Monday, August 3, 2009

blast from the past

This post is at the request of J, who writes a blog called "Highly Irritable" about her life as a full-time student, mother and eater of all things gourmet. Her writing makes me laugh so hard my eyes tear. My personal fave is this one about jamming to her iPod while walking in public. I too sing along as I saunter the city sidewalks. Although instead of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Devil Went Down to Georgia," I prefer more modern hits like "If you seek Amy." I'm still not sure why, but I get a lot of phone numbers that way...

Anyway, I alluded to this tale in the third part of my "Parents" series but didn't really elaborate. So here ya go.

I studied abroad in Ireland my junior year of college since the classes were so overwhelming (overwhelmed with hangovers, that is), Samantha P. and I took a three-week vacation. We started in Germany and ended in Spain. Mid-trip, we visited Italy. Instead of finding lip-syncing heart throbs like Lizzie McQuire, we just found one woman. Who used to be a man. And screamed. Through the night.

This story has little to do with our upbringings, our differences or how many snow shovels it takes to get out of our driveways. Nay, this is a story that unites us. Nary a city girl nor a country bumpkin, this story is about common ground and common humanity. It's the kind of tale that makes you hold hands with your neighbor and say: that s--t is wack.

6:39 p.m.

It all started when we arrived at our Roman hostel. We didn't get there until after 11 p.m. so we figured we could just check-in, check our e-mail and check out for the evening. With drowsy arms and hair infused with enough grease to give a girl a heart attacke, I hauled my suitcase to my room and flipped the light.

It was the wrong one.

In European buildings, lights to bathrooms, bedrooms or living spaces are customarily on the outside. So in this case, I left someone in the dark mid-stream -- which is almost as bad as peeing outside.

WHOOPS, so sorry, I said, over-exaggerating as this was a hostel. A hostile hostel, in fact. In hostels, you have to be especially careful not to offend someone as you may wake up in the middle of the night with your roommate standing above you wielding scissors in her hands.
With that happy thought, I put my bags down, unfolded my sheets and noticed two girls chilling in the same twin-size mattress, not like they were cuddling, like they were scared. They were like my dark raven: a preamble to what would be...

When the pee-er was through, she opened the door and furrowed her eyes upon me the way I imagine Ms. Trunchbull furrowed at Matilda. I felt scared, small and like I had to pee too... oh wait, I already had... on myself.

Apparently for transvestites, if you have to mark your gender (since our hostel was split as such) you just check your first preference.

I apologized for leaving her in the dark, but she just stared at me... and crawled into her bed... directly beneath mine. And as I left, she cried.

And so did I.

I couldn't check my e-mail without Samantha P. (my former roommate and current traveling buddy) because I was all out of cash, but I couldn't stay in my bed. The SOBBING TRANSVESTITE was there.

And not only that, but the room was Na-Row. As in, bed-3 foot hallway-wall. Not exactly a place to hang and mingle.

So, I walked to Samantha and with eyes the size of the Coliseum (i.e., the girl-way of saying "Do as I say and don't ask why") and asked her to please hurry.

Samantha said I was insane and asked, in a volume even turtles can hear, WHY DO WE NEED TO HURRY?

She might as well taken my clothes of and hung me upside down in Vatican City. Right next to Pope Ben. Far less embarrassing.

The time lapse between the sobbing she-man and the departure to e-mail felt like I had conceived, given birth to and watched the high school graduation of my first child. However, we finally escaped room F06.

I explained the situation to Sam, but she didn't seem to think it that big o' deal.

Ok, chill out Kate, she said. Check your e-mail, fiddle with facebook, the he/she'll be asleep when you get back.

An hour and a half later I returned to F06 with a pillow in my hands and a bawling roommate in my bunk.

"Oh my gawd. OH my GAWD!" she screamed to no one in particular as I stood, mouth agape in the doorway.

"Are you ok? Are you OK?" I asked her.

No reply.

I didn't know what to do, so I sought the solace of the man at the front desk.

"Umm, my roommate is screaming and crying and I don't know what to do. Can I please change rooms, she's scaring me," I said, pale-faced and trembling and possibly still smelling of urine.

Immediately the kind receptionist knew to whom I was referring but told me the hostel was full. He said the patrons had problems with her the night before. She cries, but she isn't dangerous, he said.

Had it not been for the Canada goose that flew in my mouth, as is was so wide it could accommodate one, I'd have said WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NIGHT BEFORE?? Instead, Samantha joined us. And again, appeared much calmer than me.

Samantha gave me the impression she and Heather/Stephen (as that's what the woman called herself, depending on the situation) had talked about why she was upset, apparently while getting facial surgery (in some country I've never heard of) the doctors mutilated her face and wouldn't let her leave the hospital. She wanted to go back to the U.S. but had no money, no family and no friends.

