Friday, March 17, 2006

Moving On


Dear Tammy, Lee, Renata, Jamie, Slade, Mark, Michael, Ras and anyone else who occasionally stops by,

I've been writing in Holding Patterns, on and off, for nearly three years. It is way too long to circle any one place, don't you think? I'm not sure if anyone even checks in here anymore but if you do...

Goodbye.

I just got accepted into a graduate program in Directing at The University of Washington. It is a highly competetive program and I'm blessed to get it --- and I'm taking it. So, I'm not really NOT moving anymore and this blog seems kind of pointless now.

For me, writing about my life over the past few years has been the next best thing to therapy --- and I've had more than a little of that tossed into the mix too. During some dark times this blog has held some of the best parts of me. So, if by some miracle you find this and are so inclined, please read a bit.

I was here, barely.

2002-2005

David Crowe

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Bridge

Today I have gone into the woods near our house with my father, also named David, to cut firewood. Big David doesn’t usually accept my offers of help because --- well, he doesn’t like me very much. Maybe it is because he stopped being BIG David when I turned fifteen and topped six feet. I suppose if we decided to sit down and just split hairs, we’d come to find out that despite thirty odd years together, we just don’t know each other very well. Between parents and children I am coming to find that this kind of isolation is a rather common disaster. In any case, we have gone to do this job together because we need the wood and we can’t manage another outrageous gas bill like the one we had for December. This is one of two reasons my father has accepted my help. The other reason I am in the woods today in a spare pair of coveralls and my old tennis shoes is that my father is getting old and he’s not able to do this kind of work alone anymore. This is something I would never ever bring up to my father although I’d like to. I’d like to remind him to take better care of himself, that two of his brothers have died of heart attacks and his oldest friend, Charles Popham --- who is my dad’s age, has such awful back problems that he doesn’t get up some days. My dad doesn’t like to be reminded of his burgeoning limitations though. So, every week for the next two months he and I will repeat this wood gathering ritual --- without speaking.

While I listen to the buzzing and roaring as he cuts a fallen tree with his power saw, I watch my mother make her way along the fence line and slowly across the pasture towards us. She is walking our dog, Milo, an eight year old American Eskimo Spitz who is spoiled within an inch of his little white life. By the time she and Miles get to us we are finishing up loading the pickup with wood. So, we all sit for a while on the tailgate and feed Milo Ritz crackers and look out over our land. It is four o’clock and already getting dark, but not too dark to see the fire ants boiling over the mound I stepped into. My mother notices and reaches down to brush a few of the little monsters off my pants leg. While mom continues to slap my leg and make me stomp my feet, dad points out out into the next field, separated only by a pitiful looking excuse for a barbed wire fence.

"Can you see the wheat is coming up David?" he asks.

I strain my eyes and sure enough the wheat is sprouting like a million little green pinky fingers sticking up through the soil to test the weather. Across the field the edges of the hills are already darkening and up above the sky is like a Bob Ross painting --- really --- almost pink in places and bright blue too with a seamless bridge of peach between the two. I must have gotten lost for a moment in a big cloud that looked strangely like a headless beaver because when I lean over to point it out to Mom, she's gone. If my father deals daily with the loss of his physical prowess, then my mother quietly deals with something too and I’ll have to be a little vague here because she hasn’t spoken to me about what troubles her. Something is on her mind, though and it makes her move silently and quickly away from us when we least expect it. She’s adept too and I call her “Ninja Lady” from time to time and sometimes she even smiles. Today she’s too far away already and my throat has been too sore for shouting so I follow her a bit. Behind me my dad is fussing to uproot a tiny stump that has caught his attention and I take a second to tell him to leave it alone and as usual he ignores me. After I’ve walked half the pasture I realize that Mom has really been walking fast because she and milo are no more than a little splash of white fur and pink shell suit in the distance.

The sun has almost completely gone now and in the field near dark-thirty I feel a slight wind on the back of my neck and turn back to Daddy.

“Goddammit” he mutters angrily, kicking the stump.

Ahead of me Mom has now sat down in the grass with Milo, her hand resting gently on his back.

Centered between my mother and father and at this very particular time of day I feel pointed at, as if someone were singling me out and whispering,

“Don’t you get it, you idiot?? Pay attention.”

Though I know it is the wrong impulse, I try to make sense of all these feelings that move against me and find words that will explain the moment.

It takes a minute but the little wind is still blowing against my face and by this I know if I am dilligent, something will indeed come.

And sure enough, it does:

I’m a bridge for my family. I am always in the middle because they need me to be. They need me to protect and connect and sometimes separate them.

I’m a bridge.

Down at the edge of the pasture I see Mom’s pink suit flutter in the twilight as she wobbles to a standing position and Milo darts across the green towards me. Behind me I hear a thud as my dad falls on his ass and after a moment the satisfied “Ahhh” when he realizes he has pulled the root free from the ground.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Not A Soul In Sight

It is hard to say if all this turmoil lately is a sign of some mental illness or if it is just my normalcy trying to re-assert itself in a mentally ill world.

Lately, I’ve been rolling ideas around in my head a lot longer before I let them out my mouth. You know what I am finding? Sometimes the first thing I plan to say is WRONG. Yep. Sometimes even the third or fourth versions don’t come close to nailing the truth of the moment. In any case, the well-scrutinized idea gets looked at from a lot of angles and offers some interesting insights about absolute opposites.

I have always assumed I was weak, certainly unable to manage any crisis above, say, spilled soup on a new pair of pants or a missed school bus. Here are some of my traits that live somewhere in the boondocks of bravery:

I am afraid of the dark.

I pretend to not understand things at work so I will have less responsibility.

I will do something wrong if I am instructed to do so, even if I know it is wrong in the first place.

I do not fight. Ever. With anyone.

I rarely shout... unless I'm frightened or something heavy falls on me.

I cannot hold a grudge for more than a few hours.

I believe that we are living in dark times and I do nothing except sit, eat, and watch television.

I am terrified of demonic possession movies and the actor Jack Lord from Hawaii Five-o.

So, knowing a short list of my faults/fears, you will understand why I have considered myself weak for most of my life. However, I now wonder if it is not just the opposite? I am beginning to think that my will is freakish and relentless. What kind of person NEVER fights? What good is a strong will that cannot be controlled? It gets perverse and not too user-friendly.

A therapist I saw for a while last year was determined to convince me that I had been molested as a child and had suppressed the memory. I kind of doubted it but I let him pursue the discussion until I finally just got sick of all the talk about it... and the $100/hour I was shucking out for it. I mean, it would explain some of my natural strangeness and I know from friends at group that it is a sadly common tragedy. After a couple of sessions, though, I finally had to make this therapist look for another theory. Besides, my mom is terribly overprotective. I didn’t cross our dirt road alone until I was fifteen. The chance of my being molested is about as plausible as my getting pregnant. The human mind is an amazing thing, though. Suppressed memories, multiple personalities and all the other fakey sounding disorders are probably very real, but in the end if I can’t pull up the memory and the therapist can’t pull up the memory then what’s the point? I’m alive now and I have plenty I need to talk about that has nothing to do with being wrongly touched as a child. As a matter of fact I am pretty sure nothing lost in my head could be as bad as what I do know for certain:

The childhood predator that my therapist has me looking for and running from has had me all along. He is somewhere behind my gray-green eyes, asleep, distracted, or simply...waiting. I am scared of my own will and the things it will build to hurt me. There is a deeper truth here but we’ll save that for later. For now we’ll talk about a different kind of haunting…

Del and Faye, two friends who run a theatre company in town, told me of a castle in Scotland that they visited annually. With absolute sincerity they explained that there was a terrifying force that inhabited that place and that they approached each visit with quiet caution. It was a joy to visit their friends and the exotic and beautiful locale filled them with a sense of life and vigor that was worth any risk, emotional or otherwise. In fact, the idea of a supernatural danger was a little titillating. As they told story after story of ghostly encounters and near misses, my body began to tingle. It wasn’t fear I was feeling and certainly not the giggly thrill that the idiots in “Ouija Board Death Movies” get before the shit really hits the fan. It was a sense of certainty. Absolute certainty. If the devil himself had clawed through the floor and screamed, “pay attention, Davey! This is something you shouldn’t mess with” I would not have been a bit surprised. As it turned out, none of that upsetting imagery was necessary. By some very basic sense or instinct of self-preservation it was clear to me that I would be a very bad addition to Hellhouse Scotland. If anyone out there ever wants to prove that all the horrible speculation about the supernatural is true then they should drag me, claws raking the earth every step, to this place. If the kind of violent force Del and Faye were describing needed some kind of reciprocation, as they implied, then I would be like a lightning rod. Juice for Satan! Not a good thing in any context.

