Going Home, The Prequel: Loose ends

One of Fresno’s best-known landmarks, at the south end of Van Ness Avenue. At one time, before freeways. it welcomed visitors from the south.

Oct. 15, 2012

Note: It’s been two months since I, with a lot of help, loaded up a rental truck, attached my car to the back and began the journey into the next chapter of my life: the move home to Connecticut from Fresno after eight years of transition in ways I never could have imagined. Well, after a huge bout of self-doubt, regaining confidence, losing my religion and finally convincing myself again that I might actually be a real writer — well, here goes. Strap in:

I had long envisioned — hoped for — the Hollywood ending to what I’ve been through the last nearly five years, between the gender transition that started in January 2008 and the joblessness hell that began in March 2009. I imagined that, after all I’ve been through, there would finally be a great job waiting for me at the end of the rainbow — that I would be able to return East the conquering heroine to a great job, and then everything else would fall into place like so many dominoes.

Well, we all know that Hollywood is bullshit. And that life comes at you whether you’re ready or not.

And instead of coming home to hosannas and a wonderful new life, riding a atop a figurative white charger, I’d be driving across the country in the hottest time of the year in a yellow Penske rental truck, my rickety ’96 Camry attached to the back, with no job, lots of uncertainty and just as much blind faith.

Setting the wheels in motion, so to speak

The last Tuesday night of June, one of my colleagues on the Fresno Bee copy desk came up to me at a stray moment late in the shift to chat.

“I think I know why they want us to take our furloughs by the end of July,” he said.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Layoffs.”

“Aw, goddammit! Why’d you have to say that? I’m not ready for that yet!”

When the Bee brought me back last September as an on-call copy editor — two and a half years after I was discarded with about 40 percent of McClatchy’s employees nationwide in a mass layoff — the reasons were to help cover for a horribly depleted staff, to provide fill-in help for sick staffers and to cover for full-time staffers who were being furloughed. And since last September, McClatchy had imposed a week of furloughs per business quarter on all full-timers, from the top on down. The full-timers had until the end of the quarter to take their time off.

And I wasn’t aware of this new wrinkle this quarter. And it made perfect sense. And even though my hours, which were pretty much full-time until Christmas, had been nonexistent to sketchy all of calendar 2012, they were just enough to keep me barely above water. And I was hoping to be able to hold this job until someone back home, somewhere between New Haven and New York, would hire me full time.

And if they were cutting full-time staff again — as if they could really afford to do it, since the newsroom staff was only about a quarter of the size it was before the buyouts of 2008 and the ensuing layoffs — that would mean my hours would disappear for good. The timing sucked. Then again, timing in my life has sucked for a long time now.

Sure enough, five nights later, the first Sunday night of July, I was told me that a copy editor who had been on personal leave was coming back in three weeks, and when that happened, my hours would disappear. And I can read between the lines very well — I knew this time it was for good.

(And in a sad coda: My friend and fellow copy editor, a good soul who has been through enough horrible things in the last year to make Job look like an amateur whiner, was right about the layoffs — and he was one of them.)

Guess that, even though I wasn’t ready, I actually was. When I got the news, I felt a huge sense of calm and relief as I said to myself, “Okay, it’s time.” The relief came from knowing that the struggle in Fresno was finished.

Somehow, I had the presence of mind to, as the old wartime London Tube poster said, keep calm and don’t panic. I went home that night and wrote a lengthy blog post announcing I was going home, and at 3 a.m., put it online and launched a Kickstarterish sort of campaign to try to round up the money I’d need to both rent a truck and afford the fuel I’d need to get the 3,000 miles or so across the country.

And damned if friends from near and far didn’t respond. I felt like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, when the townspeople of Bedford Falls file into his living room to help bail him out on Christmas Eve night and make him glad he didn’t actually go through with his suicide.

And it helped make things just a little easier as I was readying to embark on the trip of my life. And there were quite a few things to wrap up.

The wrap-up

There were a lot of things to take care of, things to plan, if I wanted to get across the country with as (relatively) little stress as possible.

