Tag Archives: Fiona Helmsley

A Urinary Tract Infection is Heartburn of the Vagina by Fiona Helmsley

small-6x9-frontcover-Fiona-Helmsley-My-Body-Would-be-the-Kindest-of-Strangers-20150716 copyI’ve never had to pee so badly in my life, but I have an older woman and child to compete with for use of the bathroom, so I martyr myself, and let them go first. The pain I know I am about to feel makes it easier to wait. I know it will not be a sweet relief, but a stinging one.

I have a urinary tract infection. It came on yesterday afternoon, while I was at work, but I had no time to go to the doctor. And now I’m here at my sister’s apartment, in Queens, bladder aflame, about to leave for Long Island, for her baby shower.

A friend once told me that my spirit animal was a poodle. I think she was joking, but every time I pee and the pain starts, I close my eyes, and that’s what I see: circus poodles jumping through flaming hula hoops.

When it started yesterday–the constant urge to pee, and the accompanying burning– I told a co-worker, and she went down the list of shameful, potential causes:

  1. Sex. I haven’t had sex since the summer, and it’s February.
  2. Soap. I just opened the bar of Lemon Verbena that I got in my stocking on Christmas, but come on, does anyone besides a two year old in a bathtub get a urinary tract infection that way? I’ve known how to keep my vagina sparkling, and Ph balanced, for decades.
  3. SHIT. I got my own shit up inside myself. I am resistant to accepting this scenario, but it seems the most likely. While I don’t have a bidet at home, the bathtub is very close to the toilet, and I use it as such. Maybe I goofed.

3a. E.coli. This was a surprise, as I always thought you got E.coli from cutting boards, and undercooked foods.

So I loaded up on Uricalm, and hit the highway for New York City, with my mother and child. When it’s finally my turn to use the bathroom, my very pregnant sister pops in.

“Eww!” she says, as I’m pulling my stockings up. “What’s wrong with you?”

I turn and see that although I’ve flushed, the water in the toilet is still tinged that tell-tale fluorescent rust color from the Uricalm. New York City has notoriously low water pressure.

“I have a UTI,” I say.

“Poop,” she says. “You got it from poop.”

I think about all the times over the course of my life that my sister has said those same words to me: “Eww! What’s wrong with you?”

This might be the first time I have a concise, concrete answer to give to her.


The baby shower is at a bar slash restaurant, and I proceed to get shit-faced, and tell family members who I haven’t seen in years about my condition. It’s idiotic to drink so much, because it just makes me have to pee. A fringe family member who I haven’t seen since I was about four commiserates with me, and tells me that during one of her pregnancies, she had so many UTIs, she had to wear a diaper. I nod, and give her empathetic eyes. A man, who looks like the ghost of my father in middle age, comes over and joins our conversation, then takes it over, bemoaning the effects of the hors’d oeuvres on his heartburn. “A urinary tract infection is like heartburn of the vagina,” I say. “Wow,” he says with a laugh, then blinks hard. “I’ve never had one. You’ve really humanized the experience for me.”

I mostly hang out in the bathroom, peeing and taking selfies. We only have the space for a few hours, then the restaurant opens up to the public, and essentially kicks us out.

My sister’s boyfriend has been doing runs back and forth to their apartment with all their gifts, and he’s gone when what’s left of our party gets the heave-ho from the staff. It’s me, my mom, my child, my sister, her friend, and what’s left of my sister’s presents all waiting outside on a bench for him to get us.

My sister’s friend is very drunk, and has to pee, but doesn’t want to go back inside the restaurant because it’s been overtaken by bros, and we’re all mad at the staff. Of course, I have to go, too, but tell myself I am going to wait.

“Come around back with me,” she says. “I’m going to pee in their parking lot because of the way they treated us.”

I tell myself I’m just going to escort her and make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble, but when we get to the back, there’s a spot behind a dumpster, on the side of a snowbank, that’s so isolated, I decide I’m going to pee, too.

As I finish, I turn around and look at my handiwork. I’ve left my mark, like a spot of blood on the back of a woman’s pants, to anyone in the know, it should be obvious what’s gone on here: The person who peed on this snowbank had a UTI. My pee is so bright orange, you could see it from outer space. It’s like it’s communicating something to the night sky. Something about what’s wrong with me. Something about what’s right.

Fiona Helmsley is a writer of creative non-fiction and poetry. Her writing can be found in various anthologies like Ladyland and The Best Sex Writing of the Year and online at websites like The Weeklings, PANK and The Rumpus. Her book of essays and stories, My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers was just released by Paragraph Line Books.

Summer 1994: Getting Pierced By Fiona Helmsley

Here’s another short story from Fiona Helmsley, this time about the indiscretions of youth. Make sure to check out her new book, My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers.

Chelsea pierced my clitoris with a piercing needle she got secondhand from a boy she’d met at a hardcore show. She’d pierced her own with it the night before, and the needle’s tip was coated with a thin layer of black soot: afterward, she’d sterilized it by flame. The year was 1994, before the piercing/tattoo craze had really taken hold of the youth community, and having a piercing anywhere besides your ears could still cause quite a stir. Though my new adornment would be hidden by clothing and mons veneris, its existence alone would make for an interesting addition to any conversation. I looked forward to the challenge of concocting the segue.

We did some heroin and Chelsea told me to lie down and spread my legs. She got to work, reaching in, pushing my fleshy girl parts aside. I felt a quick, tearing pinch followed by a threading sensation as she moved the hoop through. The soot from the needle’s tip left a flaky residue that we wiped away with witch hazel, leaving a sickly, piscine scent. Chelsea was my best friend, and we joked that our matching piercings were our version of the half- heart friendship necklaces that they sold at Spencer Gifts at the mall.

Only the skin of my clitoral hood rejected the piercing that night as I slept. I woke up in the morning and the hoop was gone, lost somewhere in Chelsea’s bed sheets. Chelsea, who had no schooling in proper piercing procedures, hadn’t done the piercing far back enough, and the skin around the puncture site had split in two, forcing the metal out. I felt like a child who had been given a coveted toy only to have it snatched away before I could play with it. I was too impatient to wait until we got more heroin. Chelsea would have to pierce me again without it. I had taken the pain so easily the night before, I had no doubt that I would be able to do it again.

