Into the Weird

INTO THE WEIRD – MEET THE TRANSGENDER POP-PUNK MUSICIAN WHO OPENED FOR IGGY POP AND U2

My latest VICE column is up, an interview with musician Lenny Zenith. Read it in its entirety here.

When we think about the glory days of rock ’n’ roll, we think of a sexist boys club that only let in guys who abused groupies and hung out with dudes. Despite this, in the 1980s, female-to-male transgender musician Lenny Zenith and his punk-pop band RZA opened for U2, Iggy Pop, and other legends in New Orleans. Although Lenny is pretty sure Iggy knew he was trans and simply didn’t give a shit, Lenny kept his gender idenity a secret, because it was extremly dangerous to be openly trans. These days, Lenny lives in New York, where he works as an LGBT advocate and plays in a new band, the Tenterhooks, while writing his memoir, Before I Was Me. Recently, I caught up with Lenny at a dive bar to hear his tales about growing up trans with a missionary father and a Cuban mother in an era “before seven-year-olds were on Oprah saying they were transgendered.”

Into Other People’s Weird

An update on my VICE column: Since writing only about yourself is a bit masturbatory, I expanded my Into the Weird column to change format to include interviews about other people’s strange experience. The latest was with a very special person to me, comedian and crystal healer Katie Manzella. Read the full interview here via VICE.

Shortly after you left rehab, you got a DUI. How did you end up back in trouble?
My friend from a town called Ojai, where I lived for a few years, came to visit for the weekend. At this time in life, my conscious wasn’t equipped with the knowledge that drunk driving was an issue—I also resembled Paris Hilton. Since everyone told me I looked like Paris and I was only 18 years old, I said I was her cousin to get into a bar. Naturally, I was hungry after all the alcohol I consumed, so I drove to a diner. Luckily for me, a nice cop who looked like Pee-wee Herman pulled me over. When he asked me if I had been drinking, I denied that I had been, although there was no mistaking my intoxication. Once they got me into my holding cell, I realized that I was bleeding.

Had you hurt yourself?
No. It was period blood. I asked for Pee-wee to please get me a tampon—anything, even a paper towel. My request was denied time and time again. Even when I said I would stop calling him Pee-wee, I was denied. As Pee-wee walked away and I realized he wasn’t going to come back with my simple request, I took it upon myself to take care of the issue at hand. I wrote, “FUCK THE POLICE” with my period blood on the wall of my holding cell. That’s how you get a paper towel at the West Hollywood Sheriff Department.

Prior to Katie, I interviewed the captivating tattoo artist and guru of sorts Joseph Aloi aka JK5 about meeting his bio mom, and Minneapolis-based DJ and Prince of Darkness The Nightstalker about serial killers and filthy hot sex.

INTO THE WEIRD – MY NEW ROOMMATE IS A GHOST

Originally published on Vice.

When I tried to set up wifi in my new apartment, an internet service provider’s customer service representative said I couldn’t, because there was already an existing account in my apartment. Considering my apartment was vacant, I found this odd. I called my super, and he said the previous tenant had died without ever getting around to canceling her internet service. Did she die in the apartment? I wondered. Does this mean I will have a ghost roommate?

I spent the next several hours facebook stalking the dead woman—I was excited about possibly having a ghost for a roommate. I know that sounds weird, but I’ve always been drawn to death. I remember when I discovered what “death” meant, as a very young girl. One day running under the Caribbean sun at day care, I stopped in my tracks and realized: One day, I will be no more. Sophie will cease to exist. I then went into the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror, knowing in that moment that this was me, but my vessel had an expiration date. What does this mean? I wondered. Who is this “Sophie,” and what will happen when her time on Earth ends?

Over 20 years later, I still have no idea what will happen when I die. I likely never will, but I still want to know. Perhaps that’s why I hoped my ghost roommate existed and she would become my new best friend.

Last night, as I slept on a sleeping bag because I didn’t have furniture yet, I imagined the ghost would be my aunt, and I would help complete the unfinished business she left behind that was preventing her from moving on. Eventually, I would perform a nice ceremony with candles. Despite being sad to let her go, I would send her on her way to the other side, knowing we had both grown from our relationship, like Bruce Willis and Hayley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense.

