The Heiress and The Transvestite




                                "The Heiress and The Transvestite"


             by Susan S. Barmon © 2018 All Rights reserved


   Chapter 1


 There’s a “Raver” in North beach who spends most of his days in Washington Square Park disrupting traffic on Columbus Ave. He’s in good shape and appears to work out regularly. Briskly, marching around the park he rants to fat people about the importance of exercise, inevitably belittling what he perceives to be their rich, comfortable lifestyle. When finished he turns abruptly, picking up his pace in preparation to deliver his message to the next “victim.” It was a warm spring evening when he marched in front of us. Not being overweight I was a little surprised to be face to face with him and got a weird feeling in my stomach wondering what the “message” would be. The Raver had another mission in mind. His destination was the three-foot tall concrete column latitude marker, engraved 37 degrees, 47 min., 57 seconds N., embedded in the grass yards from where we were sitting. Jumping up on it and precariously teetering on the pointed top, he started to rant.

“North Beach and San Francisco are all about money and trust fund kids,” He got louder, complaining about the selfishness of “the idle rich in North Beach and their lack of “soul”.

Little did he know how timely the message was for us. That very morning The Heiress had given us our 30-day notice to vacate our apartment. Illegally evicted. Shocked, we were trying to wrap our heads around what eviction would entail, when the Raver screamed at the top of his lungs

"It's all about the money!"

In the weeks following the eviction notice our lives were slipping out from under us like a cheap rug. We needed a lawyer. Careening between feeling murderously angry and total despair at the thought of being homeless, anyone within earshot knew we were looking for a place to live. Betty, who owned the cleaners two doors from our flat let us put a sign in her window. She hated The Heiress because the Transvestite, whom she lived with in her North Beach flat, never paid his cleaning bills. Actually, he always "forgot" his wallet until "the next time." The Heiress embarrassed and not willing to settle his bill, went to her competitor up the block.

Once again our lives were a big question mark at the whim of someone else. It was those exact circumstances that brought us to California. My husband’s twenty-three year airline pilot career ended in the company declaring bankruptcy and my job in retail advertising went out of business. When employment in the west was offered, Matt had been teaching flying and wondering how much longer he could hold life as he knew it together.

Seemed like we couldn’t afford to take the job and we couldn’t afford not to. And, he told himself, being an executive at a professional flight school could be a good thing. My mother was ill and I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of leaving her or my daughters and friends. We were still reeling from our perfectly good lives being sacrificed for someone else’s wealth. It almost sounds like today instead of 30 years ago in the early nineties. Then interest rates were double digit, cell phones were just becoming common and a laptop weighed in at eight to ten pounds. It wasn’t a good time for either of us and certainly not an optimum time for sound decision-making. Our house went on the market and we drove west into the unknown. It was the only port in a very heavy storm. Here we were four years and several apartments later and we still hadn’t gotten it right. Deja Vu all over again.

Nick owned the corner market across the street from Betty and along with Betty kept urging us to get in touch with The Tenant’s Union. We were approaching desperation, with no appetite for apartment hunting. What a surprise to learn we were living in a city where tenants actually had rights. All it took was $35 to make us members of the San Francisco Tenants Union. It was no comfort to know “we belonged” somewhere. After reading The Heiress’ letter, the volunteer lawyer on duty said the same thing as the man at the Rent Board. “This isn’t legal. You don’t have to do anything.” He gave us a handbook with a list of lawyers that did tenant/ landlord cases and sent us on our way. That’s where we found Marilyn. We called her first because she didn’t charge for telephone consults. The initial phone interviews yielded the information that even if we stalled the process, despite what the Rent Board had told us, we would still have to move. It wasn’t going to matter that the letter wasn’t legal. No matter what the laws, “money would talk” and our recourse would be to wait for The Heiress to notify us that we could reoccupy. Legally, she had to, but so far she wasn’t concerning herself with too many annoying legalities. Her ideal scenario would be for us to quietly ride off into the sunset so she could raise the rent and be done with us. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Our legal obligation, if we wanted to move back to the flat, was to notify The Heiress by certified mail as to our whereabouts. Being homeless, with all our belongings in a storage unit in San Leandro, we faithfully let The Heiress know our three different addresses that summer. We were biding our time until the project was completed in the fall, when we would get back in touch with Marilyn to apprise her of the current situation. It was a big surprise when we got a notice from the Housing Board informing us that The Heiress needed an extension on her project and we were required to attend. The time had come to finally meet Marilyn.

