top of page
  • sanchopanzalit

The Last Straw

Vix Gutierrez

I have just arrived at the party and I’m looking around for the quickest way to leave. The Lyft that brought me here has already gone, and because it’s Halloween night, the closest ride is twenty minutes away.

The party is not—as advertised in the group text—popping. People are congregated around a large kitchen island nodding, holding wine glasses between their bodies like boundary markers. The whole scene has an office-social-before-the-shots vibe. Which it basically is, except that instead of our cramped campaign office with its one framed “There is no Planet B” poster on the wall, the party is in Jared from Campaign Management’s newly purchased home.

Jared is a trust fund baby. Silver spoon, etcetera. His house is clean and spacious, with an open floor design. It has large picture windows, a library the size of my entire apartment, an extensive wine collection arranged by varietal, and a Smart Fridge which is, of course, playing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” from its state-of-the-art speakers—although at a subdued, suburban-coffeeshop volume.

The floors are smooth and open, flanked by expensive furniture that’s been pushed against the walls. A human-sized cage dangles from a prominent corner of the living room. But the cage, like the dance floor, is empty—not a single go-go-booted sexpot dancing inside.

The guests—probably admin from the third floor— are clustered in the kitchen, half asleep under a calm lavender hue.

Even from where I stand in the doorway, I can tell that the whole place smells like Fresh Air car freshener. Jared hangs them around the office, too, where they hang like little ironic reminders that we live in a fucked-up world. Jared’s has a thing about smells. A few weeks ago, on the event’s Facebook page, he posted, “Let’s be considerate to folx who are sensitive to fragrances. Please, no perfumes.”

Not only am I not wearing perfume, I also haven’t showered. I’d like to claim not showering was a thought-out decision, that I could call it getting into some sort of character, but the truth is, I’ve lacked general motivation for much of anything these days.

Even though the weather has remained uncommonly warm for this time of year in Portland, I’ve taken to wearing sweatpants and shuttering myself in for seasonal hibernation as though the gloomy days of winter were already here.

I’ve only made it as far as the doorway and already my natural body odor is threatening to overpower the meeker Fresh Air scent.

The Lyft is still twenty minutes away and I’m about to go back outside and wait in the bushes when I hear Kat’s unmistakable voice coming up the driveway. I know Kat from the signature drive, where we bonded over airplane-sized bottles of Fireball. Kat is dressed as Poison Ivy. Tall and green, with a copper-red wig that brushes her thighs, she looks set-ready perfect.

Kat recognizes me immediately, wrecking my hope of a getaway, “Hey, Betch,” her green arms open in an impressive wingspan that swoops me into a hug. Then she holds me back to assess. Her sweeping red eyelashes give an animated effect as she peers me up, down, and then up again, “You look great?”

My costume is not what I’d envisioned. I was supposed to be wearing an avant-garde statement dress made out of 100% upcycled material—plastic six-pack rings stacked one over the other in a lace-like fabric that would dazzle and catch the light as a high-necked mermaid gown. I’ve spent the last few months rescuing the plastic six-pack-rings from the garbage at the dive bar where I work nights, ferreting them home instead. But my imagination turned out to be bigger than my motivation and it was only at the last minute, when I finally succumbed to the immense pressure of Jared’s texts and made the decision to come to the party, that I began my lackluster effort. And now here I am, wearing trash.

Kat and her work-husband Brent spent the day together getting ready. I can tell because they’re both covered head to toe in the same shade of green.

Brent introduces himself in character. “I’m a Tina Turner Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle,” he says, turning tightly because of the fake tatas. Brent’s boyfriend comes up behind him wearing a too-small boy scout uniform. He says he’s a tomb raider.

All three of them puzzle over my haphazard ensemble: six-pack plastic in my hair, hair in a messy bun. Three-foot disposable drinking straw stabbed into bun. Six-pack plastic pinned over my eyes like a Mardi Gras mask. Garbage bag tied around waist. Sheer white bodysuit that tapers into a thong under the bag. Thin black tights with dangerously expanding holes high up on the inner thigh. Cheap stiletto heels—wrapped at the straps with more single-use plastic. Open raincoat over it all. “The raincoat isn’t part of the costume,” I explain.

