The Slice of Life series
The Heiress and The Transvestite
© 2015 by Susan S. Barmon
Julia attempts to move into her new apartment. . .
Our move didn’t happen as planned. The dope dealers, Joanie and Bob, moved in, as did Philippe, the French boy, but we had to put it off a couple of weeks when Matt was called away to Bangkok on business. It was just as well since things were getting pretty chaotic. The Transvestite was supposed to complete some electrical work at the gallery prior to an upcoming show, but he was busy fighting with The Heiress about drug dealers living in the basement with his girls upstairs, and just what would he get out of them living there? There had to be a perk for him! The Heiress said he always created problems at crucial times and never pulled his weight when he was really needed. The fact that she kept asking him was all part of the little dance they did. Her constant refrain was “This is why I just couldn’t let him be in business with me.”
Tensions were already running high because The Heiress disclosed to me that her property taxes were delinquent. “My mother is being evasive about helping me refinance,” she said. It seemed completely natural to me that a woman who was practically on her deathbed might not be overly concerned about her daughter’s finances. After all, she had helped her buy the North Beach building as well as the building that housed the gallery, but with interest rates in the double digits, the trustees of her mother’s inheritance were understandably reluctant to cooperate. “All this wouldn’t be happening,” she said, “if it weren’t for the Lesbians. They owe me $60,000.” While Marty half-heartedly worked on the electricity, The Heiress told me the story of the Lesbians.
Her grandfather had bought her the house in Sacramento where she lived for several years with her daughter, after getting breast implants and then leaving the child’s father on the houseboat he rented in Sausalito. The Lesbians, whom she met while living in Sacramento, learned that she had access to money and hit her up for a loan to open a Halfway House under the auspices of the state. All of this was before she’d left her daughter with some elderly neighbors and married the parapsychologist. She told me having a child was like being in jail and anyone who wanted to participate in her upbringing was welcome to bring a new perspective to the process. The elderly couple were thrilled with the prospect as was The Heiress. The marriage was short-lived and ended badly when he went to jail for dealing cocaine in Reno. A porter at one of the big hotels, he became the “go to” guy for guests who wanted blow. “It was a lot of fun,” she said, “drugs, limos, concert tickets, all while hobnobbing with the rich and famous.” The Heiress went back to Sacramento, took custody of her daughter again and decided boarding school for the girl, who was at the point of being incorrigible, was a good plan and New York might be a good place to live and remove her from any more questioning from the Nevada authorities regarding her ex-husband’s activities. It worked for about a year until the daughter got kicked out of her third boarding school and The Heiress headed back, this time to San Francisco, to live. The daughter went to the father she didn’t know- consequently running away back to Sacramento, getting pregnant, marrying a drug addict and becoming one, all in a summer. The Heiress had cut her off completely financially when she took flight so her mother, in Las Vegas, sent her money while she, her husband and multiple children lived in Sacramento with his mother. It sounded like a hot mess. Upon arriving back in the city The Heiress rented a room in a large apartment near The Tenderloin off of Polk Street, and, with the sale of her Sacramento home and help from her mother, started looking for properties to buy in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Lesbians reneged on their $2000 a month loan repayment, leaving the Heiress with no money to pay future gallery costs or maintenance on the building, hence the hurry to try a refi. When the Lesbians and The Heiress were negotiating the terms of the loan they mentioned that one of their brothers was an attorney and he would be happy to do all the paperwork for them free of charge. The Heiress accepted, did not read the fine print and got screwed. She had little recourse to try and recover what they were not paying and constantly blamed them saying, “I never should have trusted them.” It caused quite a rift with her Sacramento girlfriends left behind because, from her telling, they all sided with the Lesbians. Even the woman who was a Jail Guard and close friend defended them, which incensed The Heiress to the point of screaming at her one day in the middle of the street that she “felt no loyalty to their years of friendship” It was the last time the Jail guard came to visit and quietly said after The Heiress finished her middle of the street rant, that she had done this to herself and there was no reason to defend her loyalties.
