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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then, something else. An intruder.

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

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

Sneaky Billy is coming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is here.

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

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

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

“Why?” I ask, my voice breaking.

“It’s hard to be casual.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a long pause. Andy looks sad.

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

Andy opens his mouth, says nothing, closes it.

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

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

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

“I can. I can change my behavior.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His hands travel to my lower back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(get tickets here!)

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

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

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

Sure.

Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She takes more, and wipes out her ear again.

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

Did Andy do something?

Yes.

What?

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

He stuck his tongue in my ear.

Gross!

Yes. It’s gross and tiresome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I kiss her cheek; we say our goodbyes.

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

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

(bridge)

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

Clear out the underbrush, someday you might emerge.

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

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

(breakdown and final chorus)

You looked back!

You looked back!

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

just cut the kid some slack!

You looked back!

You looked back!

With a glance you missed your chance.

I’m never coming back.

You looked back.

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

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

Head inside, I say.

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

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

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

(to be continued)

-3

The Fall and Rise of Andy Dick, Part One – The Legend

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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.

“You’re brilliant.”

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.

-4

Sweet Gregory: Part Two, The Cabaret Bar – 2001

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.

He’s incandescent.

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.

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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.

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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:

[THE RUSSIAN]
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.

-7

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?

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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?

Home.

Where’s home?

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?

The acting.

What?

The acting.

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.)

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“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?

-6

-2

The Roof

The Roof

Alain’s Modelo spilled

foamy tear ran striated

navy matte roof grit

mystery machine, pop

white tear singularity

froth, trickle,windshield

crack one open –

slip the hood, down

the horizon, fire, illegal

Mexican gunpowder

(dontcha know Chinese invented)

mottled downtown Los Angeles.

Every flash in the pre-night gloaming,

an argument won, twixt

pre-adolescence, fathers all

every minor explosion

a tiny, grateful insurrection.

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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