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December 27, 2023 Fiction


Elizabeth Ellen

G.O.A.T. photo


[clears throat]


“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

-Banksy quote accompanying Bansky art in middle of New Orleans hotel lobby at which a reading series host was asked to censor her authors, specifically for the word ‘cunt’ 


[this one goes out to all my former fan boys and girls, my ex-husbands and ex-friends, authors I published and no longer speak to, men I ‘stalked’ (wink wink), men I almost slept with, … you know who you are … this one’s for you] 


Even my stalker had abandoned me, become bored with me, become obsessed with another female literary internet presence. He didn’t call and leave me long, rambling voicemails anymore. (I wondered if he still had my number.) He tweeted about how [new female literary internet presence] was a better writer than me. He tweeted she had a better ass, also, bigger tits. It went without his saying she was younger, but, naturally, he said tweeted this, too. 


[corporate literature sucks – sticker on Mac desktop computer on which this is being typed; who’s the asshole?]


[“Please don’t email me ALL MY VARIOUS PUBLICISTS for the same request, each publicist handles a specific genre or nature of request …” – statement on website of ‘big time’ big name author]


“What is the protagonist’s motivation?” you’ll likely want to know (if you are an agent, editor, social media influencer, pedestrian). I thought Joan Didion covered this at the beginning of her novel about driving on LA freeways …


On Tuesday, I rented a room at the cheapest motel in town and drove the six miles over. I didn’t have an interest in sleeping there. Communications in general bothered me. Still, I had to go to the office to retrieve the key. The person working was tall and not unattractive and as they typed my information into the computer they let out a low noise of disappointment. “My team just lost,” they said, and I nodded, realizing I would be up for staying, hanging out with them, if they wanted – like I said, they were not unattractive. But, of course, they didn’t. They handed me my room key and went back to watching more games. I didn’t linger. I drove the short distance to the room I’d been assigned. I was paying forty-five dollars a night to not have to deal with the angst of communicating with the names in my phone. Pussy. Privileged pussy fuck. I knew what I was. I always know what I am but that doesn’t change anything. Knowing isn’t half the battle. The battle doesn’t mean shit. 

I realized I’d forgotten to close the curtain. I turned toward the window and there was a person standing, peering in. They didn’t immediately move away when I turned to look at them but stood another twenty or thirty seconds at the window. After that I heard the door to the room next to mine open and close, then coughing and expectorating, then the flush of a toilet. I went out and got the bag with my laptop in it from the trunk and rested it on the fold out metal rack meant for luggage. I took two pillows off one of the beds, and placed them one on top the other over the laptop bag. I wondered if a member of the housekeeping staff would move the pillows back to the bed while I was gone. The room was lacking one of those cards you slide in the door to indicate room service is unneeded and I didn’t feel particularly like going back to the office to ask for one. In the past I had stolen such a card from another person’s door but that felt unnecessary now since I wouldn’t be sleeping here, only leaving a couple items. I took my phone and charger from my purse and plugged the latter into the outlet on the lamp on the desk and then plugged the phone into the charger. I typed a name and formed a message to that name and stared at the message a while before hitting “send.” I turned the phone upside down and backed away from the desk. Already – in the time it had taken me to drive the six miles - there were nine new texts and two missed call and I felt easier knowing I would no longer know how many of each there were or from whom they were sent. I was paying a lot of money, relatively speaking, to not know things. The longer I went not knowing, the less texts and phone calls there would be. It was a win/win situation, though I didn’t feel like I was winning. I wasn’t a winner. That’s not what this is about. 

(I was in an S &M relationship with myself.

Consequently, I never stopped bleeding; I was always bleeding a little bit from one or the other orifice. It was humiliating, even if I was the only one who knew.) 

As I backed out of the parking space I looked up and a person was staring out their window at me. I turned the wheel of the car and my head simultaneously and saw another person standing off to the side, under the shelter, smoking a cigarette, or what appeared to be a cigarette, also staring in my direction. I had left the 8-track in the car on and slid out one tape (Johnny Cash at San Quentin) and in another (Bill Withers’ Greatest Hits), and lit a cigarette. “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” I got on the ramp to the freeway and accelerated so that by the time I entered, I was going a good thirty miles over the speed limit. I passed a guy in a white Monte Carlo with an Ohio plate and a sign on the back driver’s side window that said: Red Neck. Ten miles outside of any city in the Midwest was like that. You didn’t have to drive to the south ... The highest speed I had reached was a hundred twenty-five but that was in Montana or Wyoming, on an open stretch of highway. There’d been a billboard: “Montana values, be Republican.” Cities in Wyoming: Chugwater and Middle Fork Crazy Woman. A semi truck driver had raced me. Maybe I’d gotten up to a hundred twenty-seven, a hundred twenty-eight. Whatever I had to do to pull away from him, to stop his grinning …

Back at the house I got the hammer from the shelf in the garage and began hammering one of the photographs left behind by X. X and I had lived together a number of years and now X was gone and anything X hadn’t taken, I was hammering or sawing or axing or lighting on fire, one item at a time, in the evening, before bed. This wasn’t an activity of revenge or grief or any such emotion but merely an activity of physical exercise, akin to doing sets of pull ups on a bar over a bedroom door. Perhaps, also, it was an act of aggression, though the aggression, I swear, had nothing whatsoever to do with X. (We parted amicably.) I didn’t even feel anything when looking at X’s face in the photograph. Perhaps you might consider feeling nothing an act of aggression. I don’t. But it’s okay to disagree. I think it’s healthy, actually: disagreeing. (But not everyone does, ...) Anyway. I was pounding the picture frame and it was splitting nicely. I was thinking it would make for a nice hunk of kindling if ever I felt like another fire. 

