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
This 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:
(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.
(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.
Photos by Rome Grant
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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)
She storms out of the restroom of Akbar. I can’t help but notice her, fuming down the runway from the powder-room to the sidewalk. She seems annoyed; over it.
I nudge my friend Lammy, who’s off processing something else. He misses her. He’s looking over at Pete Zias, a sultry comedy genius who’s doing my show on the 29th. Lamy is caught up in thought, and I’m trying to bring him back to focus on this spurned, lovely, fresh-faced ingenue vamping out of Akbar. She seems straight, I think. I bet her gay friend did something major, and she’s not having any more of tonight.
I check my phone. It’s still early.
I love watching women fuming. I like seeing them angry. I like seeing the veneer peel back. I don’t want to see everything, but watching a woman get furious is like watching a force of nature in action – a hurricane or a tornado. When my mother was younger, she covered some spider veins with nude pantyhose. I mentioned it to her once, wondering how she got them, and she said, oh, those are from your brother. Yours are here, she then said, and pointed somewhere else on her leg. I never mentioned it again, but I felt humbled in the moment. I really love women.
When raised into ire, they show a hint, a whisper of that age old anger I identify in myself. Sure, it’s not at all the same situation as being a gay man, but it’s a very similar, equally complicated dynamic. Trying to be the prettiest version of yourself, getting punished for it. Trying to be an uncompromising, high riding bitch, getting punished for that, too. Trying to be a boring version of yourself, getting criticized. I could keep going:
I have always loved women. Nurturing and twisting, empathizing and uncompromising, thoughtful and self absorbed and generous to a fault, and sometimes just plain selfish. I love women for what they are, when they are, who they are. Even when they act ridiculously entitled, I’m apt to make excuses for them. They’re women. They understand.
We all need each other. We have to love one another, the men, the women, the gays, the straights, the colors and the whites – people somewhere in the middle of those “either, or” paradigms. And most women understand that. Sometimes you have to draw it out, but most women get it.
Trust me though, this particular chick has had it. She’s done with tonight. I can tell that on the storm-out.
Bonus footage: there’s a storm-back-in. She’s tapping on the lady’s room door! By this time Lammy and I have migrated over to say goodbye to Pete, and his lovely friend Marcel, who has the bright heart of a mime, and the sensitivity of Proust. Kind men, I think to myself, as we bid goodnight. I see the upset woman walking back out again, out of the corner of my eye. She has short hair, and a pixie’s face, and blackberry red lips. It’s something thin and gauzy draped from her. Maybe, it’s a sundress? I can’t tell. It looks effortless and smooth but maybe she’s pissed? She leaves again. We move to leave behind her. I look back to try to catch a glimpse of Pete and Marcel laughing. I want to leave Akbar with that image in my mind, so I turn my head, expecting to see these bright, funny boys.
But, instead, right behind me, it’s Andy Dick. Andy fucking Dick.
He gives me a sigh and a look like, yes, it’s me, you’re recognizing me, it’s not a good time, let’s move things along. He even does this thing where he takes one finger, aims it sideways, and rolls it at me. That gesture people do, when they want you to wrap something up in a business meeting, or maybe even over coffee. But I don’t care. It’s Andy Fucking Dick.
“You’re Andy Dick!” I say, immediately out on the sidewalk. The fuming woman perches in a shiny red convertible with a handsome male driver. He’s tan and has a pencil mustache. Mischievous, smirking, he looks well-heeled. I turn back to Andy Dick. “I’m a huge fan of your work. News Radio is a brilliant piece of Americana.” I grasp his hand to shake it, and hold it, squeezing his opposite shoulder with my left hand. Eye contact, mutual respect, meaningful touch. “Just brilliant,” I say.
“Thank you,” he says. You’re a kind person. He says it with a sort of sadness in his eyes.
(Once I was allowed to go to a carnival. It was high school and I could drive, and I was going there with my friend Fred Woodchord. Things didn’t work out like I’d wanted them to, and my friend left early. I stayed. I was there when they were wrapping up and I saw all the artifice packed up for the night. Carnie folk, like I’d seen working at my parents’ laundromat in Brooksville, Florida. They come and do huge loads of laundry. The soap turns brown! But somewhere in my memory castle I access the night of the carnival. I stayed too long; ate too much sugar. Played too many penny arcade games. I drove home feeling mildly ashamed and kind of sad, like how Andy looked at me.)
