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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You said you weren’t rehearsing until Friday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I what???

Are you jealous of me?

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

Michael…

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

Race me up to the top!

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

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

Okay? Ready, set, go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you?

We’re a little bit like you.

You are not like me.

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

I want you out.

We need blood, and we ain’t leaving.

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

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

I’m not coming down, Sweet Gregory.

What? You’re nuts, come off it.

Come up here with me, Gregory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

No.

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

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

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

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

Michael, please come down.

Gregory, why are you going into journalism?

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

You’re 22.

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

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

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

Bring him to us!

Gregory, come up here.

Yes!

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

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

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

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

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

Gregory clears his throat.

Now, sing, I say.

“What’s going on around me

Is barely making sense

I need some explanations fast

I see my present partner

In the imperfect tense”

Keep him singing!

“And I don’t see how we can last

I feel I need a change of cast

Maybe I’m on nobody’s side

And when he gives me reasons

To justify each move

They’re getting harder to believe

I know this can’t continue

I’ve still a lot to prove

There must be more I could achive

But I don’t have the nerve to leave

Everybody’s playing the game

But nobody’s rules are the same”

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

“Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Better learn to go it alone

Recognize you’re out on your own

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

The one I should not think of

Keeps rolling through my mind

And I don’t want to let that go

No lover’s ever faithful

No contract truly signed

There’s nothing certain left to know

And how the cracks begin to show”

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

“Never make a promise or plan

Take a little love when you can

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never stay too long in your bed

Never lose your heart, use your head

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never take a stranger’s advice

Never let a friend fool you twice

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

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

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

“Everybody’s playing the game

But nobody’s rules are the same

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never leave a moment too soon

Never waste a hot afternoon

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never stay a minute too long

Don’t forget the best will go wrong

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

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

“Never be the first to believe

Never be the last to deceive

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never make a promise or plan

Take a little love when you can

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

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

NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? YOU FOOL!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m practicing turning my skin to diamond.

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I’m a Survivor

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I’m sitting with colleagues at a business lunch. I don’t often get to lunch with coworkers, as most of my work happens out in the field with foster-care clients. But, once a month we might all meet up for a sensitivity training to learn about transgender needs, or how to be racially sensitive, or how to let women do their jobs without bothering or condescending to them all day long. I don’t usually look forward to these type of meet ups. I’d rather be in the field, working with my clients. Some smug part of myself, too, always walks into these trainings thinking I know everything already, but some other more rational part of me knows it won’t kill me to keep my ears open – and I do. I try to do that. I listen. I have to remind myself, but I make the effort to listen.

Today’s an okay day. I like the people at this lunch table. I’ve known them for a year and a half now, but because we only meet once a month, we’re in that nascent-acquaintance honeymoon phase. Everyone should savor those first few weeks of a new friendship, I think to myself. Before the person, group, or lover trusts you enough to do something truly revelatory. That first moment they say something a tiny bit hurtful, and you’re reminded – oh, right – humans are a stain on the planet that deserve their small, petty lives of self-doubt, mired in indecision. I smile at this thought. Even when I’m overblowing my criticism of humanity, it’s really just a silly, exaggerated criticism of who I am, myself.

Also, it’s an exaggeration to say humans are a stain. Stains, you can get rid of.

They’re talking about global warming, the other social workers, and I’m waiting for a chance to chime in some type of clever joke about how I’m hoping for a pandemic to solve things for us. A pandemic would take care of a lot of things. Imagine, say, 9 million people survive, total. The population of NYC, roughly, but spread across the globe. Well, that’s got global-warming solved, isn’t it? Overpopulation? Solved. Systemic poverty? Solved, my friend! No more competing for resources. Don’t like the rules of some little hamlet that springs up? There’s arable land, buddy! Go build your empire. Leave us the technology, but let’s have fewer people competing for resources. Sure, I’m saying in my head, as the three dudes talk about rising tide measurements and carbon removal – it would suck that you would have to see catastrophic suffering, and watch society grind to a halt. I imagine large swaths of the world would be left to be reclaimed by the wilderness. Suddenly a thought flashes, briefly. Footage from a documentary I saw years ago. How quickly Chernobyl was swallowed by vines, and trees, weeds sprouting up through cracks in the concrete, bound to cause eventual rifts in buildings. Radioactive bunnies hopping around.

