Getting Into Washington, DC: 1979

When Bobby, Scott and I got into Washington, DC, it was July 10, 1979, hot and sticky. We’d run completely out of money, not having one idea what to do next. We went into our separate bathrooms on the Mall, near the Washington Monument (which was stunning, by the way).

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There were many people in there, but I picked the sink furthest from the open door and pulled out my paper bag of supplies: shampoo, soap, a razor and toothpaste with my toothbrush. First brushing my teeth, afterwards, I immediately felt more human. Then shaved my pits (why in the holy hell I did that is beyond me now), washed my face with soap and my hands and then leaned wayyyy over and washed my short hair (which may or may not have been fuchsia at the time).

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I ran my fingers through my dripping wet hair, gathered my supplies, dropping them back into the crinkly brown paper bag and walked outside past the gaping-mouthed women and girls. Outside, Bobby loaned me his brush and I brushed my hair until it was at least not dripping everywhere.

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Then we stood looking at each other. What now? We walked around looking for a pay phone to call family to ask for help. Scott’s family would help him, but not us… neither Bobby’s nor my family would help us, either. Scott was being sent a Western Union money order that would take 2 days to get there, so until then, we figured, we were on the streets together.

Looking up at the Washington Monument, I lamented we would not be able to get up there to see out the windows.

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See the teeny windows?

I then got the bright idea to try and schmooze the Park Services Ranger selling the tickets to go up and within minutes, Kevin had become our new gay friend.

He not only gave us tickets, but told us about Lynn up at the top, giving information to the tourists… that Lynn was known to take in strays and we were well qualified.

Up we went in the elevator. Dang, that Monument is much taller from the inside than the outside! When we got off, Lynn was there to greet us, giving us hugs and telling us about where she lived. I was craning my neck to see out the window, hardly paying attention until Bobby nudged me hard and I hit my head on the thick window.

US-QUAKE HISTORY-TOURISM

Rubbing my head, I turned just as Lynn was taking a key from around her neck and putting it over Bobby’s flowing red mane. Huh? Apparently, Lynn had just given us the key to her apartment where she lived with Risa and told us to shower, eat whatever was there and take a nap!! She told us where the quarters were for the laundry, where the laundry soap was… that we could play her albums if we wanted… to just make ourselves at home.

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It was rather stunning.

While still up in the Monument, we discussed what to do with the car, which had zero gas in it. The decision to leave it where it was, near the Ellipse, until we got some money.

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This left us with no way to get to Lynn’s house! So, before we went back down the elevator, Lynn said that Kevin had Metro tokens for us and the directions to her house, so down we went, over to Kevin’s kiosk again, got the tokens and headed off to Lynn and Risa’s place in Arlington, Virginia.

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After having been in the New York City subway, this one was pristine. Our stop was the Rosslyn stop, one that was a mere 2 years old, and was really was amazingly beautiful.

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Taking the Metro was awesome. And deep! When we got off on our stop, we went up an escalator so long, I had never seen one like it before, it taking several minutes to get up to the street.

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As we exited, all we had to do was go caddy-corner across the street and into the concrete building, up the elevator and into the really large apartment our new friends’ lived in.

We were immediately drawn to the enormous balcony. Leaning over the rail in one direction, we could see the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building and in the other, we could see the Iwo Jima Memorial. All of which looked very small from where we were, but look how huge the Iwo Jima Memorial is!

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Here is an image at night and you can see the Lincoln Memorial easier as well.

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How incredible is that? Our balcony gave us the scope of the buildings, minus the Lincoln Memorial.

Once we got showers and scarfed some food we found in the refrigerator, we three fell into someone’s bed, curled around each other, and fell asleep for several hours.

 

 

Running Away from Home: 1979

I was living with 5 gay friends in a condo, way back in 1979. I was 18 and out on my own for the first time. Going to the Parliament House, the big gay bar in our city, was The Priority in our lives… above eating and, of course, paying our rent.

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So when rent was due and we only had $500 between the 5 of us, 3 of us decided to take our winnings, er… rent money… and head to New York City. Living in Orlando, that was quite ambitious thinking, but we were all young and stupid and believed anything was possible.

We stopped by my dad’s house so I could grab the Oldsmobile Delta 88, an enormous light blue wonder that had one back window that wouldn’t go down, another that wouldn’t go up, a trunk that would not open and a hood tied with metal wire to keep it down. I had to dig around for the keys and license plate, but found those and we were off, in my dad’s now-stolen car.

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It looked about this good, but was a powder blue with a white hard top.