Last December I woke up in the middle of the night freezing and I lifted myself up and pulled to get Milo's fat ass off my blanket. Something caught my eye and I began to focus on a shadow in the corner of my room. From this darkness I witnessed or made a face and a body from pitch, features pulling from a deeper darkness like overactive black taffy. As the thing's head began to solidify, my dog Milo stood up at the end of the bed and began to growl. An almost face was starting to smile from the twisting mass. Surely this was lucid dreaming. I blinked hard and tried to turn away but I could not make myself. Milo’s growl changed to a soft whimper and I remember thinking, "oh God this is bad. This is going to be very bad." Then, the low rumble of Milo's growl became a sharp yelp that either woke me up or broke the spell. The light switch was flipped on after a frantic and curse- filled fight with my ceiling fan and I couldn’t help breathing a sigh of relief at the beautifully cluttered and wraith-free room. I stroked Milo’s fur and whispered “Not a soul in sight," but he was still growling.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Denver Carrington


Today, as I drove down I-20, there were four police cars waiting behind a lonely clump of trees across the median. They do this when revenue is down in the county --- they wait, eager to ambush harried Soccer Moms and pimply teenagers driving even two miles over the speed limit. Even the tiniest infraction means a fine of about $200.

For a second, looking at the thick-necked cops primed to attack, I got an image of the bubbling waters of Bikini Atoll after the chum is dumped in to feed the radiation mutated sharks…insane mindless hunger just waiting for purpose. I slowed down to 45 miles per hour just in case one of them decided to risk jumping the concrete median barrier and clubbing me.

The Arbys near my sister’s house is my favorite fast food place. It is new, so it is clean and they have the best fries in the world, golden crisp little curls of fat masquerading as our old friend The Potato. I love them, as the little spare of blubber around my waist will attest.

On the way back to my sister’s I happily merged into what I thought was an almost empty highway, when I realized that I had pulled in front of a very big truck moving at an angry 100 miles per hour --- in the slow lane. The resounding horn blast lifted my little decrepit Ford Focus off the road as the monster truck and driver roared past.

Panicked and clutching a large Cool Vanilla Bean milkshake in one hand, I was unable to prevent what happened next. The second worst thing that could have happened did happen: I spilled every single curly fry into the floor of my car. Wisely resisting the urge to grope for them, instead I tried to focus on my poor pounding heart that was threatening to break three ribs from the inside. There’s no way I could have seen the driver at this point but I had a clear image of sweat--- red, pulsing, skin, and a greasy mullet all wrapped in rage. Glancing to the floor at my sad little brood of fries, I suppressed for the hundredth time that day another urge to scream like an enraged Nancy Kerrigan, “WHY ME????”

About 30 seconds later I saw the truck pulled over and the angry pack of policeman buzzing about, arms flailing, and scolding a very fatherly looking truck driver whose clenched jaw was visible from Mars. I slowed until he surprisingly looked up and for a split second made eye contact.

Oscar Wilde said,
The good ended happily and the bad unhappily, and that is fiction!

Well, not this time, Oscar baby! So rarely do we get to see people get exactly what they deserve. Keeping that in mind I indulged in an age old social act known as rubbing it in. In the split second the truck driver made eye contact with me, I had just enough time to think “HA! HA! HA! Serves you right!” and so I slowed my car even more, smiled like a Cheshire cat and gave him my best Joan Collins/Alexis Carrington “So Blake, I suppose you’ll be leaving Denver now?” smile and arched an eyebrow.

Hah! That’ll learn ‘em!

Looking back he probably thought I was coming on to him.

I always liked how Denver sounded like Denvah when Joan Collins said it.

Don’t you miss the days when we could see a good bisexual tryst, mudfight, and corporate takeover in the comfort of our own homes ---every week? Now everything on TV falls into two categories: REQUIRES TOO MUCH OF MY ATTENTION or JUST PLAIN DUMB.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Valentine Poem





I love your feet.

I love your fanny.

Not your head...

One face too many.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bound


After he was buried they read every word he wrote,
Searching in briefcases,
old books, kitchen drawers,
the trunk of his car…
For a journal entry, a note…

A grocery list.

The weight of his palm
resting against the paper
And a letter formed by his hand
Might hold his voice
Or at least a word

To release them.

Without substance,
a ghost still holds
Tightly
And with great regret
To the living.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Trapeze

The past two years or so have been bad.

I've lost my job, been sick, had sick family, and slept through days at a time. At the height of my depression I dragged myself out of bed, put toast in the toaster, and was back in bed before the toast popped up.

I'm not complaining, simply stating a fact.

Recently a friend asked me,

"What would you do, David, if someone said 'It is going to be okay. It is all going to be okay'?"

Looking back, there was a touch of crabbiness in his voice. He was rightly sick of my perennial ennui. In any case, I could only answer like an angry skinhead who would never master double digit multiplication,

"I don't know."

Blah!

"I don't know what I'd do if someone stuck their head down from the clouds and said, 'It is going to be okay.'"

This weekend I was in North Georgia working a wedding with my new job. The company I work for put us up in a very nice Holiday Inn Express that touted king-sized beds and free breakfasts. After twelve hours of non-stop work, I was reminded of having my tonsils out and being told I could eat all the icecream I wanted. See, no one wants icecream after the tonsils have been ripped out of their throat, nor did I care about the bed size or any food when I came in exhausted at 1AM. Fuck the free grits. I collapsed in a tiny corner of my king-sized bed and fell asleep with my shoes on.

My dreams have become vivid, odd excursions into the lives of female popstars and doctors on exotic islands. There are also, for the first time in thirty years, plots to follow in my dreams, stories that (sort of) make sense.

My first night at the Holiday Inn Express I dreamed I was part of a five sister Italian trapeze team. Sitting aloft, high above the crowds I was beautiful, like the lovelier Salma Hayek version of Frida Kahlo. My sisters and I sat upon tiny swings, so high that soft, white clouds loomed below us. Two of my sisters had fallen I found out as the dream shifted into something akin to a 1940's newsreel. They had simply lost their grip and were swallowed by the clouds, legs kicking and hands grasping desperately for the trapeze.

I remember being terribly afraid. My sisters and I rubbed our hands with chalk and gripped each other tightly, letting the moment settle as if to say " I have you. I love you"

I remember swinging and feeling the airy brush of the clouds on my slipper covered feet...

and hearing worry from the crowd below in the form of "Ahhhh." and "Nooo."

I remember swinging...

releasing...

and falling.

Except...

I did not fall.

My tiny frame was, instead, pushed sideways through the night sky, through clouds and past startled birds. Stars were golden blurs as I left the arena and was pushed into a surburban setting. My perilous velocity slowed until I became afraid that I would simply plop out of the sky. So, I gently stepped and skipped upon clouds and treetops and finally eased through an opened second story window and into my own bed.

In my dream I gasped and in reality I woke up with what I believe was the same breath. No ghostly affirmations echoed from the dark room but I was certain...I am certain for the first time in a long time that everything is going to be okay. The shadows in the room did not seem sinister, for a change, and inside I felt... tired but lighter, like I had just taken the biggest dump of my life.

It was as if someone had kissed me lightly on the lips and said,

"Stop this. You're going to be fine."

I sat on the edge of my king sized bed in the Holiday Inn Express and softly cried for a good twenty minutes.

Then, I cleaned up and went downstairs for some free grits.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Strength



There are subtleties in strength.

Fine lines between the fingers of a fist
transform
before the eyes, into the ribbon
on a gift given freely.

A blade extended and then dropped
leads up to the hand
which lifts, holds,
and protects.

Silence is thunder
in a momentof simple certainty.
Forget lightning.
Forget clouds, and rain.
Look instead at the sleeping form
of your lover, blue and dark
before the morning.
Watch the sunlight kiss his shoulder
and move along his face as if to say:
“Remember this moment."
"Remember!”
Watch until the light fills the room
And reflects love’s face back
in your own eyes.

Strength knows nothing or war,
but lives instead in the homes
of the common man.
It lives in words
brought to the breakfast table,
and the whispers
left sleeping in the folds
of unmade beds.

Strength lives in the hearts
that swell and sometimes break
in order to embrace both love and loss
and the power pulled tight
between these two poles.

In the face of such breathtaking life
a fist can only open and submit
like a flower
opening
to the sun.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Making Babies


Today, in an effort to be even a smidge productive, I started poking through our attic and began to unpack and sort our old craft stuff. These were things we’d made over the years that had eventually found their way to obsolescence. It was a big old grave yard of lanyards, rainbow loom potholders, wooden clothes pin toy soldiers, and ornaments of every known variety. There were also two dolls, wrapped in tissue and placed alarmingly in little coffin-like cardboard boxes.

The Cabbage Patch Dolls really took off in the early Eighties, so it must have been the late Eighties when the secret patterns were smuggled out of Babyland General. The race to build your own baby began. Honest housewives and mothers, scoffing at the outrageous $50 price tag, could now give Toys R Us the finger and head for the sewing machine. My mother, a very fine seamstress and artist, began baby making at sun up one day. She was tickled at the idea of having her very own hand-made baby just in time to place the little angel in my old crib for the night. She organized her material, barely glanced at the pattern and instructions, and began. At lunch she announced that it was a breeze and only had to attach the head and add the facial features. Perhaps it was the gruesome morgue technician vocabulary and bounce Mom used, or the idea of making outfits for her VERY OWN baby doll that inspired my sister. Tam, who was just finishing her last year of a Masters in Microbiology at the University of Georgia, decided that she too would make a Cabbage Patch Baby. So, right after lunch, she left for the fabric store and my mother returned to the task of "making a head for that baby".

