Pissing in a River

Pissing in a River

by Lorrie Sprecher

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Overview

“An honest and genuine DIY punk-rock lesbian love story.” —Kirkus Reviews

Amanda moves to London with nothing but her guitar and her collection of punk music as the soundtrack to her every move. With the company of a few friendly voices in her head, she looks for—and finds—a best friend and new lover. She forms a band, Lesbian Raincoat, and completely rewrites the story of her life.

In this irreverently funny yet profound novel, Amanda risks deportation, recalls the fervor of AIDS activism in the United States, connects to the class struggle of punk, and finds redemption in love. But she also must confront her own mental illness, her lover’s rape, and the violence of post-9/11 politics. Pissing in a River captures the glee and turbulence of surviving the cacophony of modern life.


“A love letter to the obsessions that captivated an outcast generation: punk, politics, passion, and provocation.” —Maria Raha, author of Cinderella’s Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781558618527
Publisher: Feminist Press at CUNY, The
Publication date: 06/17/2014
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Lorrie Sprecher is the author of Sister Safety Pin (Firebrand, 1994). Her collection of short fiction, Anxiety Attack, was published by Violet Ink in 1992. Her work has appeared in anthologies including Dykes With Baggage (Alyson Books, 2000); Lavender Mansions: 40 Contemporary Lesbian and Gay Short Stories (Westview Press, 1994); Glibquips: Funny Words by Funny Women (The Crossing Press, 1994). Excerpts of early drafts of this novel have appeared in various journals and online zines.

Lorrie was a member of ACT UP/DC (the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power in Washington, DC) and has been arrested six times for acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. She has a PhD in English and American literature from the University of Maryland, College Park. Lorrie and her dog Kurt reside in Syracuse, New York.

Her edgy, quirky voice delivers an acerbic cultural critique, and at her readings, she has been told that she should consider a career in stand-up comedy.

Before 9/11, Lorrie wrote songs against the Taliban for RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) and is an outspoken critic of elective wars and the US government’s use of torture. The punk song “It’s a Heteronormative World, No!” recorded by her band Sugar Rat appears on a compilation put out by Riot Grrrl Berlin. Sugar Rat’s music is available for digital download. For more information on her writing and music, please visit her websites: www.lorriesprecher.com and www.sugarrat.com.

Lorrie is interested in the struggle for human rights and animal rights around the globe. She lives in her head but also in the world.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

A SIDE

TRACK 117 YEARS OF HELL

I promised the women in my head that I would get to England even if it killed me. I knew that they were watching over me. Despite my mental glitches, I applied to do a year abroad in Britain and was awarded a place at an English university starting the fall term of 1980.

I'd been listening to Heart's debut album Dreamboat Annie when I first heard their voices. They started as a murmur, but then I could make out two distinct female voices with British accents talking inside my head. Who were they? What were they doing in there? It was like listening in on someone else's conversation on an extension phone.

I didn't freak out because I was used to hearing noise inside my head due to the obsessive-compulsive disorder I didn't know I had. I endlessly repeated prayers of protection to erase my own bad thoughts before they could hurt someone. I performed mental rituals to keep my hands from falling off for no reason. At seventeen, all I had was the diagnosis of major depressive disorder to explain why I wasn't coping well with my life.

Even though I was swept up in the punk revolution, I remained loyal to Heart because I was in love with Ann and Nancy Wilson, the two sisters in the band. In 1977, I bought the Sex Pistols and the Clash imports and Little Queen by Heart. Even after Heart became a big-name stadium rock band, I still listened to them and could get "corporate rock sucks" and "I joined the Heart fan club" into the same sentence. I had pink-and-green hair and my biggest secret wasn't that I was a lesbian, at a time when that still had maximum shock value. It was that between "London's Burning" and "Anarchy in the UK," I still listened to "Magic Man" on my stereo.

I believed the two women in my head were punks too, because whenever I entered a punk club, I felt their approval. Soon, instead of just hearing them talk to each other, I sensed them having feelings about me. Sometimes I could even see them, these women in my head. The older one had brown hair, shiny as wet tree bark, and her name was Melissa. The other one had dark hair, and I didn't know her name. I couldn't see their faces clearly. By looking up the places they mentioned, I figured out that they lived in London.

I felt like I was Moses being pen pals with God on Mount Sinai. I didn't go to punk clubs just to hear the music. I went to pray. Sometimes I thought I caught glimpses of my two women in the dark corners between the leather jackets, safety pins, and secondhand clothes. This was our sacrament, and I raised my bottle to them when I drank my consecrated beer. My new world was populated by people with punk noms de guerre like Lucy Toothpaste, Pat Smear, Donna Rhia, Becki Bondage, Tory Crimes, and Billy Club. I thought about changing my name to Amanda Mayhem.

