Memories Of Maggie
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 8/13/14
Before I married my wife, Jessica, there was Betta, Clarissa, Kristin, Tricia, Anna, Rosy, Lily, Danielle, Lisa, and others. These were all the ‘artsy babes’ of my past, and each and every one of them had ‘issues.’ But, before any of them came into and left my existence, there was Maggie- Maggie, a wannabe writer.
Her name was Maggie Estep (her Wikipedia page), and, if you’re reading this essay decades from the date it was written you will likely have no idea who this woman was, even if her writing remains archived in some forgotten corner of the collective human history, for her printed works will likely have long since moldered and come to dust. And that’s probably a good thing because the woman that was Maggie Estep was never the woman she could have been, the woman who might have been, back when I knew her, three decades ago, in the 1980s. Yes, that much can be said of anyone, but Maggie, while not blessed with remarkable writing talent, did have, in her youth, a lust for knowledge. One could converse with her on a plenum of subjects and it was clear that she was not just regurging information. There was a mind behind her eyes. This is one of the draws of an artistic personality. Even if one lacks the ability to create, that person still has a desire to experience art and ideas. This puts them above the usual people who are content with pop trivia and mindless entertainment, and, to someone bestowed with real depth and talent in those fields, it makes that sort of mind a chimera- a thing to be nurtured, and even held up, even if only 1 in 100 people have that artistic bent, and only 1 in 100 of those with that bent ever bend it to artistic success; and by success I mean real artistic achievement- not fame, money, laurels, etc. Maggie was in that top 1%, but also in the bottom 99% of that top 1%. This meant that she had all the yearnings and desires of an artist, but none of the talent to really be one. She was what has become known in the arts as a Joey- a term derived from a character with that name, played by Mary Beth Hurt, in Woody Allen’s 1978 film, Interiors, who possessed all the above pros and cons. This is, in a truly personal way, Purgatory, and I have seen more than one wannabe artist encased in such traits.
Nonetheless, a few weeks ago, I was tired, and on one of my nights off from work, and I was Googling the names of some of the women from my past. I do so, once or twice a year, as I do with old friends from the nabe, or school, or old co-workers, and the last time I had looked up Maggie was likely in late 2013 or perhaps January of 2014, and, as had been the case for a decade or more, she seemed to be stuck in her uncreative rut (hell?). I saw her blog, Amazon book links, the old notices and reviews from newspapers. Nothing new, and I didn’t check again until I recently finished a 17 month long project- an almost 2.5 million word novel called A Norwegian In The Family, and had time to kill, so I Googled the names of friends and acquaintances from the past, including some of the aforementioned artsy babes. Then I Googled Maggie.
This was when I came upon this:
Maggie Estep, a novelist and spoken-word poet who helped popularize slam poetry on MTV, HBO and PBS in the 1990s, died on Wednesday in Albany. She was 50.
Ms. Estep (pronounced EST-ep) died two days after having a heart attack at her home in Hudson, N.Y., a friend, John Rauchenberger, said.
An East Village bohemian when the neighborhood contained more discarded syringes than million-dollar condos, Ms. Estep became a regular at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, one of the incubators of the slam poetry movement. Slam poetry combines aspects of a live reading, a rap battle and stand-up comedy, as performers try to win over the audience with wit, braggadocio and, occasionally, nuance.
Ms. Estep’s poetry was characterized by gritty honesty, black humor and a post-punk brand of feminism. She became one of the form’s breakout stars, performing in showcases like MTV’s “Unplugged,” the “Free Your Mind” spoken-word tour in 1993 and, in 1994, the music festivals Lollapalooza and Woodstock ’94.
Her poems, which she delivered relentlessly, were a cascade of images, often tinged with absurdity, violence and innuendo. She performed one scathingly sarcastic poem, “Happy,” on the HBO show “Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam”:
To hell with sticking my head in the oven
I’m ridiculously, vengefully happy
I’m ripped apart by sunshine
I’m cutting off all my limbs
I’m doing circus tricks with forks
She recorded two spoken-word albums with rock accompaniment, “No More Mr. Nice Girl” (NuYo/Imago, 1994) and “Love Is a Dog From Hell” (Mouth Almighty/Mercury, 1997). Her fame increased when a video for her song “Hey Baby” was mocked on “Beavis and Butt-head.” The song centers on Ms. Estep’s bizarre rejoinder to an amorous man on a New York street, and ends with this exchange:
“What’s the matter, baby?