We packed that car with all of our belongings: clothes, shoes, books… and for some reason, several jars of peanut butter and jars of grape jam. (Jars were glass back then, no plastic ruining the environment in the olden days.)

I remember Bobby taking the first shift in the back seat, laying sideways on all the stuff, his shoulder hitting the roof resting on the huge pile. We tried to open the trunk 100 times, to no avail, so finally resigned ourselves that sleeping like the Princess in the Pea was a part of this adventure.

Bobby, a bright-red redhead, curly hair down around his shoulders, ached to be a drag queen, dancing and miming songs at every chance. Even up on his back seat perch, I laughed hysterically, seeing him in the rear view mirror, holding a hairbrush and lip synching to “I Will Survive” on the radio.

Bobby was a liar, telling us, with complete conviction, that the Oscar Meyer little boy was his brother. At first we were awed, then the lies built onto each other and when it took a teasel to figure one truth from another, we just shrugged and laughed no matter what he said.

The other roommate who came with us was Scott, a gay guy I had known since junior high. Scott was so smart and clever, but more of a book nerd than either Bobby or I; he was a good balance for us. Scott found his way into laughing for the sake of laughing on this trip, which makes me so happy since he died of AIDS not 3 years hence. I was very glad to witness his joy. Bobby also died of AIDS a couple of years after Scott.

During our trip of 1979, AIDS was an unknown. Sex was with utter abandon. The worst sexually transmitted disease one could get was herpes and that seemed like a social death sentence. Little did we know then, herpes would be almost benign.

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The first person I knew of who died of the Gay Cancer was Fat Matt. I was fat, too, and Fat Matt and I talked a lot about dieting and trying to lose weight. Being fat as a gay man was not good… being fit and being gorgeous were (and are) a gay thing. So when Matt began losing weight, he was ecstatic. He had no idea what he was doing to lose so fast, but he was thrilled. His sex life picked up, his self-esteem soared… and then he passed through thin, from healthy to gaunt in a few weeks. Matt was gone 6 months after he began losing weight. None of us knew what happened. He was such a dear, fun friend, the bar seemed odd without his flouncing around, showing us his hippo dance from Fantasia.

Then there were others, not fat men, who began losing weight, then their lives. I remember standing in the drag bar, being told two dear club friends had died during the week and reeling with complete confusion about what was happening. It would still be 6 months before the words “Gay Cancer” would be said on the evening news.

Being gay in the late 70’s and early 80’s was still taboo. No “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” no gays in the military, no gay marriage. Homosexuals (and I, the fag hag) clung to each other when our parents changed the locks after throwing our belongings in the front yard. So when our gay friends were dying, we were never invited to the funerals, but held our own memorials at the bar. We would drink to our friends, huddle together, giving each other love and comfort. When there were so many of these bar memorials we’d become numb, we realized we had all run out of tears at the exact same time.

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Lest We Forget

My dad bombed Vietnam.

It was decades before I realized that when I said, “My dad works on B-52’s,” that that really meant he flew missions over Vietnam and bombed the country to smithereens. Men, women, children, babies, dogs, goats, high-rise buildings, houses, generations of lives… gone because of my father “working on B-52’s.”

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I never talked to him about it. He did not discuss his missions. Instead, he sent us pictures of himself in lush Guam or Okinawa, lovely girls by his side. Or he and his friends with flowers behind their ears, drinking beer as they grilled a pig outside on the sand. He sent souvenirs back from Iceland, the pelt of an Icelandic sheep, the wool many inches long and a very white white.

He died before I could ask his feelings about bombing a country that would be forever scarred because of his actions.

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Bomb craters 50-years later.

I wonder what he thought as he watched the rain of bombs falling from the enormous plane, seeing them from above, not below where they exploded and killed so, so much life.

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I wonder if he ever had any regrets or was The Mission the most important part. Was his need to follow so great he never even had one nightmare about what he was doing?

My dad was 19 when he went into the Air Force. 19 years old. That is such a baby age! At 19, I was still dancing in the disco, had barely had sex for the first time, was still years from marriage and having kids. And there he was, killing whole villages with one sweep of the carpet.

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Perhaps my dad never talked about these things because he was better able to compartmentalize pain than I. Maybe it really didn’t bother him at all. Maybe he just didn’t think about it once the mission was over and he was back in the barracks playing poker with his buddies. Maybe they didn’t even talk about what they were doing amongst themselves.

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If my dad was still here today, on this Veteran’s Day, I know I would still not bring the topic up. His never speaking of missions gave the clear message that the topic was verboten.