I was intensely wrong. As soon as the needle cut into my flesh, my body was like a cannon ball, and I was hurtling through space and time. The quick pinch from the night before had morphed into a monstrous, burning rip–the kind of pain that invigorates you, reminds you that you are alive only because you want to die, or kill its causation. Operating on a mix of autopilot and adrenaline, my body flung itself away from Chelsea and towards the other side of the bed. Still, in a feat of grace and agility, she had somehow managed to get the hoop though. I was re-pierced and had a newfound respect for the medicinal qualities of heroin. I felt that I understood how it had earned its moniker in the trenches.

As Chelsea readied herself to go to work, I prepared for another day of loafing. My mother had kicked me out of the house for the second time in a year for using drugs. The first time had been during the school year, and the school day had taken up a good portion of my time. Once the school year was over, there were just that many more hours in the day to fill.

The beginning of the summer had held a different vibe. The freedom provided by my homelessness had been all adventure. I’d traveled across the country, done drugs, had sex, and lived the punk rock dream, free of parental intervention. But now that the summer was almost over, I was in crisis. Could I make a life out of doing these things without being the drummer of a hair band? Did I even want to? If I did, I could have been doing them much more comfortably with a stable place to lay my head at night, not the rotation of Chelsea’s house, my friend Clem’s, and the outdoors. My friends and I had always held a disdain for the people we’d known who had made a big show of leaving town, only to come back. I was turning into one of those people. No matter how embarrassing it was to be homeless in the town I grew up in, my friends and family were here, and I kept coming back. And there was Chelsea. A year younger than me, she still had to finish school.

Unbridled freedom hadn’t always been my life’s goal. There was an anti-drug PSA on television at the time that claimed, “No one says ‘I want to be a junkie when I grow up.'” Whenever it came on, Chelsea and I would talk back to the TV that the voice-over person should speak for themselves. The whole trajectory of my life had changed since I’d first tried heroin the year before, sniffing it off the floor of a Subway sandwich shop bathroom. College plans scrapped, family relations scrapped, and the constant thought always there, lingering: Let’s get some drugs. Today would be no different.

Teachable Moments by Fiona Helmsley

Make sure to check out Fiona’s new book, My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers.

I grew up across the street from an old cemetery. Sometimes, when he was feeling motivated, we’d go there, and walk. Round and round we’d go, making loops past the rows of neglected, moss-covered gravestones. Near the north side of the grounds, bordering the woods, a small scattering of crumbled stones faced west. Suicides, he told me. Back when the cemetery was active, they weren’t allowed to be buried on consecrated ground.

We’d grab walking sticks. I think of them now as staffs. We wouldn’t talk much as we walked, but we weren’t solemn or sad. When I think of his body, I think of sailors, probably because he bought most of his clothes at the Army Navy store. He’d wear t-shirts commemorating marathons he hadn’t run in, and shorts like Carhartt’s, with deep pockets and hooks. His legs were tight and muscular, like mine. I have my father’s legs, only sexy.

Some days, the little boy would come, and then the whole dynamic would change. The things my father and I did free of undercurrent became competitive. “Teachable moments” –just not for me. Even something like picking out a walking stick. For a young girl, any stick would do, but for a young boy, it had to be near-mythical, like everything else.

They’d go to the woods, near the suicides, and look for impressive ones. A lot of dads carry pocket knives, but in the pocket of his shorts, my father carried a truncheon. It protruded like an angry table leg. He’d hit at the overgrowth, and when he found a stick fit for a prince, the little boy would help to break it loose.

Because my stick wasn’t important, I’d wander ahead. One day, while they were off being men, I ambled over to a group of family gravestones. The dead patriarch had been commemorated by an oblong pillar that time had taken the luster from, and turned dull. Next to the pillar was a gravestone shaped like an angel, its hands clasped in prayer. A pair of woman’s underwear had been knotted around the angel’s wrists, and a bra had been tied around its head like a blindfold.

I called to my father, who emerged from the woods. He freed the bra from the angel’s face valiantly, hooking and dragging it with his stick, making swooshing motions with his arms as he lunged with his legs. Removing the underwear from the angel’s wrists was a challenge: the knots had been baked in by the sun. A pocketknife would have done the job easily. With a truncheon and stick, he could only poke and bash.

He ripped the underwear from the angel’s wrists. Using his stick like a slingshot, he tied the underwear to the bra, then used their elasticity to fling them into the woods. The little boy and I watched as the undergarments flew through the sky. My father was the liberator of a gravestone angel.

Years later, I worked with a woman at a video store. It had been torn down in the mid-1990s, but she remembered the house I’d grown up in: when she was younger, she and her friends would hang out in the cemetery and get drunk. One night when they’d all been wasted, an older boy suggested they dance naked in the moonlight. It was summer and he’d called it “Skinny Dancing,” like Skinny Dipping. She didn’t know why she’d done it, but she knew I’d gotten into hijinks as a kid, and wouldn’t judge. After she’d taken off her bra and underwear, she’d used them to gag and a tie a gravestone. The gravestone was in the shape of an angel. She hoped it hadn’t been a child’s.

I Wish I Knew How to Quit You By Fiona Helmsley

Editor’s Note: Here’s the first story of Fiona Helmsley’s we published in Air in the Paragraph Line #13 back in 2010. Make sure to check out her new book, My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers.

I smoked my first cigarette the same night Guns N’ Roses debuted their video for Paradise City on MTV. I was spending the night at my friend Angie Caravello’s house. We opened her bedroom window to blow the smoke outside.

“I’m high!” I said, after completing my first correct inhale. I felt tingly all over and strangely energized, even for the late hour.

“No you’re not, dummy.” Angie retorted, annoyed at my ignorance. “You’re just lightheaded. It happens the first time you get nicotine in your system. Pot, now that gets you high. Next time you come over, I’ll have my friend from West Hartford get us some.”

But I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy feeling dizzy and watching the coal on the end of my cigarette glow each time I inhaled. I was thirteen years old.

My parents were smokers. My mom liked Virginia Slims lights, my dad Merits. My dad successfully quit the year before I started, but my parents were divorced by that time so I didn’t have to worry about him smelling the scent of my new habit. We lived next to a gas station and I’d been buying cigarettes there for my mom for years. At first, the gas station manager had no questions when the brand of choice changed from Virginia Slims to Camels, but when he noticed a group of teenagers lingering on our rooftop next door, lollipops of glowing amber hanging from our mouths, he got suspicious and called my mom.

