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'...)