This week I went to a witchcraft store mostly for kicks but also somewhat seriously to see if I could conjure the ghost. (The Craft is my favorite movie. I’ve been waiting my whole life to do this.) As I walked into the store, an employee lit a candle to cleanse the space of negative energy and lingering spirits. I was amazed by the jars full of herbs, the black cats, and the bookcases stuffed with books on spells, zodiac signs, and tarot cards. I told the employee about my new ghost roommate, and then selected a blue candle and handed it to her to prepare for me. She asked me my name (Sophie) and zodiac sign (Scorpio) and told me to wait 20 minutes. I imagined her whispering some chants and adding some oils, but when she returned, the candle looked like a third grader’s art project. She had etched a drawing of a house, my name, the Scorpio sign, and a pentagram into the candle, which wouldn’t be weird except for the fact that the candle was also now covered in glue and copious amounts of silver glitter. If I was a ghost and someone tried to conjure me with that thing, I would just laugh hysterically and haunt their ass off for being such a dumb ass.

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While unpacking I realized I had left my ghost candle at a friend’s place. I couldn’t perform a cleansing ceremony, but that’s fine—obviously all the ghosts that haunt me only exist within my head. I don’t know when I will die. I asked a Ouija board once when I was little, and the board said 2083. I suspect I may have been moving it myself because that is an awfully long life.

After realizing I left my candle behind, I slept alone with my cat in my sleeping bag. I have always been odd and a bit of a loner. As a young child I thought I could see ghosts, and loved dressing up as an angel. My parents grew quite concerned, because I would speak about my ability to jump off buildings or cliffs without anything happening—I would just fly away, I said. One time, before I could even walk, I jumped off my parents’ very high bed, breaking my collar bone. Looking back, I wonder if my obsession with ghosts and immortality stemmed from the fact that I don’t want to die.

At the same time, I could really use a ghost in my life. I sometimes find myself feeling lonely, but despite my inclination toward solitude, I crave friends, sex, love, and companionship. Although I experimented with cliques in college, I’ve never had a large group of friends. It doesn’t suit me. I am distrustful of humans and a bit paranoid, so I must find someone exceptionally special to let him or her in. The cocky way to define my limited close relationships would be to say that I am extremely picky; the truth is I am kind of fucked up. I fear that if someone gets close enough to me and learns all my quirks and fears, they will change their mind about wanting to become close to me. That’s the appeal of a ghost friend: She’s dead, so any odd behavior I display would be trumped by the fact that she’s a fucking ghost.

But there is no ghost, and I must find contentment and strength in my solitude. If I don’t, I could end up like the woman who lived in my apartment before me, dying alone and annoying the next tenant who has to spend extra time on the phone because some dead chick died before canceling her internet account.

INTO THE WEIRD – MY NEW DISORDER MEANS I’LL NEVER HAVE TO GO TO A RAVE AGAIN

I have a new column for VICE. It’s memoir-eque and about life as a weirdo. Sometimes it is funny and sometimes it is scary as hell. I’ll throw in some freaky sexy stories from time to time to keep the perv readers happy, and it is about my life after all so I can’t really escape sex stories. Here is the first one! VIA VICE BITCHES!

In my 25 Earthling years of existence I have learned a lot, yet very few certainties other than this: things can always get weirder. My law-school educated parents moved me from St. Louis to a lizard-infested house on an island in the Caribbean to escape “Reagan’s America.” I was just an infant, but my new environs were different than what I left behind. Every time we needed groceries, we had to take a little boat to another island. Whether my move to the tropics presaged my lifetime of oddity is unclear, but signs appeared early. In 1995 Hurricane Marilyn destroyed our home, leaving my family buried in rubble for the neighbors to dig out. We lived homeless for a week relying on the kindness of those who still had some form of shelter. People looted and wore fur coats meant for sale to the tourists because their clothes had been blown away. When I was three a rastaman plucked me up and threw me over his shoulder and ran away with me, laughing hysterically as my poor mother, eight-months pregnant with my sister and carrying groceries, tried to chase after him and rescue me. They found me later all “whatever” in an alley with thankfully no sign of harm.

I joke that having me as a patient must have put my shrink on anti-anxiety meds himself, because my calls to him are never, “my boyfriend broke up with me, sniff, sniff,” but rather, “Hey you know that YouTube homeless guy I know I spoke about last session…well check the news he allegedly bludgeoned someone to death and is on the run.” (No further comment on that matter at this time.) My latest call to my shrink was to ask about the fact that I’ve been randomly going momentarily completely blind for 5-10 second intervals.  He said, “Yeah, that’s not normal. Please go see a neurologist immediately.” So I did.

