Monthly Archives: September 2015

Gorgeous & Lovely in New York

Car_CrashHard to imagine I’d never been. How, after 53 years and the majority as a working Artist could I have missed seeing the “Big Apple?” Honestly, it was almost embarrassing to admit. Maybe, I had to wait until I was ready. I heard so many stories over the years and seen so many movies and witnessed so much Art from what is arguably the center of American culture. When vacation time arrived, I said “no” to Hawaii, sunshine, surf, ahi poke, Mai-tais and slack-key guitar. Time for a different direction. This time we were going to the home of Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, The Ramones, The Velvet Underground, Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, the Stonewall riots and the birth of Gay Pride.  We were going to the city that never sleeps. We were going to New York City!

Our flight from Santa Barbara to Newark was uneventful. I watched the landscape change from the dirty brown urban sprawl of  Los Angeles  to the arid canyons and deserts of the Southwest to flat golden plains and then the patchwork green farms of the East and finally the urban gray buildings ports, ships and waterways of the Eastern seaboard. After making our way off the plane and through the tangled maze of the Newark airport we finally rolled our bags out the front doors of the terminal to the hot streets of Jersey! Wow, I could feel the humidity embracing me and the uptick in the pace of movement all around us. People moved quicker here and I could tell we were going to have to get our “A” game on to even begin keeping up.  Hailing a cab was first on the list. Without a great idea of how far it was to Manhattan from here we decided to splurge. After all I thought, “isn’t this the way people travel to the City?” Luckily Avalon is assertive in ways I will never be and she stepped out in the street with her heels and dress and grabbed us a cab like a pro. Things began to ramp up as we caught our first cab to the City. Our driver was a black man from Jamaica as far as I could tell. He had a strong accent and asked if he could help us with our bags. “Need ‘elp wit de bags ladeez?” We accepted his offer and plopped ourselves in the back seat of the classic yellow cab. This looked like the same cab I’d seen in endless movies of New York. This was it I thought, we had boarded the ride. Nothing to do now but hold on and see where it took us.

He closed our doors and we were off hurtling along on of the gray dingy roads that feed into New York City. None of it looked familiar until we had traveled for a few minutes changing lanes and taking different exits with different unfamiliar yet somehow familiar names.  “Look!” Avalon said and the skyline of Manhattan came into view. I marveled at it as if I were looking at the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel tower. This skyline that had figured so prominently in so many movies and news stories was right there in front of us. We watched for a few minutes before the roadway rose up to obscure it from us as we approached the Lincoln tunnel. Names I knew from movies clicked by on signs, Hoboken, Weehawken, Secaucus, and many others. It seemed no time before we were traveling in the tunnel with the artificial light strobing by overhead. Somehow this only added to the thrill ride feeling of the experience. The tunnel under the Hudson river is much longer than tunnels we have out West. Avalon explained how the entire area is granite. These tunnels and the Subways all carved out of solid stone.  “That’s why the street vibrates when the Subways roll by.” “The ground here is solid rock.” “Maybe that is the difference.” I thought. Out West we live on sandstone, constantly moving and eroding. Here they live on bedrock, a solid foundation to know where you stand. Out West the land is moving so we have to be ready to pull up stakes at anytime. No one likes to be anchored too deeply out there and living was light and easy. What I knew of New York was the opposite. You had to dig deep and hold on just to survive. Everyone in this town had to carve out a space to live in with a pick-axe or jackhammer. Nothing was handed to them. We came out of the tunnel and entered the storied streets of Manhattan. Signs, lights, people, horns, music were suddenly everywhere. Italian, Irish, Chinese, Thai, Indian, African, reggae, rock, salsa you name it.  Restaurants and stores of every ethnicity, style and color. Neon signs and traffic lights. Pedestrians lined the streets like a human river. Yellow cabs ran so thick in the streets it seemed as if we were entering a beehive  and the hum of it all made it sound like one too. The buildings surrounded us and towered over us, a canopy of concrete and glass, with no sky visible at all. Just block after block of lights and people zooming by as our Jamaican cabby weaved expertly through it. Clicking his tongue against his teeth in exasperation, cursing, honking and occasionally questioning another cabby’s qualifications. I realized my stomach was tightening slightly. The pace outside was so intense and I could feel it seeping through the door jam of the cab and through the gaps in the windows. All the stories of crime, dirt, weirdness and confrontation began to fill my mind. “Was this a good idea?” I wondered. One vacation this Summer and I had pushed for New York. Had I made a mistake? Maybe it wouldn’t be like a “vacation” but more of an “adventure” or an “experience.” Something to checked off the bucket list. I arrived at my conclusion just as the cabby stopped in front of a brown 20 story building that looked to be under construction. “Dis is eet ladeez” he said looking back. “OK.” Avalon said looking at me. “The front looks different.” She added with a little concern in her voice. She had been here before with her 20 year old daughter just a year or two earlier. They had been on a scouting mission for Somersby’s future job. Her daughter wanted to be a chef at the time and they were dining at Michelin rated restaurants searching for potential internships. They had spent big on food but looking at the building, I began to wonder if they had skimped on the lodging. After sorting out the cab credit card payment method and thanking our driver, we opened the door and warm, humid air wafted in. Exhaust mixed with the smell of green things, warm pavement and bodies. I swung off the seat and I took my first steps into the real thing. We were here! Touch down, Gorgeous and Lovely have landed!

