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

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Men of the Skull Chapter 53: Monday Night Shakespeare

As I wrote in this chapter: Penn Staters could make a drinking game out of anything.

The class in question was English 444: Shakespeare.  Professor MacAdams.  He was very passionate about Shakespeare, and it was contagious.  At least it was to me.  But the seed had already been planted in me.  I write about that HERE

There is a lot of foul language and misogyny in this chapter.  The language, well, we were drinking.  The misogyny... before I transitioned I did my best to be as "manly" as possible.  And I saw almost every guy I know refer to women (and their body parts) in this way.  So I did.  I didn't want anyone to even guess the "shameful secret" I hid.  And that's where I was while writing this book.

Now then, looking back, should I correct that in editing?  I should- the "tits" reference at least.  part of me says "no- that's where I was then."  But I was an asshole back then.  So...


Chapter 53: Monday Night Shakespeare

Monday, March 16, 1987 Braving pain to confront Klaus Barbie at trial

            I had trouble reading all the assignments for my Shakespeare class.  It’s all Ye Olde English!  And besides, they’re plays-they’re meant to be seen.
            I discovered that Pattee library on campus had all of Shakespeare’s plays on video, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Yes!  The answer to my problem!
            So, since I had Tuesdays off, Monday nights became Shakespeare nights, where I’d watch that week’s play.  After Chapter meeting, and while drinking, of course.
            Within a week or two I wasn’t alone.  There were two people from my class that joined me.  John was a Sig Tau Gamma (the ROTC fraternity across the street from the apartment.)  He was crew cut and gung ho, but not as “hardcore” as some of the others.  He was laid back.  John brought along his girlfriend Shannon who was in the class as well.  She was cute, nice tits, incredible legs.  She also had a scar down the left side of her face, the result of an angry dog attack when she was very young.  She had a cute smile, grey eyes, and wavy brown hair that went just past her shoulders.
            As time went by, Virginia would join us.  Dave usually showed up too.  He loved a good night of drinking and culture and drinking.
            We are Penn Staters!  Anything can be a drinking game, even the Bard.  When the play ended, discussion began over drinking games.  We sat around my small square living room table.  As usual, Mark was asleep in the other room, so we spoke quietly.

The Bard's Grave, May 2018

            “I don’t know how convinced Henry was of himself and his troops when he gave that speech,” I said.  “Or maybe it was just the way the guy portrayed it.”
            “Didn’t need to be convinced as long as the troops believed,” John said.
            “King gives three.  All yours, asshole,” Dave said, pointing his elbow at me.
            “Mother fucker!”  I said, then drank.
            “They seemed to believe,” Shannon said.  “I wonder how accurate this was compared to what really happened.”
            “Fairly close.  I was a massacre, but mostly because Henry executed his prisoners.  Ten consumes nothing” Dave said, dealing to John.
            “Why?”  I asked, finishing my three drinks.
            “Because those are the fucking rules.  Ten doesn’t drink,” Dave said.
            “Ha ha” I said, sarcastically.
            “Two consumes two,” Dave said, dealing to Shannon.  Because the French really did slaughter the camp followers.  Henry was pissed off so he ordered the immediate death of all the prisoners.  I think they had ten thousand of them or something.  Four consumes four,” he said, dealing to Virginia.
            “That’s fucked up,” I said.
            “Ace drinks five!”  Dave said, dealing to me.
            “That’s a rule!”  I said, preparing to finish my Milwaukee’s Best.
            “So Shakespeare cleaned it up a bit.  That makes sense,” Shannon said.  “I mean, he couldn’t just bad mouth a king.”
            “He does in Richard III,” John said.
            “That’s true,” Shannon said.
            “Maybe it depended on what king,” Virginia said.
            I finished my five and belched loudly.  Virginia punched my arm- Hard.
            “Shakespeare didn’t like rude Skull pigs either,” she said.
            I stood to get another beer from the fridge.  “Anyone need one?”
            Two hands raised.
            Came back with three beers and opened mine.
            “Ok, the rule is ‘no cursing!’”  I said.  It was Dave’s least favorite rule, as when he got drunk he cursed worse than a rude Skull pig.
            “You fucker!”  Dave said before dealing the next card, which would start the rule.
            “Do you think they had Henry’s penitent soliloquy as a way of Shakespeare trying to show redemption for the royal family?”  I said.
            “What?”  John said.
            “Are you a fuckin’ essay question?”  Dave said.
            “Consume!” three of us said, pointing elbows at Dave.

