If it weren’t for the Tenement Museum, I never would have met this guy who’s snuggled with me all day. Coming soon a book called “Tenement Kitty.”
Archive for May, 2013
Thirteen years ago my appendix ruptured. I would still be 64,000 dollars in debt if Saint Vincent’s hadn’t closed. It was a traumatic experience but I did learn that I have the best friends on the planet. This is an excerpt from my book Elf Girl:
Memorial Day weekend 2000, I got the worst stomachache of my life. If you remember the scene in Alien where John Hurt’s stomach bursts open and he gives birth to alien spawn, you’ll have some idea of what it felt like. So I cabbed it over to Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village, where I donned the ass-less paper gown of shame.
I told the doctors my symptoms, “Nausea, cramps and vomiting. I think I’m dying.”
“Do you have insurance?” they asked.
“I come from a magical land called the Lower East Side,” I answered. “No one there has insurance.”
Within minutes, I was told I had gas, given a prescription for Pepcid A.C. and sent home. A day later, my stomach had swollen up like a troll’s, and the severity of my pain had doubled. Lorne insisted on going back to the emergency room with me. There, a young Ben Affleck look-alike stuck a thermometer in my mouth, told me I had a 104-degree temperature, and sent me to the waiting room.
After several hours of waiting, I once again lay upon a gurney where young medical students basically punched me in the stomach repeatedly asking, “Does this hurt? Does this hurt? Does it hurt when we punch you in the stomach?” For some reason, the doctors decided I had an STD, and with each question about my sex life, my stomach grew larger and my pain grew worse. In the back of my mind, I was compiling a list of past sexual experiences. “Oh God, it was the skinny one. Maybe it was the one with the nipple ring, or the one who worked in the Pepsi factory.”
Finally they gave me a gynecological exam, but when even my vagina revealed no clues, I was given a sonogram. The doctors pointed to what looked like an early Pollock, and said I had ovarian cysts, which were possibly the source of my pain. They asked me to sign a waiver, which would allow the doctors to remove my ovaries if need be. I was in so much pain that I could barely sign my name and I started to cry hysterically out of fear and mistrust. Lorne calmed me down by giving me a foot rub and telling me to look for rings on the fingers of the doctors.
The doctors opted to do “exploratory surgery” meaning they would put a tiny camera in my stomach, which would reveal my ailment since, in layman’s terms they still didn’t know what the fuck was wrong with me. “Oh my God,” I thought. “What if they find that my stomach is filled with 8 gallons of semen and I have to have my stomach pumped just like Rod Stewart, and all of the junior high school kids in America make fun of me?”
At 11pm, one day and 19 hours after my initial emergency room visit, I waved goodbye to Lorne and was wheeled inside the operating room. The nurses put little sticky things on my shoulders and in one instant, I thought of every horrible operating room scene I’d ever seen in the movies, namely Cherrie Currie coughing up blood in Foxes.
The last thing I remember was an anesthesiologist putting an oxygen mask over my face and telling me to breathe. Each breath brought me relief and oblivion. Later I realized that if I am actually a mere mortal, and I have to die just like everyone else, this is how I want to go. In that moment, where the anesthesiologist, a.k.a. “God” tells you to breathe, you fall into a death-like stupor, into peaceful unawareness and it is far from scary. Life is scary. Pain is scary. Awareness is scary. Death is inevitable and who knows? Maybe you’ll get to come back as a Bonobo chimp.
Two and a half hours later, the doctors woke me up and wheeled me outside where Lorne was waiting.
“You were screaming at the top of your lungs when you woke up,” the nurse told me.
“Oh my God, that’s so uncool,” I said. I hadn’t remembered them waking me up. I only knew that I was alive and in great pain, though significantly less pain than before.
Going from total darkness and unawareness into light and awareness in a matter of seconds is pure terror, like being born a second time. According to some philosophies, when a person is in a dreamless sleep, it’s as close to the death state as they can come. Sometimes people come out of anesthesia and say things like, “I love you.” My uncle, John, who is of Lithuanian descent, came out of surgery speaking perfect Lithuanian, even though he can’t speak a word of it consciously.
Lorne and I had a nonsensical conversation about catheters, and how convenient they’d be for the Anti-Slam. We could drink all the Bud we wanted and not have to get up to pee! Lorne asked the nurse how soon I’d be drinking again, along with several hundred other inappropriate questions she couldn’t answer.
The nurse told me the problem had been my appendix, but I just assumed they’d taken it out. No one told me it had ruptured. No one told me I’d had gangrenated appendix matter floating around in my body. In fact, the doctors avoided me altogether.