You got something against men?” He asks.
“No,” I say
“I don’t have anything against men,
just stupid men.”
Margaret Ann Estep was born on March 20, 1963, in Summit, N.J. Her parents were racehorse trainers, and she grew up in Canada, France, Colorado and Georgia. She dropped out of high school in her late teens and moved to Manhattan.
“I fell in love with New York City one day in 1971, when I saw dozens of people blithely stepping over a dead body on a sidewalk,” Ms. Estep wrote in “Think of This as a Window,” an essay about finally leaving the city.
She worked briefly as a go-go dancer, joined the punk scene and became addicted to heroin. She took up fiction writing at a drug rehabilitation clinic in the mid-1980s.
In 1986 she attended a class taught by William S. Burroughs at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. She studied there for two years and eventually received a bachelor’s degree in literature from the State University of New York.
She published several books, including mystery novels set in New York City and “Love Dance of the Mechanical Animals,” which includes her spoken-word work. She moved to Hudson from Brooklyn several years ago.
Ms. Estep regularly kept a blog. Her final entry, about stripping and friendship, appeared on Feb. 7.
She is survived by her mother, Nancy Murray; two half-brothers, Jon and Chris Murray; and a half-sister, Ellen Murray.
Although Ms. Estep became famous as a performer, she said she always considered herself primarily a writer.
“I was a writer long before I performed, and my work is very much for the page as well as the stage,” she told The San Jose Mercury News in 1994.
“I sent my stuff out to the quarterlies and it came back with arrogant notes,” she added. “Now, they come to me.”
February 14, 2014
An obituary on Thursday about the poet and novelist Maggie Estep referred incompletely to the record companies that released her two spoken-word albums. “No More Mr. Nice Girl” was released by NuYo/Imago, not NuYo; “Love Is a Dog From Hell” was released by Mouth Almighty/Mercury, not Mercury.
I was taken aback to read she was dead, although hardly surprised, as, from the first time I Googled her name, a decade or so earlier, I had seen how she had physically deteriorated, from the time I knew her, from the mid 80s through the early 90s, just a few years before she became fleetingly infamous as a poetry slammer. What amazed me more was all the faux tributes and bullshit praise that came from people who never met the woman, had no idea of her person, and/or who just were looking for a corpse inspired traffic bump for their blogs.
It was clear from the obituaries and recent photos that all the drugs she had done had caught up with her. The once cute looks and pixie-like presence had deteriorated into a prematurely aged woman. Although just two years older than me, there seemed to be a two decade difference in age. Yet, not a single would be hagiographer commented on this- as if stating that Maggie had obviously done herself in was verboten. As I grew up living on the Brooklyn-Queens border, and playing with my pals in the Ridgewood-Bushwick heroin galleries, I got to know what heroin addicts looked like- picture Nazi death camp survivors with leprosy sores, thus I strongly suspect that Maggie was still intermittently using and/or had so deteriorated her body’s immune system to such a point that she could do no better.
And all this is what prompted me to write this essay, memoir, or corrective to the many false online narratives and hagiographies about Maggie, and her life, wherein someone unknown, or even famed (ala British comic book superstar, Neil Gaiman), dashed off a few words about this or that minor aspect of the woman, and claimed how healthy and wonderful she was, all in contradiction to the materially, historically, and visually obvious: that her years of drug use led to her inevitable too early death. Hagiographies suck precisely because they say nothing about the real person and construct a fantasy in their place. So, not only is her drug use relegated to the past, in such false narratives, but nary a mention of her depression, suicidal tendencies, self-loathing, lesbianism and/or bisexuality is made.
Let me start to repair that. As mentioned, I first met Maggie almost 30 years ago- in either late 1984 or early 1985, when I first started getting into the NYC arts scene, and had not seen her since late 1990 or early 1991. I went to a few local poetry groups, then started to go to some open mics, and, once or twice a month I would go to the Nuyorican Poets Café. One can easily Google the online hagiographies of that bad band of Beatnik wannabes, but, in reality, in the mid-1980s the Nuyoricans were known for three things: 1) bad poetry and performance art, 2) a revolving open mic at different venues (in the five boroughs, New Jersey, Long Island, and even Westchester locales- mostly Yonkers), as the original Café was under semi-permanent reconstruction for several years (or some such bullshit), and 3) there were barely any Puerto Ricans involved. The derisive name that they were called was The Jewyoricans, because the open mics were controlled by poobahs like Bob Holman, and later, Hal Sirowitz, after the actual Puerto Rican founders of the Café- doggerelist Miguel Algarin, and rapist, drug addict, and playwright Miguel Pinero, had basically left the scene behind (or, in Pinero’s case- asked to never return). For over five years I averaged going a little more than once a month, as it was often difficult, dangerous, and expensive (for a blue collar guy) to park a car at night in the city, especially when work usually beckoned the following morning.