“Hey,” I say. “You did a really good job, bud. You’re a classic.”
Andy’s smirk softens and he stares deep into my eyes.
“You’re a good person,” he says.
And that’s it.
Andy breaks the spell, moves toward the red car, with the smirking, handsome, 40 something driver. The young woman is almost girlish now. She’s back to neutral, dreamy – checking her cuticles. I move to try to introduce Lammy, but the moment has passed.
Andy hops into the convertible, I move with Lammy, northwest, to my car. Oh my god that was Andy Dick. I know. Did you ever see News Radio? What’s that? It’s a sitcom from the 90’s – brilliant cast, Steven Root is in it! It was Phil Hartman’s last major project. Maura Tierney. Dave Foley. I could go on.
He’s an American treasure, I tell Lammy. We get into the car to flyer more at Gold Coast, and possibly Trunks. Maybe Motherload while we’re at it.
Did you know Andy Dick was an inspiration to me, I ask Lammy. Lammy shrugs. Oh yes! He probably has something similar to chronic hypomania! Certainly, he’s an addict – he’s very open about that when he interviews. Not sure if he’s in recovery now, or not. I’m so proud I met him! He was clearly gay and making it as an actor when I was young, I say. Lammy loves to say little, and chime in to disagree about semantics. He reminds me that Andy Dick is bisexual. I don’t care, I say. In my head, when I was a kid, watching Andy Dick star in (hands down, no arguing) the best sitcom of its era. In my head it was a gay man succeeding in comedy, and not toning it down. Not even trying. For the 90’s, that was as badass as you could be.
Lammy smirks and shrugs and I drive us west. He’s much younger than me. I’m blathering about mania, and how it can trigger brilliance, and how I’m so blessed at this time in my life, and how the world, life, the Holy Spirit, the Great Spirit, whatever it is – is lining up synchronic vibrations for me this year – is being so kind this time around. It’s not nasty like five years ago. It’s good this time.
I’m so proud of me, and of Lammy, who did some pretty awesome communications today, as a friend, at his business. I’m so proud of bisexual Andy Dick, and how even a cruel, ugly world sometimes can’t keep those special people who hold a small light inside apart. Not for long. Not forever. It lines itself up for us, just as it does for the meanies, the bullies, the awful, grabbing, fear-mongers. Sometimes, it synchs for us, too.
We turn left on Fairfax. Lamy puts his hand on my knee. He’s worried about a man crossing the street. I joke about how, he wouldn’t be walking so slowly if I wasn’t trying to turn left. Lammy misses the joke.
He’s off somewhere for a split second. He’s in his memory castle. He’s processing something else.
I feel threatened.
My purpose seems off. I’m incomplete. I don’t feel whole.
There’s no integrity to me, since integrity just means wholeness, completion, strength of structure. None of that exists inside me, in this moment. A jealous monster sits in a cabaret bar, listening to Sweet, Sweet Gregory sing about crossing borders. A jealous monster feels small, threatened, insignificant. Beware, the out of work actor. His spirit holds an ugly birthday candle so paltry, the very thought of casting a shadow is nearly out of the question.
And most days, it won’t even try. It will just whisper out to Trouble in the middle of the night.
Gregory’s voice sounds like that of a man, but if a man were a god. I’m flat-out livid with jealousy. My skin is gooseflesh. Envy’s green kudzu has over-run the wild, round, smoky mountains of my heart, and winnowed me down into bayou swamp land. Much more of this, and I’ll widen out into the delta, disappearing into the deepest waters. I will go live in the magma canyons at the bottom of the ocean, with the strangest, most improbable fishes.
Gregory is singing and it feels like a rock salt blast to my belly.
I feel betrayed.
Greg is brazen these days. Defiant. Years have passed, he has enjoyed every inch of his artistic growth. And now, has now looked me up to flex his muscles. To show me he has surpassed me. And indeed, he has.
