• From a life of privilege to being a homeless radio show host

    by Erika Fiske

    “You write fast,” she said, taking a moment to catch her breath before going on at a record pace with her story of homelessness. I couldn’t count how many times she mentioned the jets she once owned, or the television shows she’s been on. Frankly, I was glad for the repetitions. They gave me a chance to catch up.

    Sarah, 47, was neatly dressed, with brown curly hair to her shoulders, seated on a curb near the volleyball courts at Window on the Bay. But she didn’t always look this way. That’s because Sarah was once Jeff.

    As she described her history of relationships, achievements and possessions, it became clear Sarah has enjoyed her female sexuality and fame-claiming to be one of the most famous people in the world since she underwent her sex change in the late ’80s. “In 1989 I was all over the media. I was on different shows, Sally Jessy Raphael, Larry King and many others,” she said. “I even turned down Oprah.”

    Tragically, Sarah now lives in a tent by Window on the Bay—a small tent tucked among the bushes and green grass, not far from the crashing waves of Monterey Bay.

    Sarah took a big fall in life, from mansions to tents, from owning jets, expensive jewelry and high-end show horses to holding a sign by the road, asking for money. She was anxious to get out there with her sign this very morning, to collect the $50 she needed for her Sunday night radio program.

    Sarah’s probably the only homeless host on KRXA 540 AM, a local station known for having more than a few characters on board—including one who seems to have been abducted by the very UFOs he claimed to see. Since his recent disappearance from the air, it was just a little too quiet at KRXA, until Sarah came along. She describes her program, “Raw and Real Anyway,” as a “new voice for the community.”

    Hosts must come up with the $50 for an hour on the progressive station, but Sarah’s fortunes are gone. As she talked on, she encouraged passersby to listen to her 7 p.m. program. I made a point to tune in Sunday, only to hear a different host. Apparently Sarah’s sign didn’t bring in the needed money. Beginning next week, however, she said the Cardinale family will be sponsoring her show.

    I wondered if they knew about Jeff.

    Sarah’s sex change became big news many years ago, because of her lawsuit against Blue Cross Blue Shield, she said. “They paid everything for more than a year, but at the time of the operation, they said no.”

    Although she had a great attorney, he had to step down to take care of his ill father, and Sarah wound up going to court on her own—and winning, she said, adding she was barely out of high school when all this happened.

    “There was no email at the time, so I used media like the Boston Globe and the London Sun for my voice,” she said. “In 1989 I was on the front page of the Boston Globe.”

    Sarah said the insurance giant used a technicality to deny her surgery, because she hadn’t switched her coverage from Massachusetts to New Hampshire when her mother moved. Then, just before she had her day in court, Sarah realized all her mail was coming to the state where she currently lived, so the company was aware of the move for a long time.

    “I looked at all the envelopes in the motel room and had all the papers spread all over. Everything was dated and addressed to New Hampshire,” she said. Sarah won her case.

    She has since used her expertise to help another man get a sex change, in 1990. “I represented her,” she said. “I was pretty intelligent, even though I could barely spell and was barely a high school graduate.”

    As an after thought, she added, “I’m really a nice person.”

    The sex change must have gone well for Sarah, because she’s had no trouble attracting boyfriends. In fact, while we talked, three successive men walked up to chat with Sarah, not even noticing me seated beside her. “Hi Connor,” I said, breaking into a pause in his conversation with Sarah. Connor was the subject of a homeless story I wrote months before. “Erika, how are you,” he called out, finally seeing me there.

    I brought Sarah back to our conversation and the current men in her life. Both her husband and one of her boyfriends are in prison, with the former scheduled to get out in January. He was jailed in Huntsville, TX, for his sixth DUI and still loves her, while Sarah’s boyfriend was locked up in Salinas for hitting her. She still loves him.

    The talkative host stopped for a moment of reflection, and admitted she seems to be attracted to men who wind up in jail. “A lot of guys like to be with me,” she said. “I really liked my husband. We met in a parking lot.”

