Monday, May 13, 2019

Men of the Skull Chapter 50: Murder

Happy Valley was a fantasy land, especially after the two years I spent living in Powelton Village during my time at Drexel University.  (Back then, that was a dangerous part of the city.)  Looking at the Police Log, all one would see was petty theft and drunken fights.  Compared to the murders and armed robberies (I'd been mugged four times there myself) that was nothing. 

About twice a semester, a rape was reported.  I'd guess (with no statistics to back me up) that for every one that was reported, there were five others that weren't.  Suicides were reported sometimes.  I knew one of them. 

My point being, as a "guy" at PSU in the 80s, I felt safe.  And, as the "nice guy" (meaning "couldn't get laid with a string of $100 bills around my neck) I often volunteered to walk women back to their dorms/apartments as a safe escort.  "Campus escort" was a thing back then.  I soon gained a small reputation for it- the "safe guy."  Girls would seek me out near the end of a given Skull party for me to walk them home, and I did it.  No matter how drunk I was, I took this very seriously, and would never consider taking advantage of it.  They were trusting me, and I was going to do everything I could to get them home safe, by God!  Fortunately, it always ended up just being a walk in the cold which sobered me up. 

Then this happened.  Drug sting?  Big deal.  But Murder was... unheard of.  Yes, we knew about the murder in the stacks in 1969, when all of us were toddlers. 

The town was on edge for a while.  Stunned.  I don't think we were so trusting after that.  The stakes were raised, so to speak.

I didn't know Dana Bailey.  She sounded like a wonderful person.  I hope that her murderer is caught while her parents still live. 


Chapter 50: Murder
Monday, March 9, 1987 PSU student fatally stabbed
            My morning classes went by as usual except everyone seemed to be buzzing about something.  There were no Collegians around to be had on campus.  So as usual I went to the house for lunch.  Got myself a burger out of the big orange containers.  All of the brothers had their faces buried in newspapers.

March 9, 1987 Collegian
            I grabbed a copy and sat down.
            “PSU student fatally stabbed” was in the center of the front page.
            This was the first murder at Penn State since 1969.
            “Jesus Christ,” File said.
            “Anybody know her?”  Sauce said.
            “Dairy’s girlfriend works with her,” Garbo said.
            “I heard she hangs over at AXS,” VD said, his mouth full of burger.
            Saint walked in.  “Hey, you guys hear what happened?”
            “Yeah, that’s fucked up.”
            “Wonder what really happened?”
            “132 South Allen.  Where is that?”
            “Um, it’s above the McClanahans across from the flower shop innit?”
            “‘Apparent victim of stab wounds to the heart and lung area.’”
            “Fucked up shit.”
            “Where did she work?”
                                                “Corner room.”
            “How do you know?”
                                                “It’s in the fuckin’ paper dickwad!”
            “I heard she was tied to a chair with her throat cut.”
                                    “Where did you hear that?”
            “I dunno.  Around.”
                        “Full of shit.”
            “Fuck you.”
            I sat and read.  There wasn’t much in the article.  The only real fact was that a student was dead.

            The police sealed the apartment.  A few months later, the whole building burned to the ground.  The fire was labeled “Suspicious.”
            All these years later, the murder of Dana Bailey has not been solved.

Next Chapter

Friday, May 10, 2019

Funeral Today

Sometimes I feel like I go to far too many funerals.  I used to, but not so much anymore.  Prior to today, it had been a year and four days since my last funeral.  

I hate funerals.  Always have.  Funerals aren't for the Dead- after all, they aren't there.  They are a coping ritual for those left behind.  I've read many books on funeral customs, and have, many times considered going into the mortuary business.  

In any case, this one was a family funeral.  Zack Fanning was the 20 year old son of my cousin Sharon.  Sharon is a cousin on the paternal side of my family.  Her mother is my dad's sister.  The last time I saw her was at a family wedding in the early 90s.  Heck, it may have even been hers- I don't remember.

Ready to go South 

Zack died in a motorcycle accident at Reedy Point Bridge in Delaware.  In my paramedic days, I saw many of those, and none were pleasant.  Some still haunt my nightmares.  I'd never met Zack- never laid eyes on him before I saw him in the casket.  He looked like his father.

My heart breaks for my cousin and her family- I can't imagine losing my daughter in any way.  

What made this an... event... for me was that this was the first time all of them (except my cousin Brenda, Sharon's older sister) would meet the Real Me: Sophie.  I went to support my cousin- I can't imagine not doing so.  But... how would the rest of the family react to my presence?  I really had no idea.  Of the "male" cousins, I was the youngest, and our generation only had daughters.  Our branch of the family name dies with us, unless one of the daughters keeps her maiden name.  

The drive to the funeral home in Hockessin, Delaware was a little more than an hour on rainy roads.  The past couple of days this event was on my mind- what would They say?  Sharon has been very supportive in her messages to me since transition.  Not all of my family has.  So, it was an hour of second guessing scenarios and plans.  I'd put the last of my money into my gas tank, so if there were a lunch after at a restaurant, I wouldn't be able to attend.  What sort of people are Zack's friends? 