And still: the most interesting part of my evening was to come. I’d taken to drinking Jack Daniels in the tub like an aging, reclusive rock star. I bet you know the one I mean. I wasn’t a rock star but I thought I could experience the other aspects of being one, just not the one in which you were on stage playing an instrument for thirty thousand screaming fans. But that wasn’t the aspect I was most interested in, anyway. It was everything else: the offstage lifestyle. Particularly, the offstage lifestyle twenty years past the first major success of the rock star in question. 

Sometimes, such as Tuesday night, I got in the tub clothed. That is, I wore an undergarment into the bath water. I wore a bandana around my forehead. This seemed to add to the feeling of the rock and roll lifestyle in some manner. (Maybe all this proves is I don’t know shit about rock and rock or lifestyles.) There was music playing on a radio on the bathroom counter and of course I was taking swigs from the bottle of Jack and ashing into the water. A week earlier I’d put a cigarette out on my arm. This hadn’t been an act of grief or aggression, either. At least I don’t think it was. What I thought was I’d always been curious about this act, how much it hurt, how hard it was to hold the burning cigarette to your skin. The answers were: not that bad, and not that hard. (I’d been watching Hoosiers while I did this ...) Now the wound was almost healed; the day before the scab had fallen off. This was somewhat of a disappointment: the healing of the burn. So without giving it much thought, I burned it again. I held the red cherry of the cigarette to the exact spot I’d burned the week before. I watched the flesh blacken with the ash, then, blew it away once the cigarette was extinguished. I got out and removed my wet undergarments, threw them in the sink. I looked down at my arm but there wasn’t much to see. 


I listened to a song by a band whose lead singer had committed suicide.

I listened to a song by a band whose lead singer had committed suicide.

I listened to a song by a band whose lead singer had committed suicide.

I listened to a song by a band whose drummer had committed suicide.

I listened to a song by a band whose guitarist had committed suicide. [CTE?]

I watched a game of football.  [CTE?]


I walked through the halls of my house. Every room I entered already had a cigar box on the floor. I was already wearing Keds in every room. My right hand formed a fist. Ashtrays overflowed. Every room had the ambience of a room over a garage, I mean. It was like the house was urging me – in every new room I entered – to take my life. Maybe it was daring me. I was a coward. It was no use. I suspect the house knew this. The house could go on taunting me knowing nothing of any real importance or consequence would transpire inside its walls. I wasn’t a real rock star. I didn’t play an instrument. I smoked cigarettes and sang bad karaoke. Or good karaoke. However you want to look at it. (I didn’t kill myself.)

Instead, I masturbated repeatedly – chastising myself, first, for not being more aroused; physically injuring myself, first, for this lack of arousal – then, coming four or five times in quick succession, until my abdominal muscles cramped and I knew there’d be some swelling of my genitals, maybe even some slight bruising, the following morning. Everything always came in the morning: headaches, nausea, bruises, swelling, wounds, self-loathing, self-denial, self-isolation, self-incrimination; all the good stuff. In the evenings, there were just these activities, slight self-injuries, acts of self-degradation with no visible outcomes. Still, what else was there to do? How else to pass the time? but in rock and roll clichés. Bits of trivia read on tiny placards in museums and replicated here, pathetically, at home. 


I listened to a song by a band whose lead singer had OD’D.

I listened to a song by a band whose lead singer had OD’D.

I listened to a song by a band whose lead singer had OD’D.

I listened to a song by a band whose drummer had OD’D.

I listened to a song by a band whose bassist had OD’D. [CTE!]

I watched a game of football. [CTE!]

I went to bed alive. 

I woke up in my bandana. 


In the morning I had to go feed the animals. I’d taken a part time job at an animal sanctuary. It didn’t pay much and the respect was zero but I didn’t have a college education or much experience outside of retail and after X left I needed money. It was my job to feed the reptiles and amphibians; also to clean their enclosures. Others from the university fed the mammals. The mammals were the prestigious animals around the conservancy because most often people paid money to see mammals. It was a capitalist venture, in this regard, like any other. No one really gave a shit, therefore, if the majority of the reptiles lived or died. Consequently, many expired. That was how we referred to it, officially: expired. Not unlike the front man of a band. Or front woman, excuse me. There are those expirations, also. But front women were more like reptiles and amphibians. The front men being the prestigious suicides and overdoses. The ones most frequently talked about, written about, mourned, memorialized, in magazines and museums, online, in our heads – hearts and minds. Not to get all political, but…

On the way to the sanctuary I stopped at a drugstore for a pack of cigarettes. I stood in line behind an older woman holding two of the larger sized cans of beer. It was ten thirty. She asked for two of the cheap, mini bottles of whiskey behind the counter, also. 

“How’s your day going?” the young female clerk asked. She asked this real cheerfully. Maybe it was part of her job to be oblivious. Maybe it was her age. 

“Horrible. I’m having a really bad day. Hoping to go home and not think about anything,” the older woman in front of me said. She sounded genuine in a way I wasn’t used to hearing anyone talk anymore ‘offline.’ I had an urge to ask her if I could come over and sit with her. But it seemed like she might not want company, like she might want to be alone. I understood that feeling; the dual feeling of not wanting to be alone but not wanting anyone around, either. Anyway, I had the reptiles and amphibians to feed. I needed my pack of cigarettes for later. Then, she was gone, and the young female clerk was asking me – cheerfully – how my day was going; still oblivious. She hadn’t learned her lesson. She wasn’t an aging rock star or pretending to be one. She was still young. It goes without saying: she wasn’t wearing a bandana. 


