Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Quickest Way to Attain Village Weirdo Status

The quickest way to attain village weirdo status in a small town is to walk everywhere. Try it out. As you’re transitioning, people will stop and ask you if you want a ride. Say "no" and tell them you like walking. Watch their eyes get wide, as if you’ve just said you like the burning feeling that comes from having chlamydia. The most random people will stop and offer, and saying “no” is often awkward. Once, an obese woman in a beat-up station wagon followed me down a main thoroughfare screaming, "Ralphie's mom!" "Ralphie's mom! "Ralphie's mom!" It turned out she’d been my son’s bus driver, at a preschool he'd attended, more than three years ago, although my son's first name isn't "Ralphie." If they go through the inconvenience of stopping, you will learn that they expect you to say “yes,” and get in the car.

In the early days of your identity switch, you will meet all the people who make Nancy Grace so popular: the 40+ crowd who sees only killers and rapists in the joggers, dog walkers, and stroll takers you share the sidewalks with. Some of them will tell you that they see what you’re doing as "inspirational," make a comment about your "tight buns," then stick a pastry in their mouths as they dismiss hoofing it as too assault-risky.

Once you’ve ascended to village weirdo status, you will be mentioned in the same breath as the woman who hangs out outside Stop ’n’ Shop, wears multiple, heavy coats in summer, and supposedly lost her children in a fire. You will become community property. People will comment on your clothes, your pace, and scold you out their car windows as they pass, "Don’t text and walk!" Some will find that they have developed a quiet affection for you.  On the days that they don't see you out there walking, they will wonder where you are, and how you are traveling. They will have come to count on seeing you as a regular thing. They will hope that you are ok. They will find that they miss you, even though they think you are weird.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Oona Poem

I wish I was an Oona
but I am a Fiona.
I would make a good 4th wife.
I could heat the milk just right.
I wish I was an Oona
but I am a Fiona.
I would make a good teen bride.
I know how to roll my eyes.
I wish I was an Oona
but I am a Fiona.
I'd give up all my lofty plans
just to be his unseen hands.
I wish I was an Oona
but I am a Fiona.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Life Cycle of a Resentment

I’m not one to hold on to resentments. Thanks to Ebola, I've learned that my resentment cycle is similar to what the human body goes through when infected with a virus. I get actively angry for a few days (entry), storyboard elaborate revenge fantasies in my head involving the shaming and embarrassment of my resentee (replication/shredding), then let it all go, usually having done nothing (latency, "proliferation of the virus particles has ceased, however, the viral genome is not fully eradicated"). Probably the last real resentment I had was towards a friend’s wife, and while I’ve done things to her in my head, and to her image, via Photoshop, that I'm not proud of, I’m to that stage in my resentment cycle where she rents no space in my head, if I don’t go out of my way to think about her existing.

A few weeks ago I sent out a book review to a website. I’d originally sent it to another website, one that I read all the time, and have erotic fantasies about its editor- in- chief, but they messaged me back that they had commissioned a review of the same book to someone else, the week before. I didn’t really care either way about the website I send the review to next. I liked it well-enough, but really, I'd spent a bit of time on the review, and just wanted to see it up somewhere.

Let’s say the editor of the second website was named Jessa. Let's say that even though I got her name right in her email address, I didn’t get it right in the note I sent along with the review. Let's say I addressed my email message to Jessica not Jessa.

If you didn't know, my name is Fiona. My whole life people have gotten my name wrong. I've been called Frances. Something about a first name starting with the letter F that's not Frank or Fred throws people. I'd be an idiot if all these years into my life I still let it bother me. If the definition of "insanity" is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results, the sub- definition is still getting mad about something that you've had years to develop a thick skin about. (Obviously, this doesn't apply to violent assault, and the like.)

Five minutes after hitting send, an email appeared in my inbox. This was good, because usually if an editor replies fast, it means they like your work.

“Dear Fiona,” it began.

“Word of advice: if you don't want your writing to end up in an editor’s trash unread get their name right.”

No signature.