Her office was located at the foot of Polk Street, just North of Market. Not a great neighborhood. All the buildings surrounding the one we were entering cast permanent dark shadows on the grim doorway. The whole building was grim, with spare aluminum framing that enclosed dark green plastic squares. A facade reminiscent of the early sixties. Waiting nervously on the sidewalk to be buzzed in, this meeting felt like a seedy rendezvous, which amused me and I gave in to an irresistible urge to look both ways to see if we’d been followed. Only the wino on the corner gave us any notice.

We bravely trusted our lives to the rickety, old fashioned caged elevator which deposited us up a couple of floors to a dingy waiting area piled high with stacks of Gay Rights pamphlets, magazines and posters. Being a reader, I was immediately drawn into browsing the literature, keeping a lookout for any material regarding illegal evictions from one’s place of residency. Marilyn told Matt “It is my specialty.” Not judging from the pamphlets, I thought. Hearing heavy footsteps, I peered around the corner to come face to face with a gigantic woman dressed in huge denim overalls. She looked as if she’d just left the farm. Aside from being proportionally mismatched with a big body and a tiny head, her brown, curly hair cut boyishly short emphasized the distortions. Her voice sounded as if she had just had a hit of helium when she introduced herself. Her dog, a pit bull mix was at her side. He appeared to be as fat as his mistress, with the potential for having a nasty disposition. Marilyn introduced the dog, “Chunky”, and her hand disappeared somewhere into the depths of her pockets to produce a treat for him. A bribe to keep him at bay. Listening to Chunky devour the rock like morsel, I watched him sharpen his teeth systematically from left to right knowing from the way his bulging eyes were regarding us, that he would happily eat our faces at the first false move. With this in mind, I stood very close to Matt and looked up at the woman brightly when she asked “Are you afraid of dogs?” We replied in unison “No, we’re not afraid of dogs.”

“We’re the couple who have been communicating with you regarding the illegal eviction from our apartment”

“Evicted by?”

“Our landlady”, I said.

“Her name?”

“The Heiress.” I resisted the urge to say “With a capital “T”. “I’ll need her real name.”

“Her real name is Mary Jane Moore, but we call her "The Heiress” because she is.”

I neglected to tell Marilyn that The Heiress had used several different names on and off during her life.

Several lawyers shared Marilyn’s office complex. There were no secretaries, and a few private offices facing the street. We were the only people there. She and Chunky ushered us into her office. It had a large collection of legal books dealing with civil rights, and a window facing Market Street. As Matt started to speak, I gazed down the block thinking to myself that this was a fitting end to our lives in California. Here I am in this strange office with this strange woman and her dog, watching the new retro tourist trolleys roll by. There had been a lot of publicity over those trolleys because of the cost and would tourists use them to justify the cost. They were replicas of  trolleys that ran on Market Street in the forties. Each car was painted either red, yellow or green and they created a pleasant backdrop for the homeless who were starting to panhandle in front of the shelter on the corner. It was as ludicrous outside as it was in. This was the icing on the cake. I smiled to myself, knowing we would be miles away when The Heiress and Marilyn met.

We told Marilyn the eviction letter was a total surprise. The warning signals were there, but we hadn’t wanted to see them. The last update Mary Jane had given us was in the early spring after her mother had died. She said the addition of another floor on her building wasn’t going to happen for at least nine months, “ you can relax. Don’t worry, when it does happen you can be assured of a place to live, at the same rent.” She said she wanted to wait until her mother’s estate was settled. Then the order of financial priorities would be the facelift, liposuction and tummy tuck, followed after the swelling went down, with a trip to Italy. A red flag should have gone up when The Heiress used any kind of reasoning, but instead we were relieved, not wanting to think about another move. Two months after this conversation, early in the morning, the letter was shoved through our mail slot. She waited until Matt left for work. Facing us would not be an option. It’s The Heiress’ “Out of sight, out of mind philosophy”

She had been waiting a couple of years for her Mother to die. With the multi million dollar inheritance The Heiress could build her "dream home", expanding her four unit building. She wasn’t going to let getting rid of unwanted tenant’s get in her way. When we asked for specifics she offered no information and told us to talk to her architects. They referred us back to The Heiress for any information because we were not clients. We didn’t know if we would be able to move back, despite her previous assurances. The Heiress had effectively “edited all of her tenants out”, just as her architects did when a nearby building marred the rooftop postcard view and the design altered.

Marilyn pushed her tiny little glasses a little higher on her nose, twisted her pretty little ring around a sausage shaped finger pinched in at the knuckle, and reached into the depths of her pocket to produce another treat for Chunky. Those pockets were a bottomless feedbag. Her pen and legal pad were ready for the facts. Matt and I looked at each other, took a deep breath and started to tell our story with the letter coming first.