If ever was heard a perfect, operatically trained baritone, if ever was heard perfect pitch, it exists in 21 year old Gregory. Our summer affair has inspired him, I had thought, when re-connecting. I was worried he would be angry with me. Over the course of our summer, he taught me Alfredo sauce, opined philosophy, sometimes he even paid the check! I took his blue-blooded rosebud and showed him what a garden truly is. And, honestly, on the phone, it sounded fun. It sounded innocuous.
Sure, I broke his heart in an ugly way, when he went back to Boston College – but I thought that was forgiven? Obviously not.
Now, he has planned some just desserts for me. He’s showing me he’s better.
And he is.
He sings better than me. If a science existed to measure singing ability, it would be empirical fact – accepted law of nature – that Gregory is a much better singer than me. There isn’t any comparison. The gods don’t always have a fair hand when they give out gifts, a bitter nine year old inside me thinks to himself. A more forgiving twenty-something inside me thinks, who knows? Maybe I’ll even kiss him again?
Those kisses dry up and flake off my dashboard, though when he starts to sing. He creates that serendipity you need to really lull an audience. He really puts them in a trance. I’m simply jealous. I identify it immediately, and tuck it away in a quaint little shame pocket in my memory castle.
But, why should Gregory get all the singing talent? I know the words to write. I know how to tap into the Oracle of the Holy Spirit. Gregory learned a few tricks, sure, but so what? An ugly worm in my brain leaks out into a cobwebbed synapse.
The adrenal is thrumming. Lights flashing in my cortex. I see inky forest black -fragments.
SOS! May Day! Please send reinforcements!
(Aide-moi à avoir le petit mort, ma chère.)
A man, homeless, a shadowy figure, walks by spitting on the ground, pawing at mounds of carbuncle. He shrugs. I hate him, too. He doesn’t care. He gets to jump on the next freight train out of town – I have to deal with this garbage happening in my home base, my lair, my den. Fuck that guy. Picking at his face like a moron. No wonder he has nowhere to go.
We’re in a dive bar. It’s Rosie, Too on 10th ave. It’s the lowest-rent cabaret bar in NYC and it’s mine.
I’m the one who comes here and practices Sondheim songs, or improvises, or tries to sing REM. I’m the one who wants so badly to sing. I’m the one overcoming layers upon layers of self-hatred and shame, and trying – desperately always trying – to find my own voice. Even a rusty, hollowed out version would suffice. I chain smoke cigarettes because I want a voice like Billie Holiday. I soul search, and shoot dice in alley-ways to be like Tom Waits. I have sex in the Chelsea Hotel to be like Leonard. To be like Janice. Gregory did none of that.
A trusted friend of mine in college once leveled with me and told me I would never get paid to sing, that I’d be much better off just doing “straight theater.” I laughed and defined “oxymoron” for him. But, I internalized it. I tended to that piece of anger over the years, singing anyway, leaving college early. I go to New York first. I forgive the man who told me I would never get paid to sing, but I never, ever forget. I wrote it all down. I’m getting behind myself. Ahead. I’m manic, and I’m blurring borders. Everything mixes together, and I’m shadowed by The Man With the Lacerated Face on the N train. He’s in my traffic pattern, and always staring at me from a threadbare green hoody.
I walk Long Island City. I argue with my boyfriend. I can feel him slipping away, and I trigger arguments so I can go have seven gin and tonics at rowdy honky-tonks. Gregory isn’t coming at the most convenient time, but I’m glad to have the distraction.
Sweet Gregory takes me out to this cabaret bar, this offshoot of a much more centrally located bar called Rose’s Turn, on purpose, with a glimmer of mischief in his eye. He’s still beautiful. More so, now. Somehow, he has fast-tracked his artistic development. It must be the money, I think to myself. It must be his Rich Daddy paying for opera lessons. Gregory was bright and boyish, kind – when he showed up this afternoon, and I can tell he means me no actual harm, but I’m working against an ugly Minotaur and an impossible labyrinth of a heart.
I’m happy at home, with Lovely Jeffrey, but Lovely Jeffrey is graduating soon, and his heart isn’t really in theater. I’m going to be alone again. Forlorn. Abandoned. It’s fine, though. I’m good at being alone. I don’t get lonely. I practice.
