Excerpt from “Stray Passages:
My time in San Francisco lasted a little over a month and would have been even shorter if not for Diana. I arrived and decided to check into a hostel in North Beach. I picked North Beach probably because of the connection to Kerouac, I don’t remember. I stayed in a dorm-style room and one of my four roommates was a guy named Bill from Boston. He had a shock of frizzy hair and wore glasses that were taped in the middle. He reminded me of Dave Mustaine, the singer from Megadeth. We both liked to drink: I was an Olde English guy, and he went in for Mickey’s and Ballantines, so the two of us, and his traveling companion, Tracy, wound up doing a lot of drinking together. Bill would say he was a bum and a drunk and he planned on being those things as best and as long as he could. Tracy was in art school in Boston, but was taking a semester off.
One night she showed me some of her work, which had a dark and morbid feel, sort of like Tim Burton off his meds if Tim Burton were on meds which I don’t know if he is. I was kind of attracted to Tracy, who had long dark hair and an elfin face with bright open eyes, and since she had made it a point to inform me that she and Bill had been boyfriend and girlfriend but weren’t anymore, I thought something might happen between us but it never did. I could tell that Bill was still really hung up on her and there was this sweetness to Bill that made you never want to do anything that might hurt him.
Several days after I got to San Francisco it was Halloween, and Bill and Tracy made themselves up as car accident victims, complete with blood and gore, and I let several of the girls in the hostel dress me in drag and a bunch of us went to the Halloween parade in the Castro. Much of my memory from that night is fuzzy, but I do remember being perched on a mailbox, which is where me and Diana met.
Mail-order bride, she said, referring to both my outfit and the postal box beneath my ass.
Yes . . . lick a stamp, stick it on my forehead, and I’m all yours.
Diana was dressed as the ever-popular slave-bondage Princess Leia. She was short and busty with copper-skin and a full bushel of dark curly hair.
You make a very pretty girl, she said, then: Which way do you swing?
Depends on my options, I said, then quickly added: No, I’m straight.
Good, she said, and that was how things got started between me and Diana.
Diana started hanging out with me, Bill and Tracy. Bill had gone against his bumming principles and gotten a job as a barista at a coffeehouse. He hated the morning hours as he was always doing battle with epic hangovers. Tracy said she planned on finishing school then coming back to live, probably in Berkeley, where her friend Nicole was. I had applied for temp work, but as would happen throughout most of my travels during my life, I only put half-assed energy into finding work. I had no desire to work. It destroyed the dream-quality of the cities I was in and how I related to them. Still, I was running low on money and needed to do something. Except for the one day I put in as a temp doing clerical work in an office, which netted me around $50, I adopted Bill’s bumming principle, which he wasn’t living up to, and stopped looking for work. Three weeks in, I ran out of money and that’s when Diana came to my rescue. Even though she and I weren’t an item, we hadn’t even kissed, she took me in because: I was a writer and she believed in me. This was the first time in my life I had experienced this: the fact that I wrote, and that she liked or believed in what I wrote, was at least partially responsible for getting me free room and board.
She said I could stay with her in her dorm room in Mills College in Oakland. Until I got on my feet. But her hospitality made me want to stay down. She would attend classes during the day and at night we would either go out to eat or cook in her room. She said we were both lucky, because her father, who was a heart surgeon, had given her a credit card with unlimited funds, so he was footing the bill for the two of us. Diana was Turkish and said that her father, who was a pretty traditional Muslim, would be pretty pissed if he found out she was paying the way for some unemployed Catholic-Italian writer. She seemed to enjoy the idea of this, so maybe she was trying to strike back at her father for reasons she never talked about.
Then came the Thanksgiving blow-out which ended everything. It actually started on the night before Thanksgiving, when she and I watched a film together and drank beer and champagne. We were both pretty drunk and sitting on her bed, facing one another, infected with a serious case of champagne giggles, which then turned sexual as she told me: We should have sex.
Diana was a virgin and said she was saving herself for the right moment, the right guy, and all that. Which I respected, especially since I didn’t think I was the right guy. I liked Diana, enjoyed her company and conversation, but wasn’t gutturally attracted to her. When she suggested sex, I reminded her about waiting for the right guy, the right moment, and she said: Fuck that. This is the right moment. You’re the right guy for this moment. Don’t you like me?
Yea, I like you, I said.
But you don’t want to go out with me?
We do go out, almost every night.
No, seriously. You’re not into me like that, right?
I knew this moment was coming and had tried, with the desperate strength of a coward, to push it out of my mind as often as I could.
I like you Diana, but you know….
No, I don’t. Tell me.
My alcohol high, and its power as a liberator, had met its match. I had to tell the truth.
You’re not really my type, I said. You’re just . . . not my type.
Diana nodded. Her eyes seemed heavy with hurt.
Well, she said, in a very serious tone, for tonight, if you want to have sex with me, just pretend that you like me.
I like you, Diana—
Pretend that you like me like that. Just while we’re hooking up.
I can’t do that, I said.
You can’t even do that, she practically shouted, her eyes getting big.
No, I mean I can do it, if you want me to….
Forget it, she said. Just forget the whole thing.
Okay, I said.
We sat quietly for a minute.
Then Diana said: You should probably go sleep in the other room.
The other room belonged to Gail, her roommate, who had gone back to D.C. to visit her family.
I nodded and went to the other room.
A half-hour later, I heard Diana sobbing, loudly. When I didn’t respond, either by asking her if she was okay or by going in the room to check on her, her sobbing got louder. Which pissed me off, as I now felt she was trying to manipulate me with her tears. If she cried long enough and loud enough I would be forced to go into the room to check on her. It was what any decent person would do. But I felt cold inside and the more she cried the colder I felt, receding deeper and deeper into myself. Fuck it, I thought: this is who you are—a bum, a freeloader, an ingrate, a cruel bastard. I didn’t necessarily want to be those things but part of me, the devilish part, got a kick out of being those things, or at least thinking of myself in those ways. Back then, I thought being a dick made me powerful and immune to all kinds of stuff, and didn’t realize it just made me a dick.
Anyway, Diana fell asleep crying, I fell asleep cold and silent. The next day, we still had the Thanksgiving dinner she had been planning, as she said she didn’t want the food to go to waste, and we both agreed I would leave as soon as possible. Two days later, a couple of friends from my neighborhood and a few family members, pooled together enough money for a bus ticket and wired it to me. Three more days on Greyhound and I was back in Bensonhurst.