“Fiona, are you smoking?” She asked, hanging up the telephone later that night.

It wasn’t a good time for truth. It was the height of my “Where there is doubt, make it count” phase which coincided with all of my adolescence, which made it more than just a phase. And most of my young adulthood, for that matter.

“No, mom.”

“I hope not.” My mom answered, dejectedly. “Do you remember when you used to bury my cigarettes in the yard because you didn’t want me smoking them?” She spoke with a touch of guilty nostalgia.

I did. I’d done it more than once, too. One time in particular stuck out in my mind- election night 1984. I grudgingly went next door and got my mom her coveted Virginia Slims. She was so wound up in the election results, she hardly noticed as I slunk in and out of the TV room, each time taking another cigarette from the pack I just bought for her. As Mondale/Ferraro battled Reagan/ Bush for control of the country, I battled cigarettes for control of my mom. Each kidnapped cancer stick was placed in the same mass grave in the front yard. In a scene straight out of Good Parenting 101, my mother caught me on the fifth time around and demanded a heart to heart discussion. She appreciated my concern and she loved me. She would smoke no more cigarettes for the rest of the evening, she vowed. As I went upstairs to bed, I felt hopeful.

“No, no, NO!! ” I heard my mom scream five minutes later.

Then the flick of a lighter.

Reagan/Bush had won re-election.

My mother had lasted half an hour without a cigarette.

The first time I tried to quit, I was fifteen. It was very hard. I was a freshman in high school and had already been indoctrinated to bathroom smoking. After every class, the same group of girls would gather in the same designated bathroom for a quick puff before the next bell. We were a mutual addiction society, our shared cigarette bathed in the color of five different lipsticks. We crossed economic and social stratospheres, just like the kids in The Breakfast Club, only all female and all smelling like Judd Nelson’s character. I lasted two days. I missed my friends in the bathroom.

I convinced myself that if I quit for good, it would be a quick snowball effect until my friends saw me only at class, then only the weekends and then never. It was the same with the situation with the field hockey team I’d recently been in. A lot of my friends played, which involved travel for games and a lot of on- field bonding that I wasn’t apart of. Joining the team was out because I’d never so much as picked up a stick. I knew I had to find a way to ingratiate myself into the game, but it wasn’t going to be through playing. In desperation, I agreed to carry the team cooler. Field hockey, like smoking, was something that bonded me and my friends together.

Without the cigarettes, I was getting to class early and alone. Smoking had become a matter of social survival.

My eighteenth birthday finally came and with it the right to look every convenience store clerk in the eye when they asked me for ID at the counter.

At the same time I was getting my right on, non smokers everywhere were asserting theirs. They were developing their voices and the sound was disapproving. By the time I moved to NYC for college, the non smoking contingent was loud and proud. Why should they suffer for our dirty habits?

The college board at the school I was attending heard them and decreed no smoking on campus. None of the other students seemed to mind and the school bathrooms always smelled bleach-y and smoke free. Where had all my black lung compadres gone? Anyway, I kind of agreed with the non smokers. I understood their perspective, even if I didn’t appreciate their gains. I had empathy for the innocents. Inhaling second hand smoke was like getting crabs from a public toilet. Reaping the negative consequence of someone else’s pleasure. No fair.

But when their clean air movement infiltrated the bars of NYC, effectively outlawing bar smoking citywide, it was hard to remain so cooperatively passive.

First they came for the Communists and I didn’t speak because I wasn’t a Communist…then they came for the Catholics.. and I didn’t speak because I wasn’t a Catholic…when they came for the smokers, I keep my mouth closed and ruined my chances of playing muse to a literary great.

Thaddeus Robbery was my imaginary boyfriend. I’d read his zine “Robbery” for years. Published just once a year, I read and reread each years copy till the staples wore down and the pages fell out. Thad lived hard and loved harder, devoting the pages of Robbery to his criminal exploits and crimes of the heart. Some girls aspired to Playboy, I aspired to Robbery. There was nothing I wanted more than to be one of the women Thad wrote about in his zine. Part Jack Kerouac and part Iggy Pop, Thad had sang for a series of punk bands in the late eighties, but now devoted most of his time to writing.

And as my friend Lauren explained to me, when she called to ask me if I would meet him at a bar near my apartment in Brooklyn, trying to pay the bills in typical post punk rock fashion.

As a bar dj in Williamsburg.

“Thaddeus Robbery is in Brooklyn trying to line up a dj gig at Psycho Hose Beast. I know you love him. You were the first person I thought of to show him around. He knows no one in NYC. Hook up with him at the bar there. You can thank me later.”

The street directly outside Psycho Hose Beast was one large, drunken, human ashtray. Now that smoking was no longer allowed inside, this was familiar sight outside most NYC bars. I was about to join their ranks, lighter in hand when I was distracted by a voice that I’d heard before, only coming from my record player.

“You fucking smoker scumbags! What a bunch of sorry, fucking losers. This is fucking great. I love that you dogs are out of the street. Gives me an idea of who to avoid inside.”

And with that, Thaddeus Robbery entered Psycho Hose Beast. It was a perplexing scene to witness. I didn’t know how to react. Was Thad drunk? Did he just not like smokers? Maybe a loved one had recently died of cancer? Was Thad just an asshole? The crowd outside didn’t seem to care. These drunken outdoor smoking circles were a breeding ground for his type of angry outburst. I decided it better not to keep him waiting and threw my intended cigarette to the sidewalk, mystified.

My excitement returned as I passed through the door of the bar. I had a date with Thaddeus Robbery. Sort of. I wondered how well it would translate to the written word. I’d worn an a tight, black glittery dress so Thad could use lots of adjectives.

“Well when will your boss be here?” Thad quizzed the bartender, who already seemed annoyed. He’d only been inside a few moments and was already armed with a drink and a sneer. He was getting more and more intimidating with each encounter I witnessed. I tapped him lightly on the shoulder.

“No, I don’t want to buy any fucking batteries!” Thad’s arm made a shooing motion in my direction but he didn’t turn around.

