Supine and naked, we were attending some friend-of-a-friend’s spa party. But space was at a premium, as it is in so much of the city, so the crisply uniformed spa workers stacked a blonde woman on top of me.
We both studied the ceiling for a moment.
“I wasn’t planning to get anything done,” I finally said. “Spas always make me too nervous to enjoy anything besides leaving.”
“I’m already nervous. I’m getting my ears pierced,” she admitted. “I feel so silly for waiting this long. But I’m so afraid of needles.”
She tried to laugh self-consciously, but just exhaled a few times really fast and then felt even more self-conscious. I still couldn’t see her face, but I held easily the full soft weight of her being (kuschelig I am), and I silently appreciated the way that her loosely pinned-up hair was not falling into my face, because ew I have enough nightmares thanks.
I couldn’t help feeling a tenderness toward this stranger and her reasonable, ignorant fear.
“I got my ears pierced when I was 9, after begging and begging,” I told her. “As soon as they did the first one, I said — through tears — they could stop, and I’d live with one. It would be fine, a lot of people only have one earring.”
It was my turn to laugh self-consciously, and a ripple ran through our body-stack.
“But my mom and the minimum-wage mall piercer were having none of that, so they finished the job. What I had started to learn, as soon as the first one was done, was –“
And it was about that time that the spa attendants swarmed up, efficiency en masse, chattering to Top Bunk in a process like surgery prep on speed.
One white uniform pulled her arms out straighter, another turned her head to one side and then the other, still another prepped the tray with the piercing gun and wipes.
“What I learned was that the needle didn’t really hurt, it just surprised. In, out, gone.
She stiffened, sighed.
“What hurts is your own body’s own response to the invasion. It’s a lot slower, throbbier, then achier, crustier. But it also has its own timeline, which means it will end. You inflame, and you cool. And you will love the results.”
Of course that’s about the time I woke up, so I never did get to see her results, or buy her a pair of sparkly new earrings to celebrate her rite of passage.
She wouldn’t be able to change them out for six weeks anyway, unless guidelines have changed in the last 30 years, but that’s part of the rite, too — anticipation after the dread.
So we got on a plane a week ago and moved to Frankfurt. I gave the process 110%, and celebrated last night in the Anglo Irish Pub with a Jameson or two for a little taste of home. It was the first drink with ice cubes in 168 hours butwho’scounting. Wrote a few notes while there.
- We’re staying in a very cozy temporary apartment for a couple of months. The owners left a scale in the bathroom. I tried it a few days after we arrived, but even accounting for kilograms, I thought it was broken. Finally got Kris to try it yesterday, since she’s so consistent, and the scale is perfectly accurate — it’s MY weight that’s off.
- Since starting our moving the moving process in earnest 5 weeks ago, I’ve lost 21.4 pounds. I have literally worked my ass off, and my love handles. No time to eat and never stopping moving (plus doing all the lifting, since Kris broke her elbow a few weeks before we left, actually pays off. Starting a migraine preventive during that time (finally) has helped, too — it’s tempered my outsized appetite down to a normal size AND quashed most headaches, too.
- Our apartment is cozy, if too small for two active six-year-olds. Is ANY house big enough for two active six-year-olds?! Our neighborhood feels safe, quiet. Transit is plentiful and easy. Shopping it pretty easy, and everything on offer is nicer than the shoddy goods we’re used to. The weather is a little grayer and a little cooler than we’re used to, but after 70s right up through November, it’s about damn time. Bundle up, motherfuckers, it’s xmastime.
- Can’t help thinking my ASD makes me well-suited for much of life in the city. Avoiding eye- and physical-contact, no matter how close the quarters, is first nature. Minding my own business, the same. Efficiency? Check. Working within the system (when the system makes sense), hard same — and a lot of things in Germany have been engineered logically. Feeling visibly invisible is a preferred state whenever more than 2 or 3 people are around, so I don’t understand that “lonely in the big city” trope.
- So I boarded a plane and landed here in a foreign land and unpacked some clothes into an apartment that smells like my mom’s best friend’s house from my childhood in Macon. She wasn’t German — Moroccan — but if you go far enough away, maybe you come back around, like a boomerang.