I needn't have worried.  Many of Zack's friends are, well, rednecks and/or bikers.  However, as Zack was a volunteer firefighter and worked for DelDOT, there were many firefighters and state troopers in attendance.  The troopers were in uniform.  Everyone was there for one reason only- to say good bye to their loved one.  No one even noticed me as I slipped in a couple of minutes before the ceremony began.  

Reedy Point Bridge- 135 feet of clearance

I was a little surprised about how few of my family were actually there.  As there were visiting hours the night before, I'm guessing that some paid their respects then.  I know my parents did.  In any case, some of my cousins were there, as were Sharon's parents- my aunt and uncle (of course.)  

The first ones I spoke to were Sharon and her husband.  I kept it brief, as I didn't want to intrude.  Next was Sharon's older brother- who, among my paternal cousins, was the one I was closest to.  He was there with his amazing wife, and their two kids, only one of which I'd ever met, and that was back when he was an infant.  He's in his 3rd year of college now.  My cousin Brenda saw me speaking to him, and joined us as well.  We spoke for a bit- it was good to catch up.  No problems with names of pronouns.

I then saw another cousin, this one who I hadn't seen in 30 years.  We spoke briefly.  The last cousin I saw was one whom I've had issues with online, as she is a rabid 45 supporter.

All of these interactions went well.  No problems with names or pronouns.  Was I surprised?  A little.  More relieved.

After seeing that last cousin, I quietly slipped away.  As I walked out of the funeral home, all of Zack's friends were firing up their pickups and muscle cars and leaving in loud and fast procession.  

On my way into the funeral, I noticed a truck near where I parked.  It had a lot of stickers and window vinyls all over it; most motorcycle related, and typical of an immortal 20 something.  One on the side window caught my eye: 

"But Did You Die?"

I didn't get a picture of it, and that truck was one of the line of vehicles tearing out of the parking lot as I walked to my car.  I couldn't help but think of the irony.

I lost my sense of being immortal while in my teens.  I saw so many deaths as a volunteer paramedic, and many of them were my age or younger.  I wondered about all of these people who today said goodbye to their youthful friend- was this their first taste of mortality?  Death is one thing when it's a grandparent, etc, but a whole different thing when it's a peer.  A friend.  A different sort of sting.

My cousins and I are old enough that some are grandparents.  Gray hair replaced the children I knew.  And them?  Their boy cousin was there in a black dress and makeup- a Woman.  

Milestones, hoops, and gateways.  I passed one today, as did all those kids in their trucks, and those family who saw me today.  Three different ones, but still...

Rest in Peace, Zack.  May the four winds blow you safely home.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Men of the Skull: Graduation

I'm posting this one out of order, as it's been THIRTY years since I graduated from Penn State.  While this is the last "story" chapter of the book, it is not the last chapter.  There are two chapters following- one is a "where are they now?" and the other is an epilogue that I'm rather proud of.

I'll break one of my rules here.  In the book (and this chapter) is a girl I call Sandi.  We were classmates and good friends.  Like everyone else, we lost touch.  I still wonder what happened to her.  So, I'll break my rule in hope that someone knows Linda Galati, '89 Edu.  If you do, please tell her I said hello, that I'm ok, and that my memory of her makes me smile.

I have mixed feelings as another anniversary of my graduation passes.  When I left PSU, I was deeply depressed.  I'm told that's not uncommon among college graduates.  I wrote this book trying to sort out my feelings.  
Graduation, May 1989

After I finished it (and this was the last chapter I actually wrote) I was no closer to my answers.  Then, a few months later, I dressed as Lois Lane for Halloween 2008.  Old mental and emotional barriers fell, and my answers were made plain.  Since 2014, I have lived my Truth as Sophie.  I am now at Peace.

Looking back at that distant time sometimes brings me to tears.  Memory provides "what ifs?" and regrets.  Regrets are a horrible thing to have.  I've been accepted to PhD studies back at Main Campus, but it will be FAR different.  It's a different place now.  For me, the most important part will be wandering the paths and studying as who I REALLY am- not a scared drunken boy howling in pain and depression.  People change, sometimes for the better.  I'd like to think I have, but the Jury is still out.

