The Great Gatsby – Part One, A Rose in Winter

It’s February 2017, and I feel raw, like a picked scab – shiny, wet, dotted with blood. I keep picturing this image. Hoping I can stop picking scabs mentally, I want to forgive myself, forgive others, forgive wasted youth. I want a drink. I want eleven drinks.

I can’t think about that right now, though. I have a job to do.

I pull up to the house, check my phone. Finally, the right spot. Patricia Rose.

I found you, I think, but this thought is laced with irony. I suck air through my teeth. Foster kids want help, but their bodies are exhausted from processing years of abuse and neglect. They need attention, but they rarely accept it. Accepting help is terrifying, so they chicken out, cancel, get sick at the last minute. They get the address wrong. It’s all subconscious trauma manifesting.

They’re petrified by the idea of trust. The people who are supposed to teach them to trust, instead teach them to expect abandonment on good days, violence on bad.

Nevertheless, I need to be able to connect with them, immediately. I need this job. For my self-esteem, I need to know I’m good at this. I practice my actor smile. It seems smarmy today. I’m not an actor anymore. I’m out of practice.

Take a deep breath. Hold. Let it out. You’re okay. You got this. You own it.

I need this job for so many reasons – they’ve already threatened to fire me. I don’t get my paperwork done on time. I’m losing company money. It’s a “non-profit,” but this is America. Someone at the top is making a shit ton of money. I can’t keep getting by on charm.

I have a patient boss, but I didn’t make my quota in November – third month in a row. My rock bottom? In a quick, private conversation – he told me he liked me, told me everyone sees I am great at the job – but if I can’t get billable hours I’ll be fired.

He didn’t even mention “alcohol,” but the look he gave me said everything.

“Sober up or get out. Stop drinking or die.”

The months leading up were grisly. Green bowl movements because my pancreas secreted way too much bile. Went haywire after years of overloading it. Hidden bottles under the bed, for when I woke up in the middle of the night, terrified I’d get the shakes. Trying to do the math on how I could plan withdrawal for my lunch hour.

I guess I chickened out on my slow suicide, and I have to live? I have joy every damn day. Why am I being a baby? First world problems, I tell myself. Make it about the kids for five fucking minutes, how about that? How about, focus on an act of service, and let the rest be up to the universe?

I ring the doorbell, jolt myself out of this open wound, this rock bottom moment. I can mentor foster youth, I tell myself. You have no evidence of that, I tell myself right afterward.

(I didn’t lie on my resume, but I certainly implied there was a BA degree, when there wasn’t. I ran an improv program in New York city. I was a teacher, but I also wrote the curriculum – handed it off to a boss that never even liked me. I feel more and more like Henry Miller these days, except the reverse of him. He found in debauchery a form of freedom. I found myself prisoner to it.)

The Community College foundation claims my transcripts were lost. I suspect everyone in the interview said to one another, who knows, this guys a great salesman, let’s roll the dice? Let’s ignore the fact that he doesn’t have the required degree?

(I nailed the interview, despite showing up hungover, sweaty, fragile. Thanks acting training!)

Thank you, I tell my inner child - letting me have a moment of clarity!

I listen for my inner child to answer. Not available. He hides from me sometimes. He hides from the people I let in the house, who eventually abused, abandoned, neglected him. I’m slowly becoming friendly with him again.

Ding Dong! Social Services!

Sometimes I think I’m funny, but I haven’t been a paid comic for years.

I hear chaos inside. Teenage girls. Raucous fun. I miss that part of life.

My job is – show up when they’re 17, take them through transition, help make sure they don’t become homeless. It’s a two year program with hundreds of things to get done – you have to cram in 20 years of parenting. Help them negotiate a car loan. Help them get a bank account. ID. Apply for housing grants that will float them until they’re 22. Get them free community college courses.

But, there’s never enough time, and they spelled it out, as long as I don’t get phone calls about my work, I can either be good or bad at the job. They want me to make them money. I’m making two dollars and change per-hour over minimum wage.

Chaos, giggles – shrieking inside. I sort of wish I had earplugs. Am I ready for this?

It’s amazing to me, this job, I think, in a flash of optimism – Foster kids cover the trauma by having fun. Living in a fantasy world. Making the best of situations. We all do, really, but because their situation is so incredibly dire, they live in an opaque bubble of their own illusion. It’s hard to break through. I’m ready for a bored, listless client that maybe acts like she hates me. Most of my clients are like that. Hell, all of them to some degree.

(They don’t really hate me. They hate their circumstance, and when someone shows up with empathy, it makes them feel ashamed, somehow.)

I ring the doorbell. I’m almost terrified. I have five more months of work probation before I get in good standing again. I’m afraid I won’t be able to hold this job down, even with more than 60 clear-headed days.

This could be easier, I hear my friends in my head. You could easily just go to a meeting. But my Dad didn’t have to, and maybe I don’t either? Lately I’ve doubted that a little bit. My dad is pretty neutral about giving advice. He only says what worked for him, and lets me make my decisions. My mom doesn’t think I need AA. She’s practical.

Just stop, she says.

She’s right, I say to myself. They both are. Just stop and see what’s up tomorrow.

Okay, I think to myself. Just do that. Just do the simple thing. Maybe it’s easy, maybe it’s hard. Just do the simple thing.

romegrant.com

There was an awful election cycle last season – all the women in my family seem a little crushed. I’m crushed for them. They may not live to see a woman President. My extended family – the conservative side – seem self satisfied after a season of exposing thinly veiled misogyny. Even though my immediate family are “Union Strong” Democrats, the red state uncles, and cousins have almost been gleeful in their recent “victory.” Gross. The idea that in one breath a person could minimize such a qualified candidate, while making excuses for someone who grabs women’s genitals without asking and brags about it. Nauseating.

Only Americans would see a choice between a fart and a turd as a victory.

We’re obsessed with winning. It’s disgusting, actually. We rah rah rah the same faces each cycle. The two corporate sponsored Oligarchical greed-fest revelers may wear opposite, twisted nightmare visages, but they’re just fun house mirror reflections of one another. Cheap distraction.Their job is to scapegoat the other side while their bosses rob us blind on both sides of the aisle.

We’re all cagey, addled. All of us know the anger is misdirected, but we dare not admit it, culturally. To do so would be to collectively admit – it’s time to light the torches. Sharpen up the machetes. We are kept exhausted by fearmongering media cycles. We are so inundated with vanity and consumerist idolatry, we’re too tired to consider refusing to play a cruel, rigged game. Most of us can’t even fathom asking ourselves how? How do I get off this pointless treadmill of greed?

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Usually I try to take a helpful, smart angle. Invoke a little fear. “Independence is scary at first – overwhelming… but it’s like a puzzle,” I’ll say, off the cuff. “First we’ll work on ID, then a bank account. A job. An apartment. Some grants for community college.” I try to make it sound fun, try to distract them from the horrible truth that they’re entering a situation where the people they’ll compete against have unfathomable advantage. I try to pretend I don’t know that a sizable amount of my clients will statistically become drug addicted, homeless, without access to healthcare. I explain that in lieu of a parental figure, I’ll be the one teaching them how to interview for jobs, how to negotiate a car loan, how to patiently make a return against store policy. This won’t even begin to emotionally equip them for the uphill climb ahead, and we haven’t even talked about their financial disadvantages.

That’s one thing I like about Hilary. She has bloody hands, and never met an overpaid Wall Street speaking gig she didn’t like, but she does give a little lip service to the social safety net. It’s just that America can’t handle an overqualified woman.

I think about our new President, the horny toddler. He throws fits on twitter and won’t disclose financials. There’s no way he can last even half a term, I assure myself. I peek through the semi-translucence, through the tiny window. Girls laughing, playing, running around.

I’m here, at Penny Lane Balboa. I’m sober. I’m going to mentor a new client, do my paperwork, try to write a song, and tend bar later tonight. I’m sure I can get through the day without drinking. Let’s see if one day at a time really works? Sober is a state of mind. Blah blah blah.

I’m fed up. I beat on the door. I’m getting these billable hours, and I’m going home and I’m doing my paperwork. Then…

Say it, an ugly voice inside my head, coaxes me. All you have to do is say it once, says the snake in my mind. Saying something makes it so. Just get a bottle on the way home. Or a pint! Be a moderate drinker! An airport bottle or two. It’s nobody’s business…

No, I think to myself. No. I’m not even going to say it silently.

“I GOT IT!!!”

The door is flung far open. A sudden face off! The two of us. It’s not my inner child, but legally, it is a minor. A wizened, perhaps, but a teenager. She’s laughing, happy! She’s playing some sort of game with the other girls inside the house.

I breathe.

Suddenly, she freezes. She looks drunk, or high – wasted on something. Her face goes slack.

Another abrupt change, and she looks like a 40 year old woman.

“Well, hello sir…”

I’m disarmed, but I have actor training. I cover.

“Hi. I’m looking for someone.”

“Why, whatever do you mean?”

“I’m looking for a client of mine.”

Suddenly, she’s totally sober. Suddenly I’m the one who feels dizzy, giddy, even in my sobriety.

“OH MY GOD! YOU’RE MY ITSP WORKER!!!!!” She’s prancing around the group home, giddy. Showing me off to her friends.

