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'A Year Straight' By Elena Azzoni - Book Excerpt

'A Year Straight' By Elena Azzoni - Book Excerpt

After having spent nearly her entire adult life dating women (and liking it), Elena Azzoni felt pretty secure in her sexual orientation: she’d even just been crowned Miss Lez. Then, one day in yoga class, a male teacher moved in close to adjust her pose…and she suddenly found herself intensely—bafflingly—attracted to him. Eventually she initiated a flirtation with him; after that, there was no going back.

After having spent nearly her entire adult life dating women (and liking it), Elena Azzoni felt pretty secure in her sexual orientation: she’d even just been crowned Miss Lez. Then, one day in yoga class, a male teacher moved in close to adjust her pose…and she suddenly found herself intensely—bafflingly—attracted to him. Eventually she initiated a flirtation with him; after that, there was no going back. A Year Straight is a chronicle of the hilariously disastrous year following Azzoni’s abrupt dive into the world of dating men: old enough to drink and keep her own hours, but as clueless as an adolescent when it comes to deciphering men’s words and actions, Azzoni is uniquely positioned to find herself in some ridiculously absurd scenarios. Often cringe-worthy and occasionally unbelievable, A Year Straight is a wildly entertaining look at one woman’s dating escapades. Read Chapter One - The Adjustment below.

Azzoni has performed her written and comedic stage work at various venues throughout New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. In November 2007, her one-woman show, This Is the Way I Pray: Confessions of a Yearning Heart on a Sugar High, received standing ovations each night of its sold-out run at BAX Theater in Brooklyn, NY. She also appeared as a “Straight Coach” in a comedy sketch on the Logo Channel, and in the debut issue of the I Heart Brooklyn Girls calendar. Azzoni received an MFA from New College, and a BA in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies from UMASS, Amherst. She currently lives in Paris, France. Find out more about the author and A Year Straight on Elena Azzoni's website.

Chapter one - The Adjustment

The ladies’ locker room was abuzz with women racing to change, so they could place their mats up front near Him, The Yoga Teacher. The faint guttural chants of kirtan rock star Krishna Das played on repeat over the hum of hair dryers in an effort to calm our New York nerves. But there was no sign of Zen around there. There was, rather, a subtle current of competition. I snuck peeks at the other women as they pranced around in lacy thongs, sifting frantically through their lockers for yoga pants, lotion, and hair ties. With my long hair and lipstick, I fell under the gaydar and was free to gaze. It had been years since I’d been concerned with impressing a man, so as the other women primped and groomed, I rolled my eyes, relieved to have no interest whatsoever in competing in that particular pageant.

One Month Earlier . . .

“Let’s have a big round of applause for all of our contestants!”

The spotlight is blinding, and a bead of sweat makes its way down my temple in agonizing slow motion, dissolving into my red-sequined evening gown. Standing ovation from a sold-out audience, more than three hundred in attendance. The Luna Lounge is over max capacity. The fire department told us so. Following four hours of grueling competition and eight laborious costume changes, it’s time to determine the winner. We’ve performed our various talents, including a tranny boi band, my eighties retro jazz dance, and someone giving birth to a doll. Likewise, we’ve endured the ever-dreaded swimsuit competition and the nerve-racking interview segment, in which at least one contestant routinely flops. Backstage is littered with wigs, glitter, and silicone accoutrements of varying colors, lengths, and girths. It looks like a tornado passed through a sex toy shop.

“And the winner is . . . ”

Murray Hill places the sash over my shoulder and the tiara on my head. A fellow contestant hugs me, nearly knocking it off. I’ve won! I’ve won the crown! Journalists paw at me as my picture is snapped alongside the panel of celebrity judges. I smile and wave at the sea of screaming women. I am the new Miss Lez.

I’d resisted the pageant at first. After posing as a Baywatch babe in the premier issue of the lesbian calendar “I Heart Brooklyn Girls,” my friends encouraged me to go for the crown.

“You can represent the calendar!”

My shy side battled my inner Carmen Electra. Ever since I could kick-ball-change, I’d been dancing in recitals, performing in plays, and mocking myself in my own comedic routines. I was no stranger to the stage, but I was ready to retire, done with the sleepless nights leading up to shows, where I’d bolt upright in a panic, wondering, How did I get myself into this? But I eat up the spotlight like a plate of baked ziti. I consoled myself, assuming the pageant would entail one week of performance anxiety followed by one humiliating night under bright lights, and then it’d be done. But I won.

