Ten Percent on a Good Day

[Two weeks after moving to the Farm, I received a green wristband signifying my place at the bottom of the Zendik pyramid; I got bopped from above a week later.]

Though Sundays weren’t sabbaths at the Farm, they did start off more slowly than other days. The goat milkers trudged up the hill an hour later, the cooks served brunch instead of breakfast, the bunks in the barn loft stayed full of slumbering bundles an hour longer. On this particular Sunday, in mid-November, the Farm groaned into motion even more slowly than usual. I used the temporal windfall to lie in my bunk and write in my journal, then wander down to the Farmhouse to snag a few of the wild persimmons about to drop in lush vermilion goo-splats onto the driveway. I savored the unaccustomed hours to myself, even as I wondered at the preternatural quite. Was I the only one on the Farm not groggy with a hangover? Continue reading

Weakness Leaving the Body

[At Zendik, Cayta (not her real name) often played the hanging judge to my cowering victim; we all had our roles. But she could also be kind, and when I think of her now it’s with admiration, and love.]

In fall 2002, Cayta and I sold the Big Spring jam together, in Huntsville, Alabama. Late one morning, biding our time till we could sell under crowd-cover, we roamed over to the booth manned by Marines recruiters. Its main attraction was a pull-up bar on which you could test your strength for prizes. Men had to do twenty pull-ups in a row to win the highest prize; women had to hang from the bar – arms curled under it, chin thrust above it – for sixty seconds. Hoping the challenge would prime me for a power selling day, I stepped up to the bar. Continue reading

Joe Namath and a Toad

[When I left Zendik in September 2004, I remained a true believer. For more than a year, I executed “Deathculture” fantasies in hopes of preparing myself to return and commit for good. One of those fantasies was running a personal ad.]

“Good-looking, fit SWF, 28, seeks fit SM under 45 for dating and other adventures. Let’s ride the cosmic Ferrari* really fast; you can shift and I’ll steer and work the brakes and gas.”

Thus runs the personal ad I have placed in the Chico News & Review. The man I’m about to meet—the first to respond to said ad—has told me on the phone he looks like Joe Namath— Continue reading

Miami Phish, New Year’s 2003

[In late December 2003, after breaking up with the man I saw as my last best hope for lasting love, I went selling with an all-girl crew to Miami. Surrender, exhaustion, and lack of a boyfriend opened me to a few precious nights in flow.]

Growing up in Brooklyn I knew what to expect every year, two days after Christmas: my favorite dinner of no-frills macaroni and cheese with ketchup; a homemade chocolate cake with the legend “Happy Birthday Helen” looped in purple, green and orange goop over a thick crust of chocolate icing; and a handmade card garnishing whichever cheap metal-plastic aggregate I was currently lusting after—a clock radio, a curling iron, a red-white-and-blue accordion like the one the rabbit-eared urchin in Gummo plays while perching forlorn on a toilet. I sprang awake at dawn on birthday mornings, eager to start my span of being special, and greet my personal new age.

On December 27th, 2003—the day I turn twenty-seven—I bolt out of my sleeping bag for a different reason: Continue reading

The Trailer

[At Zendik Farm, sick people – “sickies” – were quarantined, that is, exiled to the trailer or a date space, supposedly to prevent them from infecting others. Quarantine did not prevent illness from spreading. But it did have side effects.]

Being quarantined in the trailer is hell in some ways, heaven in others. It’s hell because, after years of being around people constantly, you’re all alone. You have no one to talk to, and you can never be sure what people are saying about you. You never know when there might be a knock on the door, heralding a “friend” bearing news of the definitive—and bad—psychic cause of your illness. Continue reading

Zendiks vs. Christians in New Orleans

[Mardi Gras was one Zendik’s biggest money-makers. Each year, a passel of us descended on New Orleans and sold ourselves silly. Fanatics of other stripes also saw opportunity. In early 2000, after I’d been at the Farm for a few months and sold a handful of far tamer scenes, I begged a chance at the big time.]

New Orleans doesn’t eat me alive, as Rayel predicted, but it does present me with new forces to be reckoned with. Here we are not the only ones vying for the attention of passersby. The other sellers warn me not to crowd the copper-coated cowboy, or the frozen ghost bride, as they won’t take kindly to my diverting eyes – or dollars – from their enterprises. Same goes for the quick, slight men using spray paint and dinner plates to concoct lurid, streaked cityscapes. But at least these two classes of street hustler are easy to avoid – not so the Christians. They’re almost as pushy, self-righteous, and in-your-face…as we are. Continue reading

Stuffed Station Wagon Man (or, The Trouble with Hitching in the Yukon)

[In the summer of 2002, about halfway through my five years at Zendik, I went on an “out.” Since I had next to no money, I traveled mostly by thumb. My desire to excise my Deathculture fantasies – and return, purified, to the Farm – spurred me to break my neck for The Land of the Midnight Sun.]

Halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, just short of Denali, I stand shivering, with my thumb out, in freezing rain. Fuck this, I mutter, I’m going home. I’m about to cross the road to the southbound side when an overloaded station wagon pulls up in front of me. The driver is a thin, bright-eyed, middle-aged man; his passenger, squeezed into one corner of the back seat, is a very large husky. Continue reading