Rousseau, Neuhouser, and Me

I picked up Rousseau’s Critique of Inequality by Frederick Neuhouser and read it with sadness and regret. A long, long time ago, way back in New York in the early 1980s, Fred and I were close friends. I left America to move to Spain in 1985 and Fred was the person who accompanied me to the airport. Even though I was not unhappy about leaving New York, I assumed we would always stay close, and that did happen for a few years. But in 1988 Fred found a position at Harvard and his personality began to change: he grew colder, more aloof. We still took meals together when I visited from Spain but I could feel a little difference. By the mid ’90s—when I was about ready to return to the States (California) after a decade overseas—he had cooled even more toward me. Being a Harvard professor—he told me—was inextricably linked to his identity. When he mentioned phenomenally successful students who appeared in The New Yorker magazine a few short years after graduation, I asked him, “Is that hard for you?” and his answer was, “Yes, it would be hard if I weren’t a Harvard professor.” We no longer had meals together, just “a drink” in the presence of others. We said good-bye on Broadway and 110th street only a few blocks from where we first met; we hugged, and I never saw or heard from him again. I found out (because my birth father was a philosopher, too!) that he didn’t get tenure at Harvard and was now at U.C. San Diego. How he’d always hated California and called it stupid! That first year that I lived in L.A., I wrote him several times but heard nothing (I was “ghosted”). Almost twenty-five years have gone by and it’s still hard. I have often theorized to myself that if he’d gotten tenure at Harvard, we might still be friends. But the experience of losing the status that meant so much to him must have been excrutiatingly hard, and I wasn’t the appropriate person, during those wandering-in-the-desert years, to confide in, so he let the friendship lapse.

Thanks to the Internet, I found out that he later worked at Cornell and eventually ended up at Columbia in New York City, just a few blocks from the spot where we first met. I’ve seen him lecture on YouTube. He’s changed a lot. In the old days he used to laugh at older professors for being pretentious stuffed-shirts, and when I watch his lectures I see a pompous stuffed-shirt. I recognize him as the same person, the same look, the same voice, but at the same time not the person I knew. He sometimes lectures with his eyes closed. He does a lot of teenage uptalking (Valley Girl Speak) but mixes it with a trace of German intonation (he’s fluent in German) so it sounds respectable.  It’s sad to look at those videos and ask “What happened?” and it’s sad to read his book, and to suspect what happened: I don’t think my above theory is wrong. His life was changed by Harvard and the departure from Harvard, and I had no place in it. Here are some thoughts about the book and about Fred (but this is not a book review!).

  • Fred, being fluent in German and an expert on Hegel and Fichte, was always “supposed” to stay in the realm of German thought and letters, but what happened? Since leaving Harvard, he has written not one but two books on Rousseau (I’ve only read the second) and they both have to do with status and the quest for recognition. Very doubtful that this is a coincidence. His elevation to Harvard and his later loss of his perch there were life-changing experiences, and thus began his interest in Rousseau (who is required reading for most undergraduates and with whom he must already have been quite familiar). Let me backtrack. Recently I’ve become interested in Enlightenment thinkers and especially Rousseau. This is what led me to Fred’s book. The Second Discourse is all about how humankind started in a theoretical “state of nature,” went through a kind of “Golden Age,” and then ended up in our present situation where status plays such a negative part in our lives (especially in many First World countries). Rousseau and Fred don’t use the term status at all but this is what it amounts to. The term Rousseau prefers is amourpropre, a kind of self-love that didn’t exist in the “state of nature” but developed when men and women stood in front of their huts and thought about things like “Who can dance better? Who can shoot an arrow better? Who’s prettier? Who’s more accomplished?” And from there things pretty much went downhill. According to Fred, “Rousseau isolates amourpropre—a passion to be looked at, to be highly regarded, to acquire public esteem or respect—as the principle source of social inequality.” Back in the old days in New York, Fred talked about his craving for recognition and attention from people, but he hated this aspect of himself, especially because as a Marxist, such vanity went against his egalitarian principles. Then he rose to Harvard (the pinnacle of civilization), where he found esteem, but was lowered again in the world with his departure. I believe that Fred turned to Rousseau to painfully and comprehensively ruminate on the whole concept of amourpropre as the motor which has driven not just Fred but many if not most of us (definitely me too!), whether it be in the arts or sciences or in a company or at a university (where people compete for tenure). So much for the autobiographical impetus behind the fascination with Rousseau.
  • Rousseau’s Critique of Inequality is a long, laborious and intricate book (not a difficult one, exactly). It’s considerably longer than Rousseau’s original treatise. I don’t have the expertise or space to go into it in depth, but, given the ubiquitousness of amourpropre, does Rousseau offer any way out, any hope at all? These aren’t self-help books (here I’m referring to Rousseau’s treatise and Fred’s dissection of it). It’s all speculation and theory, but the long and short of it is: Rousseau concludes (according to Fred) that a certain amount of relatively benign (not “inflamed”) amourpropre is inevitable in our present societies as long as it doesn’t get too out of control. In our present societies and even in much more idealized societies or situations (which Rousseau goes on to develop in The Social Contract and Emile) a certain dose of “amourpropre light” is all right as long as it doesn’t harm other people too terribly much. I can’t remember exactly, but I think Fred does mention, indirectly, very competitive academic institutions where inflamed amourpropre gets a bit out of control. The way I see it, Fred’s Rousseau envisions a kind of Dutch or Scandinavian model of culture where amourpropre exists but in moderation, unlike in the U.S.A. or Britain or France.
  • Here’s a thought Fred dwells on: Is it enough that I’m okay and you’re okay and we are both equals? That would be nice, but according to Fred the whole amourpropre urge includes the drive to be not just equal but better than one’s peers. It’s not keeping up with the Joneses; it’s proving one’s superiority to the Joneses. Here’s Fred: “It remains an important question whether these political measures [as in The Social Contract] by themselves constitute a sufficient solution to the entire range of problems generated by social inequalities and inflamed amourpropre. The answer to this question turns in part on whether winning equal respect in the political sphere is sufficient to satisfy completely the longings of even non-inflamed amourpropre. There is plenty of evidence in the Second Discourse to suggest that this is not the case…Rousseau refers to amourpropre as a ‘universal desire for…preferment and a frenzy to achieve distinction.’” And yet, if this “frenzy” can somehow be tamed a bit, then it won’t be so bad? So: Obama’s pomposity instead of Trump’s monstrosity?
  • Just one or two more thoughts. Early in the book Fred makes a fascinating point: “[P]ossessing a good—wealth, prestige, power, or authority—is inseparable from someone else being disadvantaged by the other’s possession of it; the goods that make up the stuff of social inequalities are goods that can be enjoyed only ‘to the prejudice’ of another.” I don’t think he goes on to elaborate on this later in the book (I could be wrong). So my high school classmate Canin’s selling thousands of books in many languages is somehow not just “better than” me but actually existing at my expense? Jim Carey’s having millions of Twitter followers is somehow coming at My expense? I never, until now, thought of Canin or Carey as taking away from me, but I guess (on this theory at least) they are.
  • A word about Fred’s style. As I said, it’s complex and very analytical (in the Anglo tradition, though he is explicating a Continental thinker). I never found it difficult and since the topic is fascinating I followed almost everything with relative ease. But I object to the way he writes (as opposed to “thinks”). Couldn’t he have learned something from Rousseau’s prose? Of course, then he wouldn’t be “analytical”: he’d be “sloppy,” as Rousseau was (very sloppy). It would be unacceptable to write in a more literary way. Or, in Fred’s language: “inacceptable.” I realize “inacceptable” is a valid word (somewhere, in some circles), but please tell me one good reason for using it instead of “unacceptable”! Later on, he says “non-compossible.” Microsoft Word has never heard of this word. Why couldn’t Fred simply have said “incompatible”?  And on page 195 occurs Fred’s worst assault on the English language: “universalizability.” Okay here I recognize there probably is no exact synonym, but couldn’t he have put it another way? Does he actually use that word during lectures? Even my birth father Frank Verges, who published many papers but never (sadly) wrote a book, was a better writer than Fred, with many colorful and smart turns of phrase…On the other hand, perhaps this kind of writing (while too technical for Harvard?) is just the kind that is expected and valued almost everywhere else. He has to write this way to please his higher-ups and impress his lower-downs. So he is participating in a strict kind of caste system that I doubt Rousseau would have approved of at all. Rousseau got to where he was because of the elegance of this style (not just the thoughts themselves). Fred inhabits a very different world. Rousseau might have looked at Fred’s life and work and said, “That is a man in chains.”  ………And yet, for all that, I did get a lot out of the book. There is fascinating material here and it is written in the thorough, logical (not beautiful) style that allows no confusion, as in First I’m going to discuss A, then B, but before getting to C I will delve into certain aspects of both A and B as they pertain to X (studied in the previous chapter…) As Fred explained to me when I visited his Harvard office in ’94, he had good reasons for writing in the precise, dry way he did because to write in another way would mean not capturing his precise points and would be a kind of showing off. (NB: My critical tone does not reflect the way I ever felt at the time, but only in the wake of his distancing and later estrangement. When a person is still a friend and “on our side” or “in our camp” we permit many things and sweep others under the rug. Friendship strives to be blind.) So I guess I understand. It’s a pity we have never, over the last quarter century, been able to discuss any of these matters at our leisure in the Hungarian Pastry Shop or over breakfast at Happy Burger or at Tom’s Restaurant or walking through Central Park on an autumn day, as we did so many years ago, way back when we were young adults. Ah well…

 

 

Assault at the Midtowne Spa, Los Angeles; Or, How Sex History Can End With a Bang

Things had been going downhill for quite a while, and I say this not just because of my age (I was born in 1960), but also because of a historical trend: back when I got started being active, way back in 1980 just before AIDS when Greenwich Village was still at its peak, there used to be great bars and the Great American Baths; no one had heard about condoms; people like me would think nothing of finding ten partners a night. Now we are in 2019 (happy new year) and the trend that was all set to last forever in a perpetual delirium-bath of orgies, fizzled out, and it wasn’t just AIDS that did it; what finally killed off the old style was the Internet and especially the Smartphone. Now everyone is on an app called Grindr sending nude pictures to fifty potential partners a night in the hope of reeling in one of them. Some people under thirty spend most of their lives on Grindr.

And then one day I saw that the great Hollywood Spa had just shut down. It wasn’t a surprise. Business had been lousy and it was like a ghost-town. But that was a moment: when I walked up to the front door of the Hollywood Spa and saw a note: Closed For Business Please Try Our Other Facility in North Hollywood… I knew that was the end of an era. You’d think people would get the message and make the long trek from Hollywood to North Hollywood, but it didn’t happen. The crowd never moved anywhere except to oblivion. Then, three years later I noticed one of the world’s last remaining sex clubs, the Zone, had let all their valets go—it wasn’t worth it to keep them around because business was so slow. It’s just a matter of time now…

And the online thing, to which I was addicted for so long, that died too. How? After I got a dog who was not fooled by “Dog TV” (to entertain him while I was away) I realized that I myself was not fooled by screenfuls of youths from New Zealand who wouldn’t show their faces and just typed me messages. Yes, there was a camera, but after a while even the camera got old. Even the chat rooms started losing business and we (I) started living life as a sort of Incel.

The last remaining place  (until last Saturday night) was the Midtowne Spa, located literally in the middle of Skid Row, outside downtown L.A. And not the Midtowne Spa any night of the week, but only once a month when they turned the lights out—literally, and the males partied in the dark. I could almost make believe it was 1980 again. Until I was assaulted.

It happened last Saturday. I got there late at night hoping there wouldn’t be a long line to get in, because who wants to wait for 30 minutes on Skid Row? I was right. There was no line, and I found parking safely in the structure next door. But: inside the bathhouse, the crowd had thinned out drastically compared to the other times I’d been there on lights-out night. After a shower I walked through the dark just in my towel, just like 1980. I walked into the darkest room. I approached two men doing the deed of darkness in the dark and hoped to join in (by this time my eyes had adapted a bit so I could make out something). One of the two seemed interested and motioned for me to join. The other one pushed me away. When I tried a second time, he pushed me away more forcefully, and in front of everyone in the almost dark, I fell down a small set of stairs within the room. A bit shaken and without any clothes I just sat there, hoping I hadn’t made too much a fool of myself. But I was naked, so I reached for my towel, which I’d left up the three steps where the couple was, and as I reached, one of them held on to the towel and wouldn’t let go. We had a tug of war for maybe five seconds, and then I felt it: unlike anything since  the seventh grade. It was like a baseball bat hit me in the face, it was that hard, like bone-crushing strength. I didn’t know what hit me. I just sat there shaken. I was so shaken I said “Sorry” (for trying to reclaim my towel?). I sat there dazed and the two abruptly left. I never saw their faces. And: my towel lay there, so someone had realized “his mistake” after all.

Later, I looked in a mirror. Nothing. No blood, no bruising–on the outside.  I could feel it though, and I still feel it, like when I kiss my dog on the nose I still feel where the fist or bat or foot slammed into my face.

For the first time in almost forty years I have nowhere to go. Except maybe Barcelona…

Or: an angel spoke? God did for me what I couldn’t do for myself? If  I weren’t in the midst of reading all these Enlightenment philosophers, I might almost believe that.

 

 

 

A Barely Readable Account of … What Exactly?

The following was written in the summer of 2000. A love addict’s memoir. 