When I woke up the next day in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm, it started to dawn on me that I hadn’t received a routine appendectomy. I was in agony. Peritonitis had set in and the IV was pumping antibiotics into my system. After a few days, when I could get out of bed, I began to refer to the IV as “My Buddy,” because it went everywhere I went. In retrospect, I should have called it “the Ex-Boyfriend.” The wheel on my IV cart was busted, making it impossible for me to get anywhere with it, and the staff completely ignored my pleas for a new cart. It wasn’t until the 6th day when I shouted obscenities at the nurse that I got a new one. Dante’s hell was nothing compared to Saint Vincent’s hell. It’s like they want to destroy your will to live, so that you don’t get too upset when you think they’re going to kill you through negligence. If I may make an Outsiders analogy, I went from being Ponyboy Curtis to Dally Winston.
Because my stomach had been ravaged I wasn’t allowed any food or water for several day. My lips looked like Frodo Baggin’s as he climbs the fiery rocks of Mordor. Finally a nurse dampened some sponges and Faceboy held them to my lips. Faceboy came to see me every day to ensure they hadn’t killed me. On one occasion, he sat down to give me a backrub and sat on something hard. He lifted his ass and realized the nurses had left a hypodermic needle on my bed. It was like being in a crack house without the bonus of crack.
My stomach was covered in bandages, and I knew whatever lay beneath must not be pretty. One morning a doctor came into my room with a group of medical students. This was nothing new, as I had gotten used to having no dignity. But then the sadistic doctor took hold of my bandages and ripped them off as hard as he could. The pain was so severe I started screaming.
“It’s only tape,” he said.
I looked down at the gaping, oozing, bloody wound on my stomach. It looked like it’d been stapled shut by lunatics. I’d been butchered within an inch of my life.
“I don’t think the morphine’s working.” I told the nurses. Then they took me off of it, and I cried for 24 hours.
I probably would’ve gone insane had it not been for two things: morphine and the love of the Art Star community. I actually had a morphine button, which I could push and it released the drug into my body every eight minutes. The Art Stars eyed my morphine button with jealous curiosity even though hospital security was so bad, any one of them could’ve easily stolen their drug of choice. From day one of my hospitalization, my room was packed with friends who came bearing unusual gifts. Pornography was the gift of choice, and it seemed no matter how many normal magazines I put on top of my copies of Dude and Latin Inches, they always ended up on top of the pile right as the nurses were coming in to take my temperature.
Because I was captive, Brodeur stopped by to see me several times, wherein I pressed the morphine button repeatedly hoping for an extra drop.
“Get out. I don’t want to see you,” I told him.
“But the nice little old lady in that room was happy to see me,” he said, pointing to the room next door. He then gave me letters featuring pornographic drawings of him screwing the female nurses at Saint Vincent’s.
One letter said, “Word on the street is that the drinking finally caught up with you and they took your liver too.” Another said, “If they still have your appendix, can I have it?” and it featured a drawing of Brodeur cuddling my appendix.
My sister Wendy and my brother, Chris flew in from Maryland. Chris, who’d just returned from Graceland, brought me an Elvis nightgown. From the moment I put it on, I could feel the presence of the King. Someday, I am going to open a hospital and instead of having statues of Saints and crucifixes everywhere, there will be ceramic statues and black velvet paintings of Elvis. I am going to call it “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hospital.” There will be music piped through the hallways, and a library of porn mags to choose from. All the morphine buttons will have smiley faces on them and all of the sheets will be leopard print. The male nurses will wear hot pants and the female nurses will look like they just stepped out of the pages of Extreme Fetish magazine.
As a child, whenever I had to go to the hospital, the statues of Saints used to freak me out, especially the hapless Mary. They all looked so serious and gaunt. Would be nice if we had more fat, joyful Saints, ones who didn’t live to die, who didn’t save themselves for God, who maybe boned Anne Margaret and died on the toilet.
When I was finally released from the death clutches of Saint Vincent’s, they basically put a boot up my ass and shoved me out the door with no instructions whatsoever. After a few days, my scar got infected, necessitating a return trip to the hellhole where I was finally told how to care for my wound.
A few weeks after my emancipation, I went to a barbeque at Brodeur’s Place. (His roommate, Aaron, was throwing the party, while Brodeur stayed in his room writing letters.) At the barbeque, my friend, Big Mike, took a Polaroid of my stomach and everyone thought it was a picture of an ass. The scar, which runs North-South down my belly looks like a red, irritated ass crack and because I drink so much beer, my stomach is swollen on either side, like two big ass cheeks.
