Sunday, September 16, 2018


Dearest Lisa,

I can't believe it's been five years already.  I can't believe I've survived this long without your help, your laugh, your guidance and your love.

How does one live with someone that they cannot live without?  Well, I've been doing it for five long years.  And I didn't even have the worst of it.

Five years since I learned- since we all learned, that you decided to leave us.  That the Darkness finally took you.

You left us all behind.  You left me behind.  We had a promise to each other- that if the Darkness was closing in on either of us, we would call the other, no matter what time it was.  We looked into each others eyes and promised each other.

And you fucking lied to me- lied to my face.

Laptop Lounge, August 4, 2012

Five long long years.  So much has happened, yet, really, nothing has.  Yes, I went full time.  Aside from that, not much has changed.  You left so many of us in Pain.  THAT is the biggest change, really.  Before, we had you- your wisdom and smile.  We had your presence.

Now, we don't.

I would argue that in some ways we still have you around- that I think you are still watching over Sandy.  That I have felt your love across the veil.  You would laugh and scoff at that idea.  After all, you thought that death was The End.  Guess you found out five years ago.

Do you realize how many times I was ready to follow you into the Light?  All the planning.  All the Pain.  Yet, here I am, still.  Because in the end, I'm a coward.  In the end, I listened to those people who pulled me back from the brink.  They did what I could NOT do- keep you here.  I think of that every day.  Every fucking day.  Yeah, in addition to all the Pain I already live with, I have guilt.  Thanks a whole hell of a lot, Lisa.

Yes, I realize I shouldn't feel guilty- I'm not the one who started those paint sprayers.  I wasn't in that van.  YOU made the choice, not me.  Those are all logical arguments.

Doesn't matter.  Never did.  Never will.  I feel how I feel.

My therapist (remember her?) tells me to look for silver linings on things- like how if I hadn't been thrown out I never would have transitioned.  If I went into the light in 2016 like I planned, there are so many things I would've missed.  Yeah, I think I could've done without living to see who "won" that election, thank you.  Thing is, I really can't think of ANY silver lining in your death.  Yes, the local trans community had a serious reflection about suicide.  That's about it.  Maybe that would've happened if anyone else had gone, maybe not.

After all, you were an Icon.  Still are.  Five years later.

I've learned a lot since you left.  I learned about myself, and about you.  Did you know Sandy asked me to write a book about you?  Of course you do.  You were always a private person, Lisa, so I wonder what you'd say about my learning all I have.  I don't think you'd be happy about it.  Well, tough luck, girl- price you pay for lying and dying.

I still think about you, Lisa.  I still cry for you.  I hope you've found peace.

I will always love you and miss you.


Friday, September 14, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 20-22: Three linked chapters

These three chapters are short and related, so I figured I'd post them together.  I can say without exaggeration that this was one of the best times of my life.  When I think back to good times at Penn State, this period is the time I think about the most.

So obviously, they couldn't last right?

I remember writing these chapters and being very sad.


Chapter 20: Early wake up

Wednesday, October 29, 1986 Contra supplier Hasenfus paid by a firm in Lancaster County.

Her lips were soft on my neck as she ran her nails down my back.  I felt her naked breasts against my chest as she breathed heavily.  She stopped kissing my neck and looked up at me, her beautiful grey green eyes unlocking everything.  Demanding all of me.  We kissed as her fingers unbuttoned my jeans, then she pulled them down with her foot.
I pulled down her dark blue panties and guided her to her back on the couch.  Her black hair formed a halo around her pale white face.  She didn’t smile- this was serious.
We kissed deeply as I caressed her silky skin, licked and gently nibbled her beautiful breasts.  Ran my tongue from her left nipple to her navel.  My fingers gently probed her and she moaned.  Her back arched and she closed her eyes.
“Oh Lance…”
I don’t know how or when my underwear disappeared, but her hand caressed my equipment.  She spread her legs wider and whispered.
“Make love to me.”
I withdrew my hand and Judy guided me into her…

I woke up.

The same dream again.  This wasn’t good.  “I think I may be falling too hard fro a girl I can’t have” I thought. 
Fucking four o’clock in the morning.  I turned over and tried to go back to sleep.  Maybe I could pick up that dream where we left off.

Collegian, Oct 29, 1986

 Chapter 21: Sunshine

Tuesday, November 4, 1986 Scarfo, 17 Others Are Charged in Sweeping Mob Indictments

            Class ended, so I walked down the hall and out of the bottom floor of Willard building into the bright late afternoon.  Sunny days were becoming a rarity as autumn shriveled into winter.  Heavy gray and white clouds normally coated the sky.  It’s amazing how a cloud covering and bare trees can make the world as gray and heavy as the sky above. 
            But not today!
            I looked to my left.  There at the top of the short stairway to the mall was a smile bundled up against the chilly wind.  Judy gave me a quick wave.  I smiled and hopped up the steps to her.
            “Hey babe, come here often?”  I asked.
            “All the time!” she said, smiling.  “Are you always so cheesy?” 
            “All the time!”  I said.
            We headed past the front of Old Main.  Judy’s next class was in the H&HD East building, which was next to the Hub lawn.  I wasn’t a long walk, but we’d been walking it together every Tuesday and Thursday for a couple of weeks.  It gave us an opportunity to see each other.  I really looked forward to it.
            We quickly arrived at her building.  I looked into her eyes as the wind tossed her black hair carelessly.  She smiled, then hugged me.
            “Are you coming over tonight?” she asked.
            “I don’t know.  I might have better things to do” I replied, trying to look snobby.
            She hugged me harder.  “Why don’t I believe you?”
            “You’re no fun!”  I said.
            “I’m lots of fun!” she said smiling mischievously.
            She gave me a soft lingering kiss then turned to head into the building.  I watched her for a moment, then turned and headed uphill toward my next class, walking through the fall late afternoon sunlight.