 

 Weeks have passed, months, and still I can’t forget–or perhaps I don’t want to.  I live in a kind of frozen time, a kind of non-time, outside real time; the seasons have changed–it is now summer–and yet I stay in the spring, dwelling on the hope of spring.  Soon I will go away on a long trip, but will that do me any good?  Will the sight of a beautiful village in the Alps or the feel of a busy London thoroughfare or the comforting smell of fish along the Barceloneta pull me out of the past and restore me?  I have tried everything, but I am not getting over him (but have I tried everything? Do I want to get over him?)  He follows me wherever I go.  Sometimes I believe the tragedy is not that he left but that he is still here.  I am writing this for no one but myself.  I am writing to feel better.   Perhaps he was always more a story more than a reality.

The most twenty-first century thing I ever did was to post a personals  ad in the male-seeking-male sector of an Internet dating service.  It was the end of last year. I called myself “Sensitive Dreamer” and had a picture especially taken.  I listed my interests and hobbies and wrote honestly about who I was.  I didn’t write much.  What I said, I think, was something like this: “I am a witty, charismatic, bookish, bohemian, fairly intellectual kind of man.  I like poetry and classical music and the gym and the outdoors, and I would like to meet a white or Latino or Asian man, late twenties to late thirties,  who preferably  gets turned on by the same things.”  Something like that.  The picture was flattering, the profile honest, and I sent them to make their way into cyberspace.  I got  (to my astonishment) many responses every day, more than I knew what to do with.

There were so many dates during the next several months, I met between twelve and fifteen different people, and liked very few of them.  There was Roberto, the competitive volleyball player, who met me in front of the Cinema Dome.   We had Thai food and held hands in a cafe, and I never saw him again.  There was Derek, an airplane mechanic who lived all the way in Ventura.  “I’d move mountains and walk on water to meet you,” he wrote.  We arranged to meet up in the Borders Books on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.  At first he ignored me, then the first thing he said to me was he didn’t like my earring and would I please take it off.  Then there was Joe from Rosemead, who sent me his “hot underwear pictures.”  We met in front of Mickey’s on Santa Monica Boulevard, and as we walked through Boys’ Town he commented on how many men were cruising him. I think I fell in love with him.  I saw him twice, only for coffee or dinner: nothing else happened.  It was never consummated with any of these young men.  I rarely saw them more than two or three times.  Roberto and Derek and Joe were the three I liked, “fell for”–I do that so easily!  There were all Asian and we had little in common.  I liked Roberto because he was strong and played sports, and I had not been athletic in high school.  I liked Derek because he was a gym rat with a dragon inked on his arm; he surfed and did martial arts and was completely closeted.  I loved Joe because he advertised himself as a “masculine top” and because he had played varsity tennis in high school.  With all these people there was an instant mutual physical chemistry yet we didn’t hit it off;  it wasn’t comfortable.  But I don’t want to rehash the story of Roberto and Derek and Joe.  They are forgotten.

 

I met H*** at the end of February.  He had responded to my ad and sent me a picture of himself.  In his email he wrote that he was 27–which made him 12 years younger than I–half Vietnamese, half Latino.  He said he was doing a masters in English and also considered himself “bohemian” since he wrote song lyrics and sometimes worked freelance as a DJ.  The picture he sent me of himself–just a driver’s licence picture–was nice but not particularly flattering. (I had gotten used to not trusting pictures very much.)  He did look like an ethnic mix: very short dark hair, a tanned broad face, a small flat nose, lips tight together, and a rather prominent chin.  He wasn’t smiling at all in this picture and seemed a little plump.

He also sent me a poem he had written. It was called “My Blues.”  It seemed very simple-minded and very bad.  He’d written it, he said, two years earlier, when he broke  up with someone after  4 ½ years.  I don’t have this poem anymore.  I remember one line: “Will the pain ever end?” It seemed a strange thing to do, sending me a poem about a break-up.

“Emails are a very impersonal way of communicating,” he wrote to me after we’d only been in touch for a few days.  “Let’s get together for a drink.  If you’re seeing someone else, be brutally honest, I can take it like a man!”

I sent him my number, and he responded back with just a few spare words: “I’ll give you a call.” It was the shortest email I’d ever received.  And that night he did call, and I was immediately impressed with his voice.  Even though he had a foreign name, it sounded to me like a very American voice, a very boy-next-door kind of voice.  We didn’t talk too long, and I told him about living in Spain and being robbed in Pamplona in 1993.  I told him about being homesick for Barcelona.  I don’t remember now what he shared about himself that first call, but he said he was going to be in Alhambra the next day–a Saturday– and he wanted to meet me.  So we arranged to meet at Starbucks at 12:30. Every time I drive down Main Street Alhambra now, I turn my head and look at that Starbucks, at the table where we sat and got to know each other a little. Why do I do this?

I didn’t have too many expectations for that meeting.  I thought he had a funny name.  He hadn’t written much about himself, so I had nothing to fantasize about.

I got to Starbucks. . . Now, as I write, I am reliving that day!  I was wearing torn old jeans and sandals and a t-shirt and sunglasses, and just a couple of weeks before my hair had been bleached.  When I got there, I looked around and immediately recognized him, but he hadn’t seen me yet.  He was putting cream in his coffee in the corner.  I went up to him and said hi.  Now, as I write, I am happy to get every last trivial detail out of my system for the last time.  Things  have been cluttering up my mind every since they happened. But I must be careful to spare myself or any potential reader minute details that couldn’t possibly be of any interest.  For instance, does it matter who spotted whom first, or that he was stirring his coffee when I first caught sight of him?

“Hi, I’m Alex,” I said.  I noticed right away that he was pleased with what he saw.

I was pleased, too.  He was not beautiful like Joe from Rosemead and so I felt a little bit at ease.  He was a little shorter than me, and he appeared to have a fairly developed body. He seemed very young–I guess twenty-seven is very young for me now.  His face was broad and his nose very flat and his nostrils a bit jagged and imperfect.  But what I liked most was his voice, his accent.  It turned out he’d been born in Vietnam but raised in Texas and spoke with a slight Southern drawl.  I am trying to remember now exactly how I felt that moment of the first meeting.  I think I was happy, not afraid, not desperate, not at all intimidated.

He seemed like the kind of person no one would ever guess was gay.

 

We found a table outside and sat down and got to know each other a little.  I  asked him about the master’s degree he was getting.  He told me he was at the University of La Verne, which was near Claremont, where he lived.  He said his favorite period in English literature was “the Renaissance.”  Then we found out there was  a writer we both liked: Don Delillo.  Joe from Rosemead or Derek or Roberto would never have been able to talk about Don Delillo.  I’d found a soulmate!  We talked some more, and I found out H*** was in the closet.  He had no gay friends, he told me.  No one knew he was gay.  He was, he said, “exploring.”

“I can’t believe you’re 39!” he said to me.

It turned out he was free the whole day, so we went to Heritage Park in front of the Alhambra Historical Society Museum. I drove in my car, and he followed in his, close behind.  I looked at him in the rear-view mirror and noticed how close his car was to mine, how fast he seemed to be driving (though this was an illusion) and how broad, plump, eager and hungry his face looked to me.

We sat in the park for a while.  I asked him–it’s a question I always ask–if he had any tattoos, and he said yes.  “Where?”  I was getting excited.  “On my leg.  It’s a Wolverine,” he said, pulling up his pants.  “Is that a turn-on to other guys?” I asked him.  “Yeah,” he said, “but that’s not why I got it.”

I don’t remember the tattoo that well, but it had at least two colors, blue and red, and there was indeed a Wolverine there.  I’d never heard of Wolverine and didn’t know if it was male or female.  But it looked like a space alien.  It was quite a big tattoo, and quite a big deal for me that he had one.  A tattoo meant danger.

“Now I won’t be able to sleep all night!” I said, and he laughed. I was kidding, of course, but I woke up too early the next morning thinking about his body, thinking about the intricacies and contortions of the Wolverine tattoo.

“I wanna kiss you,” he said as we sat there.

We talked about other things but these things would not be interesting to repeat.  They are interesting only to me.  I think we discussed, once again, his being in the closet, and I made it very clear that I wasn’t and that being gay was not really an issue for me.  I think I still did not fully comprehend that I was dealing with a young man who was a different kind of homosexual than what I am.

We ate lunch at Wilde Thyme in South Pasadena, and with crayons I drew on the paper tablecloth. “You’re very happy!” he said, referring to the colorful doodles I was drawing, and it was true.

As he sat across from me in the restaurant I noticed something odd and quirky and individual he did with his face:   staring at me, he would “squish” his mouth over to one side, distorting his nose.  It was an I’m-thinking-and-waiting-and-staring-at-you-wondering-what’s-going-happen-next-and-if-you’re-game kind of look.  It was endearing, and thinking about it now, I wonder for whom and under what circumstances he would contrive the same expression. Did he do it for his mother?  For his three brothers?  Only for potential lovers?

“I wanna see where you live,” he said as we left the restaurant.  It was cold, and he loaned me his sweater.  As we walked toward the car, I noticed him check them out two young Latin men sitting on a bench waiting for the bus.

Was it a mistake to bring him up to my place?

We sat on the couch and listened to classical music, and I read him one of my poems.  I don’t know why I did this.  I think now it was inappropriate.  What business did he have listening to me read my work?  My boundaries with him were, from the beginning, weak.

He told me more about himself.  He had a nine-to-five job at Boeing in Seal Beach.  He told me at one time he’d applied to law school.  He told me he had graduated from college with honors– “high honors,” said.  And I still can’t forget the way he said that.  I guess people want to impress each other on dates.

We kissed.  He had such a professional way of kissing that I could hardly believe he was as inexperienced as he claimed he was.  He put his tongue in my mouth but rather than joining it to my tongue he would go over my upper gums with it, and I went crazy.  We did too much kissing on that couch, I think.  So there was no way back from where we’d gone.  I suggested going to the movies.  “I’m fine where I am!” he said, smiling, and I said “Me too,” and we went on kissing, music in the background, some Mozart symphonies, I think, but especially Ferdie Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite, which I’d just bought a few days before.

 

Finally we did go to the movies, and nothing “happened” that night.  I have a “four date rule”; I am in recovery for my sex and love addiction.

As soon as we left my apartment and it was clear that he wasn’t going to get what he wanted that night, his mood changed.  He was polite, but there was a shift.  Going to the movies with him was not like going with a friend.  Not that he was sullen or distant, but it was as if he’d climbed back into his Clark Kent role after being, briefly, Superman.

I am still carrying so much of this around with me. . . I am still holding on. . . Why? It was months ago, months. . . I am glad to get this out of me, it has no place in me anymore.

After the movies he drove me home and we arranged to meet the next day at half-past-one. Driving back from the theater, he put his arm on my leg in that nice proprietary way I like.  He wasn’t cheerful or upbeat but serious–definitely not gay. We had said something about my going to Claremont, but now there was no talk of that anymore: he would come back to my place.  He seemed very straight, very Asian, very male and very American and very young sitting behind the steering of his brand new little car putting his hand on my leg.  I was worried.  I was worried I would never see him again.  I got out of the car and said good-bye and walking to my door and turned around to wave but he didn’t see him, he was, I thinking checking the messages on his cell-phone.  Oh!  He won’t want to see me again, I thought.  He doesn’t like me.  He won’t want me. 

The next day was a Sunday and I woke up much too early, thinking about him. This was the beginning of the beginning.  I remembered his kiss, remembered his Wolverine, remembered, suddenly, his “4 ½ year relationship” though that didn’t seem to fit in with someone who was so closeted and now in the process of “exploring.”  I began to want him very much; I couldn’t sleep though it was only six and I’d only slept five hours.  It was raining.  I thought the rain might keep him away.  I lay there for a few hours and when I got up there was a message from him on my machine saying he was looking forward to seeing me and asking me to call.  So I returned his call and  he told me he was reading the Don Delillo book I’d loaned him–End Zone–and liking it a lot.  We talked a little about American Beauty. He seemed a little cold on the phone, a little reserved.   I imagined the house in Claremont where he lived.  I imagined his room.  It was a brown room, with a large window and a balcony overlooking trees.  It was a boy’s room, with a disheveled bed and a couple of bookshelves and many records and CD’s and posters.  I did not understand him.  I began to wonder if what I was doing was wise.

I played the Grand Canyon Suite again and made myself some breakfast.

I am remembering exactly how it was with me that day.  Exactly how it was while I was still just getting to know him, very attracted and scared.

One-thirty came and he was not there.  One-forty-five.  Nobody.  There was no earthly reason why he wouldn’t show up. I played the Grand Canyon Suite again.  Listening to it now,   especially “On the Trail” and “Sunset” I remember precisely the texture of that rainy afternoon in February.  I felt slightly sick.  My contact lenses were not fitting well.  I hadn’t slept enough hours and I was anxious.  H*** hadn’t waved to me the night before when I turned to wave good-bye: there was meaning in that: there is always meaning when someone does not know how to say good-bye decently. Listening to “Sunset” now, this lush, expansive, very American and slightly ingenuous  music goes perfectly with someone from Texas who read Don Delillo.  More than a sunset, what I picture when I hear the ethereal shrill violins that open this movement is a brilliant daytime sky and full sun over South Pasadena, a large very blue sky with mountains ; what I feel is something earthy and solid and ruggedly romantic, and then I get his face and hear his voice again: it is a whole landscape in itself, a whole universe of quirks and anecdotes, with its very own rhythms and idiosyncracies, a creature like none other: an individual.

