Tag Archives: Fiona Helmsley

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.

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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.

Herbert Hunke Herbert Hunke Herbert Hunke by Fiona Helmsley

Copping is a muscle, and muscles have memory.
In the summer of 1994, I had just graduated from high school, and was homeless. My mother had kicked me out of the house, and would only let me come home if I agreed to her one condition: I had to go to, and complete rehab. I’d attempted rehab once before, and found it unbearable; I’d schemed to get myself kicked out. There was just too much going on in the world outside that I didn’t want to miss, and I hadn’t been doing heroin long enough to equate it with any real kind of misery. I was on my own for the first time in my life, and had no qualms about sleeping outside, if it came down to it. My mother’s one condition was a weak extortion.

My best friend Chelsea had just been released from the fabled Silver Hill Hospital, where her parents had sent her after she overdosed on heroin in a McDonald’s bathroom stall. Edie Sedgwick had been to Silver Hill, and it had a hairdressing salon. I was jealous. Maybe I would have been able to endure my own intended 28 day stay if I’d been sent to a rehab that cush. One of the patients at Silver Hill with Chelsea was a good-looking young man with a thick head of wavy, dark hair who kept love letters from Courtney Love in a box in his room. He’d regale Chelsea with all sorts of wild stories about Courtney, who’d just lost her husband, Kurt Cobain, to suicide a few months before. Kurt and I had been in different rehabs at the same time; I felt a kinship with him because we’d both left the treatment centers we’d been forced into against our will.

Chelsea’s roommate at Silver Hill was an attractive young woman named Alex. Alex’s father had gotten rich selling high-waisted jeans to lower-income women across America. She’d been sent to Silver Hill by her parents for an eating disorder. Growing up on the peripherals of the fashion industry, Alex had been a model, and was bulimic. Silver Hill was a dual diagnosis program, which meant they treated emotional problems as well as drug and alcohol ones, and Chelsea was being treated for cutting herself while she was there. She and Alex had come up with an agreement to support each other while in treatment: Chelsea wouldn’t cut herself, if Alex didn’t make herself throw up. But the reverse was also true, and possibly the more effective motivator: Chelsea would cut, if Alex vomited, and Alex would vomit, if Chelsea cut. They had managed to keep this agreement a secret from the staff.

Alex was discharged from Silver Hill first, and a week after Chelsea’s release, a Lincoln town car came to pick her up to squire her to Alex’s family’s Upper East Side townhouse. The town car stopped behind the supermarket where I’d been sleeping, and picked me up too.

It was a beautiful summer day and we were both so excited. Alex had an itinerary planned for us while we were in the city. We would have free reign of the Lincoln town car. Chelsea had told Alex I’d spent the summer homeless, and Alex had offered to take me shopping. I met Alex quickly; she was pale and statuesque, with bright blonde hair, and wore round Jackie O style sunglasses as she fluttered about the townhouse, getting dressed. I hadn’t been so excited for what lay ahead since I was a kid, and my family would go on bargain vacations to Cape Cod. Alex had an appointment with her therapist and asked the housekeeper to make us whatever we wanted to eat, and gave Chelsea two hundred dollars. The money was for incidentals, and for heroin, a drug Chelsea had told Alex all about, and Alex wanted to try.

We didn’t know anyone in New York City to cop from, so we had the driver drop us off on St. Marks Place, and asked him to wait. We hit the streets, eyeing everyone we passed. We were walking towards Tompkins Square Park, a destination for homeless young people with punk rock sensibilities where I’d copped other times when I’d been in the city. There is a waxy, sort of preserved Madame Tussaud’s look to heroin users. In the same way that crackheads have sharp, spastic mannerisms, people on heroin have their own identifying characteristics: they look like they are intoxicated by sleep; they radiate a sort of toxic languor.