“You took the L train here, didn’t you?” I pretended to laugh, completely ignoring his nasty assumption. “Let me guess, the Chinese lady, with the cart who also sells CD’s? She is really annoying! She totally got up in my face the other day singing Baby Boy in an attempt to get me to buy the Beyonce CD.”

He stared at me blankly, as if trying to determine my origin so he could make sure I never, ever happened again.

“I’m Lauren’s friend? Fiona?”

“Oh Fiona!” His eyes teased deceptively. “Well la dee fucking da! I have no fucking idea who you are! I do know someone in New York–this cunt, Lauren–who is supposed to be my friend. But instead of doing something real uncunty–like, like say, showing up here, herself, she sends out a COMPLETE FUCKING STRANGER IN HER PLACE! “

At the same time, my phone rang. Lauren’s phone number flashed across the screen.

“Its for you.” I said, handing it to Thaddeus. I couldn’t stand the thought of listening to him argue with Lauren about what an obvious, flashing light loser I was.

“I’m going out to smoke a cigarette.” I stumbled, handing him the phone.

Thaddeus’s body bolted up right, as if a large squirrel had just attempted to penetrate his asshole without permission or lube.

“YOU’RE GOING TO SMOKE A…. CIGARETTE?” His face twisted, like saying the very word left a bitter taste in his mouth.

“No,” I interrupted, “I’m going to go outside with The Cigarettes,” I took a deep breath. How had I forgotten his anti-smoking tirade? “There a band I know.”

I took the ten steps to the door five at a time, effectively ruining his chance to respond. A group of girls leaned against a car parked outside. I could see Thaddeus staring at me through the window as he talked on my phone. I made small talk with the girls.

My nerves were a mess. I thought of asking one of the fake Cigarettes for a drag of her namesake, but Thad was still watching me through the window. This was going all wrong. Why had I made that Beyonce comment? I’d hate me too. I wanted a cigarette so badly. It was as if Thaddeus’ scolding had stripped all the residual nicotine from my system.

My imaginary boyfriend had turned abusive. Did we need imaginary counseling? He continued to glare at me through the window as he hung up my phone. I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to, I told myself. He could find me. He knew all my potential hiding spots. He had my phone.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Thaddeus was knocking on the window to get my attention. He beckoned me with his finger.

As I reentered the bar, he shoved a drink into my hand.

“I’m sorry Fiona. Its not you. Its me. Lauren told me you’re a big fan. We’d be nothing without our fans…..”

His apology sounded like a Susan Lucci Emmy acceptance speech but with unexplained plural pronouns. My palms where clammy. I was in full fledged nicotine withdrawal.

“I need to use the bathroom.” I stammered.

“Go empty yourself then.” He dismissed my weak human need with a flick of his wrist. “Don’t forget to wash your hands. I will know if you don’t.”

The walk to the bathroom was a blur. My hands shook as I closed the bathroom door, brought the cigarette to my mouth and lit it in one fell swoop. The nicotine flooded my starved cells and I felt lightheaded.

“I’m high!” I mouthed the words in tribute to Angie Caravello, seventeen years after she’d first corrected me. I wondered if she wore mom jeans now.

“All right, whatever you’re smoking in there, drop it in the bowl and come out of the stall.”

I’d been so focused on my need for nicotine I ‘d completely ignored the cardinal rule of unlawful bathroom smoking-survey the scene first. Had I not learned anything in high school? I attempted to fan the smoke cloud from the air, but it was futile. I was caught.

It was the annoyed faced bartender who’d been talking to Thad earlier.

“What aren’t you getting? I saw you outside with all the other nicotine freaks. You know the deal. There is a zero tolerance policy in effect towards smoking inside bars now. Zero. We’ve had undercover cops in here for the past month just looking for violations. It’s the bar owners that get screwed for your stupidity. What you just did could get us shut down.”

I did understand her position. I decided to take the risk that maybe she’d understand mine.

“Would you believe I’m trying to impress a guy?”

“I don’t care. Get your shit and get out.”

So this was it. This was how the evening was destined to end. It was like an after school special for “Just be yourself.” I’d gone to this great length to hide my habit only to be exposed anyway. What the fuck would I say to Thad?

The bartender held the bathroom door open.

“Alright, alright.” My Robbery dreams had, for lack of a better analogy, just gone up in smoke.

“I know I broke the rules, but come on. This is really embarrassing. I’m here tonight with a guy I really like too.”

“Oh I’m crying for you. You have two minutes to get your stuff and get out. If I have to tell you again, I promise, you will be really embarrassed.” The expression on her face reflected the truth in her statement.

I considered my options as I made my way back to the bar. Thad was slouched on his barstool, elbows on the counter. He had a fresh drink in front of him.

Telling the truth was out. Thad had made his feelings on smoking toxin- free pondwater- crystal clear. He may of been at Psycho Hose Beast for a real job interview, but I felt like my evening was a job interview of sorts, too. I was auditioning for Robbery. I was acting like an idiot, but that was just it–I was acting. I wasn’t really an idiot. People all over the world did things like this when they liked a person–hid little aspects of their personalities that didn’t translate well to first impressions.

I still had hope I could get Thad to come home with me. Surely if we couldn’t have a meeting of the minds, we could have a meeting of the bodies.

Unhappily, I foreshadowed to Thad back at my apartment, with me in and out of the bathroom all night long to smoke. I couldn’t decide which fate was worse–Thad knowing I was a smoker, or Thad thinking I had chronic diarrhea.

“You smell horrid.” Thad said, handing me a drink as I approached him, my hands still wet from the furious cigarette stink disinfecting they’d just received in the bathroom sink.

“Listen Thad, your not going to believe this but….in the bathroom…”

I looked in his eyes, searching, looking for something, anything.

“In the bathroom…..I……… met an undercover cop and she said this place is about to be busted!” I paused for dramatic effect, then grabbed my jacket and phone from the bar, hoping Thad would follow suit.

Instead he began twirling his drink stirrer, watching it as it twisted.

“And that affects us because…”

“Thad, they’re going to take the whole place down! We don’t want to be caught up in that! Come on, We got to go! This place is crawling with cops!”

I grabbed at his sleeve, catching the peeved bartender’s eye from across the room in the process.

“I’m not going anywhere. I have nothing to fucking hide. I’m an American fucking citizen. I’ll just sit here and watch and make sure they do the job right. It will be like a live action episode of Cops.” He was defiant.