Whether or not I met Maggie at the Café, or at another joint related to it, or possibly when going to some Brooklyn art show rave with others, after an open mic, I’m not sure, for the years rarely retain specifics. I have a convective memory, not a file drawer type. The important things are not trivial dates nor names, but the actions, the little moments. I probably had seen her a few times before the first time she came up to me, after I had read. She seemed to take an instant liking (artistically, personally, and sexually) to me (which was reciprocated), and recognized that, even though I had just started writing, I had real talent, something she knew most of the others did not, and which she knew, really deeply, that she did not. And this is a very important point: Maggie lacked self esteem, on a personal and artistic level, and this led to her being exploited, and to her never really challenging herself on any level. In looking over her blog posts, even all these many years later, Maggie was still intellectually and creatively lazy, and admitted as much over a quarter century gone. Having read her writings- poetic, some fiction, and many magazine pieces, she was clearly best at reportage and journalism, and had she pursued that diligently, she might have been able to have lived comfortably as a syndicated columnist, rather than ending up in real estate- a profession I know she must have loathed.
This lack of self esteem manifested itself in several ways, now and then. Maggie took drugs all through the five plus years I knew her, and she was very sexually easy, to anyone who would give her attention- positively, with conversations, or negatively, with drugs, used as a lure for back alley assignations. Almost all the men who ever went to the Café ended up in some sort of sexual dalliance with Maggie- and quite a few women, as well. Usually this consisted of blowjobs, and I received some from her, as well as just about every sort of sexual favor apart from vaginal intercourse- which I resisted until Maggie consented to get tested for VDs and AIDS and also agreed to drop all her other dalliances and focus on just me. Of course, at the time, I suspected she was involved with and stringing other males along, for she needed to be desired by many males. It was central to her needy pathology. To her, drugs were a release, and sex was a currency to get them, in lieu of real love or artistic connection. In fact, in the late 80s, when Maggie was either living with or staying at an apartment with a blond Scandinavian woman, she invited me back, one night, and offered me my first and only ever opportunity for a ménage a trois. As I sought something more, with Maggie alone, I declined, and, after that, I started seeing less and less of her at the Café. She also had had fallings out with many of the male members of the Café scene, so I didn’t take this as a particular snub to me, but this tension between her and the other Nuyorican poetasters only grew as Maggie became the face and doyenne of the Nuyoricans on MTV.
When I was living in the Twin Cities, in the spring of 1996, doggerelist Bob Holman had helped create a terrible PBS series on spoken word poetry, called The United States Of Poetry, and he and a few other Nuyoricans went touring the country. I caught them at a Minneapolis bar called Ground Zero. Other than Holman, the only poet I knew from the New York days was blind black doggerelist Steve Cannon- the de facto grand old man of the Café, and later founder of the infamous A Gathering Of The Tribes. I had hoped to see Maggie, and how she was doing- maybe even reconcile with her, but she was not there, despite some local advertisements to the contrary, that pimped her name, as she was featured on the PBS show. Clearly, there was still animus between the males of the Café and the woman who had ‘stolen’ their spotlight, as the two poobahs even refused to speak her name, and treated me with disdain, first for mentioning Maggie’s name in disappointment over her absence, despite the ads, and then for reading a great poem that ripped into artistic fraud LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka). The reaction to my poem was so intense that a small scale riot broke out and a couple of Minneapolis police cars had to quell the erupting violence between the Nuyoricans and their supporters, and the people who dared to cheer my great verse. I managed to escape the melee unscathed, even as that reading and riot became local Twin Cities legend, and vaulted me to the top of that area’s poetic heap- recognitionally- as I was already there poetically, eventually culminating in a local arts newsweekly, City Pages, doing an error filled article on me which, likewise, generated a maelstrom.
