A paragraph of Mary …

I’m working on a short story which is — I think — part of the Paul series (but, who knows?) called Mary. (Oh my, I suppose I shall have to write one called Peter, as well, but I’m 500 miles away from … never mind.) I have been searching for a word for HOURS; I know it exists but despite trying to jog my memory for it, searching thesauruses, dictionaries, Fowler’s, and appealing to friends — I CANNOT FIND IT. So, I’ve written an explanation of the word I want in the sentence where I mean it to go, and a list of similar words, all of this in red, and I will come back to it. In the meantime, here is a paragraph of Mary. First draft.

But, our friendship’s purpose was to encourage one another’s malignant delusions of adequacy, its sell-by date being when we ran out of amusingly self-deprecatory stories to do with all our rotten relationships, mistakes in judgment, and chances we’d blown, been denied, or robbed of, at which point, no confessional stand-up routines left with which to regale one another, we’d find ourselves stranded in the mutual stagnation of the exhaustive, apathetic self-contempt in which we both lived, and the sad, dull facts of our nows, which would, of course, be re-purposed and spun as our terribly interesting pasts when we moved on to the next best friend, as we would.

Love and light kids. Back to word searching and trying to find the rest of Mary’s story. Which is, I believe, meant to be in close third, not first. Dammit.

P.S. WHY has the top search term for my blog for the past few days been “Effie we all got pain”? I can’t even FIND the post prompting it. Ha.

 

 

You Can’t Blame Walmart For Everything That Goes Wrong In Your Life

If you are a regular reader of my blog you know that I love to write. You also know that I love Duchess Goldblatt. I promised Her Grace I would give her a short story for Valentine’s Day. This is it. And, I am excited to say, while I wish I had another week to work on it, still, it is the FIRST thing I have FINISHED in far too long a time. I am hoping these 6500 words are the beginning of the renewal of my writing mojo. One more thing for which I have Duchess Goldblatt to thank.

 

YOU CAN’T BLAME WAL-MART FOR EVERYTHING THAT GOES WRONG IN YOUR LIFE

Bad enough Paul’s life was a Balzac-ian complication of recklessness, rue, and repentance, but it was one of those days when his mother’s purportedly failing eighty-six year old senses were miraculously restored, as was so often the case, just in time to criticize him.

“Let me see,” his mother said, annoyed, from across the room.

“You can’t see, remember?” Paul mumbled.

“I heard that.”

Another miracle, Paul thought, but didn’t dare say out loud since it seemed his mother’s morning prayers had been divided between Saint Francis de Sales, patron saint of the hard of hearing, and Saint Lucia, virgin martyr of the blind, whose eyes had been gouged out by her Roman captors only to regenerate the next day. The self-serving, conveniently timed healings Paul’s mother experienced were less dramatic. She attributed them to the hand-painted, leather icons of Saints Lucy and Frank she wore round her neck, talismans bought for her off Etsy by Judith, the Shalimar-soaked lay-Catholic-minister who brought communion on Sunday mornings to the Sylvan Commons religionists devout enough to desire it but not-quite-so devout as to suffer the ordeal of the elaborate ablutions and preparations required to hie self and preferred method of ambulatory assistance — walker, cane, wheelchair – to the lobby, out of doors to be hoist mechanically up and into the step-van with its logo of faux-bucolic design Paul despised for its seeming to announce, “This vehicle carries a cargo of the nearly dead; KEEP BACK!,” which van then shuttled the hell-fearing inhabitants cross town on a twenty minute ride to the church where they would be lowered again to ground, deposited at the foot of the handicap ramp, corralled into the too hot or too cold (depending on the season) nave, where one had to find a pew from which to tolerate the usually inaudible service after which one was rushed out, re-hoisted into the van, spend another twenty minutes trapped with a bunch of mostly unlikeable codgers and be dumped back at Sylvan Commons, hasten to one’s room, liberate one’s self into comfortable clothes, all of which burdensome trial seemed unlikely to curry enough favor with God to be worth the fatigue and inconvenience of all the effort, especially when gift-giving Judith was available, offering individual attention and Etsy-trinkets. Besides which, Paul’s mother didn’t care much for traveling in groups. She preferred being the center of attention with a dedicated attendant – preferably one to whom she had given birth – focused solely on obeying her commands on the way to and from destinations where the goal was less lofty and more useful than speaking with God; she could talk to Him on her own time and Judith made salvation portable, but new clothes required a trip to Wal-Mart or J.C.Penney or, best of all, Boscov’s, where his mother wished to bring up going today if only Paul could manage to peel the peaches correctly without getting furious at her.

“Just let me see. I can hear from the heavy plopping in the sink you’re doing it wrong. You’re cutting too deep into the meat of the fruit. I can hear it.”

Paul thought, unkindly, “I’d like to cut too deeply into the meat of this fruit, right around my wrists, and call it a life.” But he didn’t say it, and descended into a spasm of liberal guilt for the internalized, culturally embedded homophobia of the languaging of his death wish, and so, Continue reading

The Five People You Meet In Hell (One: The Recruiter)

This is a short story/work in progress. This is FICTION.

 

He had made him bleed.

Since reading Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays while recovering from his first suicide attempt made on the occasion of his twelfth birthday in 1973,Parker had been asking: What makes Iago evil? Which springs to mind because last night to a man he knew as Recruiter, who knew him as Sebastian, Parker had Grindr-messaged the Didion quote, Just so. I am what I am, in response to Recruiter’s unsolicited input on Parker’s — well, Sebastian’s — sexual performance, which review he’d prefaced with, Don’t take this the wrong way but…

The-Preaching-of-the-Antichrist-detail-of-Christ-and-the-Devil-from-the-Chapel-of-the-Madonna-di-San-Brizio-1499-1504-xx-Luca-SignorelliWhen the too-old-for-this-shit Parker overpowered the submissive Sebastian-alter and sneered (which is not that easy to achieve in a Grindr-message, but Sebastian had gifts) What is the right way to fucking take it?, having never met the Parker hiding inside Sebastian nor seen The Three Faces of Eve, Recruiter mistook it as an invitation to offer anatomically specific advice on inserter and insertee behavior, including a suggestion that Sebastian’s over dramatic response was a boner-killer.

At which point Parker — again mid-weeping, unable to stop obsessively re-reading the first sentence of the first story in Patrick Ryan’s collection, The Dream Life of Astronauts, a first sentence that got immediately to the point and the pith, telling the reader at least eight important things in only thirty-four words, a first sentence in a book published by a division of Random House with a hardback cover boasting a blurb by one of Parker’s idols, Ann Patchett (he’d hugged her once and photo-opped at a book-signing, could Patrick Ryan — younger than Parker, godammit — say that? Well, probably. And probably in Iowa. At the workshop. They all fucking went to the workshop where Parker had only managed to spend one summer and only because he’d been near-bullied into it by a dear friend over the passive-aggressive objections of — never mind, he didn’t want to revisit that relationship.), whereas Parker, trying to write now since he’d been six, was unable in thirty-four pages to describe even the simple deleting of a Grindr account without it devolving into what one kind and loving and supportive and ultimately uninterested agent had called beautiful Balzacian excess which no one will read or buy — had dropped the Just so. I am what I am.

To Parker, this made sense. If he would never write a thirty-four word sentence communicating an entire backstory in a Random House hardback blurbed by Ann Patchett, then he would drop Joan Didion quotes on people who had no idea that Patrick Ryan, Ann Patchett, Joan Didion, or Parker existed.

Let alone Balzac. (Ha, he wondered, can I comfort myself imagining I am a “let alone Balzac”?)

And like all the ultimately uninterested agents, Recruiter would join the ranks of the ultimately uninterested Grindr-tricks.

At first, Parker/Sebastian had blocked Recruiter. Lie. At first, Parker/Sebastian experienced chest-pain and abashment at Recruiter’s comeback; Don’t get all shitty bitch just trying to help you get more cock. At second, Sebastian wanted to apologize. At second, Parker, tired of the situations into which Sebastian was getting him, thought it best he erase Sebastian.

