There was a message from Angel waiting for me at home. I told the girls I wanted to call him before we worried about getting a meal in us, and went up to the bedroom to call him. He picked up, and when he realized it was me, switched to his business voice. The one that says all data is valid data, so get the shit out of your ears.
"Okay, you haven't heard how the operation in Imperial County went, have you. Here's the scoop. Edgar Sorenson is a paranoid old man with a moralistic streak as wide as all outdoors. He says he is kept in the dark about the plans his fellow Bible-whackers have on purpose, just like military secrets. We did learn his place is considered a safe house for those in his group with nowhere to go, a quiet place to shower and regroup. He knows there is action afoot, and it involves killing Becky Page, but has never been privy to those plans.
"He had a visitor when we were there. a guy named Donald Ingram. He's the one who blew up the mobile home in Baker, the mook who sent the threatening message to the BBS. He's got a record, and is on the FBI's watch list. Ingram also has a lot of balls. He didn't give up any information, no matter how hard we squeezed him. In fact, his obstinacy has certainly landed him in the hospital. The strike force guys told him what would happen to him if he didn't start talking, and they went ahead and did it. He'll be in the ICU of whatever big hospital they have in the area for a while."
"Tip off the Berdoo sheriff's office of his whereabouts, I'm sure they'd like to know," I said. "And given how some of his other fatwa members are behaving, he should also be on a suicide watch." I gave Angel an overview of what transpired that day. "I mean, how paranoid are these people? They'd rather kill themselves than even risk a chance of having a secret found out? They're probably not all as tough as Ingram, but the cops aren't going to lean on them like we leaned on Ingram."
A grim chuckle came from Angel's end of the line. "Yeah, it struck me that this Ingram guy probably felt he was Jesus carrying the cross, and the strike force were Roman soldiers."
"We've gotta keep an eye on Sorenson," I noted.
"Already covered. We hired two private investigators in the area to watch Sorenson's every move, and note any and all visitors. We'll keep tabs on his visitors after they leave." Angel switched topics. "So Vinny mentioned this guy Drummer. He's Terry's roommate? Why is he hanging around?"
I explained, "Drummer is a guy in his sixties, a career bum and drunk. He's been sober for two months now, and living with Terry the same amount of time. Since Terry is staying with us, Drummer is part of the package, so he'll stay sober. If he was all alone in the apartment for days at a time, he'd get lonely, and be tempted to grab a bottle, you know? I like the guy. For someone whose brain should be Swiss cheese from decades of cheap vodka, he is incredibly observant. He's no dummy, and he's got some wit. Drummer being around doesn't bother me at all, I like his company. Not that it matters for three days."
"So there's nothing wrong with the guy?"
"He's got the belligerence borne of living on the streets for thirty years, he speaks his mind, and he refuses to give anyone his legal name. And he did all this with a detective from the sheriff's department. This was a strictly punitive action on the part of a Detective Bernard Miller, a man whose hash I will settle at a later date. Drummer isn't bothered by the hold. Hell, he's gonna be indoors, which still has a feeling of novelty to him. Sleeping indoors, refrigerated food, hot water from a tap, a microwave oven, these are all items of luxury to him still."
"So what's Terry's connection to the guy?" asked Angel.
I answered, "They're friends. Drummer was, and is, a fixture in Ocean Beach. Terry got to know him and realized he's a genuinely decent person, and she hated the idea that he would die alone on the street. So she made him an offer: he gets sober, goes to AA or whatever, he can live with her, and she'll take care of him, totally support him. Now there are two less lonely people in the world."
Angel asked about progress on my latest script, and I guffawed down the line. I had gotten as far as deciding there should be a sequel to "Succubus," and telling MItch to not sell off any of the stunt vehicles, we'd probably need them again. Beyond that, I was clueless. I reminded Angel that I'd felt a little distracted over that past several weeks, and probably would continue to feel that way for a while longer. Then I was stuck with a thought.
"Hey Angel. what if someone wrote a script on contract?"
"Anyone in mind?" Angel queried.
"Yes, a young woman named Mallory Ollafsen, formerly of Minneapolis, currently of Venice Beach. I've read some of her stories, and she has talent. She's never written a movie script, but I never had either when I first started. Plus, she's got the advantage of already having the discipline needed to write stories. I've talked to her in the past about script writing, and the particular demands of writing for Inana. I can call her tomorrow, and see if she's got any ideas knocking around in her head."
"Make it happen. I want to have another feature out by the new year. Don't worry about the 'Succubus' sequel, something that will be simple to produce and edit would be good. Tell this woman a completed script is worth $2500 to us. That's a script that will actually work for our purposes, she can't knock out anything that comes to mind and expect to be paid."
"So, no space operas, no remakes of 'Ben Hur,' no effects-reliant stories...."
"Exactly. Tell her to watch 'Bad Babysitter, 'Rocker Girls,' and 'Good Girl/Bad Girl'.... And even with 'Good Girl,' we had a lot of location shots. Remind her to keep the action indoors."