Two men passed us. They looked like they’d stepped out of a street scene in Midnight Cowboy; they looked like the sort of people I envisioned whenever I read anything about the old automat Horne and Hardart in Time Square. One of the men wore a child’s size leather jacket, his arms poking out at the elbows. The other was hunchbacked and walked with a cane. All I could think was Herbert Huncke Herbert Huncke Herbert Huncke. We approached them, our want stronger than our shame.

“Um…” I’d learned that the best way to present myself when asking a stranger for anything illegal was with self-effacement. “Do you think you could you help me and my friend…?”
I left it to hang in the air. If I was right, they would just need me to clarify which, coke or dope, and how much.

They looked at each other.

“You aren’t cops?”

Our appearances were testimonials. Chelsea had short bleached blonde hair with skinhead girl sideburns and fringe bangs, and the stubble on my shaved head was dyed black. Some cops will go to the trouble— my friend George was once busted smoking a joint by a cop with a Mohawk—but most, I assume, aren’t paid enough and are too vain.


“You’ll buy for us too?”


“We’re going to have to take a walk. How much do you want?”

“A bundle, plus the two for you. Twelve?”

“We need to go to the Bowery.”

Up close, the man with the cane was much younger than he had first appeared to be, due to his curled body. We talked as we walked, Chelsea, friendly and curious about everything, blabbed away, talking about rehab, what we were doing in the city, our car and driver. I was quieter, because copping always made me extremely anxious. Not so much about the police, though that anxiety definitely played a part, but because I couldn’t relax until I had it. The outcome in ellipsis until I had the dope in my body did something to my bowels. I walked along like a duck, because I had to shit.

As we approached a side street off the Bowery, the man in the leather jacket asked for the money. His friend with the cane stayed with us, and my sphincter relaxed a bit. He made no moves to hobble off, a good indication that they had no plans to rip us off. The man in the leather jacket returned a few minutes later, sidled up beside me, and slipped me the heroin.

“Come over there with me. I’ll introduce you,” he said.

This was an incredibly generous gesture; most middle men prefer to stay in the middle, as it’s such a profitable spot.


I turned the corner, and followed him to a store front with the grating pulled down. Outside, on a plastic chair that looked like it had been stolen from an elementary school, sat a short, fat Asian man. With a wet towel draped around the back of his neck, and a red dragon tattooed on the top of his head, he resembled a sort of biker Buddha.

“Sammy, this is my friend.”

The man’s eyes were closed, and he quickly opened them to look me over.

“How can I get in touch with you?” I asked.

The man in the leather jacket answered for him. “He’s usually right here, or you can ask for him in the lobby at the Sunshine.” He was referring to the Sunshine hotel, a rather infamous skeevy SRO, near CBGB’s.

“Alright, we’re good. Thanks Sammy.”

As we walked away, the man in the leather jacket told me what I’d been suspecting; that Sammy did not speak English.

“He speaks money,” he said.

We rejoined Chelsea, and his friend with the cane.

“Alright, we got to go,” the man in the jacket said. “We’re on a deadline.” He didn’t elaborate. “It was nice meeting you girls. Don’t make that driver of yours too crazy.”

We offered them a ride, but they declined.

“I figured out who you remind me of,” the man with the cane said to Chelsea, who he had obviously developed an affection for. “Edie Sedgwick. You’re not a toothpick like she was, but something about the eyes and the face. Maybe it’s the hair. And the driver. The reincarnation of Edie Sedgwick.”

“It was nice meeting you girls,” the man in the jacket repeated, with a smile. “But I’m curious. Why’d you ask us?”

“I like your look,” I said.

Like walking death.

It was the truth.


Joan Vollmer Burroughs Died for Somebody’s Sins not Mine by Fiona Helmsley

Here’s the thing. I am very distrustful. I’ve been burned many times. One time in particular that was quite painful was by Patti Smith. She was with her then boyfriend, the young man who would go on to become the photographer, who would be wearing monogrammed slippers in fifteen years’ time, shooting flowers and whips up his asshole. A good looking fellow with unkempt curls. Bill would not have cruised him as he liked Spaniards.