Of course, Parker being Parker and not Sebastian, spent days picking at and worrying his latest psychic-wound inflicted by yet another thirty years younger trick, chastening himself for allowing the admonitions of someone with whom he didn’t trust his actual identity or age to affect him so badly. Then again, Recruiter did make his living rounding-up tops to train-fuck his favored bottom for X-Tube paywall videos, so, he was something of an expert.

As had been the ultimately uninterested but much gentler agent. Maybe if Recruiter had been kinder. Maybe if Recruiter had not called him a boner-killer. Maybe if Recruiter had said his reactions during sex displayed a Balzacian excess in which no one was interested, that no one would buy.

Parker was feeling old.

Parker was feeling sorry for himself.

Parker couldn’t quite believe the thirty-four word first sentence of the first story of the collection published by Random House blurbed by Ann Patchett written by Patrick Ryan was both so damned concise and suffused with evocative detail. Parker couldn’t quite wrap his Balzacian distorted Three Faces of Eve fucked-up thinking head around  the reality that he had spent a life being rejected by the Catholic church, his peers, schools, theater directors, literary agents, men, his family, and now, well, Sebastian.

Who no longer wanted to play. Which was why he had to be edited out. Sebastian — like all good subs — was ultimately in control of what was acceptable, of his limits, of what could be done to him before he called out his safe word and brought the action to a halt. And Parker — like many bad doms — had let things go too far with Sebastian, allowed Recruiter — and others — to use too much, too rough, too without regard for the wear and the tear on Sebastian.

Who, despite not even actually (even and actually? this is what no one buys) existing, had started to bleed. Who was bleeding. Who, when Parker looked down, there, was surprised to see his hands were not red, but a sort of purplish-brown, sticky and slippery at once, dripping, cold like winter already here at the end of another summer, one hand — the right, Balzacian detail: as with clipping nails, it had been surprisingly easy for right-handed Parker to wield the razor with his left hand, of course, he’d played Sweeney as left-handed but that story would never be told now, would it?  — still holding the hollow ground 6/8 inch round tip straight razor, etched with his name, given him by his director when he’d played Sweeney Todd.

These sentences were too long. There needed to be less. There needed to be a safe word for Parker to have called. To have stopped it some time ago. Much earlier. But, one word? Parker. Not likely. Maybe, two?

Ann Patchett.

Little Fictions, Larger Truths

C said out loud to himself, Monday my blog views peaked.

He loved the word peaked when used to describe the condition of having gone wan and worn, which is what he went after his blog-stat-metrics revealed the popularity spike had to do not with his mordantly witty Balzacian meanderings of incisive social commentary, but, rather, his Jonas Brothers coming out/huge dick posts.

C thought How funny, this late in life, for dick to have, somehow, on so many levels, garnered me more attention than my intellect or insight. Irony, that, as dick was the last organ for which I thought I’d be known, having lived so long focused on the brain and heart, and gotten so little use from my dick.

This convolution of syntax and emotion marked his writing, which, perhaps, explained why his dick-work was more popular. With that, he was straight(so to speak)forward. Spare of word. And thought. And emotion. Those submissions, he said to himself, are accepted.

But his dick was out of play at the moment because he was trying to write while house/dog-sitting in the gorgeous home of dear friends, taking advantage of the peace, the energy of love and affirmation this family generated, a powerful vibration that echoed and sang even when they were away.

In the background, from his laptop, played a four-hour version of Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde. His paternal grandmother, Edna Wagner, promulgated what was later revealed to be a blatant untruth that the family were Wagner descendants. The only connection she had to Wagner was her anti-Semitism and racism. However, the family connection myth had been inculcated in C long before he discovered Wagner’s horrific prejudices and hatreds, so, beginning early in his writing non-career, he used lengthy Wagner-works as measurements of enforced writing time, additionally hoping for a magical-familial-spiritual inspiration to flow through the ether and raise his literary compositions to the same genius level. Alas, by the now of now, he feared that all he had in common with Wagner was a writing style “verbose, unclear and turgid” (he’d read this in Wikipedia — about Wagner, not himself. C wasn’t famous enough for Wikipedia. C wasn’t famous at all.) which might have — once or twice — been said about his prose, even by strangers on Twitter. But not, he thought to himself, on Grindr.

He also loved the word turgid. Latin root, meaning swollen. Related to tumid. As in tumesce, a back-formation of tumescent. As in bulging, inflated, bombastic, overblown. (Ha, he thought,  over-blown makes you tumesce. I will always be a dirty-minded ten year old boy. Yes, ten, I was ahead of my time and that was the year I read “Portnoy’s Complaint”.)All about the swell. Swell, which brought to mind for him for some reason (Uhm, I’m gay, fool.) Gene Kelly assuring Judy Garland that she is “just swell, kid!”

I think it was Summer Stock? Where Judy stole Gene from her sister, Gloria DeHaven. Who died Monday.

Which made it all make sense in C’s convoluted way because Gloria DeHaven had died the same day his blog hits went nuclear because someone linked his Jonas-dick story which somehow linked Judy Garland to his dick story which brought him full-gay-circle. He thought.

Sad world, this, where Judy Garland somehow devolves to Nick Jonas dick. If I had a choice — like one of those god-miracle-things — Okay C, you can either see Judy Garland at the Palace or you can have a night fucking Nick Jonas; which one would I pick? Wow, this is way harder than I thought it would be. I almost hate myself right now.

C was having trouble focusing.

Where was I? Hell, where am I? I’m one hour and twenty minutes into Tristan und Isolde, in the home of dear friends, their two dogs sleeping at my feet, and I am trying to write. But, I am distracted. By things. I didn’t get enough sleep last night. Fever dreams — by which I mean I was in and out of sleep, obsessing on things (so many THINGS) by which I’d felt assaulted during waking hours. For example, a writer I very much admire, CN, was passive-aggressively-attacked on Twitter by another writer I do not admire, J, who, in fact, annoys the shit out of me and was Tweeting the praises of a writer I like even less, J2, a misogynist, privileged, overrated mess of a blathering lit-idol. It pissed me off. I said so to J, who shortly thereafter blocked CN for questioning and debating the basis of the passive-aggressive attack. That’s some chickenshit there, to go after someone and then disappear when they respond. Mind you, J is the very same white writer who defended a racist poem published in The New Yorker and had the temerity to tell those it derided and degraded they had no right to feel affronted. So, fuck her.

C was leaving something out of the story he was telling himself. During the course of his CN,J,J2 tale taking place in Twitter world, there happened that thing that happens not infrequently, as in, C, himself just a small, outsider, visiting cog in Twit-lit-world, Tweeted something about the above described episode to which one of the large-insider-Twit-lit cogs, who he very much liked and by whom he was often and kindly acknowledged and engaged, responded, a response thereafter liked by the usual suspects who also qualified as large-insider-Twit-lit inhabitants, who had ignored C’s initial Tweet on which the response was predicated, which, in fact, made the response make sense. So, why was his original, pithy(ish) comment being ignored? Because he was a small cog in the structure that ruled the world and classism and elitism existed even in the literary world.