Poison Ivy continues to side glance me, but it’s only when Brent and his boyfriend turn away that she whispers, “Who are you supposed to be?”

I used to love this question, especially on Halloween. When I was a young girl inside a homemade cardboard robot shell, or wearing the hooded cloak of a Wiccan witch, and people asked me Who are you supposed to be? it held a sense of promise. Like magic words. Back then, I understood that when people asked me this question, I could answer anything, anyone—a made-up character even—and whatever I said would be true.

In my teenage years, I started hearing the question more often, Halloween or not. Principals, teachers, other kids, TV ads, the phrasing varied, but I stopped liking the question, Who are you supposed to be? The tone had changed.

When I turned 28, it started coming at me from all sides. Apparently, 27 is the cutoff age for living your life like a cracked beer keg barreling down a hill—that’s when you either die—and hopefully gain admittance into a heaven filled with fuckup rockstars who are just like you, but famous—or you stay on earth and become a responsible adult with a toilet routine and a social media brand. Who are you supposed to be? Choose a label. Pick a brand. Do you want a wedding with a bohemian vibe, or one with linen tablecloths? Or are you a “Girl Boss”? Which tax deductible charity will you pick for your Facebook birthday fundraiser? Parents, cops, bosses, party friends-turned-Twitter-parents, Twitter, algorithms, movies, ads, everyone desperately wanted to know.

Now that I’m in my late thirties, there’s no subtlety about it. If anyone asks the question at all, it’s served straight-up, harsh. Bathtub-grade judgement.

As if it matters, anyway. I’m a freaking gnat inside a fly inside a pie on the Titanic. We’re headed straight for the iceberg, Jack.

The holes in my stocking are expanding dangerously, especially near the crotch. More hole, less stocking every time I move. Because the bag I’m wearing as a skirt is a previously-used bag, there’s a preexisting knot which billows like a flower and which I’ve placed in the front for extra coverage. But what’s left of the bag barely stretches around my waist.

My garbage bag skirt already came off between the Lyft and the front door, exposing threadbare tights and basically the whole of my ass. I suspect that the Lyft driver, who spent most of the way over guessing who I was supposed to be, was taking a crack when he called after me through the open window, “Hey, full moon.”

With every movement, I feel the threat of indecent exposure. I wrap my raincoat tighter. Now is the time to duck right back out the door and make a run for it, ride or not.

But Brent the Teenage Mutant Tina Turner Ninja Turtle takes the lead more Tina than turtle. As Tina Turner, Brent’s lead is undeniable (Even Mic Jagger is said to have gotten his signature moves from the Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll). I follow in her wake as she charges into the kitchen stuffed-boobs-first, singing an impressive rendition of “Proud Mary,”

And we're rolling,

I wish we were rolling. Extasy has a way of making everything feel okay. It’s temporary,

but what isn’t these days?

Rolling on the river.

There’s a brief pause, then a low, sad hum as the conversations resume.

Fuck it. I remove my raincoat and toss it over a Silk Chenille sofa.

Jared appears in a bathrobe tied at the front, arms out, “I’m Jared the Host.” He says “Welcome,” but heads straight for my raincoat, which he hangs on a coat rack by the door. Poison Ivy goes in for a hug, leaving a little green smudge on his prescription glasses.

Jared points out the various rooms in the house, each cast in its own distinctive lighting and color scheme. But it’s The Dungeon we absolutely must see. Jared tells us how that’s where he put the most decorating effort, having spent long hours hanging dissected mannequin limbs from the basement rafters.

“Check it out,” he cries, grabbing Poison Ivy by the hand and pulling her down the stairs.

Poison Ivy reemerges a moment later, eyes wide. Once Jared is out of earshot, she whispers, “Don’t go down there.”

I imagine ghastly scenes—on orgy, maybe, or a human sacrifice.

But Poison Ivy is quick to dash my hopes, “The decorations are cool but,” she looks around her, leans in so close I can feel her fear, “there’s a bunch of adults, in costume, on the couch…watching a movie!”