 

H*** got there at two.  He didn’t ring the doorbell, just knocked on the door.  I opened and I saw him.  He was beautiful there!  And he was carrying a copy of Delillo’s White Noise for me to read.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  He sat down on my couch and suggested going to a museum.  Someone who wanted to take me to a museum!  A month earlier I’d mentioned to Joe from Rosemead something about going to the Huntington Library.  He’d seemed hesitant and then said, “Can’t we just go to the movies?”  That was what I would call the “Huntington Test.” And now H*** was passing with flying colors.

As we left my place, I noticed that instead of walking down the stairs H*** slid down the banister; it was a gesture so spontaneously boyish that my heart almost stopped.

He drove us to the Museum of Latino Art in Long Beach.  It felt good sitting next to him in his car, and yet there was something reserved, something distant and shut-down about him that disturbed me.  It was not like going on an outing with a friend.  Behind all our interactions I could feel the presence of a kind of fantastic and blissful tension.

Walking around the museum with him, I sometimes felt at a loss for words.  I was happy!  But wasn’t sure he was comfortable in a museum even though it had been his idea.  I don’t how comfortable we were around each other.  I was conscious of him wanting to make a good impression on me; I wanted to say witty and interesting things to him.  All the while, I knew I was in the presence of someone much younger, almost of a different generation.  He hadn’t lived as much, hadn’t traveled; this at once excited and depressed me.  I wanted him badly but I didn’t think he had, after all, that much to say.

Over lunch he ordered beer–it was so different from me, a teetotaler!  I ate oysters.

“They say oysters are aphrodisiac,” he said with a smile and I told him that was all I needed, being already so oversexed.  He liked that.  Over lunch I shared intimate things with him–my boundaries were weak!  I felt I could trust him. I talked about going to high school with Ethan Canin and how Ethan had gone on to become such a success and how my father would never let me forgot that. I had no business sharing that! We walked along the waterfront and in the harsh overcast late afternoon light his face–wearing glasses now–did not seem at all beautiful and yet I was powerfully drawn to him.  He talked about his job; he said he supervised outside contracts for Boeing and was working on a project for the new space shuttle.  I frankly don’t remember too many details about his job.  It seemed an ordinary nine-to-five job to me.  He seemed ordinary to me–the kid-next-door type, a regular guy, a guy-guy.  Walking along the waterfront with him, it felt–once again–like the beginning of the beginning, like there was so much yet ahead for us.  It was a “romantic” moment.  All my life I had never had luck with relationships and I remember thinking, He’s so enthusiastic, but why should this one be any different from the ones that came before?  It seemed too good to be true.  He mentioned going to other museums together– “We could do that next weekend,” he said, “if you’re not bored with me by then!”

If I wasn’t bored with him by then?  What kind of remark was that?  Was he perhaps talking about his own future boredom?  My heart sank.  Joe from Rosemead had made the same kind of statements.  My first boyfriend, Dean, had made statements like that.  “Let’s do such-and-such in June, but do you think we’ll still know each other?” How could this thing with H*** turn out any differently from my affairlets of the past?  He was very young.

We drove back to Alhambra and he again reached over in his proprietary way of the night before.  “I don’t understand one thing,” I said as we sat in a cafe in Alhambra.  “You have a car.  You have mobility.  Why haven’t you ever been to West Hollywood?”

“It’s my background,” he said.  “The way I was brought up by my mother, my uncles.  I’m too masculine for that scene.”

He was moving his legs under the table; perhaps he was nervous sitting in that cafe right across from me.  All the time, I thought of the message and menace of the Wolverine on his right calf. I thought of how it was so close and intimate with his young body. I thought how close to and comforted by the warm odors of his sock and his foot it must be. . . The Wolverine never really left my mind.  What would I have thought of him without it?  I didn’t, and still don’t, have a clear picture of that tattoo; it remains slightly amorphous and repulsive, like the aliens in the Sigorney Weaver movies.

“Can I come upstairs?  Just to kiss?”

 

And I said yes, and we did, but we almost went too far.  We kissed and we kissed, and I was unguarded in the things I whispered to him; I outlined in graphic detail what I wanted to do to him in bed, and he took my fingers in his mouth and stared up at me as he fed on them.  His face, as he sat on my loveseat, was very broad and flat and Asian; it was not conventionally beautiful, it was not beautiful at all.  But it was beautiful!  We kissed and his face was very big and round and close to mine as we kissed: he could have been anyone.  Kissing me, he wasn’t H*** anymore; he could have been any one of hundreds of young men I’d been with, and this frightened me.  He’s going to be like everyone else. . . His mouth in mine, I kept my eyes open and he looked very hungry: he could be anyone.  “You look Oriental and scary when I kiss you,” was what I said to him, “ and you don’t look like you.”

We walked around the block.  That was the only way I could stop what might have happened too early (according to my sex plan).  I don’t think he understood.  He thought I was just playing hard to get.  As we walked around the block I noticed how his head was slightly too large and slightly protruding from his shoulders, and how he swung his shoulders from side to side.  He seemed very disappointed when it was time to get into his car.  “I’ll call you,” he said, and we kissed.  He was a guy-guy to me, a regular guy.  Nothing effeminate or gay about him. Perhaps this points to my own shame.

And here I was, dating!

We were supposed to get together the following Friday.  On Wednesday I called him up just to chat and he was very happy I’d called.  “I wanted to know if we can see each other tomorrow instead of Friday,” he said.  “I forgot that I have a dinner I have to go to.  A friend of mine is going to propose to his girlfriend.  I have class tomorrow, but I’m going to get a friend to take notes for me. . .”

When I opened the door and saw him the next day, he looked young and slightly plump and very fresh and eager and he said, “You smell good!” in that sexy somewhat Texan voice of his.  “You smell good!”  (I’d just taken a shower.)  That was our best time!  We couldn’t stop necking even as we stood there right in the middle of the living-room.  It was all too good to be real! Things were going so well!   I wanted him badly.  No one in my life had ever been so eager to touch me.  Why had it taken 39 years to find him?  Would this thing turn out well for me?

It was time for dinner, and as soon as we went down to his car I could see him change from Superman to Clark Kent again, and the change excited me.  We went to South Pasadena, to Gus’s BBQ restaurant on Fair Oaks Avenue.

“Sometimes I am a little nervous,” I said, “going out with people I don’t know that well yet.”

“Nervous?  I’m not nervous when I’m around you. That’s why I like being with you.”  And a few seconds later he knocked over a glass of water.

It was our best time, but it would be boring to relate every single thing that was said and done that night.  It was the beginning of March and we talked about my life in Spain, about his family and his being brought up without a father; we talked about possums and the book American Psycho.  I told him when I was twelve I was studying about the presidents and I asked him what he’d been doing.  And he said, “Playing baseball. . .”

 

Very much my “disowned self.”  The kind of kid who played baseball.  I didn’t.  I was a sheltered only child and I’d been give up for adoption, adopted by older German Jewish people.  I’d never had any siblings for company and grew up listening to Mozart instead of Rod Stewart and speaking with a kind of German accent.  Since I was a little boy I liked other boys but not the ones who were like me: I liked the ones who were chosen first for the team, the very active, rugged yet pretty all-American boys.  H*** was my perfect fantasy boy: Asian and yet very American, strong and ordinary, a conformist, a popular guy with a tattoo and a cell phone, someone who listened to the right kind of music.  I’m not exactly sure what to call the kind of music he liked, but it was angry and very young music.  My “operating ego” is the person I have become: the one who writes and listens to a certain kind of music and doesn’t play sports, etc; my “disowned self” is someone like H***, the kind of person I might have become if my birth mother hadn’t gotten rid of me.  We are–it is said–attracted to people on the basis of a “wound”; this is woundology.  My attraction to H*** was based on a wound.  He was–in the language of Sexual Compulsives Anonymous–a “trigger”: someone who triggers the obsession.  On the other hand, someone completely lacking in any of the qualities of the disowned self I have listed (and I went on dates with a few of those while my ad was up!) would not be physically appealing or compelling in any way.

I have often said “It’s never reciprocated” but in a sense that is false: things are always reciprocated; on some level attraction is always returned. The problem is the kind of relationship that is developed.  Part of the appeal of someone is their distance.  I am excited by the distance.  H***–from the start–had that cool, moody, sullen, shut-down sexual energy about him; that turned me on and yet also did not bode well for a future together.  The end was in the beginning.

In the beginning was our end.

That Thursday that he gave up his class to see me was our best time, our very best time.  Our feelings for each other hadn’t really been consummated yet and there was so much potential in the air, so much hope!  He was doing most of the calling; he was making statements such as, “I like the path that we are on.”  I didn’t really trust him but I wanted to see what was going to happen next; I was attracted to him; I wanted him; I was blinded by this attraction.\

Looking back, the kind of questions he asked him very simple and almost childish: “Who is your favorite actor?”  “What is your favorite season?”  “Who is your favorite president?”  He was a young man on his best behavior.  Trying to be at his best and make a good impression.  He opened and closed doors for me.  He wanted me to like him.  I was loving it.  I was loving him.   I had very weak boundaries!  Not that I “told all” by any means; I mean I had weak boundaries within myself: I was falling for someone I barely knew.

“Do you ever get lonely?” I asked him as we were walking to his car.

“Of course I do!  That’s why I’m so glad I met you!  I have lots of friends, but that’s not the same thing. . .”

He drove me back to my place but I didn’t trust myself to let him come upstairs.  We stayed in my car in the car port and made out.

“You’ve had a lot of experience?” I asked him, because that was how he came across.

“I’ve had three partners in my whole life. . .”

That made him feel very safe!  We necked and necked and I said things like “I could get lost in your body” and “You drive me crazy.”  I felt his chest and asked how much he benched and he told me 200 lbs. and I was impressed.  Two hundred pounds!  A strong young man! I even lifted his shirt and kissed his belly button.  “You’re such a tease,” he said.  It was getting late and I drove us to the 7-Eleven for a snack and he waited in the car.  I walked back to my car just before I opened the door I looked down at him sitting over in the passenger seat and he was looking up at him with the hungry, longing, desperate very hungry expression that guys sometimes have as they are giving head.  We had gone from being wholesome earlier in the evening to a very intense sexual intrigue now.  This should have been a warning to me. . . but. . .

We were planning to go to Elizabeth’s concert on Sunday, but I said to him, “So we’re not seeing each other till Sunday then?”

“I could,” he said, “come over late Saturday night.  I’m going to see my friend’s band playing, but I could come over after that around midnight.”

“That would be very late!”

“It’s no problem!”

So we arranged for him to come late on Saturday to spend the night.  It was decided.  There was no mystery or suspense now.

“I better let you go. . .” he said.

 

It felt good to be wanted, and the way he validated me, the way he nurtured me!  When we said good-night he again suggested that he could stay over but I told him we would leave that until Saturday and he still seemed very disappointed, like someone who was not getting what he wanted.  There was something too hungry and predatory about him, and yet. . .what if those qualities are missing?  Is a cold fish what I want?  How do you find someone who is sexually attracted to you and not overly predatory? Someone who wants you and yet doesn’t objectify you?

I was so happy on Saturday knowing he would come over.  I cleaned thoroughly and paid my bills and went to the gym, and then finally around 11:30 I lay down on the couch and read my magazine.  I began to fear he wouldn’t come.  Maybe he’d changed his mind.  I had many irrational fears.  Finally, around 12:15 there was a knock on the door.  It was raining that night and he was quiet and a little sullen and wet.

“You’re so quiet. . .”

“I’ve been thinking about my father. . .I’ve been thinking about you a lot. . .” he said.

Always telling me the things he thought I wanted to hear.

Since I knew he was spending the night and since it was now okay with my sex plan there was a certain thrill that was missing.  Soon we began to make out.  Slowly he undressed.  He was the more eager, the more “active” one, as if all this were his show, his production.  He stayed on the couch somewhat passively as he undressed me.  His upper arms were huge and worked-out and impressive and got to hold and feel.  When he finally took off his shirt I was a little disappointed with his torso.  I think he liked mine.  He didn’t really have a very shapely torso and this made him less intimidating and more accessible.

I saw his tattoo now for only the second time.

“Your other partners,” I asked him.  “Do they lick your tattoo?”

“You can do whatever you want with it,” he said.

I think we made love by candle-light until about six or seven in the morning. . . He was a generous lover, a great partner. . . there was nothing that he didn’t want to get into, experiment with.  I asked him to repeat “Wolverine”: I loved the way he said it with his vaguely Texan accent.  “Wolverine, Wolverine,” and sometimes before he had a change to finish coming out with that name I would stuff his mouth with my tongue: that way I literally ate the Wolverine.  Later, when I was getting hungry for a snack, I spread apple sauce and yoghurt over his body, over his genitals, and licked it off him. . .

When we talked in my bed a different H*** came out: he was not now trying to make a good impression.  He was just H***, and he turned out to be very adolescent.  Perhaps he was twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four and not the age he said he was.  He talked about a girlfriend he’d had for six months who’d cheated on him with his best friend.  He talked about masturbating four times a day sometimes thinking of getting fucked. . .It sounded to me like he’d gotten what he wanted from me and didn’t have to pretend anymore, or could at least let his hair down a little.  I began to be scared.  We were too far apart for this to work out, to last!!!

What was the “hangover” from this going to like?  Was this a wise thing to do?  Did I know enough about him?  Did I trust him?

As we were getting to sleep I took too much of the blanket on my side.  “Blanket-hogger!” he called me, pulling the blanket more to his side.

Blanket-hogger!

