Sherman-Alexie-credit-Chase-Jarvis

Let’s just get it out there. Because I got it all out there. I puked on Sherman Alexie. Yes, that Sherman Alexie. Celebrated author of short stories, novels, poetry, and tweets. Wearer of very nice leather shoes, possibly handmade in Italy or Spain, or some such country where stooped artisans of the lost art of shoemaking spend months hand-stitching beautiful footwear for famous authors.

juliet escoriaWhat’s Black Cloud about?

The working/joke title was Drugs and Boys. I thought it was funny because it was so obvious. It could have also been called Substance Abuse, Bad Relationships, and Mental Illness but that is a really long title.

Mx Bond, you’re so pretty! Have you always been this pretty?

Well, thank you for noticing! I’ve probably always been this pretty, it’s just that lately I feel so damned good about myself. I, uh, think it must have something to do with my insides. They say beauty is on the inside. I don’t know what’s in there, but whatever it is, it’s really trying to get out.

 

Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels, is your first book. Did you imagine that your first book would be published by the Feminist Press?

No. I didn’t. I was fairly certain it would be published by Simon and Schuster. When I was a kid I heard of Simon and Schuster, because Carly Simon’s father ran it, and she was a big pop star. I thought it would be fun to run around with a group of friends who were really into music, who read books, and who had access to great drugs. But now, I’ve discovered, most rock stars are old and tired and feminism is where it’s at. Carly Simon is still fierce, but there is no other publisher that could impress me more than the Feminist Press at this point.

 

Your book is about your childhood between the ages of 11 and 16. Considering your lifestyle, how can you remember back that far?

Oh, my, what an interesting question! It’s true that I may suffer severe memory loss incurred during certain periods of time in my life, but I recently read an article about Alzheimer’s, and in it the reporter told me that most Alzheimer’s patients can remember nearly every song they learned when they were around 13 years of age so odds are our childhoods remain with us—at least our 13th year—and it’s a good thing, because I was 13 when I was de-flowered in a tree house!  You can read more about that in my book. Anyway, because of this theory, I think there’s a pretty good chance most of the memories in this book are correct. It was a difficult time in my life; I don’t think anyone remembers puberty as their greatest moment, and because it is a very specific time period, it doesn’t give a general overview of my relationship with my parents, which has for the most part, been very positive. But, I’m glad it seems to be resonating with a lot of other trans and queer people.

 

When you wrote this book were you writing it as a way of illustrating life from a trans-child’s perspective?

No, that’s the funny thing. I’ve been surprised by how many people have picked up on the book as being written from a trans-child’s point of view. At the time I didn’t think of myself as a trans-child, I just thought of myself as being me and I was telling the story of myself and a boy who grew up in my neighborhood who, like me, was diagnosed with mental health issues later in life that I believed were there all along. In telling this story, I was looking back through the lens of someone who had recently been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. I consciously chose to leave a lot about my experience as a transgendered person out of the book because that part seemed to me to be another story altogether. Evidently, I was wrong. I now realize the fact that I am a trans-person makes it obvious that my story would be perceived as being told by one. But at the time I was writing I wasn’t thinking in those terms.

 

You’ve said in previous interviews that your favorite fictional heroine is Mariah Wyeth from Joan Didion’s book, Play It As It Lays. What’s so great about her?

I like that Mariah Wyeth experiences a lot of what I aspired to as a child: living in Hollywood, having a handsome husband, being beautiful, a movie star. These were things I thought would make me happy when I was growing up in a small conservative town in western Maryland. But when I read Play It As It Lays, I realized that wasn’t necessarily true. Mariah in the end came to the determination that nothing mattered. This may seem like a bleak outlook, but I think that once you realize that nothing really matters, you are free to decide which things actually matter to you and invest your time and energy in them. You are able to write your own story and are free to attach importance and relevance to whatever you choose as you tell yourself the story of who you are and what your life is all about. I don’t necessarily agree with all of Joan Didion’s ideas or perspectives, but I’m grateful that by creating the character of Mariah Wyeth, she gave me that insight. Now my life is a story that I tell myself and I don’t feel that I have to be annexed or oppressed by the stories other people choose to inhabit regarding their own beliefs or how they choose to perceive me.

 

Oh My Goddess, Mx Bond! That is so intense. How do you come up with this stuff?

Well, I spend a lot of time thinking… but, I don’t get too carried away. I think it’s important to remain in the shallow end of the pool, otherwise you are likely to drown yourself. Just because you know how to swim, doesn’t mean you always have to get your hair wet. Can I say that off all the people who’ve ever interviewed me, you are my absolute favorite?

 

Why thanks, Mx Bond. I’m glad you’re not one of those tortured, conflicted writers who thinks it is important to impress everybody with how miserable you are.

Oh, no. I save the misery and depression for those who know me best. Namely my cat, Pearl, who has a very stoic nature and my most significant other, who has a tremendous capacity to tune me out when I get to be too ridiculous. And if the going gets to be too much, if I really need a break, I just get out of the house and go look at shoes. Shoes always cheer me up.

 

Wasn’t it shoes that got you into all this trouble in the first place?

Yes, in fact it was. If my grandmother hadn’t had such a fantastic shoe collection, it would have taken me a lot longer to discover that my impulses were not “gender appropriate.” Who knows? I might have ended up some tragic looter, raiding Footlockers instead of the glamorous lady authoress you are speaking with today. And let’s face it, in the end of the day, life isn’t about misery and sneakers, it’s about love and high heels.

 

Well said, Mx Bond!

Thank you.