A small crowd of people stood near the doorway. A well groomed young man in a black oxford with sleeves rolled at the forearms stepped forward. “Staying at the Hudson?” he asked. “Yes.” Avalon answered. “Right this way.” he said pointing under the scaffolding towards a sidewalk and a glass door. “Thank You.” she answered as we began walking towards the door wheeling our bags behind us. We entered the door and a lime green glow filled the room as I looked around. On one side was an 18 foot wall of plywood. The other direction was a hall leading around a giant off-white glossy ceramic egg-shaped sculpture. A river of people moved purposefully on either side of us going both ways. Avalon shrugged and began moving down the hall past the egg thing. We turned the corner and arrived in a crowded elevator lobby. A few dozen people stood eagerly eyeing the six doors. “Welcome to New York” I thought. The tension in the room was palpable with everyone trying to guess which elevator would arrive first and position themselves so they could be on it. I noticed one that was a bit less popular and positioned myself in front of it with Avalon following closely behind. Miraculously our horse arrived first, the floor numbers suddenly shooting all the way down from floor seven to “G” which was apparently where we were. People pushed forward to get in position behind and around us. The door of the elevator opened and a jam-packed group poured out as we stepped around them trying to make our way in before the elevator filled again. Beginner’s luck was with us and we managed to get space against the wall. Just as I thought it was completely full and no one else could fit two more men stepped across the threshold forcing the rest of us to compress together even more. The door closed just barely clearing the two men who stood facing the rest of us but somehow not making eye contact. We went up one floor and the elevator stopped. I looked up and the floor indicator read, “L.” I reasoned this meant “Lobby.” As the door opened we began pushing our way out saying “excuse us.” At 6’1″ in flats I get noticed by all and generally people move if out of my way. The two late arrivals stepped back to let a half dozen or so of us out.

We arrived in a low-lit room that opened into a larger lobby space with a long organic looking wooden desk on one side with a large plywood wall that bisected it almost in the middle. A line of people beginning near the elevator doors wound away from us towards the desk about 30 feet away. Travelers at the desk were talking with 3 employees on the other side spread out at different computer stations. After our 8 hour day of traveling, this was not a welcome sight. “This is really different.” Avalon said as we got in the back of the line. She pointed to the plywood wall and said there used to be a huge chandelier right there. “That wall behind the desk opens into a courtyard.” “It’s an outdoor lounge surrounded by the building on all sides.” she elaborated. “Stay here,” she said, “I’ll be right back.” She walked off towards the plywood wall her bag in tow. As she got beyond the line of people she followed it towards the desk and peeked around it. After a few seconds she turned around and came back towards me. The line hadn’t moved at all. “Yeah, the chandelier is on the other side,” she said. “It’s really cool. It has LED pictures of light bulbs instead of real ones. It looks like they’re doing a remodel.” After waiting another 10 minutes the line had moved about 5 feet. Avalon leaned towards me.”I’m going to go ask if we can check in without waiting in line.” Once again she left the line but this time walked to the desk on the opposite side of the line. There was a young thin man in black shirt and pants with short cropped hair leaning over a computer there. Once she had his attention they spoke briefly and she waved me over. I left the line and walked over to her. “Let me take you over here” he said pointing behind the desk and walking back in the direction of the plywood wall. We began to follow him. “Oh, just her.” he said looking up at Avalon and gesturing towards her. “You can leave your bag with your friend.” he said pointing in my direction. “I got it.” I said as she walked away with him. After about 15 minutes of awkwardly alternating between looking around at all the unhappy travelers wondering if anyone knew I was Trans and examining my phone she returned. “He said come back in 30 minutes and they’ll have our room ready.”

We decided to go wait in the outdoor lounge while they prepared our room. We were both very hungry and I thought a cold drink would be wonderful after the long day. It was quite muggy here too. As Californians, the 90 degree heat at 7pm and 80% humidity was really stifling. We walked out into the lounge area which was bordered on 3 sides with brick walls. The 4th side was a tall gas wall. That was the one behind the front desk we had just seen. People were seated in small groups in an odd random mixture of chairs, stools and benches of every variety and era. Most were young people in their 20’s and 30’s. There were a few travelers who looked to be forty-something, but we stood out as slightly more mature than everyone else there. Most of the young men had full beards and wore slacks and fitted shirt sleeves. The women were dressed in slim fitted jeans, patterned or flannel shirts, converse low-tops and everyone had glasses. From what I could see, it looked like most of the men were drinking Pabst in cans and the women wine or coffee. Lots of people were smoking or “vaping.”  It began to dawn on me then, we had booked into a “hipster” hotel! We noticed there were 2 old folding wooden seats available and these were located precariously close to a doorway going between the outdoor and indoor lounge areas. We attempted to perch ourselves on these with our bags and not be stepped on. Avalon noticed a “taco bar” nearby. “Do you want something to eat?” she asked. I looked over at the little food bar with 3 surly Latino looking gentlemen standing behind it. They seemed like they weren’t interested in making anything for anyone. For some reason traveling 3000 miles across the US to have an anger filled taco in New York as my first meal just sounded wrong. “I’ll wait.” I said. “OK, I’m going to see if I can get some water.” Avalon said as she left and went to the indoor lounge. Once again I sat awkwardly in the small chair my knees practically in my chin trying to act like I actually fit in it while attempting to keep my bag out of the human traffic flow. Avalon returned after another 10 minutes with 2 plastic bottles of water. She handed me one as she sat down. “Kind of a Hipster spot huh?” I said taking a sip of the cool water. “Yeah, it is sort of a younger crowd.” Avalon replied taking a few big gulps. “I really liked it last time we were here. It’s an interesting building and the furniture is really eclectic. Plus it’s in a great location and the price is reasonable.” I wasn’t sure what “reasonable” meant in Manhattan. Avalon had taken on the responsibility of the hotel booking. I trusted her judgement but was beginning to wonder if this thing wasn’t going slightly sideways on us.