We signed off, and I told the girls it was time for dinner. For expedience sake, we hit the IHOP.
I called Mallory the next evening, to propose she take up writing porn scripts as a sideline. After I made my pitch, she was briefly silent. I swear, only Minnesotans are capable of sounding embarrassed without making any sound at all.
"Actually, uh...." Mallory started. "I sort of have two scripts completed, and a few more as outlines."
"Tell me more," I responded. "Especially about the two completed scripts."
"Okay, the first one is about a girl, maybe eighteen, who wants to be a rock star. She's better at handling groupies than her guitar, though. She has a mentor, a sort of Joan Jett type, a local hero in the rock scene. The girl's band seems to constantly circulate through bass players, it's sort of a running joke. Um... The girl has a boyfriend who's a total dimwit, he thinks cheese comes from really slow-moving cows. Eventually the girl gets things together enough to start landing local club dates, and starts the slow climb to fame.
"The other one is kind of a satire on new age and holistic heath care, the whole 'crystals and chanting cure cancer' line of bullshit. It's about a 'holistic chiropractor,' a woman, who sort of, uh, let's just say her ideas about healing through touch are way out of left field. Her chiropractor's office is more like a massage parlor. Of course, it gets very popular, so she starts training other would-be healers, sort of franchising her unique view of how 'healing touch' should work. I had a lot of fun writing that one, I got to take jabs at every new age, granola-eating, vegan diet, Birkenstock-wearing dingbat I've ever met. The closest thing to special effects in that one is a guy who turns blue from consuming far too much colloidal silver."
"What the hell is that?" I asked.
With a sour chuckle, Mallory elaborated, "Colloidal silver is microscopic particles of silver suspended in a liquid known as a colloidal, which keeps the particles evenly dispersed. In other words, the silver won't settle. It's snake oil. Colloidal silver is supposed to be effective in combating everything from acne to AIDS, a magic cure-all. Like all magic, it's sleight of hand."
"I'll chew on an old dime a few minutes a day, that should help. Okay, they both sound fun, and should be worked so they'll be easy to produce. Angel told me yesterday he wants the next feature out by the first of the year. What this means to me is get something which requires minimal production time and effort, no effects, and doesn't call for any snazzy editing." I thoght a moment. "Tell you what. I'm going to courier up a stack of prepaid FedEx envelopes to you. You can send me copies of scripts down as they're completed. Then we can go over them and hash out any details. Both movies sound fun, although I"m inclined to go with the chiropractor one. I like satire, and I love making fun of the natural fiber set. That, and it sounds like most of it is set indoors, so we can just keep redressing the sound stages. Any location shots?"
"Um, one at a health food store, and another at a beach. Neither scene is intrinsic to the plot, but I think they're good gags. The health food store joke shows a woman with six kids buying homeopathic birth control pills. She complains that one of the kids got into her supply and ate them, and should they go to the ER, or seek the advice of their naturopath? The clerk assures the lady there is absolutely, positively no way the child could get sick from eating homeopathic birth control.
"The beach scene is a short throwaway. I mentioned the guy who's taking huge amounts of colloidal silver. Him and his grilfriend, who's studying to be one of the touch healers, are having a conversation. You know those old dudes who spend their time walking the beaches with metal detectors? One of them wanders by. He gets close to the colloidal silver guy, and his metal detector starts going crazy. The old guy starts trying to pinpoint where the reaction is from, and thinks it's underneath the silver guy, so he asks him to move. After a bit of trial and error, the old guy realizes it's the silver guy who's setting off the detector. He gives the silver guy a horrified look and says, 'Son, you may want to cut down on the iron in your diet,' and keeps walking."
"Cute, cute," I chuckled. "I like those. Is it ever stated what the silver guy is trying to cure with the colloidal stuff?"
Mallory answered, "The silver guy's dad had prostate cancer, which is rather hereditary, so he's trying to avoid the same fate by beating cancer to the punch. That sort of logic says you constantly drink Nyquil, because sooner or later you're going to get the flu, so you should be prepared."
"And this guy is actually turning silver?"
"It's more of a blue-gray. And that's a real effect of consuming too much colloidal silver, it's called argyria. It can cover just your fingernails, or your whole body. I saw a picture of a man with argyria, he looked like his dad was one of the aliens from Roswell."
I laughed and said, "Yeah, I'm definitely sending you those envelopes with the courier tomorrow morning, I want to see this script ASAP."
"Oh! Um, that script may need one special effect, and it involves the silver guy. Uh.... how hard would it be to make semen a silvery color?"
I snorted. "Um, well, if it's supposed to be coming out of a person, that might be a challenge. If you just want to show it in a puddle somewhere, we could probably concoct something here. Why?"
"Oh, just a gag with the silver guy and his girlfriend. They have a sex scene, and there's a money shot, so the girlfriend is splattered with this silver goo."
"We'll work on that one. Maybe he comes in her mouth, and she starts dribbling silver stuff...."
