Sweet Gregory, Part One – 1999

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Sweet Gregory first locks eyes with me on the Lower East Side, in a rehearsal hall. We both saw the same ad in the Village Voice, looking for actors. An oily, pompous young Israeli director is trying to do Salome, and we show up for an “audition.”  It’s a musty, dowdy room with commercial grade carpet hanging against the walls to drown out noise. Faintly, one can hear the sound of an opera hopeful next door, going up and down scales like a neurotic toy dog obsessed with her mistress’ spiral staircase. The hall, meager, smells like feet, like stale cracker, somehow like the glue on the back of a manilla envelope. A spent man occupies the front desk. He leers at the young woman checking in, and fingers the stains under his dingy, formerly white shirt. It’s a stretched out tank top. Everything about this man is stretched out, lived in, benignly gross. He is eating green beans from a can and watching a black and white television set. I arrive, furtive, nervous, tepid. I slow my gait and breathe. I walk into the studio.

Sweet Greg is there. Sweet Gregory is 20 years old, maybe. I’m 25.

(Sweet Gregory T. Angelo is a Log Cabin Republican now. He’s their president.)

He is cute, I notice. Cornsilk blond hair, like mine. Large eyes. Grey pools of mystery and compassion. I see it immediately about him, his kindness. We make mutual eyes at one another the way young gay men do. The knowing glance. A glint of pain in the eyes. Wry puzzlement.

Others show up too. There are maybe 12 of us, (13?), actor types. Everyone full, brimming, vacillating between cocksure bravado and crippling self doubt. This oscillation, these young artists, we. I size up the room and think to myself, this play won’t be high art, but I’ll probably do it anyhow. Sweet Gregory slips behind me as I walk the rehearsal space.

It feels like he is studying me.

A door bursts open into the room. The director. He is wearing an embroidered, elaborate ashram scarf and explains that we are the cast, there is no audition. What? Sweet Greg and I exchange baffled looks, thinking we would have to present monologues. Instead, the director treats the audition like a first rehearsal. Suspicious – uncomfortably game, we do some circle-share things, talk about ourselves and where we are from, who we are, currently, as artists, list inspirations. It’s kind of fun, in that hoary, sentimental way theater has of reminding the people in it that we are human beings who need one another.

I look at Sweet Greg, he looks back at me. I smirk.

Ilya suddenly ends the share circle, barking everyone up to their feet. I already don’t like how he shifts from sweet innocent organic director, to impatient little dictator. I mark it, the way I have taught myself to mark strange behavior.  But, we – young actors, brilliant new charlatans, frauds, miscreants, n’ere do wells – comply immediately. Okay, I think. “No more Intro to Acting?” I scoff, quietly, only so Sweet Greggie can hear me. Is it Oscar Wilde’s version? He said it was in the ad. Okay, maybe I’ll stay?

(I love banned literature, and Salome was banned.)

We are up, now, on our feet. He passes out scripts. Maybe, I think, we’ll read the play for the first time on our feet! (This isn’t done in professional settings). I’m excited.

Nope.

Ilya tosses his script over his shoulder. Another clever ruse! The script isn’t even important! Let’s just talk storytelling beats! Let’s break it down even further.

We are informed: he is going to cast on feeling and intuition. In order to do this, he needs us to play a game with him. He goes around quickly, whipping and whirling in his scarf – pointing at each of us. A tall woman is a giraffe. A bookish man, an owl. A more squat man typecast as a hippo. The look of anguish on his face is awful and raw and a tiny bit funny. I chastise myself for smirking. Ilya is quick to explain hippos are fierce warriors of the jungle. I shrug. I’m still game for this experience, but I’m sensing I had better not take this job. My professional brain turns off, and I tell myself to just have fun and see what happens.

Ilya comes to me and Sweet Gregory, pointing. You are a cat, he says! Salome is a cat! Sweet Gregory shrugs and grins, and Ilya says, you too, Sweet Gregory. You’re a cat too. Salome is two people! What? Just go with it, Salome is two people, and you boys will both play her! One light and one dark. I think this is an odd casting metaphor, since Sweet Gregory and I look nearly identical. His skin might be a bit more porcelain than mine. I always forget sunscreen, I think, but Ilya is jazzing us up again. Stirring us into a brewing creative frenzy. Now he’s less director and more wizard. Things get pretty fun. I forget myself for about 15 minutes, and live the joyous, unburdened life of a tigress. Sweet Gregory plays along. It’s like we’re dancing with nature. It’s pure.

