Andrew came to visit me at the lobby on a Tuesday, one of his nights off. It was a slow evening at the motel. By the time he arrived, all the guests had checked in, so we were able to speak with few interruptions. Even the security guard excused himself and retired to housekeeping, where he writes screenplays when things are quiet.
The Rumpus: Has anything noteworthy happened since we last spoke?
Andrew: No. I got really depressed a couple of weeks ago, but it kind of passed.
Rumpus: Why did you get depressed?
Andrew: Like a lot of times, it’s a mystery. If I really analyze my life, I’ve got plenty of reasons. I could make a pretty good list. I just go through moods. If you were happy every day you’d never know it.
Rumpus: And then it just goes away.
Andrew: It’s funny when you’re depressed one day and the next day you’re not. I mean, nothing’s changed. You wake up in the same place, do the same thing.
Rumpus: You think it’s chemical?
Andrew: Well, that sort of stuff runs in my family for sure. My mom’s schizophrenic, my dad’s manic-depressive, my sister was in a hospital for a little while. All of them have cracked at some point.
Rumpus: Speaking of mental health, do you want to talk about Elizabeth at all?
Andrew: Oh, therapy? I don’t know. You’re the one who talked me into going.
Rumpus: How long have you been seeing her now?
Andrew: About six months. It’s funny. That stupid dog story, that’s still the one she brings up. The one that freaked you out so much.
Rumpus: Oh, God. Do you want to tell the dog story?
Andrew: I guess. It was 1969. It was the summer after fifth grade. I started school when I was five unfortunately, because it was cheaper than a babysitter. The dog had gotten into the trash a bunch of times. One of my chores was to take out the trash, so I went out there, lifted up the lid to the can—I hadn’t seen my dog that afternoon. When I opened up the trashcan, he was inside the can wrapped in chains. I mean, he was alive. I lifted up the lid, and he looked up at me.
Rumpus: Who put him there?
Andrew: My stepfather. As a form of punishment.
Rumpus: Did that seem like something that was in character for your stepfather?
Andrew: Oh, yeah. Definitely. I guess it’s traumatic. Everyone tells me it should be. I don’t remember it that way.
Rumpus: It’s traumatic just hearing about it.
Andrew: I guess. That’s what gets me about it. I never even told anybody that story until I was 37. This girl I was dating was talking about her dog and I said, “I had a dog when I was a kid. It kept getting in the trash and my stepfather wrapped it in chains and put it in the trash can.” She was like, “Oh my God, that’s horrible!” I said, “Oh, is it?” I hate to say it but he never did get into the trash again.
Rumpus: So your shrink thinks that’s an important story?
Andrew: That’s the one that turns her stomach a little bit. It’s shocking to me because, I don’t know, I think I blocked it out.
Rumpus: Do you think you’re your shrink’s favorite client?
Andrew: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know. We’ve definitely gotten into a few fights.
Rumpus: But it seems like you two have chemistry, not romantically, but…
Andrew: Yeah, totally. Absolutely. I feel lucky I met her. She’s patient. You know, it’s good. It’s better than I thought. I didn’t see the point at first. She couldn’t bring back Gary, my friend who had committed suicide, and she couldn’t give me absolution for the guilt I felt for cheating on my girlfriend. By the way, it wasn’t two girls I got caught with. It was two trannies. That’s right, trannies. Transsexuals.
Rumpus: You’re correcting it for the record now because I changed it to two girls in our first interview?
Andrew: Well, who cares? Who the fuck cares?
Rumpus: I don’t know. I didn’t want to expose you in any way.
Andrew: I know, I know. It’s not a big deal. But it kind of is. It’s awfully taboo. By the way, I think it’s ok to say “tranny”. I used to think it was a slur, but evidently it’s ok now. The girls I know call themselves that. That or “t-girl”. I think it’s like “queer”, how you weren’t supposed to say that, but now it’s ok because they’ve like reclaimed it or whatever. Now they like to be called trannies. And, by the way, I didn’t even have a three-way. I didn’t finish that story in the first interview. The girl who brought the other girl over was all coked up and mad at me for god-knows-what.
Rumpus: So this coked-up t-girl brings over this other girl—this other t-girl—and that’s what led to the end of your relationship with your girlfriend?
Andrew: Yeah, the tranny-girl I knew got all weird. She’s a prostitute and a coke dealer, so there you go.