20 minutes later I was sure. We stood looking into our “room.” The entire thing was 12 feet deep and 8 feet wide including the bathroom and bedroom. They were effectively the same room separated by a glass wall that kept the water from the shower getting on the bed. The worst part was that the whole room smelled like urine. “I can’t sleep in here.” Avalon was explaining to the maid who had been called in to re-clean it. “You need to use Chlorox bleach.” she said. “I’ll do it myself.” “We don’t have bleach.” the maid explained.” We just have this.” she said holding up a generic spray bottle. Avalon smelled it. “This isn’t a disinfectant.” she said handing the bottle back to the maid.” You need something that will kill the microbes in here!” There something growing in the tile  in the bathroom and it needs to be killed.” she continued. The maid just looked at her with her mouth half open.  I picked up the hotel phone and dialed “0.” “Hello, front desk.” the man on the line said. “We have a problem with our room.” I said. “Can you please send someone up?”

 

Bunny

Like having a butterfly land on your finger, she lingered only lightly. I almost held my breath when she was nearby playing so peacefully. I pondered her as I watched. This little being, so filled with purity, simple joy and light gently plucking flowers in a miniature bouquet for who knows what reason. She hopped around the edge of our large back yard her straw blonde hair dangling over her chubby white cheeks and little pink button nose. My Bunny. She hummed some tune of her own as she collected the flowers. The coarse grassy lawn was lined with fruit trees. A large old Apricot still dropped so much fruit it was impossible to collect it all. Pomegranates hung bountifully along the back fence from the original farm. A plum in the far corner regularly stripped by wild deer and an tart green apple tree in the center. A black berry bush along one side and feral asparagus grew along the opposite. Beyond the back fence was a large fallow field wild with tall weeds where we would often fly kites. Only hills and mountains beyond that from our vantage point. “The country”, or that’s how we perceived it.
My wife Inga and My son Travis had moved here when Travis was barely 3. We had left our tiny 1 bedroom apartment in Southeast Santa Monica to this house in Buellton after searching Santa Barbara unsatisfactorily. My brother had suggested looking out in the ‘valley.’ Inga and I had gasped when we’d seen this place. It seemed impossible that we should be allowed to live here. The 3 bedroom 2 bath house in a quiet suburban neighborhood was certainly nothing special, but to us it meant the world after living in such cramped quarters in the heart of Santa Monica. The gangs, theft, violence, crowds, traffic, horrible daycare and then the riots. I had not wanted to raise Travis or now this gentle little being there. My heart filled to bursting as I took in the beautiful scene before me.
The job in Santa Barbara had been a ‘Hail Mary’ pass thrown from deep in my own end zone with an all out blitz ready to bury me. A full time illustration position designing skateboard graphics? Impossible. My prayer helped by my history as a surfer, skater, animator and Punk album cover designer. The interviewers especially liked one Album cover in particular. The Bad Religion burning boy from the album ‘Suffer’ was ultimately the key that had opened the door to this life.
Now suburbanites with a minivan 2 kids and a cat, we were quite the show when we arrived in a Bob tail truck with a skeleton painted on the side. Our motley moving crew included my brother, skaters, artist friends and my animation mentor Gaby who was a transgender male to female. Our neighbor, also coincidentally the current Mayor of Buellton, had introduced himself to Gaby mistaking her for my wife. Gaby had explained in a deep voice that Inga was actually the person he was looking for pointing him in the right direction.
Since then we’d settled in to a ‘normal’ life. Or at least as normal as we could make it. Today I sat in a white plastic chair on the back patio watching Riley pluck flowers and hum while her Mom was doing lunges around the perimeter in her blue leggings, white tennies and gray top. She was a masseuse and fitness instructor. “Where was Travis?” I wondered. I hadn’t seen my son in about 15 minutes. “Reowwww!!” I heard as he swooped out from inside the house his arms extended like an airplane. “Dugga-dugga-Dugga!” He yelled unloading a barrage of Lego blocks on his little sister’s head. “TRA-VIS!” We all yelled annoyed our peaceful moment broken. Inga ran over to arrest the Kamikaze pilot while I went to the little blonde victim now crying softly. I picked her up a warm furry pale little creature. Her sad blue eyes welled with tears sparkling like polished buttons. “Oh, it’s okay honey.” I said softly. “Its okay my little Bunny.”