“Dear Tenants:

Yesterday I made the decision to go ahead with the project. After examining all my options and having the hard earned permit from the city as well as a beautifully worked out plan, I recognize that this is the only way to resolve my own housing and art exhibition needs. I now have the financing and have downsized the scope of work enough that we are able to resume as planned. The new schedule will be finalized next week. What is being discussed is that the basement work will begin as early as mid-July. We would like to start the seismic upstairs sometime in August. I strongly urge you to look aggressively for another residence, as things are moving along. The longer this takes to finish, the more it costs in lost rent so there is an urgency for me to continue in a timely manner. Therefore, this is your official 30-day notice. You may take an extra week in August rent free to help facilitate your move. To be more specific, you have 6 weeks notice, which includes the extra rent-free week. I’m sorry the building department is making me conform to such an amazing degree. I have no wish to displace anyone but I will not abandon a project that means so much to me. Please advise me about your understanding of what your deposits are.


“The Heiress.”


Marilyn’s eyebrows were near her hairline when she said, “Does she not know what your deposits are? This letter is ridiculous. She has acted in total disregard of every tenant landlord law regarding eviction for capital improvement in the city. I thought you said she had been a friend?”

That's what we had mistakenly thought too

Chapter 2

We met The Heiress through her Mexican Folk Art gallery in the Fillmore neighborhood, while walking around looking for “For Rent” signs. It was hard to get our heads wrapped around another move, but with little left to lose and most of our stuff in storage it became a matter of safety. We had been robbed recently and thought it would be a good thing to look for another place a bit more secure than our tiny garden apartment in Pacific Heights.

The Heiress’s gallery was a storefront in a Victorian building with two rental flats above. The MJ Moore Gallery, neatly painted on the deep green awning, was inviting. We had been collecting Mexican folk art for years. After schlepping it cross-country and throwing it all into our storage space in the East Bay, we were curious. The large room had a lot of natural light from the window facing Post Street. It was filled with folk art: from Day of the Dead statuary on strategically placed pedestals, reliquaries on the walls, and wonderful fabrics from Guatemala. There were the requisite cards, posters and jewelry from local and Central American artists, and a small office space and bathroom way in the back. Her small desk was near the jewelry display case by the front door.

After introductions we told her about our collection and our interest in hers. She wanted to know if we wanted to consign anything with her. It hadn’t occurred to us up until then but Matt told her we’d think about it and get back to her. We then asked if any flats were for rent and she told us her four-unit building in North Beach was going to have an available apartment in a couple of months and she would love to get it rented before the current tenants moved out. That would alleviate any stress on her end. After exchanging information we left, continuing on our apartment search. Matt and I discussed selling some of our art and decided to consign a few pieces to see if they sold.

When The Heiress called a few days later we set up a time to meet the following week, giving me time to get to our “home away from home” in the East Bay to dig around and find what we were willing to sell. Meeting at the gallery was good. She liked our selections, suggested we run across the street to grab a cup of coffee and come back to the gallery to talk.

The Heiress started telling me about her life. You have to remember I knew no one and was amazed I was actually speaking, in the flesh, to someone in the same area code. She also told me not to call her Mary Jane. She preferred The Heiress. It was her favorite over the several names she had used in her life.

The Heiress was a small woman, about 5’5” with perfect posture and a tiny waist. She always stood and sat ramrod straight, hands manicured and folded, never speaking much unless the conversation was about her. Her breasts had been lifted after her daughter was born twenty-five years earlier and they had stood the “perky” test for a woman in her late forties. Her wiry long burgundy hair was piled on her head for lack of anywhere else to put it, except perhaps under hats, which she wore often. The Heiress had an awkward way of waving her hands around when she spoke, as if she wasn’t sure what they were and why they were at the ends of her wrists. The clumsiness of the movement always made me think perhaps her nail polish never dried. She wasn’t comfortable with her hands, but I think she thought the gesture was feminine and ladylike, something I learned later she always strived to be.

The Heiress had a nervous habit of pursing her lips whenever she was asked a question. She thought it gave her a contemplative, thoughtful “look.” She had great lips, full and heart-shaped, that is until she had them altered with plastic surgery after her mother died. Then they were caricatures of their previous beauty; looking as if a duck’s bill was about to sprout out of her face.

