Libertytown: The Stink of so Many Imminent Goodbyes . . .

I’m all afterglow from the National Book Festival yesterday and so, I hope you will indulge me if I drop part of Chapter 1 of my novel, Libertytown, here today. Here goes:

CHAPTER 1
where r u
September 2003

I cannot sleep. Again. All these stories.

My fifth night in my new home, well, really, my old home, and as has so often been the case with passions into which I’ve thrown myself, tumbling, staggering, and refusing to consider the possibility my first instincts might – just might – be a mistake, I find myself again at two a.m., just like my first, second, third, and fourth nights here, panicked, unable to figure out what to do when the inevitable morning after arrives.
What have I done?

Two hundred and ninety seven boxes and I have no idea where to begin.

It does not help that in my precipitous rush to pack up and relocate the accumulated treasure and detritus that has become my life, I threw the Ziploc bag of screws and hardware required to hold together my bed frame into one or another of the two-hundred and ninety seven boxes which were dropped in no particular order, with no particular plan throughout this house where, many years ago, my aunt, Sissie, occupied this bedroom where – should I ever find that Ziploc bag of brackets and bolts – I will reassemble the bed made by the great grandfather I never met, whose name I no longer recall.

Sissie told me his name, once, one of the many things she passed on to me I seem to have lost, buried in some recess of my mind beneath other more essential fragments of knowing now layered over my past, like the hideous equine themed wall-paper with which some previous owner has defiled these walls, concealing the pattern Sissie had searched out after having seen it in a photograph of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Paris apartment, a toile of forsythia-yellow and cream stripes, vined through with pink and red roses.

She loved that wallpaper, and only last week when I visited her in the Record Street Home, she had again believed herself in this room, as if it were still all those years ago before my family lost – or, rather – sacrificed this house we’d called Libertytown in hopes of keeping something else, which too, we ultimately let slip away. Twenty-two years ago, when last I walked through these empty rooms on that day after the estate auction of so much I’d held dear, I was twenty years old, the only one of we six siblings there, carrying out the fragmentary remains of the seventy-five years the family Parker had lived in Libertytown. None of us has proven very good at holding on to things.

Or one another.

The Parker family no Continue reading

#NationalBookFestival … Part 1

My dearest Andrea and I went to the National Book Festival today. We decided on this late last night. Longer story, but not one I’m telling now because I am revelling in the intoxication, the euphoria, the lit-drunken joy of having spent a day in the company of thousands of other lovers of words and books.

And I met Elizabeth McCracken. And hugged her. Repeatedly. Because I feel as if we have long been friends. And as if Elizabeth McCracken wasn’t prize enough in life, then I met Rafe Posey. And threw myself at him in a big hug too. And, same thing, though we’ve never met in real life, felt like greeting an old friend.

Blessed. Lucky. Happy. That’s me. And if you KNEW how seldom I smiled like this – you would know how much this day meant to me. Thanks for reading. Back to luxuriating in my bliss. Much Love and Light.

Charlie and Elizabeth McCracken 2

Elizabeth McCracken and me – yes, ME, young, vibrant, genius IQ, and SMILING!

Charlie and Elizabeth McCracken

Because what’s better than ONE Elizabeth McCracken? TWO! Yes, Elizabeth McCracken and founder of the McCrackenHeads – ME! A lovely, charming, youthful fellow full of love and pessimistic wit – turning over a new SMILEY leaf today.

ZEIT-BITES FRIDAY: PoxyMoronic! Denny’s in NYC?

It was bad enough when Marriott Corporation occupied the Algonquin Hotel, plundering the historic and charmingly tatty lobby in a blitzkrieg the result of which was cluster-fuck of disturbingly cheesy and tacky matchy-match, faux-leather-y-naugahyde banquettes, glass-topped tables, and carpeting and upholstery of such gargantuan, repugnant bad taste that it must have been discovered in some Indiana warehouse after having been forgotten (and understandably so) decades ago when some demented Elsie de Wolfe wanna-be gay-uncle type designed over a lost weekend. All you need do is look at the chandeliers to know this is true; clearly he also stored his anal beads in the same warehouse and they were mistaken by Marriott for lighting fixtures.

