The Yukon Mining Company
This is West Hollywood, California. Aside from the homeless, and the tubercular hawking noises emanating from the apartment buildings, the smell of fried cabbage, and occasional human dump found in pockets of the park, some hypodermic needles, and mail fraud, this is a nice neighborhood. The street is lined with jacaranda trees that leave purple droppings everywhere, in the fall the flowers turn yellow and orange, they leave sap on the cars. I have an avocado tree in my front yard.
West Hollywood is home to two distinct communities, gay men and eastern Europeans. And when the Russians, because that’s what we called them no matter where they were from, looked at us homosexuals maybe they saw Peter the Great who enacted a ban on queers in the armed forces, although he was known to have his own fare share of male lovers. Perhaps they thought of Ivan the Terrible who was accused of being gay himself in an attempt to discredit him. Perhaps even the sweetest Russians in an attempt to protect them but maybe even an attempt to protect me thought of Tsar Dmitry who when he was overthrown had his flesh scraped through the dusty streets, his blood mixing with dirt, little freckles splintering off, his hair caked and mangled, especially his pubic hair as he was being dragged with a sickle through his scrotum and penis, the flesh of his testicles tearing, leaving hollowed sacs like chicken skin flapping against the rusted metal then finally his mutilated broken body sat on display beside that of his boyfriend Peter Basmanov. And maybe while they were being dragged they reached for one another and tried to clasp hands, or maybe they could do nothing but scream out in sheer pain, I like to think of them both staring at the sky, tears streaming down their faces, making silent vows to one another, their heads bumping directly up and down on the road and yet they focused on the same little bit of sky, but if there were any mercy at all, maybe their last moments were dulled because they were passed out in pain, but there was still vomit dragging along their cheeks, urine on the exposed flesh of their legs stinging the wound of their sex, dignity escaped them, their bodies vacant of anything besides the screaming memory of hatred and pain.
Then there’s the homeless. There are two parks that mark the borders between Los Angeles and West Hollywood. One is Plummer park, a small park with tennis courts where the older Russian men sit around and play chess all day, a woman pushes a cart selling warm homemade perogies. The other park is Poinsettia park, which has a large field and a small area for dogs to run around off leash. Each park has its own little plot of grass where the homeless addicts, tranny prostitutes, and mentally ill congregate and listen to music, sleep, do drugs, and trace the air with beautiful crazed fluid movements. Between the two parks is Santa Monica Blvd. the new “boulevard” just like Hollywood Blvd. used to be “The Boulevard”. The ho stroll. As a white flag between the two there’s a small shopping area complete with Trader Joes and a 24-hour diner, The Yukon Mining Company.
When it rained the tranny prostitutes worked their way inside the diner to solicit the customers right there. They sat on the older men’s laps and fed them their mashed potatoes or vanilla pudding then after some time they snuck off, coupled one glamorous bronze glittery prostitute and one senior citizen, to the bathroom.
I remember one night sitting in a booth and seeing one of the prostitutes walk in. She was what I called a “scruncii tranny” because it’s as if some guy found a scruncii on the ground and poof! became a lady. So this dusty muscular tranny in a sequined dress walked over to the center booth where three men sat. The men looked older than sixty. The one guy she approached was wearing a Member’s Only jacket, khaki pants, oxfords, and had a crew cut. He had that curmudgeony look all older men at diners get. She quickly smiled and squeezed in the booth between the table and his lap. He kept on spooning his soup, the beef broth dribbling out the corners of his mouth. Her legs, more muscular than his, took up all the space. He looked down at the table. He looked nervous. I got a glimpse of him when he was younger. In the Marines. Sleeping with men in Okinawa. He looked almost shy. His cheeks a little rosy. It made me scared. These were the ones to watch out for. She stroked his head, making his hair messy. She was talking. He was ignoring, eating his soup. I couldn’t make out the words. I tried to look at my flashcards. I wanted to study but I wanted to know.
“C’mon.” she took off his glasses.
He put down his spoon. Looked at her for the first time. With a shaky hand he grabbed his glasses and put them on. He looked at her again. He put his two shaky hands slowly up to the sides of her face. She was stiff and still. Now she looked scared. I saw her little boy in her. Standing waiting to get picked for baseball. Hands folded behind his back. Looking eager. Always last. He clasped each side of her head and stroked her wig downwards.
She scooched out of the booth and hooked a finger in his belt loop. They walked off to the bathroom. It had a lock on it that required quarters. No one would bother them.