Travis

Aaaaahhhhh! Inga moaned. “PUSH!” The nurse kept saying. “I AM! ” Inga said crying. “I can’t do this anymore.” she sobbed. Exhausted, tears, sweat and saliva all mixing and flowing down her face. Shannon dabbed her forehead with a cool wet cloth. “You’re doing great” She said now wiping the rest of Inga’s strained brow, cheeks and neck. “Hang in there honey.” She said looking up at me. Her look said “not okay” and I’m sure so did mine. Inga had already been pushing for hours and was nearing complete exhaustion after almost 21 hours in labor. I was exhausted myself, I could only imagine how she felt.
I was still on crutches having broken my femur about 6 months prior just as Inga was entering her second trimester. Unbelievably bad timing and a very bad break. I had shattered my thigh bone into 5 pieces while riding my bike home from work. The surgeon thought I must have been hit by a car, but it had been just bad luck my wheels slipping sideways while my feet were clipped in. The spiral fracture ran all the way into my hip socket. I hadn’t walked without crutches since. I knew pain. I had hardly slept, seeing sunrise for what seemed like months only catching a few hours of rest usually around dawn.
“Aaaahhhh.” Inga moaned again. The doctor walked in. She was fifty something about 6 feet with short gray hair.” “How are we doing?” She asked the room warmly. “Shitty!” Inga blurted out crying. Never one to mince words she added laying back on the pillow “This sucks!” “Okay.” the doctor said calmly, “let’s have a look.” She stepped forward towards Inga’s open knees as the nurse stepped back. “Hmmmm. ” She said as she leaned down examining Inga with a gloved hand. “She’s still only 3 maybe 4 centimeters.” “This baby isn’t going to come out vaginally.” “What?” I asked now really concerned. “What do you mean?!” “Her pelvis is just too narrow. There’s not enough room and this is not a small child.” She continued. ” We’re going to have to do a C-section.” “The baby’s beginning to show signs of stress too.” She said pointing to the baby heart monitor. It’s pulse has gone up.” “Don’t worry, this isn’t uncommon, but the child needs to come out soon.” I looked at Inga and then Shannon. Both faces showed fear and disappointment. “Okay, let’s do it.’ I said leaning over my crutch to kiss Inga’s forehead. “Don’t worry honey. you’re going to be fine.” Inga’s eyes welled up with tears. “I’m sorry.” she said the tears running down her cheeks. ” Oh my God sweetheart.” I said holding her face. “You are wonderful. You did Nothing wrong. ” Her sad hazel eyes settled looking into mine. I knew she trusted me in moments like this.
We’d had some pretty intense ones in the last 5 years and we’d been on many adventures together. A 2 month trip to Alaska, up the Al-Can highway in a 25 year old Volkswagen Westfalia with only 700 dollars between us as we crossed into Canada. We’d driven over 10,000 miles on that one through mosquito infested pine barrels, torrential rain storms, bears, and strange humans. A 500 mile bike tour in Idaho camping under the stars every night in the middle of it had been a spontaneous inspiration from Inga when the bus broke down stranding us in Idaho Falls for a week. Perhaps most tellingly was on another trip where we’d been separated from our trekking group by a sudden blizzard among the snowy peaks of Nepal. We had hunkered down overnight in a gap-walled shack, snow blowing in the cracks between boards all night. I’d broken trail the next morning in snow drifts as deep as 5 feet for hours and then navigated us to rendezvous with our trekking group nearly a week later. Never really lovers we were game traveling companions. She was my best friend and she knew I would look out for her.

“Okay.” She said her face relaxing. I pet her wet hair back. “Alright, prep the O. R.” the doctor said turning to the nurse. “We’ll have that baby out in 20 minutes.” She said smiling at Inga. “I’m going to give you another epidural.” Inga brightened noticeably. The last epidural had her sitting up talking with family about 6 hours into labor. “Oh Good.” Shannon said grabbing Inga’s hand. “It will be over soon honey and you’ll get to see your baby.” Tears now ran again for both women. Shannon had a child of her own, so knew something about labor even though hers had been far easier. Sarah had arrived after only 6 hours and been delivered naturally. This was an epic marathon by comparison.
Shannon was Inga’s best friend and had been our neighbor back on 28th street here in Santa Monica. That was only blocks away from Santa Monica hospital where we were. We both loved Shannon, her Mom, Sharon and sister Shawn. All 3 lived in a 2 bedroom apartment for awhile next to our own single bedroom place. Their presence had turned the urban complex into a home for Inga when she’d first moved in 6 years before. I’d joined Inga a year later and now we were all very close.
“Okay, we’re ready.” The nurse said returning. “You’ll have to wait in the waiting room the nurse said addressing Shannon. “Of course.” Shannon said kissing Inga on the cheek. “I’ll see you soon.” She said walking out the door. The nurse had walked around Inga unplugging things and securing others for the move. Another nurse came in and assisted in the process. In a few minutes we were in the O.R. I had been given a gown, booties, hat and mask all in the same blue paper material. Inga lay on the operating table. She had been moved from the bed she’d spent the last 21.5 hours on struggling to give birth to our first child.
I was secretly terrified. I knew I shouldn’t be a father. I thought my gender confusion would ultimately make me unfit. “How could I be a father when I wanted to be a woman?” Inga had said we would address that after I’d given her a child. She had cried telling me it was her deepest wish. My dream of becoming a woman seemed impossible anyway so I had agreed. At least someone’s life would be fulfilled. We had also agreed to not know the gender of the child. I felt strongly we should wait and see. I didn’t want the whole process to be without that traditional mystery. Sometimes I thought, science invaded places it shouldn’t. We knew we would love it either way, so what did it matter?