The Algonquin-Marriott's anal bead chandeliers

The Algonquin-Marriott’s anal bead chandeliers

I rest my case. If only Dorothy Parker could rest, but, alas, this plundering no doubt has her turning over in her grave and screaming for a drink. Pray dear that no one brings her the cocktail the Marriott has concocted and named for her, an overly-sweet concoction with no zing. Or gin. Blasphemy.

And now I read that Denny’s – DENNY’S?!?!? – is opening in New York City. Read it here in The Gothamist.  At least they’re serving alcohol. The only good thing that could possibly come from this is that all Denny’s would start serving alcohol. At least then there would be something on the menu worth ordering. My sole period of Denny’s patronization was necessitated by a friend’s lost-summer-breakdown episode and let’s just say the only tasty thing about the experience was the tattooed, pony-tailed, work-release waiter who briefly cheated on Bubba, his cellmate, with me by a fragrant dumpster under a gibbous moon. Ah youth. Or, well, last July.

Denny’s. New York. What next? Enough. I must off to enjoy my Labor Day plans which include, as usual, as little labor as possible and as much reclining and reading as I can squeeze in between bottles of wine.

 

 

And I will (UN)follow . . .

I’ve been experiencing a renewed obsession with all things musical theatre the past few days. Last night I watched a Barbara Cook PBS concert from 1980 and the HBO Six by Sondheim documentary, after which I watched my Grey Gardens bootleg. I was up until five in the morning.

Perhaps I should have slept in later?

After three and a half hours of sleep I rose, did my morning writing and headed to the gym, after which I stopped at the grocery store for dinner ingredients. I was emptying the dishwasher I’d run this morning before I left and then chopping and cooking and cleaning and such from 3:30 until a few minutes ago when, at last, I managed to find enough containers with lids into which to fit all the leftovers (I made five kinds of vegetables plus roasted chicken) and then shoved and juggled and adjusted to manage to fit those into the refrigerator, scrubbed the pots and pans and wooden utensils, loaded the dishwasher, wiped the counters, and generally did the Hazel for four hours.

Kind of tired. Kind of weary. Kind of not in the mood for ignorance (or being ignored – but that’s another story) and so when I opened my Twitter feed and it was once more polluted with posts of a misogynistic, homophobic, racist nature from one young man in particular, a boy who should know better than to post things with derivations of the N word and the F word – a boy who loves to post pictures of boys crying or being kind or dressed in pink and then denigrating them as “womanly” – as if having qualities traditionally feminine is somehow less than, or a hilarious joke. This is a boy who I have repeatedly told how disturbing is his casual homophobia, racism, sexism – and who is either too insensitive or too stupid to understand how ignorant and destructive is his behavior.

It makes me sad because he is better than that. He should be better than that. And I don’t ever understand why these pretty white boys who grew up in such privilege, who grew up beautiful and cared for and supported by lots of people, don’t get why it’s wrong to say “Ni–ah” or “Fa–ot” or call females “Bi—es” or why it’s evidence of a warped sexist culture to think calling Justin Bieber a girl is some sort of insult or showing a picture of a guy crying because he loves his girlfriend should be labeled “pu–y” – I JUST DO NOT GET IT.

And …

I just couldn’t take any more. I un-followed. Which then actually struck me funny because as I did I started singing my own new version of Jason Robert Brown’s And I Will Follow – as sung by Lauren Kennedy, which I have been WAILING in my car for the past few days. So there, once again, musicals make me smile.

I’ll take it.

 

 

A Little BOUNCE … well, not so little …

FIRST THINGS FIRST … THE BOUNCE

Some of my very best friends have been in a room with Wesley Taylor. I hate them. However, one of them needs a bit of cheering up. So, for her, despite the fact she got to be in a room – albeit with more than a hundred other people and she had to buy a ticket – with Wesley Taylor, I offer this: The Skivvies and Wesley Taylor. WesTayTay [That’s his Twitter-handle – follow him HERE] in his underwear should put a little bounce in anyone’s day – well, actually, the bounce is not so little.

(P.S. If you have NOT watched Mr. Taylor’s webseries, It Could Be Worse, click anywhere in this note to go there. REALLY – STOP READING – JUST GO THERE.)