I stood in the field behind the horses picking dandelion greens and tossing them in a bucket. It was March: windy and cold. My hands were chapped and muddied. It was spitting rain. This was a good, masochistic activity for me. Almost like putting a cigarette out on my arm. Almost like that. More like that was dealing with the person who oversaw me. It was obvious they didn’t like me. They would tell me things like “be careful when feeding the tegu” and I’d be careful and the tegu would still try and attack me, still try and break the glass. “I guess I forgot to feed her yesterday,” the person would say when this happened. The tegu had caused a tiny crack to form when she’d ran at the glass. She was young and strong. I threw rats in as fast as I could, locked the enclosure, backed away. Another time an owl landed on my back. It was summer and I was wearing a tank top. The owl’s talons dug into my skin. It should have been everything I’d ever dreamed of, but because I hadn’t consented to it – the pain, because it hadn’t been the sort of self-harm I was used to inflicting upon myself, I was pissed. The person in charge of me was unphased when I walkie-talkied them. “Just stand up,” they said. As though I hadn’t thought of that. As though I was a complete moron, a total retard. The person in charge of me lived with their mom. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But, you know, kind of there is. At their age. No wonder they were in charge of the reptiles and amphibians and not the mammals like the cool kid from Australia with the sexy accent. 

After work I stopped by the tanning salon. It was in a strip mall on the freeway between an Urgent Care and a ceramics studio. The inside of the salon was decorated with artificial palm trees and life-sized cardboard cut outs of young women who resembled Britney Spears with a good tan but who weren’t Britney Spears. One might have had a snake encircling her (tanned) body. That was good enough for me. (I thought maybe one day at the sanctuary I’d borrow one of the larger snakes and take a selfie with it, when you-know-who wasn’t around, obviously.) I’d purchased ten sessions because that was supposed to be the best value though I’m pretty sure it was a total rip off. Either way, twice a week I went and stood in number nine – an upright tanning bed that resembled a porta-potty when you opened it. Usually Nickelback or some other Canadian band was playing. I don’t know why. If the owners were Canadian or just preferred Canadian bands or what. I never asked. I just liked the way my skin smelled after the six minutes in number nine: like chemicals and cancer. Or what I imagined cancer smelled like. Maybe it didn’t have a smell. Probably it doesn’t and I’m just being an asshole, again. I apologize. 

On the way out I passed a younger woman walking in. The younger woman had purple lipstick and jet black hair, the sort of jet black hair you see on the front of a box of hair dye at Walgreen’s or Target. She looked sort of like Lisa Marie Presley, circa 1989 or something. Like someone Nic Cage would want to fuck, and I sort of felt an instinct to stick my fingers in her mouth. I know it’s not PC or politically correct to say so, but, frankly, she looked like a stripper, like a younger version of J-Lo in that movie or at the halftime show. This was the part that intrigued me, that gave me pause later that night when I was in my bathtub in my bandana. Maybe what I mean is: it gave me hope. 


A billboard that read: Real Christians love their enemies, and I thought, but would ‘real Christians’ even have enemies? Would they identify other human being as such? Did the Dalai Lama have any enemies? I know the Dalai Lama isn’t Christian, but it’s the same principle – or similar - and I didn’t think the Dalai Lama probably had any enemies. I was pretty sure Jesus didn’t have any enemies, either. 


I was re-reading Portnoy’s Complaint (and laughing).

I was watching old reruns of Roseanne – the one with Mariel Hemingway where she and Roseanne kiss for three seconds (before Ellen kissed Laura Dern or vice versa). 

I was listening to R. Kelly – the song he did with Lady Gaga, the song he did with Jay Z. 

I was texting my former stepfather about Tiger Woods winning The Masters. (I made the mistake of saying I was happy for Tiger and my former stepfather - a man on his fourth wife, though he denied the first marriage, to my mother, and so claimed this was only his third – he, my former stepfather – though, I guess he didn’t consider himself my stepfather since he denied he was ever married to my mom - he reminded me that Tiger was a ‘despicable human being’ and that it was surprising to him that women were so supportive of Tiger, given what he’d done, that it didn’t speak well of the women, that the women were idiots due to their support of Tiger Woods, basically.)

I don’t know… I stopped texting. I was purchasing tickets to Louis C.K.’s return to comedy in Indianapolis. 

Nothing makes chronological sense in this story. That’s not the point. 


One of my neighbors kept emailing me this link begging me to watch a documentary that would convince me once and for all to stop eating meat.

Another neighbor was leaving pamphlets on my doorstep with up close photographs of abortions, by which, I guess I mean: dead fetuses. 

It was sort of the same thing. 

I didn’t watch the documentary. I tore up the pamphlet. 

I continued to eat meat and to have abortions. 

Personally, I was for changing the laws regarding the sales of alcohol and tobacco to eighteen. I didn’t see what the point of rating movies was anymore now that any ten year old could watch porn (and R-rated movies) on her smart phone. 

But I didn’t have a documentary or pamphlet to convince anyone of anything. Those were just my personal thoughts. 


I watched a basketball game – March Madness. Three nights earlier the coach had reprimanded the youngest player on the team in a very specific manner – meeting him half-court, wagging his finger in his face, seeming to have to be restrained by the other team members – as to cause commentators – sports and social media, both – to comment. Everyone seemed to agree the coach’s behavior had been too degrading, the player too degraded. I reserved opinion, either way. Degradation interested me. Sometimes it could feel, I thought, like love; like someone caring about you. At any rate, in tonight’s game, that same young player set career highlights: so many rebounds, so many baskets, so many assists … I lost count.

