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Five things that never happened to Tommy 'Gnosis' Speck

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1. "and there's no mystical design"

The whole Jesus thing kind of bummed him out. It was the only gig in town for a guitarist, playing Sunday morning "folk" services and watching the female teen population attending church skyrocket. If he were really serious, he knew, he could probably steal the truck and head for Nashville, but he didn't know how he'd hold up against country heavyweights. Or even session artists, for that matter. He'd only ever played with two other people, and he'd outstripped both of them for skill; true to the size of Junction City, one of the two was his teacher and the head of the Folk Services music program.

The poor man had been scandalized when Tommy had asked to be paid. "But Tommy, this is a way to praise the Lord. Why do you want to bring money into that relationship?"

He thought about that question a lot, picking out chords to songs by Clint, Garth, and Alan, until one day he met a very strange babysitter. Her name was Hedwig, which was strange in and of itself -- not a lot of German immigrants in the middle of Kansas. The way they met was strange, too; he hadn't expected his baby sister's new sitter to finish off his hand job. The strangest thing about her, though, was her taste in music. She didn't like *any* country, but the people she did like could play the guitar like nobody's business.

He became obsessed with Jimi Hendrix. Fuck Folk Services. *This* was guitar; *this* was his future. This was as close to a religious experience as Tommy had ever come.

2. "for licorice drops and jelly rolls"

Tuesday morning was the *worst*. Monday was okay, because you kind of knew it was coming, and Wednesday was okay because it meant you were cresting the halfway point of the week, and Thursday was okay because... well, he couldn't remember, but he was sure Thursday was okay. And Friday was Friday, so it was better than okay. Tuesday, though; Tuesday sucked. Tuesday meant it was his day for the paper route, which he shared with thirteen other local boys, two a day all week, and that meant biking through the trailer park near the base.

Why anyone put a military base in Junction City, Kansas, was a mystery to Tommy and just about everyone who'd ever lived in, driven through, or flown over the town. It was tiny. It was in the middle of nowhere. And the town really just existed to serve the base, nowadays. So who'd gotten the idea to plunk down a bunch of soldiers in the middle of the Kansas dustbowl, Tommy never knew.

Today was of course a Tuesday, and Tommy hefted his canvas messenger bag, filled with copies of the morning's Herald. If he hurried, he'd be back before his mother finished cooking breakfast, and might get some pancakes out of her. He pedaled down the street, tossing papers inexpertly onto porches or front stoops, pausing only briefly to chat with neighbors. When he'd finished delivering in his half of the town proper, he picked up another full load of papers and biked out to the base's trailer park.

As he biked down the streets of the trailer park, trying to remember who got paper delivered and who didn't, he saw a bald black man sitting on the front porch of a trailer, sipping coffee. Tommy went over to him. "Buy a subscription to the paper, sir?" he asked, trying to look as aww-shucks as possible and wishing his hair were shorter; it would give him that Good Christian Boy look that sold papers so well.

"Son, if it's you bringing them over every morning, I sure would." The man's grin seemed to light up the whole trailer park, especially at this hour of the morning; brilliant white teeth framed in a dark face. He signed his check "Luther Robinson, Sgt. USA".

3. "and you're spinning your new 45s"

Tommy's head jerked up. The radio was playing, and he was sure he'd just heard the words "Junction City". Since this was KDVV-FM out of Topeka, seventy miles away, that was a surprise. He listened closer.

"...normally wouldn't, since it's not our style, but she's been taking the music world by storm, and she's a local girl! So take a listen to Hedwig and the Angry Itch; we'll be back after this with the traffic report and more of Topeka's best classic rock music."

The announcer was right: this was not KDVV's style. It was certainly rock -- loud and raucous -- but it was also *raw*. Hedwig, whoever she was, had a really nasal voice that was about an octave lower than he was used to hearing female singers. He wondered what she had to be so angry about. Then the song came to a speaking part, a bridge, almost. A guy with a really high voice was shouting about the Berlin Wall -- that explained the name, Tommy guessed.

When the song ended, Tommy went back to his homework. A local girl and written *that*? No way.

4. "I'm just another dollar that you made"

New York is fucking cold in November. Tommy's not wearing much, either, because that's how you work, but he's freezing his ass off, sitting on a loading dock in what would be termed by polite people the "red light district". He just calls it home, sort of. Not this loading dock, but this neighborhood; he works the skinny pseudo-goth thing and does pretty well. All kind of sick fucks will pay for a boy in eyeliner -- women, men, married, just plain horny. Mostly married guys, but he's not complaining. Tommy does it all; service with a most insincere smile.