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The following weeks were a flurry of phone calls and emails initiating me into my new celesbian status. There were magazine and news interviews, photo requests, a stint on TV, and invites to elite social gatherings. At the climax of my success, I found myself in L.A., seated across from big-time producers, a finalist for a role on a grueling hit reality show. It was determined that I am not cut out for reality TV, which is probably for the best, for I am a homicidal (self-diagnosed) hypoglycemic. And there is no food on that show.

My limelight gradually faded to a low dim, and my life went back to normal. I’d go to work, hatch up new escape plans from my cubicle (I should go to cosmetology school!), head out to a lesbian bar, and attempt to return home early enough to pretend I’d get up for yoga the next day.

On one quite ordinary evening, I took my time weaving through the crooked streets of the West Village on my way to meet up with friends. The layout of that neighborhood is drastically different from the rest of Manhattan, having come to life long before the grid. I got lost as usual. The cobblestone streets all started looking the same, and I was sure I was going in circles. After rounding several more corners, the pink glow of The Cubbyhole was my lighthouse in the fog. The windows perspired with body heat and the promise of a late-night make-out. The familiar scent of stale beer and cigarettes wafted over me as I squeezed past the butch bouncer smoking by the door.

“Good evening. Can I see your ID?”

I love being carded.

An eclectic mess of Christmas tree lights, paper lanterns, and leis, the ceiling of The Cubbyhole feels like it’s caving in. The walls are plastered with Dolly Parton posters, and the jukebox caters to fans of both Rihanna and k. d. lang. I heard my name called from across the bar, waved to my crew camped out in the corner, and mimed drinking from a glass. As I strained to make eye contact with the bartender, someone recognized me from the pageant.

“Miss Lez!” She threw her arm around me and held up her phone to snap a shot of us together. She smelled good, as women usually do, like perfume and fruity shampoo. And then she planted a kiss on me. Click. I knew the picture would likely end up on the Internet somewhere, and I hoped my recent ex wouldn’t come across it. It had been a few months since we’d split, and we were on amicable terms, so I didn’t want her to think I’d simply found someone new. My claim of needing time for myself was true. Blue Moon in hand, I stealthily made my way over to my friends, dodging the already tipsy patrons. As the name implies, The Cubbyhole is cozy (or cramped, depending on my mood). Many a drink had been spilled on me there.

“So, which awe-inspiring, life-altering party is it gonna be tonight?” my friend TJ asked sarcastically. She’d just broken up with her psychology grad student girlfriend, claiming she felt like a patient. I’d argued that TJ could use a shrink. There were two lesbian parties scheduled for the same night. Taking into account recent breakups and new crushes, my friends weighed the options, casting their votes all at once:

“I refuse to go to Snapshot. Tami will be there flaunting her new twenty-two-year-old girlfriend.”

“What about that new one in Brooklyn?”

“No way! Becca and Lisa are promoting it, and they didn’t invite me to Fire Island this year.”

“But Lola is bartending, and she has a crush me. You know what that means?”

“Free drinks!”

Even a city as big as New York gets really small when you’re gay. Brooklyn won, as the less costly of the two boroughs, and everyone thought the British DJ was cute.

“Move it, dumbass.” TJ got up and stepped over me. The bar was crowded for a Tuesday, and she liked to use the bathroom before it got busy with people getting busy in it. I knew her every move, as we’d been friends for what seemed like forever. We’d met in college, where I’d fallen in love with her gruff voice, and then her. Dating was not our calling, as we fought like two male betta fish tossed into a tiny tank, but we’d remained friends through the years, all the while driving each other nuts. She, the Ernie to my Bert, was full of harebrained ideas, always hungover, never on time, and a loyal, steadfast friend.

I nursed my beer and hummed along to Joan Jett blaring on the jukebox, substituting the he’s with she’s. “I saw her dancin’ there by the record machine.” TJ returned from the bathroom and downed the last of her drink.

“Ready for another night of high hopes and fruitless outcomes?” TJ asked, poking me in the ribs.

“You’re on your own tonight,” I said, pulling out my MetroCard. “I’m heading home so I can get up early for yoga tomorrow.” I grabbed my bag and shot out of my chair to avoid the inevitable taunting.

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“That’s weak, Miss Lez. What kind of role model are you?”

“A lesbian one. I have to go feed my cat.”