Sweet Gregory is bringing the house down. He has the audience in his rapt spell: an upstart young mage has now become a full fledged sorcerer. And what am I? Wizened, bothering these nice folks once a week with my improvised songs? Trying to see if, magically, without any formal training, I can produce an evocative Bessie Smith cover? Trying to sing women’s songs from Mack and Mabel, and surprised I’m not getting the same effect an alto would? I’m a fraud and a liar and a poseur. Sweet Gregory is the real star. How did this happen in two years? Gin, I think to myself, but I know it’s deeper than that. I start to think of my energy level. How I always have to hide my special powers. Gregory interrupts.
He sings a song called Anthem, from a show called Chess:
No man, no madness
Though their sad power may prevail
Can possess, conquer, my country’s heart
They rise to fail
She is eternal
Long before nations’ lines were drawn
When no flags flew, when no armies stood
My land was born
And you ask me why I love her
Through wars, death and despair
She is the constant
We who don’t care
And you wonder will I leave her — but how?
I cross over borders but I’m still there now
How can I leave her?
Where would I start?
Let man’s petty nations tear themselves apart
My land’s only borders lie around my heart
Chess is my musical. I’m the one who wanted to play the Russian. This is completely unfair. The vile, vulgar fink. No, he’s just Sweet Gregory, I chide myself. Where is your Holy Spirit? Can’t you find some sort of generous part of yourself? That’s your friend. You were his first friend. Be kind.
The crowd roars with approval, and what’s worse, what hurts even worse – Sweet Gregory baited me into this situation. I had mentioned singing here over the phone, and one could almost hear the gingham in his voice when he said, “Oh, maybe we should go try it?” All crisp and nonchalant, with old Loki behind it, winding up to become his trickster self. Pretending he’s going to help his brother, but actually making things more complicated and treacherous – just for fun. For the sake of chaos. Sweet Gregory looks like Iago, or Rasputin, or Walter Raleigh. Some person who just wants to seize the world without even knowing what the borders are.
Tense. Staunch. Conservative. Uncompromising. Gregory. No more Greggie Sweet Sweet, I think to myself, and toss a few flowers over my shoulder that I picked. Tulips on Madison avenue, outside Chanel. Across from St. Laurent.
Whereas I am simply militant. I’m a dingy, militant queer.
You could almost think he set me up, letting me introduce him to the actors, vagabonds, liars, show-folk, who work here. A rogue’s gallery! Dark skinned sirens in a cowboy hats, drinking ‘adult tea’ out of ceramic coffee cups. A brunette, buxom Greek girl with pure platinum confidence and golden engraved pipes. A jittery piano player, over-caffeinated, flirting, drinks way too much, pees way too much in the ladies room, which has a lock on the door.
“It’s a single service ladies room, and it’s a girl’s only hope for a quiet, private moment to powder her nose.”
This place isn’t Carnegie Hall, sure, but it’s dusty and somehow safe, even in the Maelstrom of west Hell’s Kitchen. ‘Clinton Hills,’ a real estate agent tried to coin it, but it didn’t stick, mostly because Bill moved up to Harlem. No doubt Bill was chasing other hills than I was. Believe me. Believe me.
This melange of joggers, pimps, mailmen, addicts, tarot-readers, street performers, beggars, clerics, and whores. Right near the West Side highway, and it’s sweet, cool, rocky waters. It’s a small offering of light, in an otherwise ugly economy, but it’s mine, and these people like and respect me.
Gregory has ruined this.
He insists I go first.
I do something stupid. Comedy. My old bag of tricks. Something that gets some chuckles. Maybe I was a sea-witch singing about Unfortunate Souls, vamping and bragging about how much I like to help people, how every boon comes with a sacrifice. How, I can steal a voice and take that power and make it mine! The audience likes me. They love a Funny Girl like me. Odd, and cute, and flirty. A little weird. Maybe a pupa or a larvae. Maybe spinning a cocoon?
But, then, right after my turgid attempt at camp – an arch-angel. Connecticut’s own blessed Gregory, with the placid, kind eyes of a cow. Singing like a goddamn virtuosic savant. Fuck me.
I don’t deserve to even be here.
He’s had two Manhattans – “Never more than two drinks,” he says, all Cape Cod and Old Saybrook. “Yeah right, at least never in the same location, on the same night!” I chortle, Gregory laughs along. He’s confused. Why am I being sardonic? Aren’t I having fun?