But, the thing that got me was the utter hypocrisy of the male Nuyoricans- a Jew and a black, over a white female (Maggie claimed to me to be of Jewish and Hispanic descent, but, of course, I never had any reason nor proof of this)- and their sexist attitudes. I’d known this pair, years earlier, and it burned them that Maggie was the one who got out in front of the short lived early 1990s poetry slam craze. Then, again, their hypocrisy was par for the proverbial course, as poetry slams were a bullshit art, with a bullshit history to begin with- as bullshit as the Nuyoricans, themselves. The legendry claims that poetry slams were started by a Chicago area poetaster named Marc Smith, in 1984, at a Green Mill restaurant, but the reality is that Smith merely coined the term poetry slam. He absolutely, 100% did not come up with the idea of competitive spoken word and poetry. The idea of spoken word contests and versifiers competing against one another, developed over a decade and a half earlier, and flourished in the early 1970s, sprouting up in Philadelphia and New York City, in events called dozens tosses. These evolved from the competitive putdowns known as doing the dozens. I attended many of these events- often held alongside cock and dog fights in inner city Brooklyn tenements, in those years, long before I realized I had a gift for wordplay, myself.
Enough with the cultural history lesson, though. This is about Maggie, and, in scanning through the many obituaries of her online, as mentioned, several common threads emerged: people were shocked at Maggie’s early demise, they floated some faux obituary containing an obscure and/or meaningless banality or a reference to a memory with no revelatory insight, and then they sort of sighed over her death with a generic huzzah. To them, as to so many others, Maggie Estep was a means to their end, and now that she is dead and almost forgotten, she serves not their purposes. And, again, her death was no mystery. Years of drug use compromises the body’s strength and immunity, and certain drugs weaken the heart. Aside from heroin, I know personally that Maggie used marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, assorted amphetamines and other nondescript pills of varied colors, as well as mescaline and LSD. And this was just in the brief window of time I knew her. And, if I had been a user of drugs, as well, I might be able to give you a far more detailed list of the walking pharmacy that Maggie’s frail body contained.
Then there are the bad choices Maggie made, in art. She chose to ‘play the game’ of the MFA publishing mill, and it worked, insofar as the fact is that she did get published. But, I read a couple of her books, and there was no ‘Maggie’ in her work. What I mean by that is all great artists etch aspects of themselves into their best work. Individuation is one of the hallmarks of greatness. One cannot mistake a Walt Whitman poem for that of Wallace Stevens, nor can one mistake a Goya painting for a Hopper, nor the prose of Melville for Twain. Maggie’s work was utterly generic, and this was as it had always been. She’d never grown. Maybe she might have, if we had stayed close, but likely she would have resented me, with each passing year, and each passing great poem, essay, or work of fiction I wrote. Envy can kill in the arts, so Maggie chose anomy. This choice and its consequences were reflected in her ill wrought blog, wherein Maggie comes off as yet another of those generic artsy New York women of little talent (think Maud Newton)- an insular and solipsistic navel gazing hack whose journalism, even, lacks depth and individuation. Ok, yes, ultimately, as football coach Bill Parcells opined, ‘you are what your record says,’ but, unlike Ms. Newton, Maggie could have been more. No, not a great poet, and likely not even a great fiction writer, but a good one? Maybe. A good journalist? Likely.
And this gets back to her essential laziness. It’s the same sort of laziness that her publishers exhibited in marketing her work, which resulted in her books ending up, three months after release, at remaindered tables of bookstores, and sold in bulk to dollar retailers before having 95% of the stock pulped and remaindered. That is where, by the way, I bought my works by Maggie. Her work never made it, and this seemed to recapitulate all other aspects of her life. From all I read online (in several dozen notices of her death) Maggie never found real love nor companionship (despite an utter desperation for it), from either a man or woman, and seems to have settled into the role of the Nuyorican’s version of the Beatniks’ Anne Waldman- a used and discarded female hanger on and sexual plaything. Her life’s work will likely be unread by coming generations (and deservedly so)- mere fodder for the occasional lonely person scanning Project Gutenberg or The Internet Archive- or what succeeds such websites in the future.