First, a date. I had planned to be out of Fresno by month’s end, so I wouldn’t have to pay rent beyond that. I had to alter my plans slightly.

I had gone out to Monterey for a day at the end of May to see Alexis, a friend from home, and her husband, Matt; they were visiting his

Alexis and I discussed the possibility of me moving home over oysters on the half-shell at Rappa’s in Monterey back in May.

brother there. She and I spent the afternoon together down at the water, and she had told me that if I moved home, to let her know and she would fly out and take the drive back with me. I was floored by that gesture.

And once I told everyone my plans, Alexis got back to me and told me she was still willing to drive back with me, but she asked me to wait a couple more weeks. She had lucked into a two-week teaching job in China and wouldn’t be back in the States until Aug. 8. So we talked, and I made my tentative moving date the 13th.

Still, I had to pack and move things out of the Happy House, the dysfunctional place where I rented a room for three extremely trying years, and into my storage space at a nearby Derrel’s. I did it gradually through the month, so it wouldn’t be overwhelming. I still wanted to be out by month’s end, and thankfully, my friend and former Bee colleague Jen Ward — the person responsible for me starting this here blog — had a spare guest house attached to the main house, where I could decompress my last two weeks in Fresno in air-conditioned comfort and shed most or all the negative energy I accumulated in that wretched house.

(The short story, since I’ve never really talked about it: I moved into this room three years before, not knowing until later that the owners were a wino — an angry, bitter, judgmental atheist, a so-called “liberal” hypocrite phony of a college professor (a department chair, to boot!) — and his co-dependent/main defender/chief apologist.

Dr. Liberal was someone who, as I found out later on, was talking shit about my transition during his drunken rants, asking, “How can he possibly be a woman?” Maybe if the scientist did some fucking research on gender variation, he wouldn’t say such stupid, ignorant things … As if I didn’t have enough going on already, between navigating my transition (and the family weirdness that often goes with this) and the lingering unemployment …

And we almost did come to blows once — he went off on me for no reason one afternoon two years ago, about an hour after I found out my father had prostate cancer — and sometimes I regret not ripping him a third asshole at some point, atop the two he was already spewing freely from. But by the time I realized what I got myself into, I was stuck, because it was what I could afford on my unemployment check while still paying the bills. So I spent most nights out of the house and down in the Tower District, at Revue and the Landmark, staying out of his cheesy ’70s hair as much as possible. The night I drove away from the house for good, July 31, I can’t tell you how much I felt my spirits rise, and how quickly, as I moved away from Dr. Liberal and his ball of negative energy. A wretched chapter of my life finished. Instantly lowered my stress level about 120 percent.)

I started exploring truck rentals online — and then I hedged. After all, the instant I booked the truck, there would be no turning back. Finally, three weeks before the move, I reserved a truck online, plus a dolly to tow my Camry, from Penske. I was swayed by the reputation of the mogul who owns the business, perpetual Indy 500-winning team owner Roger Penske, who built his empire on efficiency. And seeing how huge my AAA discount would be clinched it. Shit got real.

I also started looking at Google Maps to determine which route to take home. Do I head north on 99 and pick up I-80 in Sacramento, knowing full well (having driven from Connecticut to Cleveland and Chicago years ago) that 80 is hell? Or do I take 99 south to Bakersfield and then Highway 58 to I-15? And once I get to 15, do I take it into Colorado and eventually pick up 80, or stay along the path of the old Route 66 — I-15 to I-40 in Barstow to I-44 in Oklahoma City to St. Louis, working my way diagonally to I-80, 81 and 84 in the Poconos? There wasn’t much time/length difference, so I settled on the southern route. It would be the closest I would probably ever get to driving 66, with probably fewer mountains to climb.

I would also have to see if I could line up people to help me with the load-out, which would probably be hard to do on a Monday morning. On top of that, my things — a house full of stuff — were in two locations; half was at Derrel’s, the other half in my friend Gene’s garage, near Fresno City College. And it wasn’t an easy haul from his garage to the side gate, which was mostly dirt, not necessarily conducive to handtrucks.

