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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Sunset Plaza: Eddie Thomas and Chris Jericho

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Eddie Thomas’ eyes flash blue and green in the sunlight, as piercing as ever. He’s sitting at a cafe table, regarding me with a cool, almost reptilian quality, all fine-featured and full of smirks. His primary mutation is a mild form of telepathy, and he’s in his element today. His power manifests in a sway over emotions. He is preternaturally persuasive, when he wants to be. Although, generally, he only uses his power to generate empathy  from others. I don’t blame him for a second, for this. It’s an ugly world out there, and straight people are barbaric. We take the advantages we are given. This is known across cultures and eras. This is allowed.

Anyway, he’s a charmer.

He’s using his power on me, which I’m briefly allowing. He’s exceptionally likable, though he keeps the world at arm’s length. Today his hair, usually a chestnut brown, is streaked red with sunlight. His eyes, nearly incandescent, search to permeate me. He probes near my Third Eye. I open it a sliver. He can’t gain the same access to my Memory Castle as I can to his. I’m older, and my powers have been active longer. However, truth be told, I probably care more about this situation than he does, which gives him an advantage. But, I’ve also been telepathic longer than him, and I’m nothing if not self-aware.

I sense his power. He has been honing himself. Good.

He’s here ceremoniously, it’s likely to seem. We sit across from each other. I’m flicking my focus from his right eye to his left – it’s one of the ways I can open someone’s portal. Sometimes, even without their knowledge, these days. Now, I’m the one smirking. I can’t tell if Thomas knows I’m already inside him. I press myself inside a spot in the middle of his forehead as we make small-talk. We laugh about little nothings, and I emerge out of a long tunnel, into blinding white – I’m inside his Eye.

He wants to smooth things over. He’s here to talk, to make sure “everyone wants the same things.” He’s here to defend an improv comic who spent a couple years bullying and sexually harassing me online and over text messages. He’s here to talk about Chris Jericho.

(I’m standing on fluffy white clouds, just outside his Memory Castle. I smirk. Of course Thomas has made a castle in the clouds. This is about as far as his creative imagination usually needs to go, a well-trod trope supported by Sistine Chapels, Enlightenment mythos and other heavenly iconography. A good Catholic boy! A smooth alabaster castle, massive, spartan in design. Smooth, thick, bleached limestone. Few windows, mostly small, except – in the very center, overlooking a courtyard – larger windows. Peaking spires disappear into another, higher level of cloud cover.  A bright light, emanating from a beacon tower. I move toward the light.

At least he saw fit to make himself a modest banquet hall, I think to myself. I look down at the cloud cover. Opaque, they billow up to the ankle, which, sure, okay – respectable. But, then I realize, he doesn’t want me knowing if this is a high-capped mountain covered in clouds, or if his castle actually floats in the heavens. Christian hubris, I whisper to myself, opening a shining, gilded gate. Oddly, it makes a lonely, creaking sound. I suppose that makes sense. Everything here is solid, neat and tidy, but it’s unattended. Completely abandoned, I think to myself, and run a pensive tongue across my lips.)

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We smile at one another, playing catch-up – almost flirting, even. Manufacturing that sort of boring sensitivity people project at one another, when they haven’t connected significantly in quite a while. We are reconnecting – trading fun stories from the summer; reminding one another of progresses we’ve made. Acknowledging failures as learning opportunities, admitting no real fault. Showcasing display-model humility. Being spoiled, privileged, coastal elites meeting for coffee in a very moneyed  neighborhood.

It is almost placid, in its blameless wickedness. It is very Los Angeles, 2018.

Eventually he brings up comedy, and congratulates me for launching Evil Mutants and Friends at The Satellite. He runs a different queer variety show out of a smaller, dowdier venue, based on a donation model. I pay him a compliment, encouraging him to eventually move toward charging his audience.

I’m flattered, he says, that you think we’re worth the price of admission. I smile, and pay him other compliments. It’s a list of niceties, but it’s not insincere. He smiles, and we are silent.

I clear my throat. I bring up our mutual colleague, Chris Jericho.