I realized after I’d spent some time with her that MJ didn’t laugh much. I later found out she wasn’t lacking a sense of humor but more importantly she didn’t want her face littered with laugh lines. It was a concious effort. Her wardrobe was stylish, mostly consisting of expensive long black skirts and pants to accentuate her small waist. (The Transvestite would later tell me, “Julia, I like to stand at the bottom of the staircase and when she comes down the steps I like to photograph up the stairs under her skirt.”)

She asked me to come back to the gallery in a few days because she got lonely sitting there all day and thought perhaps my background in Art Direction and location photography might help her self-promotion efforts. She couldn’t pay me with money but had wonderful connections to Mendocino Gold that she could give me in exchange. She told me her dealers came to the city about once a month from Mendocino and stayed in one of the empty spaces in her basement. The other basement space she had turned into an office with a small stand-up shower and a tucked-away toilet in a closet.

I said “Yes.” I knew no one and I was tired of talking to the cat. “Any port in a storm” was my motto and if it came with a little weed, so much the better. It was a lonely existence. When I showed up at the gallery the following week to help she closed up, locked the door and lit a joint.

Then she proceeded to tell me about her life. I was discovering that we shared some things in common. My mother had just died and hers was starting the process. We both had a daughter with a troublesome past, and thinking back on it, I think we were both “oddities” to each other and that created curiosity.

The phone kept ringing while we chatted. Her boyfriend and his two daughters, she explained, lived with her in her North Beach building. An electrician by trade, Marty worked little, which was a constant source of irritation to her. He was calling to tell her he had done the laundry and was cooking dinner. She told him not to bother because she didn’t want to eat, forgetting that the kids might be hungry.

She met him when she finished taking some neon lighting classes at the Art Academy and wanted to open a neon studio with two friends. They found a cheap space in the Tenderloin neighborhood. He was the electrician they hired. He really screwed up their studio electricity-wise, which infuriated the landlord when they left. They sold nothing and left the studio because they couldn’t pay the rent and The Heiress wouldn’t pay everyone’s share. The Heiress said, “Julia, I love a project and I needed a man around to do everything in the house I couldn’t and those two little girls were adorable and needed guidance. I had just bought the North Beach building, with help from my mother, and it didn’t matter at the time that he was a crummy electrician. He and those girls were as cute as they could be.”

She didn’t let on about his proclivities but when I went to use the gallery bathroom I got a nasty shock turning on the light. She said, “Oh, he did that when I moved the gallery in here and he just won’t come and fix it and I won’t call anyone to do it because it’s his job.” She went on to say, “We were supposed to do this gallery together, but he was constantly challenging me and the arguments got to be too much. So I just did it on my own. There was also supposed to be woodwork from Bali in here. On a vacation trip to Bali (Bali and Goa being the preferred vacay spot for moneyed San Franciscans) he bought all kinds of Balinese flower and leaf carvings that fit together like Tinker Toys. You know any configuration you want as long as the carved post fits into the carved hole.” Immediately I imagined a Balinese Tinker Toy jungle forest.

Continuing she said, “I begged him not to buy them but he said even if they didn’t sell in the gallery he could sell them mail order. I didn’t want them in the gallery and refused to have them here.” I asked if he knew about the mail order business? Negative. The Tinker Toy jungle was now set up outside her basement office and many large boxes were stored on the side of the basement where the dealers slept when they were in town.

I left that afternoon saturated. We made plans to meet the following week at her home office in North Beach. We could work on the mailing list and other mundane stuff for the gallery. MJ told me to come in the door as it was rarely locked, and up the stairs. In the kitchen was a door leading down to the basement. She would see me there and show me the flat that was coming up for rent.


Chapter 3

Monday when I arrived I could hear the vacuum running. I called up the stairwell and started up. I was almost at the top of the stairs when the vacuuming stopped and I heard The Transvestite calling out as he walked down the hall. Those weren’t Reeboks I was hearing on the wood floor. He came through the door exaggerating his walk and posture, reminding me of an emaciated runway model. Kids playing dress up also came to mind. I almost started to laugh. He looked like someone’s brother dressed up in his sister’s clothes. It was our first meeting, and when he saw me he said, “Ah Julia, How nice to meet you. I’m Marty Sparks and I’ve heard so much about you from The Heiress. “

What really surprised me was his face, pock-marked and nicotine lined and makeup-less. His hair was cut mullet style with a short ponytail. The cut-off jean skirt and nondescript knit top capped off the outfit. It was all very disconcerting. He looked like a “wanna be” drag queen in early training. (Although I don’t believe any self respecting drag-queen-in-training would be caught dead in that outfit). He gave me a big hug hello as if this was the norm and we’d been friends for years. I was a little uneasy and at a loss, not knowing how to respond. He seemed very unpredictable. I didn’t know if I should make a humorous crack or be really serious, although it was really beyond me to take this man and his clothes seriously.