 

arch.  As in the curved part of her foot, which was adorned with a slightly more delicate fabric.  Near the end of the decade, diminutive heels also emerged as an appropriate accent.  This unraveling of decorum became the source of her great persuasive abilities.

coquette. One who chooses attire without considering its inevitable interpretation.  In this case, her shoes were intricately laced and visible beneath the hem of a blue silk dress.

desire. Synonymous with the strange or unknowable.  Consider the graceful arc of her ankle, its glistening rows of lacquer buttons.

emboss.  To impress upon.  At the time it was expected that the floral pattern around the toe remain hidden from view.  This widespread anxiety gave way to a preoccupation with her evening slippers, their endless variety.

instep.  In some circles considered the most seductive part of the Adelaide boot.  For a series of illustrations, see Appendix B.

slipper.  A reminder of the lakeside.  Her luminous hair.

tapered.  Defined as a shape that fades or becomes narrow.  Along the coast such embellishments became increasingly popular, and so her attire fell out of fashion.

There’s a narrow band of road that snakes from Donegal town to Malin Head, Ireland’s northernmost point.

Sheep, goats, and the occasional, and increasingly rare corncrake, were some of the only witnesses to my days working in the late-1990s for Ireland’s LA Gear distributor. You know, the shoes with lights in the heels?

In those days the village of Malin had an urban population of in and around 120 souls, and it was my duty to drive the winding road to the 1991 Tidy Town’s winning location once a month as part of my territory. I loved the drive, through sheer landscape, rock and heather, a barren place where even the seabirds suffered personality disorders.

One shoe shop, opposite the Allied Irish bank, close to the large Celtic cross in the center of town. It was my privilege to service this customer, pointing out the merits of flashy American trainers with lights in the heels, and some with sparkles and rhinestones studding the uppers. One of the bestsellers was the MVP, endorsed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and that bore a remarkable resemblance to Nike’s original Air Jordans.

“Howreyedoingtoday?” the bent-double old lady said. “Sure, dyehaveanyofyonsparklyshoeswithyetoday?”

“Sorry?” I said, unable to decipher her Joycean stream-of-consciousness dialogue. The coconut crumbs from her morning snack of Kimberly Mikado biscuits were embedded in the wiry mustache she sported. She had the look of Fu Manchu on an off day, but I needed the sales because my figures for the month were dire.

“Thelightssonnythelights.” And then she wheezed, as if it was her dying breath.

I unzipped the bag and pulled out a selection of perfectly laced left-only shoes.

“Here’s the new Stardust range,” I said, offering the five sample shoes for her inspection. “They’re selling well, strong leather uppers, EVA midsole, great design.”

“Wherearethelightsforgoodnesssakesonny?”

I handed her a sample and she treated it as if it were a potato dug from her garden, rolling it around in her arthritic fingers, the long pointy fingernails crusted with dirt. She peered at the floral design on the outsole.

“Nogoodtoushereatallatall,” she decreed. “Itslightstheyoungwanswantlights.”

“We’ve got plenty of lights, still. You can put in an order for them if you like,” I said, plucking the order book from my briefcase.

Ten minutes later she’d ordered twelve pairs of shoes, between an 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 in the Catapult, and a 5, 6, 7, 8, including half-sizes, in a women’s lights model. Barely enough commission on the sale to buy me a fucking Mars bar at the nearby petrol station shop. I was zipping the samples back into the bag, when she appeared at the door to the back of the shop and waved feebly at me.

“Comehereandlookatthese,” she said.

On a table in the back room was a heap of Catapults and light-up shoes, tied with lace, in various states of decay and soakage. The smell was mildewy, and the woman shook her head from side to side. “Theyreallruinedfromthepuddlestheyoungwansdoberunningthrough,” she said.

“Ma’am, they’re not supposed to be worn in the rain, or to go through puddles,” I said.

“Fortheloveofgodsureareyoukiddingmeatalltall?”

“Honestly. They’re not built for that abuse.”

“Bythehokeysureisnttheweatheralwaysbadinthiscountryanddontallyoungwansmcukaboutinpuddles?”

She had a point. It must rain over two hundred days a year in the North-West of Ireland. There’s no chance shitty, mass-produced sneakers will hold up to the ravages of such a climate. Resignedly, I dropped my sample bag in the car and came back in for the returns. I loaded thirty pairs of shoes in the trunk of the car and drove the desolate road back to Donegal town for the night.


Next morning, car stuffed with returned shoes, I sat outside a drapery in Donegal town, paralyzed with a hatred of my job. Instead of calling on the account, I filled in the Irish Times crossword, both Simplex and Crosaire, and had a sausage roll and cup of tea in a gaily decorated café. Finally, I sucked every ounce of self-esteem from my nether regions, and walking into the account for the last time.


That Friday I unloaded a cache of over one hundred pairs of crap sneakers from the company car, walked into the director’s office, and handed in my resignation. Worst part of it was I had to work out my notice and endure two more weeks of sneaker abuse at the hands of little old ladies speaking in tongues, and ruddy-faced farmers trying to diversify their interests, accepting their returns, and taking orders for more of the happy, shiny shoes I hated so.


And now, twenty-odd years later,with my summer school teaching job coming to an end this week, and no real prospect of work beyond that, I remember the old days, driving out to Malin Head, Achill Island, and Oughterard, trying to sell shoes that had the habit of falling apart at first wear, and consider that things could always be worse. Recession be damned.




Once I saw on the sidewalk a man shooting up. He knelt at curbside as though praying, his skinny white ass peeking out from his too-tight jeans and too-short shirt. Thwap-thwap-thwap went his needle. We walked away before we could see him do anything. When we returned, he was gone.

Pumps

By Ted McCagg

The Feed