They were at the Chelsea Hotel, what we used to call the Literary Leper Colony as a kick. Not out of disrespect for the address but because so many of the greats had gone there to die. Patti was very aware of the anniversary, she’d even found out approximate times from somewhere, though she and the boy did travel in the same loose circles as Bill when he was in town. They had dressed for their parts, the boy in a handsome Salvation Army suit coat and matching pants and Patti in a diaphanous slip dress and pearlescent shawl. There’s not much written as to my sartorial flair. Despite having such a prolific circle of writers for friends, it’s amazing how invisible I have remained. It was because of this that when dressing as me Patti defaulted her look to that of Ophelia before hitting the brook.

At 7:15 PM, Patti and the boy exchanged words like they imagined Bill and I might have before I was shot. So much pageantry was involved in their reenactment it’s a wonder they didn’t sell tickets. It was like a warped wedding ceremony, the groom being artistic sensibility. We now pronounce ourselves outlaw artistes!

“I think it’s time for our William Tell Act,” the young man said without emotion.

“I don’t think I can look, you know how I can’t stand the site of blood,” Patti replied.

The only aspect of the recreation they’d neglected was the weaponry. Instead of a .38 the boy had a small plastic water gun, painted brown and filled with red food coloring. He put a tumbler glass onto her head and backed up not too far. I saw something in his face, it read like hesitancy. A squirt of food coloring hit her squarely between the eyes. She twitched and the glass fell without breaking. As the pinkish- red trail ran down her forehead she collapsed to the floor.


The whole thing was really a rather crass affair, but who’s to say, I might be biased. My husband and I have become one of the most popular his and hers Halloween costumes in certain circles of New York. More popular then Zelda and Scott, atleast as popular as June and Henry. I’d seen my share of these farbs but Patti’s was the first by a person in circumstances similar to my own and with a connection. I suppose it was the reason I was drawn out. That and it was obvious she was outré enough not to be completely spooked by the idea of talking to a ghost.

She dropped to the floor, feigning the last wheezy breaths of my death’s rattle. The boy waited a few seconds before leaning down and helping her to her feet. She moved her hand to his face as he lifted her, to caress his smooth skin and invite him to kiss her. Instead he moved her hand away.

“I have to go,” he said. This going of his had become a reoccurring motif. Though he was rejecting her advances it was not with cruelty.

“Where?” she asked. The food coloring had streaked down her forehead and pooled at the bridge of her nose. Her costuming was in such stark contrast to the boy’s. He looked debonair, brashly handsome; with the blood, she looked like a Bellevue escapee.

“To Terry’s loft…”

“You spend more time with Terry than you do with me, Robert. Not a small feat considering we live together.”

“I said I’d do this with you…” He moved his hands in the air, though the fleeting traces of their reenactment. “I don’t want to argue. He’s waiting for me. I’ll be back late tonight, I promise.”

Once the boy had gone, she went over to the bookcase and took out a small, elegantly constructed handmade diary. She poured herself a glass of wine from the bottle she had planned to use as an aid in the seduction of the boy, if only she had made it that far.

She picked up a pen, sat down at a small table and began to write: Rimbaud, Whitman, Blake, Burroughs: Robert and I are similar in the way we express our idolatry. We commune with our influences; covet their experiences like cicerones to luminosity. But it appears for Robert having one such experience Rimbaudesque hasn’t been enough. Jim Carroll said he knew he wasn’t gay because he only did it with men for money. I’m fairly certain that Robert is now doing it with them for free. 

Without confirmation from the boy she was in purgatory. Without confirmation as to the circumstances of my death, I was too. You could say I thought we could help each other out of a jam.

Not wanting to scare her but conceding that some fright was inevitable, I waited till she had finished her first glass of wine and had the beginnings of a glow on. When she got up to use the bathroom in the hallway, engaging all three door locks behind her, I even refilled her glass to encourage more consumption.