Chapter 186: Graduation

Saturday, May 13, 1989 Bush urges major shift in Soviet ties
            I spent the day wandering around again.  Many people went to the bars and drank all day or hooked up or whatever, but as I had very little money, I had to conserve it.  I picked up my black cap and gown.  I wanted to tell them that there was some kind of mistake, that I still had credits to take, that I still had friends- that I still had parties to attend.
            I knew it was over, though.  Last fall, Dave was gone- up to Rochester.  What would being here be like without Judy?  I couldn’t imagine it.
            That night, I went to the Skeller to see Queen Bee (the reason I saved all my money.)  I saw some people I knew from the summer before or from classes, and tried to make small talk, but Queen Bee was, as always, really fucking Loud!
You got to love me with a feelin', or you don't love me at all.
            Last call!  I ordered one last Rolling Rock and cheered as the band finished their encore.
            Instead of heading uphill back to the Bone, I headed uphill in the other direction: onto campus.
            Campus was completely deserted in the rain.
            The Lion was alone as well.  By then I was fairly wet, so I didn’t mind getting a wet ass by sitting on the Lion’s base.
            “Well, I guess this is it.  Next time I see you, I’ll be an alumni.”
            The Lion stared in the same direction that it had for all those years.  Cold stone.
            “I’ll miss you.  Stupid as it is to miss a hunk of stone.  I guess I’ll miss what you represent.”
            The rain splashed around us.
            “I don’t want to leave.  I never want to leave.”

Sunday, May 14, 1989 Bush calls for ouster of Noriega
            Graduation was scheduled for 1 PM.  The College of Education ceremony was in Eisenhower Auditorium, a little away from the bigger schools’ graduations, but that was ok. 
            My hangover woke me up around 10:30.  I slept on my old couch one last time, because at least I knew where it had been.  My parents were arriving in half an hour, more or less. 
            Somewhere in the house, someone was cranking the Dead.  It was appropriate.  If Skulls were going to graduate, to leave, it may as well be to the Grateful Dead.
Goin’ to leave this Brokedown Palace
On my hands and my knees I will roll, roll, roll
I showered, shaved, puked, and dressed in my blue polyester suit.  I was ready as I could be.

 April 28, 1989  Last Collegian of the semester 

Dad, mom, and my older brother, John arrived around 11:15, just when the rain stopped.  Dad wore his usual mud brown suit and mom wore a purple dress which was offset by her orange dyed hair.  John wore a shabby black suit.  He hadn’t showered, shaved, or even combed his longish hair, and he wore black “Terminator” sunglasses.
“He slept all the way up since he came in at five this morning” dad said, glaring at John who drooled just a little.
I knew how he felt.
We somehow managed to get a table at the Gingerbread Man.  I needed food and hoped I could keep it down.  The crowd was strange, half in suits the other half in shorts.  After lunch it was about 12:20, and I had to get to Eisenhower.  I walked them up Shortlidge Avenue to the building, and went inside, cap and gown under my arm, stomach churning.
I pulled on the gown- backwards at first, and found my place.  We had one rehearsal.  I was behind Sandi.  She was so excited I thought she’d blow a fuse. 
“Oh my God, Lance!  Can you believe it’s really happening!? Oh, I shouldn’t have worn these shoes, I am so going to fall right on my face on stage!”
Her cap and gown had decorations indicating honors.  Her mortarboard was bobby pinned to her immaculately styled and sprayed hair at a perfect 45 degree angle.  She looked really good.
My gown was simple black.
“Yeah.  It’s happening” I said, forcing a smile.  “Did you go out last night?”
“No, my family came down from New York.  We thought we’d have the big dinner last night since every place will be packed tonight.  Did you go out last night?”
“Yeah.  Went to the Skeller to see Queen Bee.”
Sandi laughed.  “You Skulls!  You’ll be drunk the day of your own funerals!”
That didn’t make much sense.  Smile and nod.
We made a little more small talk as everyone ran through the ceremony once.  The auditorium was already getting pretty fucking hot.
After we finished rehearsal, we had ten minutes for whatever.  I had to take a leak, then I needed aspirin and water.

At 1 PM exactly, we filed into the auditorium and sat in our assigned places near the stage.  Parents and whomever were seated behind us.  The Dean of the College started by apologizing for the air conditioners being out.  So that was the problem!
Hey!  It’s fucking hot in here!  Can we get moving?
Finally, we lined up and were called across the stage one by one for our diplomas.  As Sandi was on the step above me, I had a great view of her nice ass.  She turned and said “Oh my God!  This is it!  Good luck Lance!  Hope I don’t trip!”
“Good luck, Sandi.  You won’t fall.”
Her name was called, and she strutted perfectly on four inch heels across the stage- the picture of confident womanhood.  That was the last I ever saw of Sandi, and it was a great image to remember her by.

“Lance Kandler”

I mounted the stage and walked across to accept my diploma and out the door to a reception type area.  High fives and tossed hats.  And too soon, parents.
 April 28, 1989  Last Collegian of the semester  I'm not crying- you're crying

My parents, brother, and I walked across campus toward the House.  From there, we’d go back to Spring City, leaving my home for the past few years- the first true home I’d ever known.  My family and I walked without speaking- like we were coming from a funeral.  Walking down a path some distance away was Judy, her brother, and her mother.  My heart leaped and died in a moment.  They were laughing and happy.
            Judy’s group waved to me from a distance.  She smiled at me and held my eyes for a moment.  I waved back.  Tried to smile. 
            I watched them walk down the path and turn the corner.
            “Who was that?” my mom asked.
            “A friend” I said quietly.  “Just a friend.”

