27 March 2009

Not Total Recall, Thank You

tToday Bruce and I were walking around SoHo, the neighborhood in which he works. I worked there, too, many years ago: half my lifetime ago. He has known me through all of those years; the only people in my life now who've known me longer are members of my family.

We passed a store called Sur la Table on Spring and Crosby Streets. Back in the day, I worked there, except that it wasn't Sur la Table. In fact, the vast majority of the stores, restaurants and people there today weren't there back when I was working in the neighborhood.

The building in which Sur la Table sells trendy kitchen chotchkes to trendy people who eat in trendy restaurants once housed American Youth Hostels. I worked for them for about two years. During that time, they moved into what is now Sur la Table. Before that, it was located in a loft space that wasn't very lofty, near the other end of Spring Street. Back in those days, there were still artists--real ones--living and working in that neighborhood. And my co-workers consisted of burnouts, dropouts, hippies who didn't know or care that it was the 1980's and an old Greenwich Village denizen turned new Greenwich Village denizen. Yippie to Yuppie, in other words. And, oh yeah, there was a self-proclaimed pacifist who listened to WBAI yet quoted Frantz Fanon.

In other words, it was just the place for me. I didn't stand out: I was just a depressed, repressed (self-repressed, actually) transgender who dared not speak her name and lived through advancing stages of alcohol dependency. Except, I didn't dress female in public, except for the Halloween parade and out of sight of anybody I knew. And I never missed work because of my drinking. OK, maybe a day or two. Or three or four. Besides, I usually had food with my alcohol.

And what kind of food was that? Usually, a small loaf of bread from the Vesuvio bakery and a piece of cheese from one of the delis. So, when I drank my wine (or, sometimes, beer) with it, I wasn't being a drunk, I was being European--specifically, French. And it was, and is, my right.

Vesuvio's has moved to a block near the Bowery. Bruce and I passed it, and that is what started my reverie of memories. I mentioned those picnic lunches during my AYH days; the way he looked at me, I knew he was thinking about the booze. I mentioned it, and he said, "It's so good that you quit."

"Yes. Testosterone and alcohol isn't such a good combination sometimes, is it?"

"Not for you, it wasn't."

"So now I'm full of estrogen and caffeine."

"That's why you get giddy sometimes."

In mock protest, I squealed, "No, it's the hormones."

"Always the hormones." We laughed.

Then, over lunch we talked about people we knew and haven't seen in years. What are they like now? Have they become people neither of us could have imagined? Or people they themselves could not have imagined?

"I guess we're all surprised at how we turn out," I volunteered.

He nodded. "I remember all the anger you used to have. You carried it in your shoulders."

"I'm still angry sometimes."

"Not like you used to be."

"Back when I had a beard..."

His eyes widened. "That's right! I almost forgot that you had a beard."

Then I mentioned that yesterday I was talking to someone I hadn't seen in a while and didn't recall that I had a beard. Carlos used to own a bike shop on 7th Avenue and 26th Street, if I remember correctly. I recall that it was between the Fashion Institute of Technology campus, where I was teaching at the time, and the old Veterans' Administration hospital and offices. Today he owns a shop in the next neighborhood over from mine. I needed a chain for my commuter bike, so I paid him a visit.

We also did a bit of reminiscing. He asked what I've been up to, and, for the first time, I mentioned my upcoming surgery. In fact, it's the first time I've said anything at all about my transition. Surely he's seen me change, but he never mentioned it--until I did yesterday.

He looked at me from head to toe. "You're so much better now."

"Well, I'm not in as good physical shape. I'm nowhere near as good a rider."

"Who is?"

"True enough. But I've been such a slacker."

"I'm sure you have a lot on your plate."

"Well," I said, "it's what I need to do."

"And look at you. You look so much better!"


"Yes. You're radiant. And you can hold such a good conversation."

"Oh, I wouldn't go back."

"Of course not."

"If I did, I'd have to grow a beard," I quipped.

He tapped his head and thought for a minute. "That's right. You did have a beard--a red one. I almost forgot. It's hard to imagine you ever had it."

Have other people forgotten? I wonder what else they may have forgotten. Or what I've forgotten.