Collegian, Nov 4, 1986

Chapter 22: Second Tree

Wednesday, November 5, 1986 Casey and Specter Are Winners; Democrats Capture U.S. Senate

            She forgot the brandy, so we had to go back.  Judy and Virginia came over to watch movies and drink with my roommates and me.  Judy forgot her blackberry brandy so I volunteered to walk her back.  No wait- it doesn’t start there.
            “How about you guys come over to my place for a change?  We could watch a movie- I have a VCR” I said to the phone.  (Not everyone had VCRs then.) 
            “Let me ask Virginia” Judy said. 
            Muffled silence.
            “Ok.  If you let us make dinner.”
            “How could I turn down dinner with two beautiful women? Will you be naked?”
            “Maybe” Judy said, and then laughed.  I heard her tell Virginia “he wants to know if we’ll be naked.”  I heard Virginia answer “In his dreams!”
            We made arrangements.  Dinner at their place.  Then we’d all walk back to my place to watch whatever Mark and Rich picked out at Mike’s Video.  Those two already had dinner plans. 

            So the three of us had dinner and headed back into the misty rain toward my place.  We made it half way up the hill when Virginia stopped.
            “What’s wrong?”  I asked.
            “I forgot we’ll be out past nine o’clock,” she said.  Judy and Virginia always took their birth control pills at nine.
            “Do you want us to walk back with you?  Or perhaps wait here?” Judy asked.
            “Could you wait here?”  Virginia said.
            “Sure!”  I said.
            So Judy and I stood by a newly planted tree along the street, second one from the base of the hill, and watched from under Judy’s umbrella as Virginia walked back down to the apartment through the mist and rain.
            When we were sure she couldn’t see, Judy and I started kissing hungrily.  We ground our hips together.  I wanted her so much!
            “Do you think the tree will tell on us?”  Judy asked, smiling.
            “Nah.  Second tree is cool.  It won’t rat us out.”
            We kissed a little more than stopped.  Virginia would be coming back soon.  And she did.  Judy was smiling broadly.
            “What did I miss?”  Virginia asked.
            “Nothing.  Just some of Lance’s bad jokes” Judy said.
            “Hey!  They weren’t ALL bad!”  I said.

Second Tree, July 1988.  It is still there, but now over 30 ft tall.

            We walked the rest of the way to Beaver Hill talking about classes and the football team.  Could we really go undefeated?  Wouldn’t that be cool?  We made it to my apartment and were settling in to watch “Top Gun” when Judy suddenly remembered.
            “Oh my God!  I forgot my bottle of blackberry brandy!”
            “Does it matter?”  Virginia asked.
            “We have plenty of beer,” Rich said.  They bought two cases of Bud.
            “You don’t want shots?”  Judy asked.
            “I’ll walk you back if these guys don’t mind waiting to start the movie,” I said.

            So Judy and I walked back through the cold mist and rain to Sutton Court.  Of course we stopped a couple of times along the way to kiss and fondle.  At one point when we stopped she asked again “What about Richard?”
            So I gave her the same answer: “Nothing has really happened yet.  Just innocent fun between a guy and a girl.”
            We entered her apartment and I pinned her to the wall- kissing, feeling, wanting.  After a bit, she led me to the bedroom, where we lay on the bed as I undid the buttons of her pale blue and white striped oxford. 
            Her bra had a clasp in front.  I’d never seen that before, but I figured it out fast enough.  Judy’s skin was soft and her breasts firm as I kissed them for the first time.  She moaned quietly.  I sat up to look at her, smiling, laying on the bed, her shirt wide open, her beautiful breasts waiting- waiting for me to make the next logical move.
            “So is this still innocent fun?” she whispered.
            Guilt!  Guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt!  I didn’t want to be the other guy.  I wanted her so badly but I wanted her to be mine and mine alone. 
            I leaned over to kiss her some more.
            She nibbled on my next for a moment then said “They’re going to wonder where we are.”
            Um, I could call them?”  I said.  So I did.
            “Judy got a call from her brother.  We’re on our way now” I told Rich over the phone.  I didn’t think he would mind being stuck entertaining with a single girl with big tits.
            Judy and I made out for another ten minutes, and then headed back out into the rain.
            “I WILL fuck her,” I thought.  “It’s only a matter of time.”
            I don’t know what Judy was thinking.
            On our way back up the hill, I stopped her.
            “What?” she asked, smiling. 
            I pointed at the young tree we stood next to.  “Second tree up the hill.  We stopped here earlier while we waited for Virginia.  Why not stop again?"  
            We kissed again.
            After a few more stops, we arrived at my apartment where we all drank and watched the movie.
            “Highway to the Danger Zone!  Gonna take you…  Right into the Danger Zone!”
            I sat on the floor in front of the couch.  Judy sat next to Virginia on the loveseat maybe five miles away.  Or so it seemed.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Trapped in a Memory

Have you ever been trapped in a memory?  A feeling of nostalgia brought on by a place or situation that is so strong it pervades the day, night, time?

I really hate the month of September.  I've written about that many times.  I've written about being thrown out.  I've written about Lisa's death.  I've written about my hatred of the fact that I was even born.