There was so much riff-raff in the halls of the Chelsea that when I did manifest, in the second chair at the table, the boy’s chair, she did not even seem that startled. I wore a knitted cloche low on my forehead to cover the bullet hole and moved my chair in a way advantageous to the dim lighting of the room.

“How did you get in here?” she demanded, catching sight of me when she looked up from her journal. She clenched the pen in her hand like a javelin.

“Joan Vollmer, Patti. I was watching your reinterpretation of my death.”

As could be expected, the revelation came as quite a jolt. She jumped up from her seat and bolted towards the door. “You old freak! You were spying on us! Get out now or I’ll get the police!”

“Touch me Patti,” I said following her as quickly as I could with my gimpy leg. She was frantically trying to undo all the locks on the door. “I can prove it to you if you touch me…”

She wouldn’t acknowledge my request, so to offer up irrefutable evidence of my nature, I walked through her, through the door, out into the hallway, then back into the room and beside her.

“I’m a ghost, Patti. An eidolon.”

She frantically continued with the locks. As she was both tipsy and unnerved, all she could do was fumble them. “I’m asleep,” she whispered, closing her eyes and shaking her head side to side as if she could wake herself up. “I passed out in the chair, this is a dream…”

“You’re awake,” I interjected.  “Robert left a little while ago. You’ve been drinking wine, writing in your journal.”

An uncomfortable silence rested between us. A sort of stalemate. She could either resist believing what I was or she could accept it.

When she finally spoke it was with such a release of emotion I thought she might cry.

“Did I… conjure you?”

“I don’t know exactly what you did, but everything lined up. I don’t have long though. I’m like Cinderella at the ball and can’t dance all night. Can we sit down?”

She didn’t respond but followed me back to the table, keeping as much of the small room between us as she could.

She stared at me for a good moment, then leaned across the table to touch me skittishly, like someone might if trying to gauge the heat of a hot stove. When her hand cut clear through the air, clear through me, she threw back her head and began reciting verses from Whitman: “And thee my soul, thy yearning amply fed at last, prepared to meet thy mates the eidolons!” She assailed her hands upon the tabletop and cried out, “Old Bull Lee’s wife!” referring to my husband by his character’s name in Jack’s book. Talking a mile a minute and with much animation, she began speaking of her and the boy’s reenactment of my death.

“It…it… was meant as a tribute, a paean to you and your relationship with Old Bull Lee… You are such an inspiration to me, Joan. You were the hippest, the smartest girl on that scene, a real firecracker. Robert has said I’m so obsessed by my icons their like my imaginary friends. I’ll be writing in my journal and he’ll say, “What are you doing over there Patti Lee, communing with your dead pals?” I’ve always been thought of as this sort of ‘little girl who cried wolf’… “Oh Patti and her imagination!” they always say. That’s probably why you came to me Joan, you knew from my mouth no one would ever believe it! A visit from you is just the sort of thing they would expect me to claim!”

She was so excitable and schizophrenic it dawned on me we might go on like this forever unless I got stern.

“Robert is homosexual Patti,” I said. “His sexual encounters with men are not just some artistic experiment. I know all about the denials and justifications. I went through the same thing with Bill. I had as hard a time accepting it as you are.”

“Joan Vollmer Burroughs in my room at the Chelsea! Commiserating with me about man troubles!” She pulled her feet up into the seat of her chair and wrapped her arms around her legs, adjusting the skirt of her dress for modesty. “I’ve felt so jaded lately. My belief in the magic of the world has really been on the wane.” She inhaled deeply and fidgeted with a loose gold band on her ring finger, twisting it in circles it as she spoke.

“At one time, Robert and I were like one person, Joan. Psychic twins I used to say. Telepathic, like you and Old Bull Lee. I’d always dreamed of meeting another artist to love and create with. Robert’s my muse and my maker. I’m resistant to give that up no matter who he shares his bed with.”

She must have forgotten I was untouchable because she started to reach across the table, then pulled back.

