I guess I should have known when I saw the small sized men’s shirt in the charity shop, that it was not the best idea. There was Keef, in all his junkie hey-day glory, cigarette hanging from his lips, mirrored shades, the torn and frayed elegantly wasted Keith that we all know, and I thought we all loved, wearing a Patti Smith mullet, or she wore his, I guess, but Keith! It was primo Keith R, and it had to be mine.
It didn’t drown me (I’m a small slight female), it was in pretty good condition, just needed a wash – a bit like Keith back then – and cost under ten bucks. Deal! I should have realized when the nice young man at the counter recoiled slightly as he bagged my new favorite shirt, that perhaps people in 2021 don’t have the stomach for the young Richards. I perhaps should have realized that the tees-shirt said all the wrong things about me, perhaps honest things, but not exactly what you want people to think, maybe, or at least can’t afford to have them wondering. Particularly people in positions of power that you have to persuade that you are actually quite nice really.
I gave Keith a good scrubbing in my sink, he cleaned up beautifully. I didn’t think when Keef finally dried out, sitting there on a hanger in my room, that there would be anything other than admiring glances. I had it all worked out. Black skinny jeans, my tie dye sleeveless tight shirt underneath (do not call ’em wife beaters, darling, so inappropriate, yet struggling for another word), a freshly shaven head, left a little longer on top (I’m quite good at cutting my own hair short after an initial buzz cut sometime at the start of this pandemic mess), my favorite moc’s, and Keef, in his moody black and white glory.
It was then that people started to need to talk to me. Real people, with nicer lives and nice jobs and nice sensibilities. Yeah, people, I fucked up. I opened the door, and the person standing there stood staring at my chest and flinched, not a slight jump, but instead full-on stepped back, and gave a nervous laugh. I’m not saying it is the first time I have been asked if I have used drugs in the last seven days, but it is the first time in a long time I have been asked that question. Thanks, Keefy.
It didn’t get any better, a rapid succession of nice people asked me what my pronouns were, enquiring if I was nonbinary. One didn’t enquire, they just got right to calling me They, in a kindly pointed fashion, clearly expecting a cookie or a pat on the head. I started to get nervous. Wearing Keith was proving to be difficult, a challenge. A bit of a bind. The androgynous look is clearly working out for me I thought, nervously embracing everything that wearing Keith entails, good and bad. I was thinking perhaps some hot lesbian would want to start a punk band with me, that perhaps someone might ask me where I picked Keith up, and I could tell them that I got him cheap in a charity shop. My expectations somewhat overly optimistic.
I probably should have changed before I headed out to Civic Center, but didn’t have the time, and to be honest, I didn’t want to blame Keith. So I simply didn’t. I threw on my black jean jacket and some eyeliner and headed out the door, mask, latex gloves, my favorite Andy Warhol shades, scruffed up my hair, and threw white sneakers on instead. You should be glad my black biker boots are no more, otherwise, I fear I might have been dragged off to jail, no ifs buts or maybes. I figured the black eyeliner might do to ward of the They-be questions. I’m a woman. A woman who no longer has any interest in dating men. I might be a touch on the butch side, but hey, I’m pretty soft butch, and besides, being a woman is something I have no interest in opting out from. I love women. I love being a woman, with my c section scars and my life-long battle with trying not to be abused by men, and failing horribly. Yeah, the make-up, as meager as it is, is my attempt to stop modern presumptions that just don’t fit me. Call me a dyke, but not They, heaven forbid, He.
Keef peered out from between my open jacket, half hiding from the negative vibes, half numb to the notoriety, I figured. It’s San Francisco, I told myself, it’s not like you are in a more judgmental part of the country, it’s cool. Patti had a Keith tee-shirt, she looked fabulous in it. I wondered, momentarily if people looked at Patti oddly too, I figured she didn’t have to deal with the same kinda people I did, and was pretty used to people looking at her oddly anyhow. It probably didn’t make much difference. I gave myself a talking to, “just don’t care.” It wasn’t that I cared particularly, I just didn’t feel quite safe. It’s not that I give a fuck, it’s that I can’t afford any more trouble!
I could feel the combination of being homeless, living in a shelter, not being girly enough, or feminine enough, applying for my VAWA (violence against women action), explaining how all this happened, and why I did what I did, added to the fact I try to be open about my previous struggles with drugs, as much as anyone needs to know, if they really need to know at all, considering my long term recovery, and the fact that me, Paltry Sum as I am, have a guitar in my room, combined with the fact I have my delicate sweet teenage boy in my care, who means more to me than all the opium in Asia ever did or would….all this mingled to create an impression that I was with Keith, I was a dirty unrepentant junkie who might fall off the no-opiate wagon at any time, I was a rebel, I was flipping The Man the bird. I was not a Nice member of society. I was an outcast, a problem. An outsider. All of which might be true, but it really did not feel safe at all. I was wearing my Rolling Stone heart on my sleeve, I was wearing my devotion to the Underground, the Road, the underbelly of society. I am one of Them, never to be included in the decent Us.
As I headed back up civic center, weaving my way back to the shelter, I caught the eye of a young man, backpack, dog on a rope, guitar without a case. He looked me in the eye and said “Hey is that Hunter S Thompson?” Kids nowadays, huh…I guess the mirrored glasses did it. I gave him a quick lesson on Keith, a Keith who he only thought of as an old man who talks kinda funny and is indestructible. I swear Keith smirked. I’m not sure how much Keith liked Hunter, after that disastrous interview they did together.
I took Keith home. I never had any trouble wearing my Rolling Stones classic mouth ’75 tour shirt, that I got in Haight Ashbury, at the best little tee shirt shop in town (which I just sadly found out closed back last December. A real loss). I decided to take a look in the mirror. Yup there it was, me and Keef, the terrible twosome, Keith complaining loudly in his autobiography that he never mainlined smack, just muscled it. Only idiots who want to die inject into a vein, according to Keefy. Me and Keith, who was the biggest junkie, I start to wonder. Me and my resolved fuck-muscling-it, ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky habit, and the infinitely more sensible Keith and his good harm reducing advice. Who is the social outcast now, missy, he seems to enquire. I take him off. Replaced him with my Spiders From Mars, Bowie shirt. Bowie, there’s a druggie that the world can accept.
Poor Keith. He has to walk round with that face every day of his life. I suppose it’s easier to embrace when you can close your front door and not have to deal with normal nice people.
Play me out, Patti…