But there is another September... event... that started my hate and dread of September long before that.  I have mentioned it here and there in passing.  I think it's time I discussed it further.

Early September for the longest time meant a mental replay of an older Pain- a memory of what could have been, and wasn't.  These events led to my first suicide attempt, which I have detailed elsewhere.  As the weather subtly shifted from sultry August nights to crisper September days, I found myself trapped by sights, smells, and feelings of a particular September.

In 1990, I was working at TGI Fridays.  I was a bartender/server and wore the silly red and white striped uniform required back then.  I called it "the Clown suit."  (The movie Office Space brilliantly parodies this uniform with "Chotchkie's.")

Me.  Spring 1990.  I still have the hat.  And suspenders with "flair."

I was deeply depressed, and had been for over two years.  The betrayal by my college girlfriend, and leaving the first place I ever loved (Penn State) due to graduation sent me into a deep tailspin, which wasn't helped by my inability to find a real job.  Also, there was the fact that for seven years, I'd denied my Truth- by this point, it was just a dark blot on my rotting soul.

But, in late December 1989, I met someone.  I'll call her "Becky" to preserve her anonymity.  She was 19, and an English Education student at a prominent local university.  Through the winter and spring our romance blossomed.  Despite my feeble attempts to stay detached, I fell head over heels in love.  She said she had as well.  In fact, we talked about getting married someday after she graduated and I found a "real job."

However there was a slight hiccup.  You see, she'd accepted a summer job as a Ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico.  She's worked there before, but in staff positions.  Now was the chance for her to fulfill her dream of being a Ranger!

Of course, that meant we'd be apart from late May until late August.  In addition, she wouldn't have much telephone access.  Our main form of communication would be letters.  I also would sent cassette tapes I'd record- one side of me talking and the other of local radio.  I figured I'd be fine.  She told me that if I wanted, she would cancel her trip and stay home that summer.  I knew that if she did, she'd always regret it, and would blame me for it.  Besides, it's something she really wanted.  So in late May 1990, she flew to New Mexico.

However, I managed to save enough to visit her for her 20th birthday in late June.  It was my first flight since I was five years old.  I flew to Denver, rented a car, and drove south to Cimarron.  It was a long drive.  Maybe someday I'll detail this trip in another blog entry.  It was, for a time, one of the most amazing weekends of my life.  In any case, we promised each other that we would spend the rest of our lives together- that we would get married.

As July became August, the tone of Becky's letters changed.  She didn't share her feelings as much (which she's always done previously.)  Then, a rare phone call- there'd been a car accident.  She'd been out riding in another ranger's car when it went out of control and crashed.  She was hurt, but "not badly."  However, it was bad enough that she couldn't hike for the rest of the summer.  She spent the remaining month in base camp, recovering.  While there, she struck up a romance with that other Ranger- I'll call him "Chaz."

I heard about Chaz on the more infrequent phone calls- and in one letter.  (Yes, I still have her letters.  They are in a pocket folder in storage.) She didn't SAY that they hooked up or anything, but I knew her well enough to read between the lines.  My college girlfriend cheated on me- now Becky was.

With age, I understand a few things I didn't back then.  These were young women (Becky and college girlfriend)- too young and yes, immature to really commit to something like marriage. Actually, so was I, but I wouldn't admit it to myself.  I HAD to get married- only that would cure me of the Dark Secret I knew was still inside me.

I plunged into a deeper depression, fueled by Fear and Doubt.  I counted the days until she was expected home.  One of the agreements we had was that I would write a lot while she was gone.  I started a story in early summer, but that story took a much darker turn during this time.

In mid-August, a letter arrived from her.  Instead of flying home as planned, she was going to drive home- a road trip across the United States.  After all, she wrote, when would she ever have another opportunity like this?  What could I do?  Say no?  I was already deep in paranoia and depression, and she knew it.  It was scaring her, she wrote.

Fridays placemat, 1990

So it was that she started across the country.  She had no idea how long the trip would take- so I had no idea when she would arrive.  She called me once during that trip- from Colorado.  She'd been to the top of Pikes Peak that day, and was staying at a motel near there.  She told me who her travelling companion was:  Chaz.

I was back working at Fridays by then, after a short leave of absence to work an editing contract at Boeing Helicopters.  The Pain and depression piled onto the stress of that job (and if you've never worked food service: it can be VERY stressful.)

One night, my friend R was home on leave from the Army, so all of our group gathered for a late night poker game.  Part of me didn't want to go, as I didn't want to miss a phone call from Becky (we didn't have an answering machine then.)  I left a note for my parents saying where I'd be, as well as a phone number.

Typical Card night on R's back porch, July 2010

Around 10:30 that night, the phone rang there- it was for me.  Becky was home.  She wanted to see me.  I cashed out my chips (I was up one whole dollar) and drove at very high speed down 422 to her parent's house.  I remember WMMR was playing a block of John Cougar Mellencamp.  For years after, I couldn't stand to hear his music.

I arrived at her parent's house.  She was waiting outside on the side porch.  She's gained weight and walked with a slight limp. Her hair, having not been cut for months, was a shaggy curly chaos.  We hugged and kissed.  I sensed hesitance.

We talked.  She told me everything- about the accident.  About Chaz being the driver of that car.  About the trip back.  About hooking up with Chaz.  (They didn't have sex- Becky was adamant that she was waiting until marriage.)

