Last night I read for Write Club San Francisco, Chapter 50, Only Happy When it Rains, down the street at Make-Out Room. For those of you who are curious, Write Club is like Fight Club, but instead of a bunch of dudes beating the shit out of each other, it’s writers collabo-hating on a theme for seven minutes, each writer given a different word as a jumping off point. At the end of each round, the winner gets to pick a charity to give the door money to, so yeah, pretty cool. Chapter 50 was curated by Fourteen Hills Assistant Fiction Editor and EIC-to-be, Danielle Truppi, who is just the nicest person you will ever meet. Think tiny with powerhouse hand gestures and weird, kickass fiction. (Just don’t call her cute.) The topic she assigned me was “Steam.” Here’s the short story I read (even though I didn’t win, Roz Sternberg totally killed it and I ended up writing my own check to Planned Parenthood anyway.) In this story, I was playing around with the essay form and breath.
When you want something to be tender you steam it.
If you want momentum, you gather steam. The Ramones knew it, piling in the back seat, generating steam heat, Hey! Ho, Steam says, let’s fucking go.
When I finally answered my father’s interruptions during a conversation with my sister at the Thanksgiving table, telling him in Spanish the answer to his nagging question, que es un queef, or what is a queef? because my sister was worried a guy she had queefed, on, or rather next to, wouldn’t call her back, and she’d said, I was just sitting there afterwards in bed and he made me laugh and the air had just pushed out, poof! so I was asking her how much of an asshole the guy was, if he was the kind of guy that was afraid of a little snail trail, a little poof, and my father, a real Don Juannabe at the table of all women, trying as always to be a part of every conversation, kept asking, what are you girls talking about over here, que es un queef? and I finally said, Ay, Papa, es flatulencia vaginal, just before my mother yelled from the head of the table, “It’s a pussy fart, Rudy!” and my father turned more red than brown as the table erupted in thunderous feminine laughter, yelling, You girls are disgusting! before trailing off himself to some corner of the house he had marked with testosterone and John Wayne posters— after all this had happened, there was no other way to describe my father than steaming.
Steam can be hot, or sexy. Steamy people are a rare breed, steaming up a room simply by entering it. They have excellent skin, and never have to pay for spa steam treatments.
Who in here has ever stepped out of the shower only to lose yourself and the water you wasted by drying off on someone else’s skin? Steam is irresistible. If things are getting steamy, it means something is coming: last call at a steamy dance club, the rush of caffeine, a hurricane, a thunderstorm, even you.
I love the sound of steam. Fssssssssss.
When my sister and I were young, we were often forced to gravitate our chaos to our mother’s legs. On Saturday mornings, with no school, no babysitters, not even a father, just us and mom while dad was working in Los Angeles, my mother scrambled to catch-up on housework and television on her day off while still trying to keep my sister and me from giving the cat a make-over with her Estee Lauder lipsticks and eye-shadows, putting each other in the dryer, or collecting all of the dead roaches throughout the house, under couches and beds, in small corners in the pantry, stacking each dry bug with their skinny legs and bulging abdomens on every blade of the low hanging ceiling fan in the dining room, and waiting for our mother to come looking for us so we could turn the ceiling fan on and watch the roaches fly, alive again for one brief, wonderful moment as their red wings fluttered in the air, our mother screaming, swatting the things away from her as if she could feel them crawling on her skin. To avoid such instances as there, our mother tried to keep us close by while she had a long task at hand, like ironing. When my sister and I got too loud, too violent, too bratty, she used her iron as a warning, pushing the steam button at us when we got too close to her, the skin on our arms and thighs close enough to feel the warmth of steam and metal, the steam hissing as if to say, don’t fuck with me kid. Other times when I was sick with a cold, my mother would wrap me in towels and sit me on the toilet, the shower running as hot as it could, steaming the room opaque as she held me, waiting for the steam vapor to deflate my sinuses and heal her child.
Steam is v. versatile. So versatile, that for some, the Cleveland Steamer is a joke while for others, it’s a geyser of romance. It can be used as a statement of submission, of love, something not only tangible, but steamy and fresh. I love you today, the Cleveland Steamer says, I love you today and I am present, and you are present for this love, and I know it because you can feel my heat, my steam. It can also be used as the equivalent of breaking up with someone via text message, but one that is written in shit that they find on their chest in the morning. Steam. That sacred state of existence between water and gas, between one thing and the next, the ambivalence that exists between I submit to you, I am yours, and I will shit on you in your sleep.
Steam is fetish, steam is mystical. Steam is power, momentum. To run out of steam means to lose the energy or interest to continue. For example,