“Thad you’ve got to listen to me…we have got to go……”

“What do you have to hide Fi-fi?” He eyed me mischievously. “What, are you holdin’? You holdin’ Fi-Fi? You holdin’?” He said ‘holdin’ the way one would when making fun of drug lingo. “I’m so done with all the B.S, Fi-Fi. Done. D-O-N-E.” He slurred his words. “All of it. Be honest with me, you holdin’?”

I wanted a cigarette again. My want for Thad stroked my want for nicotine. It was a vicious circle since one canceled the other out.

The bartender moved into my field of vision, glaring in my direction. My time was up.

“That’s one of them, Thad. Shes giving me the secret signal. I gotta go. The bust is going to happen any minute.”

It was all so futile and stupid. ” And, yeah, Thad, I am. I am holdin’.”

I fingered the pack of cigarettes in my pocket. They were contraband as far as he was concerned.

“You know, I could tell the moment I met you.” He touched my hand gently than quickly pounded it with his fist. “Now make fucking tracks or I’ll turn you in myself.”

I knew as I turned to leave, he was probably not serious about the second part. Thaddeus Robbery was putting on a show just as much as I was pretending I wasn’t a smoker or that I had drugs in my pocket. Just like Glenn Danzig with the gym or Henry Rollins with the IFC, Thad’s attitude was just a post punk defense mechanism.

But then, I remembered, I did have drugs in my pocket.

As I walked to the subway station, tobacco filled cigarette in one hand and marijuana filled cigarette in the other, I tried to make sense of what had just happened. In effect, I’d chosen cigarettes over Thad. Maybe not directly, but I’d known his extreme feelings about the habit and taken the risk anyway. What else could I justify doing in the name of a nicotine refuel? What other dreams where I willing to defer? Laws were I willing to break? I’d thought I’d loved Thad. Or at least the idea of being in his zine. But I now understood–I actually loved cigarettes more.

You think your guy’s hot? Well mine’s smokin’.

Available now: Fiona Helmsley – My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers

We’re proud to announce our latest release from Paragraph Line Books: Fiona Helmsley’s new collection, My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers.

Check it out at Amazon in print or on the kindle store.

small-6x9-frontcover-Fiona-Helmsley-My-Body-Would-be-the-Kindest-of-Strangers-20150716 copy

I thought I wanted to be degraded, but I wanted to be degraded with love. You wanted me to talk during sex and what came out was, “You hate me.”

 Sam D’Allesandro once wrote, “I like living with the danger of what you know about me,” and the candidness on display in Fiona Helmsley’s My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers takes an incredible amount of guts.

Beginning with an epigram from Anne Sexton’s With Mercy for the Greedy and ending with an essay on the virtues of Courtney Love, in-between, her stories and essays breathe new life into the idea that the things that we are ashamed of often make for the best stories.

Badly wounding her boyfriend in a fight over money for drugs, Helmsley leaves her beloved bloody, and the responsibility of getting him to the hospital on someone else. After plotting with a friend how to best get money for drugs, their decision to charge their friends for sex leads to devastating results.

Including essays on art and persona, the rejection of the word “victim,” and an imagined meeting between Joan Vollmer Burroughs and Patti Smith at the Chelsea Hotel, Fiona Helmsley’s My Body Would be the Kindest of Strangers presents a gritty and moving portrait of life on the fringes at the turn of the millennium.

 Fiona Helmsley is a writer of creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. In line with the trope of comparing talented women to more revered men, she’s been called “the Eugene O’Neill of halfway house culture.” Her writing can be found online at sites like PANK, and The Rumpus, and in anthologies like Ladyland and The Best Sex Writing of the Year. She can reached through her blog, whatfionaworetoday.tumblr.com.

Killing Michael J. Fox by Fiona Helmsley

michaelstarIn 1996, my mother was engaged to be married. As an ingratiating gesture, her fiancé offered to pay for me to go into drug treatment. The facility wasn’t a rehab in the traditional, 30- day medical setting sense; it was a historical retreat within the AA community, the type of place program aficionados might go to recharge their spiritual batteries. It was expensive, but was less costly than a thousands of dollars a month traditional facility. There was no detox there, so my family doctor wrote me a prescription for clonidine and a benzo, and the pills were dispensed to me my first week there by a nurse on staff. The place was quaint, out in the woods and rustic; there was a little chapel on the grounds and a garden where the patients could tend to plants and flowers. I was not interested in either spiritual matters or botanical ones, and as was the case with all my rehab experiences up to this point, I was the youngest person there. It was awkward being a drug addict in treatment at ages 17, 18, 19—I was still a kid, but was always placed with the adults, which just added to my sense of alienation. It was like being in treatment with your parents.

I became friendly with a woman named Marci. She often treated me with a snobby sense of superiority, but because my outward appearance drew attention, and she liked attention, she decided to be my friend so we could share in the attention together. Instead of competing with me for it, we would divide and conquer. She was in her forties and wore cocktails dresses all the time, even when we went for walks in the woods, then she would swap her heels for sneakers. She had three children, and would dictate her letters to them to me and I would write them out for her. She would then take the letter to the administrative facility and photocopy it; ergo, each kid got the same letter.

On a regular, casual basis, I used to wear ripped fishnet stockings with shorts and skirts. One day, I wore the fishnets to morning mediation and they caused a considerable stir amongst the patients and staff. I wasn’t told not to wear them, but it was obvious it was a matter that we would be revisiting later. After the group, Marci begged me to take them off the stockings, and let her wear them, which I did, just to stop her pleading. Later that afternoon, we were both taken aside by the staff and told to retire the fishnets. Marci relished claiming that she was the reason the stockings had been banned, and recapping the incident for new patients. She seemed to think it implied something about her dangerous sexiness, as the stockings hadn’t been banned until she put them on.

There was a large lodge on the grounds were they would hold AA meetings that were open to the public. Since the facility was storied in AA lore, people would come from far and wide and these meeting would be filled with hundreds of people. It was an exciting event for the patients. It was also the only time during the week we got to drink caffeinated coffee.