Dave at my Beaver Hill apartment on a Monday night.  1987

            “I think it’s a good question!”  Shannon said, then leaned over to high five me.
            “So what’s the answer then?”  John said, looking at her with a touch of jealousy.
            “I have nooo idea!  Why don’t you ask in class?”  Shannon said.
            “I will” John said.
            And so the cards went round.  We became drunk and educated at the same time.  We are Penn State! 
I think Willy Shakes would have approved.

Next Chapter

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Therapy Talk

Today I saw my therapist since the first time since May. 

She sees me gratis, as I can't afford therapy, so I go when she can fit me into her schedule.  As those few who read my last entry know, I've had a very rough few days.  The Darkness had me and wasn't letting me go.

I was fifteen minutes late to the appointment- I'd forgotten it was moved from noon to 2 PM.  I entered my therapist's office, out of breath.  After a moment, we started talking. 

I told her EXACTLY how I was feeling- and how I felt Sunday/Monday.  I gave her the details, which I haven't even told my Wife or my bestie and roomie, Linda.  I will not discuss them here either, except to say that within minutes, I was crying again.

She pointed out that every time the Darkness has me, and I survive, that something I am glad I lived to see happens.  While I don't agree totally with what she says, it's happened enough to make her point.

Also, The 3rd was Lisa Empanada's birthday, and the 5th anniversary of one of the most amazing and moving days of my life.  This morning's facialbook memory thing brought up a post she made, and sent me into tears again.

So, we talked, my therapist and I.  We discussed the thought loop in my mind that has played since I was a child ("You're worthless, useless, ugly, disgusting, and unwanted" among other adjectives.)  She says I have to counter that.  As it's been playing in my head for my whole conscious life (in addition to 'greatest hits' of things others have told me) it's burned into my soul. 

Then of course there's the wound inflicted by my Wife nearly five years ago.  And the torn out part of my soul from when Lisa died, again, nearly five years ago.  Maybe these events are making "the internal recording skip."  Constant repeat. 

Didn't get that job? You're worthless, useless, ugly, disgusting, and unwanted.  Misgendered?  You're worthless, useless, ugly, disgusting, and unwanted.  Wake up in the morning?  You're worthless, useless, ugly, disgusting, and unwanted.  Insomnia?  The volume goes to 11YOU'RE USELESS, UGLY, DISGUSTING, AND UNWANTED, but with the coda of why do you even fucking bother living?

This past weekend, a few of my fraternity brothers- my fraternity BROTHERS- called me "it", "he/she,"  and "tranny" during the debate for the trans-inclusive amendment to the fraternity constitution.  You're worthless, useless, ugly, disgusting, and unwanted.  These are people I'd never met before last week.  I wanted to rip their heads off.  But I remained calm.  But, the damage was done- just like when my brothers at PSU would tell me "you're a transfer, and don't f*cking belong here."  "You're not a real Skull."  You're worthless, useless, ugly, disgusting, and unwanted.

I spent 45 minutes with my therapist, focusing on exactly how I felt, and what triggered it.  (I already wrote about that last entry.)  Fact is, Lisa died at 52.  I'm currently 51- and next month will be 52 (funny how that works.)  (Jerry Garcia died at 53- and today is the anniversary of his death.)   I think about that a lot- how Lisa, despite everything she endured, made it 52 years, 1 month, and 2 weeks.  I wonder if I can beat that.  You're worthless, useless, ugly, disgusting, and unwanted.

No, I'm not asking for sympathy.  This blog is about how I'm feeling; what I'm thinking; and trying to make sense of it all.  So.  I don't get satisfaction from writing any more.  But I didn't want to end the blog on a total downer (if I never posted again that is.)