My mother quickly found what everyone was discovering: attaching the head is not easy. In fact, it was downright impossible. I imagine hopeful housewives and baby-builders worldwide simultaneously throwing scissors and screaming,

"Shit!"

The day progressed, and though we kept our distance from her sewing room, we saw Mom in and out from time to time. Her jaw was setting in an ever-tightening line of resolve."Oh, I’ll have that baby in that crib by nightfall. In fact, I’m going to take a little break from the head and build her a little white nightgown now." By nightfall, however, there was no baby. There was a body, a head, and a lovely cotton nightgown with lace trim.

As the family sat down to eat dinner, my mother sat each dish down heavily. Her gestures seemed to say "Here’s your goddamned slaw. My baby will have to wait till tomorrow". Tam was also uneasy. The $30 dollars worth of fabric and baby toy accessories she had splurged on that afternoon suddenly seemed like a rash decision. I mean, if my mother was feeling whipped, then making babies was a pretty tough job. My father sat to my left and was generally pretty oblivious to such subtle shadings of family function. However, tonight he was feeling pretty sure that there was something he should say, so he turned to my mother and innocently said the LAST thing he should have said:

"How’s that baby-doll coming Ellen?"

Before she could snap at him, I asked with conviction:

"Would you call it an abortion or a stillbirth, Mama?"

Once again, my father owed me for saving him through my own sacrifice. And how did he repay me? I was sent from the table to eat alone in the living room, which suited me fine. There was plenty to watch on TV. The first time I was punished this way he made me leave the television off, but after a few minutes it became an experiment in psychological suspense for the entire family. The sound of forks clicking plates and mouths smacking was simply surreal and sent little jabs of panic into the brains of the eaters. After about two minutes of this, I was asked to return to the table if I thought I could learn manners….oh and turn Wheel of Fortune back on when I passed by.

The next morning I woke up and Mother ushered me into her bedroom. Tam was already standing there, groggy and puzzled, and together we witnessed Mom’s tiny miracle "asleep" in the little crib next to her bed. We were told that the pretty little thing’s name was Sally and as we peeked into the little crib it became clear that she was anything but pretty. Her lack of neck was profound, and worse, there were deep folds in the lower part of her face where my mother had carefully sewn body to head. She looked like a very, very old baby.

"Isn’t she pretty?" my mother asked.

It was still very early in the morning, so my memory fails. We must have been gentle or lied outright though, because mother was satisfied and Sally became a showpiece for several years. Eventually sanity and aesthetic would return and Sally would be spared the horrified gaze of visitors and relatives given a tour of the house. That morning, however, as I was getting ready for school my sister and I discussed our freakish "baby sister".

"What it looks like", Tam began with authority, "is that baby has Progeria. Do you know what that is?"

"The disease where kids look really old." I replied immediately.

"How do you know this shit? You’re twelve." Tam is simply astonished.

"I only know things that are useless to me." I answered simply.

"Well," she says as she pulls her reddish hair back into a long pony tail. "My baby ain’t gonna have no wrinkly neck."

When I returned home from school that day, Mother’s sewing room was blocked from the inside. Tam was working in private and [we’d just see how well she managed] Mother whispered with anticipation. The reality of Sally’s ugliness was beginning to eek into Mom’s consciousness and she really wanted Tam’s baby to be an even uglier offspring. Suddenly fierce and competitive, Mother declared,"Ain’t no way Tammy is going to get that head on any better."

The next day when we were summoned to the sewing room to view the "newborn" its neck was noticeably much smoother and even. Mother was not disappointed at Tam’s success, though. Apparently, to compensate for all the folds and wrinkles, Tam had just continued to stuff foam into the head. As the wrinkles stretched out and vanished, the child’s head ballooned to ghastly proportions. End result: the head was arguably as large as the baby’s body and the painted eyes were farther apart than they should be. The baby looked like a big-headed, blonde, Mayan.

"Where’s her nightgown?" Mom asked quickly.

"It won’t have clothes." Tam said with complete lack of expression.

Apparently this was what post-partum depression was like.

Mother announced that she’d make up a little dress or something for it and asked her name. Tam said nothing and so I asked if I could name her. No one seemed to care so I decided on the bold and exotic "Guama". It seemed to suit the little thing and give a nod to her clearly primitive ancestry. Tam seemed not to even hear my suggestion and only stared at the child with red eyes.

"It’s a mongoloid." She said sadly.

Today, all over the web, you can find sites devoted to handmade items that my friend Eric calls "Creepy/Dear". These are the little things that begin as innocent attempts at building something precious, but end with a slightly imperfect and vastly disturbing craft item. Apple-headed dolls exemplify the phenomenon, with their human bodies and desiccated mummy faces. A common trait in most of the Creepy/Dear is their never-blinking, painted eyes which suggest either perennial surprise or brain damage---or both. Once, my mother made a pioneer duck-woman whose, long Calico dress became a lovely vacuum cleaner cover. Its dead, un-moving, button eyes suggested a very disturbed fowl, though. When placed on her perch atop our Hoover, Ducky stood at nearly five feet and took on fairly human proportions. I simply could not look at the thing without imagining some grisly death by beak or flipper. Our maid regularly screamed and dropped things when she’d forget about the duck. Thinking she was alone and turning quickly, Miss Ora Lee would come face to face with the duck vacuum cover and experience real terror. Finally, after a similar instance nearly killed my Grandmother on an overnight visit, my mother sadly folded her pioneer/sociopath/duck-woman into a box and put her into the attic.

At the end of the day, as I sit around a mass of opened boxes and scattered craft items, it is clear that this venture has been more about sentiment than organization. As the sun goes down I am becoming a little more cautious in my unpacking. I pause and feel a little bit of nostalgia for the generation of Mongoloid Cabbage Patch babies that suffer from Progeria and I stare warily at the next un-opened box. I even develop a little breathing technique so that I can marshal my fear-response. Which box will hold the duck woman? She no longer haunts my dreams. After all, it is only hot glue and fabric.

Is that the faux fur kitten-head toilet seat cover or a very unlucky squirrel?

Don't scream!

These are precious.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Oprah's Pick



One year ago I worked at a bookstore making six dollars an hour.

It was my career.

Fat.
Over thirty.
Bald.
Lives with parents.
Shitty job.

Actually, I should reign in the attitude a little. Six dollars an hour is better than my current zero dollars an hour.

There was excitement too. Yes. My job then was as close to being a detective as you can get in the world of retail. People expected you to know exactly what they wanted, when sometimes they didn’t even know. Some of them had never actually seen books (only heard tell) and entered with the fearful, darting eyes of a novice onstage and trying improv comedy for the first time. Some wandered the aisles with even more anxiety and awe. Their dazed expression suggested a hooker suddenly awake and trying to piece together exactly how she ended up at Six Flags. These are the ones who always found their way to me. So I had to do some detective work. At the time, in an effort to impress my folks, I told them it was kind of like Matlock, except with books. Their eyes widened.

Actually, this is what customers usually asked me:

“I need the new Oprah book”.

“I don’t have a title but I need a book about love”.

“Do you have the Cliff’s notes to Jonathan Livingston Seagull”?

“The book has a blue cover, I think…or red. No wait…it was about love. That’s all I know”…

“You got Oprah’s magazine”?

“Do you know Oprah gives her employees furs every Christmas?”

“You hear that Oprah can FLY?! It was on the news!”

“Do you believe in Oprah?"

People are all about Oprah. Some people love her and a lot of people hate her, but everybody has an opinion. I think she may be one of the few hopes this country has. Don’t look to politicians or the clergy to make things better or you’ll end up in a car at the bottom of a river with an asshole the size of a MARTA Tunnel. Watch Oprah. Seriously, if theatre shows us how to live our lives, then Oprah is the Cliff’s notes. People say how [amazing it is that she is a black woman and has made such a name for herself] and how much they respect her [for coming so far]. Yes, it is true I’m sure, but I respect her for saying what she says and for giving a shit. Yes, she makes a gazillion dollars a second and could probably have Bill Gates swimming with the fishes with a hand signal, but the point is she represents a consistent and comforting voice of reason for every even remotely liberal-minded person anywhere. She has a voice that gets heard. She could whip Pat Robertson’s ass as easily as finishing off the last piece cheesecake. She can make a difference and she does. I suspect that she would be my hero even if she couldn’t fly and poop fur coats.

So, now in true Southern/Gay hybrid form; now that I have been nice to her, I have to make fun of her. We had a big sign at the store that said: Oprah’s Pick, and underneath we displayed the book that she had chosen for her monthly book club. Everyone buys it. A few weeks before I quit I found an old 70’s Foxy Brown afro pick at the dumpster when I was doing the garbage run. It was big and rainbow colored and glittery. I took it and washed it and put it underneath the sign. It was Oprah’s Pick! The first person that saw it, a neatly dressed Buckhead Betty, asked “Is that really Oprah’s pick”?

I sold it to her for $20.

Our store was a small, locally-owned bookshop, so I hate the big chains. They are sssssooooooooo big and clean and perfect and they have EVERYTHING!!!