They’re talking about Trumpy now. For some reason they’re lingering on moral stuff, which I think is unfair. If Bill gets his blowjob, and JFK gets all those mistresses, we can allow a leader to cheat on his wife without making it a scandal. It’s part of what I don’t like about our landscape. There’s enough to criticize – stick to the job performance and watch where the money goes, I’d like to say, but I’m distracted by another thought.

What if I don’t survive the pandemic?

This thought is easy to dismiss. I take a moment to process it and think, that’s okay, I’ll just die.

I don’t want to die, right now, at this point in my life. I have, during some brief dark spots in my life,wanted to die, but I’ve always been way too much of a coward to commit suicide. Post apocalypse, though – that’s a game changer. I think to myself, okay, I’ll fight as hard as I can to survive this bleak new world, but not to the point of pity. If things get extremely grim, I know what to do. Maybe, I find a garage with a car, lower the door. Leaf through X-men comics while waiting for the end to find me, but only after it’s clear I’m going to die of the pandemic, or of some wound sustained by fighting with someone for the last charged iPad.

Reduce carbon emissions, I say to the social workers, absent, but still participating, hovering in-between worlds right now.

It’s okay if the pandemic takes me. Not ideal, but okay.  I can fantasize about Iceman one last time while the fumes take me. I can make this sacrifice, even in my own dystopia fantasy. It will be difficult, but I’ll bravely face the end, for the sake of my surviving family. It’s fine, I’ll say to my family. I’ve had every slice of pie, sang every song, kissed every boy. This way you can move on to the rumored utopia of New Atlantis, which is a cool way that everyone is now saying “Atlanta.” 

On the outskirts of New Atlantis, I’d face my fate with a grin, imagining myself slowly dying, serving up movie set realness while bravely suffering the ravages of the primeval disease unearthed in the Arctic permafrost, which fuses cartilage into bone, slowly calcifying the blood. Petrifying people into living, dying statues, it’s soon called the Redwood Flu. Frozen bodies litter the landscape, grim reminders of our late stage capitalism excess.  

Maybe they heal me, after someone bursts in with some super antibiotics they boosted from an abandoned research lab, and the next day our group is back on the eerie, abandoned highway, amidst drivers frozen solid in their cars. Tattered Chanel clinging in scraps to hairless, stony corpses. 

Leave the Chanel, a loved one might say, as they catch me trying to undress one of the Remnants, but take the Louis Vuitton purse. Just because the world has gone insane doesn’t mean we have to lose our minds.

I’m hauled back into the real world. The social worker’s luncheon. It’s kind of worth it, I think, I look at Korean Ben and think immediately about his nickname, which emphasizes his otherness. Korean is a distinguishing factor, indelible, and there’s another Ben at the table. He’s Mexican, but I don’t know why he’s just Ben and not Mexican Ben. The answer is probably “something something something white privilege,” I think, but that’s just a punchline to a joke I made up that everyone repeats around the office as a catch-all. I briefly wonder if he sometimes resents the nickname because it puts his otherness front and center but I quickly dismiss that thought as none of my business. They called him Korean Ben before I got hired.

And anyway, you can say the name of a country, snowflake.

Cory is there too, who is half-white, but will only ever describe himself as half-black. He explained this to me early on in my tenure here, over happy hour drinks one afternoon. I’m half-black, he said. Not half-white. Why pretend the world sees anything besides the blackness, Cory said, and smiled, like he’d been really clever, and we both laughed, but I could feel that – underneath that – there was a naked, unapologetic bitterness that Cory had every right to. I get it, I almost said to him, trying to draw a connection between a straight person of color, and a white homo. But, I didn’t mention any of that. I didn’t  want the conversation to devolve into equivocation. Cory likes gin collins, of all things, which kinda vouches for the white half, I joked. He laughed. It seemed honest, and not pained. I was drinking club soda, because drinking aggravates my chronic-but-not-acute hypomania, so I’m not allowed to anymore. Also, I don’t want to anymore. I did dumb, ugly things when I was drinking. I mean, it started out as cute and clumsy, but there was a rapid shift at some point, after a few back to back to back traumas.

And anyway, I just described a daydream of a pandemic flu. I’m probably crazy enough, sober.

