Widow, Widow

Widow, Widow

just north of K-Town

the village of Larchmont

teams with privileged smiles

hot asphalt, cold concrete

a boy takes me walking

talking about how the world

is alternate, elemental, now,

how everyone thinks pink

but the mean boys drive by

 

just south of the village a

quiet street the car slows

down to show the widow

walking, one, not two dogs

chestnuts is a dummy, a

straw man might tell you to stop.

maybe you stop and watch her

in your mirror, like a creepo

and a mean boy drives by.

 

in the mountain cabin we

cackle at the poet and the

pie bears and the quiet sad

fir trees – lunacy by the studio

down the mountain music blaring,

gossiping, chain smoking and stoking

hearth cherries fire arc out the window

her body, an open revolt, an uncivil war

 

and the mean girls drive by

-3

Sweet Gregory, Part One – 1999

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

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

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

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

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

It feels like he is studying me.

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

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

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

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

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

Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

Well I’m a Catholic.

So?

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

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

I was focusing on you.

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

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

What?

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

So?

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

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

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

Probably five miles or so.

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

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

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

What’s that, Sweet, Sweet Gregory?

Would you take my virginity?

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

Yeah?

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

What?

What.

Really?

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

Really?

Really.

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

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

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

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Fat Jason Bateman

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

And he’s right, I won’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure it out for yourself, Fat Jason Bateman.

Figure it out for yourself.

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-1

Cloaked Figures and Crooked Smiles

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Lillian has a bruise on her face when she finally shows up. She catches me on the sidewalk, maybe fifteen feet away, staring at an Instagram notification. Sliding open the tall, wrought iron fence surrounding her housing complex, she makes her way toward my car. I glance up. The bruise is the first thing I notice. Secondly, she’s about 15 pounds lighter than the last time I saw her. She smiles from the side of her face. Crooked.

This is Los Angeles, so from a showbiz lense I’d say she’s starting to look viable now, thinner, maybe even fringing on looking really good, but my social work brain says wait-a-minute this probably means she’s back on meth. I hope she’s not back on meth.

Lillian has only managed small stretches of sobriety so far. A month here. Six weeks there. I hope she’s not high. She’s incoherent when she’s high. I also hope she’s not hung over. She’s likely to flare up nasty when she’s jonesing. She stops and makes eye contact just outside the car, peering in. Smiling askew, she shoves her hands into her front pockets. Her jeans are so big on her, now. She seems sheepish, standing outside the car. Lost.

I was thinking of the dream I had this morning. Vivid and semi-conscious, I kept hitting snooze to stay in the dream of Big Sur. Of a vibrant community carved into the side of God’s Cliffs, clapboard houses, a thriving town square. There was a mass shooter in my dream, a cloaked figure with a gun who mowed down the crowd. White picket gazebos tainted with wide swaths of blood.

Lillian gets into the car. I compliment her. She smiles again when I ask if she’s lost weight, when I tell her she looks good. She’s glassy in the eyes, but it’s clear she’s put some effort in today. Her hair is wet. She showered. Okay, I think to myself -we can probably work with this.

I ask about her ID. We’re going to try to enter her into a coordinated database for homeless and at-risk youth. She wants to be able to provide for herself and her baby, when she gets her baby back. There are social service and private organizations that can help. No, she says, she didn’t bring her ID. Should she go get it? Yes, I say. You should always bring your ID and you should have your social memorized. She informs me that she has it memorized this time, thank you very much. She’s proud. She’s the same type of proud my other clients get sometimes when they ace a test, or get a small scholarship for school, or land a job – except in this case her source of pride is the simple fact she has memorized nine numbers. She is 18, and she has a two year old daughter who has already been taken away from her. I wouldn’t put her literacy past the 8th grade level. Go get your ID, I tell her, I’ll wait.

She goes back into her complex. The yard is piebald, barren. Generations of barefoot children have trodden down smooth dirt pathways, linking the units. A quick glance at the ground reveals which families are friendly with which other families, and who doesn’t seem to get along with anyone at all. Some of the lesser worn pathways have weeds growing up, in places. Keep up those connections, I say, admonishing no one. I mouth the words in the afternoon sun.

My phone buzzes. It’s a news update. The BBC News wants to tell me what Trump has in common with Abe Lincoln and Ferris Bueller. Fuck you, iPhone news client, I say to my phone. The dream creeps in, again, around the edges of my morning.

I’m there in the town square, relaxing on a park bench. Three people play frisbee, laughing, semi-joyous. They are smiling. Suddenly one of them explodes like a watermelon dropped off the side of a produce truck. The other two are horrified, but it’s only seconds before, shocked, they twist and fall. Blood splashes from them in strange angles. It seems to come from nowhere. I’m sure there were gunshots in the dream, but in my memory it’s just quiet. They buckle, and drop. They writhe, broken, pitiful.

Crowds of people being mown down, in bright preppy clothing, against a backdrop of brightly colored cliffside mainstreet businesses. A little girl and her younger brother, staring in horror at blood spattered ice cream cones dripping down their wrists. People twitching, jerking out bizarre dance moves on hot asphalt, gaily dressed in bright gingham shirts. Upbeat, inane music playing reassuringly in the background. A dazzling blue sky; the sun’s eye, indifferent to the bloodbath.

Lillian returns and we set off to the address. Only five miles away, but it’s Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, so this could easily take 45 minutes. I start asking Lillian what’s been going on with her. I didn’t get my hours in with her last month, and frankly, I’m kind of worried. I tell her as much. When she’s not hungover, it’s pretty easy to be frank and open with Lillian. She hasn’t learned the same things most people her age have learned. She’s not great with math or reading. It’s frequent that I can only understand 70% of what she’s saying when she texts me. But there’s a cleverness there. She’s not dumb, just unlearnt, I suppose. In any case, I try to treat my clients as being more clever than they actually are. Sometimes it tricks them into actually being more clever, or making better decisions.

It’s a trick I also sometimes play on myself, when I can get away with it.