“He responds well to chastisement,” the TV announcer said, and I thought, huh, I wonder: Me too


I had responded, recently, to a text that came through in the early morning hours, when the texter probably assumed I was safely asleep and therefore incapable of responding. I had responded – this is the important part – within seconds, probably thirty or so, having left my phone at high volume before going to sleep, having foretold this early morning text coming through. There was never another text after that from this particular texter, and I knew I had offended them in some manner, with my too quick reply, with my overeagerness to communicate. Thinking of how I had responded so swiftly – for the most part, still asleep - causing the texter obvious discomfort, made me fantasize about using an X-acto knife to run a long vertical slit down my arms or up one of my thighs. Not in order to bleed out or to cause myself any real harm (I thought I told you I’m a coward). Just to alleviate what felt like an unmanageable pressure building inside me. ]

Instead, I went to bed dreaming of having a coach who would reprimand and degrade me in a public manner whenever I acted in such a way, E.g. like a psychopath or like a horror movie villain who is supposed to be already dead. There were undisputed, untalked about rules to texting and I had broken them and this was why my laptop and phone were at the motel and not in my house. I couldn’t trust myself not to break these rules again and again. I didn’t have a coach to keep me from breaking them. The unmanageable pressure was building and building inside me. I didn’t know where else it could go. There was no more room for it. 


The next day I stopped back at the motel to check my phone. The pillows had been moved to the bed and I considered leaving them there before moving them back. I was nothing if not Sisyphean. I checked my phone without checking the messages. I was concerned solely with how many phone calls had come through and how many texts. I was keeping track of the numbers only. I knew soon enough the calls and texts would cease altogether and that would be the most depressing and exciting day of all. Today there was one new call and two new text messages. I left three dollars on the bed for whoever was moving the pillows. I didn’t know if that was too much or too little for the work they were doing.

I drove to the sanctuary to clean the tortoises’ enclosures. The tortoises – chiefly Russians but also a few Pancake – were kept in the basement of the smaller building ‘on campus,’ in four large plastic bins, stacked on wooden shelves, sort of resembling the most rustic of bunk beds. The floor of the room was cement and there was a single naked bulb hanging from the ceiling and a swarm of flies about due to the close proximity of the hedgehogs and armadillos in the next room. There were five or six or seven Russians to a bin, some straw for lining, a heat lamp hung overhead; no water. The lack of water in their bins was the reason I had to soak the tortoises while I cleaned. There was an extra large plastic bin for that, and I filled it first with warm water, then lowered the five or six or seven tortoises into it, one at a time. At least one always immediately took a shit in the water and the shit would float up around the necks and heads of the other tortoises but there was nothing I could do about it. By the time I had cleaned an enclosure, the bin with the tortoises and water would be full of turds floating around all the necks and heads and feet, and I’d have to reach my hand into the turd-filled water to extract a tortoise, to put him or her (I never knew which) back into her clean enclosure, before dragging the bin into the other room and pouring the dirty water down the floor drain and filling it back up with clean water for the next batch of Russian tortoises. It was grueling and draining and pleasurable in a way it’s hard to explain if you’ve never had your hands wrist-deep in tortoise turd water. I also tried to wipe the shit off the bottoms of their shells with paper towels, though my superior would get on me if I used too many. They said it wasn’t a big deal if they had shit on their shells, I was wasting the sanctuary’s paper products, I was ruining the environment, I was causing global warming, blah blah blah. 


Maybe this was my chance at degradation. Maybe I didn’t actually want it after all. maybe I only thought I did when it looked so inviting and glamorous on TV, as most things did, most things that were ugly and ordinary in real life, I mean. 

I went home and searched the house for NBA’s – which, in case you’re wondering, is the clinical term for Nonbeverage alcohol. I was reading Kitty Dukakis’s 1990 memoir. In it, she detailed all the household products she drank “to induce oblivion”: which basically amounted to fingernail polish remover, hair spray (“I just pulled off the spray top and gulped the ingredients. Yes, I was on my way to hell. Again”), after-shave and, of course, rubbing alcohol. That was what the papers wrote about: how she’d been hospitalized for drinking rubbing alcohol. They didn’t mention anything about the after-shave or hairspray. I guess they didn’t know, then, which is why she had to write her book: Now You Know. (She also admitted to having a twenty-six year addiction to diet pills; years later she was public about her electro shock therapy.) I admired her tenacity, her undying spirit. She didn’t just give up just because her family had removed all the vodkas and gins and whiskeys from the house. I searched my house but I didn’t have any after-shave or nail polish remover or hairspray. I wasn’t very into self-grooming. Just all the other self-‘s. the damaging ones. 

I found a bottle of hand sanitizer in the guest room. I figured my mother had probably left it. I had read online, earlier in the week, when I still had my laptop, that hand sanitizer, the average 240 ml container, contains an amount of alcohol equal to five shots of liquor. Of course, hand sanitizer, like rubbing alcohol, contains isopropyl alcohol, rather than the normal ethyl kind found in hard liquor and cold medicines and vanilla extract, and isopropyl can fuck up your stomach or intestines or liver pretty quickly, allegedly, according to the internet. I read about a guy who bought a 32 ounce bottle of pure vanilla extract for $50. Vanilla extract is about 70 proof, just under vodka and rum. And lemon extract is 170 proof. I guess teenagers don’t know that, though, or they’d probably be putting lemon extract in their Starbucks rather than vanilla. I thought about how I’d once made the Muslim neighbors a cake with almond and vanilla extracts instead of Grand Marnier because they won’t drink alcohol and how, really, they were ingesting just as much alcohol if not more with the extracts than with the Grand Marnier, that it was more a matter of appearances, rather than of real hard scientific data. But they were fine with it, with the extracts, and: “I wouldn’t eat it if it was made with Grand Marnier,” so, fine, whatever. Everyone makes their choices in life. 