We need a drink.

The liquor is lined up on the kitchen island, behind a hand-made sign that says, “Liquor.”

The problem is that some guy in a Judge Judy costume is leaning on said island, locked into lackluster conversation with a middle-aged Elsa from Frozen. And Judge Judy, whether inconsiderately, or due to deliberate intent, is blocking access to the bottles.

Now I’m faced with a real-life cart before the horse scenario where, to reach the liquor that would facilitate talk with strangers, I must first talk to a stranger. Likely that will also mean that the well-costumed stranger will ask me who I’m supposed to be, and I need a drink for that too. Fortunately, a new party arrives, causing Judge Judy to turn toward the mild commotion, freeing up the booze.

Tina Turner Turtle sidles up beside me now that I have bottle in hand. I love turtles. Maybe it was the love of turtles that compelled me to bypass a more lucrative offer at an insurance company for evening shifts at the bar and a pavement-pounding position at the environmental nonprofit. Turtles are vulnerable, tough, nomadic, shy, and easily entangled.

There is real glassware on the counter, giving my turtle-loving heart a little surge. I reach for a glass. But just before it’s in hand, Jared plunks a stack of disposable red kegger cups in front of the glassware, shooting me a pointed look over his spectacles.

I stand there, hand frozen midair like a cartoon dolt while my brain slogs through this new moral dilemma: contribute to the suffering of turtles or forego the booze.

I’ve already gripped down on the plastic cup when Poison Ivy steps in, handing me a shot of whiskey. One down, I hold out the glass for a refill.

To Judge Judy I say, “Don’t judge.”

Judge Judy recuses himself to the other side of the island and now I’m the one blocking the bottles while exchanging hellos with a sales consultant dressed as Cleopatra.

“I like your wig” I try. There’s a long silence while she looks me over foot to head and arrives, finally, at, “I like your straw.”

While Cleopatra’s voice lacks sincerity, the straw in my top bun truly is magnificent. It is three feet long and arrived inside a flaming Tiki cocktail during a recent unavoidable birthday celebration.

Even though I did not request the straw and even though the state of Oregon has banned plastic straws, except on request, the bartender put not one, but three inside the shareable cocktail I ordered. And worse, these were ridiculously long—long enough that a person could theoretically use one to suck down a drink on a neighboring table or snort a line of cocaine from across the room. Cleopatra can’t know how my face burned with shame when I had to walk that cocktail with its flagrant straws past booths filled with my fellow environmentally conscious Portlanders. Cleopatra can’t know how even my work friends turned away in shame when I set the offending cocktail on the table, how I had to drink the entire thing even though there was enough booze in there for three. Still, once I’d sucked up the last sugary drop, I folded one of the straws and placed it in my purse. Perhaps I dreamed that this three-foot turtle killer would soon be a collectible, a rare relic of other, less conscionable, times. Maybe I was already reimagining it as a hairpiece. Maybe I recognized myself in the straw. Either way, I must have known that this embarrassing, plastic, oversized straw, by mere merit of existing, contradicts its designation as single-use.

Cleopatra’s outfit is the opposite of mine. From her bangle to her septum ring, every detail seems carefully thought-out. I tell her she looks very authentic. Cleopatra smiles brightly then; quips that she has the nails for sales, but fashion is her passion.

A small man in a black turtleneck and wearing a blond, bowl-cut wig has been leaning in toward our nascent conversation. He steps between us now, “Andy Warhol also has a passion for fashion.”

I, too, once had a passion for fashion. Last year, I hand stitched a full Victorian garment out of thrift store curtains. The year before, I was a magical woodland faun with gemstone pasties, hooves, and purple leg hair. Anyway, like I said, I’ve been low in motivation recently.

Maybe it’s premature seasonal depression, maybe it’s getting close to middle age, or maybe, it all started with The Report. Based on years of measured scientific study, The Report was written in academic language, but the conclusion is this—because of our actions, human life, and all life on earth is doomed. And not in some unforeseeable future, either, but with a observable, catastrophic change within the next ten years.