"Can I ask kind of a rude question?" Mallory prodded.
"Um, how much would I be getting paid for scripts? $300? $400?"
Putting a smile in my voice, I replied, "$2500. That's for a finished script, one we've knocked around and approved, something that will definitely be produced."
I heard Mallory gasp. "Oh my gosh! Are you serious? That's wonderful!"
"And that ain't shit compared to what Hollywood studios pay writers. The difference here is that nobody's re-writing your script once we have our hands on it. In Hollywood, scripts will be bought by a studio, then get kicked around in the executive offices by asshole jackoff dimwit motherfuckers, who all have different moronic ideas to make the script 'better.' Writers in Hollywood can go to see the film released that has their name in the writing credit, and not recognize a thing. Fuck that. If I have an idea or suggestion and you're writing for me, I"m calling you up and we'll hash things out together. You won't make as much money aw you would writing in Hollywood, but you' won't feel like a whore, either."
"So from what I've said, who do you see in the lead for the chiropractic movie?" asked Mallory.
I cleared my throat and replied, "Skye Tyler. She's a fantastic comic actress. She can really bring out the sort of linear thinking required to believe sexual activity can cure disease. Is there a strong second lead, something Bekka or Ella Belle would fit in?"
"Um.... I didn't really have any ideas for roles I believed Bekka would be good in. Most of my characters are flakes. I do have one part that would be fun for Bekka, but it's sort of a cameo. You now how magnetic bracelets are somehow supposed to.... Well, poop, I don't know what they're supposed to do, but a lot of people swear by them. Bekka would be an entrepreneur who is marketing magnet- loaded sex toys, for the same purpose. She's trying to talk the chiropractic clinic into carrying these magnetic dildos and vibrators, claiming they prevent and cure every darn ill in the female reproductive system. Menstrual cramps a thing of the past, just spend ninety minutes masturbating every day with one of these toys. And that's ninety minutes straight. That would have a solo girl scene, the dildo saleswoman demonstrating her product, but it's also played for laughs. She's masturbating with a magnetic dildo, and interrupting her panting and moans to say things like, 'I can feel my cervix getting more robust' and 'Within six weeks of use, my ovaries release of progesterone became more balanced.' She's trying to simultaneously get off and make a sales pitch."
I laughed at this. "Okay, I've gotta see this script. So who do you see in the lead for the other completed script, the rock star movie?"
"Definitely Feather. She still looks like a teenager --- I guess she is, huh --- and she also has that punky sort of look. Does she play guitar?"
"I don't believe so. Is that a problem?"
"Actually, not really. The lead is supposed to play guitar, but not very well. She spends as much time posing with her guitar, trying to make cool rock star poses, as she does practicing it."
"Okay," I grinned. "I'll tell Feather to start learning the guitar, and have her model her playing style after Greg Ginn from Black Flag. That should be perfect. Any idiot who's been playing three weeks can handle most of Black Flags's early stuff."
Mallory shifted subjects. "So. You don't plan on visiting Muscle Beach soon, do you?"
"Only if I'm there with Jill and you," I responded. "Why?"
"Jill goes there about twice a week to lift and socialize. I guess the rumor grapevine is really active around there, because everybody knew who she was by her third visit. She's the friend of that guy who managed to beat up one of the more respected bodybuilders in that scene. Nobody is hostile with Jill, they're always happy to have women who know the scene around, but I guess there are a few guys who hope you show up again, so they can challenge you to a fight. Jill passed on your explanation to the other lifters, and most of them actually saw the logic: strength equals bulk equals slow movement. So long as the strong guy doesn't get his hands on the not-as-strong guy, the not-as-strong guy has an advantage."
"Huh." I pondered. "Have Jill pass on a message. I'm not a brawler, not anymore at least. I can take care of myself, that's all. But I don't cotton to bullies, and that's why me and that guy Evan squared off. He was being a bully and a loudmouth, trying to throw his weight around, and I wasn't in the mood. Actually, I never am. And I don't harbor any ill will towards Evan, either. I'm sure he'd agree it was a fair fight, I just had an advantage Evan had never considered. So no, If I go there, it's just to visit with Jill, not to throw down with anyone. They can keep their tempers, and I'll keep mine."
There was a brief pause, while Mallory absorbed all this. Then she said, "I'll pass the word along. Actually.... Oh, she just got home, I hear the Pig Pen in the driveway. Hold on a second, and you can talk to her."
After a minute, Jill picked up the phone and said hello. I told her about Mallory's prospective new moonlighting gig, and also my response to anyone at Muscle Beach who harbored ill will towards me. "Remind them that I don't hate Evan, he's probably not a bad guy. He just needs to check his attitude some, you know? But anyone there who wants to try and drop me had better explain their motivations. If they think they're defending Evan's honor, I didn't insult it. I"m sure I wounded his pride for a little while, but taking a dive always hurts like that. And I will happily shake Evan's hand in greeting."