Now, I’ve been bouncey (though I’m no match for WTT) and so I can return to curmudgeon land. (And I have tagged this post with multiple variations on the theme: WESLEY TAYLOR NAKED BIG PENIS – and so, I should get hits in the MILLIONS today.)

Oscar Wilde said, “I find it harder and harder to live up to my blue china.”

That’s my problem. Well, not the china. I don’t have any china. It is one of many accumulations I left behind. Or, should I say, Let Go? Or, maybe, Surrendered? Matters not, it is what it is, or, rather, what it was. Except that of late I find myself suffering regret for not having packed and taken the Wedgwood service for eight I’d found priced so ridiculously low that it must surely have been the result of either someone’s mistake or ignorance about which I ever after – until recently – suffered guilt for not having said, “Shouldn’t this be more?”

That’s the kind of person I was. Now, however, I’d probably point out the character giving chinks and fissures in a few pieces that made me first fall so in love with the set and ask for a discount because of them. I’m not sure when I changed, but the process began after having taken my leave and very little else in the quiet way and on the timeline requested and still, somehow, became a character in a narrative that – when I was interrogated about it – bore no resemblance to my memory of who I was or what had occurred.

But, I let that story stand. And spent the years since wondering about stories, identity, reputation, truth. Conclusion? Everyone really does have their own reality. We all manipulate and remember it in ways that serve our narrative thread. Some of us see ourselves as heroes; some as victims; some as martyrs; some as … well, you get the drift. Thing is, way more often than I knew for the first decades of my life, no one else in your “reality” even BEGINS to consider that the voice telling the story in other people’s heads might not agree with the version in their own.

We are, in fact, all alone in our stories. And, having discovered this, I am exhausted by trying to maintain the “Charlie” of my own narrative and the narratives of so many others. Listen, I left my china behind, so, leave me alone. Let me get to the ending in peace.

Truman Capote said, “Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.”

Exactly. Although, third acts no longer exist. People can barely make it through two acts. Were it not for the need for the income from the bar and justifying the outrageous amounts now charged for theatre tickets, I’m sure shows would eschew intermissions and second acts entirely, every theatricale being about forty-five minutes long, the average extended-attention span of people nowadays.

I mean, shit, most of you won’t even read past the first paragraph of a post, let alone beyond 300 words, which was the length it was suggested I make my blog-entries. Honey, I can’t even write a grocery list in less than a thousand words.

Where was I? Right. Write. Third acts. Yeah. That. I used to write shows – a lot of shows – five or six shows a year, tailored to the students/actors I had and their strengths and needs. Now, granted,  these were often derivative and slap-dash, even more often emotionally-overwrought and cheaply sentimental, but, every so often, one had some heft. What one NEVER had – not really – was a really good second act. Impossible. For me, anyway. I had trouble with endings. Especially happy ones. I tended toward gunshots or leave taking or it was all a dream or – you get the picture – and when I went perky, it was ridiculously fast brought about by some unfathomable deus ex machina device.

I could use a deus ex machina myself right now. Or, a gunshot.

And Tennessee Williams said, “There is a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go.”

In fact, I have a certain place to go: the gym. The elliptical and the stationary bike are calling me, reminding me that my 150 mile ride is only two weeks away.

See, here I am again … lousy ending. Well, when all else fails, Wesley Taylor big penis naked.

Wesley Taylor© Monica SimoesTaylor, Wesley Aug 2014Taylor, Wesley Aug 2014 2

Later friends.

 

Reading: Stephan Eirik Clark’s “Sweetness #9”

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark, Little, Brown, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-27875-1

SWEETNESS COVER 2From the publisher:

It’s 1973, and David Leveraux has landed his dream job as a Flavorist-in-Training, working in the secretive industry where chemists create the flavors for everything from the cherry in your can of soda to the butter on your popcorn.

While testing a new artificial sweetener–“Sweetness #9”–he notices unusual side-effects in the laboratory rats and monkeys: anxiety, obesity, mutism, and a generalized dissatisfaction with life. David tries to blow the whistle, but he swallows it instead.