I held Inga’s hand and looked in her eyes as they set up a small curtain barrier just below her breasts above her distended naked belly and legs.  She smiled at me, her eyes filled with love, trust and fear. I squeezed a little harder and smiled back as the nurse swabbed yellow betadyne all over the surgical area just below Inga’s bikini line. “How are you feeling?” The doctor asked now wearing her own mask and gown. “All numb?”
Inga nodded. The nurse had injected the epidural before we had left the delivery room.”Good. ” said the doctor walking to the other side of the curtain. “Let’s get a look at this baby.” I looked down again into Inga’s eyes smiling my reassurance. From her vantage point she couldn’t see or feel as the doctor first drew and then cut a line across the lower part of Inga’s belly. Blood seeped along the cut following the scalpel. The nurse deftly mopped it up handing the doctor an instrument to pull the incision open wider. The doctor cut again, this time her hand inside my wife’s abdomen. Inga suddenly began shivering like she was very cold. ” She’s shivering. ” I said slightly alarmed now looking up at the doctor. “That’s normal.” The doctor said her voice muffled by the mask. “Just one more minute she added. She seemed to be rummaging around in Inga’s abdomen like she was searching a duffle bag. I looked down at Inga again her eyes wide clearly gripped with fear. I smiled again, and squeezed her hand tighter but had to look back over the drape now as the doctor seemed to have something she was lifting out of my wife. It clearly had some weight. The first thing I saw was a bloody arm, long and slender, then a large bloody head, the other shoulder, gangly frog-like legs and then there it was. It seemed impossibly huge! “It’s a boy!” The doctor announced as she hoisted my son into the world for the first time. He was covered in gore and still hadn’t taken his first breath. I held mine anxiously as the nurse suctioned his mouth with a small bulb-syringe. “Waa.” he croaked quietly. “He’s beautiful.” I said looking down at my child struck suddenly with awe at this impossible event. I looked over at Inga still shivering but now crying as the nurse brought the cleaned up boy around for her to see for the very first time. “Oh my God!!” She cried now as we both sobbed looking at him together. “Travis” she said. “Travis.” I said looking back at her. “Our boy.”

2000 Dollars

I sat on a curb on a street I didn’t recognize trying to clear my head. “How did I get here?” I didn’t remember anything. I felt like I had just appeared out of thin air and was now sitting on a curb on a dark suburban street. I looked around. The curb I sat on was bordered by a large front lawn. A single story aging house with the porch light on was on the far side. The house had a driveway to my left. It looked like there was a car parked there and someone was examining it with a flashlight. “Unit 428, what’s your 20?” I heard off to my right. A light shined in my eyes. “Good evening.” The light said. “Do you have some ID?” The light now pointed lower. I could see now it was a police officer. “I don’t know.” I replied rummaging in my pockets as I stood up.”

My mind was a jumble. Bits and pieces of the evening started coming back to me. I remembered riding my bicycle through a lighted intersection at full speed having just come down a hill on my way home after my shift waiting tables. I did this regularly, usually very late, often after midnight. The restaurant was maybe 5 miles from the 1 bedroom apartment I shared with my older brother Kelly. Kelly and I worked at the same restaurant many times on the same nights. We worked there full time since high school along with our younger brother Brendan. Brendan moved to Maui and was already married with a son at the age of 19. I had gone to South Africa for a year surfing and visiting my father who lived there with his new family. My father’s alcoholism had caught up with him causing everything there to implode so I returned to San Diego. Our family home was being sold and the family scattered while I was gone so when I returned from Africa I was broke and homeless. The first day I went to the restaurant where I’d formerly worked to ask for a job and a meal. Hans, the manager was more like an older brother or mentor and gave me a hamburger and a shift the following day. That was the first thing I’d eaten since leaving Cape Town 2 days earlier. Sally, my High School girlfriend took me back, kicking out another man she was entertaining when I knocked on her door after a year’s absence. A few months later I shared my transgender self with her and things changed. Sally was wonderful and understanding, but we were no longer boyfriend/girlfriend but more like female best friends. Our intimacy suffered and eventually I chose to leave. Fortunately my brother Kelly was moving out of an apartment he shared with a childhood friend. This friend was a major Cocaine dealer in the County. He always seemed to bring my brother trouble. When Kelly finally had enough we found the small apartment on Chalcedony street in Pacific Beach. That was where I had been headed.

I found my wallet in my front pocket and handed my driver’s license to the officer. He shined his light on it looking at it the license and then me again. “Do you recall being in an accident Mr. Mahoney? “The officer asked handing me back my ID. “Um, not really.” I replied as I returned the license to my wallet and back into the front pocket of my Levis. “Yes, it seems you were hit by the gentleman who lives here about 30 minutes ago.” “You caved in the front of his car and flipped over the vehicle traveling at about 35 miles an hour.” “You’re extremely lucky to be alive.” New memories now flashed in my mind. Little disjointed vignettes. Crossing the intersection pedaling in 18th gear as hard as I could hurrying to beat Kelly home. He was in his small brown Toyota pick-up truck and had the obvious advantage. I had left before him so hoped I could beat him. Winner got the bedroom loser the couch. High stakes every night. We turned out to be great roommates ironically because we hadn’t really liked each other as kids. He the smaller older brother always getting in trouble while I was the tall younger over-achieving brother constantly making him look bad. I was also extremely sensitive, crying over things boys just didn’t. He had made it his mission to toughen me up and had largely succeeded.