Feeling like the hugest b-word in Western Europe, I remembered reading a newspaper story about a man who became a woman and how he'd always felt like he was born of the wrong body. Many challenges are difficult, but usually we have someone or can find someone who has undergone something akin to our own suffering. Those people find strength and hope from someone's similar suckiness. This person didn't, and likely wouldn't, have that. I felt sorry for her. I felt more sorry when coworkers and friends made fun of her and how gross/unnatural/selfish her choice was. And maybe changing genders is. But her choice wasn't mine to decide, and it wasn't mine to judge. After reading that article, I meet one transvestite and nearly peed my pants. Two words: get over it, I told myself.

And on another note-- no, Sam didn't have a conversation with the woman beneath me. Not ever. The truth was, Sam spoke to another roommate of ours, one who had made my bukmate's acquaintance the night before. So here I am, beating myself up for the woman who just might beat me up.

Anyways, Sam and I returned to F06, together, as I would not enter ALONE (despite my newfound compassion) and climbed into bed.

Since everyone else was asleep, we decided we'd sleep in our jeans... again.

(Note: Sam and I travelled to Italy on a ferry that treated its passengers like cattle, expecting them to sleep outside with torrential rains and hurricane-like winds all the while bed and blanket-less. For the two day trip, we'd barely managed to find a water spicket to brush our teeth, let alone an entire bathroom, changing area or broom closet to switch-out our clothes. Sleeping in denim in unpleasant, especially if you've worn/slept in the same pair three days in a row.)

I had some trouble climbing to my top bunk as I couldn't swing my leg as high in jeans... and I wasn't about to ask my bunkmate for a boost.
SWING, SWING, went my leg, conking the aluminum pole and falling short of its intended destination. (Remember, it's pitch black, everyone is sleeping, and a former man with a scrunci in his hair rests below me)
Sam..., I said in a whisper, what do I do? SWING. CONK.
Just, she stuttered, you gotta... she said, pushing my behind like a stubborn Volvo in freshly fallen snow.
It's not... SWING I can't do it SWING SWING CONK.
Yes, you can. PUUUUUSH.
I felt like I climbed Mount Everest. Had it not been for the snoozing she-male, I may have stuck a flag in my mattress and summoned Sam to take a picture. Elevation: 6 feet.
I took off my shoes, covered my head with blankets and cuddled with my purse. It was no Winnie the Pooh, but she-man didn't seem the type to share.

I didn't know where Heather/Stephen was.... sleeping or in the bathroom, so I laid awake, waiting...

I thought I'd felt movement and then I knew did because she hurdled herself like a Golden Retriever with nightmares.

Soon, I could hear the sound of her sleeper's breath, so I felt safe enough to get some sleep of my own.

Within an hour, she was hurdling herself around again and soon it was back to the "Oh my Gawd, OH my GAWWWDS!" The show carried on like this with several encores, but few intermissions, which meant no sleep for me.

The highlight of the performance was when she started saying, "I can't believe it, I just CAN'T believe it!" and left the room.

I could hear her crying to the guy at the front desk. I was hoping he'd kick her out, but she returned. I later learned she asked to speak to the American embassy, when he said that wasn't possible, she screamed Oh my GAWD some more. He asked her to be quiet as the entire hostel was sleeping, but she said she was crying and that was how it had to be.

She came back to the room, it being 4 a.m. by now and thrashed herself around some more. I don't think she screamed much after that, but it didn't matter, she wasn't sleeping so neither was I.

Samantha got up at 6 a.m. and showered. I'd have joined her so we could see Rome earlier, but I was too scared to climb off my bed.

When she returned, wearing something not three days old, I grew jealous enough to face my fears.

I hopped down, grabbed my suitcase and booked it to the bathroom because I HAD to pee -- this time in a toilet. And, because I was afraid she'd grab me like one of those arms in the thriller movies that you KNOW is coming but you still jump out of your seat anyways. (And if you're like my Aunt Bev, you flail your cupped fists at the scream, punching at the bad guys and b--ch-slapping their faces-- yeah THAT arm)

Hostel bathrooms, especially showers, don't have room for a suitcase but this one did and I was thankful I didn't have to rummage around in it with Heather/Stephen glaring at me. I'm no fighter, but I know enough not to risk it with a person who voluntarily takes a jackknife to his... er... face?

As I was straightening my hair in the hallway, Heather/Stephen called the embassy and was not bashful about yelling at them with the whole world (quite literally) listening.

In a high-pitched voice: "This is Heather and I've been TRAUMATIZED... uh huh, uh huh, well if you can't help me, get me a supervisor who can!"
Insert low-pitched voice: "Hello. This is Stephen..."

She'd ben traumatized, you see, and all the Americans could do was send her on a discounted flight to San Francisco. A very expensive city, especially for someone on social security. She screamed, she cried, and I applied mascara. Soon, it was time to go.

We saw the Colosseum and some of Rome's ancient ruins, but who cares? Why see the world when you have this kind of entertainment four feet beneath you?

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