    After her husband’s arrest, money was running out, and Sarah moved into a Salvation Army facility in Texas. “Technically, I’ve been homeless for years,” she said. “When my husband went to jail, I lost everything. He couldn’t access his money from jail.

    Sarah said she was a devoted wife while her husband’s been serving time. But 1 ½ years into his sentence, she met the now jailed boyfriend she still loves. “We met at a yard sale and fell in love,” she said. “Now he’s in jail because he likes to punch me.”

    Sarah mentioned many times that she married into a powerful Texas oil family—her brother-in-law an executive with Exx- on Mobil, and others in the family serving as powerful judges or involved in oil and electronics corporations. She suspects that’s why her husband got only three years in jail, despite some 100 arrests over the years and six felony DUIs.

    “That family is so powerful,” she said, noting her father-in-law was a good friend of George Bush Sr. “He came up with sideways drilling for oil in Midland, TX.”

    As Sarah raced on with her history of fame, fortune and Texas oil, I was reminded of the TV series “Dallas,” a favorite of my mother when she was still alive and living in Texas. But just like an episode of Dallas, becoming a part of the Curry family was like entering a hornet’s nest when the clan learned Sarah used to be Jeff.

    “When they found out who I was, we were kicked to the curb,” she said. “They said I was a gold digger.”

    Sarah took the insults in stride, because her own family history wasn’t the easiest to live with. Her father molested her when she was five, followed by her uncle, she said. The family was from Portugal.

    In the years leading up to her marriage, Sarah dated an ambassador in Brazil and became enslaved to possessions and looks. “When I stepped off those jets, I had to be perfect—perfect makeup, perfect hair, perfect clothes,” she said. “I didn’t know I was enslaved to these things.”

    Living in a tent, and joining a circle of homeless men and women at Window on the Bay Sunday mornings for food and prayer, opened Sarah’s eyes to what life was really about, she said.

    Well, maybe it did.

    When asked what she wanted her future to be, Sarah responded, “I want to be loved by somebody.” I reminded Sarah that her husband still loved her, but Sarah didn’t seem to hear. “I’ve put myself on such a platform. I’m a princess, and can only be with a prince,” she explained, looking dreamily up to the sky.

    “I’ve had the best of the best,” she said, “Dole fruits, Driscoll’s strawberries…” I stopped Sarah at that point, confused by where the conversation was going. “What do fruits and strawberries have to do with anything?” I asked.

    “They were all rich men I dated,” she said, as I pictured her with a juicy red strawberry, and laughed.

    But I stopped myself, realizing this life before me wasn’t funny, but sad. Then I learned another part of Sarah’s problems, and instability. “I’m bipolar,” she announced. “I’m emotional and get depressed easily.”

    Moving from the Salvation Army in Texas, to the YWCA, to a small room in Seaside and finally a tent at Window on the Bay probably didn’t help Sarah’s mental health. Her jobs have been as varied as her housing, from owning a bagel shop and cafe in New Hampshire to being a bartender and waitress at Pebble Beach, where she said she was constantly harassed. A girlfriend brought her out to the coast to live, thinking she could have a better life here.

    But living in a tent hasn’t been fun. “It’s scary. It’s frightening,” she said, noting that some homeless men have hung around to keep her safe.

    Sarah thanks her mother for giving her the strength to deal with hard times like these. When asked again how she would like her life to turn out, she said she wants her own TV show. “I’d be better than Oprah,” she boasted. “Oprah wanted me on her show, but I snubbed her.”

    She did admit to learning one important lesson from her colorful life. “Money doesn’t make me happy,” she said, glancing down. “I had everything money could buy.”

    So I thought I’d try one last time to find out what the real Sarah wants out of life. I asked my question again. The homeless radio host thought for a moment, smiled and said, “I’m going to run for President someday.”

    Considering how things have been going in this country, that might be just what we need.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on October 6, 2012

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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