I was cat-sitting my ex-ex-girlfriend’s cat, Kiki. By ex-ex, I mean her to be the ex before my more recent one. With Amy, enough time had passed that we could be friends, and therefore I could cat-sit. Kiki greeted me at my apartment door with a head-butt to my shin. I poured some organic, gluten-free, fair-trade, shade-grown, ovo-lacto-vegetarian cat food into her bowl and prepared a cheese plate for myself. I’m a big fan of food but quite lazy when it comes to cooking it. I maintain a sparse but specific stock of provisions: cheese, chocolate, brown rice, tea, ice cream, wine, and kale. On especially lazy days, I order pumpkin curry from To Be Thai.

I poured a glass of pinot noir and plopped myself down on my couch. Drinking wine alone never ceases to feel luxurious. Kiki, poised for the pounce, let out a squeak somewhere between a meow and a purr and jumped up to join me for reruns of Sex and the City. I fell asleep on the couch and dragged myself to bed at three.

My new alarm clock announced the abrupt arrival of morning. I’d requested it for Christmas from the L.L. Bean catalog as if I were ten again, though back then I’d have campaigned for the purple backpack with the signature reflective strip. I was determined to make early morning yoga a regular practice. The blaring alarm, reminiscent of the bell that announced the start and end of recess, was jarring enough to catapult the heaviest of sleepers out of bed.

Outside my building, a blast of humidity kick-started my step toward the air-conditioned subway. Ditmas Park, my Brooklyn neighborhood, just far enough from the city to still be affordable, is home to Jewish bakeries, Greek diners, ninety-nine-cent stores, a hippie co-op, and a Tibetan café. I’d moved to the area when my previous neighborhood, Lesbian Utopia Park Slope, became too crowded. I could no longer walk down the street without dodging dog walkers and double-wide, three-wheeled strollers. I swiped my MetroCard along with the other early risers, mostly construction workers and hospital personnel. I savored my early morning ride. At 6:00 a.m., I even got a seat. Breezing through the easy-level Sudoku in the free daily Metro, I caught a glimpse of the man’s paper in front of me. Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson had been spotted shopping together in London again. I love a dose of juicy gossip—a small reward for getting up in time for yoga.

Once in the marble entryway of Eclipse Gym, I checked the clock and called the elevator to head up to the yoga studio. It wasn’t the type of place I would normally seek out, being all brand-new and fancy, and a gym. I preferred the grungy, ivy-growing-up-the-walls type yoga studio, but since I worked nearby, I got a sweet corporate discount. Some of my coworkers had also fallen for the deal, and I would see them around now and then, though they mostly used the machines. Noah from sales ran ten miles per morning on the treadmill nearest the TV. He winked at me as I walked by. Like several other guys at work, he was determined to turn me.

After wrangling my hair into a knotty, haphazard bun, I made my way to class. I was nearly trampled as perfectly coiffed women scurried past me to the room. I calmly unrolled my mat in my favorite spot, back right corner by the window. On clear days, the sun would shine in on me during savasana. Also, I could look out the window rather than be distracted by the women around me, stretching, showing off their paper-thin Lululemon yoga pants. I’d seen them for sale in the gift shop and could have fed myself for a month on the cost of one pair. I preferred my black leggings and “I Heart NY” T-shirts. At five for $10 in Chinatown, I didn’t worry about losing them somewhere between the gym, work, and home, which happened quite regularly.

In walked Dante, with his tattoos, Adidas pants, and freshly shaved head—a new age David Beckham. I stared at him along with the other women, but while they were imagining ungodly acts, I was admiring his goddess tattoos. Lakshmi wrapped around his left arm, pointing up to Shakti on tiptoe across his neck. He took his seat at the front of the room and placed his hands together in prayer. He flashed me a smile and I returned it, garnering the envy of several students in the room. Dante and I had become acquaintances when one day after class he had announced an event sponsored by my favorite chocolate company. There would be free chocolate. Naturally, I followed him out of the studio to get the details. He’d handed me his card, suggesting I email him for more information. And so we struck up a casual email correspondence, playful and perhaps a little flirtatious, but nothing for Miss Lez to worry about. He was really funny, and I had fun being funny back. Generally speaking, I maintained a great rapport with men. Men made great friends, but I was not attracted to them. I had not so much as kissed a man in seven years, nor dated one in a decade, and had no expectation of doing either, barring a shift of tectonic plates.

