Mid October – Loft 5F - Alphabet City, Manhattan, New York City, NY – Present Day
The beeping on my watch draws me from my thoughts. I look down at the time, set my laptop aside, get up from my bed and stretch. "AZT break," I say softly. I leave my room and wander into the kitchen where my godfather Jett was at the bar drinking coffee and flipping through the latest copy of InStyle magazine. His long brown hair is set in curlers and a bottle of red nail polish sits next to the magazine. I open the cabinet to pull out my various bottles of medication I need to survive.
"Hey Ith," Jett says. "How's your project coming along?"
"Slowly," I reply. "Remind me why I agreed to go back to school?"
"Because it's what the Nannas wanted," Jett says.
"I never realized how messed up our lives have really been before starting this paper, Jett."
"I wouldn't call us 'messed up'. We're eccentric. I know you're hurt by what you have learned about Max and Stacey, but you haven't gotten past the trials they went through before things got good. You're still stuck in the late 80's and nothing was good then. Not even for Tricky and I."
"I was re-reading Stacey's old journals she kept for the first few years she and Dad were in the city. She had so many dreams."
"She still has her dreams," Jett says, watching my take my medications. He flinches as I swallow the large handful. I lost my gag reflex years ago from taking so many medications. "They've just changed slightly."
"I haven't heard Stacey talk about dreams for a long time," I say.
"Just because she doesn't talk about them Ithaca, doesn't mean she doesn't have them," Jett chides. "Couldn't tell you what they are now but I'm sure she has something she wants to do besides run errands for Beckett Tyler."
"Jett," I sigh, warningly. Jett and my mother have an arrangement, they don't talk to each other unless they absolutely have to. Even then it's only one or two words. "I know we aren't the definition of normal in any sense but I wouldn't trade what you, Daddy and Tricky have built for me."
"I used to have to leave the room when it was time for you to take your meds. Tricky would have to hold you down and Max would push them into your mouth. I couldn't watch you suffer to make you better."
"You have an event tonight?" I ask, finally acknowledging my godfather's ensemble.
"Of course," Jett says. "Some party for the label."
"Well just yell if you need some help gluing your eyelashes on."
"Girl, when have I ever needed help getting glam?"
"Last week. The zipper to the burgundy gown jammed. And the week before, you lost your earrings and wig case.”
“Besides that,” Jett says.
“If it wasn’t for me and my mad organizational skills you’d look like a stubble faced newbie.”
I leave Jett to his nails and start to wander around the loft, stretching out my legs. We have lived in the same warehouse loft since before I can remember. It was strange for me to think that my mother still had dreams, even dreams for me. She already ruined my chance at a healthy normal life. Risk came with my life. I feel like the first few years of my life, after the diagnosis were spent in a bubble, keeping me free from infections, germs or anything else that could inhibit my growth. Unlike normal four and five year olds I didn't go to pre-school or even to kindergarten. Between Dad, Tricky and Jett they taught me everything I needed to learn in those first formidable years. I didn't start going to school, normal school, until I was almost eight.
I wander back to my room. My room is more of an enclosure made of beaded curtains, sheets and boxes of Tricky and Jett's old costumes and props. My bed is a mattress on the floor. I used to think Daddy, Tricky and Jett were afraid of modern technology. Up until last year, the newest thing in the loft was my laptop. Everything in our loft is second or even third hand or not to be found in stores since 1973, even though we have the means for better things. Having had nothing for so long kept my family very humble and grateful for the things we do have.
The empty mattress against the wall is a constant reminder of the people I have lost in my life. Tricky and Jett are in the process of buying the loft next door to expand. They meant to do it a long time ago but other things got in the way.
I plop back down on my bed and pick up my laptop. My notes from my interviews with other members of my family are spread out in front of me. I pick up the pages about the first time Daddy met Tricky and Jett. I put my headphones on and listen to my father's voice as he sings. With my inspiration on, I find new steam and begin to write.
Late November – Washington Square Park/ Loft 5F, Avenue A - New York City, NY – 1987
As my dad was playing, earning change from the Christmas tourists, a man wearing a Foreigner t-shirt, holey jeans and combat boots, stormed over to him, glaring. "What the hell are you doing in my spot?" the man demanded of Max.
Max stopped playing his song and turned to the man. This had happened to him before. "Sorry man," he said, politely. "I didn't know. I'm leaving."
The crowd around Max began to protest. They liked what they were hearing and didn't want my dad to leave. Taking the crowd's applause, Max began to play the opening lick of Iron Man. The man stood there flabbergasted at the nerve of Max. Not to be one upped, the man called out, "Who wants to see a magic trick?"
Tricky set three cups down on the card table in front of him and a red rubber ball. He had the audience follow the balls that added to their number with each pass. At the end of the trick he changed the red rubber balls into lemons. About fifteen to twenty minutes of battling for space, they got a break. Max’s rock music was the perfect compliment to Tricky’s magic. Between the pair they had made forty bucks.
"Hey, I'm Max Porter," he said offering his hand.