It bothered C. Which it ought not have. But it did. And so, that he was bothered, bothered C even more, which sort of botheration resulted in his fustian, prolix babble-versations with himself:

It shouldn’t matter to me who does or does not like a Tweet, or mutes me, or reads me. People are busy. Lives lived on Twitter are still — to some degree — connected to IRL lives, and my IRL life intersects with very few of the people with whom I’ve Twitter-lives, and the people who I interact with IRL, well, truth, they care nothing about my brain and mostly about my dick, hell, even my real life friends who do care about my brain and heart, mostly don’t know who Cn and J and J2 are. I’m living in entirely made-up worlds, or, I’m living alone. Mostly. In my head. So, shut up C. SHUT UP. You have spent so much energy trying to make a life where class and money and social-constructs don’t matter. A life with as few isms as possible. Even though body-shaming and ageism are HUGE on Grindr. Shit, wait. Let’s not delve there right now. Let us not think about how there are these constructs everywhere I go even though I have tried to make places for myself to go where there is no — wait — are no; WAIT! NO. This is my pressure. And, too, acknowledge that the pressures of the life-game endured by some of those who qualify as larger-Twit-lit inhabitants must be near-crushing and my life is not crushing. My life is all in my head. That’s where my crushing is. Crushing. I love what that word has turned into. Actually, my life is a lot of crushing, come to think of it, like on Nick Jonas’s dick. Which, apparently I have in common with many, many people and thus my peaking blog views cuz of my crushing in common. Common crushing? Dick crushing? Oh, wait. Stop. Write. I can almost stop, yes, because here is the Act 3 Liebestod. It’s almost over.

And he thought, Do I alone hear this melody? And realized, in all likelihood, yes. If he was quoting Wagner, he was going to be doing so alone, having these conversations with himself.

And there C was. Back where he’d started. Peaking blog views. Nick Jonas’s dick. Or, even further back, there, where he’d started, this C, at Judy Garland. Yes. There he was.

And here I am, going.

And then, as an afterthought, I tagged the post: Nick Jonas Big Dick, so that someone might read it. Which, they won’t. But, here, so it’s not a total waste:

Jonas, Nick cuddling jonas nick scream queens workout jonas tucker gay Jonas Nick nick-jonas-poses-shirtless-in-his-underwear-for-flaunt-magazine-01 Jonas Nick nick-jonas-poses-shirtless-in-his-underwear-for-flaunt-magazine-03 Jonas Nick nick-jonas-poses-shirtless-in-his-underwear-for-flaunt-magazine-04

 

WIP: Sepia Fallows, Chapter 2

Okay dears, here is a Chapter 2-ish of one of my WIP, “SEPIA FALLOWS” — for which Chapter 1 was published HERE on May 2Enjoy, or don’t. Sharing because I have promised myself I will KEEP WRITING, and this makes me somewhat accountable. Love to all, happy holiday weekend.

 

SEPIA FALLOWS: Chapter 2: HUGHES

Hughes was unsurprised CW denied having gotten any glimmer from the forsythia.

After all, CW’s default setting was rejection, a much practiced, icy brush-off, the withering, dismissive repudiation of one who’d been too often dismissed or disappointed by others. Hughes recognized this as a cry for love.

Which only irritated CW more.

The Universe had assigned Hughes tougher cases than CW, who had come along nicely in the seven months since he’d arrived, clueless as to what he’d needed. He’d spent his first month at Sepia Fallows locked away in the Algonquin Suite, emerging only for the occasional meal, claiming to be busily editing the seven-hundred-page novel, queries for which he claimed had been ignored by hundreds of agents. Hughes knew this to be untrue. He also knew that while CW did daily open the novel on his laptop, rather than edit, he spent most of the day on Twitter, stalking authors, agents, editors, and publishers, wishing he was a part of that world and yet rarely engaging them in conversation. Hughes knew bringing CW back into the real world from the broken, walled off place inside himself to which he’d retreated would require patience; CW needed time to find peace, to believe again in purpose, to recover from what he called “the last fall.”

Hughes had lived in just such a place himself after Manny had passed.

Passed. No. Not passed. Died. Died a long, tortured, horrifyingly ugly, bloody, piss and shit stained death. One of many. Near the end of that particularly unhappy parade. Which had not made it any easier. By then, Hughes had been so long mourning and grieving, suffering the seemingly endless dirge of keening lamentations that had begun at 4:15a.m. on Saturday, August 15, 1981 when Larry called from Bellevue to tell them Bennett had died. Bennett, 20, fifteen years younger and twenty times more talented than Hughes and already with three Broadway credits to Hughes one-sort-of-Off-Off-Broadway showcase thing. Bennett, refugee from Childersville, population three thousand and change (though, no, never change, terrified of change) in one or another of those southern states where boys like Bennett were hung scarecrow-akimbo on fences, castrated, and declared by the jackbooted good’ol’boy deputies as having somehow drunken-driven themselves into their own crucifixions, bloodying, beating, and brain-bashing themselves in the process; southern magic tricks. Strange Fruit, as Billie had long ago called it. That’s the sort of miracle boys like Bennett got turned into in Childersville; a warning to all the other queers and niggers, or, double-death, like Bennett, queer and nigger both.

Oh Bennett, sweet, sweetly-tenored Bennett of the perfect ass and turnout, who’d escaped to Manhattan, where boys like him spent their magic dancing in the choruses of Broadway musicals and fucking in the back of parked trucks in the Meatpacking district on the way to and from the red entrance door of the Mineshaft. Bennett, who died first among them, his once elaborately celebrated, admired, and envied promiscuity giving them all – those lesser mortals who had not had the good sense to be born as beautiful as Jeff Aquilon nor as unafraid as John Rechy to find love in the kindness of strangers – reason to hope, reason, at last, to be grateful they had not tricked quite as successfully as they’d wished, and perhaps, what had once seemed a burden, a curse – the extra weight, the bad teeth, the small dick, the hairy back – perhaps, such things had saved them.

Of course, that would not turn out be true.

As with all those who are saved, who survive, there is ultimately no reason, no logic. Some of the best were taken and some left behind. As, of course, were some of the worst. But even the most repugnant among the dead were keened after; even the most unlovable deserved and required elegies.

One wanted to become benumbed to it all, the long, long years of requiem, plaint, dirge, but each death was fresh. Surprising. How could this be happening? Why was no one fixing it? Doing anything? Saying anything?

Soon enough, for Hughes and others, sorrow had given way to fury and a rage which kept the living going. Being angry distracted one from feeling survivor guilt and terror; terror not just of the disease but of the thoughts; “Thank god it wasn’t me.” And “What if I’m next?” And, even worse, “I wish it had been me.”

Hughes knew he would always remember the exact date and time of the first call, would be unable to stop hearing Larry’s monotone delivery of the three simple words that had forever changed the world, “Bennett is dead.”

But the rest of the story, its details faded. Hughes, early on, stopped counting, or, rather, never started. He tried fighting his sorrow by channeling his rage into near apoplectic marching and exasperated documentation, marshalled into a manic wartime bunkering down and battling, keeping records so as to be ready to testify and stand up to power, insist on being heard, refuse – this time – to be left out of history, footnoted, erased. But, in time, Hughes realized what he wanted most was to remember none of it. As six years passed and still people were dying, Hughes worked toward a Gaussian blur, an image without those edges that cut and bled and caused the weeping.

Once testing had become available and after he and Manny had navigated through Hughes equivocation of “What possible difference can it make now?” and Manny’s suspicion of “Despite promises of anonymity, doesn’t it seem likely test results are being logged so all the positive fags can be gulag’d?” – both of which stands infuriated the other – Manny and Hughes had tested negative. Twice. Drugs and treatments slowly appeared, slowly improved, but only very slowly, ridiculously so, and only thanks to Larry Kramer and ACT-UP warriors, those who would explode the system they were convinced meant to let them die. It had to be done; the government – headed by Mr. Morning in America two-term president who didn’t even mention the word AIDS until May of 1987, by which time thousands had already died and many hundreds of thousands around the globe had been infected – seemed at best incapable of response, and, at worst, conspiring to perpetuate the plague. Theories hypothesized the virus having been developed by the army in Fort Detrick, Maryland, a few miles from where Hughes aunt, Violet, long estranged from his mother, lived in the dilapidated home Hughes would eventually inherit and come to know as Sepia Fallows; that place where Aunt Violet and his mother, Vivian, had grown up.