My first inclination was that she was right. Her response was very effective, because I was instantly in a state of deep mortification, and got on the phone to go and cry to a friend. But soon afterward, I started to get angry. From one often screwed up first named person to another, words (because more than one word is plural) of advice: Chill sister. Then it occurred to me, this person is making a lot of assumptions. This person doesn't know me. She doesn't know my circumstances. For all this person knows, I could have composed that email on shitty voice activated software after losing my arms in a fire. Maybe my hard of hearing home health care worker composed that email for me, absolving me of any responsibility and making me the improper beneficiary of her snooty words of advice. What did she know, maybe ableist.

So I composed this response:

Dear J,

Thank you so much for your timely response. F. who is lying here besides me, shivering in her bed sheets, yet somehow managing to look angelic, would want me to stress to you how grateful she is for this. Being that she is so vulnerable to infection, timely responses to her email inquiries, especially ones in regard to her writing, have taken on a great and dark importance. We are, after all, talking about her legacy. Death portends.

I have to make this fast. Because of the state war machine, budget cuts are again victimizing the most vulnerable among us, and my hours helping F. as her eyes, her ears, and-- I am woe to admit-- as her editor have been greatly reduced.

Your response shook me, J. If it can be any consolation to your delicate sensibilities, I want to come clean to you about something.

I see Jessicas.

That infamous Missouri outlaw shot down by a treacherous friend? Jessica James. That wrestler who held public office in Minnesota? Jessica Ventura. It's like tunnel vision. I can't explain it. Any name that begins with Je: Jessica Lopez. Jessica Aniston. I even hear names this way. Rick Springfield's song is an anthem of equality with gender neutral pronouns as he wishes he had Jessica's girl.

Do you remember that movie, with Bruce Willis, and that darling, cone headed boy, Haley Joel Osment? The name of the film escapes me, but there was that famous line of dialogue from the film that was everywhere for a moment: "I see dead people."

I see Jessicas.

I thought I had it under control; I reinvented myself as one of the people who refer to others by their last names. People assumed I was a gym teacher.

Do what you must J. Empty the email from the trash. Rid yourself of it for good; but please, do not hold my affliction against the poor, wounded girl who lies besides me.

I have told her and will tell her nothing of this exchange.

Love and other indoor sports,



It’s a few weeks later, and while I've yet to hear a response, I’m happy to report I am 100% resentment-free.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On being lumpen sexy

The lumpen proletariat and lumpen bourgeoisie exist outside the mainstream class system; they are the criminal element who make their capital gains outside of the law, but they exist there for different reasons.  The lumpen proletariat is forced there, because of a lack of options, while the lumpen bourgeoisie embraces criminal enterprise because there is no oversight, therefore, more profits to be made. The lumpen proletariat might be a drug dealer, a person who grew up poor, without access to education, while the lumpen bourgeoisie might be a Al Capone- style mafia don.

I am lumpen sexy predicated on a similar idea: if we think of desirability as a coveted capital, my earning potential has always been, and continues to be, significantly diminished. At 38 years of age, I'm no longer youthful, nor was I ever considered to be classically pretty. Still, I manage to continue to accumulate capital from the fringes by staying in shape through restrictive diet and exercise, doing my make- up in a way best suited to my features, and familiarizing myself with lighting tricks, and flattering angles, when taking sexy selfies.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My Best Books 2014: a Sort of Response to the New York Times Notable Books List

1. Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller (Chloe Griffin): I was dismayed to see that the New York Times didn't even give lip service to this book, considering Mueller played such a large part in making New York City culture the vibrant cesspool that it was in the 1970’s and 80’s (in my world ”vibrant” and “cesspool” are not disparate terms). Griffin has pieced together a touching and illuminating oral history of the underground icon, told by the people who knew her best (with the glaring exception of Nan Goldin, giving credence to the rumors that bad blood exists between her and Mueller’s estate. It's high irony to think of the visual Cookie and the oral Cookie as being at odds with each other, Goldin's photographs captured Mueller in so many important points in her life.)  I've waited years for this book, and even harbored deluded late night fantasies of writing it myself. Griffin delivers ten fold. Edgewise is a book I will revisit again, and again, until I meet my maker.

2. The Road to Emmaus: Poems (Spencer Reece): Nominated for the National Book Award for Poetry, then cut from the list, in favor of dry, more clinical poets like Louise Glück, Reece’s book doesn't make my list because he’s my imaginary baby daddy. He’s my imaginary baby daddy because of this book.