Years later, Sweetness #9 is America’s most popular sweetener–and David’s family is changing. His wife is gaining weight, his son has stopped using verbs, and his daughter suffers from a generalized dissatisfaction with life. Is Sweetness #9 to blame, along with David’s failure to stop it? Or are these just symptoms of the American condition?

David’s search for an answer unfolds in this expansive novel that is at once a comic satire, a family story, and a profound exploration of our deepest cultural anxieties. Wickedly funny and wildly imaginative, Sweetness #9 questions whether what we eat truly makes us who we are.

This book was a little terrifying because none of the horrifying crimes against humanity committed by the corporate characters within its pages seemed even slightly outlandish or impossible; in fact, the profit-driven sins seem mild in comparison to the things we know have happened and are happening daily in corporate offices around the globe.

Well written, often funny, complete with attractively repugnant anti-hero, irony, hipster-attitude-cred, the occasional over-the-topness, conspiracy theories, and a hyperbole of paranoia – which, actually, seems completely rational — Sweetness is a quick and entertaining and horripilating read. Especially if you – like me – tend to nosh on bagged snacks while page-flipping. Be warned, have a piece of fruit instead.

As always, I bought my copy at my AMAZING local independent bookseller, THE CURIOUS IGUANA – click anywhere in this sentence to GO THERE! And you should. Tell them I sent you.

 

Ession Sessions: Confession, Regression, Depression, Obsession, Secession

NOTE: None of the following is true. All of the following is truth. The events have been changed to protect the names.

CONFESSION / REGRESSION: (or, an approximation)

c bald 2 CROP

This is the new (very old – as in retro to my youth – not old as in “I AM OLD” – which, sadly, in my current world, I am) shaved look that *Ricky claims to like.

Recently Ricky* told me he likes my hair. Likes my lack of hair, actually. I have bought clippers and twice weekly shear myself, a coiffure approximating the crew-cut I fought desperately, tearfully as a child to avoid. So much did I loathe being balded as a boy that when finally I gained control of my appearance, I grew my hair to the middle of my back recreating the Veronica Lake-ish long-luxurious-blonde-ness I’d approximated in my early childhood only by arranging discarded bath-towels about my head while playing with my baby sister, or, alone in front of a mirror, posing, preening and pretending to be one or another of the musical stars I adored, or, rather, my own amalgamation of their qualities and my imagined adult ones. In the magical-thinking of my pre-school, protected, isolated life I believed that I would – of course – become a hybrid of my crew-cut balded-boy self and those glamorous weeping, warbling women; or some approximation thereof.

My life was then – and has continued to be – a lot about such approximations. Imprecise, not rigorously exact, but close enough? Ah, that is the question.

baby foot charlie_edited-1 (2)

This is the crew-cut, balded look I fought so hard not to have as a child.

Charlie attitude

And this was me during the latter years of the VeronicaLake – prone to pointless head-tossing, diva-pose look.

Ricky*, for example, is not really Ricky and I am not really Russell*, but those are the pen(is) names under which we met and although we eventually confessed our real names – his being Ryan* and mine being Sebastian* – we are more comfortable with the names we’ve given these approximate selves, these masks, because what we have most in common – our approximation of an actual emotional connection – is our propinquity of attitude about the posing, preening and pretending done at the hook-up ball, these masquerade veils, these vanities, these postures, pretenses, dissimulations and disguises; our grown-up versions of those towels I used to wrap round my head. But, now, unlike in my childhood, I have playmates, and these other poseurs are, like me, mirror, cast, and audience, we alias-ed men, furtively searching for a stage on which to achieve some approximation of the person we meant to be.