I took it all stoically.  I didn't show it, but my spirit was shattered.  But I'd be damned if showed her that.  Yet, I didn't want to lose her.  She was my "last hope at a normal life." Becky told me that I took the news far better than she thought I would.  That she thought all along that she was mature than me, but she saw now she was wrong.  But she wasn't.  I was just hiding the Pain.

I'd become an expert at hiding Pain.  I still am.

I told her what was done was done.  That if she could stay faithful from then on, I'd forget it ever happened.

Then she told me that Chaz was there- at the house.  He hadn't just dropped her off and left.  No, he was staying a couple of days before heading home to Pensacola, Florida, where he was stationed.  He was a Navy pilot.  I remember that news hitting me hard.

At this point, my memory blurs, and my journal entry from that day is vague.  Before I left, we agreed to meet for lunch the next day at Fridays: me, her, and Chaz.  I remember driving home around 1 AM and hearing a song that was very popular at that time.  It was from Don Henley's current album, The End of Innocence.

It was years before I could bear hearing that song again.

The next day, I stopped at Becky's house, as she requested I drive.  She was upstairs in her room, she told me.  I went upstairs, and there, coming out of the bathroom, was Chaz.  He was an inch or two shorter than me, short sandy blond hair parted to the right, and powerfully built.  He had a towel wrapped around his waist.

"You must be Lance," he said.  I said I was.  "I'm Chaz.  He held his towel with his left hand and offered his right.  He had a firm grip- he was trying that whole male dominance thing.  Whatever.  He then went into the guest bedroom, and I went into Becky's room.  She was in a t-shirt and shorts.  We talked briefly.  I gave mostly one word answers.  By then, the enormity of what was happening set in.

We went to Fridays for lunch.  I ordered Wings.  I think I ate one- I lost my appetite despite having not eaten at all that day. I took them back to Becky's house, dropped them off, and headed home.  Chaz was leaving the next day, but that night, he and Becky were going out somewhere. When I asked her if "anything would happen" she said "probably."

I had to work that night- closing shift.  I don't know how I made it through.  I wanted to die so badly.  the fact that she and Chaz were together, and she was cheating on me tore me apart.  But I could not cry.  I was incapable of it.

The next day Chaz was gone.  I started trying to repair what was left of the relationship.  She had already checked out.  She told a friend that she wanted to wait until after my birthday to break up with me.  I thought I couldn't do it myself.

On my birthday, I worked day shift.  As I was leaving, my coworkers bought me a drink: a Russian Quaalude.  Becky and I were going to the movies that night.  We saw For All Mankind at the Ritz 5 in Philly.  She made me a cake- a heart shaped chocolate cake with orange icing.  We went back to my place.  I walked her to her car.  I told her it was over, and went inside.  I didn't cry.

Drinking the Russian Quaalude, Sept 13, 1990

I did my best not to contact her over the few weeks, but she kept popping up at my one friend's house.  I stopped going there. I tentatively started dating again.  One night, I brought a friend/coworker/date to a party at that same friend's house when Becky showed up.  She saw me with someone else and became very jealous.  She asked to speak with me outside.  We talked, argued, and talked more.  The next day, we got back together.

One night she came over my house.  My parents were away.  She made me dinner, and showed me the huge bruise on her hip.  It was the size of two fists and still very dark.  Months after the accident, she was still badly bruised.

She was flying down to see Chaz in Pensacola.  She planned to break up with him there.  When she came home, I picked her up at the airport.  I asked her if she'd broken up with him.  She said 'No."  We broke up again- this time for good.

My depression kept swirling until Halloween night, when I saw her.  She "wanted to talk."  She told me she was in love with Chaz.  I snapped.  I punched a wall, breaking my right hand.  Eventually, I ended up in a Psych Ward after my first suicide attempt.  (I've detailed that elsewhere.) What did Becky do when she found out I'd attempted suicide?  Went on a date.

The following May, she married Chaz.  by then I had just started dating Wife.  She helped me through that tough time, and essentially put the pieces of my broken heart back together.

We didn't speak again for eight years.  I don't remember who sent the first letter, but we slowly started writing to each other again.  Eventually, we had lunch.  After more time, we became friends.  She and Chaz had divorced.  She was back in Pennsylvania.  Eventually, she married again.

When I finished the story I started that summer, I called it Disorganized Light.  I gave her a copy when she told me she was getting married (she's stopped at Fridays.)  She hated it. 

I've told this story many times to therapists.  After all the repetitions, and the time, I've gotten to the point where I don't feel the Pain of it anymore.  But...


Come September, I always had that feeling of dread- the memory of all that Pain and betrayal.  Then in 2013, more Pain was heaped upon the old scars.  More Pain than I could handle.

September 2018

28 years after that horrible September, and 5 years after the next horrible September, I am still here.  I had my second suicide attempt in September 2016.  Obviously, I failed.  The worst of the September anniversaries are coming up fast.  I've already started writing a blog entry about them.

I hate September.  It always takes me back to Pain.  Old Pain.  I feel things that happened in another life, to a person who is gone.

Trapped in a memory.

[Note: I have a hard copy of Disorganized Light that I'm typing into Word.  I'll post it when I finish]

Friday, September 7, 2018

Tube Top

Occasionally, I try to do an entry about how my mind works.  If it comes off as bragging, so be it.  It's not intended that way.  Be patient with me on this, as it's kind of a quirk thing. 

Remember, I grew ups in the 1970's and 80's.  A popular fashion trend back then was tube tops.  Some people hated them.  I understand why- they don't look good on everyone.  Remember, braless was very in style back in the 70s.

