tie me up buttercup,” I felt like Paula, the trampy young heroine of his first book.
Afterwards he said I was more full of life more vivid than anyone he’d ever known. A beautiful tropical bird in a death frame.
An ancient woman rides the bus her puffy white hair topped with a glitter gold tiara studded with blue rhinestones two hundred million eggs for a single mortal being she keeps fussing with her hair, yanking the lot of it back and forth—if she wasn’t wearing such a cheap wig it would appear as though her skull were made of elastic. On her feet white disco pumps with soles one inch thick. She holds the mirror of a gold filigree lipstick holder up to her cat’s eye glasses then pulls on elbow length black lace gloves. When a friend of hers boards the bus she begins to speak—lucidly—of opera and other recreation events for seniors. Where am I in all this? Across the aisle taking advantage of her poor eyesight, brazenly staring … I love her the way that 30 years ago I loved Princess Summer-Winter-Spring-and-Fall … I can’t get enough of her want a hologram embedded directly in my brain.
I am ending this in a cafe named after an Italian composer. Imagine before me on the tiny round table a foamy cappuccino and a Swiss cheese sandwich on pale crusty bread with mayonnaise—I feel like Isak Dinesen, who ate only white food. The woman at the next table is maybe 45 she has long frizzy yellow hair and is wearing black stiletto heeled boots a leopardskin velour miniskirt and black stockings with jungle vines climbing her thighs. What more can I say? Wish you were here.
Dodie Bellamy is author of Feminine Hijinx (Hanuman Books). She also has work in the recent High Risk anthology, edited by Amy Scholder and Ira Silverherg (Plume). This piece is from The Letters of Mina Harker, a book-length work in progress, consisting of a series of letters written in the persona of Mina Harker, the heroine of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
As an art student, I learned very quickly that one person’s neutral vessel is another person’s politically freighted, irreducibly marked load.