But you always talk about how you have a soft spot for that girl.
Andrew: Yeah, I do. I do. I mean, we went through some ups and downs. At that point it was weird. Anyway, I didn’t even have a three-way. I mean, I screwed her friend in front of her, thinking it would make her mad. But it didn’t. She didn’t give a shit.
Rumpus: Not all your dealings with these girls are so dramatic.
Andrew: No. I remember the first one I met. It was at that bar you took me to. She caught my eye, and I was in the mood, so I just walked up and started talking to her. It was classic because I was talking to her for a couple of minutes, and then she looked over at me and said, “You’re not my type. You should just walk away.” I knew right then: Game on. This is going to be good. She lived in this shitty apartment complex in Round Rock. Outside, it was like dudes hanging out, kids running around in their underwear with a snot bubble in their nose. I knocked on her door and she opened it up, and her place had white walls and white carpet. It was really clean. It looked just like a typical girl’s apartment, with stupid family pictures on the fridge and stuff.
Rumpus: Any pictures of her when she was a boy?
Andrew: No, and I try not to think about that, thank you. Anyway, it was really cool there, because it was like this little world, this little compartment in my mind. When I would see her a little door opened to that part of my brain. It’s hard to explain. Anyway, we went out for about two months. In that time, she broke up with me about five times. She was one of those “I hate you don’t leave me” girls.
Rumpus: I think I know what you mean about going to a different little world.
Andrew: Compartmentalizing is supposed to be bad. People think it’s bad, particularly in relationships. Supposedly, it’s a problem.
Rumpus: Have you successfully pulled off relationships like that? Compartmentalized, I mean?
Andrew: Sure. When in doubt, just pretend. We’ve both watched enough television to know how to act.
Rumpus: For a while you were going out to the gay bars pretty often looking for t-girls.
Andrew: Yeah, it’s this whole dark thing. It’s a subculture. If you want to fuck trannies, you’ve got to go there. It takes a while to figure out how they tick. Those fucking girls, they love to get dressed up and dance. The bad thing is that you’ve narrowed your dating pool to .05 percent of the population.
Rumpus: Is that really your dating pool now?
Andrew: I’ve been thinking a little bit more about women of late.
Rumpus: How did the whole t-girl thing come about anyway? It seems like at one point it was a pretty serious fixation.
Andrew: It did become a fixation at first. Well, I’d say it probably still is. It was funny. I’ve never been with a man. I’ve never had any urge to be with a man. I lived in San Francisco. There are trannies everywhere. One used to cut my hair. But I never thought about having sex with them. And then I moved back to Austin. One day I was watching some video. It was supposed to be a girl getting screwed in a shower. It turned out to be a girl giving a guy head, and the camera backed up and it was a tranny. And she was good looking. That sort of planted the seed. Then it was a couple of months before I saw anything like that again. Then I started watching it. Then I started watching it a lot. Then I was like, Ok, I’m going to act on this. The first time I did it, it was a little odd. But you know life’s only weird when you think about it. So I just try not to think about it.
Rumpus: What’s your take on these girls? Their lives seem so hard and depressing when you describe them to me sometimes.
Andrew: Oh, yeah. They’re women in a man’s body. It’s tough. Like that first girl I went out with, she went to her dad when she was 14 and said she wanted to be a woman. Her mother accepted her, but her dad didn’t until she got older. She’s Mexican, so that might have made it even harder. And the transition costs lots of money. Surgeries. And you have to take lots of hormones.
Rumpus: It seems like a lot of the ones you interact with may or may not be hookers.
Andrew: Some of them are hookers. They’ve got to make a living. You know how when you see those movies and there’s a guy who’s dating a hooker you always think it’s so weird? Who would want to be that guy? But now I’m like that guy in that movie. They’ve got to make money. I don’t want to support them. It’s just the way it is. But even hookers want to have a boyfriend. The thing about them is that—especially the hookers—they see the worst part of men. They’re treated as some fetish, some secret thing for some married guy or something. But then again they also take advantage of those men for their money and stuff as much as they can. They’re the most possessive women in the world. You could go out with one now, break up, then see her a year from now, and if she sees you with another tranny, she’ll get pissed off. She thinks you belong to her forever. That’s the way they are.
Rumpus: But you like them. You have a real affection for these girls you see.