(Beautiful, tightly manicured French municipal-style gardens line the front drive. Concentric hedges with little islands of manicured, neatly-arranged tulips – pink, and white, alternating groups. Floral, geometric patterns among the hedges. I’m impressed with this detail. The simple, austere Eddie Thomas has put some thought and planning into his Memory Castle and its structural systems. A courtyard, a fountain, immaculate white marble floors, stoic, sanded limestone walls. Bright, almost dazzling light rushing inward, ambient, as clouds, above and below, cover all.)

Eddie Thomas met me when I lived in New York. He came to see an improvised musical I was in, one night, and was impressed with some of my tricks. He started following me and we became friends. He’s sweet, mostly, but also self-serving in his sweetness. He’s an evil mutant, so, what else would I expect? He has just come from a swim at the West Hollywood Public Pool, and his skin looks perfect – creamy, even. Delicate, yet masculine, somehow alabaster, Thomas, so auburn, chestnut, rosy and white, and so very ABC Family. Nonthreatening, but not without an agenda. Perhaps a little smug, even, these days. He’s evolving, perhaps?

I open up his Eye a little more and I’m shocked.

His secondary mutation will make him formidable, when he’s older. Once he casts off his rudimentary world view and embraces his true self, he will skyrocket. Instinctively I sip my coffee, holding my left fist over my heart – clutching at non-existent pearls. I am thrown, momentarily shaken.

He senses me, there, inside his castle. I can tell. There is a subtle red glowing now, behind those hazel eyes.

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“Let’s get to it, and talk about Chris,” he says, pouring on the charm. I’m surprised at how good he has become at using his powers, even as I deflect them. By now, I can turn my skin almost-completely-diamond, but what’s more, just starting the process a bit easily deflects a low-level telepathic assault. He’s trying to glamour me like a vampire, and it’s almost working. It’s difficult to describe the sensation – it tickles, kind of. I smirk at him.

(A series of circular stone-hewn stairwells – levels within levels – like an Escher drawing.  Functional quarters, storage rooms, vast practice and sparring spaces, anti-chambers. Ambient warm white-lit rooms, tidy and efficient. The castle is beautiful, immaculate, and empty. Not a speck of dust anywhere, which, at first, suggests an obsessive self-care, but as I’m climbing and climbing these marble circle steps, it occurs to me – there’s nobody here! He hasn’t created familiars, or magical beasts. He hasn’t given himself totems or a unique mythology to his land. It’s empty! Still, I sense him here. He, is here, somewhere, at least. I can sense it.)

A few days earlier, his gay improv team posted a photograph. I made a rather sharp, honest comment the team took as inappropriate. I said something like, I used to do shows with these guys, until I told one of them I was never going to sleep with him. Thomas had messaged me immediately to ask me to take it down, but I refused. The Ford/Kavanaugh hearings had me on edge that week – triggered. But, nothing I had said on social media was untrue. I mention this to Thomas. He agrees, reluctantly, that yes, they used to book me on their show, and yes, after I halted Chris Jericho’s advances, the team started having trouble with my material. But he swears it’s just coincidence, just poor timing.

I shrug. I move to my next point of business. I remind Thomas of the inappropriate texts, late at night, well after I’d explained to his teammate I wasn’t interested.

“I told him I don’t fuck comics. Also, it’s true, I don’t fuck them, but what’s more, even if I did sleep with comedy folks and I was just letting him off easy, it’s still inappropriate, how he texted me.”

Thomas sets a look of concern on his face, but also, his mouth curls up on one side. He’s speaking in low, empathetic tones, but there’s a glimmer in his eye. Amusement, perhaps, or some secret enjoyment taken? I could force my way further into his Eye, if I wanted to know for sure, but that would also likely set him off.

“That’s right,” he says blithely. “I seem to remember you mentioning you didn’t quite understand the texture of his communication. I’ll remind you – he’s a comic, and he probably thought he was -”

“Making jokes? Yeah I guess he might try to hide behind that old favorite. But, the evidence doesn’t quite support your theory. I’d meet him for ramen, reiterate that I never sleep with comics, he would agree, then I would get weird texts at midnight asking “Does your wife know you’re cheating on her all the time?” That’s straight up high school bully behavior.