That’s how I met *Ricky/Ryan. There in the ether of approximation and dissimulation and anonymous/alias-ed assignation. We failed to assignate, associating instead after each becoming fascinated with the vocabulary and frame of reference of the other during initial ethereal contact. I quoted Sondheim and he parried with Cole Porter and raised me a Latin quote. And when I say Latin, I do not – as is usually the case in such exchanges – mean Jennifer Lopez or Ricky Martin. No, this *Ricky/Ryan has an IQ in the same neighborhood as mine, and, sadly, too, the same inability to employ it toward any conventionally useful and/or profitable end. He is **24 (like I am **44) and he lives with his parents in a million dollar home, his room complete with its own en suite bath has one wall which is entirely obscured by color co-ordinated stacks of expensive sweaters and shirts, another wall thus adorned with pants. He drives a BMW convertible his parents gifted him when he graduated college. He turns tricks. Which, me being me, it took me a while to understand when first we started “talking” and I asked why he’d be interested in someone *20 years older than was he. He used what I now know to be the code for trick-turning, he thought I would be “generous” – I am a lot of things, true that, but that sort of “generous” I am not. Although, I now count amongst my acquaintances two **young(er) men who make their living on such “generosity”. Such is my world – or, part of it.

I shaved my head because it plays better in this milieu. I’ve also begun sporting a modified-goatee and something akin to a jaded, suspicious sneer, all of which has had the result of not a few people (meaning, in my limited circle, more than one) suggesting I look like Walter from Breaking Bad. I’ve never watched the show, but my understanding is that the character began as some sort of genius who gave up his own best-interests to become a teacher, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and started hesitantly doing small-time drug deals in an effort to provide for his family after his death, but eventually arced into a savage, sadistic criminal.

I’ve been compared to worse. Nonetheless, faux-Walter is no more or less who I am than were any of the other personae I have worn along the way, from faux-musical-theatre-diva to teacher to insurance auditor to philosopher to writer to … whatever category I jammed myself or was rammed into through the decades. I have never felt at peace in any of them, or, perhaps, a better way to say it: I have never felt at truth.

I have always felt something of a fraud. Except when I was on stage, where I was completely free to live whatever deception I had been hired to assume. But, in real life, in that “all the world’s a stage” day to day shit, I have always known that I was neither as wonderful nor as horrible as people believed, and, worse, that I was rarely even close to who and what they believed me to be. I tried for ever and ever to be the best approximation of what and who it was they (those various people who claimed to love me, who I claimed to love) needed me – WANTED me to be. Without my eleven-o-clock ballad to define it, there never seemed any sort of closure, affirmation, an applause break.

Not surprisingly, the closest I got to love was an approximation, and not a very strong one. It gave way under the slightest pressure, or, rather, as soon as I determined I could no longer tolerate being a mirror, cast, and audience going along with the delusions and illusions of those who had used me to shore-up their own fantasy world, as soon as I asked for something in return – to be seen, who I was, and honored, who I was – the approximation of love and relationship collapsed.

So much collapse happened that I lost faith. Such as it was. The little crew-cut boy I was had once upon a time ago been brainwashed into being quite the Roman Catholic. By age ten, I was teaching Sunday School – which happened on Saturdays – to first and second graders. But, then, by the time I turned twelve, I deviated from the plot. I had been groomed and urged toward the sacrament of Confession (now called, I believe, Reconciliation – that’s a good one) but the no longer-crew-cut-Roman-Catholic-he I was had begun turning into this *Sebastian-I-am – deviating into deviancy – and I soon enough had given up on the whole Catholic thing.

Long story truncated although admittedly – already – not short – by my mid-teens I had left home and started exploring all sorts of believings of a metaphysical bent, starting with the writing of Jane Roberts who channelled (it’s two L’s dammit, I don’t care what spell-check says) Seth. I was introduced to it by a much older waitress who had taken this then abandoned and terrified and obnoxious sixteen year old under her ganga smoking, whiskey drinking, blues loving wing. Another story.

Sixteen. After years of having been Catholic and never doing the bedtime prayer thing, now, a free-love advocate (though I knew nothing of love, but, by then, a good deal more about sex) I started saying a nightly prayer, on my already worn in knees – that early Catholic training served me in more ways than one – and it went like this:

I am the Creator of my own reality, a part of All That Is and my point of power is NOW. I live in a safe and perfect Universe and I am surrounded by abundance and plenty in all things. Thank you All That Is for my Light and my Love, and thank you for . . .