            It was over.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Incidents and Accidents

Drove up to Penn State Tuesday- full of Hope (when will I ever learn?)  I was meeting with my advisor to find out why I'd received nothing from the Student Aid office about my fellowship.  I needed THAT to get an apartment up there, seeing that I'd been unemployed for over a year.

My appointment was at 1.  I arrived at 11, stopped at an apartment complex, then to downtown State College for a quick lunch at Baby's.  My friend Michaela was there.  Great seeing her.

An Idiot with False Hope, at Baby's

Went to my appointment.  Well, I understood that I had a fellowship (full ride). Nope.  Refused. Nothing. No money.  If I want to go for my doctorate, unlike EVERYONE (and I do mean EVERYONE) else I'd ever known who went for their PhD, I would have to pony up the cash first.  Is this because I made waves already?  I'll come back to this.

 On the way back from PSU, my mind was swirling.  I was maybe three quarters home when, at the Morgantown exit of the PA Turnpike, I encountered a serious two car accident.  Debris was all over the road. 

I slowed down (I had to- so much debris) and yelled over to the first car to ask if anyone was injured.  There were, so I pulled over and ran back to that car.  At this point, I didn't see the second car.

Car 1 was hit from behind coming onto the highway.  It rolled four times before coming to rest almost perpendicular to the side of the road.  All airbags deployed. In the car were a young mother, father, and a young toddler.  The toddler was in the baby seat when it happened, and had superficial bruising from the restraints, and a bump on the head, probably from flying debris.   Mom had head injury (concussion?) and an injured ankle.  She kept calling and texting people.  Dad had superficial cuts that, while bleeding, were not bad.  All three ended up being transported to the hospital.  They were the first group to whom I went.

Eyewitnesses (a mom and daughter who pulled over) said there was a second car, that they thought sped off.  I looked down the road, and saw a car pulled over on the left, and a tractor trailer pulled over on the right further down.  There was a burly man standing outside the car.  After stabilizing the young mom, I ran down to the other car.  That man was the truck driver, on the phone with 911.  The driver of Car 2 was trapped.

He had a nasty bloody head injury, and a broken nose.  The windshield had a large star indicating his head hit it.  No airbag.  He was conscious, and also kept calling people.  He told me not to open the driver side door as he was leaning on it (not that I had room to open it.)he told me his hip hurt, and by the angle, I saw that it was broken. Blood and debris were everywhere.  I crawled into this car to help. My dress was covered with blood and car fluids. I stayed in that car, trying to stop the bleeding and keeping him talking until the rescue squad came.  "Rescue 69" had been in service than less than a month, and it was shiny.  (The station number was 69.)

The rescue squad had to rip the roof off to get him out.  They were still removing him from the car when I pulled away.

It's been a while since I've seen injuries that bad. I was shaken. 

I remained calm when told I didn't get the fellowship.  I remained calm while speaking to student aid.  I remained calm while at the accident scene.  I remained calm through play rehearsal that night...

And after rehearsal, I got in my car and lost it.  I cried my eyes out.  My hands were shaking badly.  I had a blinding headache.  I cried intermittently through the night. 

So, I was informed that despite what I was told previously, I did not receive a fellowship from PSU.  That means if I want to go for my PSU, I need to pay.  At least this year.

My whole going for this was contingent on me being paid to go.  To me, that meant that they WANTED me there- that they thought I and my studies were worthwhile.  Now, I'm just another paying customer.

There are 3 major considerations now.  In reverse order:

3)  Linda.  Uprooting her to the middle of nowhere, where she, like me, would be starting over.  She was considering transitioning to full time while there.

2)  Would the time/money be worth it?  Will I be able to find a job?  Will my research really make a difference?  Or will I be an overeducated retail worker?

1)  I see Wife and Daughter maybe once a week.  I've missed so much of my daughter's childhood.  If I go, I'll see them maybe once a month.  If that.  Wife is not a huge fan of State College.

So.  The paradigm has shifted.  I've gone from "Yes, come here because we REALLY want you" to "meh.  You got the money, we'll take it."  I'll be putting myself deeper in debt.  And for what?  A long shot.  Hail Mary.

I really have no idea what to do now.  I'd always dreamed of teaching at PSU.  That dream was going to come true.  Now, not so much.  I can hear a familiar voice in my head telling me how worthless I am, and how I should just forget it because I'll never be good enough.  In harmony with that is my own inner monologue saying "why f**king bother?  It's not like you'll make a difference.  Nobody wants you there- nobody needs you there- you're just money in their coffers."

Some of my dear friends have suggested that I just go somewhere else- that my love for PSU is clouding my judgement.  That may be true.

However, when I attended PSU, it was as Him.  And when I graduated, I was deeply depressed.  Maybe I want Redemption.  I want to wear the graduation gown as ME- a woman.  I want a chance to show PSU the power of a Transgender scholar. 