I also had to make time for friends — to hang, to have dinner, to get in some quality face time if and when possible, as I have no idea if or when I’ll be back to visit. And in a couple of cases, I was invited over for dinner as well.

My friends Laura and Todd, who lived a short ride down Huntington Boulevard, had me over for chicken and asparagus one night. I got to be friends with them when Laura and her friend Corie worked at Retro Rag, the old vintage clothing shop then in the midst of the Tower; the three of them were very supportive during the thick of my transition. We had talked so long about getting together, and now would be our one chance. One of the drawbacks to my move home would be that I’d miss Laura and Todd’s wedding Oct. 12. But we got to spend at least one great, and delicious, evening together.

And there was Alice, who works as a floral arranger and lives in the Tower. We sorta kinda knew each other from hanging in the Tower, but over the past few

One last Sunday in the kitchen with Alice.

months, she has become a dear friend, having my back as the employment situation did a number on me over the winter. She invited me over a couple times for dinner and a couple times for parties, and went for sushi one girls’ night out. We enjoy each others’ company immensely — at the very least, I think it’s that we’re both very much alive, very passionate, very sensitive. The Sunday afternoon before my final weekend, she had me over for chicken wings wrapped in bacon. They were yum, but the conversation was much better.

I had a few days of work remaining as well. July 22, the third Sunday night of July, was most probably my last day working at a newspaper. I left a near-deserted, terribly depleted, deathly silent newsroom in the darkness of

— 30 –. Logging off from my final night at the Bee, July 22.

midnight — 30 years, two months and five days after a college boy eagerly walked into the noisy, sun-drenched newsroom of the Waterbury Republican-American to begin his first of two paid summer internships. And launch a career in a business none of us ever imagined could self-destruct so spectacularly and so unnecessarily in my middle age. I left the Bee newsroom with a huge sense of relief, as if maybe I was truly moving forward at last — the sentimentality and sadness had been leached from my system long before.

Meanwhile, I had to deal with my first complications, and I was still three weeks away from the move. The third week of July, I burned through over $1,000 in three days.

I dropped the car off that Wednesday morning with my longtime mechanic, Dave, to have him give it the once-over before the move — oil change, align the front end, things like that, which would run about $150. The bad news: He told me my front tires were shot (probably on the inside treads).

The next day, I drove over to Good Guys for two new fronts, which ran about $170. And if that wasn’t enough: My trusty laptop died that afternoon. Just like that.

On the suggestion of a friend, I brought it to a PC repair shop on Shaw and Maroa. The guy seemed friendly enough when I dropped it off, but when I returned the next day, he was a total dick. The motherboard, apparently, went kaput, and he really didn’t want a thing to do with me after he told me, and then he gave it back and just flat turned his back on me and didn’t say another word. I wanted to throw something at his head just on principle. But I had to rush to a store — something I really didn’t want to do — to get another. Luckily, Office Depot had this HP on which I’m writing at the moment, and it was on sale. But I also had to buy a new Word program to go with it, so it ran me just over $700.

Wonderful. The trip to Dave was planned; the other two expenses weren’t. Those two bills could’ve been enough diesel fuel to get me more than halfway across the country. It was bad enough that the rental and the fuel would suck up much of what I had socked away; I didn’t need this.

Anyway, there was one last thing I felt I had to do before I could hang out the “Mission Accomplished” banner and truly mean it and go home — I recorded a song with The Backstabbers, a Fresno punk trio.

It was “Out of Step,” for a tribute album to one of my favorite bands, The Reducers. From back home, four guys from New London — judged “America’s

After recording “Out of Step” with The Backstabbers (from left: Kevin Thomason, Jes Farnsworth and Wade Krause).

Best Unsigned Band” by CMJ in the mid-’80s, and, aside from my favorites, The Fleshtones, the most fun you could have on a Saturday night without a prescription. They played together from 1978 until the bass player, Steve Kaika, died of lung cancer in June.