Now I was getting ready to study English literature at Exeter University in Devon. As I packed my Sex Pistols T-shirt into my suitcase, I couldn't believe I'd actually gotten this far. My previous year had not been a good one. The biochemistry in my brain had completely run amok, and I'd succumbed to a full-fledged mental breakdown, which I'd somehow managed to hide from everyone. I'd almost flunked out of school. But one incident in particular got me through my affliction and out of bondage into the Promised Land.

TRACK 2 THE KKK TOOK MY BABY AWAY

I had just finished reading The Bell Jar for the tenth time. I was so depressed I thought about eating the thirty-two codeines I'd been hoarding since junior high school when I'd broken my leg and had my wisdom teeth removed. It might sound nuts, but I've always blamed segregation for screwing up my brain chemistry. I was born in a segregated hospital in Prince George's County, Maryland in 1960, off I-95, near the big Pepsi billboard, and was stuck in the white-babies-only room with all the other white babies shining in their cribs like light bulbs. You can't tell by looking, but half of my genes are olive skinned. Being born is becoming who you are according to what they say you can be.

When I was five, we'd moved to a southern California town where there were hardly any black people at all, and it was here, as a young adult, that I wondered how Sylvia Plath had waited thirty long years to kill herself. The need for me to do so now seemed urgent, but something was sitting on my chest and preventing me from getting up, a physical force, born of anxiety, pushing me into the bed. Lying there, unable to move, I had an out-of-body experience. I saw myself float into the bathroom to retrieve my codeine pills. I watched myself pour them into my hand and get a Diet Coke to wash them down. I'd been suicidal and survived before, but this time I was afraid I was really going to kill myself.

"Jesus Christ," the voice I recognized as Melissa's suddenly demanded, "what kind of person kills herself with a Diet Coke? At least drink a regular Coke. It's not like the sugar's gonna kill you." I felt Melissa's presence in the room. I kept my eyes shut to see her better. She was wearing torn blue jeans and a fuzzy gray sweater. I swear I could feel her weight on the mattress as she sat beside me. "Don't kill yourself, love. It'll be alright." When she put her cool, delusory hand on my forehead, the pain just stopped. When she left, I could sit up. The gargoyle pressing on my heart had gone. I felt a clear-headed, fragile happiness. I picked up my acoustic guitar and played for several hours. Then I fell into a deep, uncomplicated sleep.

I don't know if you'd call that a religious experience, but when I woke up in hell again, I knew I was going to live through it. I got myself together enough to stay in school. Then I discovered that the one black woman in my Jane Austen seminar had been born on the same day in the same hospital as I had on the babies-of-color side. And here we were together, even though the whole of society had conspired to keep us apart. I wondered if I would ever meet the women in my head. Surely stranger things had happened.

TRACK 3 DANCING BAREFOOT

I walked to the record store to get some blank cassette tapes for my trip. "Erase that thought. Erase that thought. Erase that thought," I said to the beat of my Converse high-tops to protect myself and my family from intrusive thoughts about spontaneous combustion. "Healthy, whole, and safe. Healthy, whole, and safe. Healthy, whole, and safe," I whispered to myself, trying not to move my lips. I taped my favorite punk albums and Heart so I could take them with me on the plane to England.

When I landed at Heathrow and stepped onto British soil for the first time, I felt a lightness in my head. Dazzled by the sunlight, I searched myself for signs of depression, but my depression had retreated. The voices outside my head, speaking in British accents, suddenly resembled the voices inside, and I achieved equilibrium. I'm here, I silently told the women in my head. I've come all this way to find you. I never once bothered to ask myself if I was crazy to have come this far for two voices. Women communicating with me from inside with no separation between our thoughts felt intimate, and our connection ran deeper than blood.

Exeter is two-and-a-half hours southwest of London by British Rail, and Devonshire is the greenest, rainiest borough in the country. The day I arrived with my guitar and suitcases at Exeter St. David's train station and saw the surrounding green hills and hedgerows full of brilliant flowers, I thought I'd died and landed in paradise.

I lived on the university grounds in Duryard Halls in a women's residence house called Jessie Montgomery. My room, B320, complete with an electric fire, wardrobe, desk, and single bed, was on the top floor. The grounds had once been botanical gardens and these had been preserved as much as possible. To get to school, I walked through woods full of wild blackberries. To reach the English department, I passed beautifully kept gardens with different flowers each season. I luxuriated in the richness of daffodils, violets, tulips, bluebells, rhododendrons, azaleas, primroses, and crocuses. A statue of Cupid was poised for takeoff against the balustrade in front of Reed Hall. In winter, a dusting of snow on his wings kept him earthbound.