I grew up watching “Family Ties” and adored Michael J. Fox, whose real middle initial is the prescient “A”, making his real name Michael A. Fox. “Back to the Future,” “Teen Wolf,”— the precociously conservative Alex P. Keaton is still one of my favorite television characters. Fox has been candid in interviews about his struggles with alcoholism, and donates money to many different causes connected with helping people get sober, so I don’t feel I am “outing” him by writing this. I was outside the meeting lodge smoking a cigarette when he walked past me; I had to do a double take. I couldn’t believe it. I was in the same immediate airspace as Marty fucking McFly. As awed as I was by this, I knew an A.A meeting was not the place to approach him; after all, the second A in AA stands for Anonymous, and that dictate applies to celebrities, too. Marci appeared besides me dressed to the nines. I was literally so excited to see Michael J. Fox, I thought I might throw up.

“Michael J. Fox is here!” I whispered to her.

“What was he in again?” Marci asked. His name was familiar to her, but she couldn’t recall any of his acting work; nonetheless she was clearly intrigued that there was a celebrity in our midst.

“We have to sit near him,” she said, reading my mind. I figured this was ok, we could sit near him. What could be wrong with that? I wouldn’t point, stare, or ogle him, but I would be close enough to note what kind of sneakers he had on, and this seemed like an important thing for me to know.

We settled into our seats a few rows behind him. I was content to just stare at the back of his head.

Marci suddenly jumped up.

“I’m going to say something to him,” she said.

“No, don’t!” I said, grabbing at the back of her dress, but it was too late. She went up to his chair in the next row and tapped him on his shoulder. He turned around to face her and she pointed in my direction.

“Will you say something to this girl?” she said confidently. “She’s obsessed with you.”

I wanted to die. I literally wanted to crawl under my chair and have the earth open and suck me inside of it. I could feel my face turning bright red, and when I saw the look on his face, I felt that I deserved to meet a painful end, too.

I spoke over Marci.

“No, no, it’s ok! It’s ok! I’m so sorry!”

Michael J. Fox glanced over in my direction. Then he gave Marci a look of pure poison, and turned back around. He never said a word, because he is a great actor, he didn’t need to. With his face and body language, he had communicated exactly how he felt about us.

Since Michael J. Fox did not try to flirt with her and she couldn’t engage him, all that was left for Marci to do was come back to her seat and sit down. “I tried!” she said loudly, as if to reinforce that I’d put her up to it.

A few minutes later, the meeting began. At the start of the discussion part, Michael J. Fox got up and left. I felt horrible. I felt like the biggest, tackiest, doucheiest loser in the world. Later, when I got back to my room and told my roommate what had happened she just made me feel worse: What if Michael J. Fox had been thinking about drinking, she said, and because we had made him feel so uncomfortable that he’d left the meeting, he went on a bender on his way back home?

In essence she was saying to me, what if you just killed Michael J. Fox?

I hated Marci for what she had done. I never wanted to talk to her ever again.

Thankfully, the next week, a man named Tyler checked himself into the program and rescued me from her clutches. He had a lazy eye and wore Hootie and The Blowfish t-shirts. It took about a week and a half, but I fell in rehab love.


Try as they might, it’s the one drug no rehab can keep off their grounds.



Seven Outlaw Scumfucs

GGAllin“If you believe in the real underground of Rock ‘N’ Roll, then now is the time to do something about it…Talk is fucking cheap…It’s time to fight… Make them aware that the disease and the Scumfuc tradition is still spreading. We must live for the Rock ‘N’ Roll underground. It CAN be dark and dangerous again. It CAN be threatening to our society as it was meant to be. IT MUST BE UNCOMPROMISING. And with me as your leader, it will happen. I am ready to lead you, my allies, into the real Rock ‘N’ Roll underground. Let’s get started.” —From the GG Allin Manifesto

21 years ago this Saturday, we lost Kevin Michael “GG” (born Jesus Christ) Allin, before his mission to save rock n’ roll was complete. The following is a list of seven people continuing his Outlaw Scumfuc tradition:

1. Merle Allin: GG’s older brother Merle sports a sort of modified tickler mustache, dyed bright red to look as though someone sat on his face, then got their period, coupled with lengthy, dreadlocked sideburns. The bass player of GG’s final band, The Murder Junkies, Merle collects and sells serial killer artwork while overseeing his brother’s legacy. This past April, Merle unveiled The Resurrection of GG Allin, an exhibit in conjunction with L.A.’s Museum of Death, featuring the clothing GG was wearing on the night he died (not to be confused with the outfit he was buried in: a motorcycle jacket and jockstrap). The Murder Junkies still tour regularly, and released the album A Killing Tradition (with They Hate Us singer PP Duvay on vocals) last year. http://www.ggallin.com/


2. Spike Polite: Polite’s band, Sewage, was one of the opening acts for GG’s notorious last show at The Gas Station, on June 27, 1993—a show that ended in rioting after the power was cut, and saw GG, clad in ill-fitting Daisy Dukes and covered in poop, pied- pipering a pack of raucous punk rockers up and down the streets of the Lower East Side. In 1999, newspaper headlines all over New York screamed about Polite’s bad friendship choices after his name became associated with a grisly crime involving the slaying of his landlord. Released from prison a few years ago, Polite and a reformed Sewage play regularly around New York City, and a documentary film is in the works focusing on Spike’s adjustment to the technologically-savvy world that emerged while he was in prison, potentially answering the question, “How many punk rockers does it take to turn on an I-Pad?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btA0o9AI9RI   https://www.facebook.com/pages/SEWAGE-NYC-PUNK-ROCK/223918884799http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/boroughs/sex-drugs-rock-murder-punk-musician-set-stand-trial-99-landlord-slay-case-article-1.896518

3. Gene Gregorits: Gouging at his chest with a torn-open aluminum beer can during a 1989 reading in Boston, GG proclaimed, “My body is like paper.” When underground writer Gene Gregorits cut off his earlobe and ate it in 2012, “to promote books,” he said that the flap of flesh “tasted like beer.” In the same way that Allin’s talent as a songwriter was often completely overshadowed by his Rampaging Shit Warrior persona, Gregorits’ talent as a writer is often obscured by his melodramatic online antics, bitter rivalries, and gore shows. This past May, Gregorits accidentally- on- purpose slashed his arm while reading from one of his books at a Providence Gallery, the resulting wound requiring close to 50 stitches. The fans who didn’t flee in horror promptly showed their adulation by dipping their just-purchased books (in a few cases, their just-stolen books) in his blood as he was carted off to the emergency room. http://www.monastrellbooks.com/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CArN59xraw

