*This excerpt first appeared this week on Michelle Tea and Ali Liebegott’s Radar Blog
“Why don’t you come inside and hang out?” I’d been following the pink haired film student for several blocks outside of The Shanty, a dive bar in old town Eureka and my combat boots weren’t exactly stealth. I don’t remember what I said to her or how I got from the pink haired girl to the blonde because I was wobbly and horny from cheap red wine and the Shanty never ID’d me. The next morning, I woke up on the floor, next to a short blonde who’d passed out wearing her ornate brown cowboy boots. They poked out of the ratty quilt that covered both of us.
“Shit,” I mumbled and found my keys. I had to find my stupid car so I could get to work, so I pulled on my black slip and a t-shirt that reeked of American Spirits and tiptoed out of the shabby Victorian. The pink-haired girl was already sitting on the porch drinking coffee from a pint glass. She didn’t look up when I waved to her. It was so early the faint sun sliced through decrepit buildings that used to be pink, magical whorehouses with secret nooks, slave quarters and balconies. They had orange and purple stained glass windows and disintegrating porches, filled with petticoat-wearing ghosts, but over the years businessmen bought them, painted them white and turned them all into law offices filled with file cabinets.
I found my 1984 Ford Tempo parked near the Carson Mansion, a famous men’s club that only recently admitted women. On the sidewalk, a bearded homeless dude bummed change from the punk kids who hung around and dumped soap into the gazebo once a year causing a wall of bubbles to reach the sky. There were no bubbles now.
I met the orchid breeder at the coffee shop in Old Towne, which was packed with hippies and artists. It was one of my many shit jobs, which led to another shit job: artist’s model. Some of my customers hired me to pose nude for them—for an untaxed hourly wage—in studios and warehouses nearby where they painted or sketched. I stood or sat naked and they collected money in a basket like church and gave it to me afterwards.
A squat man with stiff posture like he’d just had a prostate exam asked me for a small coffee. “You’re fetching,” he said. His shiny black hair hung into his bulging eyes. He brushed it away.
“Thanks.” I handed him a white mug of burnt coffee. He gave me his business card, which read: Orchid Breeder. Painter.
“You should sit for me,” he said. I shoved the card in my sock. The café was packed with a line out the door. Two craggy men in plaid flannel shirts played chess and camped out. Shop owners left with their trays of lattes and muffins and the four usual punks sat at a table. “Will you turn the music up?” the one with spiky purple hair asked. I walked in the back and turned up David Byrne’s “The Catherine Wheel.” I emptied the tip jar in my apron pocket. I had to pee. In the bathroom, I noticed the blonde’s chew marks on my thighs. “Goddamn it,” I said out loud. http://youtu.be/ngVGxYLRrZ0
“Goddamn it what?” The punk kid said when I exited the bathroom. When I ignored him, he hissed at me and shook his head. I poured coffee grounds in the trash, wiped counters and cut up blackcurrant scone samples. I popped one in my mouth. I needed to scratch together enough cash to get out of this cow town. Ten bucks in coffee tips wasn’t cutting it. I called the Orchid breeder’s number.
“Can you model for me tomorrow for a few hours?”
“How much?” I asked.
“Fifteen an hour,” he said.
I met him in a dusty attic loft in Old Town, with creaky redwood beams and orange light spilling through the windows. I was twenty. He was thirty-six with a fixed, tense expression and froggy eyes. He never blinked. He smoked cigars and painted on a canvas with a couple of skinny branches that he dipped in muddy red paint. He stared at my thighs where the blonde had left her marks. I placed a hand on the welt.
“Mosquito?” he asked.
“Kind of,” I said.
“Have you ever done acid?”
“How is that possible? A fetching girl like you?” He opened and shut the freezer and handed me a white tiny piece of paper, which dissolved on my tongue. We spent the next several hours touching and kissing. I got lost standing up. Time became syrup I couldn’t move through. My gut was empty. And I loved it.
That was how the affair started. Not with mutual attraction or interests. The married man had the yummy drugs. And he had the drug that made everything perfect. Not just acid. He bought our powdered perfect speed by the quarter baggy and fed it to me off his red kitchen counter and my soul swam. Crank was the answer to a question I didn’t know I had. It made me frantic and thin and euphoric. I snorted a line and soared skinless and weightless and looked down in a jagged disconnect. Did I mention speed made me skinny? Perfect.
The orchid breeder was married to a woman named Kayla. What I knew about Kayla was she was delicate, pretty and blonde. And she was raped. I didn’t know what it meant to leave a wife, especially one who had been raped, but I’m sure Kayla still has a doll in my likeness with pins stuck through its eyes.
One afternoon, the orchid breeder called. He was puffing on a cigar and then, “Do you want to come to San Francisco?” Of course I did. This hick town was tightening around my neck. The alcohol and bars and acid trips were making me late for work. I was one write up away from being fired. So I packed some clothes and books and climbed inside his U-Haul with his two dogs and my silver spray painted bookshelves. We drove through downtown, near my dad’s law office. “Let me say goodbye,” I said.
As a kid, Dad’s office was a cold place of wood panelling and anxious waiting. I sat on the scratchy orange couch and chewed my cuticles for hours, waiting to speak to him and cried for things I didn’t know how to ask for. I walked into the front door and saw the same orange couch and walked right past it to the front desk. Phones rang, printers spat out papers and heels clicked on the white linoleum floor. A new secretary sat at the reception desk. This one had short sensible hair and glasses. I wondered if he had slept with her yet. “Is my dad here?” I asked. She stiffened.
“Um. Let’s see.” She picked up a black phone and murmured something into the receiver that I couldn’t hear over the hum of the fax machine. I walked upstairs without waiting for her reply. Dad’s door was ajar. He sat at his desk polishing an antique gun. He hung up the phone when he saw me. I sat opposite him in an expensive black leather chair and picked up his bronze golf ball paperweight and held the cold metal ball in my palm. “Dad, I’m moving to San Francisco.”
“You know, those assholes in the White House have never had a real job in their lives?”
“Dad, I just wanted to stop by and say—”
“There are no white people in San Francisco. Have you noticed that? They’re all Asian. Why is that? America is clogged with people who have no work ethic. No heroes. Who are their heroes?”
“Dad. My boyfriend is outside in the—”
“You know who my heroes are?” I glanced at the signed autograph of Rush Limbaugh on the wall behind him. “Do you remember the battle of Petersburg in 1864? Of course you don’t. I don’t expect you to, since your bleeding heart liberal professors are all destroying this country from the inside out, starting with our youth. Do you know who else did that? Hitler.” A horn honked several times outside the window.
“We’re blocking the street with our U-Haul, Dad.”
“Hey, it’s not your fault. The socialists in higher education are responsible for destroying the minds of today’s youth.”
“I’m leaving Dad.” His bottom lip began to quiver.
“General Chamberlain.” His eyes watered. “That’s my hero.”
“Take care of my little girl,” he said to the framed picture of Jesus on his desk. But it was too late. I was no little girl and I had the itch of craving, banging my throat dry— the ache of more powdered perfect, rising in my skin like bread.