It’s probably fitting that I first heard about The Report though the Weekend Update segment of Saturday Night Live. That the news, “Catastrophic climate change by 2030,” was met with live audience laughter. LOL. What a gas. Cause of death: head too far up own ass.

On the SNL segment, this headline was immediately followed by another image—of the then-first-lady, on her way to a child migrant detention center, wearing a fast-fashion-brand jacket that says in large white lettering across the back, “REALLY DON’T CARE DO U?”

Vice News called the report, “The Climate Change Paper so Depressing it’s sending people to Therapy.”

But it wasn’t just the report, you see, or even the way it was delivered, as a joke. It’s the understanding that every time I go to a party or a drive-thru coffee shop, or even work—any activity really inside a system that values consumption over life, I may as well be saying along with the first lady (as she poses beside children with no habitable home), “REALLY DON’T CARE DO U?”

Now, wearing garbage, I tell Andy Warhol and Cleopatra that sustainable fashion is essential, what with the fast fashion industry being second only to oil as the world’s largest polluter. Both Andy Warhol and Cleopatra are inching away, and the mood is sinking like the state of Florida, so I wink at Cleopatra and make a Tossed Caesar Salad joke. No-one laughs which in Portland, means you’ve been offensive.

As trash, I should be used to people turning their noses from me, but I haven’t yet gotten fully into character. I slink away, feeling rotten.

Jared’s Husband pads into the kitchen in house slippers and pajamas. He opens the fridge, retrieves a yogurt, and retraces his steps back out the door.

“Nice party, huh?” There’s a Fratboy-looking dude grinning beside me, fist out.

“Yeah, nice.” I say, meeting it with a weak bump.

Fratboy looks me over from head to toe. Scratching his hairless chin, he asks, “Who are you supposed to be?”

I open a can of beer, drink it slowly until Fratboy gets bored and saunters away.

“I’m afraid to guess in case I’m wrong.” This from Andy Warhol, suddenly beside me again.

“Have at it,” I say.

Andy takes a long gulp from his keg cup, but keeps his eyes trained on me over the

plastic rim. He says, “this is gonna sound bad if I’m wrong…but…are you garbage?”

“YES!” I say, surprising us both with the force of my agreement. I look down, at my plastic flower dick. I look at him as if for the first time, “I’m garbage!” The words have a certain tongue feel. An energy. I. am. garbage. “I AM GAAHBAGE!!!” I shout it loud over the pop music beats, the sentence slick, and landing just like freedom in the Fresh Air scented air.

Now that I know who I am, I walk around the kitchen island introducing myself as “Gahbage” to everyone, sometimes more than once. I introduce myself again, properly, to Cleopatra, then use the fact that I’m garbage as an excuse for making the offensive Tossed Caesar Salad joke earlier. She wasn’t offended, she says. Just didn’t get it.

I explain that Cleopatra had affairs with both Marc Antony AND Caesar, then her mood improves noticeably. She claps her palms together, eyes flashing to life. There are no Marc Antonys or Caesars at the party, but l do see her, later, dancing with two Jesus’s.

Jared’s husband reappears in his pajamas. I intercept him on his way to the fridge hold up two disposable cups, and somehow persuade him to do a shot with me. When he agrees, I’m so pleased with my accomplishment in getting Jared’s non-shot-taking husband to do a shot that I ask him to do another. He declines, so I get Cleopatra to join me instead. Then I get a White Jesus, Mary Magdalen and finally, middle-aged Elsa from Frozen.

I would keep going around the room, but it’s spinning slightly, and the temperatures are

rising. Middle-aged Elsa is telling me how Frozen is her son’s favorite film and I am inordinately impressed. Now I’m asking middle aged Elsa if she has any drugs. She doesn’t. I ask everyone else in the house, both individually, and as a general question shouted over the music. Thinking maybe no-one can hear me, I take the three-foot straw out of my hair and hold it under my nostril as a visual aide.