"Tricky Howard," the man replied, shaking Max's hand. "You play really well. Been in the city long?"
"A few weeks," Max said. "When'd you learn to do magic?"
"I don't really remember," Tricky said, looking up at the arch hoping the answer was up in the clouds. "I think I was in second grade when I got a card trick book for Christmas from a random aunt."
And that is how my dad met Tricky. The pair decided over a cigarette that they could possibly make more if they worked together. Max became Tricky's barker and soundtrack for the rest of the day. Max was able to walk around the crowd, picking what he could from their pockets. Through his music he was able to make another hundred dollars and from picking he made an additional hundred in cash and a stack of things to sell.
"Hey Max?" Tricky called over as Max was packing up his stuff. "You got a place to stay?"
Such an honest, simple question. In truth, Max had no idea where he and Stacey would end up that night. He had made plans with her to possibly go to the shelter on West 57th.
"I don't know yet," Max replied. "My girl is supposed to meet me here soon. She takes care of our sleeping arrangements."
Tricky nodded and quickly wrote on a playing card. "Well with this cold weather the shelters are likely to fill quickly. If you find yourself in need of a place, this is my address. Jett and I would be glad to have you and your girl."
"Thanks Tricky," Max said, taking the card. He looked up and saw Stacey coming towards them. "Speaking of girls, there's mine. Stacey!"
Max waved over to Stacey and she joined the two men under the arch. She had an unfulfilling day. She didn't want to be anywhere but with Max. She smiled politely at Tricky.
"Stacey, this is Tricky. He was nice enough to share his spot with me today. Tricky this is my girlfriend Stacey."
Stacey gave Tricky a once over and smiled politely. "It's nice to meet you. Umm, Max, we need to get going. The co-ed shelters are likely to fill up fast with this cold weather."
"There is no need for you to stay in a shelter," Tricky said. "I was just telling Max that both of you are welcome to stay with Jett and I."
"Oh no. That's fine. We couldn't put you out. We'll find a place," Stacey protested.
"I insist. Jett's cooking and we have plenty of space."
Before Stacey could protest again, Max agreed. He felt they had spent enough nights apart and he didn't want to deal with it any longer. The three of them walked with Tricky down to the subway. Awhile later the three of them walked up the stairs and into a part of the city that Max and Stacey had never been to.
"Welcome to Alphabet City," Tricky said.
Stacey felt very uncomfortable being in this part of the city. She had only seen the part of New York that you see in travel guides and movies. She never knew that this part of the city existed. She clung tightly to Max's hand and followed Tricky to an old warehouse. He unlocked a door and the three of them walked up five floors. Tricky pulled open a door and invited Max and Stacey into his home.
"Yo Jett!" Tricky yelled into the loft. "Found us some company for dinner!"
A young man with long black hair stepped out from behind the bar in the kitchen. He had flour on his hands and a red sauce added freckles to his face. To Max and Stacey's surprise, on Jett's feet was a pair of tall wedge sandals.
"Hey," Jett said, to Max and Stacey. "I'm Jett."
"What's up?" Max said. "I'm Max and this is my girlfriend Stacey. Thank you for having us."
"It's not a problem," Jett said. "You are more than welcome to stay as long as you want. So…who wants a garlic knot?"
"Homemade?" Max questioned.
"Best garlic knots in the city."
He offered the tray to Max and Stacey. Max took one and bit into its warm center. "Oh my God! These are amazing! Stacey, you have to try one."
Max held out the half gone garlic knot to his girlfriend. He could tell that she was uncomfortable. She always felt better alone or with just him. In a sense she was still the shy, naïve Wyoming girl.
"Stacey, you're being rude," Max whispered fiercely. "Just take the damn knot!"
She took the half eaten garlic knot from Max and took a small bite. She was shocked to discover how incredible they tasted. It was divine next to the bland mass produced meals she had been having at the shelters. She devoured the rest of the knot Max gave her and had two more. Soon the two couples were seated on the couch with a plate of lasagna and laughing together. It was hilarious to listen to Jett start a story and have Tricky finish it. It was what Stacey hoped she and Max would become.
"How long have you been together?" Stacey asked.
"November 10th, 1980," Tricky said.
"Seven years," Jett answered.
"How did you meet each other?" Max asked.
"The same way you meet anyone," Jett replied. "Completely by accident. We met in college."
"But not at the same school. Jett was a fashion major at Parson's and I was a rich kid at NYU. Only I wasn't Tricky then. I was still going by Philip." Tricky cringed at the sound of his real name.
"I go to this party on the NYU campus, not knowing a single person except my roommate who ditched me before I even got a drink in me," Jett said. "I look over in the corner and there's this incredibly cute guy, lighting himself on fire."
"I was not on fire!" Tricky protested.
"The boy was engulfed in flames. It was crazy. He completed his trick and took a bow. I was impressed but played it off. So I was stuck at this party where I knew no one. I hung out for awhile and soon the magic guy came up to me and told me to pick a card."