We chat about her mom, about her daughter, Lizzie, who Lillian badly wants custody of. They took her away when she was staying in a transitional housing facility for young, single mothers. Lillian had been getting friendly with some of the guys from the streets. She’d disappeared for long stretches of time to do meth with guys in rented hotel rooms. This was all before she turned 18. So illegal.

After they took her baby, they threw her out of St. Theresa’s, and she went back to live with her mother and her aunt. She’s been trying for more than a year to get her baby back. She keeps failing to prove she’s enrolled in school though, keeps failing to prove she can attend drug counselling classes on a regular basis (or, indeed, pass drug tests), keeps failing to show up with any proof of gainful employment.

Lillian opens up to me now. She wants to apply for transitional housing. She can raise Lizzie at her mother’s place, but she’d rather have her own space to live with her daughter. I tell her I was glad to hear from her, finally. She’s likely to have a new cell phone every month, so I’ve become used to getting texts from strange numbers. She never announces herself, either, when she texts from a new number. She’ll say something like, “Hey, are we gonna do the thing you were talking about last time?”

And I’ll say, “Is this Lillian?”

And she’ll say, yes, and act like it was obvious it was her. It’s infuriating.

I broach the subject of custody. I’m happy to hear she’s getting her child back, I tell her. She’s been texting about that, recently, as if it’s a done deal. I wonder – is it possible a judge has adjudicated custody to her? I ask about the details. They’re going to give her back, she says matter of factly. Because, they’re molesting her – and I already told them and made a report, but the social worker lady doesn’t believe me, but it doesn’t matter because I reported it, and they can’t keep my daughter if they’re molesting her.

No, I say. The people who are keeping your daughter can’t keep her if they’re molesting her, and in fact, they’ll go to jail if it can be proven. What made you think they’re molesting her, I ask?

I notice now, at a stoplight, she’s hungover. Or, maybe still high? Her eyes are red and watery, and she’s not quite making coherent sense. She also didn’t react, earlier in the conversation when I tried to corner her and ask her about missing our appointments last month. About going incommunicado. And this new, slim, model figure, the black eye. The rushed, emotional way she’s describing things, without putting context or chronological order into any of the details. Yeah, she’s not entirely sober, if at all. She sees me noticing, and doesn’t like it. I ask again. What made you think they’re molesting your daughter?

There was all this shit in the back of her diaper. Baby shit, she clarifies, when I ask. Poop. I make a face as if to say, come on now, you said molestation – but now you’re describing evidence of neglect.

Plus, she says, they grabbed her by the neck when she was leaving with her baby. Who, you or the baby? Me. Well, that’s what happens when you try to take a baby from protective custody on a supervised visit. Who’s side are you on, she asks? Plus a mother has her intuition, and that’s just as good as any evidence.

I finally piece a story together. She’s asked the two year old if people have been touching her inappropriately, the two year old has nodded yes, and even said yes, once. But only after repeated questioning and coaching. She hasn’t supplied specific details that add up to molestation, though. She will only answer yes when asked if they touched here in certain places. When the social worker came to ask Lillian and Lizzie about the supposed molestation, Lillian was trying to get the baby to tell her, over and over. Finally the baby recited what her mother had been telling her to say. I nod. I fail to mention my doubts about this. She doesn’t have any real evidence beyond a seemingly coached accusation, a dirty diaper and intuition.

But even further than this, even if she had hard evidence the child was being interfered with – that doesn’t mean Lillian is about to get her back. One thing is not relative to another. A foster parent acting abusive or neglectful doesn’t erase the judge’s knowledge that she once disappeared from St. Theresa’s for five full days on a meth binge, leaving the staff of the facility to care for Lizzie. Or that she hasn’t been able to produce three months worth of consecutive negative drug tests.

(Or that she shows up to appointments with social service and county workers fifteen pounds lighter, with a black eye).

I don’t say any of these things, but I want to. I want to point out – the best case scenario is that she knows her child hasn’t been molested, and she’s trying to make some story up that gives her emotional leverage in this narrative. She may not be academic, but she’s good at emotional manipulation. The other, grosser possibility is that she is paranoid, but clinging to the idea that her child actually has been molested, for the idea of some moral high ground. She either knows she’s making it up, or wants something horrible to be true, for the sake of her narrative.

Lillian, I want to say to her. Being right doesn’t produce clean drug tests. But I don’t say anything. We drive in silence. Lillian puts something on the radio.

We pull into the parking lot of the Covenant House about five minutes later. Lillian starts to get agitated. I told you, she says, I don’t want to go into a homeless shelter. I want transitional housing where me and Lizzie could live together. I know that, I say, but this facility does more than just homeless sheltering. It’s also an entry portal. They have a database which records your name and age and set of circumstances, so that public and private organizations can share information. It will go out to shelters, but also transitional living organizations, and women’s homes.

She’s going into one of her spirals now. She doesn’t like entering databases. Her (paranoid, abusive) boyfriend told her it’s the illuminati controlling everything. He thinks they track poor people. Those illuminati people, they control the things like homeless shelters. They keep people sick. Doped up. Stupid, she says.  I beg her, please, let’s just go up to the front counter and ask for basic information. I figure I can get a seasoned social worker to help me persuade Lillian to just sit down and fill out a profile on the database. She finally agrees, we can go inside and ask the receptionist questions.

We head in. The receptionist explains the program. Lillian would do best to enter the database, alerting all of the relevant organizations in the vicinity to her need. Lillian seems cowed, for a while. She agrees, finally, yes, maybe the database is a good idea, and the social services system isn’t run by the illuminati. I make eye contact with the receptionist and joke that DCFS couldn’t possibly be run by the illuminati – they’d function so much more efficiently! We laugh, and the receptionist affirms my sentiment. Just one thing though, she says, the Youth Entry Portal is in a building across the street, and they’re closed for lunch from 12pm to 1pm. We’ll have to kill a half an hour waiting for them to get back from lunch.