Hughes never heard that theory. Hughes stopped following the news. Hughes left that part of the fight to others, those who could still raise their voices in screams of protest, carrying signs, wearing buttons and T-shirts, barricading entrances to government buildings, occupying mayors’ offices, and blocking streets by planting themselves like corpses on the asphalt. No. Hughes – whose only youthful religion had been one of selfishness and cruelty – transformed into a New Age Florence Nightingale: he held hands and emptied bedpans and visited those who had been left alone by friends or family – both biological and chosen – and he practiced a new faith of selflessness and kindness, practicing the tenets of listening, loving – no matter what – and staying quiet so that others might feel heard.

Hughes stopped auditioning when he overheard a casting agent say, “I guess we’ll have to use him. But I’ve been to at least five men’s funerals in the last year who’d’ve been better.”

Hughes wanted to win roles because he was talented, not because all the Bennetts had died. As his mother had predicted when insisting he double-major in college in case “this acting thing doesn’t work out”, his English-slash-Journalism degree was there to fall back on, or – as he’d soon tire of insisting – was there on which to fall back. He started freelance copyediting thanks to David (1950 – 1983) after which, thanks to Peter (1942 – 1985) he was hired to work in-house by Castle & Cormorant.

It was June of 1987 when Manny started with the fevers and chills, swollen lymph nodes, losing weight. His hyper-aware gay-friendly doctor assumed it to be previously undetected HIV but the test was again negative. For a few glorious weeks, it was even decided Manny was exhibiting hysterical-HIV. It took an intern at the emergency room to which Hughes had dragged Manny against his will – he preferred the option of being crazy to discovering he had some new strain of HIV they couldn’t yet identify – to figure out that this latest nosebleed, one that wouldn’t stop, one that Hughes thought would surely exsanguinate his lover, his partner, his husband goddammit, for whom someone was going to do something, was neither a new nightmare of HIV nor hysterical, but, instead, leukemia.

“Oh, thank God!” Manny said. “It’s just cancer.”

All of the unexpectedly early deaths of so many men so ridiculously young had skewed reality to the point that a diagnosis of leukemia was something about which they were excited to hear. Relieved, even. Just cancer. There’s a cure. There’s hope.

Only, for Manny, there wasn’t. His leukemia – acute myelogenous – was a wasting, opportunistic vulture of a disease, and it ate away at Manny, everything about him, until he was nothing but seizures and spasms and shits. Hughes nursed him until the moment he died, a moment Hughes had been through with too many of those men he’d stopped counting since the first, Bennett, and like Bennett and so many of the others, Manny had no biological family left.

And it was so lonely, watching Manny go; unable to reach out to those who’d cut him off. And it was so lonely, after Manny had gone; without him, Hughes felt alone in a way he’d never known, as if life were a book he’d once known well, read again and again, intimately familiar with its stories, but now when he opened its covers, the pages were blanked away, traces of eraser dust and leavings of what once had been, he could no longer see the story clearly, his memories – this man who had fought so hard to forget – were unreliable, it was all pentimento and shadows, impossible to read.

And he knew, he did not have to be this alone. So, after all those years, after all that plague, after Manny left him, after all of that was over and done: Hughes called her.

“Mother. It’s Hughes.”

#####

It was the call Vivian had been waiting for. It was the call Vivian had been terrified would come. But, it was Hughes speaking to her, not Manny, and so, Hughes was okay. Or, okay enough to call. After having cut her off, cut her out for sins she mysteriously committed, wrongs he had refused to explain to her, here we was.

“Mother, are you there?”

Mother, he called her. Had called her since he’d turned twelve and angry, ever angrier as he aged, refusing to say “Momma” – which she‘d been since he could speak. Mother. Was she there? Where was that? This Mother to whom he was speaking, this Vivian she knew herself to be, this woman who had once been Momma and who had suffered her own losses and confronted her own blanked pages; was she there? What could she say – or not say – that was safe? What would keep him talking? What would fill their pages with a story they could both read, together, without the dust of angry editing and tearing away? What level of truth could be told?

“Mother?”

“Hughes. Yes. I’m so – it’s – you’re…-”

“Mother – Momma – I’m sorry.”

Exit. Exit. Oh, Exit.

Exit 3 Ways

I will
I think
never
stop be-
-ing sur-
-prised at
the ease
with which
people
can ex-
-it con-
-versa-
-tions with
me.

I had to run so quickly to save my life, like a conflagration, not of flames, but her fury, and I grabbed what was in my path, trying to be sure and certain to take what I would need, what had been mine before her, and in the run and the rush and the firing of her accusations, I left behind my aunt’s fur coat. I lost my aunt’s fur coat. Which I had used as a costume. And prop. In which I would wrap myself when I was sad. And cold. Because it meant so much to my aunt. I could not, could not ever, go back to get it. I had to save my life and in doing so lost parts of it.

I will, I think, never stop being
surprised at the ease with which people
can exit conversations with me.

And so many pictures. But what would I do with them? And then, there, the new place, which I am about to lose, instead of fire, flood. Soon. After. I’d arrived. Water. I woke one night and swung my legs over the side of the bed onto the ground where a river had come. A river in which my pictures and scrapbooks, the ones I’d managed to grab when I’d run, a river in which those were drowned and turned to clumps of glue and ink and paper and made brick of blanks. I have just memories. No proof.

I will, I think, never stop being surprised at the ease with which people can exit conversations with me.

No fur. No proof. So many lost parts of me.

And soon, I need to run again. I have left so much behind.

I wish I had Sissie’s fur coat to wrap myself in, protect me from all that is gone. Which makes sense to no one but me.

Exit. Exit. Oh, exit.

Beautiful

“Take my hand. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Since I began writing, ages and ages ago, I don’t think I have ever completed a project that hewed to its original outline. When I was teaching theatre and wrote four or five plays a year for my students, I would begin by imagining an overall theme, then create characters to match the strengths and needs of the student-cast, and I would plan and plot,  scene by scene, the action, where the song breaks would be following formulas for placement of exposition/getting to know you numbers, the character numbers, the I WANT and I AM numbers, the comic relief numbers, the eleven o’clock numbers (and, as you might imagine, wordy as I am, and having LOADS of students needing their own moments, sometimes — despite the ages of my charges — they really were eleven o’clock numbers) and then, after all of that charting and index carding and careful calculation I would start to write.

And by the time the characters took over, none of the original plan remained.

So, it should come as no surprise to me that the project I’m now working on, a story meant to be about two lonely men who end up running a boarding house type of home for the wayward, who both have secret lives they share with no one, who find solace from their pasts in their friendship, new ways of connecting in a social media, virtual world, and a new definition of family, home, and love, should SOMEHOW have taken me back into the 1930s and 1940s backstories of the mother and aunt of one of them and the house in which they live. I keep telling whatever is forcing me back there; “I DON’T DO HISTORY DAMMIT. I’M NOT THAT KIND OF WRITER.” But, the characters won’t listen. The muse demands.

So, I’m moving VERY SLOWLY, because I know next to nothing about this area in the 1930s and 40s, and while the muse whispering the plot and action (well, SCREAMING) at me is forceful, I’m not sure of the veracity of the voice. So, RESEARCH. Ugh.

But, it’s beautiful, because, dear ones, it’s been a while since I heard the voices in the way I used to when I wrote for the kids. I loved those voices. I felt as if they came from the needs of my students, as in, the voices were the energies of stories my charges wanted to tell, wanted to make sing in the universe, from that glorious life-force those kids embodied and wanted to birth into the real world; I felt like the work we did together gave them the strength and spine and courage and skill they needed to go out and tell their life-stories to a universe badly in need of love and truth and song.

So, yes. I welcome the voice, even though it is challenging me.

Meanwhile, the universe blesses me with a banquet of salves and gifts to encourage me during this challenge. Like, uhm, oh let me see — my glorious New York trip. And if that wasn’t enough to keep me smiling until I reach my nineties, yesterday I found out that Idra Novey,  the brilliant author of the novel Ways to Disappear, had quoted me on her website. Look here WAYS TO DISAPPEAR/IDRA NOVEY’S WEBSITEthere I am alongside Amy Bloom, Karen Russell, Leslie Jamison, Booklist, Kirkus, The New York Freaking Times! Such an honor to be included with such luminaries and, even more, to have someone of Idra Novey’s gifts and insight and talent think I belong there. Great day, right? Yes. (In case you missed it, click HERE for the blog in which I wrote about Ways To Disappear — which, if you haven’t read, you MUST.)