We slept and woke up about eleven.  I woke up in his arms!!! For the first time in over ten years I was waking up with someone.  I woke up on his big biceps and he woke up at exactly the same moment and looked at me with his big face and smile and we began making out and making love.  I woke up next to him and it was like magic, it was what made all the pain to come almost worth it.

I made us breakfast while he showered.  Sitting across from him at the table I saw a big scar on his left elbow and asked him about it.  “I fell off my bike when I was a kid.”

So “normal”!  A boy-boy!  A regular guy!  And he was in my house sharing my bed!!!

 

And we went to the concert.  Now, suddenly, he was Clark Kent again, as we drove–for once–in my car.  Outside my four walls he seemed to just deflate and be very silent and a little uncomfortable and serious.  We parked and went to the Music Center but he was quiet, very much a fish out of water.  If only I’d waited with sex a little longer (then of course the sex might not have happened at all!)  This wasn’t really his world.  This wasn’t his world at all.  They played the Verdi Requiem and I couldn’t wait till it was over.  He was next to me in those good seats and we shared the opera glasses but he was just being polite.  It was as if he’d shut down.  He did not even seem particularly attractive or beautiful.  He seemed very young and provincial and uncultured but very sexy and youthful, too, very much the kind of person I might have become. At some point as the music was playing I wanted our legs to touch, but he withdrew his leg. . . and now the enormity of my decision became apparent to me.

We drove home and I asked him about what he’d told me once about being obese as a youngster.  “Is that how you still see yourself?” I asked him.  “The way you were when you were twelve?”

He told me it was true.  He told me everyone had made fun of him for being overweight. He told me he was scarred.

We got home and sat on my sofa and it wasn’t long before we became involved again.  I reached into his pants and in the heat of passion his button came off and I apologized and he said it was no problem and we left the button there on the coffee table.  He’s a young guy just looking for sex was what flashed through my mind as we were getting involved again there in the living room.  I don’t know if anyone can understand this but it seemed too good and too sexual to really be lasting thing.  So this is it; this is what it’s really all about.  Those dinners, that trip to the museum. . . they were just the polite build-up to this. . .

I wanted to take a shower, since I hadn’t taken one earlier.  “No!” he said.  “Don’t take a shower! Don’t!”

We were at it for hours again and both of us came often and then around nine he said, rather suddenly “I have to go pretty soon. . . I have a ten-page research paper to write for tomorrow.”

(He was going home and write a ten-page research paper now???)

So now the beginning was over.  We were at the middle now.

It took us a long time to drag ourselves out of bed.  “I want to invite you to dinner,” he said. “What day is good?”

“Friday,” I said.

We got dressed.  I hated to see him get dressed.  I hated to see him go.  I couldn’t be sure–in spite of his invitation to dinner–whether I would ever see him again.  We kissed and kissed by his car in my car port (where he’d left it for the night) and he put on his glasses and I opened the gate for him, but the very last thing I said to him was “Drive carefully” and he just nodded and was suddenly distant, suddenly very Clark Kent, and my heart sank.  Would I see him again?  Didn’t he know how to say good-bye properly?  Didn’t he know that very last interaction, that very last second,  mattered a great deal?  I’d said “Drive carefully” and he’d just nodded rather coldly and then drove away. . .

I walked around the block once or twice. . . I went to the 7-Eleven for some yoghurt.  I saw the Vietnamese guy who cleaned the laundromat next to the 7-Eleven and, like H***, he had big arms and I thought, This thing is mostly sexual.  That’s what it’s all about, really.  I’d gotten what I wanted and didn’t have a good feeling about it.  It had been like eating junk food. And yet It ain’t good unless it’s nasty. 

Would I ever see him again?

The next day at around five in the afternoon I called him and left a message saying I’d had a good time and was looking forward to seeing him Friday.

Now, he’d finally gotten from me what he wanted: sex.  It was my turn to try to get from him what I wanted: love, romance.

The hours went by. . . I went jogging, I worked out. . .he didn’t return my call.

I called around ten.  I got his voicemail again. . .Was he going to call me or was it all over?  The waiting, the waiting, the terrible waiting!!! At ten-thirty I called once again and this time I got him.  “I’m just getting home now.  I was at the gym,” he said.  “I was going to call you when I got home. . . I was up till two-thirty last night writing my paper. . .”

“Why,” I asked him, “were you up so late last night when the paper wasn’t due until Tuesday?”

I don’t remember how he answered that question.

“And what was it on?”

 

“Oh, standard Elizabethan writers. . .”

I didn’t ask who.  “I’d love to read it!”

I believe it was NOW that I was having my first suspicions.  How can anyone write a ten-page research paper in just four hours?  Why would he stay up so late on Sunday to do it and then spend so many hours in the gym the next day when it wasn’t due until Tuesday?  Why was he unable to give me a more detailed answer about what he’d supposedly written?

Talking to him on the phone, there already appeared to be a slight shift.  He sounded very confident, like someone who’d gotten what he wanted and was now more or less ready to move on to the next person. . . Well, perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, but there was a subtle shift for sure.  He was going about his business at home as he was talking to me, and seemed happy enough to hear from me.  I asked him if Friday was still a good day for him, and he said it was.  “I’ll probably come over around nine. . .”

The next day was Tuesday.  On Wednesday I came home from group and there it was: 00 on my machine.  No messages.  I think I had a panic attack.  So he’d gotten what he’d wanted from me, he’d gotten laid, and now that was it.  There was going to be no dinner.  I pictured him in his house in Claremont and at his job in Seal Beach.  I pictured him “at school” doing his classes at the University of La Verne.  That first day I’d met him I asked him about different writers and he appeared to know very little about literature. . . He’d been very good in bed and yet claimed to have had only three partners in his whole life. . .He’d supposedly been in a 4 ½ year relationship but how did that fit in with being so closeted?

The next day was Thursday and I went to see Rigoletto with Elizabeth and I called him around four in the afternoon saying I was looking forward to seeing him.  By seven he still hadn’t returned my call and so, from Otto’s at the opera I called him again and he said he’d gotten my message and was sitting in his car “on his break” and had been planning to call me “during his second break.”  He sounded friendly and enthusiastic; it was a bit hard to hear him with all the people walking and talking around me and sometimes I had to motion to them to please be a little quieter.  I asked him once, or more than once, if he was sure he still wanted to get together the next day, and he seemed puzzled by this–and I was afraid I’d made a bad impression and so I said, “Well, you know, I’m a little rusty with this dating thing, it’s been a while since I’ve dated,” and he appeared to understand, but then he said “I’m not sure if I can spend the night. . .”

When the next day came I was nervous and unhappy and not at all sure if I was ever going to see him again, but he did show up, and when he got to my place everything was fine, he was charming as usual, and I was completely reassured.  Why had I doubted him?  We   went to the ABC restaurant and he was in a good mood and I was happy and we had a good conversation and I had the distinct impression that he was infatuated with me–at least that was how he came across.  Then, during sex that night, I almost didn’t want him, since I was so sure of his liking of me.   He almost seemed unattractive and boring and I licked his body only half-heartedly. Can I only like those who are distant and unavailable?  He seemed completely available to me then, interested, eager, even in love perhaps.  He said all the right things.  And he ended up spending the night after all.  It was delicious spending the night with him again.

But the dreams I had were not as sweet as the first time he’d spent the night.  I dreamed I was being encircled by a pack of pit bulls. . .

We made love again the next morning and his arms were full of hickeys.  I walked down to his car with him and he seemed very Clark Kent, very shut-down as soon as we got into the street, though the street was empty. . . It was a hot day and he changed into his tank top so that was the last view I had of him:  in his tank top, and he was very young and strong and athletic to look at.  “I’ll call you,” he said in a very male way. . .

And then it was like falling from Mt. Everest to the darkest valley.  He was gone.  Would I see him again.  How would I spend my time away from him?  Was he a boyfriend or someone I was just sleeping with?

 

I was uneasy, I was excited by him but not genuinely happy.  I wanted to spend every minute of every day with him and yet he, in his day-to-day life, had gone on pretty much “business as usual.”  Was that a good sign?  Was I the crazy one?  Or, since he’d gotten what he wanted, had he cooled towards me?  And yet the dinner Friday had gone so well.

The next time he phoned me–he was the one who usually did the calling–we talked about the book White Noise and I was a bit critical about it and this made him laugh.  We had a good conversation and he suggested getting together Thursday and I said Thursday was fine but inside me I began to worry: Why Thursday?  Why not the weekend?  What does he have planned for the weekend?  Why doesn’t he want to see me on Friday when we can have more time together…

I think I was almost normal for a few days.  I was preoccupied with him but not obsessed, my eating and sleeping were normal.  Thursday came, nine o’clock came, and I got a call from him.  “I”m on the freeway,” he said.  “I’m gonna have to cancel tonight.  I’m too tired.”

“Oh,” I said, “I was really looking forward to seeing you–”

“I’m sorry!”

He did not sound as if he was in his car.  He sounded as if he was in a room.

And there and then I knew that something was wrong, something was very wrong, I knew instinctively that he wasn’t getting a master’s degree and that our relationship was not going to last.  There is something about canceling that tells you someone is not that interested.  He’d gotten what he wanted from me.

“I was thinking what about tomorrow night,” he said.

“Yeah, that would be fine. . .”

He was sullen and very moody.  He mentioned running into some high school friends the other night in a restaurant–

“Oh?” I said, “what night was that?”

“Tuesday.”

But Tuesday night you’re in class–unless of course it was a very late dinner?  But you being so American and living in Claremont and it being a Tuesday how could it have been a nine-o’clock dinner?  How COULD it have been?  This whole thing with getting a degree?  Are you really 100% who you say you are?

I didn’t say any of those things, I didn’t think them either, in the way I’ve written them.  We were cut off.  From the beginning were always being cut off on his cell phone.  He didn’t call back.  I waited and waited.  Finally I began to make dinner.  Then he called.  He was still very sullen and tired-sounding and he confirmed that he was indeed a very moody person. . .So we arranged he would come over the next evening around eight.

I called trusted friends.  No one seemed to think there was anything amiss just because he canceled and did a “renegotiation.”   But of course they hadn’t heard his voice.

The next evening I was very nervous.  I was unsure I would ever see him again and I couldn’t even listen to music.  Eight o’clock came and he didn’t show up.  Eight-fifteen.  Eight-thirty.  Nine. Still nothing.  So this was the end after all. Why had it ended?  I began to think of reasons.

After nine I called him up and he was there!!! He said he’d gone for drinks with some people from work and was running late.  So I’d had nothing to worry about after all!  H*** was still in my life! I felt so lucky and so happy.

He got to my place about 15 minutes later.  It was St. Patrick’s Day and he wore a bright green t-shirt and shorts that showed his tattoo and he brought with him a six-pack of Corona Extra. I’ll never forget the way he looked as I opened the door.  So there was no need to worry.  He was there.  He was mine.  In his presence, I always felt so reassured.

 

I drank beer for the first time in over a year.  He invited me to see “Cymbaline” with him when it opened–in May.   He said it was going to be done by a Northern California theater company that sent him information about performances.There was no need for me to worry at all! That was our most poignant time, because the night before he had showed his other self–moody, losing interest, lying–and I believed that it would just be a matter of time until that other self resurfaced, but resurfaced for good, and he wouldn’t be coming over anymore.  I think I’d lived too much not be suspicious of him.

We drank–we each had one beer–and he was sweet and very young on the couch next to me and then we made out.  I suggested ordering pizza and we did–he called.  And as we waited we got more and more involved. “They might interrupt us with the pizza,” I said, but it didn’t matter.  I was a little drunk, and he was very sexy and eager for sex. . .Then we went into my bedroom and we were getting more and more involved and then the doorbell rang and he got up and paid for the pizza and then came back and took off his shirt and fucked me and afterwards he said, “After we eat I want to fuck you some more. . .” And then he said, “Do you think we’ll still be going out in May or will you be bored with me by then?”

“Maybe,” I said, “you’re talking about yourself.  “Maybe you’ll be bored with me. . .”

“No,” he said.

We ate and he was very sexy at the table there with me.  We listened to Joan Manel Serrat on the couch and he said, “I want to enjoy this moment. . .”

That was over three months ago.  Three months!  A whole season!

Can sexual relationships last?

We slept and when we woke up in the morning it was time for Dave to come over.  “Do you want me to leave?” H*** asked me and I said of course not.

That morning–it was our best time!!!  Dave and H*** met–for the first and last time in their lives!!! Mozart was playing and I went to the 7-Eleven to get cash to pay Dave, plus some supplies.  When I got back the music was still playing and Dave was cleaning the bathroom and H*** was on my loveseat reading the New York Times Book Review.  It was such a nice domestic scene.  Then H*** and I left for brunch.  On the way he said he could smell skunk. . .We went to Wild Thyme, where we’d gone on the first day.  We had a delightful brunch and we talked about death.  Thursday night on the phone H*** had said he was obsessed with death and so now I loaned him a copy of The Death of Ivan Ilyich.  I even offered to read it out loud to him!  “That’s sweet of you,”–he was always saying that: “That’s sweet of you.”  He was always saying nice things, the things he probably thought I wanted to hear.  We drove back and as he dropped me off he said good-bye.  “Oh?” I said.  “You’re leaving?  You’re not coming up to see how the place looks clean?”  And of course he wanted to come up and we sat on the couch and he said, “I don’t know what I’m going to say to my father when I see him.”  That was a big deal, and he’d talked about it often.  At the end of April his older brother was going to be getting married in Houston and H*** hadn’t seen him since he abandoned the family when he was five or six years old.  We talked about his tattoo–that always seemed to come up.  It was never far from my mind. He told me that before the wedding in Texas he wanted to get another one. I was looking forward to this new tattoo–I was excited by the idea of my man with a new tattoo.    We sat on the couch and soon got sexual again and we both undressed and did it right there on the couch and I came all over his chest–we came together–it was great.  I’d had a lot of sex the night before and looking up at him at one point as he loomed above me his face looked a little fat and unattractive and his torso looked big and shapeless, and as at other times, I thought he was not that good-looking, not beautiful.  We looked through a photograph album I’d put together recently, and he was impressed with the way I’d looked at 25.  I watched him look at the picture. I couldn’t believe how he looked at it!  He seemed completely infatuated.  I knew he had plans for the rest of the day–haircut, gym, a party.