I got on well with the other girls in Jessie Montgomery House and made friends right away. I was always in someone else's room drinking tea because I didn't have an electric kettle. And I was a hit with their boyfriends down the road in Murray House, the boys' residence, because they liked the assertive way I played guitar. The two women in my head were always with me, and as I became more knowledgeable about regional accents, I could tell that the younger one was from the north of England. My OCD static faded to the background.

The walkway from my residence hall to the refectory was lit up with pink autumn leaves. I loved English food — chips with every meal — and the customs at Jessie Montgomery House. By rotation, we were invited in pairs to sit on the dais at the high table with the warden and her guests. It was supposed to be an honor and quite formal. Before tea, there was sherry at the warden's house. When the girl who lived next door to me at Jessie Montgomery House and I went, we dyed our hair blue with bottles of ink and left blotches on the walls of the warden's sitting room by accidentally leaning our heads against the white paint. Later we sorted out some proper hair dye, and for a change I wasn't the only person with punk hair at my school.

On the first afternoon of the school term, I lugged my green-and-white Exeter University book bag up the hill to the university coffee bar on my way to an E. M. Forster tutorial. The town of Exeter and the river Exe were shining below me, and I looked across at the neon-green hills and pastures of grazing cows and sheep. Later I took a bus into town in the afternoon drizzle. In the city center was a billboard I loved advertising meatballs. It said "Surprise 'em with Faggots for Dinner!" I thought, Yeah, that's right. Put that billboard up in America and everyone will be surprised.

I walked past the small shops lining the High Street and a big indoor market with fresh-cut flowers, fish, and vegetables. I had fish and chips at a nearby chippy. Sitting in the orange plastic booth, I thought about the women in my head as I always did when I had an idle moment. I imagined Melissa's brown hair smelling of rain and petunias and the other woman's dark hair curling softly against her collar.

After eating, I headed toward Marks and Spencer, the department store people called Marks and Sparks. Boots Chemists had pink flowers in window boxes and baskets hanging over the pavement. The local buses were bright green. I sprinted up the High Street and caught one back to campus. I liked to ride on the upper level so I could watch the countryside and look down on the traffic.

In between my mostly neglected studies and lectures, I went to London and looked up the places I'd been told about by Melissa and her friend. Everything was where they said it would be, like the roses in Queen Mary's Gardens at Regent's Park. Like a detective, I searched for traces of them all over the city. On the rare occasions when I was alone in my room at Jessie Montgomery House, I wrote songs to them. And when I played guitar, it was for them because they inspired me.

Exeter was my Eden, and I was the lesbian Eve. There was even an apple tree outside the window of my room. Of course I knew that the forbidden fruit of the Torah was not an apple in Hebrew, but I enjoyed the symbolism anyway. With my OCD and ritualistic thinking, the universe was constantly sending me messages, and the apple tree was only confirmation of what I had already known. This was my home. And when I lay down to sleep, instead of grotesque OCD images of body parts falling off, grisly car accidents, and bodies mutilated by explosions filling my head, I saw pretty things, like the way the sunlight sometimes bounced off the hills turning them an almost unreal lime green.

TRACK 4 AWAY FROM THE NUMBERS

Annie was my best friend. We met when I volunteered to work on Gayline, a weekly counseling service for gay students that Annie ran with a guy called Mark. They said they'd never had another woman volunteer for it before. Thursday was the one night a week the university's telephone help-line and drop-in counseling service guaranteed that an authentic gay person would be available to deal with "gay" issues. I sensed that the younger, dark-haired woman inside my head was gay and had some kind of pain or conflict because of it. I felt like I was doing this for her, that it would bring her comfort. I fantasized about picking up the phone and recognizing her voice.

Annie was a second-year student and lived in a private flat behind Cornwall House, one of the university's pubs. It was very convenient. We could walk down when the pub opened and totter back up when it closed. We would sit on the yellow carpet of Cornwall House with pints of bitter and shrimp-flavored crisps. Annie would take out her packet of tobacco and roll her own cigarettes. She had short, brown hair and wore a red leather jacket that zipped up diagonally across her prominent, nicely shaped breasts.

Echo and the Bunnymen played in the pub one night before they were famous. We got their first tape because I liked the guitar riff on the song "Rescue" and wished that I'd written it. We saw a lot of bands we liked that year.

I took a bus packed with mods in green parkas and T-shirts with the mod symbol — blue, white and red concentric circles — to see the Jam play in Dorset. We sang the entire This Is the Modern World album on the way there and All Mod Cons on the way back. At the venue, waiting for the Jam to appear, I sang along with the crowd, "We are the mods, we are the mods, we are, we are, we are the mods."