This final image of her is why I wrote this piece- to end the thirty plus year fantasy that has been put forth of the Nuyorican scene- lies and bullshit that these culture killers (along with the Beatniks, Abstract Expressionists, Pop Artists, and other noxious groups of dilettantes and poseurs) foist. Hagiographies blur reality, and necessarily demean the real person. And, despite what the noxious obituaries (like this) claimed, Maggie Estep was a person, not an icon. Even at the zenith of her fame, she was known by maybe a 100,000 or so hardcore fans of slam poetry, and maybe a million or more people who might feel her name rang an obscure bell. In the two decades since, she became a ‘Whatever happened to….?’ trivia person. Hell, despite never making a dime off of my own website, Cosmoetica, I was likely known by more people- and not merely for being mistaken for the fat culture killer who shares my name, and who makes terrible cable tv sitcoms for children. Features in the New York Times, City Pages, and raves by Roger Ebert will do that, for good or ill.
The difference is, even though Maggie had seven or more books published by obscure to big New York presses (and like many bad writers, she started at the top and sunk lower and lower in the publishing hierarchy with each bad book that financially tanked), at her death, she was widely and correctly viewed as a has been, culturally, even as she was really a neverwas, creatively. And I take no joy in stating these things, for I knew and liked Maggie. Aside from our sexual liaisons, I recall small things about her, over the last week or so since finding out of her demise. I recall her love of old film noir- how she could and would go on about John Garfield films, or early Sam Fuller flicks. I recall her love for horses, the way she would look at a movie screen at underground film releases, and her declaring that she never wanted to be a mother (in that regard she seems to have been a success). I also recall her absolute loathing of phoniness in people and things, and know that she likely loathed herself even more during her soon to come fame, for it consisted of a level of phoniness that dwarfed that exhibited by the stumblebum Nuyoricans. In the end, she became what she loathed, and more so. Hence, she likely felt she deserved nothing better in life, so started cranking out generic writing to cash in on her fleeting notoriety- a cycle of non-fulfillment she was used to with the drugs; thus suckling both phoniness and laziness in one life’s turn to annihilation. She devolved into a wannabe, cranking out crap, playing the game, and losing in life in all ways that really matter. She was, despite her well crafted image, never a street kid, and certainly not a city kid- just a poseur who tried to fit in. Hell, she wasn’t even that good at cribbing the persona of a street kid.
Perhaps her slow suicide began even in the years before I met her? Drugs, booze, sex, abuse, insecurities, psychoanalysis- she claimed to have kept regular appointments with a shrink back in the day, and even had an affair with a female shrink. Whether true or just part of her boasts to boost her persona, I have no idea- but it’s plausible, knowing who she was then. I wonder if she still was seeing a therapist this century?
A decade ago, I wrote a four book volume of memoirs called True Life, and, in the third book, I had a memoir on Maggie (whom I renamed Annie Mendes) called Beyond Those Swans: Missive For Annie Mendes. Because so much of American society is phony, and false accusations of libel and Lance Armstronging abound, I mixed together some of Maggie’s persona and interactions with me with that of another female- i.e.- Annie Mendes is about two thirds Maggie Estep and one third another female. The irony of the memoir is that, in the time frame that I was trying to score with artsy wannabe Maggie, who was two years older than me, and a drug user, I was also trying to score with a non-artsy girl who was two years younger than me, and involved with a drug dealer and user.
Now, all that is gone- decades so. When I found out of Maggie’s death, I had no sadness, no tears; just disappointment and regret that she wasted so much of her existence. Still, there was emotion. When I looked back into the memoir I wrote of Maggie (as Annie) I found one glaring, yet Freudianly relevant typo, and that was the lone instance where I retained Maggie’s name and not the cover name of Annie. Here is that passage:
But, the moistness of the moon in Maggie’s pupils, the shimmer of her bright lipstick smeared on my cock, looking up to me from her knees, as she blew me in the alleyway- almost to ejaculation- made me ignore what I knew to be true.
Even in just rereading that brief description of one of our encounters, I was tinged with regret. I recalled that exact moment. I could see Maggie’s eyes, hear her voice, and all those other Hollywood ending sorts of things. But, she was not there. There was no Maggie. She was not even Annie. The real Maggie was dead, and I never had the opportunity to tell her how much I liked her, how sad I was that her life had imploded, and how I wondered if her life would have been different had she and I grown closer. No, this is not some middle aged fantasy of having married her. I am happily and contentedly married, and would not alter a thing that would change THAT outcome. But, if I could change some things in Maggie’s and my relationship, to alter her for the better, without concomitant loss on my part, I would.