I opened the hand sanitizer. I made the mistake of smelling it first. I wanted to know what it felt like to be a middle-aged politician’s wife: Betty Ford, Kitty Dukakis, Mary Kennedy, et al. Lonely. I knew that’s how it felt. I felt lonely, too. Isolated. Alone the greater part of the night and day in an oversized American house.  I wished for oblivion, also. I took a casual swig from the plastic bottle, tried to will it down my throat without tasting it like a wad of come. I didn’t have a chaser. I ran to the kitchen for water. After that I opened the spice cupboard. I didn’t have lemon extract but I still had the almond and vanillas. Now that I thought about it, I remembered something about almond extract being 90 proof. I took a big swig from the almond bottle and without thinking, a bigger swig from the vanilla. I’d read, somewhere (online, probably; where else?), also, that NBA users were more prone to polydrug ‘misuse’ – that’s how it was worded – and to having antisocial personality disorders. I didn’t know how an antisocial personality disorder was defined or if I had one. I just wanted to be alone and then to complain about being alone, or lonely. 

I drank all the vanilla and almond extracts, some mouthwash, a little more of the hand sanitizer, puked a bit or a lot (I can’t remember) into the sink, and lay down on the kitchen floor the way a teenage boy I had admired had passed out on a kitchen floor in high school. He’d had slim hips and the most beautiful cock. I’d been drunk but not as drunk as him. He didn’t remember me the next Monday at school but I remembered him. I remembered his beautiful cock. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I stalked him the rest of the year but he never let me see his cock again. Or I was never able to get him drunk (enough) again (no matter how many times I tried). I had to rely on less beautiful boys with less beautiful cocks ... Troy Hanson, Scott Druthers, et al. 


I wasn’t eating, either. Not eating was another version of self-punishment, of alleviating the mounting pressure inside me. I was reading a biography of Johnny Cash, also. Johnny was seemingly losing weight the entire book due to his amphetamine addiction and his first wife, Vivian, got down to 95 pounds through worrying about Johnny (his amphetamines and his women), subsisting on a diet of coffee and cigarettes, waiting on her husband to come home. I didn’t have an amphetamine addiction or a husband. I wasn’t waiting on anybody. (Johnny didn’t come home.)

I was in the #9 booth with Three Days Grace playing when I started to lose consciousness. I grabbed a tighter hold of the straps like the time I almost passed out on the subway, or the time I almost blacked out on a Disney monorail. I waited til the black out sparkly lights passed, then got down on my knees, the fans and heat and Three Days Grace whirring around me, to say a little prayer. 

On the way out of the tanning salon the same young woman from before – Lisa Marie - was walking in. We were living our lives in exact opposition. Or in reverse. Some Charlie Kaufman shit. I don’t know but I tried smiling at her again and when that didn’t work, I touched her lightly on the shoulder. I was still feeling lightheaded. She turned to look at me. I recognized something in her face: desperation, I guess it was. Or maybe it was hunger. I liked the way her collarbone was highlighted by her eating disorder. It was like looking in a mirror. I didn’t know exactly what to say to her once she turned around. I hadn’t thought it through. I didn’t walk around with lines ready for women. I said something completely obvious and ridiculous like, “I’m new to town. Is there a bar or strip club you can recommend?” I quickly mumbled a “sorry,” also. I tried not to look threatening. I tried to will my face into friendliness. 

Remarkably, she told me the name and address of a strip club. I walked to my car reciting the name and address in my head. I felt a new sort of excitement for the future. 


Her name wasn’t really Lisa Marie, though. It was something like Cindy or Breslin. I forget. I asked if I could call her Lisa Marie and she shrugged. “Call me whatever you want.” So I rechristened her Lisa Marie, like Elvis’s private plane. She took me in back, to the VIP section. It was Wednesday, she said, so a three-song lap dance was only $50. I gave her a hundred, anyway. I didn’t want to skimp on the money because I didn’t want her to skimp on the dances. I wanted her feeling as financially indebted to me as possible. She was topless and her breasts were on the small side, which I liked. I liked small breasts with large areolas, and Lisa Marie had those, too. 

“I like girls, too,” she said. I didn’t know if she meant me: if I was a girl. She leaned forward. She was straddling me and her groin was pushing against the seam of the crotch of my jeans in a way I didn’t dislike. I recognized her scent as a combination of the chemical smell of the tanning booth and Victoria’s Secret’s Pink Coconut body lotion and spray. I didn’t mind that I had on all my clothes and she was wearing only a tiny thong that left her ass exposed. I didn’t mind when she rubbed or grinded into different places on my body with that ass, but I did nothing to encourage it. I was the customer so it was okay to sit passively.

She leaned closer, grazed my mouth with her tit first and then her lips. 

“Is that allowed? I don’t want you to get into trouble,” I said. There were cameras all over the room.

“Don’t worry about it; I know what I’m doing,” she said. Then she stuck another titty on my mouth. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I didn’t do anything. 

Before I left she gave me her number. I stared at it. I didn’t know what to do with it, either. I didn’t have a phone to enter it into. Lisa Marie thought this was hysterical.

“Who the fuck doesn’t have a cell phone in 2019? Jesus Christ!”

“I told you – I have one, just not on me.”


“Really, …”


Lisa Marie didn’t believe me. Lisa Marie gave me a long hug, told me to come back soon. “I like you,” she said. I knew she was full of shit, that it was just the hundred dollars and then the other fifty I’d given her on top of that – why she was saying this, but I didn’t care. I had more hundreds and fifties. Or I could get them. 