Ilya stops us. He’s had a mood swing. Now he wants us to shout at one another, angry words. Imagine you had a love. Imagine that love was unrequited! Bring me the head of John the Baptist, Sweet Gregory and I are screaming at each other.

Under his breath, Greg passes me a whisper. He was the Elijah.

Stop it, I say to Sweet Gregory. I already know that.

Ilya now wants us to act out some beats of scene work, improvising. He wants us to imagine we are in an old cartoon. Act slapstick, he says, lightly preening his scarf. We find three absurd ways to ask for the head of Jokhanan.

None of this makes any fucking sense to me and Sweet Gregory.

But, I have something to focus on now, and I’ve lowered the stakes in the situation for myself. I feel good about this afternoon. Even the squalor of the Lower East Side, the tenements we are thick inside, even the pallor of Ilya, the nervous shuffle of neurotic, stressed-out young actors, hoping to be validated. Everyone trying to find a reason to justify leaving home and flying the coop. Even this awkward miserable moment has a ray of sunshine coming in from the dirt caked window. It hatches itself across the floor in a pattern of rectangles and the lint in the air catches the afternoon light. Sweet Gregory is there with me, we, two cats, prancing around, then slinking, intertwined. Me, in rapture. I didn’t sleep well, and I’m in a mild mania. There is an exquisite beauty and the veil between the physical and the metaphysical becomes extremely thin. We merge. I am Sweet Gregory. Sweet Gregory is me.

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We break for dinner. Ilya tells us to come back in half an hour and we will read the play. Sweet Gregory follows me out onto 12th and Avenue C. The melange of summer in New York hits me like sliding limestone sheeting down a quarry. America’s melting pot. Arguably, much more liberal than any American city. Arguably, less. Raw unfairness exposed and juxtaposed with pleasant sundresses, beggars, tin-types, subway rats. Hopeful youth trying to communicate – trying to chase a life devoted to beauty and truth. Trying to learn, beauty and truth are the same thing.

Where are we going for dinner, Sweet Gregory wants to know? We aren’t, I say. Why not? Because. Because why? Because, I’m not going back into that room. But, don’t you think it would be fun to be Salome? Yes. So why don’t you go back?

I’m walking us west, toward Union Station. Maybe, I’ll take the N train back to Long Island City, to work on some acrylics? I’ve tricked out my pad in purple and lavender, plus I’ve stripped the oak doors in my apartment. Opaque french-style patterned-glass hid for decades underneath years of paint, most of it lead, no doubt. My building was built before World War II, so I’m pretty proud of my nest, and I want to go home. Sweet Gregory tails behind me, peppering me with questions. I’m sweating now. We are at full New York pace and not looking back. I taste the sweat on my lips.

Don’t you think it’s a good play? Why do you think he’s a fraud? Isn’t any exposure good, at this point? Come on, Michael, just come back to rehearsal. Let’s give this a shot. You’re, what, a Lutheran?

Yes.

Well I’m a Catholic.

So?

I don’t know. I just wanted some common ground. Look, sure – it’s not the greatest play. But Oscar Wilde is brilliant. Don’t you want to do Oscar Wilde?

Look. This play isn’t going to happen. Did you see those other people?

I was focusing on you.

Sweet. You’re sweet, Gregory. Those other people aren’t going back there either. This guy doesn’t have a game plan. He’s just trying to find his footing. He probably has a rich family that will pay for him to come to NYC and experiment. He’s fine. He’s just learning his process. So am I. So are you.

But don’t you want to do a play with me? Sweet Gregory widens his eyes, glassy. He’s like a confused puppy dog. Yes, Greg, I want to do a play with you, but no, it’s not going to be this one. What if everyone comes back? You’re free to go see. He’s probably going to cut one of us anyway.

What?

He gave everyone an animal, but he gave us the same one. We look the same. We are the same “type.”

So?

So, go get your role. Go play Salome. I’m going to drink wine in my refinished apartment.

Sweet Gregory looks confused. He scratches his head. We walk a bit more and get deli knishes. He feels calmer. It’s bright in the deli, (and florescent lights don’t do anyone any favors ever), but we’re young, and this is New York, and he’s starting to let loose, chat, flirt. He’s from Connecticut, and his father is a Republican,  He talks about country clubs and Fairfield county. Boat shoes and Izod shirts and gin martinis with a twist.  He wants so badly for his father to recognize him as an actor. That’s why he wanted to do Salomé – at least partly!