Okay, I’m not making my point.

They have it all! The employees are perfect too…right out of some Billy Graham poster….so god-dammed wholesome. “Hi!!! Welcome to Barnes & Noble!!! Can I help you?!!!!!!!!!!!” They display teeth and dimples like some mutant Osmond. Up close they are just plain terrifying.

Changing my bookstore’s image will be top priority. A theme franchise is the way to go. Instead of Ansley Mall Bookstore it will be Ansley Mall Bookwhore and we will treat it like a bordello. Customers will be called tricks and they’ll lounge on red velvet with gold tassels and smoke opium. They will wait for their books, nervous and perspiring. The employees will wear extravagant uniforms made of silk and leather. I will be the pimp, dressed up like the bad guy from a Shaft movie and everybody will come to me and I will say,

“What you need, Baby? Hmmm? Mamma know what you need. You need some Joyce Carol Oates, Baby--- or some Raymond Carver, Baby”.

I will snap my fingers and a topless employee will appear with several books. “My Bitch, Julie, get you all fixed up Baby”. She will snap her little cat-of- nine-tails and whip out Goodnight Moon.

We’d run Barnes & Noble into the ground.

I wish I were more like a Shaft pimp---except for the whole prostitution and brutality to women stuff. They always had cool clothes and seemed so clearly hip, unlike me. Again, I would not cotton to any cursing at women in public or nonsense with straight razors, just the clothes and cool handshakes. I would be able to say things like “Hey peeps!” or “You my bitch, Trini?” without sounding like a female photo-journalist trying too hard to blend.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Holding


My parents left this morning for a trip and when I got up I saw the plate of food my mom had made for my dog, each piece broken up into little bite-sized pieces: hamburger, dog biscuits, and even little graham crackers with peanut butter smeared on them. She had carefully covered it with Saran wrap and placed it on the counter near the place we feed him. A note for me on the table said,

"See you later".

I have grown up to be someone I don't like very much...less every day. My family has given up on me I am afraid. My folks feel helpless and confused. Their ability to understand the way I see the world is pretty much hampered by a childhood of hard labor and not enough food to eat. They view the life they have offered up to me as a luxury in comparison to theirs.

What right do I have to be depressed?

Maybe they are right but we all know that our parents can never really know our lives any more than we can know theirs. No matter how much we love and forgive each other, the fact remains that we are always on the outside looking in. Right?

They offer advice daily in the form of "Do better"or "Try harder". It irks me to the fiber of my being because they are sincere and stern in this advice and don't seem to understand why it doesn't sink in.

DO WHAT BETTER???
TRY HARDER????? HOW???
Could ya be a little more SPECIFIC????

They are seeing some of my ugliness. I am seeing into their lives and realizing that they are treading water in a well of loneliness. At first I had expected this would be a common sorrow and I’d find comfort. It does not bring us together though. Although they continue to support me in a million ways there is a selfishness in them too I have never noticed before.

They hold their sorrow close and tight.

After her stroke, my grandmother’s hand seemed to be fused into a fist, the delicate, blotchy skin stretched over a gripping claw that had to be holding something. It was too resistant and practiced in the action of holding. Inside her hand there was nothing we could see. I imagine that she was trying to hold onto the life that was leaving her so quickly.

My parents are practicing their holding. They have looked back over their life of working 6AM till 9PM three hundred sixty-four and a half days a year for thirty years and they are preparing. In their way they are holding onto me too. My pictures shower the walls.

Davey's first birthday.
Davey in third grade with the terrible fold in his bangs that any truly dedicated photographer would have fixed.
Davey in his football uniform.
Davey at graduation with spiked hair.

They have my soul too. They look at Milo, my dog, and in him they place the love and comfort that they feel for me. I am hard to love. He is not. They shower him with the love that they feel and it makes me so happy to see from a ghost's perspective, the depth of their love--- the hours of worry over his injured leg, the anxiety about the meals and his level of happiness in so many different homes. I do understand this one component of this sad year. It is why my mother becomes truly tearful whenever I mention taking Milo away with me. It is why I will leave him with her when I do go, even though he is all I have.

They are right too. They are right to love him and to send my love to him. I don't know how or what it says about me or my family but I think that I have placed my soul solidly in my dog.

Crazy people, right? Maybe.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fear


My folks are beating themselves up a lot. I think they feel bad for a lot of their feelings. They are rightly resentful of the burdens heaped on them in the home stretch. Deeper, I know they worry that they are to blame for this angry, lumbering homunculus who sleeps in their son's bedroom. How do I tell them that I do not blame them? I accept responsibility for the way I have turned out. I did it. Me. Those choices were mine to make or to accept.

However…

I do blame them for not trying harder now; for not trying to understand that I am different, for not visiting me once if fifteen years, for choosing handfuls of six hour car trips to Tunica, Mississippi to gamble in a second rate casino instead of coming an hour North to see a play with me. I blame them for not being able to give me any advice other than "Try harder".

My anger is like a conjoined twin with this god-awful love and regard that I hold for my Mom and Dad. It is a shameful love that attaches me to them in a needy, goony way. I love them so much that it hurts. The last time I ever felt really close to them, though was the Christmas before I graduated from college. Ironically, as a student, I had more money than I have ever had as an adult, and I was determined to buy the perfect gift for my dad who is impossible to buy for. This is the man who regularly gets a knife or a pair of socks and says, with mild verve,

“Now that’s all right”.

He is a mystery in so many ways and I imagine it hurts him on some level the same way it hurts me. So, I was going to spend the entire day at the Mall in order to bring something home that would spark even a hint of true delight. Predictably, my best efforts were hampered by food and my awful stomach problems. If I were a superhero, my weapon would be something gastric…a violent and unpredictable weapon that would insist I work alone.

Captain Stinky
The Cramp
Buttman

You get the picture.

My sister Tam was with me and we bumped into someone she worked with. This woman was a new teacher at her school and she was shopping with her husband and little boy. They were a handsome couple, clean, bright and confident in a non-aggressive up-with-people kind of way. We were introduced and as Tam talked with them I was scouting for the single bathroom in the small city-sized Mall. My eye caught a motion from behind the lady's skirt and I saw the little boy for the first time and I just smiled. He was about four years old, and was as shockingly perfect as his mother and father. He was dressed in denim overalls that matched his mother's skirt and he would have completely disappeared against her except for his hair. It was so blond that it was almost white. One of his hands was tightly gripping her hand and the other was at his mouth, thumb inserted. He either turned or removed his thumb from his mouth and I saw that he had a bright, pink scar running down from the septum of his nose to his lip. It was jarring and so pink that I wondered if his hare-lip had just been corrected that day. I would have laughed at the idea of an Arbor Place Mall While-U-Wait Hare-lip Fix-up Clinic but it was not possible to think of anything else but that little boy's face. It hurt me to see. It was not the scar that pushed this little trigger behind my eyes. What really hurt was the little boy's expression. His eyes were wide open and he did not blink. The nearly non-existent eyebrows were visible only because of the deep furrows already present in his brow.

He was afraid.

He was afraid of me and of Tam and of the Mall and of the ugly Santa Claus with the yellow beard. He was holding it all inside and it was only clear how scared he was by his eyes and the deep crease his tiny hand made in his mother's palm. I have never seen terror like this since and I cannot imagine how a child could contain that kind of fear. My face must have gone white because Tam said something about needing to go find me a bathroom. At this, the little family moved on through the crowd down the mall, perfection restored from this perspective. I remembered sending out energy to this broken little boy. Sending energy was an expression I had heard in one of my intern classes. It involved projecting something of yourself to your acting partner and receiving it back again in the next beat. I sent as much as I could muster to this little boy and turned away before he could send it back.

"Keep it" I thought, "I do not need it. I can manage."

That was a mistake because I am afraid now, like he was then. I am a vessel for that fear that builds at times to the point that I think I'll start falling into portioned pieces of person, like a Loony Tunes character who's paralyzed by the sudden appearance of a giant growling bulldog about to eat him up. The pieces start falling off.

Plink...the nose.

Plink-Plink…ears.

Plink-Plink-Plink-Plink-Plink-Plink... head, arms, everything else.

Laughter ensues and the pieces re-form (clearly this was a physical manifestation of the cat's subconscious fear response, used by the artist to convey the cat's state of mind) and the story goes on. There is no bulldog here, though, not in a conventional sense. There has not been a bounce back by those pieces.

No chase.

No retreat.

Some stuff is falling away, though, no matter how I try to hold on. There is not very much laughing in this cartoon. It isn't a cartoon, either. It isn't even a show. I wish it were one of my bad dreams.

I hear my mother's strained voice, scared, urgent and very tired.

"Try harder".

How?

"Do better" Dad is furious.

What? Do WHAT??

"Do better."

Spring Forward...Held Back




Winnie The Pooh was a little slow wasn't he?

All grown up and living on his own finally.

Eatin' honey.

Getting his hand stuck in the jar and passing out from all the panic.

Scared of rain.