- My kids like the food here, mostly. I tried lychee for the first time. I’ve been overwhelmed by the selection of meat products at even the small grocery (meat “pretzels” for the keto soul, y’all). I’ve been thwarted finding Jameson as anything but by the pour — until I realized I can buy it on Amazon Prime and wondered why we didn’t move here years ago. Public toilets aren’t as plentiful as my overactive bladder would prefer, and it helps to have spare change, but tant pis.
I’m here. It’s December. There’s chocolate and cookies everywhere. We’ll figure it out.
“A journey does not need reasons. Before long, it proves to be reason enough in itself. One thinks that one is going to make a journey, yet soon it is the journey that makes or unmakes you.”
[Ed note: I haven’t posted anything here about it, but I wrote a bit about my 2019 trans awakening in a recent Instagram post. Then I had top surgery last week.]
One week post-surgery verdict: I look like a giant baby who’s seen some shit.
Fat, unsexed, bloodied and bruised.
I traded two boobs for a belly. Sitting or standing, it’s all I can see from up here. From sweater bumps to smuggling a lap cat. From Venus of Willendorf to Homer Simpson.
And even with the chest swelling, squaring things out a little and having no nipples really un-genders the whole upstairs affair.
So yeah, I spent over $9,000 and risked death to look like a drunk-tank cupid.
But wait! Here’s the perverse part:
Part of me wonders, why aren’t they throwing roses at me and my new, clearly improved body?
Smell that? Eau de Male Privilege. A helluva drug.
(And it’s putti, not cupid, I know…but nobody else knows, so.)
The puzzle I’m working on since it’s too soon to work out
I am not an incremental thinker or a bit-by-bit believer. Sowing and reaping is for farmers, and people who believe in an afterlife. I’m a global thinker, into eurekas and epiphanies, big bangs and unfurling the rest later. Details are for peons, you know? Scoffs: What experience do I have with step-by-step progress?
Getting through school? Bah. I was but one small speck of the disaffected phalanx carried on the college-prep current, until I was nearly carried out on my shield.
Going blind and losing big weight a la 2011? Closer, I suppose, though Part A had no logical connection to Part B. I did get in the habit of being delivered to a gym, doing stuff, and doing it all again a few days later. Until I didn’t anymore, because I started
Making babies? But that was a miracle that happened adjacent to me, practically in spite of me even if inside of me. I ate, we grew. I walked, we grew. I rested, we grew. No logic there but being, as much plant as animal.
But this trans thing IS a piecemeal process, and this surgery is laying part of a foundation for something else to come. Something, but I don’t know what. I can’t explain it to anyone else. I can’t even really verbalize it to myself, which goes to show how it hid in plain sight for uhh 30 years.
It’s an ur-narrative, as simple as a couplet: first this, then that.
It’s an ur-narrative, as confused as truth: first me, then me.
¿Por qué? Porque.
Off to learn everything I can about embodied cognition and fatboy fashion. Chins up!
The show was announced way back in August. That same day, I bought 2 tickets and sent a calendar invite to Kris to save the date.
The show would fall just a couple of weeks after our 20.5-year anniversary, and she’d really enjoyed their show last year with me at Terminal West. And this one would be even closer, just 20 minutes away at a venue we’d been visiting since high school.
From August through November, life went on. Back to school, colds, travel for work, the full serving of life in progress.
Since I follow HGM on twitter and instagram, I’d see updates about their tour, and I’d be just as excited all over again.
When they announced “our show” had sold out, I congratulated myself on my (1) excellent taste and (2) wise early-bird purchasing habits.
Less than a week prior to the big night, I realized with horror that we hadn’t asked our favorite sitter if she could stay with the boys. Kris was spending a week out of the country, so I deep in the subsistence one-day-at-a-time bunker of single parenting. Totally not conducive to planning ahead, or any of the executive functions (unless falling asleep at 8:45pm counts as one. And if it doesn’t, I don’t want to hear abzzzz zzz zzz.)
But luck was on our side! Our saintly sitter was available. SET PHASERS TO ROCK.