Andrew: Yeah, I guess I do. It kind of surprises me. For a long time I thought I’d never have an emotional attachment to one. But you know it’s still hard. It’s so taboo. Bring a tranny home for Thanksgiving and then bring a boyfriend home for Christmas. Even if they’re not happy you’re gay, they’re going to roll out the carpet for a man. Anyone other than a tranny.
Rumpus: You haven’t told a lot of people about it.
Andrew: Fuck no. Someone that works here saw a tranny girl and referred to her as an “it”. But if I get a girlfriend I like, I won’t care. I’ll go out with her. I don’t give a fuck. They can kiss my ass.
Rumpus: Not that they’re the same exactly, but you’ve always been cool with gay guys.
Andrew: Oh yeah, I grew up around gay men. Well, not grew up. But I moved out to San Francisco when I was 23, and I worked at a place that was predominately gay. It was a place called Hamburger Mary’s. It was like a restaurant/bar. It was a dive, but it was a hip place. Most of the guys were gay. You’ve got to understand, this was like 1984. Most of them were like in their 30s, from someplace like Ohio. Most of them had been married for five years. In other words, they had tried everything they could to be straight. And then finally they gave up the ghost.
Rumpus: Why do you think you sympathized with them so much?
Andrew: Is it sympathy or empathy? I was a typical teenager in a lot of ways. And I hate to say it, but I’m glad I didn’t look across the shower and see a man’s pee-pee and want to touch it, because that would have been one more thing to deal with. I mean, anyone who says it’s a lifestyle choice is full of shit. Yeah, right. You think you wanna get kicked ass backwards through society like that? No. So, yeah I’m empathetic. And I always liked gay guys. You know, they’re the next best thing to girls.
Rumpus: Where’s it going to end, the thing with the trannies?
Andrew: I have no idea. It’s going to end badly. I think it’s definitely going to end badly.
Rumpus: Well, maybe it won’t end in any way. Maybe you’ll be in a relationship with someone and it’ll be fine.
Andrew: It just feels…you don’t believe this at all, but I think it goes way back in the deck of cards. Life deals you a hand and you play it.
Rumpus: Right. We’ve had this conversation. You think that certain things are inevitable.
Andrew: Certain things are going to come down the pike, and it’s just how you’re going to deal with them. I’m lucky. I’m a very lucky guy. I’m healthy. I ain’t bad looking. I’m talented. I lead a charmed life. Life’s dealt me a good hand. I may not have played that hand as well as I could have. Anyway, it just feels like now I’m on some path and I’m just following it. I’m not fighting it. I’m along for the ride. I’m going to see what happens. I’m gonna play the cards that are dealt to me.
Rumpus: We’ve talked about whether or not it’s nihilistic.
Andrew: You said it was. After you said it, I had to admit it was a little nihilistic. Being with some of these girls, I had started thinking of it like a weird, bad movie.
Rumpus: One good thing is that you told me your shrink has let you off the hook for the rest of the year, right?
Andrew: Well, you always push yourself and you always feel guilty. You know, like you’re not doing as much as you should. And she said, given what’s happened to me this year, it would be ok not to accomplish much the rest of the year. I mean, it’s only a couple of months, but that took a lot of weight off my shoulders. It’s like, Ok. Just live. But I haven’t really been able to do that, because I can’t forgive myself for the pain I caused my ex-girlfriend.
Rumpus: Are you religious?
Andrew: I grew up Catholic, and one thing I’m glad about is that it taught me to be thankful. You’re thankful for your food, you’re thankful for your health. It’s a really good thing to learn. That’s why I’ve always thought of myself as living a charmed life. I mean, this has been the worst year of my life, and, having said that, I’m still standing here. I’m still healthy and all that.
Rumpus: Do you believe in God?
Andrew: The one thing that got me believing in God and religion was heroin, believe it or not. Heroin breeds complacency. That’s why people in slums can live in the shittiest roach-infested room. If they’re on heroin, it’s ok. You know, you’re content. But there’s no real shortcut to contentment. There’s this drug, this drug that comes from a flower, that almost makes you content, but there’s always this little part of your mind—maybe it’s your soul, I don’t know—that knows you’re doing something wrong. You know it’s not right. When you’re on it it’s great. I mean, I loved heroin. Who doesn’t? It’s great. I used to call it my little buddy. You hang out with it all day. It lowers your sex drive, so you don’t care about sex. You hang out with your friends. I mean, you throw up a lot. But you’re content. Your anxiety leaves, your anger leaves, your sex drive. Unfortunately, your ambition can leave also. And at the end of the day there’s something nagging at you that says what you’re doing isn’t right. I know that sounds like a stretch, to go from God to heroin, but do you see my point?