Now the question with which I'm faced is... do I dare eat a peach?

Monday, April 29, 2019

Men of the Skull Chapter 49: Assisted

In some ways, this was a typical Saturday night fraternity party.  I don't know how many kegs Crow went through at a party, but, at Skull, we would finish 25-30 kegs on a given Thursday or Saturday night.  Crow had 2 taps, if memory serves.  We had three on a keg cooler behind the bar.

It's funny.  Beer swill on the bar and floor were a given.  You never wore good shoes, as the floor was really sticky with beer and cigarette butts.  Back then, people smoked.  It didn't matter as much because the smell in a basement bar was terrible anyway.  And the air outside was polluted as well, no matter where you went.  Clean air standards have REALLY helped with that!  (Damn liberals!) (That's sarcasm.)

Another thing about floor beer swill- if you fell into it, it left a stain.  That stain would NEVER come out- dirt, beer, ash, whatever else.  Most houses' party floors were tile, so they were easy to hose down and clean after a party.  But... they still smelled of stale beer.


Chapter 49: Assisted

Early Sunday, February 21, 1987 Levine sentenced to 2 years for insider-trading scheme

            Virginia was drunk.  She was behind the bar at Crow while we played the usual Flip a Cup/ Three man games and it was only about one AM.  But she went to Lil Sister Happies before coming here, so she’d been drinking for maybe seven hours, and even she had her limits.  Tonight she wore her black Skullympics shirt which had her letters on the back.  Nothing fancy.

Remember this?
            It didn’t help that  the older alum standing next to her behind the bar kept giving her drinks, and made her “Three-man” (or “Three bitch” as he called her.)  I’m guessing he was in his thirties.  His dark hair was in full retreat from the top of his head, and he had a big beer gut.  He wore jeans and a white dress shirt with a big collar, and several gold chains.  Disco Duck!  He was definitely trying to get her drunk and fuck her.  I smiled- this should be fun to watch. 
            The idea that he might succeed never entered my mind.  Why should it?
            “Pour some shugah on meeeee!” blasted Def Leppard from the speakers.  Disco swayed to the song as he tried to flip the cup in front of him.  He failed twice, drank, and, smiling, passed the cup to Virginia.  She smiled and thanked him.  Rubbed the rim of the cup around in the beer swill on top of the bar for “traction” and flipped. 
            Plastic cups make a hollow pop when they land top down on the bar. 
            “Consume, dear!” she pointed her elbow at me.
            I tapped the cup on the bar and raised it over my head (current rules, aside from DDD) and drank.  The dice came to me and I rolled.  4 and 1:  Popsicle!  Disco was last to put his finger on his nose, so he drank.  Rolled again: 5 and 4: nothing I passed the dice to Virginia, who missed on her third flip, and passed the cup to me.  Someone down the bar scored with the other cup and shouted for Virginia to drink, which she did. 
            She rolled: 3 and 1.  She gave the “Three man” honor to Mandy, who was down the other side of the short bar from her. 
            And so it went.  Disco kept talking to her but I couldn’t hear what he was saying.  She said stuff back, but it was more about current events around Crow house.  He kept smiling and inching closer to her.
“An ain-gel’s smahl is what you sell.  You promise me heav-un, then put me through hell!” shouted Bon Jovi.

Sure enough, Disco eventually put his arm around her and tried to kiss her.
Virginia turned and kneed him right in the nuts.
“I said NO, ASSHOLE!” she shouted, a look of drunken fury in her eyes.
The room went silent except for the music.
“You give love a bad name!”
Then people began to laugh and the noise started up again.  Disco picked himself off the floor, angrily spurning offers of help.  His white shirt was covered with grey beer muck.
He stood and glared at Virginia who glared right back at him: tense, breathing heavily.  He looked like he was about to say something when two guys hustled him back through the open door in back of the bar.  I think he shouted something about “little sisters” but I couldn’t quite hear.  The opening chords of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” blasting from the speaker next to me obscured everything.
Virginia turned to me and smiled.
“I love my brothers.  They watch out for us!”


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Rice The Other Night

I wrote this the other night.


It's 00:22. I'm am dripping sweat and in tears. I had a little drink to finish a bottle of Jack, so I could repurpose it. To that effect, I put it (and an empty wine bottle) in the kitchen sink with a little soap and turned on the water, thinking I'd let them soak overnight. Fell asleep watching a documentary.

Woke up 20 min later to the sound of flowing water. The sink overflowed like crazy. I turned off the water. I emptied the drawers and cupboards. Scrubbed and dried them, including under the bottom drawer. Casualties: box of cereal, box of mashed potato flakes, box of rice. Those I put on the counter until I finished cleaning and mopping up the water.

At this point I'm exhausted, and sweating profusely. You see, I was running the dishwasher, so it was hot in there. I took off my tank top, and picked up the cereal box, trashed it; potatoes, trashed it; rice... the box fell apart in my hands.

Rice everywhere.

Rice anybody?