Pic from the 70s

Current web store pic

To my young mind which craved femininity, the tube top was the absolute epitome of female garments.  They showed that the wearer had breasts and left nothing to the imagination- shape, size- proudly shown off.  No straps- the only thing holding up the top was the boobs.

Hey, I was around 10 years old!  Work with me!  Back then, I thought the physical difference between boys and girls was that girls didn't have penises and they grew breasts! (Why that happened or their purpose, I had no idea.)

Me at 10.  5th grade

Tube tops fell out of fashion in the late 70s, but made a brief comeback in the mid-80s.  My college girlfriend had a couple of them, and they showed off her C cups beautifully.  When she wore the tube tops, she got a LOT of male attention. 

Guys are really stupid when it comes to boobs.  I know- I speak fluent guy. 

Fast forward many years.  In December 2012, I started HRT.  Due to an absolutely lucky genetic draw, I started "blossoming" quickly.  Within six months, I had C cups, and they were getting very hard to hide.  I wore compression shirts under oversized polo shirts to work and at home.  I even wore them to bed, which Wife noticed as I used to sleep shirtless.  (Obviously she knew why.)

Fast forward again.  I've been out over four years now, and I have natural DD cups.  As I said, I'm VERY lucky and I know it, when it comes to the boob fairy.  I figured I'd look up tube tops just for s's & g's.  I figured I could wear one around the apartment.  They were available, but none near my size.  Story of my life.

Then a few months back, I was browsing an online catalog for sun dresses and saw one that... wait is that... yes!  It's a dress with a tube top!  At the time, I had the money, so I bought it.

And so it was that I got my red sundress with a tube top.  I LOVE this dress.  At first I wore it with a strapless bra because, you know, propriety.  Then I noticed something.  Going braless seemed to be a thing again.  So, with this one dress, I stopped wearing a bra.  After all, it was a tube top and I had the means of holding it up.

Wearing the red tube top dress yesterday: no makeup. no bra.  The straps are superfluous

It's a very small and peculiar dream, but it was one I had growing up, knowing so desperately that I was really a girl.  Forty some years later, I am the Woman I wished I were.  (Well, almost.)  And I have my tube top. 

Be well. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 19: Leaving BK

Some time ago, I decided to skip posting a bunch of chapters of my book: Men of the Skull: A Memoir of Fraternity Life in the 80s, as they didn't have fraternity hijinks.  You see, even though it IS about fraternity life, it is about MY life back then.  And chapters 19-28 were about non-fraternity related things- specifically my growing relationships with several people.

I'd found that "non-fraternity" posts in the book got only 10% of the hits that "fraternity" posts did, so I decided to skip posting those chapters.

And there was another reason as well.  They don't exactly paint me in a flattering light.  During that time, I did one of the things that I regret most in my life to this day (aside from being born.)  That isn't in this chapter- it comes soon though.  What happened STILL hurts.  But I also think that the two chapters around it are the most powerful in the book.

I decided that if a certain number of people requested that I post those chapters, that I would do it.  I set a number that meant a lot to me.  Saturday morning that number was reached, when someone politely asked to see the skipped chapters.

That number?  86.  The year I started at Penn State.

So, if you are glad to see these chapters, thank those 86 people.  If you are one of the 86: see- I listen... eventually.


Chapter 19: Leaving BK

Sunday, October 26, 1986 Expulsions by Britain are hastened

            Working fast food is a hard job.  It’s greasy, smelly, and usually (not always) the managers treat employees like dirt.
            Easily the hardest part about working at a BK (aside from the customers) was closing.  A standard crew was five: one did the broiler, one the fryers, one the mountain of dishes, one did the front service area (soda machines and stuff), and the last did the burger boards and specialty board.  If anyone finished early, they pitched in elsewhere.  The job usually took between thirty to sixty minutes.  I knew how to close a BK because I’d done it hundreds of times in high school.  I hated doing it.

            When I was hired at BK in State College, I told them I could not work nights, as I had late classes and I needed time to study and do homework.  I didn’t mention parties, but they weren’t dumb and must’ve known that was a part as well.
            So I was surprised to see me scheduled for a closing shift.  I protested and tried to get out of it, but no dice- I had to close.
            Add to that, almost everyone else called out.  I would have to close this huge store alone.  This store was the largest BK in the US.  Its dining room was three fucking floors (it used to be a restaurant called the Train Station.)  The whole thing was huge.  And they expected me to clean it all on my own?  Fuck that!

            So it was me and two managers.  By the time we closed, the place was wrecked.
            So I chose a task and started while the managers did whatever they did.  Drained fryers, then cleaned the broiler (the hardest, dirtiest job), then cleaned the fryers, oh fuck it sucked!
            “This fucking sucks.  I can’t believe I’m fucking doing this when I have fucking work to do.  Fucking assholes!”  I said to myself, and so on. 
            Eventually one manager, then the other, came to help.  This was one AM, two hours after we closed.  They were kissing my ass. 
            “Man, we are so glad you are here doing this.  Really glad, man.  You are the best…” etc.
            Three AM, and I finally finished mopping all three floors.

            I needed money, but not that bad.  I also wanted more time to see Judy.  I got sick (honestly!) and called out for a week.  Then I called and told the manager I hated most that I was done.  I quit.
            It was all I could do not to say “Fuck you.”  Good thing I didn’t.  I would need BK later.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Goodbye Shangrila

Last Thursday, August 23rd, I went to meet my mentor and "big sister" Mel at Shangrila.  That's where we usually met to hang out and talk, as Mel liked the food there, and the Happy Hour was a particularly good deal.