I now remembered the car turning suddenly across a double yellow line and left turn lane. No time to react, I hit the white 280z full speed without ever touching my brakes. “Do you still live on Chalcedony?” The officer asked. “Yes.” I replied. “You seem ok now.” Said the officer. “Here’s the gentleman’s information that hit you.” “You may want to contact an attorney.” “Technically you were an accident victim and he moved you from the scene.” “You were clearly in shock.” “How about a lift home?” He asked. “Sure.” I answered, “That would be great. ” “Okay, follow me.” “I’ve already loaded your bike or what’s left of it.” “My bike!” I thought. Shoot, my only form of transportation. I’d bought the blue chrome-oly Centurion on the advice of a good friend. It was apparently a great deal at 150 dollars. It had seemed like a lot, but I needed reliable transportation so bought it. It served me well until tonight. “Just another brick in the wall.” I thought as I followed the officer to his patrol car across the street suddenly aware of a searing pain in my right knee. The officer opened the passenger door for me and I ducked in, a new pain now in my shoulder.

Life had been challenging for Kelly and I to say the least. We often found ourselves broke sitting in the apartment staring at each other with barely a dime between us. It seemed we were going backwards even as we worked full time waiting tables and going to school at the local Junior College. We sometimes felt frustrated and angry that we had no guidance or help from a parent. Car troubles were solved or not learning by doing. Everything cost too much. Our only respite often getting high together smoking a bong hit or something else. One memorable day had been spent in the apartment flying on mushrooms. A day glow painting on the wall had suddenly come alive dancing and strobing to the Clash, “London Calling.” We’d gained some insight that day into our older sister who had given us the painting from her college days. Most days were less exciting when we weren’t working or studying. Both Kelly and I wanted more. Something else at least. I had applied to UCLA when we’d first moved in and been accepted based on my high school grades. I had almost a 4.0 grade average and was a national merit scholar. My friends were blown away at graduation when I was recognized for it.  I was very secretive about studying and my grades. It wasn’t cool among our crowd to like school or do well. The only trouble with being accepted to UCLA was that I was broke. Moving would take money and I didn’t have any or know where to find it.

The officer pulled up to the apartment and began unloading the bike. I got a look at it for the first time. Even in the dark I could see both the handlebars pushed all the way forward. He unloaded the front wheel separately, now folded in half. “You take care now.” The officer said stepping back in the car and backing out. ” What the fuck happened to you?!” Kelly asked now stepping out of the ground floor apartment. He had a natural aversion to police having had his encounters.” I got hit by a car”  I said carrying the bent bicycle past him inside the apartment leaning it against the wall. “Damn! ” he said, “Again?!” Kelly sounded stunned knowing I’d been hit twice before. One time it had nearly killed me. “How?  Where?” He asked examining the bike and me wide-eyed. “You Okay?” He continued. “I’m not sure exactly. ” I replied,  “it’s still a bit blurry.” “Holy shit!” He said looking at the bike noticing even the cranks were bent and the top tube buckled the blue paint peeling where the steel had wrinkled. “You must have hit hard!” “I guess.” I replied, “The guy crossed a double yellow, it was his fault.” “Then he moved me from the accident scene.” “Crap, you need to call Ed-Ward!” He advised.

Edward Nava, my sister’s ex-husband and our former brother in law, drug dealer and roommate had finally passed the bar exam after he and my sister divorced. I didn’t know any other attorneys so I had done just that the next day. Edward or “Eddie” as we called him was Latino from the barrio of Montebello in East L.A. He and my sister had met and married in college at UCSB during the Vietnam era protests. Eddie had been a radical, activist and probably more importantly unacceptable to my father. They had moved to Sacramento following college where Eddie got his law degree and my sister became a Veterinarian. Both had moved to San Diego when our mom died 7 years ago. I had been 14. I contacted Eddie and he had agreed to help, pro-bono. Pretty cool I thought at the time. Eddie asked a doctor friend of his to check out my knee. After a month I was still limping heavily. The doctor took an X-Ray and said I probably tore some cartilage. “You were lucky.” He said. I didn’t feel so lucky as my moving date for UCLA rapidly approached and I was still broke. After some discussion with the driver of the car that hit me Eddie had secured an offer to settle for 2000 dollars. That was more money then I’d ever had at one time. Knowing how much I needed it Eddie had advised I take it. “It will get you to UCLA.” he added “Take the money and run.” So I had. I helped Kelly find a new roommate and found my own place near UCLA with 2 High School friends already in their third year there. Once I’d moved and was set-up going to school with a new job nearby as a busboy I began to re-think the accident. I realized I never would have been able to get here had it not been for that accident and the 2000 dollars.