I opted out of saying anything, just standing there feeling very stupid. At that moment I missed my mother so much and wished we could have a good laugh when I called to tell her what was happening. Knowing that wasn’t going to happen, I pulled myself back to reality. Smelling faint traces of The Heiress’s perfume, mixed with his strong smell of cigarettes, he threw his arms around me as if we were long lost friends, announcing that he would take me to The Heiress. “She’s downstairs.”

Guiding me to the back stairs, he carefully sashayed down the narrow, winding stairs teetering in his four inch black patent leather spiked heels and forties style seamed stockings. When we reached the side of the basement where The Heiress was he dramatically threw the office door open, announcing my arrival as a bunch of leaves fell off the Balinese Tinker Toy jungle just outside the door. The Heiress’s jaw dropped when she realized what he was wearing. He slithered in, grabbed her ass, and rubbed up against her like a horny dog, asking if we need anything else. I think he was disappointed when she didn’t say, “Yes, you.” But she did say, “Pick up those damn leaves and reattach them when you go back upstairs. And the girls will be home from school soon.” A subtle reminder to change his clothes. The girls being Ali and Hannah, his daughters.

I didn’t say anything to her about him and she ignored what had just transpired. We just started to get on with gallery business. Later I saw the future flat and was excited to share the news with Matt. It would be the largest space we would ever have in San Francisco, in a terrific neighborhood. And best of all we would be able to get rid of our storage unit in the East Bay and have all of our belongings in one place. Seemed like the tide was turning.

I brought Matt over to see the flat. No one was around except The Heiress. He liked it and the neighborhood as much as I did. We began to discuss rent and move-in schedules with The Heiress, figuring that it would probably be another month before the current tenants were gone and the space made ready for us.

Looking back on the timing, we were ready for the change but blind to the future pitfalls. I think we were just slow learners.

A couple of weeks later at the gallery, The Heiress told me we “were a go” to move in at the end of the month and she added “The French boy is also moving in that day. He will be staying in the office side of the basement.” Who, I wondered, was the French boy?


Chapter 4

Our move didn’t happen as planned. The dope dealers, Joanie and Bob, moved in, as did Philippe, the French boy, but we had to put it off a couple of weeks when Matt was called away to Bangkok on business. It was just as well since things were getting pretty chaotic. The Transvestite was supposed to complete some electrical work at the gallery prior to an upcoming show, but he was busy fighting with The Heiress about drug dealers living in the basement with his girls upstairs, and just what would he get out of them living there? There had to be a perk for him! The Heiress said he always created problems at crucial times and never pulled his weight when he was really needed. The fact that she kept asking him was all part of the little dance they did. Her constant refrain was "This is why I just couldn't let him be in business with me."

Tensions were already running high because The Heiress disclosed to me that her property taxes were delinquent. “My mother is being evasive about helping me refinance,” she said. It seemed completely natural to me that a woman who was practically on her deathbed might not be overly concerned about her daughter’s finances. After all, she had helped her buy the North Beach building as well as the building that housed the gallery, but with interest rates in the double digits, the trustees of her mother’s inheritance were understandably reluctant to cooperate. “All this wouldn’t be happening,” she said, “if it weren’t for the Lesbians. They owe me $60,000.” While Marty half-heartedly worked on the electricity, the Heiress told me the story of the Lesbians.