3. Money’s Nothing ( Lisa Carver): Filled with small epiphanies, Carver’s forte is making you reconsider your tightly held opinions about everything. If you're open to it, this book could change you.

4. Black Cloud (Juliet Escoria): One of the most interesting first books in a while, Escoria’s been described as “a punk rock Grace Paley,” but as of late, some might find “a goth Ann Coulter” to be more appropriate. In 1994, I put a classified ad in MaximumRocknRoll looking for pen pals, and wrote that I was “looking for more bitchy girls with guts, not this overabundance of duh that’s been on the rise.” Escoria can be brusque in her online opinions, but she makes you think, if only to reaffirm what you already believed. My first choice is sedation, but baring that, I'll take provocation. A great book and a really, really strong literary debut. 

5. Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant ?(Roz Chast): The only book on the Times list that I agree with. Made me laugh, made me cry, made me hide my face behind my hands, so no one could see. Oh how I loved this book.

6. The Cruising Diaries (Brontez Purnell and Janelle Hessig): Hilarious. Crass. Sordid. An overdose of TM TMI. And probably not in the forefront of Purnell's mind when it came to the books creation, but to be so absolutely warts and all (literally) candid with one's sexual history is hugely brave.

7. My Apologies Accepted: I bought this book as a consolation. I wanted Roger’s art book, Cunny Poems, Vol 1, but it was sold out. Rogers writes short, fast verse, littered with misspellings and curious word choices, but what may seem random at first, reveals itself to be something much more profound-- and sinister-- upon closer examination. I haven't been affected by writing this sparse, outside of sexting, in a long time.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Taming of The Mami Shrew

My first few weeks working as an outcall escort in New York, I had to share a car with a weaved up, wigged out Brooklyn Mamacita named Lisette. Lisette had a penchant for wearing tight, shiny, metallic colored dresses from Rainbow and not matching her lipstick to her lipliner. With her slinky clothes, big, fake hair and Latin- affected style of speech, Lisette sounded like and resembled a younger Chola version of 1970’s talk show favorite Charo, though given the choice of a signature phrase, Lisette would have opted for one jarringly spat cunt over the original’s two happy cutchi’s.

Whenever Lisette’s mouth moved, her hips, like Fairy Tale Mary’s co-dependent little lamb, followed close behind. Since her mouth was always moving, it was as like she was doing a constant, bitchy striptease.

The agency’s driver would pick me up first, and then we would drive to Lisette’s apartment building in Bed-Stuy. Without fail, she would leave us waiting outside her apartment building for at least an hour. The driver and I would idle in his Lincoln town car, with its illegally tinted windows, doubled parked and looking very much like we were up to no good.

“Can't we just leave her?” I’d ask at the thirty minute mark.

“No,” the heavily accented driver would intone, barely looking over his shoulder to where I sat in the back seat. “She’s one of the agency's best girls.”

Once she finally got in the car, it was on to phase two of an evening with Lisette. Phase two involved tending to her various needs and nightly whims between calls. The usual list consisted of:

1. Buying and smoking weed
2. Buying and applying make- up
3. Buying and eating chicken.

Lisette loved to blaze the lung Colombian and masticate fowl. She had a keen talent for doing all of these things while screaming at various off- the clock paramours with names like Scribble or A-Dawg over her pink bejeweled cell phone.

After doing a few calls with her, I formulated a speculative theory about what it was about her obnoxiousness that the agency's clients found so appealing.

We were a mid level escort service, which was well- reflected in both the stretch of our client’s wallets and the physical charms of the women available to them. Calls started at $250 an hour. In the hierarchy of outcall escort services, this price implied that the women available for services probably wouldn’t have breast implants, but they probably wouldn’t be missing any teeth, either. The majority of the agency’s clients lived in the suburbs of Long Island or in outer- city New Jersey. They were largely older, white men. I imagined that the only places these men ever really got to see women like Lisette was on paternity test talk shows, finger- pointing and talking to the hand, so angry at their suspected baby-daddy’s they could hardly sit still in their stage seats. I envisioned these prospective clients sitting on their comfortable living room couches safely absconded in their suburban homes both repulsed and turned on by the loud, rough mouths on these TV caricatures and the harbingers to violence in their gesticulations. They wanted to both wash their mouths out with soap and stick their dicks inside. In their naiveté, they assumed that anything over $50 an hour for paid sex implied that the working girl herself would be far enough removed from desperation that they wouldn't be beaten or robbed, and they liked the idea that the driver was there to take her away, after they got their dicks wet and gave her a lecture on better living.