“It’s not the most appropriate thing in the world.”

“There’s my Eddie Thomas. Always sitting diplomatic, on an invisible fence built by and for you. Thanks for minimizing!”

“It sounds as if you’re accusing me of being a fair-weather friend.”

“I’ve hosted you in my home many times over the years. Fed you, wined and dined you. I’ve collaborated on music projects with you for free.”

“What’s your point?”

“Since I moved here five years ago, you haven’t even given me a ride in your car, much less invited me places. What other kind of friend would I call you, besides fair-weather? I suppose ‘fifth-tier’ is a more sanitary way of putting it, if you’d rather?”

“In any case, this isn’t about us – it’s about Eric.”

“I’m not sure I agree. I only ever played your shows because I like you. I have a connection to you. I wished over the years we could have been closer friends, but it’s clear you only really want to hedge your bets, and check in with me every 6-8 months.”

“That’s a pretty damning summation to throw at me when I’m here trying to mediate for you.”

“I sent every single correspondence. I screen-capped it every time he said inappropriate things and I had to shut him down and draw a boundary. You said you were glad to get the information, but that you didn’t want to get involved. Classic Eddie Thomas, but your hands aren’t quite that clean. You kept booking me, and kept trying to ignore the awful way your teammate (and by extension your team) was treating me. Finally, in no uncertain terms, I had to tell the little twerp to leave me alone and stop trying to slyly intimidate me with his judgmental late night quips, and solicitations for sex! It was rotten, Thomas, and you knew it was rotten and you knew it was very triggering, and you minimized it every single time. I would have blocked him immediately, if I wasn’t working on a friendly relationship to you. Instead I kept reaching out, and you kept deflecting. ”

“Well, I’m sorry for that. Would you meet up with Jericho and discuss it?”

“Why? I don’t ever want to be associated with him again. Is he still an activist? I know he was really keen on it last year, right after the election, for about five minutes, when it was trendy. Has he secured a position with Amnesty or Lambda Legal, or…?”

“So you feel it’s gone too far to meet up and smooth it over.”

“It went way to far years ago. I wanted to be friends with you. ”

“We are friends.”

“He can email me.”

“Michael, be reasonable!”

“He can email me an apology.  He can say that he’s sorry, examine what he did and why, then say how he’ll change in the future.”

“How do I know you won’t just screenshot it and put it on your blog??!”

“You don’t. I can sit here and promise I won’t, but that isn’t how life or people work. The truth is, I might do any number of things with an email like that. You’d have to trust me, and he’d have to craft an apology that was sincere, and not dripping with saccharine. and we both know he’s incapable of that! We both know he’s widely regarded as an unfunny turd! He seems to get off on ruining perfectly good scenes.”

“You haven’t seen us in a while!”

“He’s comedy adjacent!”

“Stop.”

“Okay fine, but if you want me to stop commenting about his awful, immature, unprofessional late night harassment, you’ll have him email me. Did you know – once, he emailed me on Adam4Adam to tell me he’d recently gotten treated for gonorrhea, and that his ass was clean and ready for me! Mind you, this is after I had asked him twice to consider me a colleague only.”

“I… didn’t know that, actually.”

“No, actually you did know that! I texted you about it, and I brought it up in person a couple times.” You did your usual milquetoast culpability shuffle, and ate food I cooked for you.

Eddie Thomas’s eyes have been getting redder and redder this whole time. They look more brilliant when this happens. A crimson background makes his iris more vibrantly green. He’s been pouring on the empathic telepathy, but I’ve turned my entire face to a thin layer of transparent diamond – more than effective against an undergrad-level psychic assault.

We are both aware of the endgame here, and the impending stalemate. We’re just going through the motions.

He backs off, and the redness behind his eyes fades back to white. I’m still in his Memory Castle. He is either allowing this, or is unaware.

“I’ll ask him if he’s comfortable emailing you, but I know he’d rather meet in person.”