"I'll pass the word along," said Jill. "I'll make sure to express that you are a gentleman, you don't pick fights for fun, and you have no animosity towards Muscle Beach, collectively or as individual lifters. And I"ll get word to Evan that you're cool with him, it was just something that happened, and now it's over. So, how's work?"
This caused me to burst into laughter. I said, "You first, I'm gonna take longer."
"It's kind of a breeze. I'm not training serious athletes, people you need to push hard towards serious goals. I'm helping rich white people stay in relatively good health, making sure they have a semblance of muscle tone, are getting their cardio workouts, and keep their spare tires at bay. I don't push, I urge."
Jill giggled. "I've got a surprising number of male clients. I'd assumed I'd mostly be training with women, but a lot of guys saw my bio, and requested me. Um.... I think my picture had a lot to do with it. I'm at rest, not flexing, but it's obvious I have some mass. Also, I was in all Spandex when that picture was taken, and I'd actually gone to a hair stylist that morning, so I'd look good for the photo." She giggled again. "I fear I'm the subject of a lot of fantasies. Sort of an Amazon pinup girl, you know? Oh well, if any of the men begin hinting at an interest in me, I'll casually mention Mallory."
"What if one of the women express an interest?" I asked.
This prompted laughter from Jill. "Absolutely none of them set off my gaydar, not even a blip. And even if one of these women did express an interest, it's a moot point. I have girlfriend who I"m very much in love with. Besides, there are some cultural barriers. You wouldn't say my Minnesota accent is strong, right? People around this place pick up on it right away. They think I'm a farm girl. A few of them asked me if I'd visited Hollywood yet. I told them yes, and I'm glad I got it over with."
"I never got a chance to ask Mallory, how's her job going?"
"It goes. She's a regular meter reader again, walking a route each day. They have her in Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach, decent neighborhoods. We were both worried that as a new arrival, she'd be sent to places like Compton and Watts. I guess the folks at SoCal Edison were smart enough to realize sending a tiny white girl to lousy neighborhoods would be a very bad thing to do. Mallory has had to yellow-line a few addresses because of dogs, but beyond that, she's doing all right. It's a little strange. Okay, I'm supposed to be the fitness buff, right? Mallory has far more endurance than I do when it comes to covering ground on foot. She can just keep going, and going, and going.... She'll happily walk all the way up Venice Boulevard to the Lowe's at Venice and Pico, and not be tired at all. I did it with her once. Oh boy." A polite wait, then, "So what's new with you?"
I asked for a moment to grab a beer. Then I gave her a fairly sanitized version of events. Just how much danger we felt Bekka was in got downplayed. I didn't mention our little car chase at all. Jill said she'd seen in the paper that Bekka and the studio were suing some guy in a town called Merced. I elaborated about the newsletter a bit. I didn't mention the overt threats, simply stating the newsletter was on the wrong side when it came to what the First Amendment calls "protected speech." Also, I left out what was going on with Drummer. It just felt too awkward to explain.
Jill said, "There's a bit of disconnect between Jerry Fallwood and Minnesota. You'd think as culturally conservative as the state is, especially in the rural areas, Fallwood should have a big following. No. He's very much an evangelical, and that style of Christianity is viewed as a bit embarrassing by the Lutherans and the Catholics. Too loud. In fact, there is zero love lost between Minnesota Catholics and Fallwood. Evangelicals think Catholicism is this horrible mutation of Christianity, the Catholics may as well be inscribing pentagrams on the floors of the sanctuaries. Minnesota Catholics are about as out there as the Methodists, you know? They don't like Jerry Fallwood painting them as Mary-worshiping, icon-fondling heretics. As a contrast, attend a Catholic church service in Minnesota. Then, attend one in Mexico. They are very, very different things."
"Were you raised in a church, Lenny" Jill asked. "I've noticed, it's not so unusual to have no religious background in your family at all in Southern California."
"I was raised Unitarian," I explained. "The Unitarians have no dogma. They have no actual central reference point, except that the nature of God is determined by the individual, and since there is no way to make a definitive claim as to what that nature is, everybody's views are valid. Really, the Unitarians are united by the fact that collectively, they have no idea what they believe in. Deists love the Unitarian church. So do a lot of gays and lesbians. There's a ton of queers who still have the basic faith they grew up with, but got tired of hearing about how they were going to hell for being queer. "
"It's a very progressive church," Jill noted.
"You better believe it. I don't think I've ever been in a Unitarian's house where there wasn't a copy of the Utne Reader on the coffee table." I waited a couple ticks, then continued. "Some things about the Unitarians irk me, though. Thanks to them, I grew up thinking the song 'Turn, Turn, Turn' by the Byrds was a church hymn. In general, they're too goddamn cheerful for their own good, too. It's like, you'll point out that the world is kind of a fucked-up place. The Unitarians just smile and say, 'Gosh, well, we'll just have to put out a little more positive energy then! Let's sing a round of Kum Bay Yah!' Yeah, shut the fuck up, sunshine boy. You spend too much time around Unitarians, you want to strap them to gurneys and force them to listen to transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials. In a way, it's surprising I turned out the way I did. The Unitarians are all about Birkenstocks, vegetarian potlucks, and Cat Stevens albums. I want my boots, my beef, and my Crimpshrine records. Maybe it's just rebellion on my part. So, what variant of what we'll call 'Christianity' did you grow up with?"
