“Well, I would like very much to have my own skirt of leather and my own makeup bag that closes with Velcro,” I say to Glad.
“I can get you a big sight more than that,” he says and thumps the table.
We start my training right away in the caravans back behind The Doves. I try to tell Glad I know what to do that I’ve been with enough of Sarah’s boyfriends and husbands that if they had paid me I could buy a gator farm. Glad tells me I have to unlearn bad habits learned by watching drunken whores, no disrespect intended.
“You have to learn to read a man and know when he’s just lookin’ for fun and when what he really needs is for you to hold him so he can cry his eyes out like a babe,” he told me as we drank strawberry Yoo-hoos and sat on custom satin-covered beanbag chairs. “You have to learn how to listen. There is medicine in that penis bone to help you learn how to love like a real professional.”
I take daily lessons from various boys of Glad’s, that affectionately refer to each other as baculum, which Glad tells me means “little rod” in Latin.
I practice rolling a condom on a man with my teeth without him knowing. I practice how to take every bit and grain of a man in my mouth. I already knew that one. I’d have contests with Sarah. We’d lay on our backs, side by side on some motel bed, with our heads hanging, tilted back over the side of the bed, till our mouths, esophagus and throat would all line up. Then we’d put in a carrot as deep as we could without gagging. We’d mark the carrot with our top teeth and after we’d see who is the better head giver. Sarah always won.
“You win cause you’re older and bigger,” I told her once and she slapped my face so hard I saw stars.
“Don’t you ever call me old and big,” she said and ran out crying.
I acquire tricks, like spraying Binaca on your right hand, so if a date is not on top of his hygiene, you can breathe in the scent of fresh mint from your hand and think of the snowy Alps instead of inhaling his ammonia scent and being reminded of a dirty PortaPotty.
I learn how to trick with men who want to dress in lacy frilly things.
“That’s the most difficult one,” Pie tells me. Pie was born a woodscolt a bastard, and half-white on top of that. To his Chinese mother from a traditional Chinese family that ran the only traditional Chinese restaurant in the upper reaches of the Appalachian Mountains, it was a disaster. They tried to keep him hidden by making him tip long beans and slice bitter melon all day and night. All Pie wanted to do was be a Japanese geisha and as soon as he was old enough he hitchhiked all over ending up in San Francisco. He came back home when his Great Aunt Wet Yah was dying. His Great Aunt Wet Yah was the only one who let him wear her silky undergarments and read to him from a forbidden book on the great geishas she had happened to possess. Wet Yah died and now Pie was working for Glad, saving up to move back to San Francisco and open his own geisha training school for men.
“You have to listen very carefully when you are with a man that wants to dress.” Pie uses his hands while he talks, gracefully waving them back and forth as if he were icing a cake in the air. “He might only want to show you how nice he looks in his pink panties and discuss how much he enjoys the feel of the smooth material against his privates. Or he might want to be a lesbian and make love to you as a woman making love to another woman.” Pie moves his body in a flowing S, making the silk of his kimono ripple so sinuously as to suggest two women making love. “Or the gentleman might wish to be called a sissy little pantywaist, teased and otherwise humiliated.” Pie shakes his hips and mimics a femmie boy. “You can often make extra by making the gentleman pay to bring in other bacula to laugh at him.” I nod and scribble notes in a notebook Glad has given me.
“The gentlemen often do not tell you what kind of crossdressers they are. You have to listen and take their clues.” Pie sits down on a beanbag and looks at me studiously, the slight slant of his eyes accentuated by broad strokes of black liquid liner. “It is your job to figure out, do they want to pretend you are a woman completely, do they want you to be sweet and gentle, do they want you to be forceful and fill their hungry mouth, do they want abuse or gentle guidance? The faster you can figure this out, the more famous you will become.”
And Pie is famous. Crossdressers come from as far away as Antigua to see him. But I don’t need to be told which boys are the best. All I have to do is look at the raccoon bone around their neck. The better the whore, the bigger their bone. I heard it said that the bigger bones aren’t real, that Glad just melts waxed dental tape onto a small bone until it is bigger. I look at Pie’s and it looks authentic. Big and genuine.