I burst into tears. Took a pic, then started cleaning.

With all the rice, etc, the trash can was full, so I pulled the bag, tied it, and opened the door to put it outside. Not even thinking that "hey stupid-You're topless!" Normally that wouldn't be a problem after midnight, but I opened the door Just as a police cruiser drove by. I dropped the bag and quickly closed the door.

I then put on my sweaty tank top, and took the bag to the dumpster.

So, the kitchen drawers and counter are spotless. The floor is swept and mopped, though there may be a stray kernel of rice here and there. I'm sitting on the couch, after cleaning for over an hour. I feel so f#*;king stupid and weak, and I can't stop crying.


I was ok the following morning after a few hours of sleep.  Days later, despite multiple sweepings, we're still stepping on rice.

Days later, I can laugh at it.  If I could laugh.  In any case, it's a rice story.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Passing Through: a short story

I was driving through Lancaster County, when I saw a bar.  When I did, I stopped and took pictures.  This story popped into my head.  I dictated it speech-to-text, and revised it a little, and here it is.

If you can think of a better title, I'm listening.  The picture in the story, is the place in question.


“So anyway, yeah, this here place been here some a couple hundred years or something I think. Used to be a railway station when the train come through here.  But then the Factory closed down, and when the Factory close down, the train stop coming in. So the bar, it stuck around as couple rooms upstairs and stuff.  After all, ain’t no other place to drink in town nowdays.  ‘Specially when it snowin’ like it is now.

This place here used to be your run by a guy named Tank. I ain't his rightful name of course, but we all call him that cuz he was the fullback on the local high school football team.  Back when he was a kid, his daddy own this place, he did all right with this place, so Tank and he got his self one of them scholarships to State on account a’ being such a good football player.  Now Tank and me, we graduated high school together.  Tank, he weren’t no good student no-how.  Neither was I, so I start working for his daddy in this kitchen here.  So Tank, he flunks out of school, so he join the Army, and he went to Vietnam.  So he go over there and he came back, and he got an injury to his leg and his foot.

So anyway, I don't recall seeing you around here.  You new in town or something, Miss?”
“No I'm just passing through, and I thought I'd stop for a drink.  It’s snowing very hard.”
“Well, you dressed kind of like one of the locals, so that's why I thought such you know, what with them tight jeans and that, what's that on your shirt? That’s what, a Grateful Dead skull thing, or something?”

“Yes, that's what it is”

Grateful Dead "steal your face"

“So yeah I figured it was.  Well, if you don't mind me saying so, young lady, you know it's kind of tight too, and you know some of the fellers ‘round here, they might get the wrong idea and such, you know.  What with you being so, um, busty an’ all.   I'm just saying.”

“Oh, don't worry about me- I can take care of myself.  Besides, last I checked, it was just you and I here.”

“So anyway, as I was saying, oh what are you drinking again? Okay yeah, I remember. I'll get you one on the house.  Tell you what, I’ll leave the bottle of Jack here on the bar, and you refill when you’re ready.  So this here place it been around long time- since the Civil War.  Tank’s dad, well he owned it and Tank, he come back from Vietnam, and he has his foot.  Now some folks they say he did it himself in order to try to get out of the fight, but he got a Purple Heart and stuff, but you know how rumors get started.  A lot of people, they jealous of Tank. So his daddy he left him this building, and Tank, he run it. Tank was running it when the Factory closed, and then when the railroad stop coming through. Tank he manage to keep this place going somehow, I don't know.   Hold on, gonna take me a Tums.  Not feelin’ right.

You know, your shirt reminds me of a story.  So this is about who I don't know 20 years ago at this point I think. I'm here one day cuz Tank, he let me eat at the bar, since I still was cook here.   It was a hot summer day, and it's me and Tank and I'm sitting out here at the bar because no customers and, then walk this business looking guy and he had a crew cut it wearing a short-sleeve shirt and a black bow tie what looked kinda loose.  He look like he was sweating and such, and he come in here. With that tie, it almost looked like his head was a floating above his shoulders.  Heh.

Now Tank, he decorated this place with all his football trophies and all these pictures of the local high school and such, and he also had some, you know, some of this stuff from State.  And basically the locals start to call it the Tank Museum, you know kind of like where you go and see Tanks and stuff except it was Tank, and not… but anyway, in come just guy and he come in sit down.  

Tank says “what you have mister?” The guy he says ‘I'm just passing through and thought I'd stop for a drink.  Jack neat, please.’  Tank, he says ‘Long Way to the city,’ gets him a beer, and looks at the guy funny.  Tank says ‘have I seen you before, mister?’ Guy says he been to town here now and again, but the last time was some years ago.  ‘You in town for business?’  Guys says ‘No, well actually yeah, but I'm just stopping by.’ He got to pick up a couple a things, he said.