Thus, words are all that are left of Maggie Estep- hers, the words of others trying to siphon what little remains of her scant legacy, and these- these words. These words that really are about Maggie, that will become more Maggie than anything she ever wrote, as Maggie Estep was always missing, for Estep was always a step behind the real, and the real is what art is about. It is not about the truth, for art can never be about that. It deals with reality though, helping us to understand it by the ways we parallax art against it. If only Maggie had understood that. Yet, even had she, she likely lacked the fortitude, desire, and mindset to do anything with it; hence I will step in and step up for her, where all the others have not.
Goodbye, Maggie. I will miss you. I missed you. I miss you.
Excerpts from Beyond Those Swans: Missive For Annie Mendes, 5/6/04
….I was taken aback to see sexy Annie Mendes striding near. Yes, THAT Annie Mendes! Mo scuttled out of the way when Annie shot him a rebuking glance. She joined me at the table & introduced herself. She did not recognize me as we’d only met a few times at the tracks years earlier, & never talked in depth as I was lustbitten. She had a reputation as the top diva in the Nuyorican scene. She told me she couldn’t make it every week, but heard about me- this brilliant young cat- from others.
She was still sexy- a little older, but none the worse for the wear, in her mid-20s. She reveled in her sexuality & its power- dressing like a teenager in heat, longing to lose her virginity. Note- I was not complaining. Her body language was solicitous….
….Over the months we got to know each other. Annie was surprised to learn I knew the same crowd she had. I never related I had been there at the last grasp for life her former boyfriend, Eli Carbo, had when he reached out of a body bag he’d been stuffed into for hours, only to have Paco knife him into blackness. Annie told me about Carbo- how he beat her, & even had 1 of his trained ex-racehounds almost rip off her face as he restrained it mere inches from that goal, all because she dared stand up to him. Then she had caught him cheating. He slapped her silly, beat her, literally threw her out of the apartment they shared with nothing but her purse & clothes. The next day he tossed all her shit out on the sidewalk during a rainstorm. Carbo ordered Jack to clear her shit off his sidewalk. Jack’s brother helped, & she & Bob Zito became involved. Whereas, for some reason, she loved Carbo, Bob was a rebound she went with 6 or 7 months- nothing serious. Since their breakup she’d gotten seriously ‘into’ poetry- a childhood love. She had shit jobs as a secretary, did freelance writing for neighborhood papers, but no real success, until she got her 15 minutes of fame in the mid-1990s spoken word boom.
She was just a beautiful unattached young woman, insecure, who looked to me- a few years younger- for answers. I was wise beyond my time & it was apparent there was real chemistry between us. We spend most of our reading nights in each others’ company. 1 night, she read a poem dedicated to me. It went over big, but was no great shakes as literature. I asked for her phone # several times, but she demurred, stating her life was ‘complicated’, although, when things ‘got better’ she would give it to me. I slowly started piecing things together….
….I was expecting to finish this night in her apartment. She said no, she allowed no 1 but her roommate there. I suggested a hotel room. As she rose & rested her head against my chest, my weakened legs collapsed & we fell onto a trash bag, against a brick wall. Annie laughed as she lay upon me. I wanted more than a blow job. I spouted off the Brownings, O’Keeffe & Stieglitz, Plath & Hughes- we could be better than those couples! Annie told me she was afraid, but would not elaborate. I was sick of game players….
….It was obvious I should pursue Annie. 3 things stood in the way, though. 1) Annie’s actions & secrecy were a worry. I suspected she’d been sexually abused due to the words & provocations of her performances. 2) she was rumored to be bisexual- always a problem- every bi girl I knew growing up claimed sexual abuse, incest, or had mental problems. 3) she had a drug problem. Sexy as she was I feared actual sex with her, unless she was tested for AIDS & VD & remained monogamous- should we actually become an official ‘couple’. Yet, I left that night even more determined to have her as my woman.
Was Annie Mendes- olive-skinned poetry goddess- another in a long line of sexually fucked up flakes & cockteases an inch away from self-destruction? Could I be the damnable but noble White Knight again? 1 night Annie called me up- the 1st time in the 2 years we’d known each other we spoke on the phone. She was crying, needed someone to talk to, not in her work or poetry circles. She decided to let me into her world, wanted me to come by, told me she never met anyone like me, since the 1st time we made out she broke off with other guys. But, she was fearful. She regurged the all-too-familiar tale of bad childhood, sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol, smoking, sexual experimentation, etc. The details went by in a blur- women, 3somes, drugs, etc. She told me she was clean, though, & mentioned she was raised a strict Jew (she was ½ Puerto Rican & ½ Jewish), & sexually abused by a rabbi at 12, when developing her now luscious breasts. She never trusted guys until she met me. But, I was not in a good place, at this time….