This Saturday, I used ZocDoc to make an appointment with a neurologist with a four-and-a-half star rating. His office was deep in Brooklyn, like Yo Momma’s used-up pussy deep, but that didn’t faze me because when you grow up being part of the ten percent white population you become more comfortable among people of color than you do on Park Avenue surrounded by white people. I got there, and after the basic doctor/patient introduction (you know, being told I’m either utterly insane and manifesting these blindness episodes or I could have a brain tumor) the doctor left me with a technician who hooked me up to an EEG. If you’ve never had an EEG, they basically strap you down and cover your scalp in goo then put a helmet covered in electrodes on you. I was told it would take 60 minutes and to close my eyes, I was NOT warned of any possible discomfort. The eyes closed part was rather relaxing. I’m very good at meditative breathing so I just lay there all Zen. Then the technician came back and told me to open my eyes and left again. Still all good but I was starting to feel sleepy. Then he came back again, told me to close my eyes again and turned on a strobe light next to my face. That’s when shit got weird—much weirder than the last time a medical practitioner examined my brain about a decade ago.

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When I was 14, about a year before my mother became fed up with the third world lifestyle and moved my sister and me to Virginia, I won an equestrian competition on St. Martin, officially marking me as the Caribbean show jumping champion of my age category. After the awards ceremony a bunch of girls who didn’t win locked me inside a Port-o-Potty. I loved horseback riding, but I quit when we found out that our instructor was a pedophile and possibly into bestiality as well because it came out he was living at the equestrian center, in a stable, with the horses. This dude was a total psycho douche monkey who was constantly frothing spit.

Since I proved myself to be a talented equestrian, he had me ride this wild child baby of a horse named Jazz to help break her. It didn’t go well. Jazz bucked me off soon after I got on her then reared up and her heavy hooves came crashing down on my head. Thankfully I was wearing a helmet, but the impact was hard enough to cause me to lose consciousness and be taken to the emergency room. That was pretty bad for me, but the horses got it worse. When the riding school shut down, because of the iniquities of its instructor, the horses were all sent off to an actual glue factory. I was very, very sad.

Parents: If you suspect the horse your daughter has been riding may have been shipped off to a glue factory, always, always lie to them. But you know who should not have lied to me, the Brooklyn doctor who told me I would feel nothing during the brain tests I went through last week. I felt a lot. I felt so much days later I still find myself slightly struggling to compose a proper email, rechecking and revising each sentence several times to make sure I’m making sense.

That strobe light that the technician put next to me set off a series of mild seizures. My body twitched and convulsed and my brain went “zap, zap!” every few minutes. It did not feel good. I can handle pain; I recently sat through a three-hour tattoo session without one single moan or request for a break. I get my vagina waxed and have engaged in anal sex totally fine despite having very little sex holes. But fuck this Clockwork Orange shit. Perhaps the oddest aspect of the experience is that when my eyes were closed I kept seeing visions of Trey Anastasio. I’m no Benjamin Shapiro, but I also haven’t listened or even thought about Phish in years. I went to a few shows to accompany a college boyfriend who was into them but that is the limit of my Trey exposure so I have no idea what he was doing with me in that room while my brain got zapped. Fuck off, Trey; I want Bowie by my side in all future electrode-helmet experiences. I screamed in pain three times during the test and no one came to check on me. I could have used some David Bowie to hold my hand through the weird. Bowie knows weird.

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After the test was over, head still covered in EEG jizz, I stomped into the waiting room and demanded to see the doctor, but he had left for the day, along with the technician. Only the receptionists remained. I wandered outside to find the F train and go home but my brain felt like mush and I couldn’t remember where it was so I plopped down on a park bench and thankfully my partner called me a car to come rescue me. An angry Sophie, even a very confused and disoriented one with electrode marks on her forehead, is a force to be reckoned with.

Over the course of the day after many demanding phone calls I got some answers, and I need an MRI to confirm, but it appears I might suffer from a mild form of epilepsy, which would explain the bouts of blindness I had been experiencing, and was triggered by the strobe light during the EEG. Furthermore, if this new possible diagnosis is confirmed it could mean I had been misdiagnosed in the past, and what I thought were panic attacks (disorientation, numbness in limbs, confusion, etc.) may have actually been small seizures, to sum it up as unscientifically as possible. But best of all, if I find out I do have these seizures; I have a legitimate medical excuse not to attend your shitty rave!

Never wake up and expect an ordinary day—life can always, always, get weirder. Embrace it. After the brain zapping was over and I was home safe I ate some mac and cheese, took a nice long nap, then saw Rob Delaney perform. I guess I can officially call him my friend now, or at least my Twitter friend, and as his friend I am going to call him out on something: Don’t let that chubby green bathing suit avatar fool you. Dude looks goooood in person.