Anyway about a couple years back, Tank lost his wife Delores. I think her name was Dolores. Tank, he got a little heavy on account of he couldn't exercise no more, since you know he got wounded in the foot.  So Delores, she been going behind his back with some guy named Dutch.   Dutch live a couple town over, and he so Tank was pretty upset with this, but he don't show it much.  I knew it on account I just know Tank, seeing how we went to school together.  You know this Dutch guy used to come here all the time.  That's how we met Dolores, since she worked here too.  But Dutch he ain't been in here since he took the Tanks wife.

You sure you don't want something to eat?  Jack on an empty stomach ain’t good.  Okay.  Anyway, so this Dutch guy he never come in.  Miss, you sure don’t want food?” 

 “No I'm just passing through and I thought I'd stop for a drink...”

So Dutch come that and Dutch says to Tank ‘I hear you've been talking to a bad about me around here.’  Tank says “What do you expect you steal my wife’ and Dutch says ‘That's cuz you can't  even perform like a man anymore’ and Tank says to him he says ‘Well, I'm more man you ever be’ and he pulls up the shotgun he kept behind the bar, but Dutch, he had a gun’ too.

I don't know what to do cuz I'm scared out of my mind, and this city guy, he's just sitting there minding his business, watching the two with a smile on his face!   So next thing I know the guns go off, both of them, and now they're both… Tank he slumps back behind the bar, and the Dutch guy he had his chest blown off by the shotgun, and he just get blown back all the way to the wall. That wall right there where you see that picture.  Yeah I put that picture there to cover up the hole made by the rest of the shot.  Huh, is it hot in here, or is it just me?  I’m sweatin’ like a pig.

So any such the City guy, he sit there like nothing happened and I say ‘you see that?’ and he said ‘yep, I guess this is my pickup. He puts the beer down on the bar and he says ‘thank you kindly,’ closes his eyes for a couple a seconds, then opens them again.  He says ‘I think you better call the police, cuz I got what I come to pick up,’ and I thought this was pretty weird, but then the guy I swear on Christ Jesus that this guy, I thought for a second his face turned into a skull! I wasn't even drunk or nothin!’ So this guy, he says ‘I see you sometime, but you might not know its me.’

Now the folks around here, I tell them this story, and they're like ‘oh, there is old Benny, he exaggerating again’ so on account it’s so weird a story. Now, Tank he buried in a churchyard about a mile down the road.  So Tank, he had a will, and he goes and wills the place to me, on account a he got no kids or wife.  I been runnin’ it since.

Dutch, I don't know what happened with him, cuz Dolores, she died a year ago.  So anyway, so that's the story so where you say you’re goin’, young lady? Wow, My chest feel funny.” Oh wait, you just passin’ through and stuff, you said that.” 

“No, I'm just here to pick something up.”   

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Men of the Skull Chapter 48: Dream Dream

I know that we all have reoccuring dreams, whether we remember them or not.  I had this dream countless times in college and just after.  I'm guessing I was afraid that I was sliding into alcoholism.  Well, I was in a way- I was self-destructive and hoping to die before anyone learned my "dark secret."

I kept drinking heavily until 2012, when I was arrested for DUI.  I realized how lucky I was not to have hurt anyone all those years, and cut back considerably.  I learned later that many people considered me "a drunk."  They weren't wrong.

I still have reoccuring dreams.  Most of them center around a grotesque version of Penn State, which is maybe ten times larger and the buildings are cramped together on the outer parts of campus, like in a dystopian movie.  I know this "campus" so well, that I can even diagram it in waking hours.  In those dreams, there is always a class I haven't attended, work I haven't done, or somewhere I need to be.  My fraternity house is also much bigger, and populated by not just the guys who were there when I was (still at that age) but many others I don't know.  And all of them hate me.

Yes, I know Freud would have a field day with me.

So now the into is longer than the chapter.  Go figure.


Chapter 48: Dream Dream

Monday, February 16, 1987 US nearly blundered at summit, report says

            It happens so many times.  The reoccurring dream.

The sky is a blank white, and the sound of the waves is a little strange.  The pale yellow foaming ocean swells push me up and down and I’m so tired I can’t swim.  It is a sea of beer.  I’m so tired.  As I sink, my lungs fill with beer.  I can taste it’s slightly bitter flavor as I drown.  Drown in a sea of cheap yellow beer.

And as I drown…

I’m smiling.

Collegian, Feb 16, 1987.  I did the guy a favor and redacted his last name.  I hope he's grown up since.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Five Years Living Truth

Anniversaries should be marked, says our culture.  I agree.  I mark them almost religiously.  I guess I'm overly nostalgic.  Or foolish.

In any case, this past week, I marked two anniversaries, but I haven't felt much like celebrating.  The Darkness is still upon me, and added to that was horrible news about a friend. 

March 25 marked five years since I started living my Truth full time.  No more him- only Her.  And today, March 31, marks five years since I started work at the bookstore as a woman.

I won't bore you, dear reader, with a summary of those five years.  It's all here on this blog anyway.