“My level of apathy has risen since the Buzzfeed piece on six-time Tony Award winner, and serial abuser, William Ivey Long. The level of indifference I have toward gay drama, much less gay improv drama is extremely high. Or put it this way – if I don’t mind telling the truth about an industry giant like William, what the hell is keeping me from telling everyone what a scumbag Chris Jericho is?”

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“Well, I’m forced to point out – Chris isn’t continuing the drama, you are. You already called him out publicly at the Inner Sanctum Cafe. You told him, full voice, to stop sexually harassing you. At least fifteen people heard.”

“Yes, and I thought that would help, but as it turns out, it was a triggering week in the media, for abuse victims, and I couldn’t help mentioning Eric’s awful behavior in the comments section of your posted photo. You deleted it. Here we are.”

“If you get an apology, will you stop speaking poorly of Jericho and the Baldwin Boys online?”

“If I like the apology.”

“Okay, I’ll bring this to Jericho and let you know.”

This last bit is untrue. I know it immediately. What is true is, we can not come to an agreement, and he will very shortly unfriend me. I am inside his Memory Castle and he can not hide certain basic things from me – not in my current astral form. Perhaps, when he’s older, but that kind of deception is currently incapable of.

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We finish our coffee, and exchange pleasantries. I tell him he should use his ABC Family face to pitch a show to Netflix. I’d like to seem him as a Blues Clues type host of an adult show about queerness. I’d like to watch him explain polyamory to puppets, or voice over cartoon segments about fisting, and how to do it safely. He laughs and dismisses my idea as silly, but we both know it could be his ticket to ride, if he was able to let go of some of that “nice Catholic boy” programming that seems to be so stringently hampering his development.

We say our goodbyes in the parking lot. A final compliment. An empty stab at planning a hike that will never happen. Grins, and cheerful goodbyes.

As I insert my ticket and pull out onto Crescent Heights, it occurs to me – it’s likely I won’t speak to him again for many, many years. It’s likely I’ll never speak to Jericho again.

(Up and up and up and around in circles. I’m in the tallest spire of his castle. The beacon of light tower. I’ve still seen nobody, no living creatures -not a cat, or mouse, or so much as a moth. This castle seems frozen, or fixed, somehow, but that has to be wrong! I’m here, and what’s more, Eddie Thomas is at the top of this spiral. I know it! My power isn’t ever wrong, and he’s not old enough yet to deceive me, even inside his own castle. I spiral further up, like an endless Guggenheim, or a throwback to Tudor castles from Frank Lloyd Wright, he has built a gorgeous, splendid, massively empty Memory Castle, and I’m starting to become alarmed! A glossy, blond, thick, wooden door suddenly appears. The hinges and lock are made of polished brass. I don’t have a key or see one. I try the handle. It opens.

Eddie Thomas is hunched over, in a white robe, illuminated, in the middle of the room. There is a ceremonial altar surrounding him. A mix of Catholic and more mythological icons, bleached, marble, carved precisely – white candles, lit, but barely even supplementing the resplendent ambient lighting that seems to come from nothing and nowhere. His back is to me. He stands in the middle of the circle. The back of his head, a body frame – his face is hidden. 

Around and around I go, picking up speed. I am faster and faster now, blurring round and round, like a millisecond hand on a very precisely engineered time-piece. He isn’t moving at all, and yet it is as if he was quickly turning. No matter what I say, or where I am, I can only see the back of his head. A faceless man. He raises the back of a hand, flicks up his index finger with a snap of his wrist, the way others might casually summon a waiter. 

Suddenly a force is rushing me away, crashing through the stained glass, out into the air above the courtyard, rushing quickly away from the misty bright light. I hurtle backward into infinity, the light getting dimmer, softer, as I tumult further away from his Eye.

I am excommunicated into the nothingness.

I open a portal, back to Ragisland, but I linger here, in this vast nothing. There is no light, nor space, nor even time. I smirk and turn toward my own Memory Castle. Pausing for a moment, on the threshold between my Third Eye and the Great Void…

I’m surprised it isn’t colder, here.)

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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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Reality Check Live: Gay #MeToo #Broadway #WilliamIveyLong

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Hey!