I was in the basement, again, this time feeding the axolotls. The axolotls were these cute, little, pink, alien-looking salamanders from some lake in Mexico who lived their entire life in water. They also retained their larval features – external gills, caudal fin – their entire lives. They never matured like other amphibians. Also, according to Pr, they’re critically endangered. Pr told me they might not even exist in the wild, anymore. Or there may be a few of them hanging out in the waters somewhere in Mexico still, but scientists were unable to confirm this. 

Pr was always hanging out in the basement or kitchen with me. Whats-their-face had told me to let them know if Pr made me uncomfortable. Apparently, others had complained. But Pr was the only person at the sanctuary I could talk to without wanting to slit my wrists. 

Pr had a mass of theories and conspiracies (and no formal education): 

Pr said the exotic pet trade was the third most lucrative black market business in the world after sex trafficking and drugs. 

Pr said the reason there were so many pythons in the Everglades was because of Hurricane Andrew liberating all the exotic animal warehouses around Florida in ’92.

Pr said I wouldn’t believe the deals that had been done behind closed doors here at the sanctuary. 

“They’re not all ‘rescue animals’ and trades with other zoos as they’d have you believe, as the website maintains,” Pr said.  

Pr was helping me cut the worms in segments small enough for me to clip with a pair of medical tongs and jab in an axolotl’s mouth. Axolotls – at least the captive ones – were ineffective feeders. I don’t know - maybe they just weren’t all that hungry. When I used crickets instead of worms, half the time the crickets swam out of the axolotl’s mouth to the side of the aquarium and jumped to the floor before I could catch them. 

“It’s a multibillion dollar business,” Pr was saying. “Let me know if you wanna get in on it. I’ve got some connections. We could start with fire salamanders. People love fire salamanders.” 

Everything Pr knew was because of the internet. I didn’t know anything about fire salamanders but I said, “Okay,” anyway, just on account of how much I liked Pr. I didn’t really think we were going to start buying and selling fire salamanders. I figured whats-their-name would be really upset if they knew about all the crickets that escaped on my watch. 


I started going every Wednesday night. Then I started going on Sundays, too. The Sunday special was 30% longer dances. It was $150 for a half hour. I gave Lisa Marie $250. The extra money really encouraged a level of interest that felt good. Half the time we spent talking. We had intense conversations about Nancy Pelosi and the decriminalization of marijuana and The Notebook. Lisa Marie thought Ryan Gosling was too sensitive. 

“In that movie, at least,” she said, pausing her gyrating for a second to seriously consider Ryan Gosling. “Actually, maybe in all his movies. He’s Canadian, right?”

“I think so,” I said, even though I knew that he was.

“I just like a stronger man,” she said. “Sure, he builds that house, but then he cries in the rain.” 

I pictured the kind of man Lisa Marie might date: he looked a little like The Rock. I started to wonder if Lisa Marie had a drug problem, and if I was encouraging it with all the extra money she was making every week now because of me. She’d lost weight, her collarbone was even more pronounced, and she twitched sometimes when she danced. It didn’t matter to me. Her life was her business. I just wondered, sometimes, is all. I didn’t pass her in the hall at the tanning salon, anymore, either. She was growing increasingly pale. It went well with her black hair and purple eyes, the occasional bruising on her outer thighs and hips, the darker pigment under her eyes. She wasn’t the most beautiful woman in the world; I wondered how much longer before we got sick of each other, before I wanted to bruise her not-beautiful face, something else I couldn’t foresee. I was masturbating more, chastising myself less. I was always sufficiently aroused now. I didn’t skimp on the self-injury, though. I thought about Lisa Marie.


I had rented a storage space, gone and got my laptop and phone from the motel and moved them into storage. The storage space was climate controlled and I took my sleeping bag over, just in case. Sometimes I didn’t feel safe in the house. Or, the storage space – with all its cameras – lent a feeling of security. You weren’t supposed to smoke in your unit, but you weren’t supposed to have illegal contraband in them, either, and do you think anyone adhered to that? 


I paid Lisa Marie to cut her hair. I wanted it short and choppy like Pete Doherty’s. I paid her to cancel her breast augmentation surgery, also (I paid her double what the surgery would have cost). It had been scheduled for the following week. I bought her a suit and a porkpie hat. I figured she was buying the drugs on her own with the money I was giving her. (I was giving her hundreds a week.)  My bank account was dwindling – my ‘retirement fund’ - but I couldn’t care about that. It has been pointed out that maybe it was my intent to destroy Lisa Marie. (I felt and feel that it was my intent to destroy myself, but whatever; who was/am I to quibble?) I felt a great fetish for her facial acne and the way she tried covering it up with foundation a shade too light for her skin tone. I had a fetish for the over-application of the wrong color makeup, the unblended line at the base of the jaw. I wanted her thinner and thinner. I fetishized, also, the cocaine body, the insane druggie physique. 

Early one morning, after the club had closed and we were seated in her apartment, I paid another stripper, Janny, to shoot her up. I masturbated watching as her face changed from eager businesswoman to rockstar’s junkie girlfriend on the sidewalk outside the Viper Room. She still had on her porkpie hat, a cigarette hanging from her mouth. I wanted to shove my fist into it but I refrained. It didn’t feel right, her in this state. I watched her knees widen, her arms fall backward against the sides of the chair. A general slackness. I wanted to feel slack but I was too chickenshit. Instead, I came and drank another vodka tonic. It loosened my jaw somewhat. Later, I asked Lisa Marie to fist me. Or, more accurately, I paid her two hundred fifty to fist me. After I handed her the stack of twenties, the ten, she was only too happy to oblige. She was oh so careful about it: first one finger, then two… well, you get the idea… until she was making a duck head inside of me, shadow puppets on the walls of my vagina. I didn’t have to chastise myself. I came with Lisa Marie’s fist inside me, staring at the little wisps of junkie hair poking out from under her porkpie hat. 