I stammer. I don’t know the acronyms the kids know so well, so I’m always asking them to explain. They trained me only to do paperwork. It’s all about money. I’m an Individual Transitional Service Provider, technically. That’s what DCFS calls me. My company calls me a TDS worker. Transitional Development Specialist, I remember.

“JESUS GOD!” She shifts shape – 17 again. Relatively innocent.

“Please tell me you’re my ITSP worker?”

Suddenly I’m a befuddled, humble old man.

“It’s my allergies. I was distracted. A fly… well.. you see!”

“Dude. Who the hell are you?”

“I’m looking for Patricia.”

“ROSE! You can call me Rose!”

“Okay Patricia.”

“It’s Rose! GET IT RIGHT. I’m not Patricia anymore.”

“Okay, well, I’m Michael. You’re Rose.”

“NO!”

She’s hosting. Practically waltzing me through the chaos of the paltry living room.

“I’m Rose. I’m never going to be Patricia again.” Her eyes glitter with a vampire’s charisma.

“Okay. I stammer….” Then, I quickly recover. I need money. I need to make a sale. I need her to enroll in my voluntary program.

“Well, I’m here to explain the ITSP program to you and see if you’d like to join.”

“You can stop that right now.”

“Wait! I’m a TDS worker! I’m just here to help you transition.”

“She taps her foot, waiting for my foolishness to end.”

“Are you done?”

“I… Do you have any questions?”

“No, my fine young gentleman from across the lake.”

“Lake Balboa?”

“NO YOU”RE NOT LISTENING.”

“Okay. Tell me?”

“I’m ROSE.”

“OKAY.”

“YOU’RE GATSBY!!!!”

She throws her head back and cackles, like the queen bee of this particular hive!

“I always wanted a rich, white…. a rich man your age to visit me. I’ve been waiting my whole life, GATSBY.”

“Hey!” I say, taking stock of squallor. The low ceilings. The insides ruined by kids, by traffic, by indifference.

Let’s improvise.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life for you too, Rose.” I say. Grinning, and suddenly she’s right.

Suddenly I’m an American classic. Suddenly I’m a debonair man of society. I am Gatsby, and I’m in love.

Rose has me under her spell, and she’s never letting go. I don’t mind a bit. This is better than any drug, any alcohol. We’re giddy on each other’s energy, each other’s fun generosity.

Suddenly I find my inner child. I’ve been searching for him. What are we going to do, he asks? I hold little Michael’s hand, while I laugh with Patricia. She can’t see him. But, I whisper things to him when she’s cavorting around, whipping the group home into a frenzy.

Do you love her, I ask my inner child? Oh, yes, father, he says. Let’s keep her.

Okay then, Michael. We have to be Gatsby now.

What’s that mean?

We have to build a fortune. We have to stay close. We have to always be just out of sight of our Rose in Winter.

Why?

Because she’ll lose sight of us over the years, but we can see her, just across Lake Balboa.

That sounds like a spy novel, or a mystery.

It’s just a plan.

What’s the plan?

Let’s get rich, and take her away from this place.

I tickle the little boy I used to be, before the world got its claws into me. He laughs. I toss him into the air. I can tell he’s very enamored of Patricia.

Okay! My inner child is thrilled at this prospect. Let’s do it. Let’s get rich.

Ok.

And when we’re rich, we can take her away from this place, maybe?

Yes. I say, giving him a piece of cheese in my pocket. I keep cheese around to reward him when he says the right things. We can take her away from this place.

Promise?

No.

Why?

We can only try.

Why?

Shhh. Go to sleep, there’s no why.

Why?

Exactly. That’s always the question.

Why?

jaded

jaded 

you danced through my head 
today at work a man leaned 
over and spit on the floor he
doesn’t live anywhere

not the same smile as years 
ago my hair curled over my
ears and shined white my 
feet with golden sandals

my wings i flew mouth would
smile wet and red baby kisses
skin was smooth, stark white
but not now the rag smears

spit in circles as an arid smile
spreads across my face, dull
touched no more by the hands 
of gods, scabs, not scars

hands now grow cold, lines fold
crack to deep set creases fingers
callous hair courser now, darker
knees heal, scabs are now 

scars

Corroboration

img_1225This story came across my desk, with these photographs.

You can find the original running in Falo, a gay art magazine in Brazil, if you speak Portuguese. Otherwise, it’s running here, too

Even though William Ivey Long is not specifically identified by name in this article, the details identify him, and corroborate the pattern of abuse I spoke of in 2018.  I’m proud of Court Watson for coming forward, and I hope the theater community continues to support and work alongside him. Here’s the article, reprinted:

Screen Shot 2020-03-19 at 11.57.54 PM(Court poses with his abuser, blurred out, and his unmistakable design)

When I was in college, a famous man took advantage of me. As the #metoo movement burst wide open, I thought that multiple stories about him would come to light. I was genuinely surprised when only one did. Buzzfeed published an article about another man’s story, and how his harassment and assault at the hands of the same famous man caused him such pain that he left the business he loved, and was forever changed. I was changed too, and surprised that Buzzfeed ran the article with only one man’s story. In my industry, I now know that the famous man has a reputation for inappropriate behavior towards those working under him. The Buzzfeed story exploded onto the scene, and then, like so many others, it just faded away. Perhaps the timing was off; the man had recently been the head of an important organization in our business, but the article didn’t appear until after he was no longer on national television once a year at a major awards show. However, the man has had no fewer than one Broadway show running for the last twenty-five years. If you are reading this, and in any way involved in American theater, you already know who the man is.

Within a week after the article was published, I wrote to the Buzzfeed journalist and we spoke about what happened to me. I gave him multiple contemporaneous witnesses to pieces of my story. After sitting on the topic for a year, his editors decided not to move forward with a follow-up article. It is unclear to me whether more men came forward with stories or if I was the only one. When Buzzfeed dropped the article, the journalist put me in touch with an editor at American Theatre Magazine. It seems they were going to partner with the New York Times, perhaps on a story about patterns of abuse in the theater industry. I repeated all of my story to this editor, along with witness contact information. The editor said that they passed it along to someone at the Times, which decided not to run the story at all. I was told, “there’s not enough to go on.” Both journalists recorded my statements. I am certain that what I write here is consistent with what I told them. And yet, none of my witnesses were contacted to verify my claims.

I worked under the man for four summers in college at a summer theater, learning design. My business is one of the last with a codified system of apprentices and masters; masters in my field often have a team of younger assistants, learning the ropes of our profession. I did indeed learn a lot from the man. I can quote maxims that he taught me. I learned how to create a character onstage with scenery and costume design. I learned a great deal about detail, style, fashion history, garment making, and how to use color to direct the eye onstage. I also learned how to be gracious and charming when needed, and a shark when required. One of the hardest lessons I learned is how to avoid allowing myself to be put in risky situations, but I did not learn that until I was already in one.

As a mentor, the man had great power over me. I looked up to him, and when he rewarded me with praise, I felt special, as if my talent and abilities were the reason he wanted to be alone with me. I considered him an icon of Broadway design. I was inspired by his work when I was a child in the audience at the summer theater where we would eventually meet. He designed the second Broadway show I ever saw, and holds more awards for his work than any other designer in our field. In my world, he is indeed a famous man.

Over the course of three summers, the man gave me more and more attention, going farther and farther each summer, building trust and closeness. I was invited to parties at his home. I was offered alcohol, definitely before I reached the legal drinking age. Trips to New York were dangled with offers of rewards for good behavior and potential future jobs. With his power, I was sure that he could have had any man he wanted, and I presumed I was too thin, too gay, to actually be his type. There were rumors that he preferred well-toned young straight men.

My first summer, there were swirling allegations of sexual harassment that actually involved the man’s associate. When the man heard of this, he called my entire department into the executive director’s office and screamed at us that “in the American theater, there is no such thing as sexual harassment. No jury in America would find someone guilty of sexual harassment in our business. We’re all pimps and whores!” Those words are seared into my memory as if he said them yesterday. He actually said that, as the executive director’s mouth dropped, but she remained silent. She resigned at the end of the season, possibly connected to this incident, possibly not. I gave her name to both journalists to corroborate my recollection.

That first summer I worked with the man, I turned nineteen years old, and I looked younger. He asked me my age, maybe the first time he spoke to me directly. He was delighted when I told him, and he shook his head and winked, saying “No, you’re not. You’re a fifteen year old boy!” And he flitted away. At the time I was flattered and charmed by his eccentric flamboyance. Now that we have a shared understanding of “grooming,” I know this is where it started for me. Within a week, I’d called my mother from a payphone to check in, and proudly told her this story. She chuckled, but was unsettled. Even though this was literally twenty years ago, she remembers. I gave her contact information to both journalists. She was never contacted.

The next summer I was rewarded with a promotion and a pay raise. It was made clear to me that the man had been consulted and was responsible for my increased responsibility and compensation. The man was more present that summer, and I was invited to weekends at one of his vacation homes, where, still under age, I was given too much to drink. One of his New York assistants, easily twenty years older than me, took me to an upstairs bedroom and we had sex, which I did think was consensual the time. I was mortified the next day when the man licked his lips as he recounted what his assistant had told him about our encounter, in grotesque detail. It was as if the assistant had given me a test run.

My direct supervisor was also at the vacation home and saw my distress. She warned me to take better care of myself. She knew the rumors of the man’s behavior and was concerned for my welfare. I’m sure she remembers it even though we are not in close contact. I was able to find her contact information and provided it to both journalists. To my knowledge, she was never contacted.