And when Ian Dury and the Blockheads came to Exeter, Annie and I even sang back-up vocals to "Fuckin' Ada." We were in our hard-won places at the front, clinging to the stage by our fingertips, withstanding the tide of the crowd. Ian Dury's security posse grabbed us and brought us up on stage. We droned "Fuckin' Ada, fuckin' Ada, fuckin' Ada" to give the audience something to look at until Ian Dury, who was small and fragile, could make it safely offstage. I had purple hair then and a corduroy leopard coat. The crew gave us special Ian Dury and the Blockheads badges. They said "Ian Dury &," "Sex &," "Drugs &," "Rock &," "Roll &" on five separate multicolored buttons.

One night when we were hanging about down at Cornwall House, I bet Annie that the university police who patrolled the campus grounds wouldn't react if I walked out of the pub with one of the chairs balanced on my head. Annie dared me to do it, and soon I was trudging up the hill with a pub chair for a hat. The campus cops outside Cornwall House watched us leave. The cold air slapped me sober, and I realized I'd stolen a chair and didn't know what to do with it. Annie and I decided we'd take it to Jessie Montgomery House and put it in the common room.

Suddenly a police car pulled up. Before I knew what I was doing, my legs ran me down the other side of the hill. Annie stayed behind and confronted the two cops so I could get away. There was no chance she'd be deported if she got arrested.

I threw the chair, which was the bright orange of a traffic cone, behind a tree. Then I slipped on the dewy grass and rolled all the way to the bottom of the hill. I landed on my face in a patch of soaking-wet daffodils behind Reed Hall. I lay motionless until I decided it was safe to move. Then I crawled out of the tall grass toward the beds of vibrant wallflowers and the ornamental chimney.

I sprinted down terraces of stone steps and through tall trees, saying "sorry, mate" to a statue I mistook for another student in the dark. I paused at the open stretch of road I had to cross before plunging for cover into the blackness of the woods. Everything was quiet, and I took off running. A waiting white patrol car snapped on its headlights and lit me up. I dove into the woods and legged it all the way to Jessie Montgomery House, my heart beating in my throat.

When I got upstairs, Annie was waiting for me in front of my room.

"Where've ya been, mate? I was getting frantic, me."

"That was close," I said, breathing hard and unlocking my door. Annie sat on my bed and I tried to warm myself up in front of the orange bars of the electric fire. "What did you say to the cops?" I asked, still panting.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Pissing in a River"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Lorrie Sprecher.
Excerpted by permission of Feminist Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

A SIDE
Track 1: “17 Years of Hell”
Track 2: “The KKK Took My Baby Away”
Track 3: “Dancing Barefoot”
Track 4: “Away from the Numbers”
Track 5: “Smash It Up”
Track 6: “English Civil War”
Track 7: “Guns on the Roof”
Track 8: “Stay Free”
Track 9: “The Prisoner”
Track 10: “City of the Dead”
Track 11: “White Riot”
Track 12: “Nobody’s Hero”
Track 13: “Staring at the Rude Boys”
Track 14: “London Calling”
B SIDE
Track 15: “Wimpy’s Are Shit”

Track 16: “Catch Us If You Can”
Track 17: “Shot by Both Sides”
Track 18: “Fight the Fright”
Track 19: “In His Hands”
Track 20: “Save Yourself”
Track 21: “The Ghost at Number One”
Track 22: “Strict Time”
Track 23: “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?"
Track 24: “Chinese Takeaway”
Track 25: “Hold On I’m Coming”
Track 26: “Heaven’s Inside”
Track 27: “There She Goes”
Track 28: “English Rose”
Track 29: “Reuters”
Track 30: “Just Out of Reach”
Track 31: “D’You Know What I Mean?”
Track 32: “Potential Suicide”
Track 33: “Capitalism Stole My Virginity”
Track 34: “Opinion”
Track 35: “You’re Nicked”
Track 36: “Girl’s Not Grey”
Track 37: “Godspeed”
Track 38: “Precious”
Track 39: “Brimful of Asha”
Track 40: “Joe Where Are You Now?”
Track 41: “Hold Me Closer”
Track 42: “George Bush Fuck You”
Track 43: “Magazine”
Track 44: “Don’t Worry About the Government”
Track 45: “Two of Us”
Track 46: “Return of the Rat”
Track 47: “Treat Me Well”
Track 48: “The Seeker”
Track 49: “Drowning in the Shallow Waters of Prescribed Morality”
Track 50: “I Wanna Be Sedated”
Track 51: “Dream Time”
Track 52: “Rescue”
Track 53: “I’m Partial to Your Abracadabra”
Track 54: “When Angels Die”
Track 55: “Groovy Times”
Track 56: “You Belong to Me”
Track 57: “Pilgrimage”
Track 58: “Rock the Casbah”
Track 59: “How Deep It Goes”
Track 60: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

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