Her grandfather had bought her the house in Sacramento where she lived for several years with her daughter, after getting breast implants and leaving the child's father on the houseboat he rented in Sausalito. The Lesbians, whom she met while living in Sacramento, learned that she had access to money and hit her up for a loan to open a Halfway House under the auspices of the state. All of this was before she’d left her daughter with some elderly neighbors and married the parapsychologist. She told me having a child was like being in jail and anyone who wanted to participate in her upbringing were welcome to bring a new perspective to the process. The elderly couple were thrilled with the prospect as was The Heiress. The marriage was short-lived and ended badly when he went to jail for dealing cocaine in Reno. A porter at one of the big hotels, he became the “go to” guy for guests who wanted blow. “It was a lot of fun,” she said, “drugs, limos, concert tickets, all while hobnobbing with the rich and famous.” The Heiress went back to Sacramento, took custody of her daughter again and decided boarding school for the girl, who was at the point of being incorrigible, was a good plan and New York might be a good place to live and remove her from any more questioning from the Nevada authorities regarding her ex-husband's activities. It worked for about a year until the daughter got kicked out of her third boarding school and the Heiress headed back, this time to San Francisco, to live. The daughter went to the father she didn't know consequently running away back to Sacramento, getting pregnant, marrying a drug addict and becoming one, all in a summer. The Heiress had cut her off completely financially when she took flight so her mother, in Las Vegas, sent her money while she, her husband and multiple children lived in Sacramento with his mother. It sounded like a hot mess. Upon arriving back in the city The Heiress rented a room in a large apartment near The Tenderloin off of Polk Street, and, with the sale of her Sacramento home and help from her mother, started looking for properties to buy in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Lesbians reneged on their $2000 a month loan repayment, leaving the Heiress with no money to pay future gallery costs or maintenance on the building, hence the hurry to try a refi. When the Lesbians and the Heiress were negotiating the terms of the loan they mentioned that one of their brothers was an attorney and he would be happy to do all the paperwork for them free of charge. The Heiress accepted, did not read the fine print and got screwed. She had little recourse to try and recover what they were not paying and constantly blamed them saying, “I never should have trusted them.” It caused quite a rift with her Sacramento girlfriends left behind because, from her telling, they all sided with the Lesbians. Even the woman who was a Prison Guard and close friend defended them, which incensed the Heiress to the point of screaming at her one day in the middle of the street that she "felt no loyalty to their years of friendship" It was the last time the Prison Guard came to visit and quietly said after the Heiress finished her middle of the street rant, that she had done this to herself and there was no reason to defend her loyalties.I was sorry, I liked the Prison Guard.

As The Heiress finished this explanation Marty reared his needy head, while supposedly fixing something he said he fixed months ago. He started ranting that she didn't appreciate all he does for her. The Heiress just stared at him as if to say "Really?"

It was a very tedious day and the sniping continued as Marty left in a huff because he was pissed off at being ignored.

A few days later, Philippe came to the gallery to finish the job. While he cleaned up what Marty wouldn’t, I readied the mailing list, made postcards for the show, and listed it in the weekly Pink Pages of the San Francisco Chronicle. We got in touch with the artists for the new show and made arrangements for them to deliver their work.

Back in North Beach, Philippe was settling into the office side of the Heiress’ basement not seeming to mind all the activity going on in the space he was living in. We were working in the office addressing the postcards, and going over the schedule for the artists and other gallery details feeling good that we were making progress for the First Thursday gallery opening. With all the moving and gallery activities the Balinese forest was popping leaves off left and right. They were scattered all over the back patio as if it was autumn. The Heiress, in a fit of total frustration waving her arms around and pursing her lips, kicked the little wooden leaves into a rather large colorful pile. She told Philippe to throw them out. Marty, who was sunbathing on the deck above, off their living room, heard all this and came flying down the back stairs wearing nothing but his green silk bikini underpants, just in time to see half of the Balinese forest moving toward the trash bin. He scurried around behind the Heiress and French Boy, retrieving the leaves and branches as fast as he could, tossing them in a box as the Heiress and Philippe dumped them in the garbage all the while muttering and eventually screaming, “I’m in jail here!” The box soon joined the others on the Dope Dealers’ side of the basement. Philippe took all of this in stride, with a blank expression on his face. He was very handsome and seemingly kind, with blue eyes, lanky build, and that killer French accent. After the Transvestite left to go back to the deck assuming his forest was saved I asked the Heiress how she knew Philippe.

Back when the gallery had just opened, a lovely French woman named Sophie stopped by to inquire about submitting work. She was a painter from Paris, petite, with very curly, blond hair that rested on her head like a halo. Christophe, her adorable little two year old boy had the same curly blond hair and was usually dressed in black and white striped tights and flowery tops from the best thrift stores in Noe Valley where they lived. Sophie and her husband Gaston were in San Francisco for his work. He was a sought after computer game designer and had a three-year contract with Adobe. Philippe became Chistophe’s nanny/babysitter when Sophie saw his ad on the bulletin board at the Alliance Francaise. He had been nanny for a young couple in Pacific Heights, but lost the position when they had to move. Homeless and jobless in a foreign country, Philippe moved into Sophie’s garage with a small stipend in exchange for helping with Christophe.