I was excluded, really, from his life.  Why couldn’t he have asked me to do something that night instead of going to a party he didn’t really want to go to?  It was our best time, but. . . in a sense, this kind of relationship wasn’t really what I had in mind.  And the gym!  It was always so important!

I was in love with him.

 

Around three o’clock he very abruptly got into his clothes and gave me a kiss and left–and I was left to my own devices.  I had a good sex partner–I didn’t have a boyfriend.

I want to record every detail!  Every last detail.  Because I know now that no one will ever read this except me.  This is purely for me.  It records events that could be of no interest to anyone but me.  Why are they so important?  Why does each detail have such compelling importance to me?  Well, he was climax so to speak of my internet dating experience. . .

And it was the first time in over 10 years that I was sleeping in the same bed with someone.  It was the first time in 14 years that I was dating someone. . . I felt he was too good for me.  Someone else would snatch him up.  I felt my attraction to him was based on his unavailability, his distance. And if he didn’t have those “distant” qualities I would not be interested.  Can I be interested in someone appropriate who loves me?  Or is it not in my nature?

We saw each other a couple of times in the next week.  Both times were very good sexually for me, and for him.  The following Saturday he called me first thing in the morning!  Yes, he was infatuated with me, but why didn’t that take away from my anxiety?  On the surface things were going well, but I felt he was not completely real, not completely who he said he was.

That morning he left a message saying he’d called at midnight and hadn’t left a message that time and just wanted to say hello.  “Give me a call. . .” I loved those words.  “Give me a call. . .”

Of course!  Of course I’ll give you a call!  I love you!  But I never said that.  I never used that word.  All day–in spite of his call–I felt so much anxiety and that evening when he came over he looked, for the first time, plain.  He hadn’t showered or shaved and he had hairs in his nose and his face wasn’t pretty.  He lay next to me on the bed before we went out to dinner and he gave me a massage and we listened to Tchaikovsky.

We had seen each other in the middle of the week and I’d given him a massage that time and said “I love your body” and now as he massaged me he said the same thing but there was something mechanical and artificial about it, as if he was trying to imitate what he thought was my artificiality.  Since the beginning of our friendship he’d been bothered by my complimenting and flattering him all the time and had asked me to “cut down.”  Now I understand.  In many ways, he was very fake and said fake things, and assumed other people when they “flattered” him were being fake, too, and this bothered him.   I guess it didn’t occur to him that I could be for real.

His massage felt very good, and then the music was over and we went to The Tea Station in Alhambra.  Nothing about that evening told me that this was going to be our last good time together.  We ate Chinese food at the restaurant and everyone around us was playing cards and I loved my time with him.   He told me about Kurt Cobain–it was comfortable, it was great being with him.  I talked about work.  I was talking with a peer. . . We went home and, as I’d done sometimes before, I called to register my car so I could leave it out in the street and he could bring his in to my place in the car port.  He had already taken off his shoes and socks by the time I called so when he and I went out he was barefoot and it turned me on.  There was a cat, a friendly cat, walking around and I asked him if he had any pets.  He said he didn’t but when he was little he’d had a dog named Lucky that had been run over by a car.

“I guess he wasn’t very lucky,” said H***, standing in his shorts barefoot there under the trees in front of my apartment.  I’ll l never forget that.

Upstairs we began to have sex and I tickled him and he laughed–how I loved it when he laughed like that but then he stopped and with a very serious expression he said, “I”m in serious fucking mood.”  I know I’ll never forget that.  Why can’t I forget?  Why do these tiny details still excite me and make me ponder?  What was sit about that sentence that excited me so much?  Was he objectifying me?  Was it he who was calling the shots in this relationship and was this reflected in this statement about HIS mood?   Was he just a good pornographer?

 

I remember on St. Patrick’s day he had told me why he liked Wolverine.  “I’m cunning, like Wolverine. . .” Yes, it was true.  He had a very cunning way with language. . .And perhaps his telling me he’d had only 3 partners in his whole life and telling me about that masters degree he was supposedly getting.  Cunning lies to gain his confidence.  A con artist.  I didn’t put it that way at the time, but that was he was.

The sex was great that night and the next morning we woke up around eleven and were at it again.  He kissed me and jerked me off and all the time I could smell the noticeable vinegary smell of his feet.  H*** did not have any particular smell, any characteristic smell, and wore no cologne, but his feet did smell acidy and as we kissed I could smell it and it was good.  The sex was getting better all the time, I thought, between us. . .Then he fucked me and he did it like a pro.  I was lying on my back thinking he’s been around much more than he says he has.  And then I wanted more so after he was done I kissed him and kissed him and came again and now I think this could have been a mistake: did it show I was liking him TOO much?

We took a shower together he was very affectionate.

The day before on the phone he’d said his mother was coming in from Las Vegas late in the afternoon and now he said he was meeting her at 1:30 at the Ontario Airport.  Always these stories that didn’t seem to hold together.  Like his being half-Latino.  His mother supposedly was Mexican but had learned Vietnamese perfectly.  She’d had a convenience store at one time and then was a financial analyst and now was a card dealer in Vegas.  Very strange!  And he didn’t speak one word of Spanish.  Was he ashamed of being Asian and had he created the persona of someone who was half-Latino just to be more interesting for me?

All these nagging doubts. . .

He ate cereal with me after our shower.

“I had a wonderful time with you,” he said.

WONDERFUL–Joe from Rosemead had used the same kind of slightly inflated language.  Watch out. . .

H***!  I want to drink from your OKness!!!!!

I had lunch with my father that day at the Cheesecake Factory in Beverly Hills.

I was so enthusiastic about this developing relationship that I told him about it.  “You don’t know where he lives?” my father said, shaking his head.  “You only have his cell phone number?  Is that healthy?”

“Healthy”–I funny word for him to use!!!

“But,” I said, “he has a beautiful new car and he usually treats me when we go out for dinner.”

“Oh!” said my father.  “Well, that’s all right then.”

But my heart was sinking.  I didn’t really think this was going to turn out so well for me, this thing with H***.

I had lunch with Elizabeth that Tuesday and I told her what was going on and she said she thought it sounded very good.  But she could hear my anxiety.  I said, “I think he could just disappear at any time.  I don’t really trust him.”

That day, as soon as I got home, the phone rang.  It was H***, calling from the office, calling just to say hello. We talked for about an hour.  I don’t remember who brought it up, but we talked about going on weekend trips together.  I told him I didn’t like going on trips by myself and I told him I thought Palm Springs was a depressing place to be alone.  “Maybe we could go there together,” he said, “ and you could have a different experience.”

He talked about taking a trip to San Francisco the weekend after next. . .

I told him about some of my ESL students.  I mentioned one woman, Hortensia, who was only eight years older than I who was a grandmother already and who came across as an old old woman.  He laughed.  “You’re talking about your future mother-in-law!” he said, and I didn’t know what to make of that.  Future mother-in-law.  He was talking about marriage.  I was happy.

 

We spoke for an hour, and he typed at the computer part of them.  It felt good, talking to H***. I mentioned going to the New Beverly Cinema with him on Friday.  I told him I’d call him to tell him what was playing.  Finally I was the one (as usual) who brought the conversation to an end. It was about time for him to leave the office anyway.  “Bye,” I said.

“Goodbye.”

There was something, though, chilling in way he said “goodbye.”  Nobody uses that word as a real way of saying goodbye.  We say bye or talk to you soon or bye-bye–but “goodbye”? In spite of that good conversation, I was now unsure of the future. . .

I did call the New Beverly Cinema on Thursday night to find out about movies.  Then I called him and left a message with that information.  On Friday morning I got home from work and there was now a message from him on my machine:

“Hello Alex, I apologize for not getting back to you last night.  I was tired and went to bed early.  About tonight, I won’t be able to make it.  A lot has occurred, and I want some time to myself to reflect.  It’s regretful to have to tell you this.  I wanna see you some time soon, but I want to use this weekend wisely and get things done. . .”

I walked around the room.

“There’s nothing I can do!  Nothing I can do about it!”

 

 

 

 

I went to bed and screamed and thrashed around and I thought the neighbors would call the police.  And yet I wasn’t really surprised by what had happened, disappointed yes, but not really surprised.  I called him back and left a lightweight message saying I understood and was sorry and would try to contact him later in the day.

That night we did talk, and he was the same as usual but a little more distant.  “We’ve been seeing each other every weekend for seven weeks. . .”  As usual, an exaggeration.  “And that’s a little fast.”

A little fast. . . .

A little fast. . .

And then I knew, as I’d known earlier in the day, that it was over between us.

We made a lot of small talk.  I was calling him from the street and there was a lot of noise.  I didn’t catch some of the things he said.  Now, I don’t think it was a good idea to call him from the street.  I missed some important things he might have said, things that might have helped me understand why he was pulling back.  I said we could get together some time next week, and seemed open to that: “Yes, definitely next week, before I go to San Francisco.”

I spent several days in bed.

 

 

 

 

One day I got on the computer and found out the University of La Verne, where he was supposedly getting his “masters” in “English literature,” did not even offer a graduate program in English.

I knew it was the end.

I tried to understand why.

I had become, I knew, addicted to him.  This relationship had been compulsive, fairly unhealthy from the start.

I dreamed there was a dark room and a man in a chair and he was opening a door and leaving me.  It was all over.  I could hardly sleep.

NOW I HAVE LOST A LOT OF WHAT I HAVE WRITTEN, AND I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY.  I will write it more elegantly the second time around.

 

I phoned him the following Tuesday after spending several days in bed.  He was now fairly distant, cold. I phoned him at work.  He talked about moving to San Francisco.  I asked him if he still wanted to go on dating.  He said yes, but he said he could understand why I would think he didn’t want to date anymore.  We arranged to see each other the following day, a Wednesday.

As usual, he came over late, after the gym, at about nine-thirty.  “Haven’t seen you in a long time!” he said.  “Don’t I get a kiss?”

I asked him about what had gone wrong that weekend and he told me he’d just wanted to be alone, to have some time to himself.  I was honest about my concerns.  I told him it bothered me a little that he was in the closet, completely in the closet, and that I would never see what his house looked like, what his room looked like.  “I have a Bob Marley poster on my wall,” he said.

Ah!   A Bob Marley poster on his wall. . .

I said I felt a little like a kept woman, someone on the side, someone not really a part of his life, but I tried to “offset” the “bad impression” this honest statements might have made by telling him how attracted I was to him, how much I liked him.  He said he was flattered, and he wanted to kiss.  Things seemed, in a way, back to normal.  He did not seem THAT handsome to me now, or THAT beautiful; he seemed a little short to me.

He told me about his plans to move to SF.  He wanted to teach English or teach business.

Teach English?  Teach business?  How was he going to find that kind of work in the city everybody wanted to live in?  What qualifications did he have for teaching those things? Did he think I was stupid?  And how did this gel with his oft-repeated idea of becoming a millionaire and retiring at 40?

Or was all this talk of moving to San Francisco just a very subtle way of trying to distance himself from me and discourage me?

We ate in the Go-Go Cafe and it seemed okay and normal some of the time, and yet different and cold at other times; he had an “edge” to him, as if he didn’t really want to be there, as if he was just doing charity work.

We got sexual when we got back to my place, right in the middle of the living room, and it seemed very good for both of us. Then we kissed on my bed and I lay there on top of him and he said, “You’re beautiful!” He  wanted me to fuck him and I got the condom and tried but then he was resistant and suddenly said, “I”m not in a very sexual mood.”

Not in a sexual mood? What kind of game was he playing with me?

Was he from Mars?  Was I from Venus?  Was it possible for me to have a sexual relationship with anyone?

“You don’t like me,” I said.

I shouldn’t have said that, but it could have been worse.  I could have said, “You don’t like me anymore,” or “You’re bored with me.” That would have been more to the point.  What I said, though, was damaging enough.

We did finish and both of us came and I sniffed and licked the soles of his feet.  A couple of days later, in Laguna Beach, I smelled the flowers by my lonely hotel, and they smelled just like the soles of his feet.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t in the mood,” he said after we finished.

He was apologizing a lot now in the final phase of our friendship.  He had apologized the other night for not wanting to see me, he had apologized the day before for never reading that short story by Tolstoy.  An “English major” who couldn’t read one simple story about a topic that interested him (death), an English major who never talked about literature except Don Delillo and American Psycho.

H*** was, in fact, a kind of American psycho.

His face was tired as he talked to me that night.  I was eating a snack on the side of the bed.  His face was very broad, very round, very Asian, no hint of “Mexican.”