Everyone there wanted to see my scar. For months after my operation, this happened everywhere I went. I’d lift up my shirt and show people and then they’d act totally grossed out. Either that, or they’d say, “Dude – I had my appendix taken out!” and then they’d show me a little appendectomy scar. I told them only pussies have their appendix taken out. If you’re a true bad ass, you let it burst.
For a while, my scar was extra gruesome because a small, bloody hole opened up about three inches above my pudenda, which I had to pack every few hours with Bacitracin-covered gauze. Whenever I pulled the slimy gauze out it kind of looked like I was pulling my intestines out. Though Brodeur had yet to see me do this, he insisted on coming over and videotaping the process, because he thought if a jury saw the tape, they’d award me hundreds of thousands of dollars. But when he hit record and I lifted my shirt to start “packing” he recoiled in horror, screaming, “You could get a job at Coney Island! You are like the girl with two vaginas!”
I used to think my scar was heinous, and I missed my smooth little potbelly, but I got used to my new stomach. It sort of makes me look like a sewn-up rag doll or Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s really the most Goth fashion accessory of all time.
I tried to sue, but no one would take my case, because I have no money. When you’re poor, it’s harder to get decent healthcare, and it’s harder to do anything about it when you get screwed. In fact, the hospital tried to sue me. They even closed my bank account, which contained all of 107 dollars. The City Marshals then threatened to seize my property until they realized I had none. But just this week, the New York Times announced that Saint Vincent’s Hospital is closing its doors because it’s 700-million dollars in debt. I guess all the people they killed through negligence couldn’t pay their bills.
Though I’m no doctor, I’ve been told that a CT Scan has a 95% detection rate for appendicitis. I didn’t get a CT Scan, and I’m going to guess it’s because I’m uninsured. I’m not sure when it was decided that some people deserve healthcare and others don’t, but it’s ultimately an inhumane idea that’s also conspicuously convenient for the rich. Oddly enough, I happened to be in DC the day before the Senate voted on the Healthcare Reform Bill. I’d been visiting family in Silver Spring and had gone downtown to the National Gallery of Art to see The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600-1700. It featured a lot of sad-looking Saints, a Mary Magdalene that looked like a mermaid and one particularly bloody Jesus. It was not unlike the décor at Saint Vincent’s, actually. Upon leaving the National Gallery, I walked out into the sunlight and soon heard the muffled sound of chanting. As I got closer to the Capitol Building, I could make out the chant: Kill the bill! Kill the Bill! Kill the Bill.
Within minutes, Teabaggers surrounded me, all of them white, all of them angry and to be honest, all of them pretty fucking ugly too. It was, I imagined, what a KKK rally must be like. There were plenty of pro-life posters floating around, which is odd since what they were protesting was healthcare, which could, in fact, save lives.
At one point, I walked by a poster of Obama with a Hitler mustache. I stopped to take a picture for my editor and heard a woman behind me say, “Let the lady take a picture, honey, and then you can pose with it.” When I turned around, I saw the woman was talking to a girl of no more than six. I felt sick. My only hope is that the child will someday rebel and become an Art Star.
Many thanks to people for their empathy and support. As soon as my face bounces back, no doubt I will too.
On Tuesday I was fired from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. I had worked there since 2001, was there on the morning of 9-11 and was an incredibly dedicated employee. During my employment there, I worked part-time (approximately 30 hours a week) and never received health insurance or even a sick day. Funny because the museum espouses “labor reform.” Still, I came to work, hardly complained and watched the visitors’ center grow into a million-dollar a year “business” (despite it officially being a non-profit.) I read a huge amount of the literature in the store and was therefore great at selling books. This year, specifically, my schedule was switched to Friday-Monday, which meant I never had a weekend. I worked Black Friday, Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, which meant I also didn’t get to see my family. And on the days off I did have, I was too broke to travel to see them.
I wasn’t sure things there could get more Dickensian until this past week, when on a quick work break, I walked to get coffee and tripped on a crack in the Delancey Street sidewalk, smashing my face in. It was literally a bloody mess. (Though thank you Omega 7, it is healing.) And more thankfully, a woman passing by who knew a nearby EMT took me to him. I am still in pain. My lip is still split and my neck suffered minor whiplash, given I swiveled my head around as I fell to avoid breaking all my teeth. Of course I couldn’t go to a doctor (no insurance!) and probably needed stitches but instead suffered the indignity of high school kids calling me “two-face.” (As someone pointed out, at least they read Batman!)