The Big Day Arrives
A couple of hours before our planned exit time, I take care of final preparations:
- Load my wheelchair, saying a quick prayer of thanks for the clear skies (the joys and sorrows of having an external lift!)
- Move the car so the sitter will have a place to park
- Pack my small wallet
- Fish my winter gloves out of the closet
- Check venue site for suggested parking spots
Then, I opened my email to print out the tickets.
And my email said, “What tickets?”
Oh, must have had a typo. Try again, please.
Change up my search terms: full artist name? Venue? Date?
NOPE. NOPE. NOPE.
Go straight to ticket seller site to check my purchase history.
NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT
In desperation, I went to my bank’s site and pulled up the 3 month old statement, looking for the transaction that I KNOW I made.
BITCH, ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY?
But by that time, I was not familiar with anything. My own kitchen faded out and spun away, like in a bad dream. I was speechless. But…? How…?
With the sitter due at 6pm, I confessed to my wife my revelation that I must be an idiot. Somehow, she did not seem as surprised by this revelation as I.
Go easy on me, honey, I’m not doing too well
Do you hate me honey, as much as I hate myself?
– “Heart Like a Levee,” Hiss Golden Messenger
Like most parents of small children, we don’t get a lot of nights out together, and we didn’t want to cancel on our sitter and have her lose the planned income. A chain of sorrows.
Time to scare up a Plan B. There must be something else happening on the Sunday night before Thanksgiving.
In this city of nearly 6 million people.
In this, the 9th-largest-in-the-nation metro area.
N O T H I N G
And I don’t mean “nothing as good as our original plans.” Our goal for months was to see HGM – nothing could match that.
I mean “nothing” as in “not a single thing.” Every events calendar was cleared until after Thanksgiving.
JFC. What do people even do after 7pm?
Movies! What’s playing?
Oh, that’s right – NOTHING.
Finally, in disgusted resignation, we buy two tickets to Geostorm twenty miles away. With the movie holding at 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, at least I wouldn’t have to pretend to have liked it. This was the best of the bad outcomes.
Seeking company for my misery, I tweeted my disappoints out to the world.
A minute later, I get a reply notification. Unusual, because even my nearest and dearest treat my tweets like the elevator farts they are: best to politely ignore them, hoping I’ll stop soon or leave.
But when I check, the reply was from MC.
! ! ! ! ! !
The next minute was a blur. DM, reply, an email, and he put us On The List.
A bolt from the blue of pure grace.
We drive to dinner a couple blocks from the show venue, dine, and toast to my undeserved good fortune, to the grace of artists working from love, to a wife who doesn’t hate me as much as I hate myself.
We roll toward the venue at doors open. There would be no opener, and it’s easier to maneuver my chair before the crowds reach max capacity.
We arrive at the venue’s entry, where the opening door is up a half-flight of brick steps.
When the door swings open, we can see 2 more flights of steps leading up to the venue proper, the listening room.
As I mentioned, we’ve been to this venue off and on for the last 20 years – but not in the last few, not since I’ve had my wheelchair.
After the couples in front of us file in, we coolly ask the door man, “Where’s your wheelchair entrance?”
“We don’t have one.”
“Sorry, we don’t have one.”
Kris and I exchange dubious glances. Is he new? In possession of a remarkably dry sense of humor? Is it backstage, so they keep its use tightly restricted?
“But…but…how do you get gear and stuff in?” I stammer.
“Carry it.” And he shrugged all of his many muscles, some of which appeared to shrug their muscles.
Well, son of a bitch. We made it this far — through the Forest of Wait and the Bog of Buying Brainfart, to On the List, to the literal Doorstep of the Venue — and there was No Way In.
We move back to regroup. A few walkups get told it’s sold out and leave. A few more ask about the band anyway, which I tell them is great (hence sold out) and can’t help pettily throwing in “and it sucks that they put me on the list, and neither of us knew I wouldn’t be able to actually get in.”
I might have said that last part extra loud so muscley doorman would hear. *angel on my shoulder blushes*
But it worked. *devil on my shoulder grins*
This man of few words said, “Well, we’ll get you in there if you’re on the list. What if we carry your chair up? Can you get up the stairs, then sit again when we get it to the top?”
