"So how's Erica?" I asked Mallory over the phone. "What did she think of our cunning plan?"
"Well," stated Mallory. "Goodness me. Okay, it's been a few months since we talked, but that is not the woman I remember."
"Don't feed me teasers, get to the meat."
"First of all, when she answered the phone, I could barely hear her over the stereo at her house. She was blasting punk rock. Do you know a band called the Germs?"
I stifled a laugh and said, "I'm familiar with the Germs. They've been gone since 1981, their singer died. Good stuff, though, That's what she was playing?"
"Yes indeed," replied Mallory. "She turned down the stereo so we could talk. We chatted a bit, to catch up. She told me about the piercings she's had done. And the tattoo work. And her motorcycle. Triumph is a British mtotorcycle, right?"
"Yeah. Triumph was around for a long time, went belly-up, then was revived in 1984. The older ones are supposed classics."
I grunted and said, "Personally, the existence of Jaguars are proof that just because you have money, you don't have to be smart. Motor vehicles built by the British are finicky and unreliable, no matter how much they cost. Old MGs fetch a pretty penny, for some stupid reason. Yeah, I want to own a car that's forty-five years old, is impossible to find parts for, is constantly breaking down, and was never that fast anyway. Remember, it's socially acceptable to drink at lunch in Great Britain, even for the mooks on the assembly lines. Add one and one. British iron sucks. And your friend Erica just bought a Triumph motorbike."
"About three months ago," responded Mallory. "A 1966 something-or-other."
"Oh Christ. The technology in those things were primitive when they were new. Push rods and not an overhead cam, no electric start, chronic oil leaks.... I hope Erica is a mechanic with a masochistic streak."
"Anyway, moving on.... I asked her what prompted all this, and she says, 'I have a girlfriend now!' Okay, great, who is she, and are you two so tight that you've gotten into body mods just to impress her? Lenny, you'll love this. She says, 'Well, she doesn't have any metal or ink, she can't get it done.' Why not, I ask. 'You have to be over eighteen for piercings or tattoos in Minnesota.' Oh God. I asked her how old this young lady is. Fifteen. I've got a thirty-two year old woman who's in love with a fifteen year old punk rock girl from Edina.
"I gently tried to press her for details, and her feelings about how viable this relationship really is. Erica met hour outside 19 Bar one night, the girl was spare-changing. They got to talking, and my hunch is the girl --- she goes by the moniker 'Fang,' after her favorite band --- talked Erica into not only spotting beer for her and her friends, but also paying for it, and then drinking it with them. Fang and her two friends ended up crashing at Erica's apartment all weekend. It was alluded to Erica providing the money to buy drugs, and of course cigarettes and more beer, and food. Fang's friends headed home Monday, while Fang stayed until Wednesday. Erica did have the sense to ask their ages, but didn't do the smart thing and kick them out when they told her. Erica and Fang were sleeping together starting Saturday night, after Erica found out her age. Erica says Fang is 'mature for her age,' but what that translates to is beyond me."
I asked, "I've gotta know, what is Erica's earlier life like? Childhood, teenage years, twenties, marriage? There's something going on with your friend, and figuring out the root might help her stay out of jail for statutory rape."
"I know she's from upstate, some small town. She left home at nineteen to attend nursing school. She graduated, worked at the Kaiser facility in Saint Paul for several years, where she met her husband. He's a doctor, a thoracic surgeon, he has both a private practice and a contract with Kaiser-Permanente. Erica got knocked up on their honeymoon, so she became a housewife --- Lord knows, they were fine without her income --- and settled in for a while. Then, when she was thirty and her daughter was five, she was sprinkled with Magical Dyke Fairy Dust or something, because she told her husband she was a lesbian and asked for a divorce. Her ex is loaded, so her alimony was astronomical. She doesn't need to work. I don't know what her life was like in the town she grew up in, it's just never come up."
I sat in silence until Mallory asked if I was still there. I said, "I'm just waving my stick in the air, hoping to hit the pinata, bit my first guess is Erica has never had her own personality. You've always described upstate towns as very button-down, so there's no way to express yourself when you'r a teenager. Then she becomes a nurse, a profession which pretty much requires you put everyone else's needs ahead of your own. She marries a rich doctor. If he's like every other doctor I've met, between schooling and having a practice, any pizzazz he had in his personality went by the wayside, so he'll provide no thrills. Then, she's stuck in a nice house raising a child, hubby doing duty at both his practice and at a hospital, so he's never around. Erica has never figured out who she is. So she began making things up about herself, and believing them. Uh, Mallory? My suspicion is Erica isn't a dyke, not instinctively anyway. If she's attracted to women, it's because she told herself to be, not from natural desire. But hey! She's found an identity! She's a lesbian. Now she has a group to identify with, a sense of belonging. She used sexual identity the same way a street kid will use gang membership. Basically, Erica joined the lesbians.