There was a retarded girl at my Elementary School named Starla Reed. The alpha bitches called her "Starla Can't Reed". She always came to school with a big "L" and "R" written on each hand. Her mama was trying to get her to learn right and left and something was confusing her, I expect the idea of whose right and left was the trump. Maybe it was just that her short- term memory was not so good. Regardless, the pack of mean girls that we called Thundercats, due to their very big hair and bold eye make-up, did not do much to help the situation. The Thundercats often lured Starla away from the safety of Mrs. Ivey during the teacher’s second lunch and wiped the letters off and changed them around until everyone was baffled about direction, course of action, North, South …everything. Starla’s mama soon started using a permanent laundry marker to directionally ground her youngest. The Thundercats simply uncapped one of their bevies of bottles of fingernail polish remover and meticulously erased the legend of Starla’s map. Looking out my window from my fifth grade classroom I could see the pack of them across the softball field laughing as Starla ran screaming into the wooded area that surrounded the playground. It was fenced in and safe enough but the little grove of trees could swallow a pair of glasses or a pink plastic purse in a second, and for someone who did not know left from right, even the best directions could not help. Like our Super Eight Home movies, the girls’ movements seemed accelerated as they silently whooped and howled. Starla too sped up, running back and forth in terror of losing her expensive and precious aquamarine framed cat eyes, or worse, the little pink purse with stars on the straps---her first.

Bullies love tormenting retarded people but they don’t mind branching out. I have been fortunate because I have and older and meaner sister. Tam was a senior when I went into fifth grade and although I expect she was as tormented by the daily grind of school as anyone else, she had the good sense to take a bold stand at the first sign of trouble. When a plump, narrow-eyed hick named Missy Duffy started in on Tam in the lunch room, Tam did not wait for the mild threat to escalate. She grabbed the girl’s denim studded vest and said very softly but clearly,

"I would just as soon kill you as look at you."

Missy’s eyes, a tight three-quarters of an inch apart, both began to water and she backed down, flushed red with anger and embarrassment.

"Were you scared?" I asked later.

Tam was. In my wildest dreams, I could never imagine enough nerve to do something so decisive and bold, nor could I really imagine the other party backing down.

"You want to know why she backed down, why I was pretty sure she would?" Tam continued before I could answer, "Because I meant what I said."

"You would have KILLED that girl?" I expect my eyes were the size of Moon-Pies.

On the word "killed" my mother’s head popped up from the kitchen sink, a full twenty yards away. Tammy said softly,

"No, I would not have killed that girl because then I would have to go to jail and miss prom. If you really mean what you say, a lot of times you don’t have to really do it."

People only stand up to bullies in movies, and fairly close to the end of the story. That way the movies can be called a "feel good movie". Why we couldn’t feel good from the very beginning was never clear to me. The only person I know in real life to stand up to a bully was my sister. Because she threatened murder and scared the people in earshot with her sincerity, I was "bully free" a good part of my childhood.

Starla Reed had no champion, though. Her Mother, Carolee, might have been, but she was too nice and blind to the evil that thrives between the short bus and the monkey bars. So, Starla came to school every day and sat on the bus behind the driver. As we pulled into the school yard, her grip tightened on her pink purse and book satchel. Like a race walker, she moved up the concrete steps to the doorway and into the black tiled hallways. She brought her lunch in a Wizard of Oz lunchbox and ate at a small table up beside the teachers.

Digital watches came out about that time and Miss Patsy Kicklighter, the resource teacher for the disabled said,

"Thank God for digital watches because some of those kids will never learn to tell time. "

In truth, they could not zip themselves or wipe their own noses either. Miss Patsy’s comment though, "Thank God for digital watches because some of those kids will never learn to tell time" followed by a wink and a snort, was the sort of sad joke that always blossoms from a clandestine naughty to a full fledged, eye-rolling, annoyance.

Every day, Miss Patsy managed to work the digital watch joke into polite conversation. I heard variations:

At Christmas: "I know what Santa needs to put in that boy’s stocking this year." Wink. Snort.

At End of School Year: "We’ll I guess I’m going to have to bite the bullet and just buy a bushel basket of you know what for my L.D. kids before they head off for the Summer." Wink. Snort.

Yes, we know. A DIGITAL WATCH.

Aside from "If it had been a snake, it woulda bit me" Miss Patsy’s personal sound bite irks me the most.

If life unfolded like the plot of my favorite comics, this nonsense would never happen.

Batman would silently intimidate Patsy Kicklighter.

"It’s not funny" he’d say grimly and Patsy’s snort would end abruptly and her smile would fade.

Superman would fly Mrs. Kicklighter all over the world to show her the sad plight of the retarded. Weeping high above the city, the epitome of regret, Patsy Kicklighter would attempt to wrest herself from his grip and end her shameful, tedious life.

"No." Superman would say, "Do the brave thing---make a difference".

Invigorated, Patsy would travel the third world teaching even the dimmest to tell time the old fashioned way.

It is a travesty that in my lifetime capes will never be in fashion. Any similarities between me and heroes end with the cape fetish, though. Watching is what I do best. No saving. No flying. In truth, the rules applying to interaction with people with disabilities has always stymied me. Barbara Bost, my best friend's very kooky, hippy mother often said "All of us are crippled in some ways". Usually this comment was followed by a long, meaningful gaze out a rain-soaked window. She was dead on, though. There are afflictions within me and upon me that I hold close, and some that I would shamefully pass in a heartbeat to any takers or unfortunates. Paralysis or mental retardation would not be something I would be willing to trade for, if afflictions could be swapped as quickly and innocently as baseball cards. There is also a distinct possibility that, once seen for all I am, the traders might not invite me to their swap meet.

In tenth grade a crippled girl, Bev Walker, could not walk from my desk to...well anywhere. BUT she was a math whiz and vindictive too. Her 100% test average destroyed any curve and forced me to take Algebra 2 twice. By this point, failing was a good friend to me. We got on all right. This particular failure was difficult because of Bev. Apparently, to compensate for her lack of leg, Bev mastered EVERYTHING else. To eradicate any threat of sympathy, Bev cultivated a mean and biting manner. The adults, teachers and such I suppose, hailed her as the spunkiest little thing on two wheels to come down the line. Why she chose me to crucify, I will never know. There was girl named Darcy Toney who was much stupider than me in the class. There was a football player or two that could not manage long division, I suspect too.

On Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, a T.V. show I have never watched without either weeping or screaming, Marlin Perkins often says that predators choose the weakest of the pack to pounce on. Bev was a hyena and I was a lame gazelle.

My first test score in Algebra 2 was 10 (yes a ten). A word problem that dangled the possibility of divining the exact time of some trains arriving somewhere in a windstorm had me so completely flabbergasted that I was sloppy with the few problems I had a chance of getting correct. Mr. Morton, a dull man with awful clothes, always handed the highest score back first and the lowest last. Bev got her test with a smile first and before another word was spoken she said very loudly,

"David got the lowest score. He made a ten."

At first I thought she was joking because only retarded people made tens on tests. Surely she was joking because it would be really rude and awful to say something like that to humiliate someone.

Mr. Morton looked at Bev and I was sure he was going to say she was wrong and scold her for being such a nasty bitch. He said,

"Now Beverly… you’ve spoiled the surprise."

I had made a ten and people were laughing at me, including Mr. Morton, and all I can say is they were all very lucky that I did not have Carrie powers. Bev was laughing when I glared at her and her mouth opened so wide I was afraid she was going to wheel over and bite me. Frazzled and humiliated I shouted,

"Don’t tease me!"

Except, what came out was,

"Don’t bite me!"

The laughter peaked and went on for a good ten minutes, so much that the teachers from other rooms peeked in to say,

"Well, Math was never this fun when I was in school." Wink. Snort.

On my second test, I made a forty-two---a clear improvement but still a retard’s grade and still the lowest in class. By now, Bev and I had become the bookends of the Math department. She was the spunky, outgoing crippled girl who was aiming for the stars and I was the spoiled, fat, sissy who was bad at math.

Things would have gotten out of hand, I am afraid, if a dim Assistant Principal had not followed his natural urge to berate and intimidate me. After Art class one afternoon, I was in the pottery room, lingering near the kiln, trying to guess whether Bev would fit into the kiln whole of if I’d have to chop off her head. She was in this class with me too and I stayed clear because the little bitch was already showing a knack for origami. Instead of wheeling out immediately, like she usually did, she stayed until Mrs. Sorrells, the Art teacher, left and said,

"If you pay me one hundred dollars I will make an eighty on the next test so you can get a curve."

Did I hear her right? She said it again more slowly and added,

"You are failing and if you don’t pass the rest of the tests, you’ll have to retake the class."

Alexis Carrington had nothing on Beverly Walker. I managed to muster some dignity when I said,

"Can I pay you $25 a week?"

She raised an eyebrow, "And how many weeks will you pay before you get to one hundred?" she said.

"Four." I answered with bovine sincerity.

"Just checking" and Bev continued, "but now you’ll have to pay Todd and Marnie and Jim and Levon because they usually score high too."

I had not considered this and as the impossibility of bribing so many people on an allowance of $30 a week sank in, my blood boiled.