Girl

What’s wrong Bear-Bear? She asked. My sister Kerry looked at me sincerely wondering. She used the name my family called me because of the little round ‘bear’ nose I had. I shrugged, tears spilling onto my cheeks. The truth was I didn’t know. Encounters with my only sister like this were rare. I loved her so much. She was beautiful with soft clear skin, long brown hair and she smelled good. Like fresh spring flowers. Everything I wanted to be. She picked me up and gave me a hug. “It will be ok.” She said setting me back down. She looked at me again trying to see what it was and then sort of shrugged and walked away. She was 12 years older and had a busy high school life. To me She was like a noble princess. I knew she was athletic and excelled academically. Much of her life was a mystery to me though. At 4, how could I comprehend the turmoil she struggled through in our large dysfunctional house. Years later I learned of a much older boyfriend, teen pregnancy, an illegal abortion and our parents marital troubles. She was just surviving, as we all were.
The house was huge by any standard.  A “White Elephant” it had been called a few years later when it went on the real estate market. Ultimately it was divided into 3 wealthy homes and sold piece meal. It was a great place to be lost in the shuffle especially  in such a large family.  Something like 6 bedrooms and 8 baths. Lots of dark wood and gaudi furniture. A scary basement my older brother loved to lock us in and a giant living room where gladiatorial boxing matches between us were held. A perversion of the boxing lessons my golden gloves father had instituted for the older boys.
By the time the 4 youngest including myself were taught it was administered by older teenage siblings with a slightly more twisted spin. 2 younger brothers against 1 older for the entertainment of friends seated in the couches around our arena surrounded us. Blood sport. Fight until you drop or face the wrath of our older brother 10 years my senior. I lived in fear of these contests. I always ended up crying and ridiculed. “Your just a girl.” They said. It usually developed into a chant. “Girl, Girl, Girl!” I had our loving Nanny to thank for that gift. She was the first to offer them that handy label.
Gloria. 5’2″ 220 pounds of angry uneducated black female from rural Georgia with a scar on her face where she’d been disciplined by her parents with a hot iron. She was only 17 when she had taken the job of watching the 4 youngest boys. AKA “the boys.” She held us under her very firm thumb. “Coming up side our heads” if we acted up with the ring she wore on her right hand. Ever vigilant she knew just how to play our absentee parents. “No Mrs. Mahoney” she’d say, “I don’t know why they’re crying.” She’d lie after some abusive discipline behind closed doors. She knew I wasn’t just a “boy” like the rest of the four and found it entertaining to single me out. “Anyone want to try on some lipstick? “She asked on one grocery shopping excursion. I jumped up from the back bench seat of the white Chevy Impala where my 3 brothers and I sat unbuckled. “I do!” I blurted. Somehow I imagined this would be my chance to be the girl I longed to be. “Ok.” She said. “Lean forward and do your lips like this” she said puckering. I leaned over the front seat pouting my lips the way she had. I watched in ecstasy in the rear view mirror as she drew the lovely red lipstick across my mouth. The wax smell intoxicating to me. “Ha ha!” She jeered. “Why you wearin lipstick?” “You ain’t no girl!!” My brother’s began to laugh too taking their cue from her. “You just a girl you little sissy.” She taunted. “Girl, Girl, Girl.”

Mom

46 years. It seemed SO old. Maybe it was the just how much older she seemed. At 46 she had been dying since I could remember. We had all learned the script. “Our Mom has Cancer. “Oh..” people would say grimacing. “You poor children.” Honestly I didn’t know why they said that. I knew that Cancer was a very bad disease and that virtually everyone died from it, but it had always been part of my life and I knew no other.
There were four of us and Mom. It had been this way since we moved from Carmel. That had been a big adjustment. We had left the life we knew in a very large house with family all around to a life with just the 5 of us. That first Christmas had been a shock. Mom laying sick in bed and the four of us sitting up by the barren tree. Pat, the oldest summed it up. “This sucks!” We felt as empty as the lack of presents under the spindly conifer. Disappointed, pretending to be joyful we tried to keep up a happy face for Mom. Even then we felt the burden of her sadness. Her depression was a leaden thing, dark and heavy, her desolation consumed us all.
The four of us got together and put on a play for her. The Wizard of Oz. Poor Brendan getting the lead role as Dorothy because he was the smallest and couldn’t protest. Little did anyone realize I would have loved that role even though he did have the eyelashes for it! I was the Scarecrow, Kelly the Tin Man and Pat the Cowardly Lion. Our own little Broadway karaoke musical done to a record at 78rpm. In Carmel we had performed for friends and family. It was a tradition from our parents upbringing during the Depression in North Dakota. There had been a much larger audience in Carmel more family and a much more festive atmosphere. Santa had always visited in the guise of my father wearing the white beard and red suit. We had also had our three older siblings to help us. They had loved to fool us into believing reindeer were on the roof by stomping around over our heads after we had fallen asleep. They would point to the sky towards a red star and say, “see there’s Rudolph right there!” They were somewhere else now, all of us scattered to the wind buy our parents’ combative and destructive divorce. Tonight our dying Mom was the only person viewing our small production. She feigned joy although I’m sure there must have been some watching four small boys lip sync the Rogers and Hammerstein show tunes. I can’t begin to imagine the depth of her pain and loss nor how she managed to smile at all.
To have been left by her beloved superstar Plastic Surgeon husband for a younger attractive nurse, turned out of her lavish home and expensive lifestyle was bad enough. To then have her breasts, hair and beauty cut away from her by doctors literally experimenting on her body all while she attempted to care for her four small boys must have tested the limits of her sanity. Meanwhile that same beloved father and husband dodged her attorneys for alimony and child support by moving to Canada and having a new family. We were far too young to grasp all of this. She was our elegant but tragic mother. She made clear our Dad was an SOB but to us Moms and Dads were still people far different from ourselves. They were like Gods living out Olympian lives that were far too complicated and vast completely beyond the scope of our petty reality. Like mortals playing to Persephone pulled from the heavens we knew our tiny offerings would pale in comparison to what our Noble Mother had formerly witnessed in her fabulous jet-set life. We went through the motions of a the holiday anyway but in our hearts we knew there was nothing to celebrate for anyone. We did it all understanding this very well might be the last Christmas we would share with her.
The holiday meal was meager compared to our former elaborate celebrations featuring two 25 pound turkeys, gold rimmed serving dishes and settings all presented on a 15 foot long black glass topped table. Our world-reknown surgeon Father had always made a big show of sewing 2 extra legs on each Turkey so there would be enough for all. We weren’t poor or suffering in the classic sense. This wasn’t any Dickens novel, it was just dramatically different from what we had known until then. Complaining to Mom was forbidden. That rule was strictly enforced usually by Kelly who had somehow taken up the role of the vigilant protector of the realm.
To be sure, we did have our fun. So fortunate to have built in play mates with us at all times. We began to explore our new environment. San Diego was much more urban then Carmel had been. People here were more athletic and spent more time outdoors doing sports. Carmel had seemed more introspective, creative and less superficial somehow. We used to wander through trees and  rocky shores of Carmel exploring like a pack of feral pups. In this new world it seemed things were barren and wild like the desert. The only trees grew in rows and had no branches. People played Tennis and surfed, used profanity wore shorts and tennis shoes during the work week. They drank Margaritas and ate strange things called avocados and quesadillas. Boys had long hair, girls wore jeans and some people didn’t go to church on Sundays or believe in God at all.