I’m the current top-trending story on Reality Check Live, with Cary Harrington. It’s a long interview – about 25 minutes. Stream at the site, or download the Reality Check Live app on your smartphone! We talk about solidarity in the gay community, hetero-supremacy, internalized homophobia, and the growing dossier of evidence being compiled against serial abuser, and six time Tony Award winner, William Ivey Long.

This story is getting traction, and you can help by raising awareness, or even just supporting #MeToo in general. Help us make professional theater a safe place for actors? Too many careers have been ruined by those in power who have dirty fingers.

Let this generation be the last one forced onto the casting couch? #TimesUp for those who would use their power to intimidate, silence, pressure, rape, assault, or otherwise demoralize young, vibrant artists.

If you have information regarding William, or even just a story of gay #MeToo you’d like to share, email me at piefolk@gmail.com

Happy Sunday!

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Dear William Ivey Long,

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September 11, 2018

Dear William,

It’s been a long time since I corresponded.

I have been busy, and surely you have also been busy. Even so, you abused me a little in 1995, and quite a lot in 1996 –  so I have complicated, unresolved feelings for you. Not to worry, I pay a therapist to listen to most of that, but, since the article came out I’ve been kind of mired in feelings that I should have resolved decades ago. Dumb stuff. Self-blame, then externalizing the anger (shame, regret, fear) at other folks, then back at myself. You know the cycle. You, of all people, know that cycle. You created it. It’s the cycle of abuse.

It’s not certain whether you’ll read this letter or not. I am not planning on emailing it to you, but I’m actually curious about your reaction to the article. I don’t want to be outright rude. Straightforward, yes. Critical, definitely, but I’d prefer to keep this civil. Civility and diplomacy are in my blood. My great-grandfather was a widower with 11 children. He founded a settlement in one of the North Fjords of Iceland. He was also a writer, a shepherd, a farmer, a fisherman. I think he taught school, as well. Iceland is that sort of country. Maybe you’re even President for a while, but after that, you still have to make yourself useful. It’s not like here, where you might do one thing, over and over again – learn one glitzy trick, and rest forever on laurels other folks earned.

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(We all know you copied those Lost Colony costumes, William. You bragged about it. You stood, studying rare art pieces featuring Elizabeth and Raleigh, and you copied them exactly. You purchased the most exquisite fabrics and you supervised a team of people you trained to build clothing that would last. It’s a phenomenal skill, but you’re not creating any new ideas.  What you do is NOT art. It is very much a craft. You’re a crafty guy. You have crafty fingers and a crafty mind.)

Your lawyers tied up the Buzzfeed story quite a bit. They made publication take another 10 days, after we had already researched and corroborated your abuse from quite a few sources. Some folks talked to us about other illegal activity you should have been criminally charged for (prostitution, intimidation, coercion, hush money, bribes, date rape, sexual assault) in the 90’s. People keep acknowledging what you did was wrong, talking about it explicitly, then, right at the last minute revoking permission to quote or source them, even anonymously.

Congratulations, you did a decent job scaring everyone.

But, there’s a difference between “decent” and “world class.” You taught me that. So, in some sense, it doesn’t matter. The people are coming forward now. Your days ignoring this are numbered, William. You won’t be able to act ignorant much longer. Of course, we both know you’re painfully aware of the charges leveled against you. Your team communicated extensively with Buzzfeed when we were working on the story. We both know it’s a matter of time before more and more (and yes, even more) people step forward to label you what you are: a serial abuser, and quite probably, a rapist. Most certainly, you covered up sexual harassment. We know about that. The stuff you were more careful about? Maybe we’ll never know. Or, maybe it’s a matter of time?

I was just in NYC, talking to a few theater-oriented publications, as well as larger outlets like NPR and the major papers in town. People are interested in this story. It’s not going anywhere. I’m not going anywhere. We’re still dancing William, at least until this song is over, or someone changes the tune. I rather like the chords the article struck. Adam is a good journalist, and though I didn’t love him painting me as a long-suffering Broadway hopeful, I did love that Buzzfeed thoroughly vetted every SINGLE charge they leveled against you. I did love that Adam was professional, yet compassionate. I did love that I have control of my side of the narrative now. That I can say exactly what you did, and who you are, and how dirty those crafty fingers are.