It must be true what all murderers say about everything going red because the next thing I knew I was in the office and Larry Dent, the Assistant Principal was screaming at me and pointing his finger. My first thought:

Oh God. I put Bev in the kiln. I am in so much trouble.

My sheet-white face must have scared or appeased Mr. Dent because he let up bit on the screaming and shifted gears by telling me how much of a disappointment I was. Apparently, Bev was not cooked to a crisp by my hand. I had only had a hissy fit and said to her,

"You are a smug witch (except I didn't say witch) who stays home on Fridays to do equations".

Mr. Dent was ashamed of me. Didn't I know that she probably didn't have ANYTHING to do on Friday night??? Well whose fault was that, I wanted to say? And it wasn't the end of the world. It was a very good TV night in the Eighties. I wisely resisted the urge to offer

"At least she wasn’t burned to death."

What really irked me about being disciplined was the indignation seeping from Mr. Dent’s pores when he informed me that Bev’s illness placed her life expectancy at around age 30 maximum. But usually they, the sufferers of her particular affliction, died much earlier. Forgive me, but my first thought was a gleam of hope that I'd pass Algebra 2.

She lived. I failed.

When Starla Reed died a week later from massive head injuries sustained in a car accident, I wondered if Mr. Dent might have given the Thundercats the same advice he'd given me and if he was as easily disappointed in the wicked and large breasted.

I wondered if Starla had ever learned Left and Right before she died.

I wondered what the hell she was doing behind the wheel of a car.

There are no two ways around it:
Starla was sad.
Bev was evil.

In relating to people with distinct differences I have become smarter though, and more progressive. Society has taught me that it is best to completely avoid people who are different or get to know them very, very well. Love them as you would your own child. Casual regard simply won’t do because it is rude and apparently not normal. Then a new problem arises: You get to know ANYONE for a LONG period of time and you're tempted to tape them into a shopping cart and push their blazing corpse down an escalator. That's universal, right?

As lessons go, I am also learning to be more specific in my loving and more open about my loathing. It is okay to loathe the Thundercats with all the venom at my disposal. Now I can also admit that I despised eating across from another David in sixth grade whose head was the size of a beach ball and who never went anywhere without a runner of snot hanging from one nostril. To this day I cannot eat custard or banana pudding without a shudder. If any of our dining companions ever said "For God’s sake, wipe your nose" the other David, barely provoked, would shriek like a burning dolphin and any number of the more socially pious teachers would whip their heads around and shout,

"Leave him alone. You should be ashamed of yourselves."

Having done their Christian duty, the teachers were free to turn away and finish their meal while we watched and waited silently to see if/where/when the snot would fall.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Failure Gay

For gay men I fluctuate somewhere between invisible and ugly. There are very high physical standards at play in the gay world, though and in the big scheme of pretty and ugly I really am fairly lucky. I don’t have any ugly scars, for instance…except the ones on my arm from the drunk driver and the ones on my face and back from the Pit Bull.

I have never known a dog named Sport or Champ that would not bite you in the face just for pleasure.

My female friends say the scars are hardly noticeable! I am actually more distressed by this wart growing on the top of my head. When I noticed it last week, I thought “Well, that’s simply perfect.

Fat.
Staring at forty.
Broke.
Bald.
Lives with parents.
WART.

I can die having lived a full life now". I bought some wart remover. Now, I assume most people get warts on their feet and hands and not their head because every bit of packaging showed attractive people applying this stuff to supposed warts on their hands or feet. The models were all smiling too, like “I’m so happy about this wart but thank goodness for this wonderful product that is going to irritate the hell out of my skin!”

After I got home with the stuff, I read the directions more closely and it said in big print UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE SHOULD THIS PRODUCT BE USED ON THE FACE, HEAD, OR NEAR ANY BODILY ORIFICE. I opened up the bottle and put it on my head-wart immediately. I mean, sorry, but the wart has to go…now. If it kills me or melts my eye then I’ll just deal with it.

Fat.
Nearly forty.
Broke.
Bald.
Lives with parents.
Dissolved eye.

I could be the Buckaroo Banzai of misfortune.

The truth is that I probably use my insecurity about my looks to avoid the disturbing truth that I am simply a gay failure. I am not so motivated to succeed because of one of the dirty secrets I hold close. I really believe it is a fair position but I know it would make me a pariah if others knew: I don't like most gay men.

How is that possible unless you are a bigot??? Asks Stefan the Activist.

Let me tell you there are certain truths that only the gayest of all gays know. One truth is that the writers of Will & Grace are not keeping poor, gay Will single because of any worry over public response to seeing two men in a romantic scene on national television. They keep him single because they are probably gay themselves and want to write a reasonably realistic portrayal of a gay man. WE DO NOT COUPLE. I keep hearing about gay husbands but I haven’t seen one yet. They are like Bigfoot or the test tube babies. I’m sure they are around somewhere but they are leaving footprints in someone else’s National Forest.

The other “Secret Extra-Gay Truth” Is that gay men aren’t usually very gay, as the term implies. They can be really mean. See, the veterans know this and we know something else: for a gay man who has been unsuccessfully pecking together a dismantled self-esteem for ten years, three rednecks with a baseball bat is equal to one tipsy homosexual in a silver reflector blouse (only buttoned once) with a chip on his shoulder. I won’t speak for all and in spite of my recent actions, I do not want to die, but I might choose the rednecks. I think a broken body might be a better choice than a broken spirit if the choice has to be made. I do know the reverse is a horrible place to be.

I can’t seem to find my niche in the gay community and there are plenty of niches to choose from: Twinks, Bears, Leathers, Daddys, and Boys are just a few. I could not bear a label that reminded me of a snack food or street gang. It seems common, don’t you think? One of the worst parts of this dynamic is that if I ever even suggest that I am less than 100% proud and supportive of every gay man ever to bend a knee then I am BAD. BAD GAY! Should I ever criticize or even arch a loaded eyebrow in derision, gay men immediately assume that I feel I'm too good for their lifestyle and they take great offense. I imagine it is like black people who take a stand on good grammar and are accused of wanting to be white. That is quite a jump in logic for me. The white people I know wouldn’t know a “whom” from an order of chitlins. Having said that, I realize it is probably that sour grapes pomposity that keeps me from a Shangra-la of nipple piercings and bubble-butts. It has certainly nixed many a hog killin’ back at the trailer park. I have tried to be gayer, though.

I try.
I try harder.
I try to not mind not liking and focus on being liked.
I try to not mind being not liked.
I become less.
Even less.
Even more…less.

Then all the things I say I will never do, I have suddenly done. And done again. I suddenly realize that the drugs I’ve taken and the sit-ups I’ve cursed and the countless attempts to formulate a “balding man’s cut” version of the current clone hairstyle have left me in an oddly familiar place.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Karma


Bad Karma (WARNING! Pol Potty language)



Just to clarify, my attitude is bad.

It is bad.

B.A.D.

It is easy to blame any number of hyper-shitty circumstances for my current situation. The deeper truth is that I am an asshole and much of my bad luck is generated from an almost complete lack of good karma. I believe I started this whole game with a large dearth of good karma, so much in fact that I sometimes wonder if I was not a third world dictator in a previous life.

Idi Amin?

Pol Pot?

Imelda Marcos?

Regardless, I am not doing anything to improve my position on the karma wheel. Last week I had to go to a re-employment seminar with the Department of Labor. Our speaker and guide back into the world of gainful employment was a tall, no-nonsense fellow named Jim Thomas. He was, we would hear no less than three dozen times, a retired First Sgt. in the Marine Corps. He had the disturbing habit of driving his point home with a series of sharp raps on the surface of the desk. At 9AM, this was both shocking and annoying to the limits of my sleepy little psyche. Only the done-up suburban housewife who sat next to me seemed to respond to this macho act. She was, it seemed, nearly to the point of orgasm with each rap of his hairy knuckles and even made a little squeak of pleasure from time to time. She was constantly fidgeting with a not-tight-enough-in-my-opinion red scarf looped around her skinny neck. The rest of the group was made up of a comforting assortment of lowlifes, drug addicts, and everyday variety failures like me. We were not a pretty picture at 9AM on Monday morning, and I suspect the others, like myself, were not so interested in a pep talk as we were in keeping the unemployment checks that we were learning to depend on.

After an hour and a half of advice, charming warfare anecdotes, and multiple bangs on the desk, I began to lose my composure. Out of sheer boredom I decided to play a variation of an old college drinking game. Whenever Sgt. Thomas said the word “Marine” in his spiel, I farted. I released into the room the constant and considerable gas I had contained in my nether regions. With only the slightest effort, I could release the silent but deadly little assassin into the room. With luck, we might get dismissed early and if I played it right no one would suspect it was me. Everything was fine until an unplanned gas release was exacerbated by an unexpected rap from the sergeant’s balled fist. I knew immediately that something was wrong. This expulsion was different. It hurt me and burned something fierce. At first I was terrified that I’d gotten exactly what I deserved: A zesty, lap-full of stinky poop. Luckily my little poop sensor registered only a gas release.

No liquids.

No solids.

Just gas.