"I was raised Lutheran," said Jill. "The oldest, and by far the most conservative, of the Protestant faiths. In Minnesota, Lutherans and Catholics exist peacefully side by side because at their roots, both churches have the same world view and moral strictures. And the music sucks at both places."
"So what does an agnostic do in Minnesota?" I asked.
"Besides sleeping in on Sundays? They never tell anyone they're agnostic. The locals think that's code for 'I slaughter virgins and drink goat's blood.' In Minneapolis-Saint Paul, you can get away with saying you have no religious faith. Statewide, that's like admitting you spend Fourth of July reading 'The Worker's Manifesto.' Also, your life must be empty --- in some way --- and you are incapable of joy.
"That last one pisses me off. I never got any joy from church. As a child, I got lectures about how my very thoughts were an affront to Jesus. Then, in adolescence I learned that being attracted to my own gender was a pose I was putting on, I was deliberately contradicting what the Bible teaches, and doing so for the sport of it. Being a dyke didn't just make me a pervert, it also meant I was an asshole, being a jerk on purpose. How anyone can extract a sense of joy from your average Lutheran church service is beyond me. I extracted several years of guilt over my own sexuality, and a few good naps.
"'On my seventeenth birthday, I told my parents I was done attending church. My own feelings and observations of the world around me were contradictory to what I heard every Sunday. They told me I would change my mind when I finished growing up. On my eighteenth birthday I outed myself. One nice thing about doing that was my parents stopped waking me up every damn Sunday morning to ask if I felt like going to church. I'd pulled enough weeds, mowed enough lawns, and hung enough storm windows that I had a stake. Three days after I graduated high school, I got on the bus for Minneapolis. I had enough money for two weeks in an SRO hotel, bus fare, a newspaper every day, and canned spaghetti. I dropped my bags in my room and headed to a place called the 19 Bar. It was someplace I'd heard rumors about, from other kids in school and also occasionally from the pulpit. The 19 Bar was, and is, a mostly dyke bar. Mallory didn't take you and Bekka there when you visited Minneapolis because you'd have gottan a lot of hostility from the locals.
"Of course I was too young to go in, but I just sort of hung around outside. It was still a revelation: I was seeing women holding hands, and kissing! And the police weren't being called! After a couple hours this butch chick in a chef's apron comes out and stares at me. I smiled and looked away. She said, 'Lemme guess, you just got to Minneapolis from upstate, and you don't know what the hell to do with yourself now that you're here. Are you looking for work?' I said yes, I am. She said, 'If you can buck a beer keg and know which end of a mop to hold, I can put you to work here, so long as you're over eighteen. You interested?' I said absolutely, when do I start? She told me, 'Come on in, baby doll, lemme get you an apron.' The butch chick, her name was Cindy, would introduce me to regulars as 'Jill, from upstate, another lost little girl.'
"I called my parents in the afternoon, to let them know I was safe and sound, and already employed. They asked where. I told them, and they moaned. They knew what the 19 Bar was from Pastor Willsburg's sermons. They asked if I'd been harassed, which sort of confused me. I"d been too busy, too on the move, for anyone to harass me. I asked them what they meant, and my mom said, 'Are you aware of what kind of establishment you're working in?' I said yeah, it's a lesbian bar, and a very busy one, given how much beer they drink. Why would anyone harass me? 'Because, you know, you're young and impressionable, they might turn you into a lesbian too. I said, 'Mom, too late. I told you on my birthday that I'm gay. I came to the 19 Bar on purpose, and things worked out even better than I'd hoped.' My father was on the extension, and he started yelling about how I was interested in 'unnatural relations,' and I was just trying to embarrass him and Mom, and wouldn't I be sorry when I'd destroyed my reputation? I asked him, reputation with who? You and Mom are the only two people I outed myself to back home. If you want to tell everyone I'm a lesbian, I don't mind. The truth is always the best policy. And here, I can be a lesbian and nobody is bothered, it's just who I am.
"My dad started in on what I was doing was an affront to God, I needed to straighten up or my life would be a mess. I'd never know love, two women can't love each other, my life would just be a series of meaningless, empty sexual experiences. And, of course, shame and embarrassment for him and Mom. I asked, 'Where is it written that two women can't have a romantic relationship? What do you base that statement on, Dad?' Then I told them any shame and embarrassment they had around home was their own fault. They could choose to not tell anyone I was a dyke, just say I'd decided to try my luck in the big city, like a lot of other people. If my life became a mess, it was my own mess, and I wouldn't try to pin blame, but I knew my life would be a mess if I'd stayed in my home town. I'd hate myself, and everything around me. And lastly, just don't even start on how God is going to hate me. Heh, I stole a joke I'd heard the night before. I said, 'Dad, AIDS is supposed to be God's punishment for homosexual promiscuity, right?' 'Absolutely!' 'Well, in that case, lesbians are God's chosen people. Every statistic shows lesbians have the lowest HIV contraction rate, well below even heterosexuals. God must love me.' I loved it, I'd actually made my father so enraged he couldn't speak.