After which followed a list of names (And here is where it gets ugly and if you know me – which, if you are reading this, you probably don’t – you ought to stop reading) which began with my immediate family from youngest sibling to oldest, their children, and spouses who made the cut (and not all of them did), then Mother, then my dear, dear, DEAR aunt and finally, a very, very few very, very dear friends and loved ones. My rule about the list: once I had placed someone in the rotation, I could NEVER remove them. So, in order for a friend – or lover – to make the list, they had to be around for a very long time, someone I was sure I would always love, who would always love me.

(It’s about to get even more personal and ugly, so, maybe, you know, if you knew me at some point or knew people I knew or have an investment in how my story is told – even though I have already explained that none of this is true – you should maybe go read a book. Or listen to a musical. Or, watch Breaking Bad.)

DEPRESSION/OBSESSION:

I loved someone once, very much, named A. He was one of only two people with whom I had sex who ever made it onto the list. He also left my life, mostly. But never completely. He tried. I tried. But he’d burst periodically into my life in invasions full of painful self-doubt and hiding and terror of who he would be if he actually admitted to loving me. Every time he would show up, undercover, like the B-movie-Back Streets-Susan Hayward I had trained myself to be, I would let him in. I would swear all over again never to tell anyone. Ever. I didn’t. Until now. Confession. Even so, eventually, he killed himself – although that final act was a curtain to years of scenes in which he had – piece by piece – bit by bit – emotion by emotion – cut away and denied himself into oblivion. Still, that “eventually & final act” came a few months after we played out an extremely unpleasant confrontation in a parking deck during which I called him a liar and a coward and told him never to contact me again until he could say out loud he loved me.

I thought it an eleven o’clock ballad sort of moment. I’m sure I tossed what hair I had. I remember crying. I thought sure he’d finally face it, say it.

He didn’t. Ever. Not much of an approximation there, right?

In short order, another friend – the only one I had ever trusted with the secret of A (and any other men) and who, too, was on the prayer list also died. And a few months later, that very dear Aunt who loved me unconditionally in any color light or dark I was, she too died.

All of which made me doubt the complicated metaphysical cosmology I had constructed through the years, but, only doubt. I didn’t abandon it despite the fact I was now – each night – on my knees thanking All That Is for a list which included an alarmingly increasing tally of the dead.

I became even more cautious about adding anyone else to the list. Or my life. The spiral of deaths A’s suicide seemed to have started had the effect of closing me off, killing me off, more and more, piece by piece. In some physical manifestation of the spiritual culling, I cut my hair somewhere in there. But, then, some retro-Roman-Catholic-martyr-hopeful part of my brain – or heart – kicked in and I believed enough in the possibility of some level of “happy” to add a fellow to the list who had worked extraordinarily hard to convince me he belonged there. He did make some things better, but, still, I got sadder and sadder and ever more sad.

Then, I spent a summer at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where I was loved and praised and hated for my facility and considered the next big thing (albeit warned that my overtly and overly Baroque style would be a hard sell – damn fucking right – how about IMPOSSIBLE SELL) and I was so incredibly happy. I came back to my real life and soon, not soon enough, realized I had either to change my life or die.

So I did. Change it. Incrementally, at first. Telling someone who claimed to love me more than life that I needed to have a day a week to write. Apparently loving me more than life didn’t allow for my dreams and hopes to be supported. Loving me more than life, it seemed, meant “as long as you’re performing MY plot line” – a detail that the person had neglected to mention, a detail the person didn’t see as unusual or perhaps, a bit selfish.

I changed my life. And much to my horrified surprise, some of the people on the list, some of the people for whom I had spent years (decades in some cases) on my knees praying, did not love me enough to support my change to save my life. Some of the people on the list chose to break my heart. Some of the people on the list, knowing what it would do to me, did it anyway. (“It” being things about which I’m not going to write, because those “IT’s” are not just mine, and so, there.)

And the result? What years of loss and depression had not been able to do – those people did – after almost four decades, I stopped my nightly prayer. I stopped believing in a greater power or good. I stayed the fuck off my knees.

SECESSION:

There’s my confession Sister Anthony. At last. The one you and my Aunt wanted me to make that I couldn’t back then, back when I couldn’t quite tell you and my Aunt that I didn’t believe – couldn’t believe – what your Roman Catholic Church wanted me to believe.