The bosses arrive appropriately attired in full vampire costumes. Dead eyes. Real-looking fangs dipped in real-looking blood. After two years of signature drives and pavement pounding for a pittance, I recently learned the bosses earn competitive executive wages, enough to power their latest model Teslas and first-class flights to climate conferences in the South of France. Their posse includes three sexy witches who I’ve seen at work often enough to know they’re not in costume. “Do you have any drugs?” I ask the sexy witches, in way of greeting.

They don’t, so I go back to doing shots.

A tall, plain-looking woman walks into the party in casual dress. Her fine, dirty-blond hair is tied in a slack ponytail.

Jared the Host doesn’t want to let her in. “Costume party only” he says.

She says, “I am in costume.” When he continues to protest, she says, “Jane?”

“Jane…Jane?” Jared says snapping his fingers, a succession of short snaps. Then he says “Jaaaaaaane!” sounding exquisitely surprised.

At the office, Jane is a stunner of a top-model platinum blonde. All cheekbones and legs. Her nickname at work is Hot Jane, the boss likes to put her face on campaigns. When she walks into meetings, the top boss says cringey things like, “The temperature is rising in here,”

I recognize her now, under a thick layer of inversed makeup, legs undefined in shapeless khaki pants.

“I’m Jane Goodall.” Hot-now-plain-Jane says.

I watched a documentary once about Jane Goodall. She spent sixty years of her life in the jungle, quietly observing chimpanzees. When she witnessed one chimp using a stalk of grass to uncover a termite hole, she made the discovery that chimpanzees make and use tools. Her groundbreaking research changed the definition of man.

“Jane Goodall…” Jared does the quick finger snapping. Eventually, his pointer finger snaps into a gun, “You’re the lady who watched the monkeys.”

Jane Goodall takes a slow assessment of the room. She says, “Chimpanzees.”

“I am garbage” I say, extending a drink-sticky hand.

My coworker Yessica comes in, dressed as a bag of limes.

Before she can finish asking, I’ve told her, “I’m garbage. Gahbage.”

Bag o’ Limes nods, dances over to the kitchen island where she stays, looking right at home next to a bottle of tequila.

Bag o’ Limes’ boyfriend is not in costume. Or if he is, he’s dressed like a frat kid with a baseball hat on backwards. We’ve only met on the fringe of various parties throughout the years and I haven’t yet registered him as Bag o’ Limes’ boyfriend when he plants himself right in front of me, locks me dead in the eye and enunciates, “YOU ARE THE REASON FOR GLOBAL WARMING!”

My blood boils. My face heats up. My voice raises a few octaves, and even I can hear the breathy defensiveness in my tone as I list all the ways that my costume is the very definition of recycled. The song ends just as my rant ends, “…YA PRICK!”

There is a pregnant pause. Frat boy looks surprised. I’ve put him squarely in his place. Then another song begins, and I recognize him suddenly—both as Bag o’ Limes’ boyfriend, and the guy who first asked me what my costume was, earlier tonight.

He backs away muttering, “No, I was just saying… I just got your costume. You’re dressed as the thing that causes global warming.”

“That was righteous!” White Jesus stands behind me, grinning wide.

Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A.” comes on through the smart fridge and White Jesus starts doing a jerky, gyrating dance that involves pushing the air up with both hands. His enthusiasm is infectious though, so I dance along, noticing how the flower knot on my garbage skirt takes on a life of its own, swaying lazily on the off-beat.

Yeah, it's a party in the U.S.A.

The sexy witches close in, cackling and pointing black-laquered nails at my skirt flower. I shake my bootie so that the flower sways along with the beat now. It’s fluttering up and down

like a graceful flower dick. I’m holding the floor.

Jane Goodall lurks on the outskirts of the dance floor, pen poised over notepad. I flutter my flower dick at her. I am gahbage and it feels glorious. The room fills up around me, the air thickens with body odor, crotch heat, sweat. There are red plastic cups everywhere. Even so, there’s the sound of a glass shattering somewhere in the house. I high-five Jesus. One of us challenges the other to a shot-gunning contest. A small crowd gathers around us, chanting, “Jesus” and “Garbage” interchangeably.