 

He slept.  I couldn’t sleep but lay out on the sofa and listened to music.  I wanted to have a look in his wallet which was right there on the coffee table, to verify if some of the things he’d told me were true.  For instance, whether he really was enrolled in any program, or whether his age was really 27.  Maybe it was 23 or 24.  Or I could have found his address.  Now, I’m glad I didn’t have a look in there, though it would have satisfied me in some way.

Towards morning he talked in his sleep as I moved in the bed, watching him:

“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?”

What the fuck was going on?  Good question.  Very good question.

He was really my type.  The type of guy who would swear in his sleep.  What the fuck is going on…………….

When he got up around six he was cheerful and flirtatious and friendly and he didn’t put on his shoes and socks because he was going home to change for work anyway.  And he said he was going to get a coffee in the 7-Eleven.  We said goodbye.

I never saw him again.

 

 

 

 

I spent a few lonely days in Laguna Beach.

I did call him one more time, almost a week later,  and he told me about his trip to San Francisco and how excited he was about moving there.

“I’d hate to lose you as a friend,” he said to me.

Well, that’s pretty clear, but he also said things like.  “I’d be very hurt if you didn’t want to see me again” and “I’ll finally read that book by the next time I see you” and “Do you think we’ll go on seeing each other after I move to SF?” Always mixed messages, now in the last phase, in the epilogue phase, of our friendship.

I told him, now for the first time, honestly about how I felt.  “I’ve been honest about who I am, you come here and see my photograph album, for example, you know who I am, but just as you conceal your real sexual orientation form your friends and family, so you conceal from me who you really are. . .”

Well, I guess after taking his inventory, “abusing” him like that, I couldn’t have expected him to want to see me again.

We talked about getting together that Friday in “West Hollywood,” I said, “we could go to a bar together.  You did say you wanted to do that.”

“We’ll play it by ear…”

He’d never used that expression before.

Neither of us talked before that Friday and then Saturday and Sunday went by and I knew it was over.  In Santa Barbara I chose a grave from a distance and approached it.  That grave would be his and I was going to say good-bye to him.  The name on this grave turned out to be  Darlings.  It was under a tree.  It was a pretty grave.  I scattered flowers and said, “Let go.  It’s over.  Go in peace.”

I thought there was still a chance I would hear from him again and so I waited a few more days and then, ten days after our conversation, I called him. It was late on a Friday night.  He hung up on me.  Then I just got his voicemail.  I said:

 

THIS IS ALEX I GUESS I CALLED JUST TO SAY GOODBYE I GUESS WE’RE NOT DATING ANYMORE I JUST WANTED TO SAY GOODBYE YOU STILL HAVE TWO BOOKS OF MINE I WANT YOU TO HOLD ON TO THEM, LOOK AFTER THEM FOR ME. I’ll UNDERSTAND IF YOU DON’T WANT TO CALL ME BACK…IF YOU GO TO SAN FRANCISCO, GOOD LUCK THERE. . . WELL, ANYWAY. . . GOODBYE…

 

I didn’t expect a response to this, and none came.

 

Sometimes I think, that last time he came over, if I hadn’t made some Sleepytime tea before we went to the restaurant then he would still be mine.  If I hadn’t made that tea he wouldn’t have gotten tired.  If he hadn’t gotten tired he wouldn’t have said “Im not in the mood” and I wouldn’t have come out with that negative comment “You don’t like me.”  And yet I know that is all nonsense.  It’s like not being able to see the forest for the trees.  The further away I get from that relationship, the more I realize its not lasting had nothing to do with making him or not making him a cup of  Sleepytime tea.

But that is where I go: If I had done such-and-such.  If only…And it’s all my fault… The only thing I did wrong was choosing him, and yet even that I don’t regret…

`           I don’t know.  It’s been over two months now since I last saw him.  Two months!

Someone called H*** Manh Truong was in my life for a while and is now gone.

Someone was there and is now gone. We knew each other for five and a half weeks.  That’s it.  We never signed any contract.  Kisses are not contracts.  I know.  I understand.  My misgivings about him were justified from the start. From the beginning, we were not really moving in the same direction.

I really do think all this has gone on much too long.  It is the MIDDLE of June and still I think about him so much, about our showers together, about sex together.  I play Sunset from the Grand Canyon Suite and I remember that first lunch in the Wild Thyme restaurant.  All the joy and potential and excitement of that time, and now I am almost forty and will that happen for me again?  What have I learned?  Can I have a relationship that isn’t obsessive, in which I maintain an identity?

Sometimes I think I need a 12-step program in which promiscuity is okay but dating absolutely taboo…

I want to finish writing this pretty soon.  Time has passed.  It is finally time to move on from the tyranny of that sexual fantasy.  He was a potent symbol for me.  The Americanness, the Ansianness, the youth, the muscles, the tattoo. . . I was always aware of that tattoo, of how he had defaced his body in such a masculine, fashionable way.  That Wolverine was h is true mate.  He’d be married to it forever, forever!  And it will  be a turn-on to all his ephemeral buddies.

I will never understand completely what went wrong.  Boredom, I guess.  We were too different.  He wasn’t really looking for a serious thing with me… I know that… We had our moments, though, there were loving moments.

I think that what I will miss most of all is the sound of your voice, H***, your young American voice, the way you talked in your sleep: THAT was honest; THAT was who you really were:

WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?

 

WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?

 

 

****************

 

It is morning and I’ve woken up after a good much-needed rest.  I’m having my tea.  I dreamed of my grandmother.  We are sitting at home and she is sitting in a huge armchair and my mother or my father, I forget who, is asking her what she wants to drink.  Then a young girl is asked to play the piano–she’s asked to play a request.  She goes to the piano and plays a virtuoso piece and I am impressed and envious.  Then we are walking in a wide open area, mostly concrete, in the middle of a city.  There are many birds of all kinds, mostly pigeons and seagulls, huge flocks of birds descending on us.  A black man hates these birds and grabs one or two of them and asks something like “What the fuck is going on with these birds?” and hurls them down on the grown where they limp away, wounded and unable to fly.  “You need a shrink!” I call to the man.  “You need someone to work on your issues with!”   He walks away and says nothing.

 

It is now the 17th of June and I still think about H*** all the time. I know this is unproductive.  After he was gone, the only thing I had left was a piercing he made in the water container on one of his last visits.  That small slit from a knife was all that was left of him!  Then I received the phone bill and saw all the times I’d called his number.  There it is on the phone bill: the only physical evidence that he and I ever knew each other.  That 909 number reads like a kind of poem to me, showing exactly all the dates and times we talked (but only the times I called him, not the times he called me of course).

Not even a button of his is left!  The first time we slept together one of his buttons popped off in the heat of passion.  I held on to it but a couple of days later, believing that he’d already had enough of me after that one time and wouldn’t want to see me again, I threw the button out. I just blew it out the bathroom window.  If I’d held on to it then it would be my one tangible souvenir of his body, like the silver button which is all that remains of Rumpelstiltskin after he vanishes into thin air.

Perhaps he felt tied down by me, as if he were being trapped.   I guess I as a person clashed too much with who he was.  And (outside bed) he clashed too much with who I am.

I think I realized this when I went into the bathroom once  as he was standing over the urinal.  He hadn’t raised the toilet seat.  There was something exciting and “low-class” about the way he was standing there, something rough and foreign and young.  Without being able to put into words I think I knew then and there that we were not really for each other.

I had the same feeling every time I felt his arms–they were too big, too strong! And I felt this every time I saw his tattoo.  And also when he came, the way he would say “I’m gonna come! I’m gonna come!”  or the young way he shut his eyes and grimaced as he ejaculated. What I’m trying to say is he seemed too much a fantasy kind of person, too much my sexual ideal, to be someone who would want to stick around for very long. Though he was not exactly a Playgirl centerfold person, he was like a very good hustler. When I saw his tattoo or felt his arms or watched him come or heard him say exciting but impersonal things like “I’m in a serious fucking mood!” or “Fuck my mouth!”  or “What the fuck is going on?”  my heart always sank and I would think:  This guy  belongs to the world, he does not belong to me, and sooner or later, probably sooner, he will be re-absorbed into the world.  This was why every time I he left I thought I would never see him again, and every time I was expecting him, I thought he might not show up.

I have written enough for today.  Perhaps there is nothing more to say about H*** and what he meant to me. . .

 

 

 

******************

 

But there is always more to say!

I still think of him when I wake up in the morning, when I go to bed at night.  I have no other sexual fantasies.  Since I have not been with anyone else lately, there are no fantasies to superimpose on him, no new fantasies to replenish the glass.  I especially think of the times on my sofa when I lay back and he sat on the floor making out with me and opening my fly and jerking me off–it is so powerful!  Or I think of him fucking me, saying, “I wanna fuck you some more after we eat!”  Or I hear him saying, “I’m in a serious fucking mood.”  Or I hear “Fuck my mouth. . .”

 

At times I want to do a search on the Internet: I might be able to find his address and the places he lived over the past five years.  But what good would that do me?  I will never be able to have his tongue in my mouth again–his tongue will never slide over my upper gums the way it did that day long ago in February when we were still getting acquainted.  I will never feel his arms or bite into his neck or dig with my fingers deep into his rectum and watch his face contorted with pleasure or pain.  I will never feel his hand on my genitals or his dick up my ass or watch him come all over me. I will never hear the voice on his voicemail with the message: “Hey you’ve reached H*** Truong…leave me a detailed message and I ‘ll get back to you. . .”  I will never lick his ass and ask him, “Does that feel good,” and never hear his voice saying “You’re great. . .” Years and years will go back and will never hear that voice again!!!

H***, where are you?

Who were you?

It’s the second half of June and the pain has lessened but I still think of you so often. . .

Is there such a thing as a sexual relationship without suffering?

For such a long time after you walked out of my life I was so hungry for your body! I hungered for the smell of the soles of your feet and I hungered for your tongue and the warm feeling of your anus as my fingers slipped through it and the way you laughed when I tickled you.           Is a sexual relationship possible?

What do I have to do to get it right?

 

 

********************

 

 

It is July now.  Mary read the foregoing and called the “paper”  “very good, remarkable, straightforward, and quite moving.”  And I was happy to hear her say that.  She also said, “It is clear H*** had the upper hand, and knew it.”  I went to bed and literally got off on those words.

Once, when he came over–it was a Wednesday night, I think–we were lying there after sex and I asked him, “What are you thinking about?”

He said, “I’m thinking about. . . going.”

At the time those words struck me as so cold and even cruel.  And yet they excited me.  “You don’t have to leave–you’re welcome to spend the night!”

And of course he did–that was what he preferred to do.  And I went downstairs to see if there was some space for him in the car port, so he wouldn’t leave his car out in the street overnight and get a ticket.  But there were no available spaces.  I was just wearing a t-shirt and shorts and it was still March and I got very very cold, and I ran back to my apartment shivering, I had the chills, and I wanted to put on his sweater.  He was already in bed.   “No!” he said.  “Don’t put that on!  I’ll keep you warm.”  And I jumped into bed and with him and his body was so warm and I rubbed all over it to get warm and I found he had a hard-on again and it was so good, his warm body.  Earlier that night, he had said, “You didn’t have to say ‘Dreamer’ in your ad, I could see in your eyes that you were a dreamer.”  And yet just a little while later I’d asked him what he was thinking and I got the response: “I’m thinking about. . .going.”  All those things together–the coldness and the cruelty mixed with the tenderness and sweetness.

He perhaps gave me precisely the experience I was looking for.

There were good moments.  I want to think about, emphasize, those now.

It’s July 2 now.  The day after tomorrow I’m going away on a long trip.

Early yesterday morning I had a dream.  I was talking with my Scottish friend who had come in the door.  He said, laughing, “I just got it on with H***!”

“No,” I said.

I ran.  I ran across freeways and highways and fields and I ran and couldn’t stop.

I woke up crying.

 

 

After Thirty-Eight Years, a Look Back at “Romance”

Jose Luis and me, 1986

Sometimes I ask myself, What went wrong? The question doesn’t come up too often anymore, especially in the last five years, a long period of relative serenity and freedom from obsession.  But the other day, with my guard down and me actually feeling nostalgic for a bit of intrigue and excitement, I had a long chat with someone on a dating/hookup site, CVsouthland a.k.a Caleb. It was a moment of spring, a moment of potential and hope…

For about an hour or two afterwards it felt like a refreshing change of pace, a bit of frisson that’s been lacking for so many years. I was once again experiencing something like that special thing most people live for, most people want. But then those pleasant feelings evaporated and I remembered what I am.

I had my first encounter in my dorm room at Columbia in New York back in 1980; it was with someone I’d met in a bar in Greenwich Village. Thirty-eight years ago now. In those thirty-eight years I’ve had many, many (very) casual partners (it would be impolite to state how many, but I have a rough idea). I’ve had only four relationships in these thirty-eight years. Even to call them “relationships” is a generous way of putting it; they were more like extended one-night stands, or affairlets. I’d say all four added up to about three-and-a-half months.  The third of those, with Jose Luis in 1986, resulted in me seeking therapy, and I’ve been in therapy in one form or another for the last thirty-two years.

My first therapist, a Freudian in Barcelona, thought it was helpful that I was taking a step back from all the insanity to just lie on her couch and analyze…and analyze and discuss and remember and ponder.  She said to me explicitly, “I don’t think you are looking for a real relationship.”  In some ways I think she understood me better than my later, American, male therapist who said, “Yes, I think you do want love” and “We grow through relationships: they are a classroom.”  Whereas her idea was that I’m looking for intrigue and sexual fantasy and an idealized version of myself that I can only find in me and not in others, the American therapist’s idea was that however painful relationships are, we grow and learn through them and come out knowing ourselves better. Also, he believed the more I dated, the more I would get desensitized and hardened to all the turmoil involved in man-to-man love. These therapists had very different backgrounds and perspectives and both are right about some things.