"Then she meets some punk rock kids, who've probably been a mystery to her for a long time. For whatever reason, she decides to go drinking with them, so she gets to hear the usual litany about disaffection and society is useless and thinking for yourself. The punk rock scene has a lot of appeal to anyone with a strong sense of alienation. You feel like a misfit, that you've been rejected your whole life? Punk ethos says to externalize the anger you feel for that rejection, and make yourself as visually repugnant as possible. Be a walking middle finger to the rest of the world. And also listen to music that is barely-structured chaos and drink lots of beer, take drugs, and get laid for the sheer hell of it. If serious partying was an Olympic event, the teams would all be made up of punks."
"Was that the appeal for you?" asked Mallory.
"The partying? Of course. Also the sense of belonging, like the misfits and losers of the world were united. They all got violent haircuts, tore up their clothes, listened to music that bugged the shit out of everyone else, and dared the rest of the world to have a problem with them. And, believe it or not, the intellectual exchange. Personally, the percentage of punks who are just plain stupid is a lot lower than that percentage in 'normal' society. Punks like to read. They process information fully, before acting on that information. And a hell of a lot of them are rabid Monty Python fans.
"Anyway, I think Erica realized that being a lesbian didn't turn her into a star-bellied Sneetch. She didn't go full-on bull dyke, so nobody knew she was part of this unique group just by looking at her. But punks do tend to sand out in a crowd, now don't they? And if this baby girl Fang expressed having a lesbian side --- if she was spare-changing outside 19 Bar, that might be the case --- then Erica will have hit the daily double for having an identity. Now she has two marginalized groups to identify with.
"So, has she met Fang's parents yet? How do they feel about this budding romance?"
Mallory chucked bitterly into the phone. "Yes, she has met them. Oh, Lenny.... If Erica is to be believed, these people are a real piece of work. I guess Erica drove Fang home to Edina on Wednesday evening, and Fang invited her in. To hear Erica tell it, Fang's home life is like.... Okay, imagine if 'Married - With Children' was written and directed by Clive Barker, and could only be watched on pay-per-view. Dad is drunk and abusive, but can't stand up under his own power to do anything about it. Mom is hanging around in the kitchen trying to coax another hit out of a crack pipe. Older brother is in a corner getting blown by some woman, younger sister, thirteen, has an infant son. The house is beyond a mess, of course. Fang has three padlocks installed on the door to her room, to keep the rest of her family from stealing her stuff. Erica says Fang's room was a bastion of cleanliness compared to the rest of the house..... And this is a fifteen year old girl's room we're talking about. Erica asked about the little sister with the baby. Fang told her, 'Yeah, my dad likes to fuck her sometimes, that's his kid.'
"Mom comes down the hall to see Fang and find out who's with her. Fang introduces Erica as her girlfriend. Mom just starts laughing and says, 'At least you won't be getting knocked up!' Fang yells, 'Only if Dad starts raping me too.' Mom asks if either of them can spare twenty dollars, and Fang tells her mom that if she doesn't have the money she owes Fang on the first, she'll put her in the hospital. Again. Then older brother comes in the room, stoned on something, and asks the same question. Fang tells both of them to get out. Mom does, big brother starts yelling how he's gonna steal Fang's TV and stereo. So.... Fang grabs a length of rebar from somewhere and swings it at her brother. He's loaded on something, like I said, so he's not moving too quickly, and Fang makes contact a couple times. Big brother finally leaves.
"By the way, Fang inhabits the master bedroom of the house, she's got her own bathroom. Erica asked about this, and Fang told her she'd taken it over from her parents as payment on a debt. Erica is appalled by what this house is like, of course, and tells Fang she can stay with her, no problem. Fang says she has to be home for a couple days, tomorrow's the first and everyone owes her money except the little sister. She has to be there so she can go to the bank with all of them when they cash their relief checks, so they won't try to stiff her. Erica wants to know why they all owe her money. Fang explains she sells crack, meth, heroin, Vicodin, and Ecstasy, and will let her family members run up a bit of a tab each. Everybody in the house owe her money for drugs of different kinds. Erica asked her who her other customers are, and Fang told her, 'Half the neighborhood.' So, Fang stays in that terrible house for business reasons, she's selling all kinds of drugs to her family, and everyone for three blocks around.