And other blessings, like I’m reading a wonderful new novel by Molly Prentiss called Tuesday Nights in 1980 about which I’ll be writing soon. I mentioned it on Twitter and a dear one DM-ed me with a warming message and is sending me another book she thinks I will love. Still more joy, and then a dear one gave me Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone, which I also love and will be shouting out soon. And another dear Twitter-pal posted a pic of Julia Murney, who I have long loved, and I commented about my adoration (semi-stalking) of her and she thanked me. (Small world note: the child who started my writing of shows, the one for whom I first KNEW I had to make theatre specific to her talents; Beth C., as a grown-up appeared in a show with Julia Murney!) The world is a lovely place, and the Twitter world is even lovelier. And I have made plans to meet a dear Twitter friend in real life later this month! And I am having dinner with my dear Diane tonight. And this Sunday is Mother’s Day, and two days later is the birthday of my dear sister, Debbie, and so this weekend I am making a feast for family, fifteen so far, for which I’ll be concocting and composing and cooking chickens and hams and macaronis and cheeses and red velvet cupcakes and yellow cakes with peanut butter icings and chocolate lava cakes and . . . it will be a fest of family love and celebration.

Beautiful, right?

I have a lot of love. And I have a lot of research to do. And the character, Hughes, just this morning whispered to me another secret about his aunt, and now I’ve got to find a way to access old newspapers around here for supporting facts for the fiction he’s given me and so . . . darlings, I leave you with Julia Murney singing about a Beautiful Boy (the lyrics of which supplied the opening quote of this blog entry) because I am a beautiful boy (wow, that is SO HARD to type, but, I did it for the Duchess and Sissie and all the others whose love has taught me how much I am loved, how beautiful I am, and I must honor them by believing it and living it every day, not surrendering to sorrow and self-deprecation) and while this life is NOT what I planned, while all of my original outline has bitten the dust (and swallowed it, and digested it, and shat it out, and … you get it) well, the energy and life-force of it– the yet to be told stories — wants to be expressed, and if I don’t, then who will?

Happy Day, my dears.

Work in progress … not much progress but …

Okay, dear ones, here it is – sort of-ish-Chapter 1 of a work in progress and I think I like it but I also need some affirmation — let me know if it makes you feel anything at all, okay?

 

SEPIA FALLOWS: CHAPTER 1: CW

“The forsythia are in bloom!”

CW jumped, dropping The Collected Dorothy Parker first edition, his attention torn from re-organization of the bookshelves to the doorway where Hughes stood, arms full of cut branches already dropping yellow blooms, a trail of which he’d no doubt left as he’d gamboled all the way from the mud-room door, up three flights to Belle Reve Suite.

“You didn’t notice; they match my outfit,” Hughes continued, sounding a trifle peevish at CW’s having turned away without comment on his nineteen-eighties, disco-shiny, lemon-canary colored coveralls-ensemble (Gallic pronunciation, if you please) du’jour to pick up Mrs. Parker and continue culling the shelves of other out of place books; those not by Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, or William Faulkner, the only authors allowed in the Southern Gothic themed Belle Reve.

“These forsythia called to me, asking to be taken to Camelot,” Hughes slowed, inserting the sort of dramatic ritard he used when announcing he’d had one of his glimmers, as he called them, “The room wants re-freshening as it will soon be occupied.” Again, CW went silently about his business, ignoring Hughes clear invitation to interrogation. Again, Hughes adopted a peevish tone. “Well, someone is on the way who belongs there. These forsythia told me so in a very powerful scintillation. You know, of course, forsythia are named for William Forsyth, Scottish botanist founder of the Royal Horticultural Society?”

“No. But I do know Dorothy Parker said, ‘You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her drink.’ Which I thought was extremely funny when I was young and then, I lived, and experience taught me that most whores don’t hesitate even a little when presented with a drink. Or, should I say; Cocktail?”

“You should not.”

“And, what does Scottish botany have to do with Camelot?”

“It’s all Great Britain. Celtic. Something to do with Aquitaine and one of the Henrys. The third or maybe the fourth one.”

“Celtic, shmeltic. My knowledge of Great Britain’s history is entirely supplied by Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road, Kate Hepburn in Lion in Winter, Lerner and Lowes glorious musical – though glorious only in its original Broadway cast recording, not the abominable adaptation of a film. Did I mention that along the way in my wasted youth I saw Christine Ebersole play Guinervere to Richard Harris’s Arthur and Richard Muenz’s Lancelot?” Having thus established what he considered a clear victory in the never-ending competition with Hughes to claim superiority in the area of useless trivia, CW risked a glance and a smile. Or, smirk. “Now, I really would like to finish straightening up these shelves. I don’t understand how these books keep migrating to the wrong rooms around here. People need to be more careful. Or, should I develop a color-coding system, something to indicate in which room they belong?”

“You should not. The forsythia are in bloom, CW. Spring has sprung. You should get out of the house. Come, walk the Sepia Fallows grounds with me.”

“Grounds is an awfully highfalutin term for a couple of acres of lawn, Hughes. And I’ve a million things to do today, including, it seems, getting Camelot ready for a guest. Is this actual knowledge or just a tingle?”

“Glimmer. And glimmer is as good as a fact. What in the world is wrong with you today? Come, you need air. A walk.”

“What I could really use is a Xanax. But I’ve sworn those off as well. Now, go, I’ve no time. Anyway, I – unlike you, apparently – lost custody of all my disco costumes in one of my falls from grace, so, alas, having nothing to wear, I must decline.”

“Well, you may have cast away your disco togs, but I can see you’ve held tight to your lumpen, snit-fitting frocks. I shall leave you to smother all joy and light in them.” Hughes twirled away, torqueing dramatically, the atmosphere around him made flavescent by shedding forsythia blossoms, then stopped in a pose he thought not unworthy of Bette Davis during her heyday. “And don’t worry, I’ll clean up the flower trail. I wouldn’t want you to be able to follow it and find me, not in the mood you’re in.” And, Hughes exeunt, stage left stairway.

April. Spring. The forsythia in bloom. CW wondered if Hughes expected him to tend the grounds and mow the grass. If so, he’d insist on a mower other than the antique rotary reel model he’d seen in the Back 40 Shed while searching for a snow shovel during the January blizzard, a blizzard Hughes had christened “The Donner Debacle” in that annoying way he had of inventing sobriquet for everything from weather events to rooms in his home, sheds, and people, evidencing his addiction to florid elaboration.

How, CW wondered, had the grass been mown?

Though Hughes was remarkably, even annoyingly energetic for a fellow in his seventies, he couldn’t have tended the three acres of Sepia Fallows before CW had arrived in October. Or, maybe he could have; on second thought, CW could easily picture Hughes promenading in a safari-themed get-up even Little Edie might have considered garish. Who knew? Hughes was also annoyingly mysterious about some things, like his past, how he’d arrived at Sepia Fallows, and who had done what prior to CW’s being hired as – whatever it was he was. Although “hired” wasn’t really what he’d been. Accident-ed was closer to the truth. CW had retreated to Sepia Fallows in the autumn after the latest of his falls and in the seven months since had become embrangled in Hughes combination boarding/bed and breakfast/halfway house.

Now it was April. Now it was spring. Now the forsythia were in bloom. And according to Hughes’ good as a fact glimmer, someone would soon be arriving to occupy Camelot.

“Pray musical theatre gods that it is not Guinevere. I’m in no mood for a soprano. And, sorry forsythia and Hughes-overalls, but, I hate,” CW said to himself, “yellow.”