Mom decided we would be swimmers. She had been with us walking along Stewart’s beach in Carmel when a couple had been swept out into the ocean and drown in the stormy frigid waters right in front of us. It was then she decided we had better know how to swim if we were going to live near the ocean. One day after we had taken a certain number of swimming lessons at the YMCA, Mom informed us that we would be riding our single speed Schwinn bicycles 5 miles to the YMCA for swim team practice. This came as a surprise because it was nearly 5 o’clock and dinner time was approaching.  Normally we would be coming inside soon since it would be dark in a little while. This was the day that everything changed for us. That simple pastoral childhood that we had known in Carmel had just ended. We were to be athletes now. We would be Southern Californians. There was no discussion, she just said “get going!”

Off we went out the door. With our suits rolled into our towels we mounted our bikes. We lived on a very very steep hill. We had to walk our bikes up that first day but later learned how to “paper-boy” back and forth across the road in order to make the ride up without getting off our bikes. It wasn’t long before we began competing to beat each other up, but not that first time. The 5 mile ride seemed like a marathon at first. Then the awkwardness of that first day on the swim team. All four of us were thrown in the slow lane together knowing absolutely nothing about the strokes, distances or timing. No speedo suits for us like the other kids but regular trunks clearly marking us as rookies. The coach seemed to be speaking a foreign language, that we were expected to know. We followed along as best we could in a workout that seemed endless. We really had no idea how long it would last or really how much time had elapsed. Our eyes burned because we didn’t have any goggles and the chlorine was very strong. When the workout was suddenly and mercifully over, we went to the locker room and showered like everyone else. We attempted to blend in but we were clearly and painfully new. We looked at each other in bewilderment at what we had just been subjected to. It seemed like the worst night of our lives. Hopefully we wouldn’t have to do this again. We felt sure if we explained how bad this was to Mom she would understand and not make us return. We were confident she would never have sent us at all if she had any idea of how we suffered. When done in the showers we walked back with wet hair to our 4 little bicycles rolled our towels so that we could carry them and road off into the dark, not a light between us while the other kids waited for their parents to pick them up.

So began 6 years of intense physical training. We were triathletes before there was such a term. It wasn’t long before we were beating everyone in the pool.
Mom attended every swim meet she could always keeping up appearances by wearing her idea of a fashionable wig to hide her hair loss and stylish outfit. We pushed her in her wheelchair to the front row of the bleachers where the other parents would welcome her happily. The four of us became her source of pride. We would bring back our ribbons and medals which she would proudly display by pinning them to her jacket or coat. She would write down our times and what place we got. Other parents would help when they could. Other families drove us to swim meets when Mom was too sick and even brought us along on their family trips. The people of the swim team literally became our family. But even so no one was allowed all the way in. No one could ever be where we were. We appreciated their help, but somehow knew that it would be up to us to survive when Mom died.

She lasted another 6 years after that first day on the swim team. There were many false trips to the ER and ambulance calls to our house during that time. I couldn’t count how many times we’d found her unconscious and called for help. We became inured to the routine of it.  When she finally died it came as no surprise but our swim team days were over. Most of us had quit and begun surfing by that time anyway. Mom had not argued. By the time she passed we were all teenagers and had adjusted to our new home and lifestyle. Mom had juggled the finances as best she could, her attorneys chasing my father around the globe getting money here and there. Her life in and out of the hospital had been extremely difficult and expensive. At the end there was nothing left. Her sister, my Aunt Winnie had helped during the times my mom was hospitalized along with older siblings and family friends. Responsibility for myself and my 3 brothers fell to my sister, Kerry all of 26 years old. At 14 my childhood was over. My sister informed us that we would have to work, that there was not enough money to feed everyone. Swim team and other luxuries were something other people could afford. There was no complaining. We all understood.