There were signs on the freeway: “Asian Massage.” Two women in one day had told me about their husbands’ recent confessions six months earlier. Of course, both admitted only to hand jobs, and maybe that was all they got, though, why then the tears? The need to confess? In truth, I didn’t give a shit about the husbands. All I wanted to know was: where were the happy endings for the wives? Where did they go to get those? I felt uncertain the Asian Massage joint would oblige the women. But what did I know? Maybe no women ever asked. Maybe couples counseling was akin to conversion therapy. Cruel, I mean. Unconscionable


The Australian with the hot accent was showing me a toad. I didn’t realize yet that all toads are frogs but not all frogs are toads. I just opened the plastic bins in the basement, dropped in a couple handfuls of crickets, changed the waters. I was still an idiot. 

“You ever see one of these guys?” the Australian said. Like I alluded to, there was a large, fat toad in the Australian’s hand. I can’t remember now if it was a Colorado River toad or a cane toad. “These are the critters people lick for their hallucinatory effects. They’re quite poisonous, of course.” 

Later, Pr explained to me that both the Colorado River toad, AKA Sonoran Desert toad, and the cane toad – known on the internet as ‘Bufo toads’, had glands you could ‘milk’ for the substance that contained the bufotenin, a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance. Pr said people online claimed to dry it and smoke it. I think Pr said it contained DMT, was a tryptamine. I don’t know. Pr said a lot. It was hard to follow it all, to remember. I couldn’t tell if Pr had milked a toad’s glands or not. I kind of wanted to fuck the Australian, but the Australian was seeing the blonde who worked the concession stand on weekends. Everyone at the sanctuary said the blonde did anal. It was hard to compete with that. Not the anal part, just the blonde concession stand thing. It was like something you would search on Porn Hub. Also, whats-their-face would blow a gasket if they found out. That I’d let the Australian fuck my ass, I mean. 


I was going to have to stop going to the tanning salon. Or stop going so frequently. My tan was starting to resemble dirt, crud, scrapeable by fingernail, razorblade. I don’t know how to explain it. It just didn’t look the same as laying out in the sun slathered in baby oil, even if that was their exact claim on all their advertisements: We will make you look like you spent hours in the sun on your roof, lying on tin foil, slathered in baby oil; we guarantee you that 80s tan! I didn’t think my tan looked that 80s. I thought it looked mid90s at best. Also, the last time I’d went they’d been playing Theory of a Dead Man. I don’t know. Everyone has their line. Or their limit. I guess. 


The next time I saw Lisa Marie, I spit on her face. Not just like that. Not like you’re thinking. She’d been dancing a while, and I’d paid her extra. I hadn’t asked specifically if I could spit on her face, just as I hadn’t asked specifically if I could shove one of my leather gloves in her mouth in order to watch her eyes water, either, but I’d paid extra. A lot extra. So we had an understanding. An agreement. The understanding was I could do whatever I wanted. She had burn holes on her arms now, too. It was all very satisfying in a horribly bleak way. But then, living the straight life was bleak, too. There was no getting around the bleakness of living. You either put on a bandana or you didn’t. And I put on my bandana. It was blue. 


I’d read an interview with a famous actor in which the famous actor talked, famously, about losing a large amount of weight for a role. The famous actor talked about how his body moved, after the large amount of weight loss, in ways he’d never felt it move before, in ways he didn’t think it possible. I suspect he meant he felt a liberation, in his new body, in his thinness. This is something people don’t talk about. One of the perks of anorexia. All the ways your body can move. How tightly you can roll into a ball in a corner of your closet, for instance. How compact you can make yourself on the floor of a car. Til you’re almost not even here. til almost no one can see you. til you almost find your oblivion. Like Kitty Dukakis and her NBA’s. Like that. I was just doubling down. I was paying strippers to be my friend. It felt good. We all sat at the bar after closing and did tequila shots together (because one of the strippers claimed tequila wasn’t an antidepressant like all other liquors; I didn’t argue). It didn’t feel any different. Or it felt better, because I knew as long as I kept giving them money, they weren’t going anywhere. They didn’t have any place better to be. Then Theory of a Deadman came on and shit got real, quick. 3 a.m. Theory of a Deadman strip club real. We got the fuck out of there, I mean. We went back to Lisa Marie’s and the girls did more drugs while I watched. I’d used the ATM in the strip club on the way out. I didn’t care about the extra fee. It was a convenience fee. It meant I didn’t have to stop at a different ATM on the way to Lisa Marie’s and miss out on any of the drug-taking. So I was fine with that. That was true convenience. 


The thing about the tegu was she wasn’t venomous like the Gila monster. There was a special key for the Gila monster’s tank and only whats-their-face had it. I’d read online that a Gila monster had never killed a ‘healthy human.’ Was that supposed to be comforting? Or dissuading? Was I supposed to be healthy? Dissuaded?

Anyway, I didn’t have the key.

So I opened the tegu’s enclosure. Like I said, she wasn’t venomous. She was just a fucking raging lunatic. She lunged at my arm quicker than shit. Whats-their-face must have forgotten to feed her again. She clamped down and didn’t let go. I could feel the tiny bones of my hands crunching. Or maybe I could hear them. All my senses were mixed together like in a good drug experience. Or a memorable sexual assault. I’d read a tegu bite is on par with a Doberman’s, up to1,000 newtons of force. 