The third summer I worked with the man, I was regularly invited to his home to set up for and attend lavish parties, with countless mint juleps in antique silver cups. Halfway through the summer, I became old enough to legally drink alcohol. I was dazzled by the posh guests at his parties, including actual royalty. The man had recently won additional major awards. He was on top of the world and deigned to include me in his glittering universe of celebrity and fame. I was dazzled.

Bruce Weber, who has since been accused of sexually harassing multiple male models, had recently photographed the man, and he was in a new limited edition book that sold for hundreds of dollars, well out of my price range as a college student. The man casually told me he had several copies, and he’d sign one for me. He mentioned that they were kept in his upstairs bedroom. I knew I was tempting fate, but took note. Shortly thereafter, I was at a small party a block away from the man’s house. He showed up and gave me special attention. I was deeply flattered.

After several drinks, the man invited me back to his home for a chat about my future and maybe a complimentary expensive signed book. I was not in any way sober, and someone at the party suggested I call it a night. They were trying to look out for me. Instead, the man helped me to his porch. More drinks were poured.

I had been drinking and the man was not drinking; there was no way for me to consent to anything. I remember him exposing his genitals to me on his porch. I remember being guided up the steep stairs to his bedroom, and being told to keep quiet as the man’s mentally disabled sister and her elderly nurse were in the house and asleep. I remember the man telling me that he “had a rubber” and we should use it. I do not recall if we did.

I remember his pasty fleshy body under me. I do not remember if either or both of us reached any kind of climax. I do remember seeing multiple copies of the notorious Bruce Weber book on a shelf by the bed, but I got dressed and left as quickly as possible. I’m sure I was disheveled, and too drunk to drive. I ambled back to the other house alone, and multiple people there saw what shape I was in. Someone was kind enough to drive me back to my apartment. I know exactly who the host of the party was that night, but have not reached out to her in years.

Did I think at the time that what happened was consensual? I am not sure. Was I flattered by the man’s attention? Absolutely. Was I disgusted at what had happened? Definitely.

The following year, I was a senior in college. A master designer was brought down from New York to lead a seminar. I was given a private interview with him where he encouraged me to consider graduate school in New York. I proudly told him of my years of work with the famous man, and he grimaced. Without saying anything unkind, he asked, “Are the rumors true? About the boys?” I was mortified. Not only did I realize that there were rumors in the big city about the man, but that I was not unique. Our community quietly whispered about stories that were similar to mine. I did not confide my personal story to the master designer. After the Buzzfeed article appeared, I reached out to him twice to ask if he recalled that moment, and he never replied to me.

Screen Shot 2020-03-19 at 11.58.09 PM

(Court met Long while working for the Lost Colony)

While I did work with the man for one further summer, that night in his bedroom was the last time we were ever together alone. I thought I must have somehow disappointed him. Or maybe he had less power over me now that I had been accepted to a prestigious school in New York and he no longer needed a tempting offer to get me to the big city.

When speaking with the journalists at Buzzfeed and American Theatre Magazine, they asked if there would be a record of a complaint against the man with the company where we worked, but there would not have been. The earlier comment in the executive director’s office made it clear to me that it would fall on deaf ears, so I never complained to anyone in authority at the organization. There is, however, clear record of my four years of employment there. To my knowledge, neither journalist followed up to confirm my four-year employment.

After graduating from college and graduate school, I never sought work from the man, and I did not tell many people what had happened between us. About five years later, I was assistant designing a Broadway show. Costumes for Broadway shows are handmade in one of several shops in New York City’s Garment District. It is not uncommon for the biggest names in design to be in shops at the same time as the shops work on multiple productions preparing new Broadway shows simultaneously. In 2008, our design studio was in one such shop. I had heard that the man would be in the shop that day, and I basically hid in a back office so as not to encounter him. At one point, I needed to go to the bathroom, and the man nearly ran into me in the hallway. He grabbed both of my shoulders and said, “My! Don’t you look great. You’ve finally gone through puberty!” He winked and continued on his way. I’m not sure he even remembered my name or where he knew me from. This was the first time I had seen the man in person in five years.

I was deeply shaken and went back to the office to try to collect myself. My supervisor had seen what had happened and checked to be sure I was okay. I was not okay. I did not go into much detail, but enough for my supervisor to be disgusted with the man’s notoriously inappropriate behavior. My supervisor made sure that I did not cross the man’s path again. I was surprised by how shaken up I was, and I left work early that day in spite of pressing deadlines. It was the first time I’d really stopped to think about how I felt about what he had done to me. I gave my supervisor’s name and contact information to both journalists. He was never contacted.

Afterwards, when the man had his portrait unveiled at Sardi’s, the theaterati restaurant in the heart of the theater district, the man’s associate, from the vacation home encounter, invited me to the ceremonial party. Perhaps I was trying to convince myself that I was able to move on from what had happened years earlier, so I went. I did not encounter the man personally, and I do not know if he saw me there or knew that I had been invited. I was proud of myself for not being too rattled to attend. This man’s presence in the theater world was just a fact of life, and I made an effort to teach myself to be okay with him being around if I wanted to survive in my field, even if I never wanted to work with him directly. To me, it felt like a victory that I could attend his party without breaking down. Now that I know I am not alone, I wonder how many other people there were coping with the same feeling.

When #metoo stories started popping up on Facebook, I wrote a brief post, not mentioning the circumstances, but acknowledging that I too had a story. I was surprised when no one named the man. Years later, when the Buzzfeed article came out, many people in our business knew about it and discussed it; they weren’t shocked by the allegations against him, but that there was only one accuser. There was a flurry of activity on a closed group page for people in my industry. My supervisor, who had kept me safely hidden in an office a decade earlier, checked on me to see if I was alright.

Another friend who knew more details of my story began taking screen captures of the comments and shared them with me. One was from a former college teacher of mine. She had taught me to sew and at the time had taken it as a point of pride that her lessons had landed me a job working with the man. She wrote on the board that one of her students had told her, back in 2002, of a very similar story to the man who had told his story to Buzzfeed. I had not been in touch with her for years, but I found her information, and contacted her. I needed to know if she was talking about me, or if the same thing had happened to yet another one of her students. She confirmed that I had told her my whole story. I have no memory of having told her what had happened to me. She agreed to allow me to share her contact information with the journalists to verify my contemporaneous account. She was never contacted.

I also recovered the screen captures of the board comments and shared them with the American Theater Magazine editor. I provided my friend’s details to verify the screen captures. She was not contacted.

I was unnerved by a gnawing pain that my not speaking up at the time had enabled the man to possibly continue his behavior and hurt other vulnerable people. I felt responsible for anyone he took advantage of after not saying anything to management at the time.

After speaking to the two journalists, I attended a Broadway leading lady’s memorial service at the gargantuan Gershwin Theatre. When I saw the man seated in the row in front of me, my heart raced. I shifted in my seat so there was no way he could see me. Again, it disturbed me how much it bothered me to be in his proximity. The Buzzfeed article had already come out, and I didn’t want him to approach or speak to me. I had already spoken to the first journalist and didn’t know if my story would be published or not.

When I heard that the New York Times and American Theatre Magazine would not be moving forward, in spite of my verifiable stories, I was devastated. I spiraled into a depression that lasted several days. It was like a visceral punch to my stomach that wouldn’t go away. Not having space to tell my story pained me nearly as much as coming to terms with what happened to me.

I posted an impassioned Instagram story, without naming names, and several people, friends and strangers, reached out to offer support. I am grateful for their ongoing kindness. The publisher of Falo Magazine reached out to me privately, and asked if I would be willing to write something for him. I’m grateful for the space to be taken seriously, and heard. I am also thankful for his patience, as this has indeed been difficult to write.

All of this begs the question as to why I am going public now. Why public? Why now? Initially, I wanted to use the man’s name, and remain anonymous. That would have been easier with the backing of a major news company. Maybe only two of us have now spoken out about his behavior, but I am confident that there are more of us who he took advantage of. I am certain that speaking out is the right thing for me to do.

Do I expect an apology from the man? No. Do I want to pursue legal action for what he did to me? No. Do I want to be congratulated or called ‘brave’ for going on the record? No. Do I want attention? No, not for something that is so personal and so painful.

Do I want to be honest with myself and my peers in my industry? Yes. Can I allow myself to remain silent any longer? No.

It has taken years to process what happened to me. It has been a journey to know that it is indeed not my fault. Thanks to all who hear this, and a special thanks to those who speak up and speak out with their own stories, whether about this man or others who have mistreated people who look up to them. This behavior should not have been tolerated twenty years ago, and it cannot be tolerated now.

As we are finding is often the case, powerful people play by a different set of rules. Other powerful people cover for them, making excuses for them. The same thing is true of creative people. People allow geniuses to get away with bad behavior that would otherwise not be tolerated. They are forgiven for treating people inhumanely. This must stop.

The man is indeed a genius. He is also a predator.