I wonder if I were to bring it up, could I have unleashed a gushing onslaught of hidden pain and anguish? Would I have realized, too late, that this should not be discussed outside of a professional’s therapy room? Might I have alienated my father forever? That I did not and allowed our relationship to stay calm and even is something I am glad about.

And even as I am happy things turned out the way they did with my father, that I never spoke about my growing understanding of the Vietnam War and his role in it, I am comforted only in regards to my dad.

When it comes to the country of Vietnam or the Vietnamese people, I can never erase the shame or hide the sorrow for what my father did to obliterate their lives.

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Water-filled craters after a B52 bombing.

Religion in Jail

When I was in jail in 1996, I was studying to be Jewish. I’d wanted to be a Jew for many years, eventually studying and debating for 15 years before deciding an atheist has no business converting to Judaism.

But, in jail in Orlando, I was, as far as I was concerned, Jewish.

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Christian Bibles were everywhere in jail. Laid on tables in the great room were many different types of Bibles, all Christian, however. When I asked to have a Jewish Bible (without the new testament), I was told my Rabbi would have to bring me one. I did not have a Rabbi to do this at the time, so went without.

All the reading material in the library were Christian “novels” (Historical Fiction). They were simple books, all with a Christian theme, usually a pioneer woman struggling to keep her family together and the husband always being the strong one who saved the day. It was revolting. Couldn’t we get mainstream books? Apparently, they only allowed certain organizations to bring in books and, of course, they were Christian outreach programs.

The absolute worst, though, were the Revivals. I don’t think they called them that, but I did.

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Our cells were in a square around the great room, bulletproof glass from ceiling to knee. Sounds flowed freely under the door.

Theo Lacy Facility jail

When the Christian church was called, I am sure every inmate attended but me. First, it was a chance to get out of the cell when it wasn’t time to be in the main room as well as a great way to blow off steam.

And yes, finding Jesus was a common theme among those in jail.

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But my preferred religion was really unhappy with these meetings. They quickly became raucously loud, “Praise Jesus” repeated over and over again. Singing hymns with intense passion.

I tried not to listen. I read (the Christian books!) or tried to write, but the singing and praising permeated my space.

It annoyed me no end.

I tried to cover my head with my blanket (no pillows in jail). I tried to sleep. None of it was successful in drowning out the Revival atmosphere.

Then I was extradited to San Diego and religion took on a whole different tone there. Sure, women were Christian. They had meetings and found Jesus, but they were subdued about it. When they went to pray together, they left the compound area and, from inner knowledge, they were quiet and prayerful, not raucous and praising Jesus with raised hands and stomping feet.

What a difference!

I can only think that jails in the south must do things differently than on the west coast. The food was certainly different, why not religion?

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Islamic Misbaha (Arabic: مسبحة mas’baha)

Butter Pats (in Jail)

The one thing I did love about jail… and hoard… was the pat of butter for the bread we got at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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You see, I was… am… a lip balm addict. Have been for probably 40 years. So when I went to jail, they, of course, did not allow me to take any with me. My meds, they let me take (didn’t give them to me properly, but I did get to take them), but not lip balm.

Therefore, I used butter pats. I took the pats from anyone who would give them to me, kept them in my locker in my room and used it sparingly.

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It was always a drag when we had inspection because my stock of butter pats would be tossed and I would have to start all over again.

Blessedly, I was given money on my books (in my account) by those who loved me and I could buy Chapstick brand lip balm, the one in the black wrapping. Plain. I love my Blistex Medicated Lip Balm, but I was not going to complain.

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(I just put some on. HA!)

When I was extradited to California from Florida (during my second stint in jail for the same crime), I lost my bought Chapstick and had to endure dry lips for a couple of days through the traveling. I was bereft.

When I got to California, my then partner, a Deputy Sheriff in the jail I where I was incarcerated (another story) slipped me his Chapstick to put on before going to my bed. It was not black so I couldn’t keep it, but I was careful to keep it on as long as possible. In the morning, I traded some food for Chapstick… and paper and pencils (another jail story… writing in jail).

The first thing I did when I was released 3 days later was to put my own Blistex Medicated Chapstick on. I was in heaven.

Today, sitting next to me, I have… counting… 10 sticks of Blistex. And another 6 or so in my purse. One by my bed. Clearly, I have been traumatized by being in jail and not having my lip balm. (You see I also hoard pens. I’m terribly worried about running out of something to write with. Really, really. It’s a sickness.)

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Now that is my deterrent for not doing any more crimes.