"At this point, Fang is splitting her time between Erica's place and her house in Edina. Erica says that during the first half of the month, Fang has a lot of disposable income. But it peters off after the fifteenth. By the end of the month, Fang has the money to re-stock her drugs, and that's about it. She extends too much credit, I guess. Erica also says Fang is 'very affectionate.' I asked her to elaborate, and Erica just giggled and said, 'Fang will show up on Friday afternoon, and neither of us will have any clothes on until Saturday evening.' I guess Fang heads back to Edina to sell drugs, then catches the last bus into Minneapolis to be with Erica.
"Lenny..... I don't know what the heck to think. Erica went from being very shy and unassuming, to a woman who sleeps with teenage drug dealers and reportedly has quite the selection of facial piercings now. How.... how did this happen?"
"Adventure," I replied.
"With Fang in her life, Erica is having a lot of adventure. How healthy that is for her, I don't know. Just the jail bait girlfriend is undue risk, personally. But with Fang around, Erica is definitely not bored. I know the scene Fang is in, sort of. Not her home life, but slinging dope to an entire neighborhood, having to enforce debts, always having to keep hustling so no other dealer starts scooping up your customers.... Hey, Erica has a car, right? That means Fang has a chauffeur.
"You probably don't want to hear me say this, but.... Right now, Erica isn't doing to bad. So long as she doesn't start routinely sampling from Fang's stock, she'll be okay, overall. In fact, I applaud Erica for providing Fang with a safe space to stay, at least part of the time. If Fang was crooked, she wouldn't still be in business, so I doubt she'll try to rip off Erica." I paused. "So, uh, did you two talk about screenwriting at all, or did that go by the wayside?"
"We did," Mallory confirmed. "She.... is interested. She asked what subject matter is forbidden. I told her, 'No children, no animals, no blood or violence during a sex scene, and no incest.' As soon as I used the word 'Inana,' she perked right up, after all, that's Becky Page's studio! I'll give her this, Erica actually seems to have some confidence now, some self-esteem and backbone. She said she'll be happy to send copies of a few stories, and also write a demo script. I told her to go to the library and check out a couple books on how to write screenplays, and she said she'll be on it. Uh...."
"Yes?" I pressed.
"Um.... She asked if she got the job, would she have to move to LA. I told her, 'Maybe.' She says she'd love to relocate out here. Okay, great. Then she started going on about how her and Fang would move to Los Angeles, and Fang wouldn't have to deal drugs anymore, and they'll live happily ever after." Mallory sighed. "Well, at least she's willing to relocate."
"And go to Club Fed on a Mann Act violation," I pointed out.
"I thought the Mann Act had been amended to only cover prostitution."
"Prostitution, and 'illegal sexual acts.' Statutory rape falls easily into that category. Shit, under it's original wording, Bekka and I would have been arrested for violating the Mann Act. When we went to visit you, we crossed state limes, right? Well, Bekka blew me on a few occasions that weekend, us just fooling around like normal. But when the original Mann Act was passed, oral sex was considered sodomy. Sodomy was, and still is in some states, an illegal sex act. So, all it would have taken was some dickhead at the Sheraton to decide we were too icky to be there, and have us thrown out by the police. They come in, Bekka's got my dick in her mouth, we're from out of state.... That's all she wrote. Why I wouldn't want Bekka sucking my dick in California is a whole different matter, I guess."
"Sorry this didn't work out, Lenny."
I pondered briefly. Then I asked, "Do you think you could find out when Fang's birthday is?"
"What on earth for?" Mallory quizzed.
"If she's sixteen years old, she can be legally emancipated from her parents. That would mean that in many instances, she is legally viewed as an adult. She'd still be jail bait, but her and Erica traveling together or sharing an apartment wouldn't be an instant bust for Erica. So long as they have their clothes on when dealing with the law, they'd be clean. I want Erica to submit her stories, and I want her to submit a demo script. I just.... I have this weird feeling about Erica.... Like I'll be sorry if I just blow her off. So, I want her to do a bit of scribbling for me. It's got to be damn good, though."
"So, you're willing to bring on a neurotic dyke with an underage girlfriend, pay for them to relocate to Southern California, give her a lucrative writing contract, and hope she makes her deadlines. All because you have a feeling."
"You got it on the first try," I answered. "Besides, I can't criticize the 'underage girlfriend' thing without being a hypocrite. What about me and Jane?"
"Point taken," Mallory chuckled.
"By the way, I"m serious about the emancipation thing. See if Erica is willing to help shepherd Fang through the process. Check when Fang turns sixteen, because that date is going to directly affect when I'd be willing to put Erica under contract, then move her out here."