“You’re ready for your first date,” Glad says to me two months after I’ve started my training. I haven’t lived at the motel room in a month. I stay at the caravans. Sarah took off with a rich crooked cargo inspector, and I check the room every day to see if she is back. The plastic attaché case is still gone, but her bubbles are still there in the bathroom so I know she’ll come back eventually. I plan to have my own bubbles on the shelf next to hers by the time she gets back.
“You think you’re ready? You feel okay?” Glad asks as he helps me get dressed in a muted pink leather mini-skirt I couldn’t wait to show Sarah when she came home.
“Ready as snipers at bull ball cuttin’ time,” I say, borrowing Sarah’s line. I put finishing touches on my makeup the way Sarah taught me. Glad makes me go light on the makeup though. I want to take an iron and straighten out my hair so it flows like floss, but Glad won’t hear of it.
“You should really oughten not to be wearing any. The natural look will make ya more lettuce then a face pallete. Men pay for freckles and curls,” Glad says and wipes up my face with his hankie.
“Glad, you are a sight worse than a mother dressing her daughter for prom night,” Sundae laughs.
Sundae is a Texas honey-blonde with a bone bigger than Pie’s. Sundae’s specialty is cheerleaders. “You’d be surprised by how many football players want a cheerleader with cock,” she says adjusting the miniature pom-poms in her hair.
Glad picked out a truck driver everyone knew.
“He’s a nice man that only wants to diddle you,” Sundae says.
“Remember to watch the clock on the dash,” Pie says and gracefully kisses the air next to either side of my cheeks. “Good luck.”
Glad just wrings his hands and makes me feel nervous.
I walk, in the flat white Mary Janes Glad made me wear instead of the spike heels I wanted, out of
the caravans with everyone seeing me off, past The Doves, and into the lower lit fluorescent nighttime of the overnight truck lot. The Nice Man’s truck is right where Glad said it would be, five rows in and seven across. It is a plain truck, nothing special. No custom anything. The door is a dark blue and I can see my face mirrored on it. I squint my eyes so I can pretend I am seeing Sarah’s reflection. I was supposed to tell the Nice Man my name is Cherry Vanilla, but after I knock and he says, “Who is there?” “Sarah” just comes out of my mouth.
At first I’m scared of the Nice Man. He reminds me of a New Orleans voodoo priest, his eyes rimmed with a thick black tattoo. Then I realize after I sit on his lap a little and he talks to me in his near undecipherable Appalachian twang that he is just a laid-off coal miner. And it’s true what they say, the dust settles in every crease of skin like a new layer of pigment.
“Started in the mines when I was ten,” he says and places his charcoal-lined hands gently on my waist.
He is from Mingo County, West Virginia. Everyone in West Virginia, no matter how bad off they are, gives thanks that at least they don’t live in Mingo County.
“I used to lie in the bed with my brother at night, while my Mama listened to ‘The Christ Cure’ radio show and my Daddy sucked on a piece of coal to help his graveyard cough,” he tells me while bouncing me tenderly on his knee. I thought about asking him if he heard my Grandfather’s sermons too, as his show came on not too long after “The Christ Cure” show and was very popular in Mingo County, but I remember what Glad told me about not getting personal about my life.
“It ruins the fantasy of who they want you to be,” Glad had said.
“I do love Jesus,” the Nice Man says and begins to run his hands up under my pink skirt and to my peach panties. “And you are such a sweet thing.” I hope he will say the name I told him. I want to hear her name while his hands begin to diddle me. I close my eyes and let him rock me and caress me.
“Sarah,” he finally whispers into my ear.
“I’m here,” I whisper back, “not going nowhere.” I let my eyes roll back into my head in pleasure.
Excerpted from the forthcoming novel Sarah by J.T. Leroy.
Printed with permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury, USA
J.T. Leroy and Nerve.com