A few weeks ago I was talking to Uzodinma (the new SF/LD author) at Cakeshop. We realized we had a bunch of people in common from The Strand (Uzodinma works there and my brother used to).
“Oh yeah your brother was like fuck this place and quit, right? And he wore flip flops and shit?”
Well, no, that was not my brother, that was a different Trevor, but I was friends with him too. My friend Noelle worked with him at The Strand and sometimes we’d walk from my apartment on 181st Street to his apartment on 120-something street. It took a couple of hours. Trevor–who we called Tray-156 to differentiate him from my brother (we had insane nicknames for people and they didn’t always make sense) lived with his girlfriend and his cat. He had more cool books than I’d ever seen. His place was kind of dirty, the kind of place with pasta left out for a few days and the smell of cat piss. But we liked visiting. I was twenty-two, and catching the writer bug. I’d walk around the apartment an jot down names of books I wanted to get later in my life. Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me by Richard Farina. Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles. Tray-156 let me borrow Chelsea Girls and it turned me into a writer. He let me borrow whatever I wanted. Even special editions. He was generous that way. I didn’t go to college therefore was never assigned books therefore I remember clearly and am interested in how I came to find certain writers and books. I had to find them on my own and am lucky I did.
I don’t have the book anymore so from here on out, I am quoting from memory. Everyone has their Eileen Myles story and mine is no different except that it’s mine.
There’s a part in Chelsea Girls where Eileen writes she was wearing a striped shirt, sitting on the ledge outside the Strand, smoking a cigarette, because her friend had died. I was wearing a striped shirt and smoking a cigarette at the Strand when my friend died, too! I could to believe the uncanny feeling of being legitimized through this.
I’m the kind of person who keeps diet pills in the pockets of her faded jeans.
It’s my book party. Of course I have my own cocaine.
Time passes. That’s for sure.
All of my books that I cared about during this vivid period were Black Sparrow Press. Ask The Dust by John Fante, all of Bukowski’s books.
So it’s 2008 and I read this book aloud to my friends on the subway. Because I can’t believe it this book exists, because I’d never read a NOVEL that read this way. Casual. Conversational. Honest. I’d never read anything by a lesbian before either, that I knew of.
I couldn’t believe it–that when I wrote, I was allowed to just say what happened. That’s what I’d been doing anyway in my writing classes, but here was a published book written that way! The author was probably rich and famous!
I sent Eileen a FB message back then and said, you made me want to be a writer! you changed my life or something like that. she responded, Well, it doesn’t get any better than that, does it?
In Portland when I worked at Powell’s, a friend got me a copy of the book when one was sold back to the store.
When I left Portland a year later, I should have kept it, but was so poor I sold it back.
If anyone wants to get me a copy for Christmas….that’s basically why I wrote this post.
Another thing: (“don’t say thing!” I will now hear in my head forever) Some years ago, a woman on Facebook messaged me. I cannot remember who. Oh! I just remembered: Sarah Greene, she’s a musician. Anyway, Sarah said something like, Legs Get Led Astray reminds of that part in Michelle Tea’s Valencia where her red beads on her bracelet break.
I searched and searched for this part of Valencia that year and couldn’t find it. I’m so weird I think I even ASKED Michelle which book it was in. I don’t remember This was 2012.
So yesterday I was looking up the reprint of Chelsea Girls and opened to the first page on Amazon.
THE RED BEADS WERE THERE. Not in Michelle Tea’s book. I hadn’t thought about this red bead search for four years!
I hope I have this story somewhat correct. Maybe Sarah did say Chelsea Girls and I got confused with Michelle Tea’s memoir, The Chelsea Whistle. Either way, I can’t believe I found the red beads passage four years later while not looking. This is a very anti-climatic blog post for anyone but myself, C’est la vie.
I emailed with Eileen the other week because I’d sent her a copy of my book WOMEN. She said she was having self-care Friday. It’s 4p.m. I said, and I just brushed my teeth.
The day starts late, she responded. That’s just how it is.
Sounds EXACTLY like a line from Chelsea Girls.