Suddenly, Ben, Ben, and Cory have switched subjects. They’re talking Beyonce, now. The Coachella performance. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Stewing. I finally join the conversation. Blurting out:

“I’m so annoyed about her right now. Keep in mind, I’m not angry at her. I’m angry about her. Specifically, her relationship to the gay community. Specifically, how the gays deify her categorically, when they ought to be off somewhere discussing the finer points of Rufus Wainwright, or that gay K-pop star who killed himself. I like Beyonce. I can see why she’s a star. I think she’s a one of a kind talent and should get all the acclaim and success she has. She deserves to win the pop game. I respect her quite a bit.”

(It’s tumbling out of my mouth now, and I’m inadvertently doubling down on the awkwardness I’ve caused.)

“But, I guess that’s part of the point. She’s nobody’s fool. She’s not an idiot. She isn’t naive or girlish. She isn’t obsessed with cultivating her own cred, the way other pop stars can be. She just is cred. She is aware of the pretty things floating on the surface of American culture, sure, but her staying power comes from exposing some of the uglier things churning just underneath. She’s brilliant.”

(Oh shit, maybe a joke will help?)

“Also, marching bands don’t just magically make something transformative. I mean, maybe in the absolute literal sense, but the real transformative thing is her ability to see the gay community after marriage equality was passed in 2015, but somehow, not the decades preceding that.”

(Nope, they still hate me right now.)

“Which makes it suck so much more when she collaborates with a someone like Philip Anschutz, who donates to the Republican party, and to religious right anti-LGBT organizations. When she hands him the money he turns around and hands to the party of Donald Trump. The party of marriage inequality, the party of misogyny. The party that has worked so hard to normalize their (selling points) flaws that they can now get away with operating a completely corrupt kleptocracy.”

(Seriously, Korean Ben can’t even believe himself right now. As the other gay person in this four top, he’s shocked I’m betraying The Queen)

“They don’t even try to cover it up anymore. The rich have always oppressed the poor. Men have always oppressed women. The white majority has always twisted the roots of humanity to its will in the Western hemisphere. Straight people have always oppressed, demoralized, erased, lied about, scapegoated, killed, poisoned, threatened, condescended to queer people. Put us in concentration camps. Driven us to suicide. Ostracized us from our own families. Took away our livelihoods and tried to bring us low by ignoring a very real pandemic – a silent holocaust that will never be properly recorded because our minds were too feeble to fully remember, our mouths split with sores, our fingers too brittle to even hold the pen.”

(They are visibly uncomfortable. That’s LA. Be a walking nightmare, sure, but wear clean clothing and don’t ruin lunch. An inconvenient overshare with coworkers might fly in Brooklyn, or somewhere “authentic” but in this town it’s a sin, and it’s a cardinal sin.)

“That was the legacy of Ronald Reagan. That is the legacy of the party of Donald Trump. That is the legacy the owner of Coachella regularly donates money to. And now, I can not separate that legacy from Beyonce Knowles. At least, not while everyone is worshiping the golden calf.”

(Korean Ben is trying to change the subject. I can see that look in his eye. The understanding. The disappointment. It’s like I’m telling a secret he doesn’t want known about himself, even though I’m pretty sure he doesn’t agree with me. He’s trying to save lunch, whereas I have made the mistake of trying to be right.)

“Beyonce is a human being. She is not a deity. She, though her marketing tries to suggest otherwise, is not a walking embodiment of a goddess on earth. She is a person like you or I, and when she has dirty hands she needs to wash them. And make no mistake – when you give money to the people would would make us less than human, who would quibble about how much equality we can have before equality becomes ‘special rights,’ when you give money to someone who will then turn around and use that money to limit our rights, to maximize human death and suffering for monetary profit – when you do that, even indirectly –  you have sullied your hands. You have made yourself nakedly complicit in the ongoing task of the ‘haves’ breaking the spirit and the bodies of the ‘have nots.’”

(At this point everything has ground to a halt. There’s no plodding through any salads anymore. Nobody is eating.)

“Anyway,” I say, “The guy who runs Coachella is a homicidal maniac who donates to the right wing, and I’m not going to watch the video.”

There is an ugly pause. Everyone is gobsmacked. Myself most of all. Ben stammers out something like, hey, maybe she doesn’t know how he spends his money? I tell him he can Google “Coachella bigot” and see for himself. I remind him that Beyonce has a smartphone like everyone else, and implying she is unaware of the controversy swirling around this festival, and her helping to sell it out so quickly, might let everyone off the hook, but it insults everyone’s intelligence at the same time.