This worked for a while until Gaston grew tired of this young guy, whom he didn’t really know, traipsing in from the garage whenever he needed to use the bathroom and complicating things further, Gaston’s mother would soon arrive from France for an extended visit. When Sophie called and asked The Heiress if she could find a place for Philippe, the Heiress jumped at the chance, offering him $30 a week and the office room with a shared bath in exchange for doing whatever she needed him to do. Philippe liked to paint murals and would fit in well. It was fortunate that he owned little and traveled light, and his easy disposition was a plus. For their part, Joanie and Bob were used to such arrangements, living as they did couch surfing or staying in a SRO on Green Street with bathrooms down the hall when necessary. The Heiress offered them the other side of the basement. In exchange for their Mendocino Gold, they had a room whenever they needed one. This was a “win, win” for the Heiress. If the Transvestite refused to pull his weight around the house and the gallery, now she had someone who would and get high in the process.

Crowded out by the Heiress’ copious collections, Bob and Joanie, living on the other side of the basement liked Philippe and although they had to go outside to the office side to use the shower and toilet the three of them seemed in sync and easy with each other. Bob and Joanie purposely set themselves up way in the back corner of the huge basement room under a small window. Their view was of people’s feet passing on the sidewalk and the occasional peeing dog. Screening themselves off with the Heiress’ copious collections of packed boxes they weren't visible from the door, and were away from prying eyes. Marty, in spite of his protestations, was always aware when they came in and high tailed it downstairs to see if he could get free samples. The girls had no idea what was happening and never came down to the back because the Heiress always told them she had to work and they disturbed her. This was not a new thing and happened before all the tenants were living in the basement. I liked Joanie and Bob. They were funny, smart and interesting because their lifestyle was unusual and different from people we had known. They did most of their business away from the Heiress' mainly because they didn't want the Transvestite to know when they were around as it always occasioned "a visit."

Joanie was a writer and “would be” filmmaker, and when they weren’t in town selling dope, they played in professional backgammon tournaments in Las Vegas to augment their incomes.

The gallery show was scheduled for the first Thursday of every month in the city when all the galleries had openings. The Heiress looked very happy it was actually happening. It was a beautiful evening, one of those "postcard nights" when the weather was perfect and the twinkle lights in the trees added an air of excitement and celebration. The Heiress said "it was the best turnout I've experienced since opening, even though nothing sold." The crowd, wine in hand, spilled out to the sidewalk "ready to party." It was at this point Marty chose to make his entrance. I guess because his daughters were staying with their mother in Alameda, he decided to change up his wardrobe. He wore bright red pants like chinos, the ones The Heiress said were ONLY worn at Christmastime, and a white shirt. The kicker was the black knee-highs paired with his black patent leather "fuck me pumps." He swooped in weaving between the pedestals of fine modern ceramics greeting old friends and glad-handing the newbies. Announcing to anyone who would listen, "I did everything to prepare for the evening." He even went so far as to say "I had to fix what Phillipe had done so the gallery could open." I rolled my eyes. The Heiress, looking very urban in a new long black skirt and sweater, ignored him while repeatedly pursing her lips when he crossed her line of vision while waving her hands around to dismiss him. He then grabbed me so I could meet the Heiress' old friend David, from "the old days" when she lived on a houseboat in Sausalito with the drug-addicted boyfriend who was now a drug counselor and the father of her child. David was a nerd, short, chubby and very studious looking. A telemarketer living in a rooming house in Berkeley, David spent a lot of time in coffee shops in the city writing his novel. He told me he was a huge Cormac McCarthy fan. A couple of times when The Heiress and Transvestite went away, David came to stay with the girls. I don't think that happened very often, but it did happen once when Bob and Joanie were there when Marty's father died and he had to go back to Boston for the funeral. At the gallery that night Sophie, Gaston, baby Christophe were there along with Bob and Joanie and even Philippe made an appearance. Marty planted himself outside the door as if he was a doorman welcoming anyone who walked down the street. The Heiress introduced me to an old friend, Elizabeth who lived around the block. She too was a writer who occasionally liked to play tennis. Bingo, finally someone with a common interest. We made plans to meet at the North Beach tennis courts the following week. From a social standpoint the evening was a success and although nothing was sold Marty added to the memory of the evening.

Matt returned from Asia a few days later and we made arrangements to move into the Heiress’ the following weekend. Physically, it was an easy move since most of our things were still in the East Bay storage unit, but it wasn’t without its complications. The entire time we were carting boxes up the stairs, the Transvestite stood by our front door repeating his “I’m in jail here” mantra to anyone and everyone on Stockton Street. On their way to market, the little old Italian grandmothers, who’d lived in North Beach forever, stared at him as though he’d lost his mind. Marty was a familiar figure in the neighborhood and people avoided him because he owed all the merchants money. Matt and I looked at each other as if to say, “We may be making a huge mistake, but at least he’s comic relief.” Bob and Joanie welcomed us to our new flat with samples of their best merchandise, which helped to soften the reality that we had just moved into an incredibly dysfunctional building. Slow learners, indeed.