I was going to drop by your new studio while I was in the city, but I got wrapped up in story pitching, media outlet commentary, and reconnecting with old pals. My mother called me on the phone, specifically, to ask me not to drop by. She’s worried you might shoot me, or be so angry that you struck me dead. She loves me, and wants to see me healthy and happy. She can’t stand you, William. She really hates you, and what you tried to do to me. She’s mad at herself, a little, sometimes, but she doesn’t let any guilt she has affect her joy. Wallowing in regret isn’t what life is for. But, sometimes, William, I know she blames herself. I know she wishes she would have made a big stink about it when I told her you were abusing me. We were at dinner, with extended family. They didn’t yet know I was gay, and they were coming to see the show opening. Someone asked me what it was like to work for a Tony Award winning designer. I said it was an honor, but then I said I wished you’d keep your gross hands to yourself. Everyone gasped, and my mother (who had heard a more detailed version of what you put me through) changed the subject in that firm, graceful way Southern women have of insisting on a new topic. I’m sure you know women like that. You’re a Southerner, after all. From an old, respected family, I hear. As you can imagine, the ladies whisked the conversation away from your abuse, and the men acted as if they’d heard nothing.

That’s the South for you.

Anyway, I was going to head down to 44 Walker St. to see your studio. Last I visited you was in the early 2000’s. It was at your townhouse, back when you did a lot of work from home, in your Chelsea brownstone. Your assistant, Brian Mear, was still alive, and he greeted me in the lobby. He looked worried and exhausted. You came down, annoyed, it seemed. You could barely hold your impatience, but as I chatted with you you softened and got those doe eyes you sometimes get when you’re toying with the idea of breaking someone down. You left the room to get some drawings. Brian asked me why I was visiting. I told him I was out of work, and that I was hoping that you might point me in some right direction. A director friend who needed an assistant would have done it. Another designer, or a playwright, or hell – even a casting director that needed an office manager. You left Brian and I alone for a few moments and he asked me why I was visiting, and when I told him he shook his head no.

“William would rather break something than not have it,” is what Brian said to me. It was a simple metaphor, but I understood it immediately. I understood that Brian wasn’t going to let me push my resume at you. I understood it was probably fruitless to ask you to open your Rolodex for me. I’d already unsuccessfully tried to get Agnes and Fred Chappell to press harassment charges against you. Agnes talked me down. She said, don’t do it, you’ll regret it, young folks (especially homosexuals) will never be believed against an industry giant. All the ingrained lies people always repeat to get abuse victims to shut up about their bosses and their crafty fingers. They did your dirty work for you, William, probably without you even having to ask them. You were always the biggest name on the Lost Colony, and I suspect that was by design.

Your fingers are really gross, William, but your designs are fantastic.

Brian Mear warned me to get away from you, and I did. I didn’t come back to your office or your house. Something about how he said what he said to me that night struck me as a little more dire than his measured voice was letting on.

William would rather break something than not have it.

I had a brother like that. He went through a phase where he broke a few of my finer toys, on purpose, just because they weren’t his. It creeped me out when Brian said that to me. Because I knew the violent, abusive tendencies that accompanied the type of personality that would see beauty, and ruin it – just for the sake of spite. I’ve learned since then, there are actually many people in the world who will go to no ends to be cruel to other folks, just because they can. Brian Mear reminded me – watch out for that personality type. It is only emboldened by money, status, and pedigree.

It was chilling to me, this summer, while researching with Buzzfeed, to find out Brian Mear had killed himself. A trusted tech person at Lost Colony told me he shot himself in a vacation house of yours.

I’m sorry you lost a good assistant.

I didn’t drop by your office or your house. I was going to – not to knock on the door or try to surprise you with a microphone in some “gotcha” moment – I wanted to photograph the exterior of your brownstone and your offices, and make some sort of use of those images here, on this gay culture magazine I publish.