“I feel so blessed to have this time with you, Joan.”

“You’re blessed to have someone to have this conversation with,” I replied. “I had no one. At least no one who wasn’t in some way caught up in our madness. You can’t just talk to anyone about your lover, your husband, being fey. They don’t understand why you just don’t leave, that you can’t just turn your feelings on and off like that. Then there’s the denial. I used to say to Bill, “How can you be a faggot when you fuck like a pimp?”

A sly smile spread across her face that led me to think she could relate.

“I need to ask you a favor, Patti. I want to know if my husband shot me on purpose. I want to know once and for all if my death really was just an accident.”

“Oh Joan, I can assure you right now that it was! Lee was devastated by your death. It ruined him. It took him to depths so low, he had to write to find his way out. Your death is what inspired him to become a writer. It’s the reason he writes now!”

“Bill had been writing for years before my death, Patti. He was starting to become more ambitious about it with encouragement from Allen and Jack. He was writing two books at the time of my shooting. I had read parts of them. One was about boys, the other was about junk.”

“I’m staggered that you would even question this, Joan. Lee had no reason to do you in. You were the mother of his child. You had a partnership, a numinous understanding…”

“He’d been home for three days from a trip to South America with his boyfriend when I was shot. They were in South America for over two months, Patti. Two months! I don’t know what happened over the course of that trip. Maybe the thought that once he came home- the looming threat of returning to that existence… I suspect he was done with us. Billy could go and live with his parents- and me, I don’t think he really cared where I went, as long as it was a way from him.”

“Oh Joan, I don’t believe that for a second. You had tolerated all of his lovers in the past. Whatever would have been his complaint?”

“I think he wanted to be free of the trappings and responsibility of a family, Patti. Free to be an artist, to bugger boys where and when he wanted to, with impunity. Free of my loud mouth, my ugly face. I moved my chair over here because the lighting is better and you won’t get a good look at me. At my teeth. They’re like rotting tombstones from all my years on Benzedrine. What you would see isn’t damage done by any bullet. I was off the speed by then, but I was foul- mouthed lush with a gimpy leg from polio. Twenty-eight years old, but looking closer to fifty. I was only a few years older than you and you made me for an old freak when you first caught sight of me! And I can’t be positive because I’d been drinking, but I think I saw something in his eyes when he pointed the gun…”

“You were both drunk, Joan. That’s probably why your recollection’s so hazy. You were blitzed. You and Bill were at a party, at friend’s house when you were shot. You were performing your William Tell Act, something you’d done many times before…”

“No Patti. I remember what happened. I remember clearly. Bill and I hadn’t even come to the apartment I was shot at together. I hardly saw him over those three days after he returned from his trip. We met up at the apartment where I was shot by coincidence. His lover, the boy he went to South America with, was one of five or so people that lived there. And I think it bothered Bill. He wanted me out of his life and there I was, a guest at his lover’s apartment, and it made him feel like he’d never be free of me, he’d always have to tolerate my presence in some unbearable way or another. He’d come to the apartment to sell a gun. And I was at my wit’s end with him, Patti. I had to call his parents for money to feed the children while he was off in South America gallivanting with his catamite! We bantered there. I knew him so well, I knew just what to say to get him good and make it sting. He hated to be embarrassed. He was such a show off, with a machismo streak a mile long. I made a comment, not even a clever one… I said, in front of his catamite, in front of his claque, I said, “The big man with the gun who can’t shoot straight.”  You see, Bill was a great shot, it was one of the things he prided himself on, his marksmanship. I was being cheeky; I meant it as double entendre. I just wanted a response. Some pathetic acknowledgement of my existence. And he said, “Oh yeah?” And then to prove it, to prove me wrong, I let him put the glass on my head. It was the most interaction we’d had in months, Patti… Yes, it was something we’d done once before, but it wasn’t any party trick. I wasn’t suicidal Patti; I would have never let him put that glass on my head if I thought for a second he might miss…”

“I don’t believe it, Joan.”