Since I was drenched in blood, I was obviously sent home from work that day. That Friday I was still in pain, but took 4 Advil and tried to come in. The manager, Jes, asked me to work in the basement, even though I was always best on the sales floor, at my register. The girl who took my place was almost half my age. Guess you have to be without facial scars and young to sell books. The next day I came in and was sent home because Jes told me I needed a “mental health day” even though my problem was obviously physical. Then, having finally gotten Sundays off (something they agreed to 2 weeks ago), a manager named Rachel called me on a Sunday and left me a message telling me I needed to take another “mental health day” on Monday. I called her and told her I didn’t need one. She said, “Don’t call me on a Sunday!” I said you just called me on a Sunday.” I felt like Alice in Wonderland trying to play croquet with a flamingo. Nothing made sense.
Then Rachel told me I had a meeting on Tuesday with Mary Kate, yet another manager. I sat down in the conference room on Tuesday with Mary Kate and Barry Roseman (who is the director of operations) and they told me I was “terminated.” I asked Barry why. He said, “I’m not giving you a reason.” I persisted and he told me I needed to leave the conference room because he had an important meeting. I refused. He finally screamed at me, “insubordination!” and stormed out.
And that’s how it went down. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise since the managers (Mary Kate, Jes and Rachel) have fired many other people in the past 2 months – all hard workers with great personality. I guess personality equals being fired there.
Please boycott the Tenement Museum. As I said before, they espouse labor reform while not practicing it. Al Smith is rolling in his grave right now.
Yesterday I went to the memorial for Jackie McAllister: Scotsman, artist, art historian and friend. I wanted to share what I read at the chapel for anyone who knew him and couldn’t join us in the celebration/remembrance of his life. Wrote this at dawn yesterday:
When I was little, my mom, who was born in Bellshill, a little town right outside of Glasgow, which is kinda like the Gary, Indiana of Scotland, used to sing me a song that went like this:
O ye canna shove yer Granny aff a bus, O ye canna shove yer Granny aff a bus, O ye canna shove yer Granny ‘Cos she’s yer Mammy’s Mammy O ye canna shove yer Granny aff a bus. Ye can shove yer ither Granny aff a bus. Ye can shove yer ither Granny aff a bus. Ye can shove yer ither Granny ‘Cos she’s yer Daddy’s Mammy Ye can shove yer ither Granny aff a bus.
There were other versus, but you get the idea. For decades, I thought my mother made this song up.
Jump ahead more than 30 years later. Jackie had invited me to an opening at Fisher Landau so I got gussied up, hopped on the train and made my way there. Turns out, I got there on the wrong day. Jackie, who was sitting behind the desk, found this extremely amusing and instead of telling me to come back the next day, gave me a tour of the place. Somewhere in the middle of conversation, we started talking about Scotland and out of the blue, he started singing the “Ye Canne Shove Yer Granny Off a Bus” song. I was in shock. I thought my mom wrote that song. “No!” I said and he told me most Scottish people knew the song. I’d just seen Warhols I didn’t know existed but THIS was the most shocking revelation that day.
Another revelation: Jackie was nice, a good person who was willing to entertain an elf-ear-wearing burnout when he probably had a lot of work to do. And that’s something that can be said about everyone who worked at American Fine Arts where I first met him. I was working for another gallery at the time, was probably 22 and went there to pick up a Mariko Mori bio I think. I was used to being ignored or treated like a freak at most galleries but Colin de Land who ran AFA embraced my weirdness and kept inviting me back because the whole crew there embraced weirdness: the freaks, the ignored…the individuals.
When I was a teenager, I used to wish I’d been around during the ’60s, either to be part of Warhol’s Factory, a musician or even a groupie…anything cooler than the present, but at 40 I can look back and say I’m grateful to have come of age in the ’90s if only to have met someone like Jackie. Trust me: No one at the Factory had a smile like Jackie’s and I’m guessing no one there knew the ‘granny song’ or would bother to sing it to you. Jackie was genuine, funny and kind. And at the end of the day, you can do a lot in whatever field you choose, be it art, physics, sports or anything, but to be genuine, funny and kind is a great accomplishment. And I’m sure anyone who knew Jackie would agree that he was all of these things.
I wanted to end with something Scottish. I looked through my book of Robert Burns’ poems and in the end decided not to butcher the Scottish accent so instead I plagiarized myself: I know the Lord or Lady or whoever is in charge giveth and taketh away, but the takething sucks especially for the living, all of who will miss Jackie tremendously.