On this particular night I got a phone call. It was from her. The client that I went too far with. We had gone too far because I knew what it was like. She was usually the only one left in the shelter for the holidays. I knew what that was like too. In fact I held on to what it was like with white knuckles every day. Wanting so badly to grab people on the street, first dates, strangers. I wanted to sit them down and tell them that feeling. That aloneness. I can pinpoint the moment I went to far. It was when I let her in my car when I got off work. She asked for a ride back to the program. It was only a block away. She fiddled with the radio. A rap song came blaring out.
Comin' up I was confused, my mama kissin' a girl
Confusin' occurs, comin' up in the cold world
“Ohhh I love this song” She crooned bobbing her head up and down, bent her elbow flattened her hand and dribbled the air in front of her.
Daddy ain't around, prolly out committin' felonies My favorite rapper used to sing ch-check out my melody
“Can you just drive me around the block until it’s over?’ She leaned in close to me, made begging eyes, she put her gangster hands together in prayer position.
“Fine but just this once.”
Hate it or love it, the underdog's on top
And I'm gon' shine homie until my heart stops
Then it was like that every night. Until she got kicked out. But she still had my number. On this particular night she called me. She was high on crystal. It was a crisis. I became alive. I told her to meet me at the Yukon Mining Company. I ordered a coffee and pie. I asked her if she wanted anything. She said no. She looked scared. Her pupils were dilated and her jaw was clacking. I knew she was high. None of it made sense but of course it never does. I told her she could stay on my couch for the night. I took her home. I drank wine and slipped into something more comfortable. It was a silk slip. I think I was being a little bit ridiculous. She slept on the couch that night.
These things happen slowly over time. They start with a general malaise that grows into a vacancy, then maybe a disagreement. She made me perk up inside like the vietnamese ladies when I walk into the local nail shop. Last time I was with a woman I was performing in disintegrating theaters in San Francisco, reading poetry, and wrapping my hair in colorful African cloths. I felt strong then, but the time before the girl I felt meek. Then suddenly came the day it was clear. She looked at me and said, “I lay in bed every night and wonder who is lucky enough to go home with you.”
That was all it took. She was. You are. Let’s face it: anyone that poses that question is.
I mean how long do we wait for someone to find the right combination of words to rock our world like that? I know it’s a fairy tale that there are a right combination of words.
When I was a little girl my dad owned a bakery. If you live in Los Angeles, you’ve been there. It was filled with the smell of baking things. Bread, giant head sized cookies, little plastic cups overflowing with cake and whipped cream. My dad was gay and Latino and he was very offended the first time he bit into the cold stale white bread of an American sandwich. As an adult if you ever wonder how wonderful it might be to grow up in a bakery like this; a bakery filled with balloons and Latin music and the smell of warm coffee and having freshly steamed Mexican hot chocolate on rainy days after school; if you ever wonder how great it is to be plopped on a counter a hundred times by thousands of big strong gorgeous gay Latino hands only to have the first bite of the first baked guava and cheese pie of the day; well I can only tell you it is better than you can imagine. Maybe that is why I do not have any capacity for self-control today. I just want want want and take take take. I will tell you this though, a lesson I also learned as a young girl, because despite the café we were not rich and eventually my father was infected with the AIDS virus and we were less-than-not-rich. I learned to recycle. I mean not just things I consumed. I learned how to make money off of others recyclables. Which is a fancy way to say that I collected bottles. Even more important than learning to recycle I learned that people that drink bottled water are generally good people. They separate everything correctly and they subscribe to the New Yorker.
It wasn’t much long after she slept over I sat in my bed and placed my cup of tropical carrot juice on my bedside table- it was a mug actually. Everything was mugs.
My libido was waning. I hadn’t felt like having sex in over a month, not even with myself. I suppose this can be normal but I found myself negotiating in my mind my own sexual reward system. If the evening played itself out one way I would respond with sex. This is usually a long detailed laundry list… if I bathe, am clean shaven, have 1.5 glasses of red wine, eat, do not feel the need to take a crap, urinate, not have my menses or a distended belly, am not too full or too tired, and if She behaves, we do not fight, the dog is walked, all animals are out of the bedroom, we have clean sheets, and quite possibly if I am not pushing it, (who am I kidding), a clean house, then we can have sex.
I know as I write this that this is entirely too much to ask but bear in mind that what I was actually dealing with is quite the opposite. Some nights as we were watching TV she felt playful and reached over to grab my breast or maybe even my crotch. That’s right I sat there legs together engrossed in Law & Order and suddenly I felt an awkward pinch on an area reserved for lovemaking or even fucking but this was neither. This to me is not sexual it’s more of a joking gesture like when someone sitting beside you on a road trip socks your arm and says “Slug Bug!” If she did in fact go for my crotch I turned to her and said, “That’s a number seven.” I said this evenly and calmly, as in a number seven on the scale of ascension toward romance and there were at least six other places to go first. But this comes out sounding more like a map to a treasure hunt with a warranty attached to it so she then quickly planted kisses in each of the other designated areas. Quick fun pecks of kisses. Forehead, eyes, lips, neck, breasts and then she’d actually bite my vagina. Yes I said bite and I know that it won’t soundthat bad. Some people actually enjoy the thought. Straight people just love to ponder over gay sex… who puts what where. And the idea that some may actually be getting off on a story of how I have lost my libido is so ironic it angers me.