“I saw something in his eyes, Patti. I’m not saying it was a total set-up, but I think in that moment, he saw a way to get what he wanted…he saw a way out. What I’d like for you to do is, I’d like for you to put it out there for me. I’d like for you to say that you suspect I was murdered…”

“Oh, Joan! I’m a fairly new face on the scene here. I don’t want to alienate anyone… I’m a poet, Joan. I’m not any kind of investigative reporter…”

“You could write a poem. Nothing will happen to Bill, Patti. It was eighteen years ago. I don’t want him rearrested. He already got his sentence, which he ran from, by the way. I just want some acknowledgement of what really happened to me that night…Why doesn’t anyone have the guts to say it aloud? To even question it? Is it because all of you who venerate him so would have to confront an ugliness about yourselves?”

“Look at my bookcase Joan! I’m a scholar of your lives!”

“What are you saying? Because you’ve read all my husband’s books you are somehow better qualified than I am to judge what happened to me that night?”

“William Burroughs is like another bible to me, Joan. He’s one of the reasons I became an artist. He’s one of the reasons I moved to New York…”

“Another bible…Do you like science fiction, Patti?”

“Science fiction? I mean, I suppose. I’ve read some Ray Bradbury…”

“What about gay pornography? Do you enjoy gay pornography, Patti?”

“I’m not against any kind of sexual expression, Joan. It’s not what gets me off, if that’s what you mean…”

“What about pederasty? Child fucking. How do you feel about child fucking, Patti? Because that’s what my husband writes about. That’s your bible. Or is the real reason my husband’s your favorite writer what you think he represents? Gentleman- degeneracy with a Harvard degree and a handsome hat? Is it the kitsch value of his lawlessness that you venerate? Is my husband your favorite writer because you’re so frantic to viewed as outsider you’ll pardon his transgressions’ so you can be associated with them?”

“I’m sorry I came here tonight Patti, but I have no choice who I come to. Because of that, if you keep with your crass reenactments, I may be back.” I was so angry now that I stood up and removed my cloche.

“Yours will wash away, Patti.”

I picked up her pen from the table, the one she’d been using to write in her journal, and jammed it into the hole in my forehead. “Mine won’t.”

Then I left her there, at her table, in her room at that hollowed hotel.

Left her with the lepers.


Bill is dead now, so what does any of this matter?

I have not seen him since his passing, but I came across something the other day, something interesting. It was a transcript of an interview a man named George Laughhead did with my husband right before he died. I can’t get into the logistics of how or where I saw it, but in it Mr. Laughhead concedes to something I waited over sixty years to hear someone admit.

He says, “I don’t really care if William Burroughs murdered his wife.”

My husband was allowed my death. His status as an icon allowed for him to transcend my shooting to such a degree it was no longer considered a criminal act, but a celebrated one.

In his old age, it appears Bill himself felt a little more emboldened to speak closer to the truth. In the same interview, he yells out, “SHOOT THE BITCH AND WRITE A BOOK….THAT’S WHAT I DID.”

     It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword.

     And sometimes it is the sword.

     Don’t let me down.

     Joan Vollmer Burroughs

How Internalized Shame Influenced the Choice of My First Sex Partner and Led Me to Cheat on the Boyfriend I Really Liked by Fiona Helmsley

My freshman year of high school I had two goals: to try LSD* and to lose my virginity. I accomplished both by the end of first marking period.

Though I had a boyfriend at the time who was also a virgin, my first time was not with him. It was with his best friend, a sixteen year old mimbo extraordinaire who spelled the “I” sound in his name with a “Y,” making “Chris” Chrys. I choose Chrys specifically because he was promiscuous and aggressive. My boyfriend, whom I liked very much, was just too chivalrous and respectful towards me, which left the physical aspects of our relationship stalled because of my own sexual hang-ups. I needed a first time partner who would not just storyboard the event for me, but feed me his penis like a director might feed a bad actor their lines.