Rumpus: I don’t know.
Andrew: There are no shortcuts. There’s no shortcut to contentment. There aren’t any shortcuts at all. There’s not a pill to take that will make you paint like Picasso. You’re going to have to spend the hours and hours doing it. There will never be a pill that will make you content, unless it’s something like Thorazine that just totally numbs you out. There’s always going to be a part of your brain or your soul that’s going to reject it. I really believe that.
Rumpus: How long has it been since you did heroin?
Andrew: Fifteen or 20 years. I quit. The good thing about heroin—it’s not like alcohol—you just move somewhere where there’s no heroin. That’s what I did.
Rumpus: Were you working the whole time?
Andrew: Oh yeah. No one ever knew. I was living with a girl at one point. I’d just go to the bathroom and smoke it. Then I’d come out and talk to her. She never knew. It’s not like marijuana where you get stoned or whatever. It’s more like, you know when you’re falling asleep and you’re having those little dreams, and you’re kind of awake. Imagine that lasting for hours. That’s heroin.
Here, a series of interruptions—customers and phone calls—stopped the conversation for several minutes. When we resumed, we picked up elsewhere.
Rumpus: Are you reading anything now?
Rumpus: I still have your copy of Life with Picasso. I like the way it looks. It’s all covered with paint.
Andrew: Yeah, I was a dumbass and used it as an easel. That’s a good book.
Rumpus: I know you wanted me to read it. Why do you like it so much?
Andrew: When I quit playing music, I was really depressed. It was really a bad year. I was like 32 or 33. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was in Amsterdam. It was after I went to Serbia. I was traveling. I went to the red light district there. You can’t help it. You gotta do it. It’s great because there are blocks and blocks of women, and you know what? They all wanna fuck you.
Rumpus: Did you hook up with anyone?
Rumpus: Was it expensive?
Andrew: No, it was like 1993 or so. It was like $30. But it was really bad because I was walking around, and I saw this big-boned red haired Danish girl. So I walked around the block thinking I was going to go back to her. Then, without looking, I walked right in there, and she had just gotten off work and this little skinny redhead girl was there. I went ahead and did it, even though I wasn’t attracted to her because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Which is really ridiculous, right? I grew up with manners.
Rumpus: Was it fun?
Andrew: You think it’s not going to be because it’s like an exchange. With women you have the idea that you want to seduce them. So I didn’t think I would like it, because I like the seduction part. But when it’s over with, it’s great. You just leave. I asked her where I could get some heroin. She said, “Look for the Moroccans,” and I was off. By the way, heroin is not a problem any more. If you gave me a big blob of it right now, I wouldn’t want to do it. It’s just a phase I went though way back then. I see a picture of myself now at your age, and I think “Who the fuck was that guy?” I don’t really know. It was just something I did. It took me a while to get off of it. I regret it. It’s one of the biggest regrets in my life.
Rumpus: It seems like you got off scot-free. You didn’t hurt anyone. Your family never found out. They never had any big intervention for you. There was no drama. Life went on more or less as it would have.
Andrew: Well, it affected my music a lot. It affected my drive. I liked that it dulled my sex drive. It was nice not thinking about sex all the time. When I was younger, I really did.
Rumpus: Wait, before we get back into sex, we were talking about Amsterdam and that book Life with Picasso.
Andrew: Oh, yeah. I was with this girl Slavka in Amsterdam. She was a friend of a friend living there. I liked her. She’s a real bookwormy type. I always say I want to go out with a dumb girl. So dumb they move their lips when they sign their name. But those girls don’t like me. I usually end up with the intellectual types. She was telling me about Picasso and what an asshole he was. And I realized that I had always liked art too, and the power you could have from being a great artist. That’s what it was all about for me in the beginning: the power.
Rumpus: Over women?
Andrew: Over everything. Just power. If you’re a great actor, a great painter, a great writer, you have power over people, over women, over men. They see what a great painter you are. I had a little taste of that with music. Power was a big part of it. But I had to do something creative. That’s another thing—it’s the worst thing that ever happened to me, the whole music and painting thing. It ruined my whole life. That’s the reason I’m living where I’m at. No one else in my family does it. No one. Not even a cousin. No one. Just like you with the writing. No offense, but I think your family is even more wacko than mine. I do. I really do. Since we’re talking here.