“Ommmmm.” I closed my eyes and placed my hands together, trying to make peace with my overactive mind. “Ommmmm.” Oh, I have to stop at New Morning for vitamin D after work. “Ommmmm.” And fetch my sweater from the dry cleaner before they give it away. “Ommmmm.” And call Sallie Mae to ask if I can lower my student loan payment. “Ommmmm.” Once into the flow of the poses, it was a little easier to let go, for it took all the concentration I had to balance in triangle or to breathe while doing a headstand. Yoga was a reprieve from my ever-productive, overanalyzing Virgo disposition, though it did require constant self-reminders throughout class. Elena, just be!

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Halfway through class, while I was splayed out in pigeon pose, muttering a self-berating mantra at my tight hips, Dante approached me. I was equal parts enlightened and fed up. As the name implies, pigeon is an awkward pose, and it happens to be the most challenging for me. Sweating and silently swearing to myself, I felt him straddle the air around me and place his hands on my back. I surrendered to the weight of him pressing into me. Okay, I can do this. His warm breath inches from my ear, I eased deeper into the pose. At first I felt nothing but the usual throbbing of my hamstring and the release of my breath, opening, as we are taught, “to the edge.” As the intensity increased, I stopped swearing to myself and cursed him out in my head instead. It’s such a love-hate relationship with yoga teachers. I love them when they’re draping a blanket over me at the end of class, but when they’re pressing my arms backward as if in a vise, I have some unsettling thoughts. Leaning even more heavily into me, his heart beat against my back. My own heart, which was pounding at twice the rhythm of his, skipped a beat. Suddenly, I was acutely aware of his body touching mine, like I’d never been during any other yoga adjustment. Simultaneously suffocating and intrigued, I feared something might snap.

And then it did.

Out of a deep and dusty abyss stirred a strange sensation. I exhaled, which prompted Dante to press down even harder. I let out a whimper and he eased up. But the damage was done. I was drowning in a rush of desire. I couldn’t tell which way was up, but I knew where he was, and it was on top of me. I wanted to turn around and tear into him, ripping his little yoga teacher tank top to shreds. I wanted to see all his tattoos. Oblivious that he had just pushed Miss Lez’s libido button, he moved on to adjust the next pigeon. My arms were shaky as I lifted myself back up. I thought I might faint. I faked my way through the rest of class with sweaty palms and a racing mind. I didn’t even try to resist watching the clock. Just let this be over already.

In a haze, I walked out into the heavy Manhattan air in the same clothes I’d worn to yoga. I was eager to get out of class, for fear of what other unanticipated adjustments might occur. The street provided no refuge, as there were men everywhere. My eyes darted left to right as man after man crossed my path. I ran to my office around the corner. What’s happening to me?

My coworker Megan walked into the kitchen as I was making tea.

“Uh, what are you doing?” she asked with a tone of urgency. Staring off into space, Dante on my mind, I’d been pulling the hot water lever down without a cup underneath. Megan grabbed a wad of paper towels and began to sop up the mess. I squatted down to help. She was no stranger to my clumsy ways, but she would never have guessed what was fueling them this time.

Megan and I had bonded instantly at our online advertising technology company. Neither of us knew what the hell we were doing, but we were both glad to be paid well to do it. We were artists, free spirits trapped in five-by-six cubicles. I’d replaced her as the bookkeeper when she was promoted to sales, and we shared nail polish remover, gum, and daily complaints. Megan vented about her on-again off-again office fling, Jared, and I lamented the monotony of billing. Nowadays, you just punch in the numbers and the software does it all for you.

Tucked away in my cubicle, I toggled between QuickBooks and People.com’s “Hollywood’s Sexiest Men.” Pinned to the walls surrounding me were postcards for potlucks and art shows, and photos of my friends. All lesbians. I was haunted by their gazes as I explored my newfound man-lust. What if I were truly attracted to men? Would I still have a place in my world? Could I betray the very people who cheered me on as Miss Lez? I was reluctant to forfeit the rewards of coming out in the first place.

À la Melrose Place, the first girl I fell for was my college boyfriend’s best friend. As a freshman, I passed much of my time in the student union, snacking and napping in between classes. One day, this guy boldly pushed my bag over and sat down next to me on the couch. We talked politics, debated, and then dated. Five months into our relationship, following an all-day student rights protest, he and his best friend, TJ, ended up at my house. TJ, with her black leather jacket, chain-smoking, and relentless sarcasm, was both alluring and crass. She was like no one I’d met before. As I tossed her a blanket to crash on my couch, I nearly tossed myself onto her.