Court-2002

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internal memo

Photos by Rome Grant

internal memo:

i will adjust the algorithms

employ Brazilian spam-bots

and engage a generation of

black hat hackers to change

your demographics are nearly

perfect we just have to overlay

tinting onto your memories

of last summer mostly

because we partnered with

Pepsi on our branding and i

know we mostly drank

RC and that’s a lot of Photoshop

i have asked engineering

to send a few nanobots to

your family vacation house

in the Adirondacks just for

your Thanksgiving plans

include goose your mother

shot during season, and

in the afternoon while roasted

fat and thyme tickle your

nostrils the tiny bots will

creep inside a drowsing

napping, resting ear canal

and tidy up your thoughts

about RC cola, and why

we argued and why you

would never put the paper

down and look at me, or

don’t we deserve families

too, or why didn’t, after 8

years, you ever ask me?

I might have said yes,

but, oh, irony, oh i just

realized that’s why, oh

well, in any case the

bots are on the way

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I Love Me: Breaking the Silence Awards + Maxine Waters

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Desserts sponsored by West Hollywood Gateway

Breaking the Silence Awards recognizes corporations and leaders who use their platform of influence to advocate for Sexual & Domestic Abuse awareness. Since the inception, the I Love Me Foundation has provided supportive services through legal referral assistance, advocate support, financial aid, employment referral and housing assistance to over 1,500 youth, young adults, sex workers, and those in the under-served communities.

 

Yes, that’s Kelly Osbourne and Robert Harrell – get excited! But also, please keep your cool. It’s Los Angeles and chill is what we do best, even in the heat of the day. Make no mistake…

The day wasn’t without its lively moments. Yes, we talked about abuse, survival, disenfranchised communities – all things liberals love to talk about! We also had a blast. It was a celebration of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and the transgender communities and communities of color that support their struggle.

 

It was about female empowerment, humanity, and rejoicing in our ability to tell the truth, so that when the artifice falls away, and we take the narrative back from our abusers, we reveal a truer version of ourselves, which is a boon to our loved ones, to the communities that support us. It was a celebration.

Robert spoke with a tremble in his voice, but a power in his spirit – about how inspired he is with his mother. About how 90% of rapes aren’t reported the first time. How, when he came to her as a boy with his story of abuse, she believed him the first time. He honored her with the Purple Heart Award, and she beamed! She was so proud of her son! He was so proud of her! It was quite amazing to watch.

I teared up, myself, during this part. Something about him emphasizing the first time struck me as incredibly powerful. I certainly wish, when I came forward with my own abuse story, people would have believed me the first time. He made an important point – we have got to retrain ourselves as a society, to stop doing the abuser’s work for them. To stop minimizing, to stop shoving people into “victim” boxes, when what they are doing is actually heroic.

“We must remain vigilant and unified…” -Karina Samala

 

I was impressed with the desserts. The food was all fantastic, and Chaz Dean was the main sponsor. He looked sleek and stylish and his table was extremely well groomed – don’t worry.

Alexander from West Hollywood Gateway, with Desireé, and my date, Steven Reigns.

Steven was named Poet Laureate of West Hollywood. It’s true! Okay, I’ll stop bragging about Steven. I was flattered he asked me. It felt like getting asked to prom. I spent last week walking on a cloud!

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“We have just scratched the surface of what’s happening… They have turned #MeToo into a weapon when it’s really a tool… to talk about sexual abuse, harassment, sexual assault. Even saying ‘Me, too’ is an emotional trial, and we are leaving them alone, to raise their hands alone. We will NOT let [the abusers and Republican pundits] turn it into a weapon. It’s a tool. It is not only for women. The future is NOT just female. My daughter answers to they/them pronouns. The future can not be just female because it leaves transgender folks out.” – Tarana Burke, founder of #MeToo
 

Steven doesn’t know we are on a date but we totally are…

 

“I am a survivor of both domestic violence and sexual violence. The situation puts you behind enemy lines… [After breaking the silence] I lived an episode of Black Mirror for an entire year. There were friends that turned out not to be friends. There were enemies that turned out not to be enemies. When you say that you demand to be treated like a human being, there are people who come out of the woodwork to insist that you’re not…” – Terry Cruise
I was grateful, but my absolute favorite part of the day was watching 80 year old California Representative, Congresswoman Maxine Waters speak with the exuberance and stamina of a much younger person. She speaks with the clear, strong voice of someone who knows she is exactly where the universe wants her to be, because, in part, she bent the universe to her will, by climbing over, tunneling under, or going around any walls her opponents put in her path.

We were lucky enough to walk the five flights of stairs right behind Maxine. We weren’t too thrilled with the no-elevator-situation, but Maxine didn’t care. She may have mentioned getting some exercise in, but she was unflappable and determined, and by the time we reached the top floor we were all joking about what an incredible photo-op it would be, if next time the Congresswoman jet-packed in with Elon Musk. She has a sense of humor, but by the end of her speech, she made a metaphor about how, if she could take the stairs in life, the rest of us could, too. It’s fifteen minutes long, but she doesn’t stop to rest, and she doesn’t let up on the abusers. She is determined to see abusers like Brett Kavanaugh prosecuted for their crimes, and she is still determined to see the impeachment of this illegitimate, corrupt, racist dog-whistle blowing Presidential administration. She, among all politicians, is the only one who makes me want to stay and fight, and not emigrate to Europe. I can’t help it, there’s a 14 year old gay boy inside me that just loves her. She can do no wrong, in my eyes.

I’m incredibly grateful for the day, and for the reminder that yes, I love me.

Thanks, everyone! I love you all, too!

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Sweet Gregory: Part Three, The 59th Street Bridge – 2001

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romegrant.com

Gregory is perplexed, and sort of chasing me up the hill. I’m not running, but it’s a steep climb and I’m race-walking. I don’t understand my powers yet -I can’t control them. In the years to come, I will learn that if emotionally triggered, or feeling slightly manic, raising my heart rate isn’t a good idea. Bad things happen when I do that.

Sweet Gregory is trailing behind me on the 59th Street Bridge. I am race-walking us to Queens. A mean plan has sprung up in my young mind.  I’m going to make him walk me all the way home, then tell him to get back on the subway. I’m not going to sleep with him tonight, or any other night. He’s changing, and I don’t recognize him at all any more.

Which is fine. I don’t recognize myself, either.

A racing heart sits inside an awful, jealous, mean, petty version of myself. The quickening pulse thrums out my eardrums. Mania starts to rise; I’m too young to realize its power. Too young to know that if I let the mania swell too fully inside me, I can unleash a terrible force, Like Father, when he built Asteroid M. But, my powers are yet undefined. It’s 2001, and I don’t even know much about myself. All I know is that I’m different than other folks, and that I have to hide it.

An arctic, icy blast lights up behind my eyes. I pick up the pace. Gregory complains.

Hey! Why are you walking so fast? It’s the middle of the night! What’s the rush?

I’m so busy these days Sweet Gregory! I have a rehearsal tomorrow and an audition!

You said you weren’t rehearsing until Friday?

It’s another project, duh! I said I was busy! Keep up!

I don’t want Sweet Gregory to keep up. I want him to lag behind me forever, but his voice has developed two decades in the last nine months. He’s coming into his full power, and I don’t even know what my power is yet! It isn’t fair. He’s a spoiled brat from a wealthy family. That’s not who the arts should be for! The arts are for real artists who had to struggle to get where they are, not for pampered babies whose families paid for their every whim.

(No, that’s not true, another voice in my head suggests. The arts are also a place the rich place their black sheep family members. Their broken. The sociopaths that don’t have a flair for business.)

I think of the improv classes I’m taking. How I had to scrape money together at the end of the month for rent, how I kept taking classes. I think of the regional and Off-Off-Broadway musicals, sometimes for little or no money at all, just to get a chance to get some free voice practice in. Ice crystals form behind my eyes. A bluish-white whisper floats from my mouth. Sweet Gregory is confused. He notices a change in me, but he can’t place it. He’s out of breath. We keep rushing. He stumbles, but I don’t pause to help him, I race out front.

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Come on! I have to get up early tomorrow, I say.

Gregory puffs and huffs behind me. Good luck with that golden voice, I think to myself. Maybe I’ll stick around and wear you out, Sweet, Sweet Gregory?  Maybe, I’ll just keep you tired your whole life, so you can’t sing…

I sense something preternatural near me. A flash in my mind – two unctuous, undulating eels, twisting in East River silt, rutting up tree roots, sliding past rusting cans.

My third eye pops open. I’m linked now, with the two gargantuan eels. This happens sometimes when my powers take over. They link to whatever animals nearby that can use their base instincts to fuel my agenda. Most of the time it’s just birds, but sometimes it’s uglier animals, depending on now insipid I feel inside when the mania triggers. The third eye swells. My skin is gooseflesh. I pause. Blue white light.

Lead him to the top of the bridge, the eels whisper, I am two places at once. I am standing on the Queensborough Bridge with Sweet Gregory, and I’m cold, submerged in the inky water of the East River, amongst flotsam and jetsam, amongst moss and fishes, and discarded needles, river rocks, and sharper stones.  Algae, particulate, brown earthy life, and two self-satisfied, overgrown, fear-driven eels.

Gregory catches up. Thank God you came to your senses!

I didn’t. And you thank God, Gregory! I don’t believe in your Catholic God who speaks an infallible voice through a man called the Pope. I don’t believe any of it!

It’s okay! It’s just religion! We don’t have to agree! Michael, what’s the matter with you tonight? You sang really well, back there! You’re funny! You know that funny people don’t have to learn to sing all that well? Think about all the character actors who make it on Broadway, just croaking out one song a night! It’s the dream job! Full salary for one fun song, and a few lines in the second act! Are you jealous?