We walk more, north. Up through Gramercy, and Kips Bay, crossing midtown to the dowdy part of the lower, upper east side. I wish the Roosevelt Island Tram was running, I say to him, as we start across the Queensborough bridge. The 59th Street Bridge Song running through my mind as Sweet, Sweet Gregory walks me home from an audition.

Probably five miles or so.

We find a ragged copy of the Voice in a trash can. I fish a quarter out of my pocket. Sweet Gregory looks nervous, tense. We can do this, I say. Let’s be brave. We find a NYNEX payphone. I dial the number Ilya placed in The Voice. This is Michael Martin, I explain. Sweet Gregory and I didn’t come back to the second part of your audition. We are grateful for your interest, but we’re too busy collaborating on original material to give time to the classics. We admire your pioneering spirit and hope you find the perfect felines for the job!

I hang up, flushed, giggling. Greg is smiling now. His big, kind, grey eyes a wellspring of hope, chance, possibility. I kiss him.

We’re back in Long Island City, on 36th Ave. and 30th Street. Sweet Gregory wants to come up for a glass of wine. Also, he has a favor to ask of me.

What’s that, Sweet, Sweet Gregory?

Would you take my virginity?

Gregory, I say, I’ll do you one better.

Yeah?

Yeah. It’s what, June? I’ll be your lover for the rest of the summer, until you go back to Boston.

What?

What.

Really?

Yeah. We’ll get this done for you, or we’ll at least have a great time trying.

Really?

Really.

Okay, deal, says Sweet Gregory. And heads up my stairs to have a glass of wine. I adjust the lights and put on music.

Later that night I’m humming next to Greg in bed. An old song about how I Am a Rock, I am an Island. You’re old fashioned, Gregory says. I’m petting him. Playing with cornsilk hair, looking at the moonlight illuminate his milky body. Gregory is dewy, and full of bliss. He teases me again. You’re an old-fashioned man!

I kiss him on the forehead. I know I am, Sweet Gregory. I know.

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Fat Jason Bateman

Fat Jason Bateman sloughs out of the steam room. He’s a Young Fat Jason Bateman, and I’ve seen him here before. He always makes eye contact with me and sighs a heavy sigh, as if he’s got a problem that only I can solve, and he’s already decided that I’m not going to help him solve his problem.

And he’s right, I won’t.

I like Young Fat Jason Bateman, but I don’t want to fool around with him in the steam room. He’s tall and bulbous, with a round rump and perfect, medium amount of hair. He stands up straight, and it’s obvious he was raised with a healthy amount of self-respect. He’s attractive. I’ll bet he does just fine. But he’s not my type, and we’re constantly acknowledging one another for a few seconds before he shoots me a look that seems to say, see, I tried to say hi to you, but every time I try to connect with you I never get the hand job I was looking for. When he does this I make deep eye contact, smirk, and ask how his day was. I’m trying to train him to see me as a human, and not a piece of meat he wants to try, but can’t. It isn’t going all that well.

Fat Jason Bateman had broad shoulders and he carries his weight well. I might be tempted to fool around with an older version of him, but there’s something too young about him right now. He has bright eyes and a white smile full of straight teeth. Bought and paid for, I think to myself, though I have nice teeth and never had braces, so I’m also aware of this ironic assumption I’m making.

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But, I guess that’s what people do to one another. We glide through our days, seeing the easiest, most convenient way to interact with the world, but not each other. The side effect of seeing folks but not interacting with them, is that you make up stories for them. Or, at least, I do. The young, plump, black woman with glasses who was stretching on a mat when I walked in today – she’s in grad school for radio communications. She’s from a working class family that made good investments, and now they’re relatively well off. Sometimes, she feels like the Equinox is frivolous, but she easily dispels that notion. She gets cramps easily and needs to stretch more than other folks.

I would imagine very little of my story is true, but I enjoy writing stories for other people when I’m in public, at the gym, at the grocery store, shopping. It passes the time, and keeps me engaged.

Fat Jason Bateman is back in the steam room now. He’s like this – in and out. Steam, shower, shave, steam, shower, moisturize, steam, shower, make out with someone in the steam room, or follow them to the shower.