As The Heiress finished this explanation Marty reared his needy head, while supposedly fixing something he said he fixed months ago. He started ranting that she didn’t appreciate all he does for her. The Heiress just stared at him as if to say “Really?”
It was a very tedious day and the sniping continued as Marty left in a huff because he was pissed off at being ignored.
A few days later, Philippe came to the gallery to finish the job. While he cleaned up what Marty wouldn’t, I readied the mailing list, made postcards for the show, and listed it in the weekly Pink Pages of the San Francisco Chronicle. We got in touch with the artists for the new show and made arrangements for them to deliver their work.
Back in North Beach, Philippe was settling into the office side of The Heiress’ basement not seeming to mind all the activity going on in the space he was living in. We were working in the office addressing the postcards, and going over the schedule for the artists and other gallery details feeling good that we were making progress for the First Thursday gallery opening. With all the moving and gallery activities the Balinese forest was popping leaves off left and right. They were scattered all over the back patio as if it was autumn. The Heiress, in a fit of total frustration waving her arms around and pursing her lips, kicked the little wooden leaves into a rather large colorful pile. She told Philippe to throw them out. Marty, who was sunbathing on the deck off their living room, heard all of this and came flying down the back stairs wearing nothing but his green silk bikini underpants, just in time to see half of the Balinese forest moving toward the trash bin. He scurried around behind The Heiress and the French Boy, retrieving the leaves and branches as fast as he could, tossing them in a box as The Heiress and Phillipe dumped them in the garbage all the while muttering and eventually screaming, “I’m in jail here!” The box soon joined the others on the Dope Dealers’ side of the basement. Philippe took all of this in stride, with a blank expression on his face. He was very handsome and seemingly kind, with blue eyes, lanky build, and that killer French accent. After The Transvestite left to go back to the deck assuming his forest was saved I asked The Heiress how she knew Phillipe.
Back when the gallery had just opened, a lovely French woman named Sophie stopped by to inquire about submitting work. She was a painter from Paris, petite, with very curly, blond hair that rested on her head like a halo. Christophe, her adorable little two year old boy had the same curly blond hair and was usually dressed in black and white striped tights and flowery tops from the best thrift stores in Noe Valley where they lived. Sophie and her husband Gaston were in San Francisco for his work. He was a sought after computer game designer and had a three-year contract with Adobe. Philippe became Chistophe’s nanny/babysitter when Sophie saw his ad on the bulletin board at the Alliance Francaise. He had been nanny for a young couple in Pacific Heights, but lost the position when they had to move. Homeless and jobless in a foreign country, Philippe moved into Sophie’s garage with a small stipend in exchange for helping with Christophe.
This worked for a while until Gaston grew tired of this young guy, whom he didn’t really know, traipsing in from the garage whenever he needed to use the bathroom. To complicate things further, Gaston’s mother would soon arrive from France for an extended visit. When Sophie called and asked The Heiress if she could find a place for Philippe, The Heiress jumped at the chance, offering him $30 a week and the office room with shared bath and laundry for doing whatever she needed him to do. Philippe liked to paint murals and would fit in well. It was fortunate that he owned little and traveled light, and his easy disposition was a plus. For their part, Joanie and Bob were used to such arrangements, living as they did couch surfing or staying in SRO’s with bathrooms down the hall, when necessary. The Heiress offered them the other side of the basement. In exchange for their Mendocino Gold, they had a room whenever they needed one. This was a “win, win” for The Heiress. If The Transvestite refused to pull his weight around the house and the gallery, now she had someone who would and she could get high in the process.
Crowded out by The Heiress’ copious collections, Joanie and Bob, living on the other side of the basement liked Phillipe and although they had to go outside to the office side to use the shower and toilet the three of them seemed in sync and easy with each other. Joanie and Bob purposely set themselves up way in the back corner of the huge basement room under a small window. Their view was of people’s feet passing on the sidewalk and the occasional peeing dog. Screening themselves off with The Heiress’ copious collections of packed boxes they weren’t visible from the door, and were away from prying eyes. Marty, in spite of his protestations, was always aware when they came in and high tailed it downstairs to see if he could get free samples. The girls had no idea what was happening and never came down to the back because The Heiress always told them she had to work and they disturbed her. This was not a new thing and happened before all the tenants were living in the basement. I liked Joanie and Bob. They were funny, smart and interesting because their lifestyle was unusual and different from people we had known. They did most of their business away from The Heiress’ mainly because they didn’t want The Transvestite to know when they were around as it always occasioned “a visit.”