Now, I can’t believe there is any sort of order, any ultimate good in a world where the only man I ever really loved died of fear by his own hand; where some of the people I loved most in the world could behave toward me, say of me, believe of me, in the ways they did rather than support me.

And (and THIS is the ugliest truth of all – so please – STOP READING unless you are one of those who – after the change- wished me ill – here you go – you’ve gotten your storyline after all – except, I’m not crazy – just, defeated, you win. Feel better now?) so, in order to save my life, I had to change it, and in doing so, rather than save myself, I managed to create a situation in which the few people and things in which I believed, those things about which I got down on my knees for decades, were taken from me. In essence, I died.

Approximation. That is what I am. A fraud. This walking, talking *Sebastian is just hanging around until he figures a painless way to get out. Sometimes, now and again, someone like *Ricky/*Ryan makes *Sebastian/*Russell feel good about himself for a few hours, minutes, drinks, texts, whatevers.

Funny story. Not really. The reason I hated being bald back then; the barber was a perv. He always managed to be rubbing his crotch against my hand as I sat in the chair. I didn’t know at the time what it meant or what it was, but I knew it hurt, the pressure of him pushing against my hand that way, how his breath smelled all leaning in close, and the way he was always adjusting the plastic apron, pretending to brush hair away from me but really, groping. I didn’t even remember it until I started writing this.

I shave my own head now because I can’t find a barber interested in groping me or pushing his crotch against my hand. Circles. Approximations.

Funny story. Not really. I had this cult of sharing Love and Light, which no one knew came from my prayer, that prayer I no longer pray. I wanted everything to shine – in the open – in truth. A, afraid to be seen with me, unwilling to admit he could or would or did love another man, would pick me up in whatever car he was in (sometimes a car he had from the branch of government for which he worked, even) and take me out – far out – into the back country woods in the night, late night, here in this rural-ish county where we live – where I live – where he lived, past tense (funny story – I stayed here for him, waiting for him to show up – like he did – now and then – jesus I have always been a fucking idiot, why didn’t I move to NYC where I belonged) and we would get naked, under night sky, and do things he could never admit to doing. When he would contact me about this he would say, “Hey, *Chuckles, want to go get a moontan?”

You have NEVER met a person less aptly named *Chuckles than me.

Funny story. Now. Sometimes. I go outside in the middle of the night – like – right now – with a glass of wine – and look up at the sky – and cry – and wish – despite how compromised and self-hating and second-class and not-really-loved it made me – that somehow, A could show up in my driveway again and ask me to moontan.

I want this to be over. I have cut off all my hair. My hooker friend *Ricky/Ryan loves it and I am sure it would be a hit on Grindr were I **20 years younger. Or, on Grindr. Which I am not. I have given up again and gotten off my knees and started cutting more away. Although there is no hair left. No way to reduce it further. I cut it myself now. Something else will have to go soon.

Soon, everyone who gets my references will be dead. Or, have turned on me. There is so little left.

Elaine Stritch died. I mean . . . all I’ve got now is Barbara Cook, Stephen Sondheim, and my Mom. All in their 80’s.

I need to moontan with someone who’s going to take me with them when they go. That’s the thing, really:  A left me behind one more fucking time. And after that, thanks to that first name on the prayer list and that last one I added – thanks to the way they chose not to be there, the ways they chose to break my heart – well, I don’t even have a prayer list or a cosmology left to comfort me with the belief that there might be another level of existence, of knowing, of happy, where I could be with A and give him eternal grief for leaving me – so many times.

Oh please. Make. It. Stop.

*Not their real names.

**Not their real ages.

READING: “The Hundred Year House” by Rebecca Makkai

The Hundred Year House by Rebecca Makkai, Viking, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0525-42668-4

hundred year houseThat Laurelfield, a house, was the title character of Rebecca Makkai’s second novel – a tale which I had read described variously as a ghost story, a gothic, reminiscent of I Capture the Castle –  was what hooked me. I am an old house person who grew up in a crumbling estate by which I am still haunted, obsessed by the history and secrets and lies and seductions of its many rooms and the disappeared and lost branches of family who once there populated.