He is flat-footed, which gives him an air of entitlement. As if to say, sure, everyone else glides gracefully around here, but I slap my feet, nearly stomping around like a little boy, or in quieter moments, indelicate, like a duck crossing from one pond to another on a sweltering summer day. Too lazy to fly.

A stray thought, an assumption – he was raised with excessive privilege. I’m almost sure of it.

There’s a cultivated air about him. He’s probably 6 feet tall,  or a little taller. Maybe 225 pounds, and young. No more than 27 years old. But he keeps his posture tall and his head high. But, that’s not why I think he was born wealthy. There’s a way he curls up his lip at people, as if, sure, he’s listening to them, but there’s this look on his face that seems to say, I’m waiting for you to make a mistake, so I can get leverage on you. There’s an air about him that says, I’m used to getting what I want, and actually, it’s easy for me. I suspect that, no matter how many people he meets for frisky fun in the Equinox, he would never deign to have a conversation with any of them.

Sometimes that’s part of the bathhouse vibe. I was in a bathhouse in NYC once with a really good friend. We had split up and were meeting back up about an hour and a half later. I blew two dudes, he told me, excitedly. Awesome, I said. I had this long conversation with a French Existentialist. My friend yelled at me. That’s not what this is for! Socialize at a bar or an art gallery! This is for you to sift through the garbage and find what’s good enough for tonight! Gayness is subversive! Get in there and have sex with a stranger!

I just smirked at him and hummed along to the muzak in the bathhouse. Some song about finding love in a hopeless place. Sometimes I’m in the mood to be a little dirty. Sometimes I’m not. Certainly, if you’re doing gayness right – you don’t need to have sex with a stranger to be subversive.

Now, Fat Jason Bateman sits down next to me. It’s the only spot left. He glances at me, hope brimming in his warm, woody eyes. I smile, mouthing the word, hi. He looks expectant for a moment, then realizes I’m just being friendly. It must be frustrating for him to be so singularly focused on a difficult task in this relaxed environment. It’s not long before he realizes I don’t want to fool around. He’s back to putting on airs, and showing me his cold shoulder.

For a moment, it occurs to me to say something further to him. To ask about his day, or to strike up a conversation about broad, general things, but I’m mostly meditating here, and that’s my agenda. Still, maybe some day I’ll lean over and let him off the hook. I’m naked all the time in the steam room, but it’s rare that my penis has any life in it. It’s too hot and steamy for me to get into a sexy mode.

For a brief moment, I think to myself, maybe I could be friendlier with him if I found a way to let him know that, yes, I’m gay, but no, I’m not looking for a quicky in the steam room today.

Maybe I should explain that my penis doesn’t really react in the extremely hot environment. That he’ll understand when he’s 35 or so. For a brief moment, I feel some kindred spirit energy between me and Fat Jason Bateman. But, as soon as I’m feeling this a gorgeous black man enters the steam. Sleek and tattooed, lithe with muscle but no extra body fat – the man is magnificent. He ponders the available real-estate and selects a top-tier seat in the corner. I try to share a conspiratorial look with Fat Jason, but he’s staring at the black man with a dismissive sneer.

I finish my breathing and meditation exercise. I don’t speak to anyone. The idea of explaining that I’m 96.5% impotent in a steam room seems silly now. I glide out of the steam room leaving the beautiful black man, and Fat Jason Bateman spreading, manly and splayed – a look of consternation on his face. His final glance seems to pose a poignant, useless question. Why is the world so unfair?

I’m already into the cool air of the locker room. I don’t look back. A brief image of Fat Jason Bateman lingers in my mind, as I walk to rinse off in a cold shower. One last thought drifts through me before letting this whole thing go off into the galaxy where it belongs.

Figure it out for yourself, Fat Jason Bateman.

Figure it out for yourself.

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-1

Bless You

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“Stilly, you can’t expect people to always have the same work ethic. To always agree with you. You can’t expect people to keep up with your manic, crazy pace. You have to learn to slow down, or you’ll crash.”

“Lee, I’m tired of sitting around waiting for the rest of my life to start. When do we get to run around the world telling our story? When do we get to be the perfect versions of ourselves that led us this far? We are stuck on your family farm in Arkansas in a town with the ironic name of Blytheville.”