4 & 5. Zoe Hansen and Richard “Handsome Dick” Manitoba: She’s beautiful and brash. His feuds are the stuff of punk rock history. Together, they own and operate New York City’s last real rock ‘n’ roll bar, Manitoba’s. When Richard’s not on tour with the Dictators NYC, or doing his radio show, and Zoe’s not writing, or working on the FEAR CITY custom clothing line she designs with Mary Raffaele of Cycle Sluts from Hell fame (it’s worth noting that the name FEAR CITY comes from the 1976 flyer put out by the City of New York to alert tourists to the crime wave that had overtaken the city at the time), they can be found there, behind the bar, doing their part to keep New York City gritty. http://www.manitobas.com/https://www.facebook.com/fearcitycustom


6. Tibbie X Kamikaze: A week after GG’s death, drug-addicted, and feeling despondent after the discovery of his girlfriend’s body in the back of serial killer Joel Rifkin’s truck, Reagan Youth singer and co-founder Dave Insurgent ended his life with an overdose of antidepressants. This could have been the end of the seminal NYC band, but they’ve soldiered on, with a new line-up featuring Gash singer Tibbie X on bass. Known for her aggressive vocals and in your face stage style, she’s working with original guitarist Paul Cripple on a new album of songs about Dave’s life. http://www.reagan-youth.com/paulcripplehttp://tibbiex.tumblr.com/       http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/predators/rifkin/1.html
7. Duane Peters: It’s been a tough year for US Bombs singer and O.G skateboard legend Duane “Master of Disaster” Peters. After going M.I.A this past February, clad in only a hospital gown, his ex-wife, original Nashville Pussy bassist Corey Parks put out an S O S online, trying to track him down amidst rumors of legal trouble and concerns for his state of mind. Thankfully, things seem to be on the up and up for the man who invented scores of skateboard tricks, including “the acid drop” and “the loop of death.” Take care of yourself, Duane! The Outlaw cause needs you! No one ever said Scumfucing was easy! https://www.facebook.com/USBombs




The Ballad of Johnny Waxman by Fiona Helmsley

Sid & Nancy gif_thumb[2]The first time I ever saw a person cut themselves was in a cemetery. The cemetery was around the corner from a movie theater where our parents would drop us off at the beginning of the night, unaware that we weren’t going to see the film inside. Ringed with large shrubs that formed a fence around its perimeter, the cemetery provided cover from our parents, as well as the police, who were always on the look-out for packs of roaming kids. It became our nocturnal playground.

I was thirteen years old. His name was Johnny Waxman, and he was two years older. My mother worked in the school system, and knew all the little details of Johnny’s permanent record; she didn’t want me to hang around with him. Some of my friends’ parents’ didn’t want them to hang around with me. Parents always think kids’ problems are contagious. They might be right.

There was a concrete storage shed where the tools were kept that were used to maintain the cemetery grounds. The storage shed bisected a small hill, and you could access the shed’s roof by climbing up a slight incline. The door to the shed was usually kept locked, but one night, a friend and I came upon the door open, and she pushed me inside, pulling the door shut behind me. In the darkness, the shed was a mausoleum, the tools inside, coffins and sarcophagi. The dead would have their revenge for all of our nights spent running wild in their home, for all the cigarette butts and sacrilege we’d left behind on their graves. It took the combined strength of three boys to get the door open. One of them was Johnny Waxman. When I was released, I fell hysterically, and opportunistically, into his arms.

In the 7th grade, I was not much to look at, but I had a contingent of very attractive female friends. When things went sour in their relationships, their boyfriends would turn to me like a fixer. At this point in my life, I got more boyfriends from the good lighting of heartbreak than anything else.

Liz Toscana was Johnny’s girlfriend. They had been together about a month. She was short, olive-skinned, and wore her bangs on top of her head in a big Pepsi- Cola wave, fortified with a sticky glaze of hairspray. Johnny and Liz were well- matched in that she was the toughest girl in our group, and he was the toughest boy. No one dared to mess with Liz, as she had studied the martial art, taekwondo, for years, while Johnny had grown impulsive and intimidating at home. Liz called the shots in their relationship, and her domineering personality seemed to soothe Johnny. He was her puppy; he just wanted to put his head in her lap, and have her stroke his hair.

Guys like Johnny, sensitive, but not very smart guys, who rely on their brawn more than their brains to get by, have a propensity to glom onto girlfriends hard and fast, possibly because it’s the one relationship in their lives were they don’t have to be hard and fast. Guys like Johnny would get married at 15 years of age after a month of dating, and believe in their vows wholeheartedly, till death do us part.

Thirteen was the age that I first became interested in punk rock. My fifteen year old cousin had returned from a stay in a mental health facility with a slew of artifacts attesting to the interests of the other young people she’d met there; t-shirts and books, tapes by bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. All of my friends listened to hairbands like Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue. I was fascinated by punk music; just as I’d been by the patients I’d met visiting my cousin at the facility on visiting day. When the payphone on the unit rang, an anorectic boy in plaid pajama pants and a Vision Street Wear t-shirt had jumped up from a card game to answer it. “Tiger’s Whorehouse, by the Bay!” he’d bellowed into the receiver, sucking exaggeratedly on a pencil like it was a cigar. I’d looked over at my mother; she was fidgeting uncomfortably in her chair.

In this time before the internet, if you had an interest, you had to work for it, and I started going to the school library to find out whatever I could about punk music. I ripped out all the articles and pictures that I found, and pasted them into a scrapbook. On the cover of the book, I glued an ad I found for the Alex Cox’ movie Sid and Nancy, the tragic lovers, as portrayed by Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, holding hands and kissing in shadowed silhouette.

Johnny Waxman took Special Education classes. Behind their backs, the Special Ed students were jeered as “wandering retards,” because their classes required them to travel to different parts of the school building throughout the day. Johnny took advantage of this small bit of unsupervised freedom to travel to the 7th grade hallway, and stand outside the door of whatever classroom Liz was in, and look in at her, longingly. One afternoon, I was working on my scrapbook in the school library, when Johnny approached the table where I sitting.