CW knew Hughes had been right to call him on the wearing of his snit-fit-frock. He had a bad case of the Mean Reds. Exacerbated by being so pathetic he had to borrow even descriptions of his moods and life conditions from other writers – well, actual writers – even if, in this case, it was someone as masterful as Truman Capote. And whatever CW could come up with should he ever actually sit down again to write — or, un-write — would never be as perfectly apt as; “Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.”

Although, CW maybe knew. CW maybe had a clue. CW was maybe thinking too much again. CW – no maybe about it – had a bad habit of calling himself CW over and over as if the repeated incantation of his name might conjure some enchantment to part the mists of his ditheration and magically accomplish the editing of his three-hundred-thousand-word mess of an inchoate “un-agented-first” manuscript into a two-hundred-thousand word cohesion of a “hot new debut repped by” novel. Alas, Queen Morgana he was not, and Sepia Fallows was not portal to Avalon, books about which could be found in the Camelot Suite of Sepia Fallows.

So thought CW, busying himself with anything to avoid facing his logorrheic fog, choosing instead those chores he knew (or, thought) he ought to be doing, which, in that moment, after he’d finished re-organizing the books, involved the following from Sepia Fallows’ never quite finished maintenance list: laundry, food shopping and prep, common area cleaning, and, because of the arrival of spring and its rains, the placement of ant traps illegally smuggled from Mexico, where ant-free homes were prioritized over human health concerns – as, CW thought, it should be. All of which quite necessary activities unavoidably delayed the word-cutting required by the latest helpful acquaintance who’d promised to forward CW’s magnum-magnum-opus to an agent.

On the condition that CW . . .

. . . deep breath . . .

Cut. A. Third.

Those were the instructions.

Since the ego-deflating decree – not the first time CW had been told his ramblings were rather less Proustian and more puffy, pontifical prattle. Which such alliterative thinking along with his over-comma’d, em-dashed, en-dashed mess of punctuating, he knew, would set every poor, put-upon copy editor in the world to weeping; “Why can’t he just say he talks too much? Why must he always blather to beat the band (and this cliche, C.W. knew, too, would be DELETED) and be out-Baroque-ing Balzac?” Oh dear, even in his imaginary quoting of copy editors bemoaning his periphrastic meandering, he was circumlocutory. And, abstruse. And, discursive.

CW had tried multiple methodologies to emend his bildungsroman. He’d struggled through his Luddite disability, managed to download the manuscript to his Kindle, where it sat with all the other books he’d purchased, and, just like those, remained unread. He’d then transferred it to a flash-drive and paid eighty-seven dollars and forty-nine cents to have Staples print out a double-spaced, three-hole-punched version, for which he’d purchased two large three-ring binders as there was not one large enough into which to fit the entire novel.

Cutting a third of his novel, after having cut so much of his life, was one too many too big a thing. One too many whelmings to add to the already over. One too many too much-ness. For which he was not enough, with which he could not cope, like Lady Macbeth, his bosom too full of that perilous stuff, rooted sorrows weighing upon his brain and heart, the razing out of which he’d meant to do by taking on this position at Sepia Fallows. Here, where being combination caretaker-custodian-concierge-librarian – and possibly gardener – was meant to distract him from the dichotomy of having once been considered one of the most brilliant, agile minds of his cohort who, somehow, now had left all his half-careers, whole ambitions, and fractional loves behind, to spend his life mostly alone, in bed by 8:30, surrounded by stacks of to-be-reads and the secret of having spent the earlier part of that afternoon under a married, muscular thirty-five year old “straight” man who grunted imprecations of, “Don’t move, bitch. You want me to seed you, don’t you? I’m trying so hard not to cum, right now. Tell me you want it. Tell me you fucking want it. That’s why you came right? You want my big, fat straight cock-seed. Oh fuck. I’m cumming. I can’t hold it. Oh God.”

CW didn’t believe in god. Or marriage. Or “straight”. Or love.

Which was why a thirty-five year old with a wife was fine.

Sometimes a person needed sex. And, anyway, he was better than the twenty-five year old who smelled of stale smoke and cheap beer and wanted only car play, parked in spots where discovery was always a danger. Part of the rush. And, anyway anyway, while CW did not use a pen name, he did use a pen(is) name: Brendan.

When he was tricking he was not CW.

When he was CW he was not tricking.

Half. Whole. Fractional. One, the other, all, some part illusion. Illusion: a trick of the light.

No, CW much preferred the dark, rarely looked at his unclothed self.

Brendan, though, was brazen, unbridled in his willingness to be naked.

CW insisted to himself that Brendan was the freedom CW had never had. That Brendan solved the problem of CW having never wanted long-term companions other than his books.

CW was beginning to suspect that the gap between CW and Brendan was filling up with something that required editing as difficult as the novel-cutting he was avoiding.

CW: “Nature abhors a vacuum. Some Greek said that first, hadn’t they?”

Brendan: “A hole. Fill it. I don’t care what race.”

CW. Brendan. Gap. Mean reds.

Clean Camelot.

Bowie

David-Bowie-david-bowie-21566594-871-1280David Bowie was, for me and I suspect many others like me, a beacon of what freak could achieve. He not only didn’t apologize for being other, he cultivated its colors, reveled in its complications and possibilities, making it clear that somewhere there existed a world in which we outcasts were not only cool, but, desired. We could rule.

He played a role in my Bildungsroman, unpublished novel, Libertytown, and I include part of that here, this morning, because, well, here it is, going.

 

 

 

LIBERTYTOWN, the novel (an excerpt from Chapter 9, August 2004, u no what i mean)

It was that summer, my thirteenth, when I discovered my talent – not for theatre, but for appearing to know myself, an ability to hide the terror I felt inside behind an assumed sophistication gleaned from movies, books, and those Sunday New York Times clippings I’d hung on my walls, I perfected my imitation of who I thought I might be; a scathing wit possessed of an extravagant vocabulary and cultural frame of reference.

At Theatre Camp, I actively cultivated the persona of sophisticated libertine and I played the character with aplomb. It was my signal achievement of the summer, becoming someone I had never been, seemingly at ease and intimidating to both the other students and the staff. Unaccustomed as I was to being thought cool, interesting, urbane, or – most of all – dangerous, I embraced it with vigor and encouraged the myth.

The camp was at a college on the fringe of Baltimore an hour from Libertytown, and of the one hundred or so students attending ranging in age from thirteen to forty-something, only six of us were “dormers“, residing on campus, the others were all local. This resulted in we male theatre dormers, of which there were exactly two, being housed amongst summer students from other programs, most of whom were football players struggling to maintain eligibility. The night we resident campers arrived we were herded to the theatre building for a meeting where we were told the rules which consisted of no underage drinking and no drug use. It was a simpler time, much less fearful, and the notion now of a group of thirteen to sixteen year olds being given such unsupervised freedom would be actionable in most states. After the brief lecture, we were handed our meal tickets and given a tour of the areas of campus we’d need to know, ending back at the theatre building where we were seated and told to wait for our leader.

Lavinia Kazakh swept into the room, bellowing a bravura “Welcome fellow explorers and adventurers in the performing arts. “ She was a prematurely gray thirty-something fast riser in the department who’d begrudgingly taken on the summer program. Soon enough she would label many of us in that room “dilettantes and hobbyists,” but that night, Lavinia hid her frustration that we were children, or, worse, untalented children, by lighting lavender candles and patchouli incense and forcing us all into a cross-legged floor sit, hand holding circle in the center of which she stood – or, rather, twirled and posed and gesticulated as she bestowed upon we humble disciples forty-five minutes of imperious oration on the importance of the bohemian artist in the world, and the pride we should take in being considered “malcontents of unconventional stripe.” It soon enough became clear she did not mean this incited swagger to extend to questioning her superciliousness nor the benefit of spending hours pretending to be a piece of frying bacon, or chatting with trees. However, at the introductory session, she had not yet been disabused of her vision of how grateful we would all be to worship at her mime instructor feet.