Back in the parking lot Lillian is getting agitated again. No more crooked smiles. I can tell she’s really jonesing. She’s getting sweaty, and it’s chilly out today. She scuffs the toes of her shoes on the parking lot, and says, I don’t want to be here.

I don’t want to be here either, I say, trying to empathize. But I talked to quite a few social workers and explained your situation, and since you’re over 18, with a closed DCFS case, this is the best protocol to follow for getting into a transitional housing program. Neither of us want to be here, I say, but let’s just wait the twenty minutes and enter that database.

No, she says, but this time she’s more forceful. I don’t want to do this. I don’t feel comfortable here. Take me home. She knows I can’t force her to do anything, and she’s setting in her heels. I try a few more angles of reason with her, about waiting just a few minutes and trying, for the sake of her kid, to get into this database for transitional housing. They have housing for single parents under 22, I say. But she doesn’t care, she’s made up her mind.

And I don’t care, either.

I mean. I do – it’s not the productive outcome I’d hoped for when I picked her up today, but I got billable hours, so I won’t walk away not having done my job. I’m defeated, and this sucks – today won’t end up any closer to a happy ending for Lillian, but maybe the timing is wrong for this anyhow? If she gets into one of these housing programs, they’ll require her to stay sober, to keep a job, to be in school. Let’s be honest, I say to myself, she’d bounce out of a transitional housing program just as fast as she could fill out the papers.

There is a quick flash, a memory from this morning’s dream. The picturesque cliffside community, the stores and flowerbeds, the people. The bloodbath.

Okay, get in the car, I say. I’ll drive you home then. Inside, we are icy quiet. Try again next time, I say softly-but-audibly, as we pull out of the parking lot. We have another 45 minute drive back to her place.

After about ten minutes of silence I start talking.

I hate seeing you show up with a black eye, Lillian. I hate seeing you this thin. I mean, don’t get me wrong, my God, you look fantastic right now, but I know you and this is a really rapid weight loss in a short amount of time and I have to worry that it’s meth. And meth, combined with a black eye means you’ve been seeing Victor. I’m worried about you.

You’re right, she says. I saw Victor again. I’m sorry. I know I promised I would stay away from him, but he had my stuff, and I only saw him because I wanted my stuff back and then he hit me in the face and took my EBT card.

I sigh. The last time I saw her we waited in the General Relief office for four hours for the first replacement EBT card, which was only missing in the first place because Victor stole it. Please, just stop seeing that guy? I don’t like this. You have a black eye. I’m a mandated reporter. I have to report this.

No, you don’t, Lillian says. I already called the cops this time when he hit me.

Good, I say, that’s actually the best news I’ve heard all day, hearing that you finally filed a police report. Suddenly, shaking, nearly trembling in my passenger seat, Lillian is willing to throw me another crooked smile. I laugh, and I tell her I’ve known a few people named Victor in my time. They always have to win. She thinks this is funny. Pfft, she says, fuck them!

Yes, I agree. Fuck them.

There’s something in her eyes. A twinkle of conspiracy, perhaps. It makes me feel protective. She has natural, innocent curiosity. But, not unspoiled innocence. She has a few secrets, and can probably keep a few, too. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make her cravings go away, or, more useful – I wish I could fill that empty void in her heart she thinks meth and booze is going to fix.

But, the longer I do this job, the less I wish things, and the more I focus on meeting the client where they are emotionally, that day – preferably in a neighborhood adjacent to reality, if we can make it there.

By the time we get back to her place a tender truce springs up between us. It’s not hard to forgive each other. Even if we’re not firing on all cylinders, we still almost always try to show up for one another.

We talk about her getting a job. Maybe at some place like Walmart, or Target. I think it’s a great idea. She seems buoyed by even this minor level of approval. I tell her again she looks great, and that I hope she’s eating, and that next time we’ll work on finding employment, if that’s what she’d like to focus on.

Lillian signs paperwork for our visit and goes inside her apartment complex. I pull into traffic. It isn’t quite late afternoon yet, but Los Angeles has already jammed itself up nicely on Western Avenue, down in South Central, all the way up through KTown into Hollywood, and further into the Valley. All jammed up and honking. Stuck like cold, thick molasses.

I stop at a red light and stare into the bulb. I think how powerless Lillian must feel, to be desperate enough to make up a story so horrible. Or, what an awful thing it must be to hope for – that someone is interfering with your child? I think of the dream this morning, of the people in that town square. How different that town was from Los Angeles.

I rev the engine. I go back to the dream. The cloaked figure, loading hundreds of bullets into an automatic rifle. Everyone clean and happy. Nobody shows up itchy, with a black eye, in the cliffside paradise. I see him. I can see what he’s about to do. I open my mouth. He puts the rifle on his shoulder. I adjust the rearview mirror. The people are walking dogs, returning library books. It’s a bluebird day.  He flips the safety open. The light turns green. I open my mouth, but I’m unable to speak. Unable to warn these people, I ease gas into the throttle.

He opens up into the unsuspecting crowd.

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Role Modelland

Tom Daley awoke with a start, still sitting upright – bathed in the bluish glow of multiple screens. He had fallen asleep watching looped footage of Adam Rippon while consuming his nightly combo of muscle relaxers and Chardonnay. A trick learned from Terry Gross after recording a particularly earnest segment with her a few years back. He had asked her how she handled her breakneck schedule. Scotch and Valium, she replied, nonchalantly tapping her paper coffee cup. The scotch at night, the Valium whenever.

“I need those adoption papers finalized YESTERDAY,” he snarled at his husband. Dustin said nothing, placing a double dark-roast espresso on Tom’s mahogany desk. Dustin knew Tom, like all obsessive control freaks, lived life on a constant slow burning fuse. But lately, since the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Tom had been having explosive moments of acuity; white searing apopleptic rage was apt to erupt from him without warning, with very little provocation.

Dustin weighed his words carefully. Any phrasing misstep might be likely to deepen his husband’s rage.

“The baby is due in July, love.” he said. “She’ll sign the papers minutes after her labor is complete, or she won’t get the substantial signing bonus.”