Jail Food

I was in jail for Welfare Fraud in the late 90’s.guilty

I was the only guilty person incarcerated, but I was guilty. I did pay back all I owed, I served 21 days in jail and 300 hours of community service as well as 5 years’ probation.

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But this is about the food I had to eat in jail.

It was ghastly.

And I was really fat, the fattest person in there, by far. I had to wear men’s jail uniforms because none of the women’s ones fit me.

So eating jail food as a fat chick? Extra gross.

Mornings were the best time. Frosted Flakes, powdered donuts and a banana were common breakfasts. Yes, all on one tray.

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After that, lunch and dinner were vile.

(And I know, one does not expect gourmet food in jail and I suppose it could be used as a deterrent for some people to not do the crime, but I had no clue what I was in for when I was handcuffed and taken in. And yes, I do know there are constant debates about why inmates even get free food at all, but at the time, these were not part of my reality.)

Unknown mush that was supposed to be meat (so what if I was a vegetarian… I ate it or went without; I ate it), unknown mush vegetables…

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…(I remember green beans with bacon, but the green beans were so overcooked as to nearly be baby food) and milk or fruit punch. I think a piece of fresh fruit, but my mind is stuck on the grossness of the other items on the plate.

The absolute worst was the morning we got an egg. It was purple!

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I had not one clue why, but when I took a bite, I spit it right back out into my napkin, the girls on each side of me were pissed I was wasting good food. It was one of the grossest tasting foods ever. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned it had been pickled. Pickled eggs. Like pickled pig’s feet. Disgusting.

As I researched this, I see that jails around the world have issues with jail food and in some places have rioted to get better rations.

I am not even sure how to finish this. Perhaps with another picture from a jail that looked similar to what I was fed.

Incredibly appetizing, right?

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Biliary Obstruction

(This was written the first morning of NaNoWriMo. I was dreaming about writing so thought I might as well get up and write! 4:00am)

I have an off again, on again Biliary Obstruction. Biliary Obstructions are rarely like this, from what my Liver doctor says.

Apparently, because I went about 10-12 years before getting my gallbladder out, I seem to have a gallstone stuck in my bile duct. What is weird, though, is it moves around, sometimes blocking the duct and sometimes not.

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Every time I pee, I look in the toilet to see what color my urine is. If it is clear, I can breathe a sigh of relief. If it is darker, like it is today, I get worried the gallstone is moving to block the bile duct again.

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Why this matters is because when the stone is wedged in, I get really sick. I feel horrid, can hardly sit, but instead, lay curled on the bed in horrid pain, alternating between constant nausea and periodic vomiting. I also have a fever and that makes me feel terrible on top of it all. Twice, I have had incredible itching, so bad I was using scissors on my back to scratch, finally going to the ER when I saw blood on my sheets from cutting myself (accidentally) with the scissors.

Itching in Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

Then, after that specific episode, the obstruction crazily vanished over a 12-hour period and I felt perfectly normal again. It was bizarre! Everything I read on Biliary Obstruction said SURGERY, but here I was, feeling fantastic and peeing clear again.

A few weeks ago, the obstruction began… my pee turned rust colored first, then my poop turned the color of white clay, then the nausea and stomach ache set in, then the vomiting and fever. I called the Liver doc and got an appointment 2 weeks hence.

Then, after 3 weeks of this, the obstruction left again and by the time I saw the doctor, I was feeling normal. I was able to ask two main questions:

Why was this happening? And When do I go to the hospital?

He explained the stone moving back and forth.

Retained stone in a bile duct. In some cases, a gallstone will remain in your common bile duct after gallbladder surgery. This can block the flow of bile into your small intestine and result in pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, bloating, and jaundice soon after surgery. You may need an additional procedure to remove gallstones that are retained in your common bile duct.

No, there was nothing I could do to change its movement… no positioning, no food choices, no drinking extra water. It was completely random. Sheesh!

He said to go to the hospital when I had nausea and vomiting and a fever.

I looked at him and asked, “That’s it? I don’t wait until I am itching to death?” He turned and looked at me and said by the time I am itching I am near liver failure. “Do NOT wait until you are itching.”

Well, alright… I had a plan!

Part of why I got the new bed was for when I am sick with the Biliary Obstruction. After I had the gallbladder removed in February 2017, I remained feeling horrible, even worse than before it was removed, and it wasn’t until the discovery of the obstruction that I learned why.

So why don’t they just remove the gallstone? Because I have to be symptomatic before insurance will pay for it to be taken out.

I have to wait at least one more time to feel yucky before they will do something about it.

Until then, I look at my pee and wait.