When Lavinia finished her reception shtick she encouraged us, well – encourage is perhaps not quite strong enough a word – she demanded we proud malcontents begin to familiarize ourselves with the souls of our fellow adventurers, at which point I was approached by Carrie and Stash, both clad in safety-pinned adorned, torn garments of black and purple, the kind of painfully hip deviant poseurs who might appreciate my Earth shoes and erudition in ways my hometown peers could not, the faux-punk-Beat generation-cum-Bloomsbury/Algonquin-Studio 54 cohort I had always dreamed of befriending. Carrie, who looked like David Bowie with Joni Mitchell-long blonde hair, wore cooly her heroin addict thin frame, and impenetrable sneer of disappointment, was the speaker.

“We can tell you saw through that too. She’s so full of shit. We love fags. You are a fag, whether you know it or not. I’m infallible about these things.”

“She is,” Stash agreed, more personable but less well-kempt, she disdained personal hygiene in a misinterpretation that Patti Smith’s rats-nest hair implied a distaste for bathing, deodorant, and other modern ablutions. “She’s Carrie and I’m Stash, which is, alas, not about drugs, but short for Anastasia. My parents. Dicks. Russian. Stupid name. Anyway, you are a total fag, right?”

It was the first time in my life where the secret I’d never spoken seemed it might be a plus. I leapt.

“Yeah, I’m a total fag.”

The liberation of that utterance is still difficult to describe; the lifting of the weight as they came from me sounding, as they did, so guilelessly true, unpracticed, natural, was as if I had never before actually taken a deep breath. The feelings, urges, and shameful lusts I had tried completely without success to hide but which clearly shone brightly enough to invite the name calling and locker tossings to which I had been regularly subjected throughout my life were now an asset; there was such a throwing off of chains and fear when at last I was able, out loud, to not just own, but celebrate them. I immediately became a new person.

“Goddammit I wish I had a dick so I could be a fag.” Stash, with her kohled eyes, ravishing cheekbones, and bountiful breasts was the least androgynous of we three, who had become in those moments, what Lavinia would later call “the unholy trinity.” I continued my development of the new Parker character, taking my improvisatory cues from Stash.

“Not with those tits. You don’t look like a dyke either.”

“No. Fuck all. I’ve done some diving but I’m totally into dick.”

“Yeah. A day without dick is like a day without …”

“Dope.” Carrie was back into what I would later realize was likely no less a fabricated confession of personal revelation than were my own that summer. “You got any on you?”

“Shit, no. I didn’t bring any. You?”

“Fuck all. Nazi parents checked our bags. They sent us here to the gulag to get us away from all that. Like goddam theatre camp isn’t gonna be all about drugs.”

“And dick. I hope.” And I did. Though I had not yet touched a dick other than my own, though I had spent my life attempting to subsume my desire to do so, within five minutes of meeting Stash and Carrie, I had debuted fully formed the Parker appropriated from the ether of movies, books, media, and my imaginings. He had – clearly – been around the block, perhaps even, worked it. Without hesitation I’d shed who I’d been, the naïve Catholic boy, the unpopular, petrified pussy and become a proud, out bohemian Sissy.

We made our way back to the dorms, where we inaugurated what became our nightly posing as nodded-out junkies, nearly incapable of lifting our heads or coherent speech, a ritual of worshipping at the altar of Carrie’s collection of Bowie albums played on her fold-up stereo at volumes and in enforced isolation meant to alienate us from the three remaining residents; Betsy, a curly red headed white girl from California with “connections in the biz”, Lisa, an ingénue already on the wane and my first exposure to bulimic-anorexics, and the other male, Abe, “a Manhattan Jew,” as he liked to say, whose parents had – for reasons that were soon all too clear – sent him far from his home in the actual center of the theatrical world to study at a second tier Maryland college for the summer. He was my roommate.

I had arrived earlier in the day and claimed the top bunk, but when we reached our room, Abe, who had said almost nothing through Lavinia’s communist indoctrination session, tried to speak.

“I n-n-n-n-need to be … n-n-n-need to be … on top.” I thought he said, but he whispered, barely audible, his back to me as I was unpacking. I turned, not sure he’d really been speaking to me.

“What?”

Abe turned to me, never raising his eyes from the industrial carpet.

“I n-n-n-need the top … the top … top … bunk.” This time it was a little louder, but equally slow, as if each word required gargantuan effort of breath and mind, as if, somehow, speech was unnatural to him, as if every time he spoke it was like a child learning to ride a bike; he couldn’t just do it, he had to concentrate on every aspect of it and so it was this painfully uncertain, wobbly exercise.

“You need it?”

He slowly raised his eyes to mine, and revealed something frightening, something angry, something pleading. He clearly thought I was taunting him by having required clarification of someone for whom communication was such torture. He would make sure I did not ask again by answering in what began as a whisper, but grew in volume as he hobbled closer and closer to me, getting louder and louder with every word, until I felt like Nell, tied helpless to train tracks, a locomotive hurtling toward me, looming huger and more thundering until I was pulverized.

“I can’t … I can’t … I can’t … I CAN’T SLEEP … UNDER SOMEONE!”

“Uhm … okay.” I grabbed my stuff off the top bunk and moved it to the bottom, wondering how I would make it through the next weeks with this psychopath. While I was, at the time, unusually thin, Abe was nearly invisible; where I was blonde and sharp and quick of tongue, Abe was dark and slow and stuttering, the simplest of spontaneous conversations a challenge for him. But God, or, Whomever, works in mysterious and unfair ways.

Abe was an acting genius.

Supplied with a script, Abe morphed instantly with no visible effort into someone else. It wasn’t so much acting as psychic channeling. That such a tiny little frame and agonized little psyche could contain all the people he became that summer fascinated me. And infuriated me. We would not be friends. I could not forgive his divinely ordained talent nor could he control his envy of my social dexterity, both of us resenting the other’s gift as undeserved fluke of nature, resentment aggravated by the incompatibility of my verbosity and his aphasic disorder.

Our second day of camp, we were divided into cutely named “discipline collectives” of fifteen to twenty students who rotated teachers throughout the day. During the four week session we would be instructed in mime, dance, improvisation, musical theatre singing, acting, classical acting, and for the few remarkably gifted among us, directing, and beginning the second week we would be cast in various shows to be performed the final day. I was relegated with thirteen other students I immediately perceived as the least talented into the Chekov Group. I’d never read Chekov, nor had anyone else in the group, but I at least knew – if vaguely – who he was, while others thought we’d been named after a STAR TREK character. It was clear we were outcasts of whom little was expected, neither as pretty nor as effusive as the other pods with their far better names; the Bernhardts who would concentrate on classical acting, the Barrymores who would focus on modern texts, the Isadoras who would focus on dance-based theatre, the Marceau’s who would concentrate on mime (for whom, of course, Lavinia was the mentor), and the Martins who would concentrate on musical theatre. We Chekovs drew as mentor a tired, wasted looking professor with shoulders so stooped as to appear deformed and prematurely gray hair, Dr. Peter Boynton, who substituted effusiveness for skill and was one of those adults who try to curry favor by sharing secrets and information with their students in tones denigrating the authority they themselves represent.

“The others would never tell you this, my little Chekov’s, but there’s a competition between the mentors to see who has the most talented kids. Sorry Charlotte and Pat, I know you’re not kids. We’re lucky to have you two – grown-ups – I’ll be expecting you to jump in and correct me when I’m wrong.”

Pat and Charlotte were not kids, true enough, but two of the five adults who were taking the course. I learned little of Pat’s biographical details but that she was gray, overweight, old, and a high school chorus teacher who‘d been assigned to take over the drama program despite the fact that her theatrical experience consisted wholly of directing her church Christmas pageant: The Enemy.

Charlotte, on the other hand, was glamorous. Pale almost to the point of translucence, with hair dyed the blonde and arranged in what I thought was the style of Debbie Harry but which she’d meant to call to mind Marianne Faithful, she floated amongst us in a cloud of floral scent and unfiltered Gauloises, and despite the summer heat, wore always a vampirish black cape and long purple scarf that matched its lining. She was all the shades of a bad bruise, this blotch of inky onyx and violaceous shadow, evanescing into sallow, jaundiced flesh, edged with the shocking yellow coif.