….After him she started a rollercoaster of sexual adventures & drugs- sex with over 40 men, fellating twice as many. I asked if she’d ever seen a shrink. Of course, she said. But she had an affair with her that ended badly. She boinked her female psychiatrist? As I lay with her in my arms I was taken aback, as well curiously aroused….I let Annie go down on me but when she wanted sex, even with condom in hand, I demurred. Annie flipped out, thinking I was selfish for only wanting a blowjob. I thought she should get an AIDS test, I’d seen needles earlier that night, as well men’s underwear around the apartment. She accused me of rummaging, spying on her. She flew into a rage like none I’d seen. 2 minutes ago we were on the verge of making love & she was pledging she could be faithful to me forever. Now, I was persecuting her….because I cared enough to want her healthy before we made love? She claimed the needles & men’s underwear were her roommate’s. Why were they in her room? Nonplussed & caught, she tried to seduce me, again. I questioned her claim of dropping all other guys after she & I became close- I’d seen her making out with a guy in back of the café on a night she’d not expected me to show. She ordered me out of her apartment- we ‘were through’, & started throwing things, screaming & attacking me, scratching my face in the process.
I got up to leave. I could see she was not in her right mind. I told her I would call her, I cared for her, hell- even though I did not feel it at the time- I told her I loved her. None of this mattered….
After that things went downhill. Usually Annie would ignore me the last couple years I went to the café, but 1 evening she sought out my company & asked me to her apartment. I could not resist her looks nor upset fragility. I had a condom, & was ready to use it. Would I ever meet a woman I shared as much with as Annie? Fuck it! I’ll fuck her! As she led me to her bedroom, making out all the way, I was surprised to find we were not alone. Her roommate- an attractive blond named Tessa Vandenburg, an aspiring actress & model- was waiting naked in Annie’s bed. I was highly aroused by Annie. Tessa delighted to see my cock in full bloom, ready to be released, & slowly crawled across the bed as if a hungry coyote. Annie told me she wanted to share Tessa with me to apologize for her treatment of me. Annie was depressed over ‘losing me’ & began an affair with Tessa to get over me. Tessa suggested we revel in the forgiveness of a ménage a trios. As I looked at Annie as she spoke Tessa unzipped my pants. Most men would be ecstatic over a 3some with a stunning brunet & sexy blond, but I knew both were drug users & sexually indiscriminate. In the greatest act of self-control ever exhibited- for Tessa reached into my pants, handjobbed me, licked briskly my frenulum, & was inches away from swallowing me whole, while Annie plunged her tongue deeply into my mouth- I pulled away, held her by her delicate wrists, paused as I looked through what I thought a woman, & threw Annie onto the bed. She wept, pulled out a Kama Sutra from her nighttable, & begged me to join her & Tessa.
I shook my head, explained I did not just want sex from her, I wanted more, between us, not between us & Tessa- no matter how sexy Tessa was. Also, there was still the drugs. Annie wept. Tessa raged at me for upsetting Annie, then tossed me out of the apartment claiming all men were animals & only a woman knew what Annie really needed. Over the last few months I went to the café Annie was even more dissolute. Her hostility was palpable- I, like all the others, abandoned her, was a liar who used her. To spite men like me, she was gonna become famous. This, not art, became her driving force. Annie used fellatio & sex to advance her legend. She blew any guy who bought her a drink or shared a snort….
….Before I left New York I saw Annie Mendes a couple times at the Nuyorican. She ignored me & dipped further into sexual libertinism & drugs….But, that was later. Now, I am holding a weepy, pleading Annie’s wrists in my hands, before I toss her to the bed she will share with only Tessa that night. I was spurned, hurt Annie did not care enough to want intimacy with only me. Who knows? Had we alone made love that night, & Annie worked her desires on me, I may have assented to a 3-way with Tessa once I got to know her. There are worse things than humping a gorgeous blond model with your girlfriend’s consent as she lays inches from you- no? Now, I am not looking at the woman I desire, but a little girl with faraway eyes who is no more to the world, yet never leaves. Neither is it her past, alone, I hold. Nor mine. Only I know this as I toss my splendid would-be lover to that realm no photo can frame.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Salon website.]
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