Ms. Makkai’s book – while full of cleverly composed prose and mordant character insight – is not, however, a ghost story or gothic, and neither does the title residence play as much of a role as an old house fanatic (and you either are one or you’re not; I have repeatedly chosen to live in crumbling, poorly plumbed, leaky roofed, barely heated, disintegrating homes over newer constructed, dry-walled boxes without history) would like.

This is not criticism, but an alert. I went into the novel expecting from reviews that it would be something else, and that it was not that, disappointed me and was a hurdle I had to overcome to enjoy the many qualities it did have. First, the precis from Ms. Makkai’s website:

A haunted family and a haunted house… in reverse.

When Doug’s mother-in-law offers up the coach house at Laurelfield, her hundred-year-old estate north of Chicago, Doug and his wife Zee accept. Doug is fascinated by the house’s previous life as an artists’ colony, and hopes to find something archival there about the poet Edwin Parfitt, who was in residence at Laurelfield in the twenties (and whose work happens to be Doug’s area of scholarship). When he learns that there are file cabinets full of colony materials in the attic, Doug is anxious to get to work and save his career—but his mother-in-law refuses him access. With help from friends, Doug finally does access the Parfitt file—only to find far stranger and more disturbing material than he bargained for.

Doug may never learn all the house’s secrets, but the reader does, as the narrative zips back in time from 1999 to 1955 and 1929. We see the autumn right after the colony’s demise, when its newlywed owners are more at the mercy of the place’s lingering staff than they could imagine; and we see it as a bustling artists’ community fighting for survival in the last, heady days of the 1920s.

Through it all, the residents of Laurelfield are both plagued and blessed by the strange legacy of Laurelfield’s original owners: extraordinary luck, whether good or bad.

Ms. Makkai is stunningly adept as literary constructionist, tricking out her multi-generational odyssey with enough mystery, romance, intrigue, and machinations of characters who are richly multi-layered (and sometimes with multiple identities) to keep the reader fascinated, hurtling backward through time to the beginnings of Laurelfield. Along the way the reader is treated with sometimes breathtakingly penetrating insights into humanity. For example, this from the first section:

As she sped to town she developed the leaden sensation, though, that she hadn’t just been right in her fears, but had actually caused something, yet again, to happen. That she’d willed this into being as surely as she’d brought about Cole’s implicit confessions. She was getting everything she wanted, but also – like in a nightmare, where you’re the author and also the victim – she was getting everything she feared: Miriam’s crush, Doug’s ineptitude, even the appearance of that stupid dress. She thought, “I need to be careful what I fear next.” And then she thought: “What I fear next is madness. What I fear next is madness. What I fear next is madness.”

Or, this from a later (thus, earlier) section:

Grace felt Amy’s pain in her own stomach, she did. It was a convulsion, like holding back a sob. But all she could think to do was make it worse, as if that would solve everything. She imagined this was how a killer felt, halfway through the job. Finish stabbing the fellow, so there was no one left to feel it. She said, “Here’s what you don’t know yet: So often in life, you get exactly what you look for. If you want a George, you’ll get a George. The worst thing I could wish for you is everything you want.”

These passages are both beautiful. Read them aloud. Their rhythm alone is stunning, aside from the ways in which they echo one another, just a small part of the ways in which those who populate the house make one after another discovery while making art, while making love, while making life inside its walls, all the while searching for the perfect image for their mosaics, their poem, their reality.

Ms. Makkai’s writing is witty, darkly so, and she makes the difficult perspective changes and juggling of unreliable narrators and many emotional streams, echoes, and reflections seem effortless. She masters metaphor and symbolism and … well … this is a book writers and lovers of literature’s intricacies will find full of treasures. Like Doug in the narrative, one will want to break into its attic, discover its secrets.

My small and curmudgeonly, peckish old-reader cavil; for me (and like I said, I’m a grouch who lusts after old homes and the gothic) when it was all over, I was less drawn in by the emotion and the story than I was admiring of the authorial acumen and technical maneuvering – and I salute her gifts – but I would have like less machination and more heart.

I purchased Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred Year House at my local, independent bookstore, The Curious Iguana [CLICK HERE], which is not just a bookstore, but, a community where I am welcomed, known, and appreciated. Get to know your local bookseller – or MINE!