While Pat was prone to saying things that made us view her with contempt when we acknowledged her at all, such as, “I know the world has changed and you’re not my students, but, as a favor to me, could you please – it just bothers me so much to see those sweet faces of yours saying – using the – that F word.” On the other hand, Charlotte’s favorite word was “cunt” and she affected a slightly British accent – which she’d somehow acquired growing up in Michigan – and gossiped of backstage goings on at Bowie concerts and how he and Mick Jagger fucked. She attached herself to Stash, Carrie, and me in a way that would now be frowned upon – a woman in her late twenties glomming onto a trio of misfit teens – but in 1974 – joined in our love for Ziggy Stardust and his ambiguous sexuality, Lou Reed and his drug addled diatribes, Mick Jagger and his lips, Patti Smith and her militant iconoclastic retro-romanticism, and Jim Carroll (who Charlotte, and thus Carrie and Stash, insisted I was exactly like) and his hustler death vibe. We idolized outcasts and pretended we too were anarchists. The Age of Aquarius hadn’t quite ended, and the sexual revolution was in full swing, and the scourge of AIDS was yet to infect us, the news was neither instantaneous nor filled with parents murdering their children, priests raping altar boys nor teachers molesting and marrying their teenaged students. I’m sure it was all going on, but it wasn’t polite to discuss it. We hadn’t yet become inured, un-shockable, and terrified like we would once Phil and Oprah had their way with us. So while Pat became someone else to distrust and defy, Charlotte became, along with Carrie and Stash, someone else to impress, another someone willing to recognize the me I longed to believe I was and feared I would never become.

I had not yet learned to recognize this fear in others. I was, at thirteen, incapable of conceiving that grown-ups could be as terrified – or, perhaps, more so – than we young people were. At the same time, I had never thought of myself as a child. My earliest memories have to do with wondering why I was trapped in the body and life I had. I had always wanted to believe that I was unique with a momentous destiny ordained by God to change the world. It was simply a matter of waiting for others to recognize my gifts. God had a special purpose for me, that’s what Sister Michael Immaculata had leaned into me and whispered when the test results for Maryland had been returned.

“Oscar Francis Parker, you have achieved the highest scores of any second grader in the entire state. Your I.Q. is in the high genius range. That means God has a very special plan for you. He has chosen you and you must always listen very carefully for His call, and not waste your gifts or disappoint the Lord.”

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties, when my therapist told me she wished she could throttle the now deceased Sister Michael Immaculata for having put such a burden on a child, that it ever occurred to me the nun could have been mistaken in telling me that. I firmly believed the Pope’s infallibility conveyed directly through his minions. Thus, I have just naturally assumed my entire life that I have somehow failed to live up to the gifts and expectations of the Gods – whichever of them by whatever name I happened to believe at the time – and if I could just try a little harder or be a little better (or a lot harder and better) then everything would happen, the inevitable miracle working I was meant to do would occur.

At thirteen, somehow finding myself a member of the cool and popular group at theatre camp, I believed that miracle to have begun. What difference did it make that I had completely invented myself, that the experiences I claimed in sex and drugs were almost entirely borrowed from books I’d read and things I’d imagined? From this perspective, here in my forties, having grown into someone more Pat than Charlotte, I know that Carrie, Stash, and Charlotte were likely no less invented than was I, but at thirteen, I had no idea, and so when Bernard approached and came on to me in his overt and challenging way, I was panicked about appearing the sophisticate I’d claimed to be.

Words in shapes unlike me . . .

It started a few weeks ago. I was sitting in a Barnes & Noble, having a coffee and reading The Best American Poetry 2015, and I was gobsmacked by the combination of beauty and brazen, blazing — dangerous, even — innocence of the passing teen boys and, too, my even more dangerous reaction to it. So, I wrote about it. And instead of the usual notebook entry that ends up going nowhere, that scribbling of my emotional tsunami became what I took to be a poem. Since then, other storms of feeling have shaped themselves into poetry. I do not kid myself that I have any gift for this, but, it is what I have to give to you for Christmas 2015. So, here you go.

TALL BOYS IN THE MALL

Tall boys in the mall

boys all noise

& ballsy bluster boys

so easily flustered by the gaze of

love for tall boys from

this cussed old man.

That was the first. A few days later, this . . .

THE ONLY KIND OF LOVE SONG I KNOW IS NAMED “GOODBYE”

Something carefully submerged

in me, the

unfathomable, intangible

stuff of soul

essence you made sing

cannot be for(you)given.

Go. Now.

That was the next, followed, soon, by . . .

OLGA, OUR DINER WAITRESS

Snorting coke in a New Haven gay bar bathroom

thirty-four years ago

yesterday remembered because: reasons.

Olga, our diner waitress, sits w/us & we ask

about her sister who has come here from Greece, now

& Olga says; “Not good.”

Olga remembers

no lemon in my iced tea

and my sister died recently

so Olga is loath to tell us details

when we ask about her sister, Olga says,

“I want to spare you memories. Not good.”

Olga steers me to the calf liver special

(see what I did there) and laughs

at my jokes & calls me honey

& Olga, sitting in our booth,

asks how is my Mom

& then difficult woman at table 3 waves at me

difficult woman at table 3 wants Olga’s attention

& I am forced to interrupt Olga’s explanation

of details of her sister’s “not good”

so difficult woman at table 3 can snivel to Olga

“This burger tastes wrong. The meat is bad.”

she wants a crab cake for the same price

I am furious on Olga’s behalf

I tell Olga it is a scam, she says, “Honey,”

she calls me Honey, “choose your battles.”

Olga says her sister, who is not good

has chosen not to take pain meds –

they are all I want

because I did not

choose my battles

I fought everything

everyone

everywhere

every day

snorted coke in a New Haven gay bar bathroom

thirty-four years ago

that night I was fired from waiting tables

for that battle where I threw a pizza

at a table of Yale football players

who had called me “faggot”

rude men rude boys who chased me down the street

but I had a head start and ducked into the gay bar

in New Haven where I snorted coke

thirty-four years ago and yesterday remembered

when Olga, our diner waitress, sat with us. She remembers

I hate lemons in my iced tea

& my sister died

& Olga’s sister is not good

& we must, honey, choose our battles

Long, formless, yes. But, Olga. And the diner. The relationships we make with people outside the boundaries of how “relationships” are often defined. It struck me. I wrote it. About a week later, I was feeling really like crap and wishing I had an in real life literary group to call my own and so spit this out, fast and barely punctuated . . .

SUICIDEATION UN-NUMBERED (in the millions, those)

I’ve no literate Leonard nor literal lighthouse nor beguiling band of Bloomsburyans nor vervain of a Vita so why these stones in my pockets?

I think it qualifies as a poem. Ha. After which I took a long break, or, rather, since I never intend to write poetry, there didn’t come until today any urge to speak focused truths, memories, in specific shape. But, today, for some unknown, unknowable reason, I was moved to write a sonnet. And, here it is:

The Semiotics of Sorrow, This Year When I Turned Fifty-Four

This year; Mommy having deftly dodged death
Said, “Remember B— C—? Your age? He died.”
I cried. Mommy, eighty-six, apologized,
“I didn’t know.” My age. Breathed his last breath.

This year; when I’d turned fifty-four, B— C—,
Dead. From the back seat, her, “I didn’t know”
So enraged and deflated me. “Well, no
You didn’t. I know.” He fucked then hid me

That year we were thirteen. Comparing cocks
Led to fumbling spurtings, we couldn’t last,
Blasting boy lusts and I said “love” too fast.
He didn’t. I know, now, there were no clocks

That year telling a time in which he’d not
Dread my love. I cried when he died this year.

 

That’s it. Merry Christmas, dear ones. Love and Light and all good things and joy for you and yours during your holidays.