I’ve had too much by now. I’m jealous, and everyone knows jealously is just a mixture of fear and anger, mostly fear. Add a healthy dose of regret, and a few carefully placed blames, and you’ve got a really poisonous concoction. A really deadly venom. I want away from the jealousy. I make an excuse, and pay the tab.
There is a secondary thought. There are two ways to get rid of jealousy. You either love it away, or you fight it away – that’s the paradigm. I grab my things.
Where are we going, Gregory wants to know?
Do you like dares?
I’ve played truth or dare once or twice.
I dare you to follow me on a walk.
Where are we going?
Anyplace I hang my hat.
Stop it, be serious, Barbra.
I’m not Barbra, or Liza, or Judy. I’m not any of those folks. I’m not Mike Nichols, or Sartre, or Plato. Okay?
Michael, slow down! I’m coming, but don’t walk so fast! Let me grab my cardigan.
I don’t slow down! Come on! Let’s go! Did Michelangelo slow down, or was he hyperactive? Did Michael Cunningham slow down or did he write The Hours with mild bi-polar? Did Michael Jackson slow down, or did he run around the world telling his story, and singing his songs? I don’t slow down, Sweet Gregory – you catch up! 8th avenue now, Broadway, Park, Madison, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, York.
What is the point of this, Michael? Did you like my song? I sang it for you. You said you liked it. It was a surprise.
It was perfect.
Haha, no. No, it’s not perfect but I worked on it with a coach.
No, it was perfect. The singing was perfect.
What does that mean?
I don’t want to tell you.
What does it mean?
What do you mean?
I mean – that was a fine vocal exercise, Sweet Gregory. But you didn’t act the song. You just sang it perfectly.
But, that’s what training is! I did a professional show. I did Pippin and I was one of the leads!
So what? You did one show? I’ve done fifty at least.
(I’m lying now. Maybe at this point I have done 30 shows. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing! The ugly toad inside my gut is croaking like Louisiana voodoo.)
Sweet Gregory is patient. Sweet Gregory chases me through the streets and to a bridge. The Queensborough Bridge. We start the incline. I’m going to make him walk me home again. Farther this time. 7 miles at least. I can outpace him. His feelings are hurt from my insult, and his confidence lags. Now, I finally feel powerful. Now I’m closing in. Gregory is telling me about journalism now. How, making a difference in the world is much more manly than doing theater. How he feels empowered, and self-actualized in that sphere. I scoff. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs? Uh, no thanks. I took Intro, I’m good.
Who filled your head with such nonsense?
(There is a pause.)
“Michael. You’ve heard me speak of my father.”
“Sometimes, when I can focus enough to listen. ”
“You know, then, that I’ve invited him to every show I’ve ever done – which, by the way, is many more than just the one professional musical I just finished.”
“Okay, so what? People don’t always go to shows. It’s not for them, anyway, it’s for you.”
Gregory stops and tries to reach me. He grabs my shoulders and stares at me. He goes pretty deep. It’s intense.
“Michael, this isn’t about you. This is about me and my father. He came to my musical and he wasn’t impressed. He wants me to do something. Useful.”
“Oh really?” I ask, cheerful and bright, but underneath that, a horrible Cain raises a scythe against a Sweet Brother, coveting God’s favor of his immense, glorious bounty.
“Tell me more about what your father wants” I say, and I bound up onto the bridge.
I’m baiting Sweet Gregory to follow me to Queens. He springs my trap. We are laughing, hysterical, raw, unfettered as we race each other up the bridge. Squall and squalor behind us. Water underneath. Concrete. The air all around. The heavens above.
“You tell me,” I say to Sweet Gregory.
“Tell you what?”
“You tell me about your father, and I will tell you about bridges.”
Flotsam and jetsam swirl in the garbage laden river underneath us. It won’t cost much, I think to Sweet, Sweet Gregory, as I lure him to the apex of the bridges curve.
Just your voice.
It’s the best voice. I know all the best voices. These voices, have you seen the voices we have around here? We’re going to have the best voices. Believe me. Believe me. There’s a few people, my NRA people, that might get a little cagey come November, but we have good voices.
Where’s my bucket of chicken?