I was late to my appointment.  I was hurrying from the parking lot to the door when a splash of color caught me attention.  A flower- maybe six inches in diameter.  Large, beautiful, and proud.  I stopped to look at it, then took a picture.

Because sometimes, I need beauty in my life.  And it was worth the minute I stopped. 

Maybe I'm not too far gone.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Had to Pull Over: Thoughts on Coming Home in early August

This is going to be kinda random and jumpy.  If anyone actually reads this.  Which they won't.

I'm back from New Orleans.  I had to pull over twice on the road home from the airport because I was sobbing so hard that I couldn't see.

I'm home.  Flat broke.  I had to beg my wife for money to borrow for my share of the rent.  I'm useless, worthless, and  have no future

The Darkness has me.  I feel useless, and the fact that I can't find a job makes me worthless.  I spent more money than I had helping people I will never meet, and who will never know what I did.  And, the trip being over, I have NOTHING to look forward to.


The New Orleans trip was the last thing I had planned.  Now, nothing.  September will be here soon- and I HATE September.  It's the month I lost my marriage (technically that was August 31 I think, but I'm not quibbling.)  It's the month I lost Lisa.  It's the month I was born, and I hate it most of all for that.

Me.  Now.  Typing this.

I don't tell people my feelings anymore.  I tell people this, they get angry and tell me it's my fault because I don't think positively.  One fact I've had burned into my soul: I can never tell people the Truth about how I feel.  Oh and it's my fault because I travelled, and put money into an account for my daughter.

I just want the depression to end.  I cannot remember a day without it- literally.

And if I say that, people threaten to have me hauled off to a hospital.  I have sworn I will never, ever go back to one of those.

Insomnia when I desperately want this day to end.

I don't think I'll be writing about the New Orleans trip. I think I'm done with writing.  No one is reading what I write, and it doesn't make me content anymore. Doesn't help.  Last thing Im posted still hasn't broken 100 views.  I used pull that in an hour.  No one gives a shit any more.  Why should I?  I still have my little writing books that I keep filling.  I suppose I should put them all in one box.  Then throw that box away.  Then those thoughts will be gone, unheard.  As they should be.

I volunteer to help others and lose lots of money in the process.  I'm done with volunteering. You want me to help- pay me.  This weekend, I debated a bunch of entitled kids who have been taught to hate and mock anything different.  But, I managed, with help, to get passed a trans-positive motion for my fraternity.  And the people who will benefit?  They'll never know about the 18 months of work several people put in on it, or the debate, or the insults I endured.  They wouldn't care if they did know.  I was invited to New Orleans by the fraternity.  I thought more costs would be covered.  And maybe I'll be reimbursed for some of the outlay.  Eventually.

I shouldn't care about that.  One person of facialbook wrote me: "Most people don't volunteer to help others expecting something in return. They do it from their heart and soul."  Well, so did I. Past tense. All its gotten me is a zero bank balance, PTSD, and wounds that can never heal.  

I did this for a fraternity which, when I was an undergrad, 95% of the brothers didn't want me around.  Many actively hated me.  But, I'd sworn an oath, and my word is all I have.

I used to believe that all the sadness and pain I endure would be balanced out by happiness and good in my life.  That there HAD to be balance.  When I was a teen, that kept me alive.  I now know that thought was absolutely wrong.  There is NO balance.  And if there is, my suffering is balanced by the happiness and ease of someone else's life.

I often think of myself as an old toy, neglected and forgotten when the child outgrows it.  I use that metaphor often in my journals.  An object which has no function but to bring happiness, fun, laughter and joy, sitting silent and still.  Do they long for the child to return and play with them?  (Kinda Toy Story, I know, but I think about it.)  I wrote about this on my old guy blog once.  

When I'm gone, my wife will probably put my dead name on my urn instead of my legal name.  An echo.  A memory.  And if it brings her comfort so be it.  I've hurt her enough.

Melatonin is finally kicking in.  Maybe I can fall asleep.  Maybe when I wake up tomorrow, the Darkness won't have me by the throat.  But I'll still be unemployed.  And worthless.