Korean Ben looks nervous. He just wants everyone to get along. He starts telling a story about how he was sad this weekend and how he watched the whole Coachella video and then binged all the online Beyonce videos he could find. He adjusts his posture. He plays victim. He was sad for a few hours, and only Beyonce could keep him from heading into the garage, and starting the car with the door down, and now I’ve taken that away from him! But, behind that victimhood is a quick calculation of social hierarchy. His eyes are already growing sharper. Colder. They start talking about the Coachella valley, and how hot it is. They start talking about Destiny’s Child. They don’t, won’t, everything-but-can’t look at me, because he’s done it. He’s thrown me to the wolves. Maybe I’m right and maybe I’m wrong, but Coachella is fun and this is the opposite.

We all say polite goodbyes, but I hang back at the table. I can see them filing out of the cafeteria style restaurant. Right before they leave my sightline, Korean Ben says, loudly, some quip about how people take homophobia so seriously these days, and how it’s not really even a big deal anymore, compared to how it used to be. He is giving them permission to treat me like one of the crazy, broken, militant ones. Which is fine, I’m not broken, but crazy, militant? Sure.

But wait, that’s not true, either. I’m not “crazy.” I have a mental illness. I’m treating it. Take your gaslighting and shove it up your ass, Korean Ben. I’m steaming pretty hard.

Gay people do it to each other so often, it’s not surprising anymore. The undermining. The minimizing. The gas lighting on social media, so that those good straight folks can enjoy their lunch, their Beyonce, their bigoted, violent belief systems – in peace. You can’t fault his intentions, either. He just wants to go along to get along.

Still I’m disgusted, a little bit. With myself, with Ben, with people in general. It was clear they didn’t care. That they saw this as a moment of gay drama. Yeah, sure. Gay drama caused by the indignity of a life unobserved, a life destined to be constantly erased by the indifference of a straight, mediocre world.

In the car I flash to another memory of Korean Ben, of him laughing out of sheer joy in the office at a joke we were sharing. The look he gave me when I made him laugh. The gratitude. Something behind the gratitude. A glimmer. Something in there. Hope, or love. It isn’t long before I’ve forgiven him for selling me out in that small, huge moment. It was just part of our day. Later on I send him a short email, saying “Beyonce texted me, and she says she’s sorry about the dirty money, but it’s totally okay if you binge watch her videos.”  He texts back that he’s having a hard day, too. We both get back to our clients in the field.

Back to tending to these foster children. Of doing small, procedural things their (presumably straight) parents couldn’t or wouldn’t do. I’m not even annoyed at Ben anymore. It happens so often, that I have learned to let small betrayals fly off into the wind. They can condescend, but they can’t truly minimize my pain, my truth, my joy, my struggle. By the evening, it’s almost like it didn’t even happen.

If you expect nothing of people, you get everything you ever wanted. What do I expect of people. What good can come of high expectations? Wouldn’t I just take the money, too?

All this, I smirk to myself, just so Beyonce could have more money. An extra helicopter.

As I’m driving home, I am transported.  In my mind, Korean Ben and I are in the pandemic world, me helicoptering him over the Coachella valley. His eyes twinkle the way they did in the office that one time, when I could still make him laugh. Beneath us, petrified bodies, desert floor, tattered banners. Horse blankets and prospector’s hats. I reach out to touch Ben on the arm, but I lose my nerve and wind up awkwardly fiddling with the radio, which is stupid, because the radio stations in this world have stopped transmitting years ago. Yet, there it is, as clear as day, Destiny’s Child, on the radio. I’m a survivor. We share a moment of shock, of surprise. Pure joy in the sudden appearance of music that disappeared years ago.

I check our altitude, clear my throat. We start to sing, at the very top of our lungs. Beyonce is telling us she is a survivor. She’s gonna make it.

That’s more than obvious, I think to myself, singing along, setting the coordinates for New Atlantis.

But, what about us?

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People Send Me Things

 

This set of photos comes from a lovely young man in London named Michael To. Pretty brave of you, Michael!

If you’re reading this and you’re feeling inspired to send me some photos, please do!

Look at that tattoo! I did some research – it’s the Chinese symbol for ‘Oh, I had no idea my ass was hanging out!’

Keep in mind – if you send me photos, it’s likely I might run them on my site.

Flexing. Flexing….

Michael made an Old English Custard pie.

Great lighting in Michael’s kitchen, right?

Michael is a handsome, brave guy. I’m sure he has other assets too.

Thanks for sending me things, Michael.

You can feel free to send me things too, Jerks.