The Backstabbers’ frontman, Jes Farnsworth, was Steve’s nephew, and since Steve was a contractor his whole life, with no healthcare, Jes put together the album as a benefit to defray Steve’s family’s expenses. I was one of the people who helped round up performers for the disc, and the second Sunday evening of July, I met up with the guys at a nice home studio north of the Tower and put down the vocal tracks. Our version was faithful to the original (the first A-side The Reducers recorded, in 1980), and it was something about which I feel proud. And in my mind, it was my last real bit of unfinished business.

That, and catching up with people before I left.

My last Wednesday, Aug. 8, I was most happy to head to Tokyo Garden for a 25th-anniversary celebration for two people I hold extremely dear, Blake and Lauri Jones. Blake was one of the first two non-Bee people I met in Fresno, one January Saturday morning at Spinners Records in the Tower, the day after two days of job interviews and two months before my move. He’s a world-class pop musician, toiling in relative anonymity in the Central Valley, save for his Trike Shop’s yearly appearances in the International Pop Overthrow festival, and their two trips to Liverpool. He and Lauri are also world-class people, two of the nicest anyone could have in their lives, and I was glad I was still around to celebrate their big night.

And Saturday the 11th was my chance to say goodbye.

My two hangouts in the Tower District were happy to let me have get-togethers. Spent the afternoon at Revue; I figured I’d have something there for friends who had kids, had gigs that night (like Blake), or who don’t drink and are uncomfortable in bars. I set up my Charlie Brown Christmas tree — my lone decoration last Christmas — as a nod to the Christmas parties I used to throw in New Haven and Fresno before the layoff and the hell began. I also loaded up the laptop with all the backup files from the old computer, including most of the tunes. And I put together a loose playlist of hundreds of songs, set to random shuffle on the media player.

Despite the 110-degree weather on Saturday afternoon — plus some humidity

With Heather, my closest friend in Fresno, at the going-away festivities at the Landmark. The flower’s hers.

— a few friends did show up at Revue. It was good to be able to hang out in the back room and have some face time, which I figured I might not have if the Landmark, where I would spend the evening, got a little crowded. And it did get busy. But it was fun. And it felt like a whirlwind.

And without getting teary-eyed, I tried to get my head around the fact that, after so many nights at the Landmark, this was my final one. And that I might not see my friends here for a long time, if again. I had stopped in a couple nights before to spend some final Thursday-night quality time with my favorite bartender, Miriam, who’s been one of my biggest champions in Fresno, and it suddenly, finally, truly hit me as I sat there: A week from tonight, my life’s gonna be totally flipped around.

And yet, there was still something surreal about this. This, like my gender transition, was all happening to someone else, not me. But it was, indeed, happening. And VERY soon.

My last day

I was up early to do some busy work Sunday morning. But first, breakfast with Jen and her husband, Scott, who treated me at Irene’s before heading to work.

Jen was the Bee’s interactive editor until she was let go in January 2010. She was the only person I was out to at the paper before my layoff. And she’s been a godsend.

Right after she lost her job, we met on a lunchtime Friday at Revue, and she suggested, as a way to show potential employees I was adept with social media, that I set up a Facebook account, a Twitter account and a blog. I was still militantly anti-Facebook at the time, but I set up the Twitter account … and, more importantly, this blog. Which, as I started to come out, became a valuable way to explain this transgender thang to many people — family, friends and strangers alike — who had never had to think about it before. And maybe, if I can convince myself or an agent that I’m a real writer, it’ll be the framework for a book.

And Jen and Scott rebounded wonderfully from their own hell — which included him getting laid off two weeks after she lost her job. They’re both hardcore geeks, special emphasis on gaming. Their living and dining rooms are overflowing with board games, and they have a full Rock Band setup as well. And they didn’t like what they saw in the gaming landscape in Fresno/Clovis — stores with small and/or dated inventories and irregular hours. So they followed their passions — put together a business plan, got a loan and, that October, opened their own gaming store, the Crazy Squirrel. And it’s a pretty big success. And she doesn’t have a lot of free time, so breakfast or not, just having time with them was a treat.