Joanie was a writer and “would be” filmmaker, and when they weren’t in town selling dope, they played in professional backgammon tournaments in Las Vegas to augment their incomes.
The gallery show was scheduled for the first Thursday of every month in the city when all the galleries had openings. The Heiress looked very happy it was actually happening. It was a beautiful evening, one of those “postcard nights” when the weather was perfect and the twinkle lights in the trees added an air of excitement and celebration for the gallery opening. The Heiress said, “It was the best turnout I’ve experienced since opening the gallery, even though nothing sold.” The crowd, wine in hand, spilled out onto the sidewalk “ready to party.” It was at this point that Marty chose to make his entrance. I guess because his daughters were staying with their mother in Alameda, he decided to change up his wardrobe. He wore bright red pants, like chinos only red. The Heiress said these were ONLY worn at Christmastime, and a white shirt. The kicker was the black knee highs paired with his black patent leather “fuck me pumps.” He swooped in weaving between the pedestals of fine modern ceramics greeting old friends and glad handing the newbies. Announcing to anyone who would listen, “I did everything to prepare for the evening.” He even went so far as to say “I had to fix what Phillipe had done so the gallery could open.” I rolled my eyes. The Heiress, looking very urban in a new long black skirt and sweater, ignored him while repeatedly pursing her lips when he crossed her line of vision while waving her hands around to dismiss him. He then grabbed me so I could meet The Heiress’ old friend David, from “the old days” when she lived on a houseboat in Sausalito with the drug addicted boyfriend who was a drug counselor and the father of her child. David was a nerd, short, chubby and very studious looking. A telemarketer living in a rooming house in Berkeley, David spent a lot of time in coffee shops in the city writing his novel. He told me he was a huge Cormac McCarthy fan. A couple of times when “The Heiress and TheTransvestite” went away, David came to stay with the girls. I don’t think that happened very often, but it did happen once when Joanie and Bob were there. It was when Marty’s father died and he had to go back to Boston for the funeral. Sophie, Gaston, baby Christophe were there along with Joanie and Bob and Phillipe made an appearance. Marty planted himself outside the door as if he was a doorman welcoming anyone who walked down the street. The Heiress introduced me to an old friend, Elizabeth who lived around the block. She too was a writer who occasionally liked to play tennis. Bingo, finally someone with a common interest. We made plans to meet at the North Beach tennis courts the following week. From a social standpoint the evening was a success and although nothing was sold Marty added to the memory of the evening.
Matt returned from Asia a few days later and we made arrangements to move into The Heiress’ the following weekend. Physically, it was an easy move since most of our things were still in the East Bay storage unit, but it wasn’t without its complications. The entire time we were carting boxes up the stairs, The Transvestite stood by our front door repeating his “I’m in jail here” mantra to anyone and everyone on Stockton Street. On their way to market, the little old Italian grandmothers, who’d lived in North Beach forever, stared at him as though he’d lost his mind. Marty was a familiar figure in the neighborhood and people avoided him because he owed all the merchants money. Matt and I looked at each other as if to say, “We may be making a huge mistake, but at least he’s comic relief.” Joanie and Bob welcomed us to our new flat with samples of their best merchandise, which helped to soften the reality that we had just moved into an incredibly dysfunctional building. Slow learners, indeed.
The following Monday began harmlessly enough. I enjoyed helping out in the downstairs office. We tackled some of the work left over from the recent show, but mostly we smoked a joint while watching Phillipe paint a mural in the shower stall. The Heiress wanted to liven up the area and Philippe couldn’t wait to get started. The result was a sort of Disney version of a view from a Greek hotel on the Aegean, with a smattering of islands floating in the distance. It looked very cartoonish and he was not using the right kind of paint for a shower stall, but those little details didn’t matter to The Heiress. “I like encouraging budding artists,” she said, “It’s my passion.”