Am I what???

Are you jealous of me?

Poison flows through my veins. Hatred pumped so quickly by my heart, fluttering and pounding away – endless pounding in my very soul – pounding deep into my core. Fuck you, Gregory – I’m not jealous. I feel sorry for you!

Michael…

I didn’t stop so you could catch up, Gregory. I stopped so you could have a fair start. We’re racing to the top of the bridge. I feel my tongue splitting in twain as I say this. My tongue silver, my words, quick.  I shift eye contact – right, left, right, left, right, left. Like a swinging pendulum on a grandfather clock. Eye to eye, I press into his mind, a bit, gently, I enter him. It’s easy. He doesn’t even know he has a third eye.

Race me up to the top!

Gregory looks uneasy, stunned, then his eyes glaze over, fuzzy, and he smirks.

Okay, he says, all Fairfield County, all bright and cheerful, but neutral underneath. It’s the tone of voice you might hear from someone who wants to talk about your problems endlessly, but offer no real solutions – it’s a classic politician’s voice – cheerful, smarmy. I’ve used my power to briefly create this moment, in order to make him chase me. It’s working. I feel in control again.

Okay? Ready, set, go!

He’s playing along now, and so am I. For a while I let us run neck and neck, but I’m a competitive swimmer, and I have been for more than a decade. Moreover, my mania will provide an adrenaline dump that usually lets me win a sprint. I’m fast. Gregory is taller than me but I pull away toward the top of the bridge. By the time I see his silhouette approaching, I’ve already climbed over the safety barrier. I’m perched at the apex of the bridge, with a slimy smile on my face. Two eels twisting inside my third eye. Two eels whisper to one another in the riverbed murk and muck, hundreds of feet below us.

Take it. Take him. We want a sacrifice. We need blood.

This takeover is unprecedented. I’ve approached animals before with my eye open, but I’ve never been hijacked like this. It terrifies me when my third eye opens on its own. I have to learn to control this. Go away! I’m shouting at the eels. Get out!

You asked us in! You can’t banish us until you grant a request. We require a sacrifice.

I don’t believe them. I think they’re lying. I clench my teeth; try to force my third eye closed. It moves a bit, then snaps back open. The eels giggle and hiss. Reflexively, I tighten my jaw again, and tear of a good sized chunk of my inner cheek.

We want blood… We need blood. We can’t get back on land unless you feed us. We’re trapped down here in the river.

Who are you?

We’re a little bit like you.

You are not like me.

No, not exactly. But we have powers like you. We could share.

I want you out.

We need blood, and we ain’t leaving.

Sweet Gregory approaches. He is red-faced and out of breath. Sweating through his Oxfords. He’s grinning.

Okay, okay, you win! Come down off there…

I’m not coming down, Sweet Gregory.

What? You’re nuts, come off it.

Come up here with me, Gregory.

Michael, I’m not coming up there. You could fall. If you fall you’ll die.

Gregory, life is about taking risks. That’s what I didn’t like about your song tonight. You sang it perfectly, but there wasn’t any risk in your voice. It sounded like you were doing something for the purpose of not being criticized, but it didn’t sound like you were pulling your own heart out. That song happens right before a character in the show leaves his home country to be with a foreign woman. You sang all the notes perfectly, but you didn’t tell the story.

Michael, I’m 22 years old. That role is written for a 40 year old man.

I want you to take a risk with me. Let’s jump into the river.

What?!?! No. Get down from there right now. This bridge is 350 feet tall, Michael. You’ll die if you jump.

I just read how someone jumped off last month and swam ashore.

Michael, did you also read that 70% of people who jump from this height, even into water, will die on impact? Because that’s an important part of the story, and I read the whole thing.

Make him join you, and push him in, the eels whisper to me, or, join him! We need blood to grow stronger – the more, the better. Both of you, strong bloods. Smells so good. Smells so powerful, crossing our river…

No.

Help us. We won’t let you die, if you deliver us Sweet Gregory’s head, like the head of John the Baptist. We can reward you! We can show you how to control your powers!

No.

You’re just like us, kiddo. Don’t you think we started off as people? Let us show you how to shape your own destiny. Let us unlock your power, and sip some for ourselves, to boot!

Brúttó. Þið tveir eruð ógeðslegir. Farðu úr huganum! Get out!

You’re the one who let us in. We require a blood sacrifice to leave. It’s simple. You can’t force us out until we get blood.

Gregory is nervous.  He can tell I’m considering jumping, now, in a real way. He can tell he has caught me on an evening where I’m so full of self-loathing, I feel like I have nothing left to lose. He can tell I’m dangerous, but he still loves me, a little, and he wants me to stop threatening to jump off the 59th Street Bridge.

Michael, please come down.

Gregory, why are you going into journalism?

Michael, I have to tell you – I’m up for a job as an editor.

You’re 22.

They really liked the articles I wrote for Show Music, and so it’s looking like I could be the editor of Next Magazine soon.

You’re an actor! You’re a great musical theater actor! That’s a local gay magazine that runs interviews with drag queens and has-been Broadway folks looking to rekindle something. Why would you leave the arts? Look – you can learn how to act better, but not everyone gets a voice like that, Gregory. Don’t waste it.

My father respects me now, Michael. It’s important to me. He doesn’t respect acting, as a career choice, but journalism! His son the editor? He respects it. What’s more, I can pay my rent doing it! I’m taking the job.

Bring him to us!

Gregory, come up here.

Yes!

No. I don’t want either of us to jump off a bridge tonight.

Just come up. I promise not to jump, or try to talk you into it. Just take the risk with me. Just hang off the side of the bridge! It’s fun.

Gregory comes up past the safety rail to sit with me on an iron girder.

Push him. Push him over, and we’ll show you how to REALLY use that third eye.

I push my tongue into the gash I bit into my cheek – a thick viscous iron taste. Blood. My third eye swells. Sing for me, I say. Sing another song for me, Sweet, Sweet Gregory. From Chess? The show you sang from at the cabaret bar?

Gregory clears his throat.

Now, sing, I say.

“What’s going on around me

Is barely making sense

I need some explanations fast

I see my present partner

In the imperfect tense”

Keep him singing!

“And I don’t see how we can last

I feel I need a change of cast

Maybe I’m on nobody’s side

And when he gives me reasons

To justify each move

They’re getting harder to believe

I know this can’t continue

I’ve still a lot to prove

There must be more I could achive

But I don’t have the nerve to leave

Everybody’s playing the game

But nobody’s rules are the same”

Push him over to us! You’ll be so powerful!

“Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Better learn to go it alone

Recognize you’re out on your own

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

The one I should not think of

Keeps rolling through my mind

And I don’t want to let that go

No lover’s ever faithful

No contract truly signed

There’s nothing certain left to know

And how the cracks begin to show”

Join us. We work for powerful gods. They will reward you for unlocking us from this watery prison.

“Never make a promise or plan

Take a little love when you can

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never stay too long in your bed

Never lose your heart, use your head

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never take a stranger’s advice

Never let a friend fool you twice

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

I place my hand on Gregory’s back. I slide it down to the small of him.

I could push him. I could end both of us.

“Everybody’s playing the game

But nobody’s rules are the same

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never leave a moment too soon

Never waste a hot afternoon

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never stay a minute too long

Don’t forget the best will go wrong

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

I bite open my cheek. The blood runs into my mouth. I grab Gregory’s thigh. I could easily throw us both into the river. It would be so simple.

“Never be the first to believe

Never be the last to deceive

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never make a promise or plan

Take a little love when you can

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

I widen my third eye. I spit the blood down into the abyss. It falls 350 feet to the surface of the river.

NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? YOU FOOL!

Trance-like and slack bodied, I open a portal to Ragisland. I suck up the last notes of Gregory’s song into my Eye, immediately placing his voice inside a small, impish cherub statue a few miles south of my memory castle. I shoved the golden voice into the cracks in the little angel’s marble. The statue rests behind a waterfall, it makes a steady, constant sound vibration.

I’ve locked Gregory’s voice here, at the same moment as my blood sacrifice to those eels. Its mine now. I can always visit his voice. He won’t need it anymore, anyway.

I leave the waterfall, the statue, behind. In the cold spring, now, I thrust my fists into the water. I clench myself. My eyes turn opaque, translucent white icy blue. My jaw, slack, bluish white light from my mouth. The eels in my hands, squirming. I seize them. I’m ousting them from my memory castle. I take them to the portal, and fling them out of my mind, back into the East river to meet their oily bodies, rutting and churning up scrum.

The astral plane is closed, this portal sealed. The eels hiss and scream, and fight one another for the meager blood sacrifice I’ve offered. They wanted a five course meal, and I barely gave them a bite – but they got their blood.

This isn’t over, Michael Martin. We’re not going anywhere. We know who and what you are now. We have tasted you. We’ll never let this go.

Shut up, I hear myself say. You guys are real dicks. They slink off down the coast a bit

We climb down off the pylons. We’re back on the bridge. I tell Gregory to head back to Manhattan, but he insists on walking me to Queensborough Plaza to catch the 7 back to Manhattan. I feel affectionate toward Sweet Gregory again. I want to hold him and be naked with him again, but I can’t. Part of me doesn’t want to ruin the relationship I have right now (though it seems to be ruining itself). Part of me doesn’t want to corrupt him with my frantic, crazy, manic whatever-the-fuck is going on with me. My inner cheek is bleeding. I can’t control my third eye. I’m toxic right now. 