I’m thinking of the leads in my pilot. Star-crossed musicians who are trying to find a way to be friends, lovers, and bandmates. Its two people who probably shouldn’t be together, but at the end of the pilot they get a record deal and have to make it work. One of the lovers is pretty introverted, the other is a bipolar extrovert. They’re both benign narcissists, but one of them skews much more chaotic. The other is more about order and controlling the narrative.

But, walking into the Equinox I see something jarring. The police have subdued a guy. He’s barefoot, shoeless, standing outside a luxury apartment building. I park my car, hurrying back out front. I want a photograph. I walk up all casual and when I’m close I drop to my knees and try to get a great angle. I do! One of the cops says, hey you didn’t get my best side. Do you have a better side, I ask? He laughs. The handcuffed man looks wild-eyed, exhausted, but clean of foot, with buffed nails. I surmise he lives in the luxury building. I take one more photo and hold eye contact with the shirtless man.

“Stay calm, Brother.” I say. It’s the only thing I can think to say. I got what I wanted – my photo. It will be part of a series of photos about Los Angeles. I feel guilty, somehow, like a louse.

Or, like a DJ. Co-opting someone else’s story and framing it how I like. Okay, fine, but DJs collage artists, or music video makers don’t usually go around snapping photos of people at low points, in order to turn it into internet art.

So, I feel crummy. Wait.

They wrote Ms. Saigon based off of one photo. Now I feel better.

Wait, no I don’t.

I feel like someone who takes a small slice of a moment, and exaggerates all the badness he can find, just to get attention. Like some sort of snot-nosed young critc, or something. I don’t like it when I feel this way about myself. It’s okay, though. I have learned to move through it. I breathe. I let the bad thought pass through me. I open the door to my air-conditioned luxury gym. I’m okay. I’m a nice guy who helps foster kids part time, and does freelance writing projects. I earned this 40 minutes at the gym.

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At the front desk a cute, fair-skinned auburn-haired woman, probably mid twenties smiles at me. What are the cops doing out there, I ask. Do you live in the Gilmore? No, I just saw the cops cuffing someone who looks like he lives there. Oh, that’s Ray. She’s pretty nonchalant, and tells me he’s off his meds and the cops have to come by once a week almost, now. That’s sad, I say, and then tell a dumb story about 2013, when I had a nine month bout of hypomania – before I understood what it was, and how to reign it in. The auburn woman smiles and nods, and eventually helps me with the Wifi. I can’t seem to get it unless I’m at the perimeter of the gym. It’s strange. The deeper you go into the Equinox the more it feels like you’re in some sort of cocoon.

Jesus, I think. Wouldn’t that be nice? Wrap yourself in silk and emerge an evolved being? I suppose that’s the metaphor of drag, when it’s not being overtly misogynist. Sometimes it’s not, these days. But, remember the 90’s?

Woof. I sure do, I think to myself.

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I remember everything. It’s kind of a gift/curse. I make memory castles for myself. Totems from experiences. I keep them on display, and if I pick one up, I am transported to the memory. You have to be careful about using your memory castle though. Every time you use a totem, the memory gets a little weaker. Your mind does this work. It polishes the bent edges of things. Shines up murky, moldy, or soap filmed lenses. Smooths out jagged edges until your totems are nothing more than beach glass, or a smooth pebble at the bottom of a brook. You might start with an intact fossil, but find out later, after going back and visiting that memory for years, that is was nothing more than a knuckle from a neanderthal, and not the bonafide cro-magnon you thought it once was. Your mind will do this over the years, if you don’t write things down, if you don’t make memory castles, if you don’t save totems. The scary thing is, your mind will do these things, even if you do write things down. Life, to some extent, is a race against a ticking clock, and the person who learns to enjoy the race can win it.

But, truly living is when you stand still, and it’s rare we allow ourselves that. 

I take a swim. There’s a tense middle-aged man, a white guy, being trained by a lovely young man with dark, inky hair and eyes of warm, earthy tree bark. The younger paces back and forth as the middle-aged swims. The younger says encouraging, challenging aphorisms to the older man. The older man looks annoyed. I switch lanes, as soon as someone leaves. For a while I have a lane to myself. I really open up. I can get a mile done in 28 minutes if I hurry. I don’t get a mile done.

Some knock-down-drag-out thirst trap in a red speedo struts up to my lane and I’m immediately out of workout mode. He gets in with me and asks to share. Obviously. Yes. Please. He’s so lovely. I feel so lucky. He’s probably mid twenties, himself. Absolutely knows he is gorgeous. Doesn’t apologize for it, either. Rare find, anywhere else, but pretty common in SoCal.