But from there, I had a lot of work to do. And very little time in which to do it.

Earlier in the week, I realized that I should take my things out of Gene’s garage the day before the load-out, lay them out on the backyard patio, to make the the big day a little easier for everyone. Gene had suggested I buy some spider bombs at Fresno Ag Hardware, as he had found some black widows in the garage. So I bought some and came over Thursday and unloaded a can of the insecticide as a precaution.

I also knew that I would have a lot of thirsty people come Monday, so I drove out to WinCo and bought a case of bottled water and enough ice to fill one of Gene’s coolers. Then I could start the process.

I had a decision to make. It was a cloudy day, a rarity for Fresno in August. On one hand, the cloud cover meant I could move my records out of the garage and not worry about them getting warped. On the other, it could rain. But rain in Fresno is even more rare than clouds, and as far as I knew, rain wasn’t forecast. So I’d take my chances.

And then I took to unloading the garage. The dozens of heavy standard-sized moving boxes loaded with records, CDs, cassettes and books; the kitchen gear; the two Christmas trees and half-dozen boxes of ornaments; the bins that stored my Hot Wheels collection; my accidental collection of Rolling Rock neon signs, mostly from bars with which I had some sort of musical connection. And the sofa and love seat.

And with some of the boxes, I had to remove cobwebs and black widow eggs. And at one point, drenched in sweat in the humid, 90-degree weather, I brushed against a cobweb and found a black widow draped on my arm. But it was limp. Luckily, the spider bomb had done the trick. Still, I thwacked my arm as quickly as I could and knocked the dead spider into some region west of oblivion.

And I had another decision to make — what to leave behind.

When I moved my things into Gene’s garage, I gave him my dining room set as a thank-you. I had also ditched my TV and entertainment center before that, and sold my bookcases to my ex-Bee colleague and poker pal Matt James (who, coincidentally, also moved back home this summer, to Kansas, and is now writing about his experiences working on the family farm for McSweeney’s). And my bed broke shortly before my move, so that was one less headache.

But now, as I did my mental figuring-out of what would go where in the truck, and what I would have room for in my storage bin back in Connecticut, I realized I might have to leave my dressers behind — which, as a sentimental fool, bothered me.

My parents had given me their old bedroom set back in the ’90s. My father’s dresser was originally my maternal grandmother’s; when she died in 1975, he took it and sanded it down and re-stained it in cherry, and had used it since. The headboard, also stained in cherry, was something they got when they were wed in 1960. But my mom’s dresser was nearly 60 years old, something she was given as a high-school graduation gift, and it was a nice piece of furniture — I forget whether it was actually cherry or cherry-stained, but it was long and low, and the wood was solid. And it had a mirror with heavy, beveled glass, and a glass dresser top.

I didn’t want to leave it all behind, but I had to think on the fly. There probably wouldn’t be enough room for it in storage, and it’s pretty heavy and unwieldy, even with the mirror detached, and since I didn’t know where I’d be living after I found a job — if I found one — I realized it would be a little too much to move up a flight of stairs. Or two. And Gene needed some furniture for his guest room, so I didn’t feel so bad about letting go.

But the sofa and love seat were coming with me.

When I moved out to Fresno in 2004, my girlfriend at the time, Dawling, was planning to move in with me from Long Island. She was an elementary school art teacher, and who knew that the Fresno Unified School District had eliminated its grade-school art program? Who thought a city that big would do something like that? Needless to say, she didn’t move to Fresno.

But she did visit me on her spring break, a week after I moved in, and since there was a distinct possibility she was moving in — which is part of the reason I rented a whole house when I moved west — I let her pick the furniture. And, with her Long Island taste (read that expensive), we ended up at Macy’s, and I ended up with a nice, retro-styled jade green sofa and love seat. Which cost me a LOT of green. And if they were still in good shape, no way in hell was I giving them away. I did have to sweep off a few spider eggs from beneath the sofa, but they managed the three years of storage intact. And Gene was kind enough to help me get them out of the garage.