Gregory hugs me at the station before heading up the stairs.

I’m proud of you, I say, and I’m surprised that I mean it.

I’m more proud of you, Michael. I know you’ll eventually make a living doing theater, or at least being funny! You’re perfect for that. I just need to do this. I like the idea of making a living now, and having my Dad’s approval.

You’re a better person than I am, Sweet Gregory.

No, I’m not! I have flaws! You’re a great person!

No, I’m not, I say, and I kiss him on the cheek.

He hurries up the stairs, but then over his shoulder – Yes, Michael. You are a great person! You’re exceptional!

You are, I say! I’m not a great person! I’m barely even decent!

Gregory doesn’t hear me. He disappears into turnstiles, fluorescent lights, ancient carved up wooden benches. His silhouette is distinguishable, for a brief moment, behind the opaque, tagged-up, art-deco glass panel that NYC’s yesteryear forgot to update. Behind the glass, his shadow merges with a sea of others. I can no longer sense his strong blood.

I walk the short distance back to my place in Long Island City. I stop worrying about the eels. I grind my tongue into my cheek and taste the blood already coagulating, already knitting itself together, patching my wound. The mania subsides.

I spend the wee hours of the morning in Ragisland, admiring a statue behind a waterfall. I’m listening to the vibratory hum of Tiny Gregory the Cherub mix with the sound of water showering down all around me, creating a shimmering barrier to hide us. 

I’m practicing turning my skin to diamond.

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The Fall and Rise of Andy Dick, Part Three: The Man

I walk into Akbar. I’m going to ask Andy Dick to come outside, to dance a little – to fight me. I crack my knuckles. It’s been a while since I let myself have the thrill of a dust-up. Since middle-school, probably, if you don’t count me subduing lovers in younger years, when, wild, they would lash out in juvenile tantrum.

Today, I’m going to allow myself one, though. A nice bum-fight in a tin-can alleyway. Today, I have no fucks to give. Andy Dick stuck his mealy, oily tongue on my wife’s happy face, and ruined a magical night. Now I’m going to beat his ass for him.

I’m going to show him what happens when he violates my wife. When he violates any woman. Any man. Anyone.

I’m going to demonstrate to him what it is to be poked, prodded, cajoled and entered against his will. Maybe I’ll beat him up, or lambast him in front of the whole bar – maybe I’ll lure him into a dark alley, flirting with him – choke him within an inch of his life. Maybe – like in that Stephen King book I read when I was twelve – I’ll tie him to a tree, and penetrate him with sticks and branches, until he bleeds shame into his tight white underwear. I’ll make him shove those underwear down his throat, so nobody will see. Maybe, this time I’ll be the one invoking shame. Tell him I’ll kill him and his loved ones if he coughs up his bloody rag. Maybe, for once, I’ll be the abuser?

I move from the bright, lively Monday night street to the coolness inside Akbar. I try to calm down. How childish I am at times, I think, taking a deep breath. If I’m to be effective here, and call out Andy, I have to keep my cool.

It’s something we’re constantly striving for – hypo-maniacs – to control the endless wellspring of energy, so it doesn’t take hold. It’s easy to let the energy itself start making the decisions.

It’s true, we get things done. We have powers, but they must be honed or they will destroy. I think I’m going to try to trigger him, so he throws the first punch. That will give me a reason to mop the floor with him.   I see them, nearly spot-lit, in the back, center couch – Andy, and his goth/pixie, who bears a whisper of the power Aristotle planted in Alexander at Mieza, in the Nymph’s Temple.

That’s right, I think, accessing a small, brief nook of my memory castle – her name is Alexandra.

But then, something else. An intruder.

My night vision isn’t as good as it used to be. I can still see fine without glasses, but transitioning between light to dark and back takes longer, is more disorienting. I take another breath. The third eye opens, and, unexpectedly, I’m thrown into Ragisland, but I’m not inside the halls of my memory castle. I’m far from it:

It’s dark in here. What is this place? I can’t see things, but the temperature, the atmosphere has changed. I’m not in a bar. I’m in a musty cabin. But where? Suddenly, a knowledge comes. A certainty. 

Sneaky Billy is coming.

Everyone else is coming, too, but slower. Sneaky Billy knows that. He knows they move slowly around him to give him space, avoiding his attention. They stay away. Except his closest familiar creatures. Those, bent over, exhausted, harrowed creatures do his bidding silently. Those who create his illusions. They rarely speak, and if they do, they seem far away – removed, voided, somehow of the very real estate between their eyes, their fingers pricked, dead, sucked dry of juice. Once Sneaky Billy starts feeding on someone, they become a shadow of their former self. Like an addict, but worse – worse than dead, a pathetic, nearly human – like Sneaky Billy.

His lackeys, mostly mute, care only for his favor. But, Sneaky Billy is a cruel master, and speaks ill to his ilk most of the time. They mutter here and there, jealous of one another’s time with The Sneak. Jealous, even, of his abuse. Some people can be trained to feel abuse like attention. They crave attention from his cold, smooth, dry hands. Sometimes I think of Sneaky Billy as a puppet master, with tired, shabby, leaden puppets. The puppets, dancing an exhausted St. Vitus. The master, a cold glint in his eye. Toying with me. Growing bored, growing impatient, growing hungry. 

Cursed, I think to myself, as I stand alone in this dark cabin, waiting for his hands. He is cursed. He did something to one of the Old Gods, and now he walks the earth like this, hungry, powerful, unsatisfied. So monied and pedigreed, so rotten, spoiled, but touched, oh yes, a touch of the bright water that runs through all special folks. But his touch is twisted, gnarled like a pithy tree branch, bony like a skeleton’s finger, alternately pointing, beckoning. 

Waiting, in my loincloth for him to say his ugly gutter magic, to sing-song ‘anterior superior iliac spine, posterior superior iliac spine’ over and over again. His hands obsess over my shabby loin cloth. His fingers slip, oops, he sneers. He’s looking for my third eye and I’ll never open it for him. The nine stones shift. The pool hardens to a tacky, acrid molasses. The croaking frog whispers to the Holy Fool.

Maybe, it occurs to me – maybe Sneaky Billy has a way of stealing their memory castles. I can feel him in the dark, when he gropes me. He smells mine. He can smell my castle. He knows I’m hiding a magnificent kingdom he will never get the keys to. He tried to touch my third eye the first time we met, when I was just a peasant boy in a loin cloth. He placed his hands There is a secret grotto, a fragrant, deadly pool, nine rocks, and an enchanted croaking toad. They work together to form a living, shifting puzzle-lock. They guard entry for me, and I’ll never let Sneaky Billy inside.

The thought of Sneaky Billy, with his Ivy League short cropped jacket, with his tight weave satin Ivory Black and Yale Blue. Always black and blue, like a raw piece of steak, like a fresh bruise on a hustler’s face. Sometimes hints of a dry, gold-yellow. Or brown and orange, like a cast-off nectarine in a deserted fair-ground.

But, always, too, a vicious glint. What might have been a smirk in younger years has curled itself up into a sneer. He wants inside my castle. This whole thing is a game. He wants to show me his castle is better. It’s like chess, or Scrabble, except Sneaky Billy knows how to play more moves than I do. 

“Anterior, superior, iliac, spine, posterior, superior, iliac, spine, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.”He wants to know where the wild roses grow, and I’m like to pick up a heavy rock and kiss him with it. These are all thoughts. This is all just worry. This is all just an Idea of Sneaky Billy.

But, suddenly, the cabin gets colder and silent. There is suddenly much less air to breathe. I feel the dust, like bits of fine glass powder on my vocal chords. In the corner, a basket, colonial toys for children who came to the New World. A gaily painted wooden Monarch butterfly, a crude doll, a squaw, a scrap of leather – the outline of a bison. I can imagine his fingers, cold and otherworldly, creeping down my spine, through my lower back, under the dirty rags Billy made for me to wear. 

He is here.

This is wrong. This is my domain. How did he get here? How did he get on my sovereign soil? True, he’s far away from my castle, but he shouldn’t be in Ragisland at ALL. I open a portal, to check on the Magma Gate. He shouldn’t be able to come here – least of all so close to Skagafjordur. So close to the castle he wants.

So many barriers have been placed against him over these decades. Nine stones form a close formation, nine stones shift and heat and cool. My Croakley – my enchanted frog, stops still, the fragrant pool hardens to a gel, like an old skating rink, not quite solid, not quite liquid – a spongy, searing, sticky death, to the fool arrogant enough to try to touch the magma. There’s a crack in one of my nine stones! I see it now, molten, like lava from an active fissure, seething and undulating under the ground. I ask the toad what happened.

“Stop showing everyone how the clock works!” the enchanted toad says. He’s been drinking gin. It’s late, and his face blooms with rosacea. “Just tell them what time it is!” My toad! My sweet Froggie. My gift from Loki! Why is he slurring? This is more than just a little niplet of gin in the wee hours. This is poison. His heart thrums in his throat, slower and slower. He croaks out another few words. “Why do they call it casual sex?” he asks. He’s always loved riddles and even now, in the throes of a vicious (deadly??) poison he tries to amuse me. 