Before I arrived for our usual 4 pm meeting, she texted me that she was going to the nearby McKenzies instead.  Shangrila was closed.  I agreed to meet her at McK instead.  First, I stopped at Shangrila ("Shangies" as it was affectionately nicknamed by the local transcommunity of a "certain age."    I wanted to see the note on the door myself.  I took a picture.

So, Shangies is gone.  Another one bites the dust, right?  But Shangies holds a special place in my heart.  You see, Shangies was where I first went to Angela's Laptop Lounge on that first December night in 2013 when I went to discover who and what I truly was.

I wrote about this LONG ago (obviously.)

What made Shangies that much more... dangerous... was that I worked RIGHT next door.  The bookstore overlooked it as the next store up the hill.  Fortunately, only one window opened to that side of the building, and that was in the children's department.  Back then, I drove an easily identifiable car- a Honda Del Sol.  I parked it away from the street so as not to be spotted those early days.  When my del Sol finally died, I bought a much less identifiable car so I could blend in just a little more.

Map:  Google maps

I needn't have worried- the people I worked with at the time weren't looking for me there, especially dressed as a woman.  Essentially I was invisible to them.  (I actually proved that on the night I "re-emerged."  I went into the store, and while they KNEW I was a crossdresser, they didn't realize it was me until I said something.)

And so it was that Shangies became a special place for me.  Once a month, Sophie would re-emerge, go to the Renaissance meeting, then converge at high speed upon this place.  It was crowded- the bar area isn't very big- but it was there that I began making connections with the local Trans community.  I made some of my dearest friends there- like Jen Lehman, Jen Jensen, Katie Ward, Charlotte Sometime, Kristyn King, Angela Gardner (who runs the event) and so many more.   I would do my 10 o'clock check in with Wife while I stood outside the front doors.  Supposedly, I was playing D&D. I hated lying.

With Jen Lehman during my "blonde phase."  August 2009.

Occasionally at work, I'd have to go into the children's department, and, if no staff were there, I'd look out that back window at Shangies, wistfully counting the days until I could be Sophie once again.

The worst part was that I was having SO much fun, and meeting so many great people... but I couldn't talk to anyone about it.  I couldn't share my experiences with Wife or my "Lance friends" as none of them knew... and wouldn't understand.  (I lost over 90% of those "friends" when I transitioned as they didn't want to know from me anymore.)

After several years, the Laptop Lounge moved.  There were complaints about unfair, sliding drink prices depending upon the bartender.  Whispers of management disparaging us.  Laptop has gone to several other places since (as of this writing, it happens at 30 Main in Berwyn, PA.) 

With Jen Jensen and an orb, January 2010

Eventually, Mel and I started meeting there just to talk and drink.  Mel is a sushi connoisseur, and said that Shangies had the best in the area.  I don't eat seafood, so I wouldn't know.  When I was thrown out five years ago, I took those who helped me move to dinner at Shangies.  Last Christmas, Linda and I had Christmas dinner there.  My very dear friend Victoria had Affirmation party there as well in April 2014. 

Affirmation party set up, April 2014

And now it is gone. 

It has joined my already crowded memory of places and times passed, and the dear friends who passed as well.

I normally don't wax nostalgic about restaurants closing.  I really miss Blue Pacific (another place that hosted the Lounge for a time) and sort of miss some of the Penn State bars and restaurants that have closed since I graduated.  Time passes, stuff happens.  However Shangies will always hold a special place in my heart.

It was the place where Sophie truly began.

Zàijiàn, Shangrila. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Quick Jaunt to PSU

On Monday, August 20, 2018, I awoke early, smeared makeup on my face, and drove west to my happy place:  Penn State University Park.  I went to talk to a few people about PhD programs, and did so.  I met three different doctorates, and discussed my research ideas with them.  However that isn't the point of this post.

With an Old Friend

It was the first day of classes at PSU, and students were everywhere.  I could feel the electricity- the anticipation of a new school year.  For some, it is their first time away from home.

I finished my meetings, and went to the campus LGBT center.  I'd invited its director and assistant director to lunch, but they were busy.  I also contacted a facialbook friend, Susie, but she was up to her eyeballs in work, so no go.  So I walked down to College Ave, and over to Baby's, a 50s style diner that opened while I was at PSU in 1987.  

So this was a 50s diner, which opened in the 80s- 30 years after the 50s.  It's now 30 years after the 50s... I feel so old.

Anyway, as it was just me, I sat at the counter.  A beautiful young waitress took my order (Original burger, no tomato, fries, and a hand-spun chocolate shake.)  Her name was Brittany, and I detected the hint of an accent.

As I waited for my drink, I pulled out my writing notebook to write a few things down about the day.  That's when Brittany returned and said "May I ask you a personal question?"

I knew what the topic would be, sighed and said "sure."

She asked "Which pronouns do you prefer?  I mean..." 

"She/her/hers, thank you for asking."

At Baby's

She'd clocked me as trans, obviously.  She then told me about waiting on a table the day before of four people- three girls and one guy.  She said "hello ladies" and the guy seemed deflated.  Turns out he was a transgender man, and felt misgendered.  She said she apologized profusely, and didn't want to make the same mistake again.  While she spoke, another fresh faced waitress joined her.  Michaela is a little taller than Brittany, with pink and black hair (PSU's original colors from the 1880s, but I'm not sure she knew that.)  She had many more buttons than Brittany.  I commented that she "needed more flair" but she didn't get the reference

Kids these days.