Jesus wins by a long shot, so I dance around sipping out of the crumpled can, warm beer dribbling out of the key gash in the aluminum.

Jared’s husband stands behind Jane Goodall, surveying the scene. His lips move in a slack-jawed, toneless whisper, like a shell-shocked man. Jared himself is grinding up on the corner of their kitchen island. His bathrobe is open so that his sequined thong twinkles and winks as he pumps.

Jane Goodall leans against the far wall and watches, intrigued. In the documentary, the real Jane Goodall said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

The waxed hardwood floors are covered in sticky puddles, feathers, glass, sequins, bits of plastic waste, maybe-piss, bras, cheese dip, crackers, crumpled cans. I feel largely responsible for the mess which makes me feel powerful for the first time in a long time.

“Cage me up,” I shout. Vodka spills over the rim of my red keg cup as I spear into the hanging human cage, one stilettoed heel first.

Whether real or imagined, I hear somebody cheer, “You rule, Garbage!”

The vampire bosses are staring at me full-on. There’s blood on their fangs but behind their dead eyes there’s something else—fear? Fuck em’.

I’m pumping my flower dick again and really feeling the music. I step in for a high kick, fall. The cage comes down with me, pulling the hook out of the ceiling and raining plaster chips all around.

I try to get some footing but I’m too drunk, my heels are too high. The room is hushed. The eyes of the party are upon me as I plant first one, then another palm on the floor, push myself onto my knees, dig in with my heels, falter…

“Trash Pickup!” It’s Poison Ivy’s unmistakable voice, raised in a cry that gains momentum as it spreads across the room. “Trash pickup. Trash Pickup.” There are hands around my waist, lifting me upright. Poison Ivy and Judge Judy support my weight, holding on until I’ve regained my balance.

“Thank you, Judge Judy,” I say into his robe-covered chest.

Judge Judy says, “I’m actually Harry Potter.”

Someone has cranked up the volume on the music; the first, ambient notes of a new song begin. It’s a Tropical house beat that goes all the way to the bridge before I recognize the song as a remix of Brandi Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth”.

I plant my heels into the floor and shake my hips as big as they’ll go. Wave my plastic straw like a conductor’s wand. One by one the others join, until we are finally on the dancefloor—the whole ridiculous lot of us.

Tina Turner Turtle busts out a leggy jump-scissor-kick. Behind her, White Jesus does a less impressive version of the same.

I try for an ambitious dance move too, but the ground is still shaky. I spin in place instead.

“They say in heaven love comes first,”

I’m spinning and then the room is spinning, and now earth is spinning backwards, churning up notable characters from across the span of time. Their faces swirl in and out of my vision: Cleopatra, Andy Warhol, Tina Turner, Witches, Wizards, Jesus Christ, Jane Goodall, others I don’t recognize—maybe from the future. Their bodies in motion stir the air into something warm and salty, almost like an ocean breeze. My garbage bag skirt catches the wind and sails off into what’s sure to be a long and strange adventure.

I feel a tap on the shoulder. And in my ear, someone asks, “Who are you supposed to be?”

By now, I’m prepared with my answer. “I am garbage,” I begin to say. It’s almost dawn on the first day of a new month and not even Halloween anymore. And maybe because I’ve danced off the bits of plastic and the garbage bag skirt so that I’m basically nude as a newborn, but the last part of the answer drops off, mid-sentence. And maybe because I’m now holding the straw-turned hairpiece-like a magic wand, but the words I do say ring complete and powerful in the sweaty, predawn air,

“I am.”

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”—Albert Camus

55 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Stephanie Pushaw I grew up semi-wild, drawn to fringes. Microcosms in the soft humid forests of Missouri: a massive downed oak tree, its solid trunk cracked open along the lines of beetle-riddled weak

The Worms Told Me to Write This

Elizabeth Boudreau There are a lot of days when my body looks strange in the mirror, as if someone made a suit out of something else’s skin and stretched it over my form. Lumps and angles where there


Stephanie Pushaw I write this at the close of my third year of a PhD program in literature and creative writing in Houston, Texas, a city whose intricate links with literature those who haven’t been t


bottom of page