I can't believe I've survived this long.  I really can't.  I thought for sure that either I would've been murdered or done it myself by now.  Like most things as I age, it seems like the blink of an eye, yet was agonizingly long.  I am a FAR different person than I was when I first announced my Truth to the world. 

It's funny- the first 24 hours went fairly well.  I received a lot of support.  More than I expected actually.  I took screen shots of it all before I deleted my "male" account.  I sometimes look at it when I'm down.  I try not to think about how many of the people pledging support are no longer in my life.  For a change, I try to think about just that moment in time.

That moment in time happened around 10:50 PM the night before.  My computer was set up on a table in the living room in M's house.  There was a fire in the fireplace.  I forget what was on TV.  In the room were my future roomie/bestie Linda; and Kevin, who also lived there.  I typed my announcement in Word, based upon my "coming out letter." I checked it for spelling and grammar, copied it to facialbook, took a deep breath, and hit "enter."  I told Linda and Kevin "that's it.  It's done."  They congratulated me.  I then stood up and grabbed a cider from the fridge.  Before I returned, the first reactions started coming.

First Reactions

Before I sent that, I had to hide my Truth.  There were places I went as Him, and other places as Her.  For example, I went to Rock Bottom (bar) as Him, and McKenzies (bar) as Sophie.  Same with other places.  I never went out as Sophie without makeup, as I was afraid of being outed. 

It was worse before I told my Wife so long ago.  I jumped at shadows.

But, here's the thing (and I tell this to people just beginning to step out for the first time as their True selves:) If people aren't looking for you, they won't see you.  No one was looking for Lance, especially not Lance in a dress and makeup.  They may spot me as a "guy in a dress" but they wouldn't realize it was me.  Proof- that first night I went out on Halloween 2008, before I spoke to anyone, I walked around the book store.  One of my co-workers clocked me as cross-dressed, but didn't know it was me until I spoke to her. 

March 25, 2014  At the Keystone Conference

But back then, I didn't realize that.

Five years ago, I no longer worried about that.  I now jump at different shadows- wondering if someone is waiting to hurt/kill me for living my Truth. 

Bestselling author and Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan has said that the biggest change in Transition is NOT gender- it's going from "Having a massive secret" to "no longer having a massive secret."  She's absolutely right.  I can't describe that feeling of relief- of no longer having to hide.  I was finally Free.  For a few days, I was absolutely giddy! 

Reality set in on March 31st, 2014.  That was my first day of work at the book store.  Now, I'd been there the day before with Linda, so people could see me and get over the whole "hey- he's dressed like a woman" thing.  I also went to take the edge off of my fear. 

March 31, 2014- First day!

I arrived early, and sat in my car.  I was so scared!  The only fear I could compare it to was walking out the hotel door dressed as a woman the first time.  Or waiting to read my "Coming Out" letter to management.  As I often say, I used to run into burning buildings- but THIS was true fear.

It was raining that day.  I took a deep breath, opened the car door, then walked across the parking lot and into the store. 

I was so happy with what I saw!  Management had posted my "Coming out letter" along with informational materials I'd provided.  And on that display was a post it.

I found out later that it was written by my coworker Dani, who has been and continues to be one of my staunchest supporters.

I wrote about that day HERE.  I'll just quote one bit here:

About three hours into the shift, I stopped dead in my tracks and looked down at myself.  My name tag said "Sophie."  I wasn't wearing a compression shirt, so my breasts stood out proudly.  I was at work as ME.  I thought to myself "this is really happening.  This isn't a dream.  I'm here at work as a woman!"  And I couldn't wipe the smile from my face. 

That was a magical moment. 

Oh, the shirt I wore that day?  I haven't worn it since.  No real reason except that my breasts have gotten so much bigger that it no longer fits!  I still have it though.

Things wouldn't always be so good there.  I was misgendered often by customers, and occasionally by staff.  I was let go from the bookstore on February 13, 2018, along with 2800 others. 

Now it's five years on.  How do I feel?  Well, on the 25th, my dear friends Debbie, Sam, Katie, and my bestie Linda took me out to dinner to celebrate the occasion.  They gave me a beautiful necklace (which was dripping wet because I immediately knocked over a water glass when I sat down.)  I felt... at peace.  I felt lucky that some people think enough of me to do that. 

March 25, 2019

Aside from that?

Well, it's been a hard week, especially the past couple of days.  I won't go into detail, as it isn't pertinent to this topic. 

I look back to the person I was before, and I see a whole different person.  I see an a$$hole, who was in so much Pain, and filled with anger.  In many ways, I am still that person.  I like to think that I kept the best parts of him while shedding that skin.  I still like the same things, listen to the same music...

I'm often asked if I am Happy.  I always answer "No. But I'm at peace."

I guess that's enough.

With Internet Sensation Linda Lewis, March 25, 2019


Thank you to all of you who have followed this blog through the years- old veterans, and new readers alike.  I really appreciate every one of you.  Even you, Pat!  ;)

(And I love comments.  Just sayin'...)