But, my New York pals were so happy to see me, and my new journalism connections had so much to talk to me about; I didn’t have time. I used to fantasize about taking your awards away and melting them down into chains and handcuffs, and giving them back to you. I still think that would be fun, but I don’t really want that anymore. I just want you to admit what you did and apologize. Maybe, you get extra credit if you offer to help some of the folks whose self esteem you damaged by cheapening them down inside when nobody was looking?

By the way, is that what I was to you? Is that why you whispered about how smart, how poetic, what a great ‘eye’ I had? Why did you say all that nice shit above my waist, and treat me like raw meat below? Didn’t you see I just wanted someone to show me how to make beautiful things? Why did I have to confront so much evil in the world, just to learn basic design principles? Were you bored? Did I threaten you, somehow? Or do you just like breaking spirits because it’s useful and fun? I know those costumers working under you always mumbled through glazed over, faraway eyes. They were always exhausted. Always shaking their heads and muttering about the latest indignity you foisted upon them. Never social, and always bitter after just two beers.

I lived through 9/11 and I’ve never been to ground zero. I never thought I needed to see the gaping wound inflicted on my beloved City of New York. I think I’m not going to drop by your house, or your office, either.

I think I’ll wait for my apology. And, if I wait my whole life, maybe that’s fine, too…

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But, I might just keep writing to you. I hated the way you touched me, and I told you as much to your face a few nights. But, I loved the way you talked to me, once in a while. The way you sometimes taught me, encouraged me. Like I said, it’s complicated and unresolved feelings.

Why must you take so much away, when you give a small encouragement? Is that what you think is fair? Is that how people should be treated? Like chattel, to be fondled and cooed at, then forced to pull a plow or get hacked up for the dinner table? Or, slowly milked by oily, crafty fingers by the light of a candle in a shady barn or props cabin? Gross. You see what gross thoughts you inspire? Why couldn’t you have been a mentor, like promised? I’m sorry. This is fringing on uncivil. I’ll move on.

I hope this letter finds you well. I want you alive and well when this story gets bigger. It’s already happening. So no, I won’t be visiting your office to take photos of your soot-covered brownstone. Unsettling as it is, I’m going to have to give myself boundaries.

I’ll explain boundaries and why they’re so important in another letter maybe.

This is exhausting. I’ve been losing weight rapidly this year. I’m so worn down by this and I don’t see a way to stop what I’ve set in motion.

Probably, I just need sleep, or a vacation. The long summer is over, and I suppose I owe myself the opportunity to bear witness to an incredible fall. 

I await your apology.

Sincerely,

Michael S. Martin

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

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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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Orange County is Burning

Orange County is burning

 

maybe i’ll go to Africa,

the wild savannah sounds enticing

maybe i’ll see giraffe and hippos and

learn tribal dancing, maybe i’ll trek

the nile and find a hidden treasure

beneath murky riverbeds, wearing

a jerkin of faded crocodile skin

maybe i’ll let you in

 

maybe i’ll head to China,  find

terracotta warriors under a vast

cool labyrinth made by pampered

troubled emperors, thousands of

years ago, or search Tibet for relics

haul you out of hazy opium dens

once i let you in

 

maybe i’ll go to Scandinavian fjords

ice floes lock up harbors, once

a polar bear drifting in tiny,

an iceberg, we’ll shoot elephant

guns, and sweat out the bad press,

Greenland can come get their bear,

once i let you in

 

maybe Patagonia, the Southern tip of

the world, angry, happy, together,

wide,  Argentine water

falls  when i think of either

of us, our love as brutal, ugly, dirty,

shameful, unkind or full of sin,

i won’t let that in

 

maybe you’ll be your true self now,

Orange County blazing, wild, afire,

orange like halloween gourds, rotten sneers

after a holiday, pumpkin faces withering

dithering in fear, but not us anymore,

cool dark park, you’ll pierce me low and high

Andes mountains pierce the sky, not skin,

maybe it’s not a sin,

maybe i’ll let you in

Blaze Bernstein was killed by a former classmate. Authorities are prosecuting it as an anti-Semitic, homophobic hate crime.

Click here to make a donation in Blaze’s name to Lambda Legal Defense Fund.