How should I draw the treasure map to include household chores, agreeability, appreciation, and dog walks? Should I place numbers on these things lets say a “1” on a sponge in the kitchen, a “2” on the dog leash all leading to a final # me splayed naked in the bedroom. But then who’s to say she’d actually do all of those things? She’d most likely look at them and put them down, and if she did do all those things by the time she was through I was dead tired.
It was turning into hell. The whole relationship. Then something changed. She came back from the doctor’s office one day. They found a lump. She had small pointy breasts. Like the cones people use to eat icies out of or some dentists try to pass off as cups. Her tiny breasts with their too large pores. Like everything else they too bothered me at this point. Around the same time they found the lump she suddenly got into cake decorating. Something about the icing reminded her of her childhood. I didn’t care as long as she was being occupied. We didn’t know. Had no idea how bad it would be or if it wasn’t bad at all. Maybe it was benign. Maybe it was small. Then there was the other possibility. Maybe she was lying. None of her recklessness left a trail. Except maybe her teeth. The meth mouth.
They took a biopsy of the lump. Our freezer was filled with little icing caricatures. A little boy with a scarf, a dog, they sat frozen in there little icicles forming on their noses. It was malignant. The biopsy. It was big. No longer able to refer to it as “the little lump.” Meanwhile I tried out that thing with the numbers. I put a “1” on the sponge. My resentment about the state of things in the apartment was still there. She did not work and now she could not work. I felt god was punishing me for being with someone so young and desperate. She went right to it. The “1.” She picked it up and saw the number on it and picked up a pot in the sink. She put down the pot. Put the sponge on her belly and rubbed it back and forth. “Does this count?”
The doctor’s recommended a mastectomy but couldn’t promise that would get rid of it all. I was going to ask how all of this happened but realized it didn’t matter. She was taking it all very well. She looked at a catalog for something or an advertisement on t.v. and said, “Hey let’s go there!.” Her eyes and face beaming. “Oh wait. I might be dead then.” Silence.
I suffer from terminal optimism. I don’t know how to talk about death or sickness without talking about the silver lining. I am the “At least he’s in a better place. Or At least she isn’t experiencing pain.” Person. I search for ways to appease people, relieve their pain. But not her. I ended up counting the days. She called me a bitch, a whore. She drank any alcohol that was left in the home. She began smoking inside. I was no longer worried about her. The sight of coming home to my two pets, my cat and dog curled up around her and all her cigarette smoke made me fear for them. She slept in the living room. Soon she began radiation treatments. She could no longer take the bus so I arranged for one of those services to come and pick her up and drop her off at her appointments. I know how unreliable they were always running late sometimes making her wait outside shivering. I drove by her once. She was sitting outside the hospital in a wheelchair. She was wearing sweatpants and a robe. She had the hollowed out look of a concentration camp survivor. She looked green and veiny. She was looking up the street in the opposite direction. I only recognized her because of her sweatpants and the little cigarette I could make out dangling between her fingers. She was too sick to smoke it. It was more of an accessory. She went off to her appointments and came back looking like a shadow of her former self and I went to my room and sat there eating and picking at my skin tracing for bumps or imperfections. She sometimes sat on the front porch and talked on her cell phone to lord knows who. Maybe she was making it up. She almost always said something nasty to me, “I fucken can’t stand you!” and then went out to the front and laughed so hard into her prepaid cell phone or my landline (which she never charged and it always ran out of batteries). When she could no longer go anywhere I began baking dozens of one layer cakes for her to decorate during the day. We never ate them. On a typical day I came home to the T.V. on, the couch pulled out into a bed, CJ asleep, with three cakes in front of her a bright yellow sun, a cake that looked like a chess board, a white cake with a tiara on it and the dog licking the tip of the tiara off. There were bowls all over the coffee table bowls of icing and food dye, my dog’s nose was already died a dark green by this time. The icing bowls empty. The cat on CJ’s belly. The cat sensed her sickness. The cat was good like that if you were expecting your menses and had cramps or where sick in bed she always came over, splayed out on your belly, and made a hot water bottle out of her self.
She began to lose her motor skills. One night we sat there her cheeks sallow like the skin of testicles. She wrestled with opening a water bottle. She already ceased doing all things that required the pincer grasp. I used to joke that that was what made us human. What distinguished is from other mammals. She was a monkey now. I took the bottle from her, opened it and handed it back. All without looking at her. I kept my eyes on the television. It was a marathon. Law & Order.