If I were much  younger than I am, I might still hold out hope of a lasting relationship, but since thirty-eight years have gone by and all four of my affairs were nasty, brutish and short, I wouldn’t go into any future endeavor with confidence that anything has changed. And I’ve always clung to the notion (I know it will sound simple-minded) that some people are meant to merge, and others aren’t. The ones who end up merging, I’ve always intuited, are looking for friendship and companionship more than anything else. The ones who don’t merge, and go from partner to partner, are living more in fantasy, and more than anything else are looking for excitement, intrigue, and drama; for them, the long-term marriage bed is a graveyard of dreams. During my time in group therapy and twelve-step groups, I constantly saw people who fell into one category or another.

But not to talk about them, and those people, but rather to make it more personal here: in the last day or so, when I asked myself what happened over all these thirty-eight years and why I had little trouble finding sex but a lot of trouble finding even short-term romance, I came up with the two characteristics of the ideal young man and, more importantly, the one characteristic in myself that made a relationship so challenging.

First the young man. He should have these two attributes: he needs to be very different from me; and he needs to give off an atmosphere of unavailability. Only then can I start to feel excitement. I was adopted by an older German-Jewish couple—Henry and Vera Frankel—who were uptight and so very different from the beautiful hip American people who parented most of my classmates in grade school. I was brought up wearing a bow-tie, carrying a briefcase to school, being bullied, being bad at sports, and so on. During my first days in junior high school, I saw near the edge of the schoolyard some boys who were maybe a year older than me, very pretty and tough, who were smoking cigarettes (they weren’t bullies, by the way). When I think back to them, I see the ideal. And it’s also clear that that kind of person would never be a good fit to spend the rest of my life with. I like opera; I read books. They listen to rock or rap and watch TV. And so on. I never liked the person that Henry and Vera Frankel brought up. I always preferred the young, sexy birth parents who gave me up for adoption. And by the time I did meet my birth parents in 1990 they were of course not young and sexy anymore, but they had some of the same characteristics I admired, especially my birth mother: coldness, nonchalance, unavailability…

All four of the young men I was involved with, and virtually all of my one-night stands and quick partners, were people much younger than me. It wasn’t just their age, though. They were masculine, tough, often working-class, and, even though they slept with me and were attracted to me, were incapable of returning any sentimental feelings. Well, I’ve known that for a long time, but a few years ago, when I saw someone’s profile on a dating site and read how much he wanted a nurturing partner in his life, I was suddenly and depressingly made aware that that’s the last thing I want. I don’t think I would have been able to come to this conclusion twenty or even ten years ago. I couldn’t have faced it. It’s a sorry state of affairs. Who’s the ideal? This guy—at least the fantasy of him:

So far I’ve been talking about the ideal youth. As awful as his attributes may sound, they would not be insurmountable barriers if it weren’t for the one characteristic in me that makes relationships hard. It’s not just the kind of people I choose. It’s the way I react to them inside me.

With all my partners, major and minor, after the moment I first met them I didn’t have a life anymore except to focus on them. I ate, I slept, I worked—but my mind was on one thing and one thing only. I lived for the moments I could spend with them. I sat by the phone waiting for them to call (not daring to make the call myself). I would lose weight, usually ten or twenty pounds. I couldn’t sleep. I would go out with friends or watch movies and not really pay attention to the friends or the movies.  From the moment “romance” began, depression also set in. And the depression could only be temporarily lifted if I was in the loved one’s presence. How many laundromats and hardware stores have I sat in or walked through and felt the impersonal ugliness of everything; how those places dragged me down because inside I was desperate for Him to reach out and lift me up.

Of course, this state of affairs couldn’t last. What really doomed the relationships was mostly not the fact that these people were so different from me or that they weren’t nurturing; it was that inside me the turmoil was so profound that, try as I might to conceal it, the young men had to have noticed—even unconsciously.  I didn’t act in a clinging way; I’d never say “I love you”; I tried to act nonchalant. But they always could pick up my desperation.  And who wants to be around that? They sensed the power they had over me. They got their fill of rubbing meat together and whatever else they were looking for, and then it was time to move on.

Here’s the number one characteristic of the love addict according to Pia Melody:

Love Addicts assign a disproportionate amount of time, attention, and “value above themselves” to the person to whom they are addicted, and this focus often has an obsessive quality about it.

And so…thirty-eight years have gone by since that first encounter in my dorm room. And thirty years of therapy and many of twelve-step work and group therapy. Maybe some would say that I’ve been lazy and I haven’t done the work. But I’ve seen from other people around me (in programs and groups) that I’m not the only stubborn one. I’ll say a controversial thing: it’s as hard to change your “type” and your “relationship style” as it is to change your orientation. You can grow; you can be more aware, more mature; you can give up destructive things like drink and drugs and overeating; but change whom you’re attracted to and how you feel inside whenever someone shows you a little attention? I doubt it. I guess I’m a kind of dry drunk. And my lack of relationships over the years has resulted in a lack of relationship (and dating) skills. A kind of stunted growth, you could call it. I know less about the give-and-take of real relationships than your average sixteen-year-old.

What went wrong with all those young men all those years? Freud talks about an id, an ego, and a superego in the mind; others talk about the self being divided between the gut, the heart, and the head, or the primal brain, the emotional brain, and the intellectual brain. There’s also the theory of the “operating ego” versus the “disowned self.” What happened all these years is that I responded to youths with just my lizard brain, with just a part of me, and they in turn just responded to me with their lizard brains. I heard this quote: “You pursue someone out of lust; you have affection for them out of romantic love; you bond with them out of desire for family.” I pursued out of lust which was, often, returned; then usually romantic love was ignited inside me but it was only met with lust on their side–but dying lust, lust that quickly shriveled up, and they moved on. But if they started to have romantic feelings for me, then my romantic excitement would fade. I needed them to be porn-star tough and jock-inaccessible. I’ve spent a lifetime looking for love from hustler types.

I should qualify the last sentence: Unlike a lot of love addicts, I haven’t madly flung myself from one train wreck to another. Because of my sensitivity, and the unlikelihood of extracting anything promising from my “type,” I’ve been content to be single most of my adult life. I’ve only slipped and fallen occasionally.

I came out at a time of the gay baths in New York City in 1980 when you could go to any one of several establishments and stay all night and have loads of partners. Those were also the days of the Mineshaft, the Anvil, Alex in Wonderland, and the great St. Marks Baths. They were like opium dens. I thought the late ‘70s and early ‘80s would be the rest of the future. They weren’t. Now the bathhouses are dying, and we have apps. Apps?!? In the old days, anonymous sex was great for love addicts:  there was less chance to get hooked/trapped. Now, with apps, you have to spend hours on your phone chatting people up and then inviting them to your home, going to theirs, or finding a motel. What times we live in. And this is the perfect storm for the love addict. Having a long cyber-talk plus an hour or two at my place is a recipe for a horrific obsession. I ought to know. It’s happened before:

I chatted with the great Chuy Barajas. Must be some years ago now. He was a swimmer and water polo player from South LA, and the next day we spent two hours together. Perfect “union” and then a shower and then good-bye; I watched him coldly walk away and wait to cross the street, never to be seen again.  A few days passed and I sensed I was in love—in “love” and in “loss” simultaneously. One of those nights I happened to watch Once Upon a Time in America and the harrowing theme by Ennio Morricone for pan-flute, chorus and orchestra became the anthem of my passion and my loss. I still cry every time I hear that music.

And what happened to CVsouthland, a.k.a. Caleb? I ran into him on the same dating/hookup site a week after our memorable chat. He remembered my name! But then after half an hour he drifted away from the conversation and was never heard from again. I was somewhat relieved, to be honest, and quietly went back to my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Memoriam – A Birth Family, 1990-2018

Frank & Marcia

Marcia and Frank during our reunion, 1990. They’re younger than I am now!

What began in the summer of 1990 with a search for my birth parents Marcia Cranston and Frank Verges; and continued at Christmas 1990 with our reunion in Southern California; and blossomed into their dating and marriage; and our time together in Spain and England in the early ’90s; and my subsequent big move from Barcelona to Los Angeles to be closer to them; and my gradual realization that Marcia was uncomfortable with me in her life—especially being just thirty miles away; and the eight-year silence between her and me; and the disintegration of their marriage even though they continued to live as roommates; and Marcia’s illness and death in early 2007; and Frank’s quick decline after that; and his being moved away to Davis by a daughter (my bio half-sister) anxious to inherit his estate; and his further retreat into senility over the next years…what began with so much hope and fanfare twenty-eight years ago came to an end, finally, when Frank died in a Davis hospital on the 12th of February, 2018. He was barely Frank anymore. I was still able to talk with him briefly on the phone and hear his voice. He never got to the point of not recognizing people. His daughter, the lovely Samantha, was with him the night he died. She’d made sure to call me only at the last minute, so there was no chance of seeing him alive.

For the first thirty years of life I didn’t know who I was. Then I found out. And for the next twenty-eight years my birth parents were, in some form, in my life. But we didn’t have enough time. There was so much to make up for, but the work was only half done. When Frank first made contact with me in September of 1990, there was so much excitement in his voice about my coming into his life. It was a characteristic in his family—to be excited and energetic about things but then not to completely follow through. In this case he did follow through up to a point. A reunion happened only a few months after that phone call. He was gregarious and impulsive and cultured and fun; Marcia, my birth mother, was reserved, severe, and unconvinced of the value of any of this reunion stuff. And she was poor. She’d just lost a house in Hawaii, a house on the beach. Frank offered her financial security, and that’s perhaps more than 50% of the reason they got married. The ceremony took place on a Hawaiian beach. These two people, who’d first had an affair in Iowa and Illinois in 1960 and hadn’t seen each other until the reunion in 1990, were now in love and hoped to build a life together. They were happy for a year or two, but only unhappiness followed. I now think he had Asperger’s or was somewhere on the autistic spectrum. As for her,  she was a sprightly but angry, uptight person. In Orange County she found a comfortable home and created a lovely rose garden. She had cats and read her mystery novels, but spent most of her nights sleeping in an RV.

When I moved to L.A. in ’95 I hoped that I’d see my birth parents every weekend. Marcia, I hoped, would cook meals and the three of us would go to Blockbuster and rent movies and sit in front of TV and watch all the old movies we’d missed. This  didn’t happen. They fought an awful lot. Marcia, even though she’d married my birth father, didn’t embrace me. Half a family had been recreated; the other half just sat there wilting.

So the years went by. My birth parents were miserable. Occasionally, I did see Frank. He and I got along well. But he always considered me rich. He had a very keen sense of who was “rich” and who was “poor.” He often complained that I boasted about my “rich” background (my adoptive family). Toward the end of his life we talked about how much he might leave me, and he said “just some small token amount, because you’re rich, right?” There was a will in which I was left $5,000 and his daughter everything else, but even $5,000 was considered too generous by his warm-hearted daughter,  and when his faculties were limited toward the end and Samantha got him isolated, the old will was torn up and every cent went to that lady, whom I barely know, that divorced lady in Davis who was never the least bit interested in getting to know a long-lost biological half-brother.

A. I am not married.
B. My children are:
Samantha B. Havens
Alex M. Frankel
C: I intentionally do not provide for Alex M. Frankel.

Now they are all gone. Adoptive parents. Biological parents.

Perhaps our best time was in the beginning, when I still lived in Spain. We were walking down the street in Sitges, near Barcelona, and discovered a store named “Verges” and excitedly took pictures of it. Then we went for a chicken dinner and it was ecstasy. We were happy! And another peak moment: London, a few months later. We were sitting in a pub and it was so gemütlich. That’s a word the Germans have that we don’t. Cozy and cheerful with high spirits and a sense of belonging. There were moments like that at the start. But after I moved to the States things were never the same. Ideally, Marcia should’ve stayed in Hawaii, and I would have gone to see her once in a great while, and things would’ve been fine. And Frank and I would’ve seen me once a month or once every few months and things would’ve been fine.

We just didn’t have enough time. I heard about Frank’s death over a month ago but it’s just hit me. So much could’ve been different and better. But that would’ve entailed Marcia and Frank being very different people from what they really were.

The worst feeling is to walk by his house. His house was sold after he was taken away. Whoever owns it now must be renting it out to students. Not a lot of love has gone into the place. It doesn’t look like a home. No garden. It’s as if no rose garden ever existed there.

I unearthed a video of Frank and me from 2009. Most of Frank was still intact. His dog Pookie is running around trying to get us to play with his ball. There’s string music in the background and I’m reciting a little bit of poetry by Dylan Thomas. Things are light-hearted. Things are gemütlich in a way they rarely were, but it was captured in this one video. See for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGYtH8Ygj30&t=13s.

What happened? It seemed we were just getting started. There was so much hope and promise in the beginning. Where are Marcia and Frank? I’d like to try again and get it right this time.

I could never quite believe, when I was in Frank’s presence, that I was in the presence of my biological father. The concept seemed too unreal. The same with Marcia. I couldn’t quite grasp that she was my mother but not my mother. Where are they now? We didn’t have enough time, the three of us. We could’ve used another twenty years.

I remember the end of Theodore Dreiser’s The Bulwark. After a funeral one character, sobbing, looks at another and says, “Oh, I am not crying for myself, or for Father—I am crying for life.”

