I inquire, I roam, I am

“And there in the blue air I saw for the first time, far off, the great snowy tops of the Rocky Mountains. I had to get to Denver at once.” — Jack Kerouac, “On The Road”

Julie, Mike, and I planned to go backpacking through Europe. Schedules were made. Money saved.

Two months before departure, Julie and I rode a bus together to march on Washington for women’s rights. Twenty hours later, after the toilet ruptured and the bus broke down somewhere near Raleigh, we decided our friendship would survive a lot longer if we were not travel buddies.

I could still go with Mike. He wasn’t much of a “museums and culture” kind of guy. He was a “nude beaches and beautiful women” kind of guy.

He pretended to be disappointed when I made other plans.

Inspired by Jack Kerouac, I took a trip out west by myself, just to see what all the fuss was about. When I got to Denver, I hooked up with Becky and set about exploring the town that seemed so exciting in On the Road.

I met Alex at Charlie Brown’s Bar & Grill. She was stunning and taught me how to drink a dirty martini without making a face.

“I have no use for it,” she told me, after I switched to rum and coke. “My penis is a distraction.”

“Who does it distract?” I asked.

“It used to distract me,” Alex said. “Now it distracts everyone else. They say I can’t be a proper girl with it hanging between my legs.”

I sipped my drink, Alex said not to call it a cocktail, with my chin resting on my hand. Alex flipped her hair a lot while explaining the surgery she’d be undergoing in a few weeks. Her breasts, long black hair, toffee-colored skin, and bright blue eyes…she looked more like a woman than I ever would.

The only distraction I could see was a few dirty fingernails. They were horribly out of place. I couldn’t see her penis, even when I really looked. Her pantyhose and skin-tight dress left very little to the imagination. She offered to show me it was really there, in the bathroom, but I ultimately decided to take her word for it.

I wanted a list of all the makeup she used, but didn’t bother. I’d never have that kind of time.

Several times that night, I thought, “This certainly beats hanging out with Becky and her live-in, grown-up boyfriend.” He was in his late thirties. Balding. Facial hair.

Yes, he introduced me to sushi, for that I would be forever grateful. But he was a psychiatrist and therefore insufferable. When we watched television shows and movies together, he analyzed every character and diagnosed them with a mental disorder within five minutes.

Out loud.

That’s how I learned the entire cast of Amityville Horror was histrionic.

Alex was way better company than that.

“Have you ever known someone like me?” she asked.

Paul. In high school. I once saw him walking down Nebraska Avenue and didn’t recognize him until he got real close. Paul squealed and we gave each other a big hug.

In school, Paul had short red hair. On Nebraska Avenue that night, he wore a red wig that fell down past his shoulders, a fur coat and high heels. He looked amazing. I don’t remember seeing him much at school after that. I never asked him any questions or showed an interest in why he was a boy during the day, and walking the street as a woman at night.

Nebraska Avenue was where prostitutes worked. It’s also where everyone went to score some weed. I bet Paul had a lot to say. And I never gave him the chance.

Alex and I talked all night long. And not just about her penis.