It was a doozey, though and truly the product of a vinegar/uranium diet. It seemed to hit everywhere at once. The Sergeant faltered in his section about the importance of a good cover letter. Someone from the back of the room muttered “godalmightyknows” and closer, Red Scarf Lady lost interest in her pretty red bow. Looking exactly like a proud Toy Poodle who finally gets the “paper/good- floor/bad” rule, but has been left inside for 16 hours straight, she began to frantically scramble to lift the window beside her. Holding her breath, she struggled with the thing until I became afraid that her fingers would break off in this desperate effort. It was stuck, though and she could not escape. She began to sob softly and I glanced her way. She was glaring and slowly shaking her head…glaring at ME. She knew. She flung an angry hand up so fast I feared it would come off and commenced to shaking it furiously to get the Sergeant’s attention. The big baby was going to tattle. I jotted a note on the corner of my pamphlet entitled “You Too Can Win in the Interview Game” and slipped it close for her to see. Her eyes widened and watered as she read:

If you tell, I will kill you.

Slowly her arm lowered just as the good Sergeant turned her way.

Sergeant Thomas gave us a five minute break and the entire group bolted for the door. I followed the Red Scarf Lady outside and she reluctantly climbed into her little station wagon and puttered away, watching me the entire time and mouthing an angry “bastard” when she was sure she was at a safe distance. When we returned, she was not the only person missing, but certainly the most noticed, having been the star pupil for most of the mind-numbing three hours. Sgt. Thomas wondered aloud if we should wait a few minutes for her to return and I spoke up.

“She said her stomach was bothering her and she’d re-schedule the class another day”

The rest of the class seemed to chime in, picking up on the hint as I so hoped they would.

“Smelled like a cat died up in there” piped in the drowsy Hispanic boy from the back.

“No wonder she can’t hold a job.” echoed the pretty black girl with too much eye make-up.

I felt sorry for her I said and most of the rest of the class shared those sentiments. It must be terrible to live with a problem like that.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

WPM


Finding a decent... any job is proving to be more difficult than I thought. The staff at the temp agencies, all former cheerleaders named Brittany or Trish, simply sneer at my resume. They won't give me the time of day, so I have been trying to push my typing speed up past its current pitiful 35 words per minute. My mother's harmless-looking Mavis Beacon typing program for her computer was apparently influenced by some of Brian DePalma’s earlier and more shocking suspense films. The various scenarios require you to save characters from an ugly death by using your skill and precision with the keyboard. In an effort to really push and terrify typing students everywhere, the designers have envisioned some awful computer deaths involving lava and large goldfish with teeth. I have to take a Xanax afterward. My top speed is now down to 22 WPM with a 15% error rate.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Target


In my spare time I am pretending to be a movie star or musician who has had a serious break-up with another major star or political figure. I roam around Carrollton in dark glasses looking wistful and suspicious of autograph seekers. Some mousy, nervous, manager trainee in Target thought I was a shoplifter. She followed me around the store so I went and looked for a sexy bra for about 20 minutes. I "ooohhhed" and "ahhd" as I held them up to my barrel chest and then made loud "tsks" as I looked at the prices. At one point, I grabbed a pair of panties that turned out to be crotchless and almost broke character. Finally, my early pre-op transsexual antics made her nervous enough and she left. I immediately went to the customer service desk and dropped those panties and said,

"My name is Reverend Hoyt Dinkins and I want to know what in the Hell Target is doing selling crotchless panties?"

It sounded like the tag at the beginning of a big Broadway number.

The Thumb God


My father has the only TV in the house that works. So, I am his prisoner and as usual it sucks on many different levels. He clutches the remote control and we absolutely fly through the channels with a frightening sense of calm.

Once, pretty soon after I came home, Mom tried to engage me as I ate lunch alone at the counter. She was also trying to make me do what she wanted by soliciting pity. What was it going to be?

Money?

Her sad loss of grapefruit juice because of her Urethraritis?

It was the age card.

"Davey" she sighs deeply and waits to see if I look up from Cheerios.

I do and she says, "I reckon your daddy’s just gonna die, I reckon."

Subtlety was not her strong point. I look at her a moment longer and together we look to Daddy in the only place he ever is, in the only position his achy body still comfortably finds. He sits in the mauve leather recliner dozing while he holds the remote control in his lap, thumb poised over the channel button.

"How will you know?" I ask.

She is puzzled for a second and then quickly,

"The thumb, Son." She snaps "We’ll just watch his thumb."

I watch his thumb now. This tiny digit has so much control over my life. By this I mean there is absolutely no pattern to what holds his interest and what does not… and we accept this as normal. I can’t even prepare to like certain kinds of television shows. The thumb is a fickle God. We have seen Frontier Hellcat in its entirety about 200 times and in the same day watched infomercials about Proactive pimple cream and Ginsu (millennium set) carving knives.

"Now THAT is a god-dammed good knife!!!"

I can usually predict what he will NOT like. That is like tossing a double-headed coin and screaming "Heads". My father does not like anything with deformed people, too much kissing or screaming or talking. No thrills of any kind. Especially, he will not tolerate the paranormal. The digitally enhanced special effects reach a level of realism for him that makes him squirm. He sums all that "mess" up as " crazy off the wall shit". COWS is what I call it. Any program or movie remotely suspenseful or twisty falls into the COWS category and is never seen for more than a second, the amount of time it takes the thumb to see, judge, and pass. So, my dad bullies us through another afternoon with a more traditional and calming fare.

My boredom borders on the supernatural.

We land on Chuck Norriss’ syndicated TV show Walker: Texas Ranger and after a few minutes I find myself absently staring at my wrist, wondering how deeply I’d have to cut to draw blood, or if I could, given only a smidge more incentive, CHEW through to sweet, red, oblivion.

In some ways living here is like oblivion, but the kind I always envisioned in hell, not the good kind from a heavy pasta dinner and four Tylenol PM. Here, like in Hell, the River Lethe eradicates all that is good about a soul.

Gone. Poof!

Imagine a river of ghosts trying to recall what was bright and good in their lives, wailing and staring into the water. My mother and father look at me and see only a sad failure, someone who wakes up screaming in the night and sobs when we run out of diet soda. For them, my education is a hindrance and my personal accomplishments are as shaky and removed as the certainty that sometime in the next 500 years California MAY fall into the ocean. Sure, some quack whose expensive and useless diploma is nowhere to be seen says there will certainly be an apocalyptic earthquake SOMETIME but why waste any effort speculating on this when it has no real impact on our afternoon?

I force myself to be more than they see. Their opinion is not my reality. Is it?

I wake every morning to my father’s soft muttering in the other room about my laziness and later to my mother’s practiced expression of disdain. They wear their disappointment like a big red Erykah Badu hat. In all fairness, I can’t blame my parents. They are simply hardworking, suspicious, and stubborn. They also have no frame of reference when it comes to me. To them, I am theirs and I am strange. As a child, they could manage better because they understood most of the basics from some kind of combo of genetic memory and episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. Eat, sleep, school, clothes, toys, fight, cry, learners permit, fight, bully, yell, sick, doctor, tonsils, graduation. Now, they are worried that their best efforts have not been enough and this failure has left them with a lumbering homunculus who knows only Greek mythology and when NOT to use a semicolon. They are not wrong about a lot of it. I have never managed to live up to anyone’s expectations. In school I seemed to just soar ahead of everyone in certain areas, beyond even some of the teachers. Then, I’d hit a spot that stumped me. In grammar it was/is the fucking apostrophe. Possessive??? Contraction? Huh? No consistency. In math everything went to Hell once I was introduced to my first negative integer.

My heart leaps as we land on BRAVO and a documentary on the performers and artists in Cirque Du Soleil. Just as a striking Latin woman begins to speak, an insidious electrical signal controlled by the thumb god takes us to a different channel--- someplace in the old west. Like many gods, the thumb giveth and taketh away. Fickle, remember? Oh shit, it is Frontier Hellcat. AGAIN. AGAIN! My mind is trying to recall the names of the other rivers of hell.

Styx. That's the easy one...

Suddenly, Dad snorts with disapproval and we are in the desert and a woman is riding a camel.

Days disappear here. They just vanish before my eyes. It is almost an affront to decency that I perceive each moment here as a lifetime spent slogging through the horror that is Satellite TV, but when I look at the calendar, three months of my life are gone in a flash. My mother would say "that’s three months shoved up a dog’s butt". She is right. Milo looks up from his spot on the floor, worried, as if he just read my thoughts.

It's unfair to compare the home I grew up in to hell, but I am reminded sometimes. In truth this little ribbon of rural route is my saving grace. So many of the truly good things about me come from this place, from being a child in the country and having so much time alone. There were no peers early on, therefore no one to conform to...just me, my weiner dog, Prince, and a bunch of Fisher Price Adventure People (and later a much-coveted Princess Leia action figure).

Lately I am becoming aware how easy it is for me to segue out of peoples’ lives or perhaps how little I valued the life I used to have.

Friends.

Apartment.

Career.

… all gone without a look back.