“Why?” I ask, my voice breaking.

“It’s hard to be casual.”

And just like that, my sweet trickster Toad is turned to porous volcanic rock. A tiny, lonely, hidden person camps inside, but there is no more Toady. He perches, immobile on what I know is rock Nine. There are cracks forming on most of the rocks now. The hardened pool is loosening again, getting more fluid. The rocks shift and drift apart, like estranged brothers. They go their own ways and don’t look back for one another. 

Sneaky Billy never gets his own hands dirty. Sneaky Billy’s hands are soft, but never, ever exactly clean, either.  Cold hands, not as cold as a cadaver, but not as warm as a person’s hands aught to be. Clammy, I think to myself, but that’s wrong. That implies sweat, and Sneaky Billy doesn’t break sweats, he breaks people. He wants my Raven eye. I’ll never let him have it. I feel him approach. I whisper to the Traveller, Mjölnir the Smith, to Freya, even to the Silver Tongued Trickster. I face North, and bend the knee to a family older than this place. To Older Gods than the ones who thirsted for Saint Matthew. 

I don’t know why I know, but I know somehow. Billy is here. It smells like a dirty goat, gamy and hungry for rusted cans and cotton scraps. 

I am alone, in a dark ship’s cabin. It’s musty, now, dusty. there are colonial things shoved in this ship – halberds and jerkins, and stone-hewn hatchets. Quivers and arrows made of North Carolina river reed. Burnt sienna hand prints from nymphs and faeries, who paint their bodies for evening rituals.  Early muskets. A crude pack of tarot cards  – only five lone cards – I pull one – The Holy Fool.  (I can always find him in any deck, at any dinner party, even here in this rotting echo of a ship. He is an enlightened trickster, but he can’t always help, he can’t often interfere – he only provides tools and clues along the way – he juggles and winks at me, eyes back up, about to step off a cliff, about to float off into the heavens.)

 It’s moored – this vulgar, festering monstrosity – far from my castle, down beyond the seediest section of the harbor, in Eyravegur. Moored, I scoff at my self.  That’s an understatement. Some lowlife scrum have pulled it thirty yards inland to rot like the Argo. Disintegrating, landlocked, mildewing, the ship almost bloats.

The mast head a smoothed over splinter, a whisper of what it used to be; Jason’s body long eaten by crows. Not even bones remain. A rusted gasket thumbed into the ground. No one would guess it was once a ring adorning the left index of a Would-Be King.

A miasma – wood rot and mealworm and grub – peaty, loamy, odious. The word fallow comes to mind in this dark cabin, but I correct myself. Things are obviously living, dark unctuous things grow here. Molds, funguses, earwigs. Things scurrying, both vertebrate, and not. A crunch under foot, cast-off exoskeletons, thousands, maybe tens of thousands.  I’m in Sneaky Billy’s Cabin, a slatted ramshackle in the belly of this rotting corpse of a once-mighty ship. He used to pay me to be the gatekeeper of this portal, to outfit the rogues and vagabond-for-hires he chums up and grinds down into paste. Sneaky Billy loves the red pigment, but he’s always searching for the purest, brightest crimson. He’s always smelling. It’s close. He can sniff it out. I stop breathing but his hands find me anyway. 

“You can’t hide from me,” he jeers, circling me  (Anterior superior iliac spine, posterior superior iliac spine anterior superior iliac spine, posterior superior iliac spine anterior superior iliac spine, posterior superior iliac spine.) I built this system myself. My parents had such a crude model, so when mother died, I put father away where nobody could find him, and I razed this, and built this mighty ship.”

“You lie, imp. You have but illusions here, and so far from the heartland where my people are guarded – you lie here, wretched, crumbling. This is another one of your illusions, and though well crafted, it will not endure – for you built it at the expense of others. You had to steal their joy, in order to summon this feeble, rotted corpse.”

Silly Billy’s face loses focus. A curled sneer fades off his face. His brow knits – in his eyes, worry masked over by saccharine empathy.

“I was young once. I fell in love, once. He broke me. I’m broken now.”

I am the sovereign ruler here. I shaped this coast line when I was a boy, and I never, ever made this ship. It’s a lie. It’s elaborate, but it’s a lie. It fooled me, momentarily, but I know what I am. I know who I am. I know what I can and can not control.

My eyes frost over. My organs seize. My bones become liquid. My eye is open. A bluish white light in my mouth. Every hair on my body standing at full attention. A Valkyrie roars behind my eyes.

Komdu út, djöfull! Þú ert bannað. Vertu gleymt einhvers staðar annars staðar!”

One look – horror on the face of Sneaky Billy – his ship fading off into nothing. Me, standing on my perfect, treeless coastline at Sauðárkrókur my arm turning like scales of Elder Armor. Something is wrong here in my memory castle. Sneaky Billy is sucked into a pinhole sized vortex spinning, orbited by his four lackeys, dead, with pricked, tiny fingers, dullard slack in their jaws. William has stolen their third eyes. He wears them like a heinous crown. They are bleeding. He looks like a twisted Jesus. Young gods, I think, as Sneaky Billy winks away. I wink myself away, out of Ragisland. I’ll deal with this insurrection later.

My eyes adjust. I give my anger to the universe. I’m back in Akbar with Plum-Lipped Alexandra and Naughty Andy Dick.

I walk over to Andy and Alexandra, releasing the last of Smelly Billy, relaxing the last of my anger, releasing all the way past the farthest galaxy on the end of an ever expanding Universe. I reach all the way to Forgiveness, and I take a generous hand full. I plop down on the couch next to Andy Dick.

“Hey bud,” I say, all nonchalant. “We gotta talk about boundaries. You violated my wife’s with you tongue.”

Andy looks confused, a little like how Slick Billy looked when I banished him from the garden. He looks sad, and desperate, and hopeless. He opens his mouth, as if to say something, pauses, re-considers, and finally settles on:

“Well!!!!!! She’s not hereee is she??”

“No, she isn’t. She had to go home, because you ruined her evening.”

Now Andy looks just like Sneaky Bill. He’s even wearing old withered gold and Yale black and blue. There’s an Outer Banks glint in his eye. His grin all North Carolina hickory. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Yes, Andy. Yes you do. Remember when we were here a few days ago, and I told you what a good job you did? How inspiring I thought you were, on News Radio? Well, you ruined that tonight. You made my wife have to drive home feeling violated in what should be a safe space for her. It should be a safe space for all of us. You’re ruining it for her, which means you’re ruining it for me. And this is so hard to say – I wanted to hit you or take you out and fight you, but there’s a 17 year gay boy inside me who sees you and sees Matthew. Sweet Matthew who works at a radio station, and doesn’t quite understand the world. I saw you, Andy, as Matthew. I saw myself inside that, and I had hope. You gave me hope. At least as Matthew, you did.”

(Not the same trusting Matthew who gave himself to the murderers, thinking they were new friends. Not Matthew who was killed for nothing. Not Matthew who was extinguished by the reckless byproduct of toxic hetero-supremacy.)

“But that hope is frayed to say the least. You’re holding on to threads, bud. I wanted to hurt you so badly, but I just can’t Andy. I can’t hit you.

Alexandra intervenes – she knows Andy deserves this, but she has to calm him down. He starts squirming. He looks cornered. Wild eyed. I catch eyes with him, I empathize for a brief moment. His eyes notice this and he instictually reaches out for my crotch.

“Noooo. Don’t do that. I’ll break every one of your fingers if you try that.”

Andy looks to Alexandra, who seems with her face to be saying, hey, take your medicine.

“Listen, you gotta knock this shit off. I know you’re drinking again, and probably using again, and I’m not here to judge that, but what I’d like to say is this – we’d like Andy back. What’s more, the world has changed, and you don’t get to just go around touching everyone because you’re Andy fucking Dick. You were one of my heroes, and that’s the ONLY reason I didn’t knock your block off. But rest assured, if you touch my wife again, you might not even live to regret it.”

Andy looks terrified, but I’m zeroing in, now.

“I know you think the rules don’t apply to you, but you’re dead wrong, and if you keep up like this you will die. My advice is this: ask permission. No means no.”

Andy moves to kiss me, and I grab his face with my right hand.

“No, buddy, I’m not letting you do this. I’m not letting you take away my hero from childhood.”

I’m squeezing his face. His eyes are bugging out.

“I loved you Andy. I loved Roseanne. I lived for you two bright lights.”

There’s a long pause. Andy looks sad.

“I miss you both. You both used to seem to stand for something. But now it seems like one of you stands for ignorance, and the other for abuse.”

Andy opens his mouth, says nothing, closes it.

“Things aren’t great out there in the world, bud. Give us the old Andy back.”

Andy takes my hand. “You’re the brilliant one.”

“You can forgive yourself, but in order to get there, you have to change your behavior.”

“I can. I can change my behavior.”

“You WILL. Because if you touch my wife again, I’ll lay you out on Sunset Blvd in a coma.”

We are laugh, but they both know I’ll do it. A few more pleasantries are exchanged and before leaving, I reiterate that I can see the Old Andy in there, and I need him to be inspiring again. His eyes light up. He looks young again, brimming with potential.

I make my way back to Lammie and Robin, who are still canoodling outside. Lammie asks if I took care of it. Yes, I say. I did. How, he asks?