“Jesus! LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE! Can’t you see?”
“What?” What are you talking about?”
“LET Me DIE ALREADY! I WANT TO DIE. I FUCKEN LOVE YOU AND I LOOK AT YOU AND ALL I SEE IS HATE!”
I winced. I was looking at her now.
Ever since she got her mastectomy she took to wearing her hospital gown. Always untied everything hanging out. Her ass. Her fat. Her skin was so white it had a tint of blue. She had zits on her back from the bare flesh being pressed against the couch. When she first got the hospital gown she wrote in big letters on the front with a bold black Sharpie NO HEROIC MEASURES! The day of her surgery we sat going over the paperwork.
“Heroic measures? What does that mean?”
“That means do you want to be resuscitated if you loose a pulse.”
Her eyes bulged. She grabbed a marker. She giggled and got playful.
“Oh no grrrrrl” she snapped her fingers back and forth in front of her face. She looked at the sharpie in the cup on the admitting personnel’s desk.
“Hey lemme see that marker.” She opened it and wrote all over the front of her gown, “NOHEROIC MEASURES!”
There it was all the big black Es staring at me.
“YOU CAN”T STAND ME! ADMIT IT! BUT I’M SICK SO YOU FEEL TOO BAD FOR ME TO LEAVE ME! YOU WANT ME TO GO? I’ll GO!”
I looked down at the floor. Tears dropped onto my shirt. It was true what she said. The dog started whimpering at my feet.
“ANSWER ME! You know what my doctor said? He asked me if you were okay! I’m fuckin DYING and he wants to know if YOU’RE OKAY. Because you walk around looking like SHIT!”
I was really sobbing then. It was all true I was no longer myself just a depressed version of myself. I sat in my room night after night staring at the ceiling waiting to sleep so it could be morning again, so I could go to work, so I could leave.
The dog jumped up and started barking at her. She was yelling. “AND YOU!” She pointed to the dog! “YOU DON’T EVEN TAKE CARE OF THIS DOG I SHOULD LET IT GO!” She took the special collar I got for her when she first got diagnosed. When she was still able to walk the dog. She took the collar and slipped it over the dog’s neck then pulled the dog down the hallway. The poor dog had no idea what was happening she followed gleefully behind her happy for the attention.
“What are you doing?” I ran after them but numbly and slowly like a zombie still sobbing from her allegation. She pulled the dog into my bedroom and locked the door. I banged.
“LET ME IN! LET ME IN RIGHT NOW!”
The dog was crying. My heart raced. What could she be doing to my dog? I just finished learning about the links between domestic violence and animal cruelty at work.
What nobody knew then but I have since come to know is she had a distant relation to a man by the name of Earl Shriber, he was a notorious sex offender. The first time they caught him, he was being detained for choking a 7-year-old girl yet he led the police through the woods of Tacoma Washington to the body of a retarded 15-year-old girl instead. Eventually he was caught and brought up on charges for attempted murder and sexual assault on a 7-year-old boy. But before that and between that everyone in town knew him as the man that put firecrackers in dogs rectums and strung up cats. The town would hear a blast a crackle and a strange yelp throughout the night. Kids and parents would wake up to pet carcasses hanging in trees on their lawns. Some moms protecting their children’s eyes like my mom did to me during sex scenes when we watched The Blue Lagoon.
I backed up into the bathroom opposite the bedroom door. I looked at the thinnest center point on the door and kicked. It was an old door. It split in the middle. I heard her fall. I was going to kick again but heard the door unlock. I opened it so forceful that again she fell. Her hospital gown opened to the floor. She was wearing a diaper. She had become incontinent. The dog ran out of the room. She rolled over and looked at me.
I pointed toward the front door.
“WHAT YOU WANT ME TO LEAVE?”
I nodded my head yes.
She got up. I stood frozen pointing. She pushed herself up using my bed. And walked next to my face. I was breathing so hard my chest heaved up and down. “SAY IT!”
I pointed, “Get. OUT!”
And maybe you hate me because I took on a commitment that I wasn’t able to follow through with, or maybe you hate me because I had disdain for a terminally ill person, or maybe you hate me for the same reason I hated my mother because she let herself get stomped on over and over again.
I know where CJ is now. She is crouched over in her room smoking crystal. She wakes up sad. She can’t shit. She spreads out the foil. no creases. folds it in half. She puts the stuff in the crease. holds a lighter under it. A zippo. then smokes it. Well smokes the smoke. It’s like kissing god or the kiss of the spider woman or the kiss of death. whatever. a kiss.