"My mom pinch hit, saying she'd never known a single homosexual with a happy life. I asked her how many she'd known. 'Two.' Where did you know them? 'Right here, in our home town.' Well duh, Mom, if they were gay and stuck there, no wonder they were unhappy. I asked her how many people knew they were gay. She said it was a very close secret, she would never say who the people were, not even in death.
"My dad came back and said that if I wanted to have unnatural sex and blaspheme and shame him and Mom, I could just stay in Minneapolis, and don't come crawling back to them when my life was a wreck. And even if my life didn't become a disaster, when I died, I'd have to pay for my sins, and explain --- to God himself! --- why I mocked him and hated him. I told Dad I was exactly as God made me, so if He had a problem, he only had himself to blame.
"My dad said I hoped he was happy, my mother was now in tears. When I came crying to them after all my dreams and big plans went south, they wouldn't even open the door for me, I could stay with a friend, only I wouldn't have any in town, because I was a known pervert and hater of God. 'Everyone in this town will shun you! You'll be no better than some wandering bum, looking to mooch off people before moving on! I hope you're happy!' And he slammed down the phone.
"As you can guess, this sort of put a damper on my mood. When I got to work that night, Cindy asked me why I looked like the cat had pissed in my Cheerios that morning. I told her about the call. Cindy jumped up on top of the bar sink and blew a whistle. When she had everybody's attention, she yelled, 'Show of hands, who here is from upstate?' A little over half the women raised their hands. 'Who got told they were sinners by their parents when they outed themselves?' Even more women raised their hands, and there was a lot of hollering. She yelled, 'And who here continues to piss their parents off, by having happy lives?' I think every woman began yelling and clapping and stomping. She jumped off the sink, looked at me and said, 'Baby doll, you're not the only one. We all know the blues. Don't worry, you're gonna see that just about everything your parents, or your preacher, or your teachers ever told you was wrong. And you won't even gloat, you'll just have the quiet satisfaction of knowing you'd been right about things all along.' I gave her a hug, wiped my eyes, and went to work.
"A mixture of religion and sheltered, small town living turned my parents into the cold, close-minded people they are. The rest of town did learn I was a dyke, because Mom and Dad told everyone. They wanted to make sure if I came back, everyone would think I was a pervert and an atheist."
"Have you ever gone back?" I asked;.\
"Twice. Once about fifteen months ago, and once about two months ago. The first visit I wanted to try and thaw the ice a little: after all, they are my parents. Maybe they'd learned some acceptance. Not really. They didn't yell or berate, but just about everything I told them about my life made them roll their eyes. They hated my 'gym bunny' sense of fashion, of course, and were horrified that I'd become a lifter. 'You're starting to look like a man!' my mom said. I thought that was hilarious. If I looked like a man, that man would have been a very muscular drag queen. They thought Pig Pen was stolen, for some reason. Like I'd stolen a real cop car, and put in half an effort into hiding the fact. In fact, the one time I broke a promise to myself and raised my voice was around the sixth time one of them asked, 'So where did you get that car?' I yelled 'For the last time, at the Minnehaha County surplus auction! Why are you expecting the answer to change?' Then I got up, ran out to the car, and grabbed the pink slip out of the glove box. I took it in to them and handed it to my mother and said, 'Read it. Then go look at the plate number and VIN on the car. I'm not sure what your problem is, and why you assume I'd steal a police car, but hopefully this will end the discussion.' They both read it, then handed it back. No apology.
"The second time was with Mallory. Her and I were already laying our plans to move out here, and I wanted to contradict my father's assertion that two women can't fall in love. When we got to my parents' house, my dad opened the door and gave me his usual judgmental look, then stared at Mal like she'd appeared from the sky. I gave him a very brief hug and then said, 'This is my girlfriend, Mallory Ollafsen. We have a lot to tell you and Mom.'"
I interrupted for a moment. "Just for reference sake, what is the name of your home town?"
"It's Baxter. It's a speck in the road just outside Brainerd," Jill told me. "Just another upstate burg, the reason for its original creation lost to time. Anyway, we go in, and the four of us settle in the living room. They knew I was coming, and they knew I had someone with me, but they kept staring at Mal like she was on fire. I finally figured it out: Mal's nose ring. That little tiny gold hoop was utterly abhorrent to my parents. We exchanged pleasantries, I talked about my job, and Mal explained that she worked for the utility, as a meter reader. My dad heard this and snapped, 'That's a man's job.' Even my mom was looking at Dad, like, 'Huh?' Mal said, 'You've lost me, sir, how is being a meter reader a man's job?' My dad started going off about how you had to be in excellent shape, what with all the walking, and you had to watch for dogs and crazies and robbers and rapists, and he knew that meter readers were pensioned, so what did Mal think she was doing, taking a position like that from a man, a man who probably had a family to support?