“Who’s that?” he asked, looking at the picture in front of me. It was of a scrawny young man in leather pants with bondage rings attached at the waist. Holding a bass guitar in the photo, the man’s pale chest was a billboard of cuts and scratches.

“Sid Vicious,” I answered. I got a sense of pride from sharing with my friends my discovery of punk rock. I felt like it added a dangerous element to my identity. “He was the bassist for The Sex Pistols.”

“What happened to his chest?” Johnny asked.

“He did it himself,” I answered.

“What? That’s crazy! Why?”

“I don’t know, I suppose so that no one could deny what he was feeling. I read that he carved his girlfriend’s name into his chest. Her name was Nancy, and he was so in love with her, that he showed her, with his own blood.”

“Cheaper than roses or candy,” Johnny replied. “Sort of like a tattoo.”

“Flesh flowers.”

“That is fucking crazy,” Johnny said, with a laugh that sounded like eh eh eh.

I suppose I was a bit in love with him.


As is the fashion in junior high, when Liz decided she no longer wanted to be Johnny’s girlfriend, she didn’t tell him herself. Instead, she asked our friend Marie to relay the message for her, while she hid out in another part of the cemetery. I was with Johnny and three friends on top of the shed when Marie came. I had been told nothing of Liz’s plans to break up with Johnny in advance. It was probably a totally whimsical decision on her part. Maybe Johnny had worn the wrong color shirt that day. My girlfriends did this sort of thing all the time. Make up break up make up. I love you. I hate you. I love you.

Marie climbed onto the roof, and spoke quickly.

“Johnny, Liz wants me to tell you she doesn’t want to go out with you anymore.”

“Huh?” Johnny said. His body seemed to physically startle. He stumbled backwards, almost losing his footing near the roof’s ledge.

“It’s over, Johnny. She’s dumping you.”

Having said her piece, Marie turned, and climbed back down. From our vantage point on top of the shed, we could see her run/half skip towards the section of the cemetery with the Italian names on the gravestones. It had just started to get dark, and the vibe on the roof had turned ominous. Johnny began to pace back and forth, dangerously close to the roof’s ledge. We’d been passing around a glass bottle filled with a mix of gin and vodka, and Johnny grabbed it from the hands of a boy named Phil, took a big swig, then smashed it hard against the roof. Glass flew up into the air. Phil and two girls we had been drinking with huddled closely together to shield themselves. Johnny seemed to feed off their reaction. He pulled off his t-shirt, bent down and grabbed a handful of glass, and brought it up to his chest.

It was obvious Phil didn’t know what to do. Who was he to try to stop the older, tougher, Johnny Waxman? The girls and Phil hurriedly descended the roof, running off to report to everyone below what was happening. I stayed behind with Johnny. It was my moment, but it was also my place.

There was a flurry of voices and activity below us.

I picked up Johnny’s discarded t-shirt. He didn’t try to stop me as I brought it to his chest. Though the blood streaked across his stomach, I could see that the cuts had not been done very deeply. If you looked at the area on his chest with an open mind, you could make out the letters:


With the others gone, Johnny turned solemn.

“Can you read it?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“When I get home, I’m going to go over it with a knife.”

I wadded up his t- shirt, and dipped it into the puddle of vodka and gin.

“If we could get some straws, we could drink this,” I said, trying to be funny, and to change the subject.

“So what happened with that guy afterward?” Johnny asked.

“Everyone took off. I think they are going to find Liz.”

“No, the guy in the picture. Vicious. What happened with him and his girlfriend?”

“Johnny, I don’t know if he cut himself because they broke up. He might have, or he may have cut her name in…. tribute. ”

“Are they still together?”

“It was a long time ago…”

“Are they still together?”

The voices below us were getting closer. It sounded like an army was advancing on the shed.

Someone said, “Let her go up alone.”

“No!” someone else responded. “He’s acting crazy! Who knows what he’ll do!”

“I think it’s kind of romantic,” said a girl’s voice.

Johnny peeked down over the ledge.

“How long do you think it will take for this to heal?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Probably not long if you don’t go over it with a knife.”

“She can’t do this to me. What do you think will heal faster, my chest or my heart?”

I saw the pouf of her hair first. The darkening night sky seemed to accentuate her red lipstick.

“Oh baby, you’re bleeding!” Liz said, rushing to Johnny.

She put her hands onto both of his shoulders, and examined his chest.

“Oh baby, I can’t believe you did this because of me.”

“Marie said we were done,” Johnny said.

“I never said…Oh, Johnny, oh….”

A lot of young people have this idea about what it’s like to be an adult: they think adults live, and feel, everything, big. They ape the grandiosity that they associate with adulthood by making every encounter, every situation, much more over the top than it ever needs to be. In this way, the vagaries of youth often have more common with Scarlet O’Hara, than Shirley Temple.

Liz turned and looked at me dismissively. Without saying a word, I knew I was supposed to go. She took Johnny’s shirt from my hands.

Back on the ground, everyone was a buzz, giddy for information.

“What’s going on up there?”

“Did he really cut himself?”

“Does he have to go to the hospital?”


“Are they back together?”

I gave them what they wanted, and more.

“E-L-I-Z-A-B-E-T-H,” I said. “I don’t know how he managed to fit all the letters. I think he may have to go to the hospital. Yes, they are back together. I think they are getting married.”

That night, on the roof of the shed, a new coping strategy was introduced to my circle of friends. From then on, for many of us, the number of failed relationships that we’d been in could be tallied by the cuts, and burns that could be found all over our bodies.

It became almost like a contest.

Who would be the king and queen of the fucked up teens?

Parent’s always think kids’ problems are contagious. They might be right.

But sometimes, they’re competitive.

Over Share by Fiona Helmsley

seagull2I remember the time

We were eating lunch together in the employee break room

And I was just starting to feel close to you

As you’d just disclosed to me

That your husband, who you always gushed about in public, was in actuality, a pig.

The conversation shifted to swarth, then personal grooming habits.

“I can’t go a day without shaving my legs,” you said. “I just feel too icky!”

“I haven’t had pubes since the Clinton administration,” I replied.

From that day on,

I fed my half- eaten bags of potato chips to the seagulls in the park on my way home,

You had always finished the chips for me,

But now I ate lunch alone.