Done. It took until about 4, with a couple of short water breaks, to finally be finished. And between the sweat that saturated my entire T-shirt, the dust, dirt and cobwebs, I hadn’t been that skeevy since … well, since I moved my stuff into the garage three years ago, at the hottest time of the year, when I was showering twice a day because I was so sopped in sweat.

But I wasn’t finished.

Back to the guest house, shower up, take my bicycle and car rack and a couple boxes over to Derrel’s for the load-out there, go out to do a load of laundry, then pick up Heather for one last trip to Sendai Sushi and all-you-can-eat. The last supper.

And soon it was close to 7:30, and Sendai was closing in an hour. My clothes were still slightly damp when I left the laundromat and drove up to Heather’s.

It was one midweek evening in September 2005, around 8:30ish, when I rolled up to Revue on the bicycle near the end of an evening ride. And this gregarious redhead came up to me and stuck out her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Heather!”

Not realizing she would become my closest friend here, Lucy to my Ethel. Not having any idea how many laughs, hugs, bitch sessions, tears and shouting matches we would encounter the next seven years.

Not realizing that she was a little weirded out a year later when, on the spur of the moment, I went out in drag for the screening of a Spanish trans film, 20cm, at Reel Pride, the annual LGBT film festival – but would be fine with me when I came out for real over a year later, and joined me on my first girls’ day out in San Francisco. Not realizing that, when I actually did come out, she would tell some of the Revue and Tower regulars, “If you have a problem with Frannie, then you have a problem with me.”

We had a lot to cover in a short time this night. She had been laying low of late, as she had her own things to deal with, so we hadn’t hung out nearly as much as we used to. But even taking that into consideration, it was weird knowing that this would be the last hangout time we’d have after all these years.

Still, it wasn’t the goodbye yet. She would come with me to get the rental truck the next morning. And she would take the drive up to Oakland with me later on to pick up Alexis at Oakland International, after she helped me load the truck.

And while I was having sushi with her, my phone rang.

Jackie was a friend from the Bee. Actually, we met after we were both laid off. The company sprung for us discarded to meet with a job counselor and spruce up our résumés that May as our two months of regular pay (thanks to the WARN Act) ran out, and our severance pay and unemployment checks kicked in. And Jackie, who had been a graphic artist, was in our small group.

We bonded — even more so when I came out and she totally embraced the new Frannie. She’s a good soul, an absolute sweetheart, a real doll of a blonde with a very strong heart. We drifted a little bit, though, as my unemployment lingered and she, with a young one to raise, struggled to find a job, then finally landed one designing games, which left little free time.

Anyway, she had dropped off Facebook a few months before, and for some reason, she didn’t get the emails about me leaving Fresno for home. And — I’m guessing there was something psychic behind it — she managed to get a hold of me the night before I left.

She really wanted to see me before I departed. So after I dropped off Heather, I met up with her and her boyfriend at Revue for about an hour. Iced mocha; her treat. I played them the attachment Jes had sent me of our Reducers song; she was thrilled. We at least got to spend some time together. But yes, there were tears when we parted, and with good reason.

I hung out until closing one last time for old times’ sake, keeping Emma the coffeeslinger and her boyfriend, Dylan, company. And just after 11, I left Revue for my last closing time. I gave a look over to the corner near the window, where I had spent too many nights to want to count — it had been my refuge from the Happy House, my personal red-walled photo studio where I took many headshots of myself, the place where I tried to keep myself amused, and where I both met and met up with people.

And I still wasn’t finished for the night. I had to fold my laundry, pack most of my clothes, sort out what went in which of my two suitcases, because whatever happened in the coming day, I knew I wouldn’t have time to take care of all this.

I planned to get the rental truck by 8 a.m. It was 1:10 when I finally set the alarm on my cellphone and turned off the light. Wakeup was 5:45. I was gonna be ready. Even if I wasn’t. I had no choice.

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2 Responses to “Going Home, The Prequel: Loose ends”

  1. Genevieve Says:

    ❤ ya, Fran.

  2. Mary Koehler Says:

    Awesome Read Fran! Welcome home:)!

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