"Mal gave him this mystified look and said, 'Well sir, I've worked for the utility for nearly four years now, and no one has had any trouble with my performance. On my routes, I keep aware of my surroundings. Other than a couple dogs whose owners were told to chain up one day a month, I've had no incidents while working. Insofar as utility workers being pensioned, that's one of the reasons I applied. I'll want to retire someday, too. I hate to break the news, sir, but there are plenty of woman utility workers in Minneapolis. We have our jobs because we wanted them, and we were qualified. I'm not there because of Affirmative Action, I'm there because the personnel department felt I was suited for the job.'
"To drop the damn subject, I said, 'Not that it matters too much. Both up are leaving our jobs in about seven weeks.' My parents asked why, and I told them we were moving to Los Angeles. We already had tentative positions at new jobs, and were in the process of hunting for a place to live. Mallory was talking about how we wanted to be relatively near the beach --- we didn't know about the cottage yet --- and I was saying I had a fairly sure-fire position as a personal trainer set up, a ritzy place in Beverley Hills. My dad broke in with, 'Will they hire you, looking like that?' I was totally confused. For reference, both Mal and I were in blouses, skirts, and flats,nothting butch about our dress at all. I asked my dad to elaborate, and he starts gesturing at his own body, saying, 'You've got all those huge muscles! You look like you're trying to be a man, or something! They'll never hire you!'
"I started laughing and told him they already had a picture of me, one was required with my resumé, and they'd said I was probably in after seeing my photo. I told him, 'Dad, I'm going to be a personal trainer at a gym and fitness center. Everyone is going to expect me to be ripped. Believe me, I am not nearly as bulked as some girls out there. I've tried to explain this to you and Mom before, I sculpt, I don't build. Yes, I have pronounced muscles. But the builders look outrageous. Okay, you're seeing me at rest. Watch when I flex....'
"I stood up and took off my blouse --- I was wearing a sports bra, so no big deal --- and flexed. My parents gasped when I did. While I was flexing, I explained to them that this was an example of how serious bodybuilders looked all the time, even at rest, and I didn't want to look like that, I wanted to retain femininity. I relaxed and put my blouse back on. Dad responded with, 'I can't believe there are people who would find that attractive.' Mal said, 'I do, I think Jill is beautiful. I wouldn't if she was a serious bodybuilder, but how she's sculpted and proportioned right now is beautiful and sexy to me.' I sat down, and Mal leaned over and kissed my neck.
"My dad is staring at Mal, and all of a sudden bursts out with, 'You're another lesbian!' We couldn't help it, Mal and I started laughing. I said, 'Yeah Dad, uh, if you don't remember, I did introduce her as my girlfriend.' Dad started to say something, but my mom shushed him and said, 'Aren't you worried about keeping this new job if they learn you're.... You know....' I laughed again and said I seriously doubted they cared at all if I was a dyke. They were hiring me for my training and skills, not my love life. I wasn't concerned about homophobia in a snazzy gym in Beverley Hills.
"My dad started going off. He's all, 'You have all these big plans and big dreams! You're going to go to Los Angeles and become some sort of important person, aren't you? You're getting too big for your britches. Nobody likes a show-off, least of all God, and you're going to get knocked down a few pegs, just you see. And when you do, don't come back here hoping for charity! The two of you can live in a tent in the woods, for all I care. And nobody around here will have the slightest bit of pity on you.' I looked over at Mallory. She had a look she gets when she's about to rip someone a new asshole with her words, when she's really pissed. Her eyes are a little too big, and she's smiling, but showing a lot of teeth. Mal is a Minneapolis native, but has family upstate, so she's spent time up there, and hated it.
"Mal said, 'Mr. Gage, I've heard that line about a person getting too big for their britches before, here in upstate Minnesota. I'm from Minneapolis, and have never understood why everyone in all these tiny upstate towns consider ambition to be such anathema, as though humility and having goals can't exist in one person at the same time. I've had cousins whose families all but disowned them for having the audacity to leave home and pursue things like college and rewarding careers.
"'What is it about small-town, upstate Minnesota that makes having dreams an act of treason against the local community? I'm sorry, Mr. Gage, but I know what you've been hoping for, since Jill left home. You've wanted her to fail at everything she tried to do. You've hoped and prayed for your own daughter to suffer calamity after calamity, and expected her to return to this town, and you, begging for a little bit of aid, or at least shelter. The residents of these towns try and collectively crush the dreams and aspirations of those who make the mistake of sharing them. You hate ambition, you hate dreams. You believe everyone's lot in life is to remain in the tiny burg they grew up in, and never pursue a goal or hope. When people do, you all hope they fail. What a hateful, miserable, dark way of living and thinking. The rationale seems to be that since the people in these upstate towns never went anywhere or did anything, no one else should, either. Those that try obviously have some sort of superiority complex.