They had chosen a Vassar student (lower middle class) to be their surrogate, knowing she couldn’t afford not to sign the adoption papers. She desperately needed the 250,000 they would pay her for signing the child away.

“I’m confident she’ll sign. We can trust Lauren,” Tom’s Oscar winning husband said soothingly. But he wasn’t confident. Paying someone to give up their baby is criminal, and so there was no formal contract with their surrogate, Lauren – just a handshake agreement.

Dustin liked to joke that all Ivy League liberal arts girls were named Lauren, but a surprising number of the girls they had interviewed had indeed borne the name Lauren – including the candidate Tom had eventually selected. A straight haired honey blond Lauren in a black-watch plaid wool skirt. She possessed an icy blue Nicole Kidman-esque deadness behind her eyes, which Tom LOVED, and just had to have in his child. But, even after all their lunches together, and a trip into Manhattan to see Hamilton, where they all three bonded over kobe beef at Le Cirque – Dustin and Tom both knew perfectly well that Lauren could change her mind at any time, including the very day she went into labor.

Dustin stood in the broken silence of their extremely well lit morning. Highlights flashed in his husband’s tousled hair. Morning light traced Tom’s cheekbones, danced down his nose, kissed his chin.

He had married a man with a terrible, precise beauty.

Tom smiled, shrugged, and sipped his coffee – seemingly easing off his earlier wellspring of rage. He said something non-committal, like, if you say so, and Dustin shuffled off into their living room, plopping down in front of his 24 inch iMac. It was the third Monday of February. Time to renew their monthly donation to support Oprah’s African school for girls.

Sure, Tom thought to himself, brooding in his office. Easy for him to say. He can keep writing scripts forever. But me? There’s a ticking clock on MY social relevance. Tom swiveled his chair back to his screens, gulping down the rest of his espresso and refreshing his Olympic news feeds.

He hovered his cursor over the YouTube compilation of Adam Rippon performances and interviews. He could see his own reflection in the screen, behind the brighter image of graceful, perfect Adam.

He had two years to plan his next move.

He clenched his teeth, set his jaw, and breathed out all the breath in his lungs. He held himself absolutely still for several pregnant moments.

He moved the cursor in a slow circle around Adam’s perfect face.

He clicked play.

Maybe We Can Stay This Way

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I can see him underwater the next lane over. He appears sharper through goggles than a person might in the real world. More vivid, bobbing, floating next to me. Ethereal and handsome -he is young, no older than 30, and lithe.

He has been swimming short, nearly frantic sprints – whereas I’ve been plodding along, more even paced, for the better part of a mile. I’m taken with him, the way you can only truly be taken with someone beautiful, who has yet to open their mouth.

And, he is beautiful. He’s a perfect, carved-from-renaissance-marble, Grade A thirst trap. His punk rock British flag speedo clings desperately, ephemerally to his human perfection, but he comports himself across the pool in semi-awkward fits and starts. Even this spastic swimming style has a way of wearing well on his frame. Strong, and broad of shoulder, his body is glossy – cut from sinew.

He seems almost unconscious of his phenomenal good looks, but that particular air has to be cultivated. You can’t pass through life that gorgeous and not have some sort of self awareness, can you?

I decide not to approach him. Having gamed it out, I’ve concluded – it can only end in disappointment. Either he’s arrogant, or an idiot, or not gay, or gay, but not into dudes in their 40s.

Or, even more likely, he’ll sniff out my own arrogant idiocy a mile away. I’ve run the numbers; it’s grim.

If it can’t end well, a professor of mine used to say, it’s better not to start at all.

I come to this decision about ten minutes after he gets into the pool, which, in a way, frees me up to fully enjoy his presence. Once I realize I’m not going to approach him, I stop being preoccupied with HOW I might do it – stop trying to rest at the wall conveniently next to him, stop trying to show off speed, or endurance, or form. Letting go of the possibility of meeting him frees me up to simply enjoy the model-of-human-perfection sharing these deserted three lanes with me.

And I do enjoy it. It’s a small joy to swim next to him – even though he thrashes a bit too much on his freestyle sprints. The whole thing seems a bit surreal, like a Dali painting maybe, or like we’re floating in space. He has faded, teal-yellow hair which might have lived a vibrant former life as a true indigo.

We continue like this for another fifteen minutes. Like astronauts but more graceful. Like dancers, but less. Being so close, almost naked with him is having an effect on me. I feel safer, smarter, more graceful, even better looking. I start to wonder if maybe I will approach him after all. Maybe, I think to myself, he only speaks some Eastern European language. Maybe we can stay this way forever, only ever communicating the most basic things to one another. Are you hungry, my beautiful darling? Are you cold? Thirsty? Would you like to have frantic, rowdy sex on this sectional sofa?

But, suddenly, he is gone. I see his smooth body slip up and out – breaking through the undulating ceiling of our small, shared universe – nullifying it. Canceling out the whole experience. A moment ago he existed, luminous, flailing, pulsing next to me in the water. Now, he doesn’t exist at all. Now, he’s just a symbol of a few brief, quiet, joyous moments. Something for me to write about later. A memory.

Good, I think to myself.

I can finally take a piss.

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The Heroin Addict’s Wife

I’m sorry I didn’t text you back. A walk sounded nice, and if I’m being honest the weather was absolutely perfect for it. Right after sunset. Right between the day’s heat and the night’s chill. I couldn’t really find the energy for it, somehow. At the time I was driving past a thick, imperious column of smoke on the 105 – a textile factory caught ablaze in Lynwood.

I spent the morning glued to Facebook – so many women coming forward with testimonials about assault, abuse, rampant misogyny in show business, and also a friend posted about National Coming Out Day in a poignant, cogent way. He used to capitulate to homophobic banter in an effort to hurry it along, to move past it with blushing self-consciousness, to bury it. The eye contact he would make with women afterward. Conspiratorial acknowledgement of a darker, unsaid truth between them. Mutual ill feelings creeping up spines – forcing laughter together at homophobic jokes or hyper-masculine energy that, unchallenged, goes way too far. A shameful, empty feeling as one contributes to one’s own subtle oppression. Awfulness.