“My [power] chair weights 130lbs!”
“And I weight 260,” he countered good-naturedly.
“I weight 220, but I can’t lift it.”
I am thoroughly skeptical person, and also this female salmon. But. If they’re offering. And if it’s really the ONLY WAY…
There’s one way in and there’s one way out and we’re gonna have a good time
– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger
So I relent.
Kris offered her arm to my death grip, and I clawed the bannister with the other hand. I step, step, rested, step, dragged my weak leg and large ass up too many stairs to count.
Showed my ID to the list holder, got stamped, and staggered in.
Down below, Doorman recruited two other willing guys and brought up my big, bulky wheelchair.
I was too ashamed to look back. I was mortified they had to do that for me, and flooded with appreciation that they would anyway, and terrified they’d hurt themselves or the chair in the process.
It’s a basic-ass power chair, but it took me a $1,000 co-pay and nearly a year of time to get it. A replacement would cost over $6,000 because my insurance company doesn’t shop on Amazon.
Eventually, it arrived, and I sat and tried to breathe slow and not cry. (Not tonight!)
But the lack of elevator was just the tip of the inaccessibility iceberg. There was no designated seating area for chair users, so we were left to strategize our own spot. We picked one at the end of the bar, next to the (low) tables where standing people would be less likely to block my view.
The crowd fills in moments later and fills the place up. I will not be able to go anywhere until it clears out again after the show – unfortunate news to my neurogenic bladder’s every 20-minute schedule, but again, no choice here.
It’s hard, Lord
Lord, it’s hard
Everybody in the whole damn place has gotta have a good time
– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger
Band in. Show starts.
And in that alchemy, the mess, the strife, the shame of getting there melted away.
We groove like only HGM can groove.
We laugh. We sing along. I chair-dance myself sweaty.
And also countless people trip over the footplate of my chair (and my feet). I have to pee for an hour and a half, leaving me praying the show never ends and ends right now. Bitter and sweet, sweet and bitter.
They play all my favorites.
I’m amazed at the energy the band can bring to this last stop on tour.
I’m humbled at the sacrifices they make to come bring this experience to us. Thousands of miles and dozens of days and countless loved ones left, just to fill us with the gospel of the jukebox.
It’s like an oil change for the soul. The toxic sludge drained out, the life-giving power of connection restored.
We applaud the contiguous encore. It’s the mature choice, logistically and conceptually, and it makes perfect sense.
Finally, finally, it’s over. We wait a minute for the aisle to clear as quickly as it had filled, and I beat it to the (inaccessible) bathroom. Relief.
When I come out, they’re waiting to take my chair down. I grapple-plod-step-rest-plod back down, and plop on a bench in the clear, cold air outside to await the chair arrival.
When the eagle lands, Kris and I head back to the car, to home, to bed.
The story would end there, but it doesn’t quite, because there was magic afoot, remember?
To home, to bed, to sleep perchance to dream. Perchance to not be awakened by either kid before dawn. And so it went!
In the morning, I rolled over to try to shift the pain from one hip to the other, to keep the pain down enough to pretend I might sleep for 15 more minutes.
But that never works. I open my eyes and was transported instantly back to the stage last night.
A shimmering blue column of power and persistence catching the sliver of weak sun, transforming it beyond recognition.
A pulse of light in the darkness, just like HGM in the November early darkness on that empty Sunday evening.
I’ll rise, I’ll rise
I’ll rise in the morning
Take the good news
And carry it away
Take the good news
And spirit it away
– “Drum,” Hiss Golden Messenger
And in that flash, I knew: there is enough love to go around.
That songs are stronger when more people sing them.
That live music is the raw edge of community – our synapse, ifyouwill – of community with every thing that makes life good, and with each other.
And it’s a “we” that makes life good.
There’s one way in and there’s one way out and we’re gonna have a good time
– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger
I had a good time. A great time. An epically awesome time.
Even with the roadblocks, the self-imposed and the systematic, amor vincit omnia.
Thank you, MC.
Thank you, HGM.
Thank you, Eddie’s Attic strong men.
Thank you, Kris, for 20.5 years.
Thank you, legs, for getting me up the stairs one last time.