The following Monday began harmlessly enough. I enjoyed helping out in the downstairs office. We tackled some of the work left over from the recent show, but mostly we smoked a joint while watching Philippe paint a mural in the shower stall. The Heiress wanted to liven up the area and Philippe couldn’t wait to get started. The result was a sort of a Disneyesque version of a view from a Greek hotel on the Aegean, with a smattering of islands floating in the distance. It looked very cartoonish and he was not using the right kind of paint for a shower stall, but those little details didn't matter to the Heiress. “I like encouraging budding artists,” she said, “It’s my passion.”

It was one of those rare San Francisco days when the sun is shining and there is no fog in sight, just like the night of the gallery opening, memorable. We took a break from watching Philippe to get some lunch and were no sooner up the back stairs into her living room when Marty, who’d been sunbathing on the tiny deck, burst into the room. It was then that I realized he was startlingly hairless and reeking of baby oil, his mullet was pulled back into a ponytail and again he was wearing the same green silk bikini underpants. The Heiress was visibly annoyed as he slithered around the big black marble dining table asking a dozen questions, all while thrusting his pelvis back and forth in a modified bump and grind, asking “Where are we going? Can I come too? What was Philippe doing downstairs? Would you buy me a sandwich too?” “No, no, no” the Heiress said, “not unless you give me money.” “Unemployment is making him way too comfortable,” she told me. “He owes me money and if he doesn’t work, I’ll never get it back.” Marty made me uneasy in general, and half naked made it more uncomfortable to be around for these little spats. I wondered if having a man around the house was enough of a reason to live with someone for whom she held in such contempt.

I don’t know if Mercury was in retrograde or what, but when we returned to the office, the shit began to hit the fan. We came in to find the Transvestite frantically reconstructing his Balinese Tinker Toy Forest and glaring at Philippe. The little leaves were scattered around him as if he was guarding them before he reattached them. Philippe had done all he could for the day in the shower stall and was washing his hands in the laundry sink when Joanie appeared, sidestepping Marty's efforts at reconstruction. She came right to the point and asked the Heiress if she could buy a shower curtain for some privacy in the shower. I forgot to mention there was no shower curtain. Just the Aegean Islands in the shower stall. She was after all the only female using the downstairs shower and toilet. Seemed like a "no brainer", but again I forgot the certain drama driving all these lives. I looked at the Heiress in disbelief when she said, “No. I don’t think so. I don’t want a shower curtain. They’re ugly and it would block the view of Philippe’s mural.” She then asked Philippe to gather all the scattered wooden leaves Marty was attempting to reattach and box them up. “I don’t care if it makes Marty angry.” she said. “He’s useless. I’m over those damn plants and he needs to sell them!” This enraged Marty and he pushed Philippe aside screaming, “Get the hell away!” He began berating Joanie for speaking to people whom he and the Heiress hated years ago. It seems that David saw Bob and Joanie talking to the Transvestite’s former friend, someone he’d thrown out of the space where they live now. Joanie informed him that whom she and Bob chose to speak to was none of his concern and that there would be no more free samples of their merchandise. “Who do you think you are?” Marty screamed. “I know who we are,” she responded, “and we will NOT be censored by the likes of you!”

At that point, The Heiress realized, thanks to her boyfriend, that her free Mendocino Gold was in serious jeopardy. Meanwhile, Philippe and I backed our way discreetly into the garage and out to the street. During our escape, we heard the Heiress tell Marty to keep quiet as he began his “I’m in jail” routine. Joanie followed me to our flat where she told me that she and Bob would be leaving as soon as they could get some money together. “The SRO on Green Street isn't any worse that this, and maybe it's a record, we lasted 6 weeks staying here. That was longer than our friend, who David told Marty and Mary Jane, that they were seen with.”

Sitting in our apartment, waiting for Matt to get home and I was reviewing the events of the day wondering if I was as pathetic as these people were. My Mom used to tell my brother and me when she didn't like who we were hanging around with, "Tell me who you go with and I'll tell you who you are." "Is this the future?" I thought. This latest re-invention of our lives was shaping up to be nothing at all like anything I had ever experienced. Part of me said,” Julia, just go with the flow, it's California.” The other part said “Get out while you can.”