I’ve been incommunicado and that’s nearly unforgivable. I was billing hours at Renata’s house. She, a budding, bubbling teenage girl, just coming into her own special, savage power. A bright light, affable, funny, outgoing. A charmer.

I would have answered your FaceTime request, but there was apocalyptic traffic today. Google maps showed a red line all the way past the downtown area, and I was suddenly overtaken with a taxing, almost leaden exhaustion. Nearly falling asleep at the wheel, I pulled off near Rosecrans into a 7/11 parking lot, parking in a sliver of shade beneath a billboard advertizing the Hustler Casino. Liz Flynt encouraging people to “Play Harder.”

I got the Snapchat ping – you sent me a short video, but I didn’t get a chance to look at it before it went away.

The 7/11, the angry plume of smoke rising like a bomb blast, blotting out the distant horizon. Barely able to keep my eyes open, I eased the seat back. For a while I thought sleep would overtake me. Strange, absurd visions – fantasies played out before my darkened eyelids. I couldn’t let go of sweet Renata, of the sour smell she lives in. The rankness. Inky, dark, tar-like paths cut through her apartment’s wall-to-wall carpeting. Years of oily, dirty feet tracking filth – grinding it down. Let’s be honest, if you steam cleaned that carpet you’d regret it for a week – the smell would send folks running for the hills.

I got your follow-up text. I’ll read and respond, I promise.

Renata in my mind, bringing consciousness back. Padlocks on the doors, the colony of ants, unchecked, unfettered in the bathroom, the mini fridges in each of their rooms  guarding the spoils of their monthly CalFresh benefits. Her father, moaning and shouting in the next room, (Is he drunk; it’s the middle of the afternoon?!) unintelligible even to Renata herself. She doesn’t mind. She’s glowing.

She loves when I visit, she says; I remind her of The Great Gatsby.

I saw your shout out on Twitter and I blushed at the compliment, thank you. I owe you a few likes and maybe even a re-tweet –  it’s just at that particular moment I was reclining in the 7/11 parking lot and trying to nap during an early rush hour, and it all came over me at once. The reality of Renata’s situation. Her low probability of succeeding her way out. The generational poverty morass she was born into – a life lived next to the steaming churn of a factory down by the harbor. The lowness. The squalor.

Hot, salt tears splashed suddenly, my body wracked with spasms. A gasp. A stone sewn into my heart, my gut shook to pieces. The slow tick of the Toyota engine in the heat of the cracked asphalt parking lot.

Your WeChat message came through, darling, but I was baking in the desert sun, prosessing, purging. There was a time I prided myself on having “integrity of communication.” I responded to every email. Answered every single text. I’m sorry, but I’m just not that person anymore. That isn’t me.

This afternoon, as Renata and I were trying to cobble together an outfit to wear to her job interview, there was a rapping at the window. A wizened, crone-like woman, seemingly carved out of driftwood, tapped away at the thin, sliding windowpane. Oh, Renata said, smiling with a shrug, that’s the heroin addict’s wife. She pays my dad 100 bucks a month to park her van in the back yard. She lives back there with her husband. Renata slid the window open. The heroin addict’s wife wanted to charge her iPad.

I rejected all your calls and powered my phone down. I sobbed and squeezed out all of today’s terror into a compact Japanese car in a 7/11 parking lot.

Forgive me, I  whispered into my black, sleeping iPhone.

Forgive me, I haven’t been myself lately.

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Thanks, We Got This.

 

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I’m standing in line in the Life-Saving-Monument-to-Human-Survival that is the Los Angeles LGBT center. It’s a long, slow moving line. My doctor has asked me to make a half hour appointment for later this month. There’s nothing wrong with me, she says, just that she’d like to look inside my colon, to make sure there isn’t any cancer brewing back there. All I need to do is make a doctors appointment and my inner self will be writ medium on a computer screen, for an audience of at least two, maybe more if there are interns present that day. I’m semi-dreading it, but I know myself, and I know that I’ll make stupid jokes the whole way through, as we sift through my colon together looking for fun little cancer polyps.

I make a mental note – ask the doctor later this month if I can have a digital video copy of my innards. I make a second mental note – if she asks me why I want the footage, I will, with a deadpan earnestness, tell her that it’s my anniversary, and wiggle my eyebrows at her.

I’m going to make a moment of it. I like her sense of humor.

I am distracted. While the LGBT center is an incredible facility – the largest of its kind in the world – it is also chronically understaffed. The lobby is always an interesting melange of business casual clean cut types, folks who look like maybe they work at Ralph’s, and other people who might be wearing last night’s club clothing. Today there is a man in a crimson robe, a matching velvet king’s crown, and a gold front tooth. With him is an attractive (transgender?) lady in a cocktail dress, fishnet stockings, and extremely high heels. All at 11:45am.  Good, I think to myself. Everyone who needs penicillin, or an emergency Truvada, or just an ear exam, is going to get it today.

They always screen some sort of iconic gay film in the waiting room, volume super loud, and today it’s To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo, and Patrick Swayze prance and swish and sway. There’s a tenderness to most of the choices the actors make. The film doesn’t seem to be holding up entirely, but it isn’t terrible. Still, something nags at me. There’s something disingenuous going on. Somehow, the performances feel precious. Cloying, even.

Lately, I’ve been super critical of straight actors performing gay roles in LGBT stories. There’s a rarely mentioned unfairness, a particularly insidious nihilism – to the ease at which homosexuals themselves capitulate to the idea that their stories can and should be told to them by heterosexual actors. I could list so many reasons for this, not the least of which that most of us walk around in a sort of PTSD shock that the world has been able to incrementally allow into its political discussion the idea that that maybe we are owed a semblance of equality.  But, in an environment where trans people are being kicked out of the military, and gays themselves lack employment protections, it seems like a far-away pipe dream to think we could ask Hollywood to stop handing over our stories to straight actors. And if we ourselves won’t act outraged when another gay role is handed to a straight actor, we certainly can’t expect our allies to.