In by-the-hour allotments, these johns- to- be were hoping to live their own porn fantasies of The Taming of the Mami Shrew.

At least this was my theory.


Lisette was one of those flaky pot smokers who constantly lost their things. Misplacing her makeup bag meant not only losing her mismatched lipliner and lipstick, but her evening's supply of bronchial buddha, because that was where she kept it hidden.

Her fingers glutinous with chicken grease, she’d tear up the car seats and surrounding area searching for it. She’d demand the agency call her last client to see if it was there, all the while glaring at me and the driver accusingly. Finally, giving in to the fact that her makeup and groove grass had voyaged forever to the no-fault of-her-own land of the lost, she’d put in a syrupy- sweet reconciliation call to A-Dawg for more dope. Then we’d drive over Rite-Aid for a new lipstick and lipliner.

A few nights into our pairing, I met Lisette’s driver of choice, a young Jewish guy from Brooklyn named Al. Most agency drivers were aging Romanian nationals, with bad attitudes and disdain for the girls in their cars. They made it obvious they looked down on us, even though they made their livings off our calls. A simple, basic human rights request to use the bathroom might be met with a steely eyed gaze that dared you to ask again. Al was an anomaly for an agency driver- he was in his mid thirties and handsome, with dark Polish features. An evening with Al at the wheel was actually close to bordering on fun. But Al also suffered from a set of neurotic hang ups right out of a Lenny Bruce monologue. He was obsessed with his mother and the regularity of his bowel movements.

Whenever Al had to deuce, we'd pull over to a diner and he'd spend as much time inside the bathroom as Lisette would spend not coming outside at the beginning of the night. He used baby wipes and carried a cup in his glove compartment to get the wipes even more yielding. He’d put the baby wipes into this designated cup and let them soak as he shat. Letting those wipes saturate is what accounted for so much of his time in the bathroom. He would settle for no absorption level less.

Even Al, with all his basket case charm, was not immune to Lisette’s bewitching puta. They had been fucking, but their casual relationship had come to an impasse where nightly it was a battle to determine whose aberrant needs took precedence. Lisette had no patience for Al’s dump runs when she was hungry for farm foul and Al didn't want her smoking doobage in his Cadillac when he had his mom on the phone. Al attributed almost psychic- like abilities to his mom and was desperate she not find out that he was driving her car for an escort agency. He was convinced that if his mother heard Lisette’s unique yammer of Spanish and English in the background, she would figure it out.

One night, after a particularly nasty fight over where exactly Lisette had left her makeup bag, Al exploded in an uncharacteristic fit of rage and threw the rest of her belongings out the car window. When she hopped out of the car to retrieve them, he took off, leaving her on a Brooklyn side street. She wasn’t far from home, but this event left Lisette in a fury and out for retribution. Because I was in the car when Al took off, I was deemed complicit in her degradation. Word spread throughout the agency that Lisette’s anger with me would only be abated by kicking my ass.

“We’re going to White Castle to meet some other drivers,” mine for the night announced as I sat in the backseat dozing off, a few weeks after the Lisette- stuff tossing. My driver was an older, gruff Romanian, the type Al’s savory good looks and (normally) easy going nature made him stand so far apart from. On slows nights it was normal to meet up with other agency girls and drivers to kill time between calls. Not feeling immensely social, as soon as we got to White Castle I decided to go inside and get something to drink. I was standing in line, browsing the menu when I caught a sudden whiff of chicken followed by a chaser scent of pot.

The Beastie Boy’s never sang anything about chicken at White Castle, I thought to myself. Then a hand grabbed my shoulder.

“I been waitin' for disssss, you natee bitch. Yo asssss is mine!”

Lisette treated language very much like she did her clothing choices. Necessary, but abbreviated. She dropped complete word endings and had absolutely no patience for verb tense. But she was fond of S’s and liked to draw them out. Her intent announced in the form of butchered bullet points, she turned on her glassine heels and went back outside to the parking lot.