Some nights he misses his mom's pot roast, or grilled steak, or barbecue done right, but on a night like this, when he's pulling in a couple hundred for a handjob or a quick blow in the back seat of some john's Lexus SUV, he's not really complaining all that much. He can actually afford to live here, in New York City, which is a pretty fucking spectacular place, even if he does have to act like he's fourteen while he works. He likes to second-guess himself, wondering if he should have stayed in Junction City, and the answer is almost always "no".

What looks to be this evening's high roller pulls up in a stretched-out SUV limo, and doesn't open his own door. There's a fucking *doorman* for the limo, and Tommy figures that if this guy can afford that, he's got to be loaded. When the doorman opens the limo's rear door on his side, though, Tommy's kind of taken aback. It's not a guy; it's a chick, and a fairly ugly one at that. She's plastered in all kinds of makeup -- shimmery stuff for the most part, with obscenely red lips and high arched black brows filled under in blue sparkles. She looks a little familiar, but in that vague hazy way all his clients tend to blend together. She reaches forward, putting her hand out to him, and the loading dock's sodium-yellow lights bathe her hair, which is pulled on either side of her face in huge curls.

And then it hits him. This isn't just some chick. In fact, she's not even really a chick at all. *He's* a botched-op tranny named Hedwig, who's sold more albums in a week than most singers sell in a lifetime. His band is called something like The Angry Bitch, and his songs are kind of catchy, but get really gross sometimes. Like Tommy wants to think about some guy cutting his dick off. Please.

He has to reconsider his options; clearly this guy doesn't want his dick sucked, because he doesn't have one. Maybe he wants Tommy to fuck him. Presumably he still has an asshole. Well, Tommy can do that. He takes Hedwig's hand and gets in the back of the limo. Twenty minutes later they're drunk, blasting Hedwig's album, and driving themselves through the still-crowded streets at ridiculous speeds. It's no surprise when they end up in the tabloids the next morning, having smashed into the side of a freight truck.

They manage to keep Tommy's name out of the papers, which is a relief; there are pictures, but only in the tabloids, which is an even bigger relief -- he knows the Junction City public library gets the New York Times, for archiving, and he'd rather not get a befuddled and angry call from his mother. At least the settlement will pay, he figures; if you're gonna crash a giant limo into a freight truck, do it with a millionaire.

5. "was the same as the one down in mine"

Their meteoric rise to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 was, to say the least, unexpected. His voice and Hedwig's didn't really mesh; his guitar was frenetic; her band spoke little English. And yet, here they were, backstage at fucking *Letterman*, about to broadcast into millions of homes across the country. It was kind of a head trip.

"What do you think, Tommy?"

Tommy turned to Hedwig, seated at the vanity in the dressing room. She was wearing a long, straight-haired wig, parted in the middle, and her makeup was already done.

"Shouldn't you maybe go with the one from the album cover? It's more recognizable."

"Fuck recognition. I want to be *glamorous*. This is national television!" She stood suddenly, knocking her chair backward.

"Shh, shh, Hedwig. Hedwig, it's okay. It's okay, I promise. Wear the one you have on; it looks great." He paused, then continued, a little lower. "Would you do my cross? I can never get it right myself."

Her face, which had been hardening in anger, softened and she reached for the silver makeup. "Of course, honey."

As her finger traced a cross of silver on his forehead, he closed his eyes. When she had finished, he simply stood there; part of him focusing, part of him breathing in her perfume.

He was jolted out of his contemplation by a stage hand knocking on the door. "Ten minutes to your entrance. I'm here to take you to the green room." Their instruments had long ago been placed onstage. Tommy nodded and turned to Hedwig, standing behind him.

Tommy held out his hand and Hedwig extended hers. He interlaced their fingers and they started toward the dressing room door, motioning for the Angry Inch to follow.

After blasting through "Tear Me Down" and "Origin Of Love", they retired to the couch next to Letterman's desk. When asked the obvious question of how they met, Hedwig launched into her story about Berlin and Junction City. As Tommy watched her animatedly describing her marriage to Luther, he remembered the time they had first kissed, in her trailer. After sliding his hands in her pants and making the startling observation that she wasn't really a woman, he had looked in her eyes and realized it didn't matter. He'd found his other half.