Over the years I’ve had many occasions to engage other gay people with the idea that watching straight actors play homosexual is offensive. Most of the time gay people will agree, but it’s rare their agreement is vigorous or exuberant. It’s more likely to be a sigh or a nod, a silent resignation that yes, hypothetically, it would be nice to live in a world that had such consideration for our feelings, but no, we don’t live there, and what’s more, we might not even live near the general neighborhood. It’s the type of unfairness we all quietly, bitterly accept as immutable, just one of the ways the world tends to show its brutal side.

There is a need to feel normalized and accepted in this society straight people preside over, but when we go to the wellspring of pop culture to see ourselves reflected, the face that stares back is rarely even homosexual.

And yet, here we stand, firmly – in Trump’s America – where half of us simultaneously acknowledge that yes, the world is unfair, but we’d like to keep it that way if you don’t mind. In the new American order, you don’t have to dislike unfairness. There’s at least 50% of us celebrating unfairness with our proverbial dicks out. In this poisonous climate, watching straight men play homosexuals gets under my skin in a way I can’t quite describe. In North American DysTrumpia, it’s getting more and more difficult for me to hide my disdain for the trappings of hetero-supremacy.

The line is long. It’s not seeming to move at all. I can’t seem to connect with the movie. I can’t get past the idea that the men who get to have the honor of telling this story are so far removed from the struggle they portray as not to even know the moments when they don’t get the tone right, when their performance slips from tender and vivacious to parody, or stereotype. I think to myself how a straight man, playing a gay man, playing a drag queen, adds yet another layer of misogyny to drag. Or possibly it’s the same misogyny made more acute, more dire without the irony of an authentic homosexual perspective.

The movie doesn’t feel made for me, it feels made for people who would like to find a way to digest me.

An old man tugs on my elbow to ask why I’ve narrowed my eyes so much at the screen. I explain some of my feelings to him. Not eloquently, I just mutter something about how I’m disgusted to have a homosexual story spoon fed to me by the face of the oppressor. His face lights up for a brief moment. There’s a sharpness, a glint in his eye. He chuckles.

“When do you think people change?” he asks me, suddenly all pointed and sinister.

I shrug. Do they, I wonder?

“When they absolutely have to,” he spits, “And, not a second sooner. And that’s what people mean when they say ‘equality.’ They mean, when they get around to it.

I pause to sip this spicy, bitter cider this man is serving, before replying. “Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I wish there was some way for us to tell straight people ‘Thanks, we got this. You can stop trying to tell us our stories now.'”

The old man shakes his head, yes. But, a bit of the glint falls out of his eye. Now he seems wistful. He pats me on the side of my shoulder. Now he’s shaking his head, no. Whatever conspiratorial spell woven between us has passed. Reality seeps back. The secretary calls me forward and I make my appointment.

Later, in my car, I check my phone. One of my foster clients has texted me. She can’t meet today, but can we meet tomorrow at 3pm instead? I text back, yes, that’s fine. Suddenly, I have the afternoon free.

I pull out onto Sunset. There’s a Chevron station coming up and I’m suddenly reminded that I have a gas card in my glove box, from work. I billed 100% of my possible hours last month and they sent me a gas card in the mail.

Free gas, I think to myself as I’m filling up my tank. A full tank of free gas. Is there a more liberating feeling? I scan the parking lot. A handsome young dad type, well heeled, is filling up a newish-looking BMW sedan. I endow him with a story. He’s just come from a class as his luxury gym. He’ll duck into his office later today to attend a meeting, then head to a PTA conference with his wife,  an expensive dinner, hopefully, to reward their child for good academic performance at school.

I wonder if he feels the same way as I do? If the aspartame empty calories of American privilege gnaws away at him? I wonder if he, himself, is doing the same calculations I’m doing right now. How much money do I have? What can I liquidate? How can I get myself away from here? Can I expect to have a reasonably comfortable situation if I remove myself? Where would I even go?

What use is this full tank of gas, I think to myself, if freedom is really only a feeling we get every week or ten days? If freedom is only the moment of filling up the tank, thinking of how far we could go if we wanted to, but then getting back into our cars, and driving right back to the system of responsibilities that fetter us here to this bloody spot of soil we carved out for ourselves on this beautiful, elegant, tragically scarred landscape? When do we get more than thirty seconds a week of feeling truly free? If this is privilege, how bad is the other? Does this handsome man with the BMW notice me staring at him and projecting all this onto him?

I get into my car, and turn it on. The tank is full. I could easily get all the way to San Francisco on this tank of gas. Further. I have enough ‘free’ gas on my card to get me into Canada. What’s more, I have a valid, current passport. I have enough resources to escape this American dystopia  we have foisted upon ourselves. I can, within 20 hours – less than a day – escape the post-Obama white purgatory we are forcing the entire world to witness, to live through. At the very least, I could watch it from the outside.

If the handsome man in the BMW makes eye contact with me I’m going to ask him if he’d like to take a drive with me. When he asks, where, I will say Canada, who knows? Canada, then the world!

But he doesn’t make eye contact with me. He gets back into his BMW. The windows are down and his stereo is turned up. Aerosmith is blasting some straight song about some straight joy that straight people have in elevators. He drives up Laurel Canyon – up to his architectural house on Mulholland. Back to his kids. His wife. His future.

Of course he does, I say to myself as I ease the car into drive.

The world is made for him.

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Cute Little Thing


I spend Saturday evening writing, then take a walk around West Hollywood. I like to walk the streets sometimes, rather than watching Netflix  or scrolling through Facebook before bed. I’m starting to realize there are nights I need to be around, but not necessarily socialize with people. West Hollywood at 1am is perfect for watching young gays flirt, older gays having slow, languid dinners, homeless gays running whatever angle they’re running that night.  I haunt these streets, walking toward or away from nothing,  past the thoroughfare, past the streams of five and dime weekend gays who take the freeways in from Van Nuys, Antelope Valley, Orange County. These boys only get to be gay twice a month, and they arrive pre-gamed and ready to hit the town hard. 