Rumpus: Even with the dog in the garbage can?
Andrew: Yes! It seems like there was so much that was stifled in your house. There was nothing stifled in mine. Like silence. Eating dinner in silence. That’s crazy. It’s not that I like chaos. I grew up with it, and I’m totally fine in it. But that quiet anger, that’s no good.
Rumpus: You think that your stepfather’s external rage and freak-outs were better?
Andrew: Oh, absolutely. You know how to deal with it. You know how to avoid it. An asswhipping is an asswhipping. You knew what was coming if he had crossed over that edge. As opposed to a weird game where your dad doesn’t talk to you and there’s a weird undercurrent. That’s what it sounds like it was in your house. There was no undercurrent in my house. It was on the surface. You knew what you were dealing with. If you woke up that day and he was in a bad mood, then you knew you were going to have a bad day. There was physical stuff that he did to us that was wrong, but you knew what you were dealing with. I’m not knocking your family.
Rumpus: No, feel free.
Andrew: If I would have walked into your house, I know I would have been like, “This house has a weird vibe to it.” Our house was the opposite. When everybody was happy, everybody was happy, running around screaming. When the shit hit the fan and Johnny got out the belt, it was just the opposite. You knew what you were dealing with. So I’d take that over yours.
Rumpus: Was there anything else about Life with Picasso?
Andrew: Just that it made me realize what I wanted to do next. She had just read it. She told me about it. See, that was the card that was dealt to me that day. I know, I know. But it’s fate. I remember talking to her about Picasso. I mean I had heard of him, but I was like, “Tell me about this guy.” She told me the stories of the stuff he did. I mean I’ve been called an asshole, but he took it to a whole different level, that guy. She was talking about it, and I thought, “That’s what I’m going to do.” The main thing about painting, and I would say writing too, is that you’ve got total control. You get in front of the canvas, and how good it comes out is up to you, and how bad it comes out is up to you. There are few things in life that you have total control over. It took a lot longer than I expected though. I didn’t start painting until I was 35 or so. I thought it would just take a couple of years. I moved to New Orleans and painted every day. It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. Women just followed Picasso around. Being good like that gives you power.
Rumpus: Do you feel like you’ve gotten any power from it?
Andrew: It’s been so gradual. I’ve gotten a lot of personal satisfaction out of it. The last five years, I haven’t shown my work. I don’t know why. Right now I’m out to impress myself. I want to do something that I look at and think, “I can’t believe I did that.” I finally did that one painting of a horse. It was like, “Yeah, ok.”
After a pause to take some phone calls, Andrew is back on the subject of the differences between our families.
Andrew: You know, thinking about my stepfather, he wasn’t flakey. Physical pain, it’s real. Nothing’s more real than that. And people say there’s an emotional component too. I don’t know. But that undercurrent stuff you had going on, of not talking, of not being able to communicate, that’s a lot worse.
Rumpus: One advantage of your situation is that you got to feel that you weathered something and came out the other side stronger.
Andrew: Absolutely. That’s it absolutely. But you know we’ve all got to forgive our parents. When you get older you realize they’re just people. At some point you let it go.
Rumpus: You’ve said you’re the only one of your siblings who will still talk to you stepfather, who your mother has long since divorced.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, I went and saw him about 15 years ago. I hadn’t seen him in 25 years. The only thing that was weird was that I was there and he was there with his two sons, his real sons, and I was like the stepson. And the thing that hits you is that, you know, I’ve thought a lot more about this cocksucker in the last 20 years than he’s thought about me. Which is a little disheartening for some reason.
Rumpus: Where do you think Kate is? You think she’s going to show up for the overnight shift or what?
Andrew: What time is it?
Rumpus: It’s like ten minutes after 11.
Andrew: That’s weird. She’s not usually late. Wait. Oh, no. Oh, fuck! I’m working her shift tonight. She’s out of town. I forgot I said I’d work for her. No fucking way.
Rumpus: Oh, how awful.
Here, the security guy entered the lobby.
Andrew: Hey, man, I gotta work Kate’s shift tonight, I didn’t even realize it. I was just here to visit Drew.
Security guy: How fortuitous.