When I was first enlightened by my co-workers as to Lisette’s plans for vengeance against my derriere, I didn’t delude myself: She could totally kick it. If ever there had been an outfit hiring ass- kickers and she and I were competing for the same job, her application would have sent mine to the shredder. My experience in the ass kicking department involved sibling squabbles, while hers involved full out brawls with residents of the housing project she had called home. My altercations had only occurred when I wanted my stuffed animals back.

Maybe she'll get a call and be gone by the time I get outside, I stargazed. I'll get my soda and then I'll spend a long time in the bathroom. It seemed almost redundant to go through the formalities. Couldn’t we just agree to agree that she could kick my ass without having to go through with the motions?

I knew Lisette was running her mouth in the parking lot. My co-workers already thought me to be a wimpy white girl for reading books in the backseat of the car between calls with a portable night light. I knew my actions now would either confirm or refute these assumptions in the pinned, glazed eyes of my co-workers. I got my soda and went outside, deciding to just serve Lisette my ass on a platter. If it didn’t happen now, it was going to happen sometime in the near future.

In the parking lot, to my surprise, I didn't see her anywhere. Assuming she had gotten a call, I opened the door to the car and sat down, quietly relieved. I tipped my soda straw to my good fortune and imbibed. At that same moment, an arm ending in a hand with five perfectly manicured purple fingernails with little painted dice on the tips ripped the car door back open.

"Step up now, you natee bitch! Yo asssss is mine!"

A small audience of drivers and escorts instantly formed around the car to watch. I was able to quickly close the door but Lisette reached her hands through the open window, and grabbed a large hunk of my hair. It seemed most advantageous to hold onto her arm, hoping it would help to keep my hair connected to my head. My other arm scrambled to reopen the door in an attempt to whack her with it.


It was hard to move my head with Lisette’s arm attached, but I recognized this disembodied voice as belonging to Al. He continued, his loud, raging articulation becoming the soundtrack to my hair loss.


Still busy with the pursuit of detaching my hair from my head, Lisette did not budge. Whatever Al was going on about, she deemed my destruction more pressing.

His voice got louder.


I heard a rash of movement outside the car. Suddenly my head was free from Lisette’s grip and I saw her struggling with Al over her bag. Al wrestled it free and ran towards the boulevard in front of the White Castle.


He was rummaging threw her bag looking for something.

"You're fucking dead papi! A-Dawg and Scribble are gonna carve yo assss the fuck up papi!"

Lisette ran after Al and they struggled some more. Finally, emancipating the bag from her grip, Al sent it sailing through the air, its contents scattering all over the lanes of traffic. I recognized the shattered pieces of a writable CD and wondered if perhaps Lisette had finally made it to the recording stage of the R&B CD she'd claimed to have been working on with A-Dawg.

I watched her attempt to gather some make-up at a semi-safe traffic moment. A cab whizzed past her, its motion creating a breeze that lifted the ends of her weave from her shoulders. She was running for her phone, which surprisingly appeared unscathed. Its jewels had acted as a cushion. Al beat her to it. He lifted his knee and with one powerful stomp, smashed it like le cucaracha. Al walked back to his car like an action hero after a huge explosion by which the day had been saved.

“That girl is insane!” I said to my driver, massaging my tender scalp. “Can I get her fired for attacking me?”

“I can’t believe she called his mom!” he responded, reminding me for a second of Balki Bartokomous from the sitcom Perfect Strangers. He was fearful of the cops and in a hurry to leave. I occurred to me that this was the first time he'd ever shared any sort of candid thought with me. Then, like he too had noticed this unclean break from form, he pulled back, shook off the mistake and responded to my original query.

“No. Never. She’s one of the agency’s best girls.”


I later found out from Al that thanks to Lisette’s marble- mouthed mastery of the English language, he had been able to convince his mother that “working for an escort service” actually translated to “working Ford Escort” and that Lisette had been calling his house to inquire about buying a friend’s car.

© Fiona Helmsley 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Louis, Esther, Harriet, & Anne.

Louis Kahn had a burnt face
and a wandering eye.
Louis Kahn was a man
who was not a fan
of monogamy.
Just ask Esther, Harriet, and Anne.

His last extramarital affair was with Anne
who is convinced
that at the time of his death in a Penn Station bathroom
he was finally planning to leave Esther
to be with her.

Louis Kahn was a man
who built buildings that looked like medieval prisons
and filled them with women.

©Fiona Helmsley