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I cuddled up next to my boyfriend, who was already snoring. My mind wandered into playback mode as I reflected on the many other times I’d felt a similar stirring inside. Stroking Stephanie’s arm to lull her to sleep, hugging Karina goodbye when she moved to New Mexico, and dry humping my Mormon friend, Molly. Oh my God, I love girls! I fell asleep to the fantasy of a ride with TJ on her motorcycle. Too bad she had a girlfriend.

A few months later, my boyfriend and I broke up, and Karina came to visit. I hadn’t seen her since she’d moved away, and I was smitten with her new bob haircut. It suited her. She’d always been more alternative than me and therefore seemingly open to things like kissing girls. She listened to bands like Patti Smith Group and The Wedding Present, and she usually wore only black. We passed the weekend roaming the streets of Northampton, eating ice cream and browsing thrift shops. On her last night, we got buzzed on bootleg beer at a party and raced each other back to my house. Giggling and out of breath, I said, “I’ve never kissed a girl, but if I had to pick one, it’d be you!” Then I dashed for my front porch.

“Does that mean I have to make the first move?” Karina yelled after me.

“Yep!” I ran up the stairs to my room, Karina close behind. And then we laughed, locked the door, and dove onto my bed, and she pinned me down and kissed me.

That first kiss led to others, with many other women. I became part of a tight-knit lesbian posse, and any short-lived relationships with men only further reinforced my interest in women. Upon graduation, I moved to San Francisco, where I fell madly in love with my first girlfriend, Amy. She was my bass teacher, but we only made it through two lessons, jumping way ahead of one finger per fret. Shortly after we began dating, I came out to my dad, knowing that Amy and I were more than a fling. The rest of my family had been easy. My mom and I are close, so she had known for years that I was dating women. And my brother was thrilled not to worry about his big sister at the mercy of potentially mean men. But I was nervous to tell my conservative Italian father and rehearsed for weeks in advance. Back in Connecticut, on a wintry November day, we went for a walk at aptly named Dike’s Point, a park on the lake in our town. (And yes, it really is called that.) Halfway down the wooded path toward the shore, I abandoned all my well-planned scripts and heard myself blurt out, “Dad, I’m in love with my bass teacher, and her name is Amy!” My words echoed through the trees as I awaited his response. I tried to ignore my inner montage of horror stories of parents disowning their kids. And then he hugged me.

Early into our four-year relationship, Amy and I moved in together. We cooked, walked arm in arm to rent movies, and hiked Bernal Hill to bask in the Bay Area sun. It was 2001. The world was at war. But I finally felt at peace.

A few years later, moving to New York seemed like a natural migration. Amy and I both missed the East Coast, and several of our friends had moved there already. Soon after moving, we broke up harmoniously, needing space from each other to flourish in the next phases of our lives—she a focused musician; I a mess in the midst of my Saturn return. I had one other girlfriend after her and dated a handful of women here and there, but I otherwise kept busy exploring the city and hanging out with my family of friends. We had our bars, our parties, our picnics in the park, and our occasional trips upstate. Having built my whole world around women, the thought of dating men was absurd.

Scrolling through the pictures of celebrity men on my monitor, I was relieved to discover that they all looked the same, and I didn’t find them all that attractive. That is, until I picked up right where I’d left off in high school, when I fell for the taut, just short of scrawny, skater and drug dealer types. Joseph Gordon-Levittand Devendra Banhart. Hmm. John Krasinski’s kinda cute. I googled my own secret male celebrity crush, Gael Garcia Bernal. He was hot in his gay sex scene in Y Tu Mamá También. Hey, a girl’s gotta start somewhere. To take my mind off men, I actually did some work. I punched numbers into my Excel spreadsheet, relieved that no matter which way you turn them, two plus two equals four. But I still felt fidgety, so I strolled over to Megan’s cubicle. She opened her desk drawer to hand me a mini Snickers. I popped it into my mouth, breaking the brand-new rule I’d set for myself of no sugar before noon.

“Meg, something weird happened this morning,” I confessed. She shut her eye shadow case to grant me her full attention. As I relayed the yoga teacher incident, my voice echoed across the canyon between who I was and what I was saying. I felt truly disoriented. My vision blurred, and the floor grew too soft to hold me. I gripped her desk for balance.

“So what should I do?” I asked Megan at the end of my story, exasperated and desperate for advice. She flailed her freshly manicured hands in my face, excited.

“Go to another class!”

From the book A Year Straight: Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Lesbian Beauty Queenby Elena Azzoni. Excerpted by arrangement with Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.  Copyright (c) 2011. Get your copy from Amazon!

Author Photo Credit: Theo and Juliet

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