I say nothing. My eyes are ever so subtly frosting over. My skin is livid, burning with cold. I imagine snow crystals on the side of a glacier in Ragisland. How it looks like the glacier has skin which has turned to tiny diamonds. My organs unclench. My bones stop shifting. I am not a diamond.

As charming, but as firm as possible, I say.

After about ten minutes Andy and Alexandra emerge. They’re catching an Uber somewhere cooler, more expensive, more exclusive, or let’s face it, wherever the drugs are, that’s where they’re going. Andy is wandering, hungry, worse than a ghost. He hugs me goodbye. His hands move from my upper back to my mid back.

“No…. Andy, we just talked about this. You can do it. All you have to do is not be a fucking creep.”

His hands travel to my lower back.

“You’ll feel better about yourself, if you don’t do this. And if you do this, you know I’ll hurt you bad, bud. You just got a warning.”

I can feel his hands wanting to go further like Sneaky Billy’s did, to squeeze and dig around – they linger, indecisive.

“Bud, you’re better than this. I need you to be better than this, just tonight. Just once. Just try once not to ruin everything.”

All at once, his hands are off me. He made the right choice, for now. He whisks away in a small Uber X with his pixie in tow.

Wow, that was Andy Dick, Lammie says to Robin and me. But I’m not there. My eyes have frosted over again.

I’m off in Ragisland, burying a stone statue of an Enchanted Frog. I’m sealing all the portals and gathering my ministers. The country is under siege.

The Fall and Rise of Andy Dick, Part Two – The Myth

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My wife is a tiny bit jealous – just a little.

I was spending time with one of my Wizard friends, and now I’m teasing her about it. She’s fascinated with my friend Wendell, and has been ribbing me about how I’m hoarding access to him. Somehow, without being told, she can sense Wendell is training me in sorcery, and she’s envious. She wants in. But Wendell is here at Akbar with other pals – theater writers, performance artists, radical faeries et al – and I’m not about to bother him to teach us incantations, hand witchery, or request the tricky instructional task of opening dimensional portals.

It’s too much to ask at 11pm on a Monday.

The after-show is winding down; people are starting to remember to get tired. My band played a couple of songs, (at Ian MacKinnon and Travis Wood’s Planet Queer), and we’re all basking in the after-gloaming. The boys and I did well, and now’s the time we collect our accolades out front on Sunset with the smokers, travelers, fortune tellers, and ghosts. I’m pretty confident after tonight that our show on Sunday, July 29th (at 7pm! 10 bucks!) at the Satellite will be pretty tight. Everyone seems to be feeling pretty okay.

(get tickets here!)

Then, for the second time in less than five days, there he is. Andy Goddamn Dick.

(She’s there too. The lovely blackberry-lipped pixie-faced girlfriend. The woman in the sundress from the first night. The one who kept storming in and out. She’s not angry tonight. She looks different, though, almost goth. She’s put together a simple outfit. Black shorts, tight, a matching halter top. Maybe that’s what it is. But she seems calmer tonight. More fluid. Andy is feeling gregarious. He’s shaking hands and saying hello to folks. I’m glad he’s feeling better – his cataclysmic #metoo resurfaced recently, but he seems less cagey than last time. I realize, he’s dressed just like her – that’s cute!)

Hey, I say to my wife, that’s the guy I was telling you about yesterday – Andy Dick from News Radio. Wanna meet him?

Sure.

Okay.

So, I call out to Andy. I wave. I don’t think he recognizes me, then, suddenly, he does.

Andy has always been such a bright light to me. Like me, it’s clear he has issues with his energy level, and maybe his is even worse than mine, now that I’ve encountered him a couple times? Sure, I have my hypomania flare ups, but he seems to be running pretty hot, pretty consistently. Then again, what the hell do I know? I never open the newspaper anymore. I can’t even do NPR in the car. It’s just silence and daydreams, and rattling around the old memory castle any time I have a long drive ahead of me. I just added a small, secret courtyard somewhere on the grounds. Not sure exactly what I’m going to put there. Possibly, a very fey Minotaur? A two-spirit Wendigo? The Thin Woman?

There’s still time to mull it over, I think, smirking. We only have the entire rest of our lives…

Andy comes over. I beam at him. Look who it is! Andy! Hey – I wanted you to meet my wife, Ann. Andy smiles. It’s genuine, but then his eyes narrow as he starts to shake her hand. I turn to try to introduce Lammy, but Lammy is just staring at Ann and Andy, his mouth agape. Lammy takes a while to process things, sometimes.

I think to myself, oh, maybe he’s still thinking about the show. You do that sometimes. If a show is particularly good, it can feel a bit like waking up from a dream, after, if there’s flow.

Lammy is suddenly alarmed. He points. I glance over at Ann, who looks horrified for some reason. Andy is smirking, impish, a sudden ugly, triumph in his eye. I don’t like this, but now Ann is rushing off, possibly to the lady’s room? I missed something. Lammy looks shocked. His head turns toward Ann, who is disappearing inside. Should I go see what’s going on with Ann, I ask? Lammy says, yes. That would be a great idea.

I catch her in the ladies room, wiping her ear out with toilet paper. She looks annoyed. There’s a smudge on her face I noticed earlier. One of the performers kissed her on the cheek and left burnt umber on her cheek. It looked sweet out in the street lights – like a kiss – but here in the ladies’ room, she’s rubbing it and it starts to smear into a bruise. Then, it fades – gone, entirely. She throws the toilet paper into the toilet. (Women love toilet paper. Good luck, if you sire three daughters; you’ll bankrupt yourself on toilet paper.)

She takes more, and wipes out her ear again.

Moments like this, you shouldn’t envy. She looks at me, and I look at her in the ladies room.

Did Andy do something?

Yes.

What?

Ann sighs. It seems like she is considering whether to speak to this at all. One of the things I love and respect so much about her is her incredible self-control, her wisdom about situations like these. Ann never comments unless she feels like engaging, which means, sure, you can ask her a question, but she never owes you an answer. Finally, though, she speaks.

He stuck his tongue in my ear.

Gross!

Yes. It’s gross and tiresome.

(This, to me, seems like an understatement. There’s something in her body language that looks exhausted, beyond annoyed. There’s an awfulness just beyond her blue, orange flecked eyes, and it’s speaking to me. It’s saying, Michael – this is one of 10,000 instances like this. It’s saying, this is just a small part of a lady’s daily hassle. Indeed, I think to myself, gays inflict this vulgar, pathetic type of behavior on one another all the time).

Ann, I’m so sorry! I didn’t see it. I was trying to see if Lammy wanted to meet Andy too.

She shrugs and sighs. It’s getting late, she says, and gives me a crooked smile. Andy has moved into the bar, to continue his daily binge. We sidle past him quickly, trying not to raise his attention.

We get out into the fresh air. Ann is parked across the street. I walk her over to her car. We came separately tonight. We talk about Andy a little, and how it sucks that, even supposed safe spaces are sometimes inundated with predators. But mostly, Ann wants to talk about what a lovely mini-show Evil Mutants had, and what a supportive, generous community Planet Queer cultivates.

She’s being generous. I know she’s grossed out and she’s trying to make sure my evening ends on a good note.

(In other words, she’s being a good person.)

We talk about upcoming events, meals we need to plan for the week, and I tell her I’ll see her at the compound, or back on campus. We have nicknames for the estate we’re haunting these days.

I kiss her cheek; we say our goodbyes.

I wait outside on a bench with Lammy and a boy named Robin who’s flirting with him. Ann drives by and I wave, but she’s got her mind on the road. It occurs to me – She’s no Orpheus. She’s my wife, not Lot’s – this creature does not look back.

A snippet of parchment flies out of a dusty cabinet in my castle’s study anti-chamber. It’s a private study I put retired ideas, just off the King’s quarters. He needs to be near his early writing, so he can remember what Prince-hood was like.

(bridge)

Just like Orpheus, you’re heading down the Harefield Road.

Clear out the underbrush, someday you might emerge.

But like Lot’s wife, you couldn’t help but watch it grow.

Just be careful you’re not petrified….. by the suuuuuuuurrrrrge.

(breakdown and final chorus)

You looked back!

You looked back!

Your eyes were begging, (please, oh please,)

just cut the kid some slack!

You looked back!

You looked back!

With a glance you missed your chance.

I’m never coming back.

You looked back.

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On the concrete, something I haven’t seen yet in California. Something I only ever think about in Florida – a Palmetto bug. It’s long and sleek and shiny. About two inches of hairy legs and antennae. They’re glorified roaches, but, to add a horrifying, odious layer – they can fly.

But, this one is languishing on the sidewalk, twitching, half squished. It’s clearly in the throes of death. It occurs to me – the most humane thing might be to kill it now, but there is a Buddhist principle in some sects that forbids this sort of thing. I consider the dilemma, but, presently,  I have bigger cats to skin. I turn to Lammy, who seems to read my mind. What are you going to do, he asks?

Head inside, I say.

I enter the cool blackness of Akbar. Behind me I hear Lammy mumbling something which sounds like, good idea.

I’m not sure. Maybe Lammy was talking to me. Maybe he was inviting cute Robin into his memory castle. In any case, Lammy’s opinion about this isn’t relevant to me any longer. I’ve pulled the trigger.

I’m going to beat the shit out of Andy Dick.

(to be continued)

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