He starts doing breast stroke. It’s ruined.

For those of you who don’t know, when you’re splitting lanes instead of swimming in a circle – it’s pretty rude to do butterfly or breaststroke. It’s the swimming equivalent of having a Hummer or some huge Escalade in a crowded urban environment. It’s a statement that yes, I understand there’s a limited amount of space, but I simply deserve more of it than you do. It’s an immediate turn off for me.

She’s going to do breaststroke all day, I say to nobody.

I get out of the pool and take a dip in the hot tub. The speedo guy switches to freestyle. Subterfuge!

I get in the tub too quickly and say to an older couple, yikes, it’s hot. Yes, it’s hot, the man says to me. No worries, I say to him, making eye contact with his friend. I’ll regulate. She rolls her eyes at me, and continues talking at him.

I’ve seen these two a few times, and they’re fascinating. In my head they’ve known each other a long time, always maybe 3rd or 2nd tier friends, but they always thought, hey maybe… Like, they probably had a weird elevator makeout once, at an event, 15 years ago, and never brought it up again. Now she’s asking for some favor from him, and they both know he’s going to grant it, but he’s being a stubborn, attention starved, possibly horny old man and making her really work on it.

It’s just a story. It’s how we all get through life. We tell ourselves stories all day long in order to live in this tepid, privileged colony of Europa.

I get out.

Back in the locker-room, I see the grumpy porter. Ugh. The grumpy asshole porter. The porters are all Mexican, the auburn haired woman at the front desk told me once. They run a little mob between the Equinox and the parking structure of the Gilmore. The porters are nice guys, for the most part, and even though it’s part of the business model, I’ve always felt like the Equinox could be a little better about how they encourage people to use fifteen towels a day, or throw things on the ground for someone to pick up. I’m aware of about three tiny wastebaskets in my gym.

I go pee. There’s a cubby for cell phones at the urinal, and someone has left a band-aid in the corner. Gross, I say to nobody, why would you put your band-aid here? Someone says, I know, I thought the same thing when I was peeing. He’s tall and blond and athletic. Like, really tall, like basketball tall. Young. Maybe 19. I mean I get it, I say, there’s privilege and then there’s privilege. Does your 200 some odd dollars a month make you too good to throw away your used band-aids? The kid laughs and shrugs and so do I, but I’m kind of annoyed.

I doubt he’s the one paying 200 a month.

Neither of us picks up the band-aid.

The grumpy porter is sullen. Usually he’s fine, but he will glare at me if too many gay men are in the steam room at once, or if I’m acting openly gay in the locker room, or if I put on lotion fully naked, instead of in a towel. He’s the shame police of the Equinox, and I really don’t like him at all. Gunmetal-grey hair and severe black eyebrows on a face like a topographical map of Nevada. Edward James Almost, I say, under my breath. He is eating a banana. I’ve been thinking of ways to complain about him, because I think he’s homophobic. You get a sense about people and over time, your sense gets sharper and sharper; I’ve decided he is homophobic. He always glares at me when I drop feathers in the Equinox, and nobody has time for any of that shit. I don’t understand it. The other porters are really cool. He hates his life, I think to myself. It’s not about me.

I file away the banana thing for later. If he is a snarling imp toward me again I’ll complain he was eating in the locker room. This is what I’ve become. Tit for tat. I guess that’s how we live now?

In the steam I meditate. I’m doing a meditative practice where I take 15 minutes or more a day to think about the word Love. Usually in the steam, but also in the car, or on the side of mountains, or at the beach. Anywhere you can sit and regulate your breathing and clear your mind. It helps. I’ve been thinking about the word Love this year. Last year it was Family. So far, my only conclusion this year is that Love is God.

(Much more on that later.)

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I finish my meditation and do some naked yoga stretching, near the cloudy cube shape basket of rocks the steam comes from.  I try to stand away from the guys as far as I can, because I don’t want to make people uncomfortable with my nudity. Neither, however, will I compromise my right to be naked in a locker-room. It’s a strange thing that I only notice in America. How tense we are about keeping our towels on. That’s not me. I don’t play by that rule. But I don’t provoke straight people either. I just respond to whatever energy is present, and usually only wise old naked men, or other gays approach.