"'Your priests and pastors rail on about the devil, and evil. If they want to find evil, they only have to look into their congregation. Evil is the enjoyment of destruction. All of you upstate townies love to watch a train wreck, and you hope it happens to someone you all know. The ones who escape are kept tabs on, so when something bad happens to them, you can all get some sort of warm fuzzy feeling. You wish destruction and tragedy on those who want to see a larger world than the one they were raised.in. You, Mr. Gage, hope and pray your own daughter will be a failure, for no other reason than you want to gloat, and point your finger and say that it's s what she deserves, for getting all high and mighty. You are an evil man.'
"I looked at my dad. His mouth was open, and he was positively red. I seriously wondered if he was having a coronary incident. He didn't say anything, he just sat there, and I realized that he'd probably never been called out like he just had in his life, certainly not by a woman. And even more important, he probably had a shock or realization that Mal was right: he did want me to fail, and would enjoy it when I did. And that really is an evil way of thinking.
"I stood up and told Mallory it was fine if we left, I wouldn't make her stay there. She told me no, she knew I'd probably want to spend a little time with my mother. She'd take a walk. After she left I asked my mom if she'd sit in the backyard with me for a while, and she said yes. My dad got up and stomped out the side door, headed for his workshop, probably to hit the bottle of Old Forester he thought nobody knew about. My mom and I went outside. She said she'd never heard anyone talk like that in her life. I told her, 'Refreshing, isn't it?' She said it was horrible, Mal had no position to criticize upstate, she was a Minneapolis native, a big city girl, she didn't know what life was like in the small towns. I told Mom, 'Yes she does. She nailed it on the head, so far as why I left Baxter. When I first left home, I didn't even know what my dreams were, but I knew whatever they were, I'd never fulfill them by staying where I was. She's right. You know it, and Dad knows it. She made Dad look at how he really felt, made him admit to himself that's exactly how he thinks. I'm sorry Mom, but Dad deserved that.'
"Mom asked if we were serious about leaving Minnesota for LA. I told her that's why we were lining up jobs. I mentioned you and Bekka, saying we already had friends in Southern California, we wouldn't be totally adrift. Mom looked at me and asked, 'Do you believe that young woman loves you?' I told her absolutely, and I love her. And my mom nearly broke my brain. She actually smiled and said, 'That's all right, then.' We talked in a general way for a while, Mom filling me in on town gossip, which I didn't care about. My dad was back in the living room when we went back in, watching a ball game. He looked at me and said, 'You and that woman are not welcome in my house. You and her can go live whatever sort of debased lifestyles you wish in California. You are not welcome here.'
"Oh my God. My mom walked up to Dad and slapped him! She said, 'You will not talk to my daughter like that. If you slam the front door in her face, I'll open the back door for her.' Dad looked at Mom, then started watching the game again. I told Mom I was gonna go, if she wanted to get a hold of me, we'd be at the motel. I took off and found Mallory staring in the window of the market. I parked and walked up to her, to see what she was looking at. She pointed and said, 'The store is totally empty, but that man is standing alert at the cash register like he's guarding the Hope Diamond. I wonder what he has in his mind right now, or if he's trained himself to not have anything in his mind at all.'
"Later that day, I think I figured out what changed with Mom. The families of both my parents have been in either Baxter or Brainerd for five generations. Family members who left were considered black sheep, malcontents. They got all high and mighty, and decided they were better than their neighbors, and left. I believe Mom would have liked to leave when she was young. But like everybody around her, she tamped down her dreams and settled into the expected pattern for a woman in upstate Minnesota: work as a waitress or librarian for a couple years, then get married, get knocked up, and raise a new set of inmates.
"Just the fact that I made it as far as Minneapolis is a wonder. Now I'm sitting in the living room of a house in LA, three blocks from the beach. I have a job I love that pays well, and I can immerse myself in a culture --- lifting --- that was rare in Minnesota. Heh, it was easier to hang out with dykes in Minneapolis than find a lifting partner, male or female. I'm in love, I've got friends who are wonderful, I'm getting tan.... And all the people in Baxter would look at my life and say I'm doing everything wrong. How dare I. The poop will hit the fan for me, no doubt, and then won't I be sorry I left home?
"You know what, Lenny? Fuck Minnesota. They've warped the concept of Christian humility into this idea that wanting to improve one's self, or even have a larger sense of the world, is a demonstration of egotism, or hubris, or something. Thinking the world is larger than Brainerd means thinking your neighbors are close-minded, dumb hicks. Thinking you can do more with your life than work at the grain co-op until you die means you believe you're superior to everyone else there, you're somehow better. So drop the big ideas and dreams, and get back to work, there's corn to be planted. God will knock you down if you act on your ideas and dreams, He hates it when people get uppity. All of us stayed here, and we're happy. We know better than to get all high and mighty.
"Yeah, they're happy. Like a goldfish in a jar is happy. Fuck Minnesota."