Some of the buttons she had were trans-positive.  I'd picked up a button at the LGBT center (a heart with the transgender flag colors,) so I fished it out of my purse and gave it to her.  She was very excited.

Brittany and Michaela.  Note the trans-heart button

The ladies spoke to me when they could while working their sections.  I was right about Brittany's accent: Texas.  She did her best to hide it, but as I'm an "accent chameleon" I picked up on it.  I told them both stories of PSU of my time, and they asked lots of questions, both about PSU and about the transgender experience. 

The burger was as good as I remembered, as was the milkshake (best in State College!)  As I was preparing to leave, Brittany was as well, as she had to get to class.  She was working her way through school- a VERY tall order these days.  I paid my check (leaving a huge tip) and started back to my car at the HUB parking deck. 

Students on College Ave

It was a good visit.  I'd met people, and had a few hours at my Happy Place.  I watched the students rushing here and there, many glued to their phones.  I wanted to shake them and tell them to put the phones away- to keep their heads up, eyes open, and drink it all in; because the time goes by so very fast, and they enjoy every moment of it.  As the poet sang "Such a long long time to be gone and a short time to be there."

After another short errand, I turned my car southeast, and headed back to Phoenixville. 

Back to my life.  Away from Home.

Friday, August 17, 2018


I made the 8:03 train to Edinburgh on time, but I hadn't showered.  (I did put on deodorant and brush my teeth.)  I slept most of the way.  The train arrived on time, and I went off in the direction of my hotel.  Google maps was having issues, as the compass kept spinning.  Eventually, I figured it all out, and headed for the hotel.

The walk included hauling my very heavy suitcase up a HUGE stairway.  How big?  There is a tiny pub halfway up the steps called "Halfway House."  Seriously!

The steps.  The homeless guy watched me haul my suitcase up the steps, but didn't offer to help.

The dotted line is the stairway

Tired, hot, and sweaty, I arrived at the Ibis South Bank Hotel at 9 AM.  In all the years I've been travelling, over three continents, I have NEVER had a problem checking in early.  Well, I did here.  They informed me that check in was 2 PM, and they did so quite rudely.  I was angry, and thought about going to another hotel.  I went down the street to a place called The City to eat, as I was famished.  There I had a full breakfast (with haggis.)  I came back and saw that a different person was working as receptionist (there was no desk- just someone in a red t-shirt.)  I heard that person deny a couple an early check-in as well, but not as rudely.  The couple was just as perplexed as I was.

I went to a restroom and splashed water in my face.  I felt some scummy.  I sat in the "lobby" and wrote in my travel journal.

The Travel Journal

I was there maybe half an hour when Emma came through the door.

Emma was a local, and she graciously volunteered to show me around for the day.  Emma is a fellow sister of Vanity Club, and that's how I initially contacted her.  But like several transgender women that I consider inspirations, I knew about her before I transitioned.  I found her pictures on Flickr.  She always presents herself with class and elegance.

Emma in front of Edinburgh Castle

So there she was in person- all classy and elegant.  Me?  I was unshowered, unshaven- a total wreck.  I was completely embarrassed.  Still she was wonderful.  She has a rather thick Scots brogue, but it wasn't a problem, as I am used to it.  (Mum is Scottish.)  Emma's voice was so feminine, she made me jealous as hell.

We spoke for a moment, deciding what to do.  We decided to walk up the Royal Mile (which is uphill) to Edinburgh Castle.  I really wanted to see it again, as I'd been there the last time I was in Scotland back in 1972.  Back then, I didn't "get it."  I was just a little kid.  Now, I'm a grown woman and a history fanatic who loves castles.  On the way up the Royal Mile, we detoured through a parking lot around a cathedral.  Apparently John Knox is buried beneath it somewhere.

That's a huge cannon: Mons Meg.  It's been moved since 1972, having undergone conservation.  In the picture on the left, I'm the short one.  As you can see, I'm a little taller among other things.  When I planned this trip, this was THE picture I wanted to take. We couldn't do the identical angle because the gun was being swarmed by a tour group.

And it was right about then that the elastic in my panties gave out.

So to recap- I feel scummy and look worse, I'm accompanied by the picture of elegance... and now I'm pulling up my panties every couple of minutes.

While there, we watched the firing of the One O'Clock Gun, which was a great display of military precision.

We toured the whole castle, including the old St. Margaret's chapel.  Afterwards we headed down the Royal Mile, passing a wall I remember from my last visit- with a cannonball embedded in it.

St. Margaret's Chapel.

See the cannonball?  Center of the picture

At the Whiskey Experience.  Classy Emma and Slob Sophie

We went to the Whiskey Experience, which was all about Scotch.  Both of us love scotch, so it was wonderful!  They house the world's largest collection of Scotch- 3,384!  Price of admission included... SAMPLES!  Yes.....

We then continued walking east- downhill on the Royal Mile.  There were many touristy shops, a piper in full regalia on every block, and plenty of pubs.

We stopped at St. Giles Cathedral, whose construction began in 1322, and continued for 150 years.  John Knox, the noted protestant reformer, preached there, and is buried under the parking lot.

The cavernous High Kirk

Facing east toward the entrance


Cathedrals fascinate me.  I am in awe of the architecture, the beauty, and the craftsmanship of these incredible buildings.  I also have read a lot about the the politics and economy of the building of them- generations of workers toiling to create a building to last ages.