There’s a sweet, naked, middle-aged man sitting on the top tier of the marble. I’m catty-corner to him. Someone gets up, and I shift seats, next to him. There’s a jock trying for the same spot but I point at it and he says, go for it. He sits next to another jock and they start low talking. Usually there’s no talking in the sauna at all but if they’re gonna low talk, so am I.

Life is most often a mirror. You get the behavior you exhibit.

I strike up a conversation with the middle aged, smooth skinned, small framed man. Did you get a good workout in? No, just a short one. Oh, I got a full one in. Stairmaster. Oh, no, I think I’m just going to have this pancake ass forever, I should have started when I was younger, if I wanted more butt. We laugh and he’s nice and his smile is outstanding. I mention it and postulate that smile has opened doors for him in life. He’s playing with his penis. He is uncircumcised. I adjust my posture so anyone walking in can not see what he is doing. The jocks are still low talking. Now he’s full on tugging at himself. I maintain eye contact. I am mostly impotent in the steam-room, but I don’t mind this situation, somehow. I’m talking about xenophobia, the border, how I want to get to Europe and apply for citizenship. I want out of this mess. He smiles at me more. I’m horny, he says under his breath. Yes, I can tell you are, I say to him. I keep his eye contact and let him have at himself. He’s working himself up into a lather. I’m talking about capitalism and how the price tag is too high on the human spirit, how we must move to a socialist model or become a third world country eventually, he is tugging and puffing. He pinches his nipple. I zero in on him, eyes locked. Now is the time. He is close and I have him locked in my eyes. I put my hand on his shoulder. His pupils dilate and he shudders. Always be kind to your family. I whisper. Always be kind to your brothers. Always be kind, I say.

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He puts his towel back on his lap. I take my hand off his shoulder. I take condensation off the side of the wall with my right index finger. I touch the water to his forehead.

Bless you, I say.

He leaves. The jocks keep low talking. They’re talking about shoes. I leave.

On the way out, the grumpy porter hits the side of my foot with a squeegee he uses to herd water around the floor all day. I gasp a little. He makes eye contact, and gives me stank face. I smile, and make eye contact.

“How was lunch?” I ask, all ginger and clove.

“What?”

“Lunch. I saw you eating a banana.”

“Oh. Yes. I had banana.”

“Yes. It’s good,” I say, slapping my belly, and smiling. “We all have to nourish ourselves.”

I don’t even have time to play our passive aggressive, mutually cunty game today.

On the way out of the Equinox I’m back to improvising dialogue with myself.

“Stilly, you, vapid, vapor of a man. You quintessential water sign. Always flowing, always moving right in as soon as there’s space. Always either too hot, too cold, tepid, or in the air as a cloud.”

“Don’t forget ice, snowflake.”

“Stilly,” I say, pulling out of the Gilmore. “You made me feel fat when you said food was good and you slapped your tummy.”

“When’s that Lee?”

“Just now, in the locker room.”

“Was that you, eating the banana?”

“No, yes. Maybe.”

“Well, food is good. I didn’t know how much English you spoke”

“Well, you made me feel fat.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I forgive you.”

“I want to remind you that we are responsible for our own feelings.”

“You always say that, but only when you hurt mine.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

Okay, but you’re not fat. I know, I said you made me feel fat. Okay, but that’s the same as you saying you’re fat. No, don’t you know about feelings? No, tell me about feelings? Feelings are something that pass through you. They’re not even yours. They belong to the Universe. You’re just somewhere at some point in time, and a feeling is passing through. This is too much metaphor for me. Can I sleep soon? Yes. Soon.

We’ll be in Jackson soon. Sleep, Stilly. I know you don’t like Mississippi. Bad things happen in the bayou. That was a long time ago. We will play in Jackson, then Louisville, then we’ll go to Tennessee. Nothing bad ever happens in Tennessee. That’s right, Stilly. It’s just two shows. You can do it. What if I fall apart. Then you fall apart. But what if I fall apart again. Bad. Like before. What if you do? Then we’ll start a new band. Or become jewel thieves, or learn magic.

You’re not going to leave me, are you? No. I’m not going to leave. I don’t want you to leave me. You’re my brother. I know. Say it. No, I don’t say things like that. Please just say it? Please go to sleep. I think of you as a brother. I know. I think of you as family. Say we’re brothers. We’re brothers.

Okay. Goodnight then.

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