Perhaps my family is right and I am an ungrateful, over-educated eating machine. This morning my mom put on a big show looking for the English muffins when I know full well she watched me eat the last four while I watched the Lifetime Television for Women 4 PM movie the day before. I was determined to let her keep improvising until she fell to the floor, exhausted and dehydrated from the constant fatigue of putting on such a very big show. She was determined to keep "looking" for those missing muffins until I finally confessed that I’d eaten them like a selfish pig. We would just see…

And I broke like a cheap watch. She was looking under the sofa for the third time and I lost my temper and said,

"For fuck’s sake Mother you moped through the living room four times yesterday and shot me daggers while I ate the damned things."

My father winces at the "fuck" but my mother doesn’t even blink which gives her away. She would never pass up a chance to sauté me for using the "f" word in her presence, much less directly to her, unless she was looking for a bigger payoff. Her voice goes up an octave and takes on a familiar but nonetheless disturbing, breathy quality that really sells the mock astonishment. Truly, she would have played the living hell out of Amanda Wingfield. She says.

"You ate ALL of them?" and she tries to cry. I have her this time though and I say,

"The doctor is worried about how much weight I have lost and I’m trying to do better. I’m sorry mother."

She breathes and her eyes seem to move farther apart on her head. She stands and brushes off her pants, slides the sofa back into the little holes its legs have made in the carpet and storms back into the kitchen.

The thumb god is holding court again.

My father is startled as a black bug crawls under a screaming man’s skin and zips up to his head and eats his brain. He cannot change the channel quickly enough. It is a disturbing image and I laugh involuntarily. This is a mistake. He turns on me with a snarl. Literally… a snarl. This weakness embarrasses him. He wants to pretend he is mad about the conversation with Mom but we both know he thinks that I am making fun of him. The truth is that his squeamishness is one of the most endearing things about him. It is approachable and something I would defend till my last breath. Simply, he gets scared. He is as broken in his own way as I am in mine.

Dad and I only differ greatly in the way we deal with crisis. In fact my family is a virtual family of geniuses where denial is involved. My mother is the mistress of all martyred housewives, so overwhelmed by her grief that only a true monster would pursue a point to a firm conclusion. Tam reads seven books in an evening to escape and intimidate us. I am the Sleeping Man, ready to go to bed anytime of the day and rest comfortably for anywhere from ten to fifteen hours…or three days (a personal record). This usually gave the Over-acheivers and the Martyrs a chance to straighten things out. My father has a mean mouth that usually kept any of us at a safe distance. It is not necessarily about cursing. In fact, I have inadvertently inherited this ability he has to tune in on a person’s weak spot… a secret, or insecurity that they live with. Sadly, I have always managed to accidently expose someone in polite conversation. In many circles it has made me about as popular as the new girl in school with a cleft palette and an extra finger.

Daddy is proficient, though.

He says to me "This shit with bugs eating people’s brains is what makes you wake up screaming every night".

He clenches his jaw and works the thumb again and I wonder if he is right.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

With The Fishes



I had a blind Aunt once…Great-Aunt actually. Her name was Aunt Annie-May. She lived alone near my elementary school. When I was in sixth grade I went to her house and spent the afternoons until my mom picked me up after work. Homework became a top priority when the alternatives were “listening to the 700 Club” or “counting a collection of orphan buttons”. Aunt Annie-May never missed a religious program and had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of buttons. Some days she’d empty the socks and brown paper bags of buttons onto the rug and ask me to describe each one.

Even as a twelve year old I knew how to party.

No booze.

No cruising the movie theatre parking lot.

I described buttons for the elderly!

There was something comforting , though, about the coolness of the little plastic ovals in my hands. I could not help but wonder which buttons had been worn and how they were lost. Did they miss their families? My aunt and I sat each day in the dusty little den that smelled like Sweet Tarts and paper sacks and she’d claim she could feel the color of each button. There was nothing remarkable about her guessing skills. She missed as many as she’d get right, but there was a confidence and grace about her that could make you forget she was not seeing. My mind often drifted and I’d jump with panic at her blind gaze over my right shoulder , intense but vacant and clearly preoccupied with the sinister thing that was about to gobble me up. Had she pointed over my shoulder and shouted, “Look Out!” I would have probably fainted. There were never any monsters, though---just buttons and sweet tea and sometimes homemade peanut butter cookies.

Aside from a bevy of buttons, my aunt sported several aquariums full of guppies, angelfish, goldfish, and betas. There were two large tanks and three small ones. A single pink fish named Lavender lived alone in a lovely, clear oval bowl. Lavender, it seems was likely to be eaten because of her pretty color---or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, Lavender was a sullen, little shut-in with the prettiest house on the block.

During my one school year of afternoons with Aunt Annie-May, I never questioned her love for tropical fish, but later on it occurred to me that it was a really odd passion for a blind person to have. I mean, she couldn’t see the fish. She couldn’t hear them or touch, taste, smell them. Really, none of her senses worked where these fish were concerned. What was more disturbing was that most of them were dead or in the process of dying. She fed them regularly but I think she was sloppy about the feeding. There were little piles of fish food lying around on the tables outside the fish tanks. I think she thought she had dropped it inside but it actually fell outside…just out of reach of the starving guppies. I’m sure it was torture to the little fish. I always imagined them lined up with their little fish heads pressed against the glass, trying to figure how to get over to that food. They would try to be calm and brave at first. They’d come up with a plan.

“On the count of three we swim really hard into the glass!”

They’d make jokes to lighten the mood. They’d tell stories about the times they’d had together. They’d hold eulogies as their community died around them. They’d maintain rituals.

I’d always scoop up the little piles of food and put it in the water but I don’t think it helped much. I read somewhere later on that if the care and feeding isn’t consistent, the biggest last ditch effort can’t save some animals. Every Monday, I’d come in after school to find five or six floating at the top. During Christmas break she lost the whole bunch.

Aunt Annie-May died in 1997 at the age of 94.

Within three months time this year Barry, Ramon, Thomas, and Ivan died. My friend’s fifteen year old brother fell into a coma and never woke up, finally succumbing to a longtime illness. My old roommate’s entire family died in a plane crash. Two of my students are gone too---one from a car accident and one from a mysterious and previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect. I could not go to any of the services. I could not make myself dress or brush my teeth. I could not make myself stop shaking.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Curses


It is too bad that I seem to present myself so badly. Currently, I am Ben Gay to the scrotum of polite society. How did this happen? I imagine an angry gypsy woman that I probably cut off in traffic somewhere while I chatted, breezy and carefree, on my cell phone. Her cart of carrots and cabbages lay scattered and ruined, eaten by the tires of every SUV purchased by someone happy and rich named Chase, Skip, or Ashley. Later that evening the now-penniless Gypsy lifts a freshly assembled voodoo doll made in my image and begins to harshly poke a very special spot on its head.

Simultaneously, miles away I inexplicably begin entertaining all who might be in earshot about the finer points of grafting skin on burn victims and the real risk of organ harvesting in needier parts of the world. My dinner companions smile faintly as they try to choke down their appetizer of pirogies and sliced ham.

Eventually, the Gypsy woman rightly develops a kind of arthritis/carpal tunnel super-combo from constant holding and poking. Undeterred, she hires some teenaged girls who live on her block to poke the doll while she sleeps or occasionally soaks her now deformed claw of a hand. The warm water feels real good to her and she lets out a sigh.


“Ahhhhhhhh!”

Somewhere in another part of the city I am, at that second, earnestly explaining to someone with sinus problems, probably a date, the best way to really snort out the gunk in the shower.

“Look at it really good”, I say. “If it is an infection you’ll really have to coax it down the drain.”

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Endurance

I’ve been having a recurring dream lately. Actually I believe I may have had it first many years ago. It is more persistent lately and I am coming to believe that is some kind of equivalent to a totemic dream…some kind of twisted suburban vision quest. I am kneeling in the mud in the woods and I am not allowed to look up. I can only hear the heavy footsteps of someone approaching behind me. I know it is a man or an animal. He carries a large hammer. I hear him clicking his teeth and the rhythm of the click eventually becomes the pace of the hammer as he pounds it into the center of my back. After a while I realize that it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. Before I can relax, though, I realize that the pounding has pushed me so far into the mud that I cannot breathe. I am alive and being consumed by the wet earth. A woman’s voice tries to calm me and I try to stop screaming. My tears make the earth softer and I keep sinking. It feels both terrifying and natural.

I think one of my gifts is a kind of endurance, the dumb luck of the innocent or the kind of strength and fortitude you find in characters like Lenny from Of Mice and Men. An actress I worked with once said to me “I bet you do great retards” and I took it as a compliment.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Self Defense

My sister, Tam, studied Judo for a few years. Each day after a lesson she came home to show me how well she could defend herself with a new move she learned.

"Come at me like you are trying to grab me." She said.

I reluctantly sat down the pie I had been eating and grabbed her, doing my best imitation of a psycho.

She was indignant.

"NOT LIKE THAT! Use your LEFT hand. Don’t throw all your weight on me like that. You’re big!"

I hoped she’d encounter obedient muggers.

I breathed deeply and turned to leave, then spun around to catch her off guard. Within a second I was flat on my back, my previously discarded bowl of banana pudding snugly tucked between the hard wood floor and my sixth vertebrae.