It was one of those rare San Francisco days when the sun is shining and there is no fog in sight, just like the night of the gallery opening, memorable. We took a break from watching Phillipe to get some lunch and were no sooner up the back stairs into her living room when Marty, who’d been sunbathing on the tiny deck, burst into the room. It was then that I realized he was startlingly hairless and reeking of baby oil, his mullet was pulled back into a ponytail and again he was wearing the same green silk bikini underpants. The Heiress was visibly annoyed as he slithered around the big black marble dining table asking a dozen questions, all while thrusting his pelvis back and forth in a modified bump and grind. “Where are you two going? I want to go with you. Can I come too? What is Philippe doing downstairs? Would you buy me a sandwich too?” “No,” The Heiress said, “not unless you give me money.” “Unemployment is making him way too comfortable,” she told me. “He owes me money and if he doesn’t work, I’ll never get it back.” Marty made me uneasy in general, and half naked made it more uncomfortable to be around for these little spats. I wondered if having a man around the house was enough of a reason to live with someone for whom she had so much contempt.
I don’t know if Mercury was in retrograde or what, but when we returned to the office, the shit began to hit the fan. We came in to find The Transvestite frantically reconstructing his Balinese Tinker Toy Forest and glaring at Philippe. The little leaves were scattered around him as if he was guarding them before he reattached them. Phillipe had done all he could for the day in the shower stall and was washing his hands in the laundry sink when Joanie appeared, sidestepping Marty’s efforts at reconstruction. She came right to the point and asked The Heiress if she could buy a shower curtain for some privacy in the shower. I forgot to mention there was no shower curtain. Just the Aegean Islands in the shower stall. She was after all the only female using the downstairs shower and toilet. Seemed like a “no brainer”, but again I forgot the certain drama driving all these lives. I looked at The Heiress in disbelief when she said, “No. I don’t think so. I don’t want a shower curtain. They’re ugly and it would block the view of Philippe’s mural.” She then asked Philippe to gather all the scattered wooden leaves Marty was attempting to reattach and box them up. “I don’t care if it makes Marty angry.” she said. “He’s useless. I’m over those damned plants and he needs to sell them!” This enraged Marty and he pushed Philippe aside screaming, “Get the hell away!” He began berating Joanie for speaking to people whom he and The Heiress hated years ago. It seems that David saw Joanie and Bob talking to The Transvestite’s former friend, someone he’d thrown out of the space where they live now. Joanie informed him that whom she and Bob chose to speak to was none of his concern and that there would be no more free samples of their merchandise. “Who do you think you are?” Marty screamed. “I know who we are,” she responded, “and we will NOT be censored by the likes of you!”
At that point, The Heiress realized, thanks to her boyfriend, that her free Mendocino Gold was in serious jeopardy. Meanwhile, Philippe and I backed our way discreetly into the garage and out to the street. During our escape, we heard The Heiress tell Marty to keep quiet as he began his “I’m in jail” routine. Joanie followed me to our flat where she told me that she and Bob would be leaving as soon as they could get some money together. “The SRO on Green Street isn’t any worse that this, and maybe it’s a record, we lasted 6 weeks staying here. That was longer than our friend, who David told Marty and Mary Jane, that we were seen with.”
I sat in our apartment, waiting for Matt to get home and reviewing the events of the day, wondering if I was as pathetic as these people were. My Mom used to tell me and my brother when she didn’t like who we were hanging around with, “Tell me who you go with and I’ll tell you who you are.” “Is this the future?” I thought. This latest re-invention of our lives was shaping up to be nothing at all like anything I had ever experienced. Part of me said, ”Julia, just go with the flow, it’s California.” The other part said “Get out while you can.”
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Photo Credit: “A pair of high heeled shoes with 12 cm heels,” by Wikipedia. Public Domain Photo.