"I wasn't sure why I was hitting on this pretty boy," Tricky said. "He looked so pathetic standing in the corner all by himself. So I went over to him. I did a couple of card tricks. We got to talking and the next thing I knew, I had a new partner."
"Tricky's parents were shocked that he was still on his 'gay' phase and hated me from the start," Jett said. "The only thing his mother liked about me was I got him to dress better. Clearly it hasn't stuck."
"What really threw them was the fact that you're a drag queen, Jett."
"A what?" Stacey asks, her naiveté, coming to light.
"Drag queen. A man who dresses as a woman," Jett says. "My official stage name is Circe Penelope Ulysses but everyone just calls me Circe. Comes in handy with Tricky's magic shows. I'm his beautiful assistant."
"When I decided that what I really wanted to be was a magician and dropped out of business school, my parents disowned me and locked me out of my accounts. I don't think I'll ever get back on their good graces."
"I think once we give them a grandchild, they'll warm up."
Philip "Tricky" Xavier Howard III was far from his Fifth Avenue upbringing. Gone were his button down Oxford shirts, ties and pressed pants. Replacing his upper class look with grungy jeans and rock and roll t-shirts and aviator sunglasses he looked ready to take the mike at a Journey concert than the stages of the great Harry Houdini. His arms were covered in tattoos. At that time he had almost fifty. Tricky kept his magic simple. He's what you'd call a parlor magician. He didn't like the over the top acts of the major magicians of the time. He liked simple things that kept people guessing on how they were done. He had dappled in fire tricks but soon found out he and fire did not get along. He had lost his eyebrows on more than one occasion. Another time he set the seven hundred dollar silk drapes of his mother's penthouse aflame. Soon after matches, lighters and lighter fluid were hidden and kept under lock and key.
Putting Tricky next to Jett was like looking at those old "Which of these do not belong" pictures and eliminating Tricky from the equation. Jethro Malachi Stavros was classy, polished and fashion forward. He studied fashion at Parson's and had been working on his own fashion line since he graduated. He had long black hair that he kept tied back with a thin leather cord. He wore black-framed reading glasses while he was sketching.
His alter ego, Circe, was glamorous and beautiful. She had won several pageants and competitions. As a little girl, I would watch Jett turn into Circe, watching in fascination, as she would put on her make up. I was two in my first memory of meeting Circe. Jett had gone into his room and this woman came out. It took almost twenty minutes for Jett to convince me that it was him under all the glam and glitter.
"So Max," Tricky said, lighting a cigarette. "We made some good money today. What do you say to working together for awhile?"
"I think it's a good idea," Max replied, lighting his own smoke. "We could try it for a few days. Couldn't hurt."
Jett turned to Stacey. "What about you Stacey? You up for leaving your establishment job and come work with me?"
"What do you do all day?" Tricky teased. "Other than leave scraps of cloth and glitter all over the place?"
Jett ignored Tricky’s dig and turned to Stacey. "Since my business partner Harry and I haven't found a store to buy our collection, we sell our designs at swap meets and on the streets. Our operation has gotten so big that we could use some help."
Even though Stacey enjoyed Jett and Tricky's company she wasn't ready to leave a good paying job in lieu of taking an unpredictable one on the street.
"I can't quit," Stacey said, her tone argumentative. "My McDonald's job is the only stable income that Max and I have."
"It was just an offer," Jett replied. "You don't have to take it this very second."
He looked down and began to gather up the dishes littering the living room. His reaction was a kick in the gut to Stacey. She hadn't meant to be rude it just happened to come out that way. Max elbowed her hard in the side. It was the beginning of the end of their relationship.
"I'm sorry," Stacey said. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
"It's fine," Jett replied, coldly from the kitchen.
Tricky sighed with a curse and got up from the couch and joined his partner in the kitchen. Max turned and glared at Stacey.
"Nice job," he snapped. "The first honestly nice people we meet and you have to go and insult them."
"I didn't do it on purpose," Stacey stated. "I'm not you Max. I can't just go with the flow and hope everything is going to be all right. I just can't."
"What did you think was going to happen?" Max argued. "Did you honestly think that you'd run away from home, come to New York and everything you've ever wanted would be handed to you on a silver platter? There is no easy street, Stacey. It's going to be hard. We're going to be cold and hungry. I've been at this a lot longer than you have. Maybe this life isn't the thing for you. Maybe you should go back to Wyoming."
Max's suggestion was like a stab to the heart. She didn't care how cold and hungry she got, she would never go back. Tears stung her eyes. She didn't mean to hurt Jett's feelings. Stacey looked from Max to the kitchen. Tricky and Jett came back into the living room. Jett wouldn't look at Stacey. Tricky and Max tried to keep the conversation going but the elephant in the room kept sucking out the life. Max and Tricky exchanged looks. They wanted to be friends but it would be damn near impossible if their other halves couldn't be around each other. When the silence in the room got to be too much, Jett excused himself and went to his and Tricky's room.
"Max, I'll just wake you up in the morning," Tricky said. "We can head out from there. The couch folds out, blankets and such are in the trunk by the door. Sleep good."