I don’t know how I got my hand free or how the tegu didn’t end up sailing across the kitchen once I did. I remember some bashing or attempted bashing on my part, of her head against the glass walls of her enclosure, in an effort to get her to release. I remember some thrashing on her part, a shaking of her head back and forth, my hand still clamped in her mouth, in an effort to consume or kill it, I suppose. I was probably in shock. I don’t know how the enclosure got locked or how my hand was freed or any of it. I remember very quickly there were blood droplets on the tile, amongst the hamster litter and cockroaches and mice shit. My skin was red and yellow, bruised, bleeding.  A perfect dental impression of the tegu’s mouth was on my hand. According to the internet, I was lucky to have all my fingers. 

I’m not gonna lie, I felt elated. I couldn’t stop looking at my hand all night. It was so much more interesting and beautiful than a cigarette burn. It hurt so much worse. It felt more personal.  I got myself off six times with my other. 

Obviously, whats-their-face let me go; saying I wasn’t careful enough. No shit, Sherlock. I had to wait for Pr to text me. I didn’t have Pr’s number but Pr had mine. 


When I finally checked my phone there were zero new calls and five new texts. 

Four of the texts were from my stalker:

you are about as indie as The Strokes

your books have all been written before, society is just slow to catch up

in Buddhism we are taught to thank those who have wronged us

Thank you, Elizabeth



The fifth text was from Pr asking me, again, if I wanted to go in on the fire salamanders. 

“Ppl are crazy for them. theyre so hot rn,” Pr said. “I know where to get em.” 

I didn’t doubt Pr knew. 

“Later we could go in on sum monkey-tails & sloths,” Pr texted. 

I didn’t know how to reply to Pr. I knew monkey-tails were skinks; we had some at the sanctuary. One of them tried to bite me, once, too. I don’t know why that time my instinct was to resist. I just sat, staring at my phone.

I had on my blue bandana. I was in the tub. I was holding my hand that’d been bitten out of the water. That hand had a cigarette in it. I thought about asking Pr if we could go in on a tegu or a Gila monster. I wasn’t done with the damage. Lisa Marie wasn’t working at the club anymore but I still had her number. I still had some money in the bank. Things weren’t too bad. As long as you still had a little money in the bank. 


I choked Lisa Marie. Or Lisa Marie choked me. Does it matter? Either way, I paid. Does it matter? Which of us choked which of us? I don’t think it matters. As long as I paid. 

Some female essayist had decided for all females that Jean Rhys wasn’t relevant anymore, that writing about self-destruction (by women) wasn’t allowed anymore, that we should all straighten up and be stronger and be better and stop wallowing. 

The female essayist had quit drinking and got her shit together and now the rest of us should too, she said. The rest of us were making her look bad, or making women look bad, or something. Just like my stepfather had said about us women supporting Tiger Woods. I guess we are all just idiots – us women who still drank and wrote about it and didn’t want Tiger Woods to fail. 

I thought Jean Rhys was probably laughing in her grave. I thought: no one will give two shits about your writing in fifty years, when I thought about the female essayist. I thought: what the fuck is even your name


Pr got us a pair of Colorado River toads. We sat in Prs living room staring at them through the glass. (It goes without saying Pr’s apartment was a shithole. A Tarantino movie set idea of a Midwestern shithole: stacks of empty beer cans on the counter forming a pyramid, pizza boxes on the floor next to the trash can, fish tanks and terrariums filled with piranhas, bearded dragons, tarantulas, corn snakes, rat snakes, etc., lining three of the walls of the living room.) Pr had promised he was going to milk them; we were going to ‘trip out’ smoking their dried milk. But so far we just sat there, staring. I figured shit would happen in due time. There was no rush. I’d stopped at the drug store for two of those tall beers the old lady had bought, two mini bottles of cheap whiskey. I was smoking menthols now. I was ripping off the filters. Pr was on the internet. Shit would happen soon.


I took my laptop and phone to another cheap motel, this one an hour north. I thought I would be less likely to stop by to check my phone that way. I thought: each time I do this I will have to drive further and further. I will have to drive to Canada, some day.

It was nine thirty in the evening when I got off the highway, when I pulled into the parking lot. I opened the door to the lobby. There was a tiny entryway area. You couldn’t go any further. The main lobby door was closed and a sign on it read: “Locked after 5 pm.” A man was standing in front of me and between him and the woman working was a panel of glass. Or a window. I don’t know how to describe it. Like when you stop at a gas station late at night to buy cigarettes. Everything has to be slid under the glass. Money. Cigarettes. Credit cards. Your signature …When it was my turn, the woman asked, “Since you’re staying a long time, honey, do you need a first floor room or would you rather be around front?” She elongated the word front. She seemed to be implying something. She was white and I was white and everyone else who came in was black and she seemed to be implying something. 

“I just want you to be happy, honey,” she said, elongating the word happy. “Since you’re staying so long.” And by happy she seemed to mean something. 



“I believe art in its most radical form is done completely without purpose. Earlier in my work, I would create things in that way – without any purpose whatsoever. Later though, I would trade this work for ways to survive and ways to have access. I noticed then that there was some purpose driving me which felt dependent on the public. That all became uncomfortable. There is no purpose to my work now and the public has no part in it.” 

-Vincent Gallo, Another Man essay 




People don’t make you feel like shit when you spend five hundred dollars on cocaine. No one says, “Wow, you could have given that money to the homeless; you could have helped a lot of people.” 

I waste money on motel rooms. So I won’t know when you text me and when you don’t. (And by ‘you’ I mean ‘the literary world’ - fuck you.)  


I have a feeling this would all be so much easier if I liked cocaine. 

(People would like me, I mean. Everyone would want to party with me, like Whitney, because I would have cocaine. And I could die in a bathtub. And there would be a coroner’s report.)




(No one else will tell you this but your books are boring as shit.)