Usually I’ll park on Crescent Heights and walk down to Robertson, past that nightmare-of-the-future dry cleaners, decked out like an Apple store, stark, shiny white plastic faux mid-century Scan design. Signage serving Deep Space Nine realness – trying to, anyway. It reads as an attempt to make a connection between some sleek idea of a technological age, and the boring dry cleaning business it actually is. The sign says something like “Valet, Direct to Your Door,” or some such nonsense. It occurs to me, if this is your business model, why spend the money on an antiquated-yet-sleek attempt at a brick and mortar store? This whole effect could be achieved digitally. You could spend a tenth of the rent money on digital ads, and have the dry cleaning done in a much cheaper space, down by the airport. “I have to run your business for you?” I ask myself as I slouch by.

This is what’s wrong with the world. I have to run everyone’s businesses for them. Unbelievable. 

I think of other, semi-infuriating businesses in the neighborhood. Just Food For Dogs, a store (a chain, no less) encouraging yuppie dog owners to come in and design ultra-nutra-herbi-ganic dog food tailored to what they think their dogs might need to best extend and optimize their health. Beef and russet potato, chicken breast treats, do it yourself fish nutrient blend – all things sounding like they might be human food, and indeed, priced similar to appetizers at a mid-grade restaurant. Just Food For Dogs made me livid, when I first moved here. You don’t want to be driving around Weho, feeling  poor, lonely, invalidated, just to realize your average homosexual living in this neighborhood is so far removed from poverty as to be able to feed his dog restaurant food at least once a day. I quickly multiply eleven dollars a day, with 365 days in a year, with 12 or so years. Almost 50 grand. Could buy an embarrassingly nice luxury car with that, pay for a year at UCLA, get really exquisitely done plastic surgery.  

I can’t catch a break in this town, I used to think, but somebody’s French bull dog is walking around here thinking she’s Madonna. 

I make a note to myself. Dog Yoga, I scribble into an idea pad I sometimes keep on my person. Dog Yoga is definitely going to be the key to establishing my polyamorous gay compound up in the Hollywood Hills. 

I’ve actually been thinking of polyamory a lot, lately. I mean, I’ve always been poly-minded, but lately, when someone asks me if I’m dating anyone, I immediately answer “I’m dating everyone.” Nobody ever thinks it’s funny, but I do. People get tense about poly, I think. Disney gays, especially, somehow. So vulnerable to narrative, I guess… Plus, they act like the simple fact that you said you were poly means they have to justify monogamy, which they absolutely do not. This happens at Mickeys. I duck inside the two story dance club and make a pass through. Near the downstairs bar a very handsome, very nicely built young man catches my eye. He gestures me to come talk to him. He’s been drinking and his first question is “Are you looking for a boyfriend?” 

I’m looking for 3 boyfriends, I answer, and he turns away immediately. Now he refuses to talk to me. I think this is funny and play dumb for a few minutes, grabbing his elbow and explaining how there will be a ginger college twink, some indie musicians and a corporate lawyer who pays for all of us. He looks confused and I ask if he’s a corporate lawyer. He is now annoyed and starts stank-facing me. I blow him a kiss as I’m leaving.

I can’t stand when people approach you, then ignore you when they decide you’re not going to suit their immediate needs. Like, it’s my fault he was attracted to me and wanted to say hi? So I’m not boyfriend material, so what? Does that mean you should treat me like I don’t exist, after you started a conversation? Take some responsibility for yourself. It’s not like I’d divulged I was running a white slavery ring.

Youth, I think as I’m leaving the bar – at least it’s a curable disease.


At Mother Lode there is another sweet faced boy with a great smile. He’s wearing a silver bolero-style necklace. The clasp, a hollow equilateral triangle, hangs near his sternum. His eyes are bright but somehow vacant. He’s been drinking quite a bit. I leave without talking to him. There are nights when I’m out I feel like I’m hunting. There are nights, too, when I feel like I’m fishing. But tonight I just needed to take a walk, clear my head, hear a little music and catch lively energy from people walking by. I head out onto Santa Monica, and cross back onto the main drag, near Rage, and Trunks, and Boots and Saddle. 

I lean against a tree in the thick of things, watching the stream of wasted, buzzed, tipsy people walking by. Maybe half the people seem genuinely happy to be out and about. Some have closed body language, folded arms, shaking heads. They’re giving their boyfriends or friends the business. Some seem legitimately sad, on the verge of tears. One boy is actually crying, having broken off from a larger group of pals. Another guy is ineptly trying to console him. His other friends mill around and toe the sidewalk, discussing whether to call it a night or push through the emotional outburst and head to the next club. 

“It isn’t fair!” The boy is nearly grief stricken. “We’re supposed to be out celebrating! Why can’t we just go out and celebrate each other? Why do we have to be cunty and mean?”

“Because it’s fun,” a rather tall, attractive, guy from the larger group shouts over to the boy crying on the sidewalk. I hear another of their friends chuckle softly. “Get over it, girl – nobody has time for your crying on a Saturday night!”

I want to reach out to the crying boy, to say – hey, the problem isn’t you, it’s people. What’s more, it’s the idea that you need lots of friends. You don’t need these ten people who care more about getting two more drinks in them before they drunk drive back to Orange County. You only need to focus on the one person in this group of ten who actually cares that you’re crying. That’s your friend. Rather than trying to have ten good friends, try to have one, then one more, them maybe one more. 

I also want to reach out to the mean, good looking guy trying to preserve the sanctity of his own Saturday night party. I feel like, if I buy him a drink and show him some charm maybe I can show him what empathy is and fix him with my penis. Obviously that’s not true, he’s an awful person who should work at a junkyard forever, but I could still try to fix him with my penis. Maybe I could have furtive, emotional, passionate sex with him for a couple months before looking into his beautiful, selfish eyes and finally walking away, realizing he’s not good enough for me to waste the good sex on. 