Chrys and I had had a previous sexual encounter when it hadn’t been cheating on my part and bro foul on his, the summer before I hit the hallways as a freshman.

One night I snuck out of the house with my friend Louise and Chrys was one of the boys we happened to meet out on the street after midnight. While Louise got it on with his friend, I laid down in the grass and let Chrys have most of his way with my basically comatose form. I wasn’t drunk or on drugs, it was the shame I felt that completely mired my ability for both response and reach around. Chrys had to release his own member and put it into my hands, because to take the initiative and open up his pants on my own would be to show that I wanted it, which I wouldn’t, even though I very much did.

From a very early age I had been sexually paralyzed by the notion that it was bad form for a female to show she wanted anything sexually, and even worse for her to go out and seek it. I had grown up in an Irish-Catholic family, and even though for a short period of time my parents had hidden a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves under the mattress in their bedroom, there was zero dialogue in our house about the subject matters in its pages. Everything I learned about my body and sex I had to scavenge for myself. Though we never spoke about the “S” word, there was a strong, fragrant undercurrent to the silence. We weren’t talking about sex because it was a dirty, shameful thing.

My teenage years found me incredibly curious about sex, but the shame I had internalized shaped all of my sexual interactions. I was not prude per se but more frozen into frigidity. All of my sexual fantasies involved aggression on the part of my partners (envision Mickey Dolenz from the Monkees as a rapist) to resolve my own desirous culpability. It was my partners who were the ones in control, shaping events; I was just a passive entity. Even in my inner-most thoughts I wouldn’t allow myself be shown as an willing participant.

So freshman year- I liked my boyfriend, but he was just too respectful. He didn’t push me. He didn’t put my hands into his pants like Chrys did; he didn’t offer instructions or storyboards. He was holding me back by not taking the reins, by not making me do what he didn’t even know I wanted to. The night I’d fooled around with Chrys in the grass he’d asked me to have sex with him and though I’d said no, I always remembered the offer and we became closer as I dated his best friend. And one warm fall evening, 24 hours after my sweet, gentle boyfriend serenaded me outside my bedroom window with songs he learned starring in our high school’s production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, I agreed to meet Chrys in my backyard and had sex with him in the dirt pit behind my house.

It was very quick and it didn’t hurt. I was expecting it to as my only other close friend who had had sex had ended up in hospital with cysts on her ovaries, locker folklore at the time connecting the cysts to her too early middle school forays into fornication. Though I didn’t think sex would give me tumors, I assumed there would be some kind of strong physical discomfort. It was anticlimactic in all regards.

My first words to Chrys afterward were “Did I bleed?” He looked down at the prophylactic on his now flaccid penis and said “No.” I recall answering, “Must be all those horseback riding lessons I took.”

I hate to use words like give and take but I choose to give Chrys my virginity purposely, because I knew he would take it.

*Alas, LSD would let me down, too. I’d read Timothy Leary’s autobiography Flashbacks and had been heartened to learn about his experiments with psilocybin in the prisoner population. Leary had claimed success with using the drug to help recidivists come to terms with the personality defects that led them back to crime. Since adolescence is essentially one long ten year bid, I reached for LSD in the hope it might serve as a sort of psychedelic fix me in a time before Prozac. Maybe, my thought went, LSD would help me come to terms with what it was about myself that I loathed. Alas, it just made me even more tongue tied and awkward, and my taste in music and clothing suffered. I took it over 200 times, anyway, just to be sure.

Fiona Helmsley is a writer of creative non-fiction and poetry. Her first book There Are A Million Stories In The Naked City When You’re A Girl Who Gets Naked In The Naked City was released in 2010. Her writing can be found in various anthologies like How Dirty Girls Get Clean and Air In The Paragraph Line and online at websites like Jezebel and The Rumpus. She can be reached through her blog Flee Flee This Sad Hotel at http://ilikemymeattender.blogspot.com.