However, I had a second reason to visit here, in addition to gaping.  I wanted to light a candle for Lisa Empanada.  Yes, she was an atheist, but this small gesture of remembrance comforted me- I could show the world, silently, that I still think of her and cherish her memory.

Lisa's candle is the one at the top left.

After the cathedral, Emma and I went back to the hotel.  Time flew past quickly, as Emma is an amazing conversationalist who is knowledgeable about a diverse array of topics, especially Scottish history.  I was able to check in (finally) and go to my tiny room.  There I FINALLY showered, shaved, threw out the underwear, and did a quick makeup job.  When I cam back down, Emma was waiting in the lobby.  She'd changed into a stylish dress, and re-did her makeup.  Even cleaned up, I felt so very scruffy next to her.  That's me: the "Ugly American."

View from the door

View from the window

We decided to eat at a nearby hotel restaurant: the Itchycoo.  Seriously.  Does Donovan get royalties?  We weren't IN the restaurant per se.  We were seated outside the restaurant in the lobby.  Grr.  Anyway, I had steak.  During dinner, a piper wandered about the hotel common areas, sometimes rendering conversation impossible.

After dinner, I feared Emma would be tired of my company.  No, she wanted to keep going!  So she suggested a pub up the Royal Mile a bit.

Emma enjoying an after dinner glass of wine

Did I mention the cobblestones?  The Royal Mile is all cobblestones.  And we were in heels for dinner.  Emma glided gracefully over the cobblestones, making it look easy.  I looked like a drunken sailor, stumbling and tripping.

We went to the Deacon Brodies Tavern for a couple of pints.  It was a quaint place, named after the inspiration for Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde.  We had a couple of pints each, during which time we chatted about many things while watching two "ladies of the evening" ply their trade on a tourist.

With Emma at the pub

Behind the bar

You can see one of the ladies to the left of the guy in glasses

After the pints...and the wine... and the scotch, we were quite tired.  However, Emma wanted to show me a couple more things.  We went downhill- south on George IV Bridge.  Emma mentioned that Edinburgh was a truly three dimensional city, in that in many cases, the current city is built OVER previous incarnations, which are now intact underground (there are tours too!)  It also makes for a nightmare in navigation.

These streets intersect??

We passed the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, then Emma brought me to a statue of a dog: Greyfriars Bobby.  The legend is that the dog was so loyal that he guarded the grave of his master for 14 years after his master died.  It's across a narrow street from a pub named in the dog's honor.  On that little isthmus of sidewalk, two college age girls were holding back the hair of a third who was vomiting the everything she'd eaten in the past ten years.  I asked if they needed help, and they politely said no thank you.  Within a minute, they tossed their drunk friend into a taxi, and they drove off.

 Greyfriars Bobby statue

Picture courtesy of Google maps

Here is where Emma and I parted company.  I don't know if she lived nearby or was parked nearby, but she said this was her parting point. We hugged, and she disappeared into the night.

What I DIDN'T know was how close I was to one of the places I wanted to visit: the infamous Greyfriars Kirkyard.  Known as one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world, visitors have left bruised, burned, and bloody from unseen attackers.  In the google picture above, the Kirkyard is down that tiny alley between buildings.  I love old cemeteries, and this one was high on my list, but I didn't know where it was, and I figured Emma wouldn't want to show it to me, so...

Picture:  Google maps

The cemetery also has a Harry Potter connection.  Not that I care, but it does.  I've never read HP, nor have I seen any of the movies.  In any case, we'd passed the Elephant House, so I went back to take a couple of pictures.

From there, I wandered the dark streets- a woman alone clack clacking on the sidewalks- back to the hotel, where I took off my makeup and promptly collapsed.  I'd done a LOT of walking that day, and my feet, back and legs ached.

Blue: first walk.  Green: return to hotel. Red: Dinner/pub walk. Purple: After pub

The Royal Mile is essentially "Disneyland: Scotland:" a big show for the tourists, showing what they "expect to see" in Scotland.  There were pipers, cobblestones, haggis, pubs, a cathedral, and two castles.  Everyone was snapping pictures of the ubiquitous pipers, and bagpipe music was everywhere.  If I had time, I would've loved to explore more of the city, or the very nearby Stirling and Bannockburn, as well as to pay respects to the Bruce.  Emma gave me that option instead of the castle walk we did, but I NEEDED to see the castle again.

Time was not on my side, as the next morning I again had an early (6:22 AM) train.  And this time, I'd take a taxi instead of those damn steps!

Edinburgh was a wonderful stop, but I wish I'd felt more secure in my appearance (and underwear.)  I wanted to re-connect to old memories of the child who was here all those years ago.  I wanted to re-consecrate them as Sophie memories, and Emma was more than happy to join me.  She is very proud of her city, and it showed.

At Edinburgh Castle, looking north to the Firth of Forth

It's hard to put this trip to Scotland into perspective.  I don't know what I expected, and there were things I HAD to do that I didn't.  Like I didn't see my cousin Anne.  I didn't see Culloden or Loch Ness.  As I wrote above, it was a bit like a pilgrimage.  But it was also an introduction: I wanted my Scottish kin to meet Sophie.  And a few did.  Lynsey and Stephanie allowed me to see into their world, which wasn't just that of Scotland, but life for two 21 year old beautiful college students.  Seeing my Uncle again was a treat as well.

I had time to reflect on it on the long train ride the next morning.  The adventure wasn't over yet!

Next Stop:  London and Paris