Worth a shot, I say audibly to myself as I walk away, not at all giving it a shot. Also, I remind myself, he’s 22 and you’re two decades older than him – the only person thinking of you as a variable in this sexual equation, is you. I laugh at myself. 

I walk farther away from all the sturm and rabble and crapola. Past Gym Bar and even further east. This entire stretch of West Hollywood is shuttered for the evening. ABCs of Dance, Total Tan, weed dispensaries all wait for the sun to come up and respectable business hours to resume. Monaco Liquor is the only wee-hours holdout. Yellow illuminated sign with red writing, straight from the mid 80s and full of dingy linoleum tile flooring, Monaco Liquor is exactly what you want from ghost town WeHo. An indolent clerk has a one sided blue tooth conversation in a language I don’t comprehend. He’s not concerned with me in the slightest, and won’t make eye contact when I ask about the restroom. I debate between getting a small package of Oreo’s or some pork rinds (higher fat/salt, but much lower carb/sugar). In a supernatural display of self control I simply purchase a Perrier and continue down the street.  Man, I think to myself, selecting the zero-calorie option is almost as satisfying as fixing that rotten twink with my penis. Think of the time and money I’m saving! I laugh at myself again. 

I walk up the stairway to the dark, powered down Trader Joe’s complex. There’s a spot in the abandoned parking lot where I urinate. I notice pamphlets for HIV testing and used condoms on the ground. Good, I think, someone made a responsible choice. 


I walk back down to Santa Monica, choosing a bench outside some strip mall. A cute guy is making his way up the lonely cityscape toward me. Oh shit. It’s the boy from Mother Lode – the one with the triangle necklace. He comes closer. He is smiling. He has black, straight hair, fair skin, and a killer smile. Love that smile of his. Hello, he says, and plops down next to me. What a cutie, I think to myself, and he’s just starting to become aware of his own cuteness. He’s just starting to realize a good outfit, some posture, and a pinch of self esteem can turn a scrawny twerp into a cute little thing.

That’s the real trick to life, I think. 

Cute Little Thing starts in immediately, a monologue about how he knows it’s the strangest thing in the world to just sit down next to a stranger and start up a conversation with them, but you know what, that’s just how he is, because he’s just like his favorite writer, have I heard of David Sedaris? Well, he’s a writer and used to work odd jobs that were strange, or cultivate amphetamine addictions – just to have something to write about and even now that he lives in Europe, he still does things to have something to write about like picking up trash on the side of the road, or French classes or whatever – and maybe I should think about doing things like that if I really want to be a writer, but whatever he’s just glad to live in WeHo finally, even if it is as far east as Fairfax; it’s still much better than living with family in Orange County, and by the way why don’t I do interesting things like David Sedaris?

I respond that I sometimes do interesting things, and he immediately hits me with a skeptical, like what? I rack my brain and come up with a vignette about a time when I was in college and some attractive older guy was hitting on me in a noisy New Orleans gay club, and how he said, let’s get out of here and go back to my place. That’s not interesting, that’s pedestrian, Cute Little Thing says, and I explain that, yes, he’s right, but the interesting thing is that while we were walking out of the club the older man pulls out a collapsable cane, and is visibly limping down the road next to me. I explain that in my drunkenness, and the loud darkness of the club, I didn’t realize he’d recently had a stroke and was mostly paralyzed on one side.


Ew, says Cute Little Thing, but he wants to know what happened. I explained that I went ahead and went home with the guy, who wound up being extremely into S&M, and wanted me to abuse his left side, the semi-paralyzed side, so the echoes of feeling would remind him that, possibly, mobility was coming back. 

Cute Little Thing is not happy with this. This is not a Sedaris-worthy activity. “That’s your own shit to deal with,” he says, and now it’s all stank face and frustration, and Snapchat. I’m extremely amused. He’s acting jealous, maybe? He’s drunk enough not to remember the sequence of events and now he doesn’t like how I brought something sexual and vulgar into a conversation, even if he himself was asking for examples of interesting situations I’ve put myself into. Now he’s totally into his phone. I sit, silent, next to him, looking across the street. I want to say something. I know I can change the subject and start trying to be charming. I know he mentioned he lives on Fairfax because we’re close to Fairfax and he’s fishing for a late night tussle. It’s not difficult to get this back on track.

But, I don’t. I want to see what will happen if I don’t offer him a way out of his own judgmental mood-swing. Lately I’m getting tired of other people holding me accountable for their mood swings, if I’m being completely honest. Cute Little Thing is collateral damage tonight, for the behavior of other people who are closer to me. He sighs, and wonders aloud if he should head back west, and keep dancing. I remind him that the bars close at 2, but I think one of them stays open late if he wants to just dance. 

“The problem is,” he says, “I can’t get any of my friends to text me back. That’s the real reason I sat down and started talking to you.” I give a plaintive, patient smile, put my arm on his shoulder, make deep eye contact and say, hey, that’s okay – David Sedaris would have done the same. There is a brief breath, a pause. Then Cute Little Thing is annoyed. Whatever, goodbye, he says. I let him get about a quarter of a block away before yelling out after him. He whips around and says, what?!

Thanks for saying hi, I say. It was flattering. You’re a Cute Little Thing.

That’s all it takes. He’s suddenly rushing back toward me. He jumps up and throws his arms around me. There is an awkward moment. I squeeze him. I’m so much bigger than him. He feels fragile, almost. I bet he felt like a scrawny twerp most of his life. 

“You’re adorable,” I say. “Go see your friends.”

“Thanks for chatting with me,” he says. “I really did like you, a little.”

He hurries off down the street. I tilt my head up and watch him go. I think of this evening, of the boy who dismissed me because I wasn’t boyfriend material, about the transactional nature of all my exchanges tonight. With bouncers, with boys, with cashiers. I see Cute Little Thing slow his gait and approach a small group of other boys. He adjusts his posture, hiding hints of scrawn and twerpitude. He’s a completely different person now. I tilt my head back down, perpendicular to the street. 

Suddenly, I am no longer looking down my nose. 


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