Frank's ashes

Frank’s ashes are among the few gifts I ever got from him.

 

 

 

 

 

My Birth Father, 1936-2018

IMG_0855      Frank Verges, my birth father, died on Monday, February 12. He was living in a nursing home in Davis, in Northern California, near his daughter, my biological half-sister Samantha. The last six or seven years of his life he’d become cognitively impaired. The man who through most of his life had been so introverted and unresponsive became even more introverted and unresponsive in his last years.

I did what I could to help take care of him here in Southern California, up until 2013, when Samantha took over and escorted him—along with her generous inheritance—to a life of solitude and neglect  in her house and eventually in an institution. When that happened, I realized he was really gone. When that happened, I began the biggest project in my life, my memoir now called Fallen David. I got a dog, too. Both events were indirectly a result of his departure—and virtual death—in 2013. An era was over. I no longer had a birth father.

I first made contact with my birth father in 1990. I was 29. After the first phone calls and letters to and from him, Frank managed to track down my birth mother easily. Her name was Marcia. In 1990 both of them were divorced from other partners and living in different parts of the country. We had our reunion at the end of 1990, Christmastime. It was fun and strange and awkward. From the beginning, Marcia’s attitude toward me was, “Yes, I would like to see you again, why not?” And Frank’s attitude was, “I hope and pray we become loving friends!”

Not long after our reunion, the two of them began long-distance dating. They fell in love and got married. They lived together unhappily for fifteen years until her premature death in 2007. After that, Frank—a heavy smoker, drug-user, couch potato, and consumer of junk food—gradually went downhill. I remember the day of Marcia’s “celebration of life” event in their rose garden, months after her death. He made an appearance for some small part of it, but spent most of the time in bed watching C-Span and sports.

Whereas Marcia (even though she married Frank) never wanted much of a relationship with her long-lost love child, Frank appeared much more outgoing, open-minded, affectionate, and friendly. But that was true only up to a point. Compared to Marcia, anyone would appear affectionate and friendly. In reality, he had a habit of keeping people at arm’s length—and this included everyone. In fact the problem between him and Marcia was that he wanted to keep to himself most of the time, and was more interested in TV than in her. She noticed this, and didn’t like it. And friends of his noticed, and former wives and girlfriends, too. He once told me how he enraged women in his youth by his sullenness and indifference after sex was over.

And with me it was no different. Yes, we bonded. Yes, compared to Marcia, he was a caring, considerate birth father. But deep down the two weren’t so different. They were both very introverted, standoffish people. Whenever I saw Frank, he had a habit of cutting off our conversations abruptly, extending his hand, and declaring, “I am now going to bring this visit to an end.”

He once told me, “Of course I’d like to leave you a little something after I pass, but just a token amount—you come from a rich family.”

After my adoptive father died, Frank drove to the house in San Francisco and visited for a few days. “I’m doing you such a big favor, you have no idea!” he said. And he took me to task for grieving for my father so much. “I can’t sit here and listen to you whine about your predicament, I just can’t!” And so I had to apologize for grieving. The last day of that visit, I came home expecting to go out to dinner. His dog dropped a tennis ball out of its mouth in a playful gesture as I walked up the stairs. Frank himself stood in the kitchen. “No, I do NOT want to go out for dinner with you. I am tired and have a long drive ahead of me tomorrow. Good-night.” The next morning I woke up alone in the old house. It was my last day in the family house in San Francisco before it was to be staged and sold. And Frank was gone, unable to share the moment.

It seemed I always wanted to set up our relationship for a cozy fireside pow-wow, for a prolonged  tête-à-tête  surrounded by pets and tea things and autumnal colors and maybe some string music in the background. That was my fantasy. It never happened. He would appear, and just when things were getting friendly, he would disappear.

That day in 2007, when Frank disappeared on my birthday on my last day in the family house, I said to myself, I said in these words: When it’s his time to go, I will not grieve for him.

I am thinking about him a lot following his death on Monday. I haven’t cried. I am not grieving in any conventional sense. My birth parents were definitely and determinedly my biological parents. A relationship was established. Nothing like parent-child bonds were ever formed.

There was of course no funeral (they are expensive and he wasn’t religious). I will receive no ashes. I will probably never see the meagre $5,000 Frank set aside for me. The bio half-sister will try her best to cheat me out of even that.

And yet his presence over the last twenty-eight years enriched my life. He was a philosophy professor; I majored in philosophy a decade before I even knew of his existence. We could talk—especially back in the 1990s—and it was stimulating and exciting. If I hadn’t met my birth parents, I’m not sure I would ever have left Spain and returned to this country in the mid ’90s. He was cultured and smart and could on occasion be lively, and we had a good rapport. We are very much alike (—ha! I just wrote that in the present tense). My birth mother once said to me, “You and Frank are the two most negative people I’ve ever met.”

Frank Verges and I met twenty-eight years ago—a whole generation ago. He’s now gone. With him I probably had a better relationship than most people do who track down their birth parents and try to make up for what was lost.

In lieu of ashes, I will go to what was once his house in Fullerton, dig up some dirt in the front garden, and in a sort of ceremony scatter it in the sea somewhere near Catalina Island.

 

 

 

 

 

My Terrorist Friend, David (“John”) Dinsmore, Has Died

DavidDinsmorePic

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”
Mao Zedong

 

The other day I got word that my Scottish terrorist friend, David Dinsmore, who for a short time in the mid 1980s was my best friend in Spain and the world, had died of cancer and AIDS. He was 54. Last Friday they buried him in London.

We were roommates when we were both very young. Then he decided to live his dream and fly to Rio de Janeiro to look for love and adventure, which he found in spades.  Later on, in the ‘90s, he gave himself up to British authorities and—courtesy of the police—was flown back to the U.K., where he stood trial for terrorist activities and was acquitted. He lived the rest of his life without needing to work, thanks to the British welfare state. He didn’t need to work because he’d been diagnosed with AIDS following his exploits in Brazil. He lived in a comfortable “council flat” in London’s popular Camden Town. He had plenty of money and was free to travel the world. He still worshiped Stalin and Lenin and marched for Scottish freedom from the “English dogs” until the end.

In all my life I never knew a more complex  man. David was a kind, generous, fire-breathing atheist; he was a fine debater, angry and righteous, addicted to booze and young men, political to the core of his being, smart, violently working class, tall, gaunt, explosive and gregarious; I never knew anyone who loved people so much.  We stayed on good terms all these years even though an ocean and a continent separated us, and even though he was, for me, a relic of a much earlier time in my life (something I never told him).

We met in Madrid in a bar in early 1985. We often hung out together, and one day David mentioned that there was a room in his rooming house for another roommate. Since I was still living in a hotel and new to Madrid, I said yes, why not? So I moved into the rooming house owned by the faded Flamenco singer Tomás de Antequera, who had been a big star in Spain between the Civil War and the ‘70s but was now decrepit and half-blind. Antequera made my bed every day—imagine, a bed being made by a Flamenco singer! The distance to the bathroom was very far, so late at night I would often pee in a wine bottle and forget about it the next morning. Unfortunately Mr. Antequera, being almost blind, would stumble into the room the next morning and more than once knocked over my bottle and all its contents…

After we knew each other for a while, David made this confession to me: he had been imprisoned in Ireland for his illegal political activities in Scotland and had been awaiting trial (though I don’t think he ever killed anyone, he once tried to send some Englishman a bomb…); then he was let out on bail, jumped bail, and fled to Spain…He was living under an assumed name (“John Parks”) with a fake passport.  I looked at him and just said “Oh!”  I was such a dumb American boy.

What was our life like in Spain? Teaching English as a foreign language, going to bars and bathhouses, drinking, teaching, going out, drinking (he did more drinking than I did). We both loved Spanish youths. He hated Americans (except me). He hated Reagan. He hated Israel. He hated Fascists. But he loved people. He had an insatiable appetite for people, even when their politics was very different from, or opposed to, his own. David’s other best friends were an old Italian priest and an impoverished Spanish count.

We taught in a summer camp that first summer. The camp directors didn’t like our untidiness or David’s drinking or the way he belted out Scottish ballads and eyed some of the kiddos. As for me, I read Thomas Mann, while he drank with a slew of Irish girls. Then, once free from the camp, we traveled to Berlin. One day in West Berlin David woke up and told me he wanted to defect to East Germany. I offered to help him in this enterprise, since I speak German. We spent a whole night interrogated by the East German authorities, but they didn’t accept him, for whatever reason. All night I had visions of being imprisoned for the rest of my life. I had visions of President Reagan going on national TV to promise the world that I was going to be rescued. In the end nothing good or bad happened. The police returned us to the Free World and I drank a schnapps in one of West Berlin’s five hundred empty gay bars.

After the German escapade we lived together in Barcelona for over a year. He wasn’t happy. He was bored. He always compared Barcelona unfavorably with Madrid. It was too staid for him, too bourgeois and European and boring. He wanted adventure in South America. Late at night he would get very drunk, after he finished our dinner of haggis or paella. He would call me a Fascist. He would talk about Scottish independence. He would rant about Stalin’s correct world view. He hated Trotsky and loved Stalin and Lenin.

David felt sorry for street people and invited them to come and live with us. One of them was a Peruvian hairdresser with AIDS. We took the hairdresser to the hospital and once he was fully recovered he became a male prostitute in a “house of boys” under the aegis of a lady named Madame Clot. She promised the hairdresser they would make millions. I don’t know if they made millions, but the Peruvian seemed completely restored after half a year with us. He was very critical of the mess and dirt in our apartment. Then he bought a kitten, even though I’m allergic to cats. Finally he robbed us blind and fled to Castile and a life of picking mushrooms.

The longer David lived in Barcelona, the less he liked it. We didn’t get along. He drank a lot and called me Fascist and sometimes taxi drivers would deposit him at the front door of our building, and I had to carry him up five flights (we had no elevator). He kept dreaming of South America. When his Scottish parents came to visit him, I was amazed they didn’t look at all like him. “Can’t you guess why that is?” David asked.

“Were you adopted?” I asked.

“Of course!”

His biological father had been an American airman who impregnated a Scottish girl and then abandoned her. His adoptive parents were much older than his birth parents; they were short and quiet and conservative—everything he wasn’t.  Now I understood part of the reason David hated America.

And then one day, suddenly, he decided to relocate  to Rio de Janeiro. “You can find love in Rio,” he argued. “In Brazil they’re not just looking for sex. They’re looking for love. And it’s nothing like Barcelona! In Rio people dance while they’re waiting for the bus!”

And so he started making plans to leave. With my father’s help, I gave him two thousand dollars. He also lifted several grand from one of the language schools where he worked.  It was all right to steal from the rich, in his book. I saw him off at the airport, together with two other close friends of his. I wasn’t sorry to see him go, because he was a hard roommate and “teacher” to have, but I didn’t know what would happen to me in Spain without a friend.

The day after he left, I went to Sitges by the coast; I was alone. People chatted me up on the train, but by the time we got to the beach they made it very clear I wasn’t welcome in their party anymore. I spent the day in the sand alone. When I got home, I was completely and utterly alone, I broke down in tears—and a lady in the building across the street saw me from her balcony, and took pity on me.

Things got better. I lived for many years in that apartment on my own. In the beginning David and I talked a few times on the phone. He was enjoying life—boys galore, cocaine, buddies in the drug cartel, teaching, booze, loads of friends, even a lover for a while. He was becoming fluent in Brazilian Portuguese. And me? I moved on. I loved my apartment on the fifth floor of our building in the center of Barcelona on the Carrer de Casanova. David and I had painted the walls yellow and pink. I took over what had been his bedroom, with the French windows overlooking the noisy street and the ambulance sirens and the swallows that descended on the city in May and the potent smell of bread from the busy bakery downstairs. I didn’t miss him. I made new friends. I spent years in therapy. David was now part of the past, a quaint relic of an early and immature phase. Years passed and I assumed I’d never hear from him again.

I did hear from him again, of course, after seven years. He was back in London. He’d decided to leave Brazil and return home to Scotland, even though it meant possibly doing time in prison. He’d wanted to see his adoptive parents, who were getting old. He turned himself in and stood trial and was found not-guilty. This was good for him, but unfortunately around the same time I received an unpleasant phone call from the anti-terrorist branch of Scotland Yard (or some such organization) and my father in San Francisco received a visit from the FBI. Apparently David had given the authorities my name so that someone (I) could corroborate his (true) story that at one time he had been living in Spain. There wasn’t much I could help them with, but for a few nights I didn’t sleep…

And so—with good boundaries—we reinitiated our friendship in the ‘90s, but things were never the same. I visited London often, even after I’d moved back to the States. We got our ears pierced in Camden Town in 1997. He was very accepting of me changing my first name from “Marcel” to “Alex.” I told him about writing poetry and living in America and being in a program for sex addicts. He was mildly amused. We never fought at all. He never shouted at me or called me Fascist. That first visit to London in the mid ‘90s, he cried when we said good-bye at Paddington Station. This touched me, especially because I no longer felt the same closeness. And yet we were still in each other’s lives, and stayed that way until the end. But though he was now cured of cocaine addiction, his drinking was getting worse. I once took him to an AA meeting in London. He even shared about his drinking binges and everyone in that room was listening intently and nodding–“There but for the grace of God…”  But he never joined.

The last time I saw him was in the summer of 2008. He had met his birth family (partly due to my encouragement) but was now estranged from most of them. As always, his apartment in Camden was open to all sorts of folks who wanted his help, or were fleeing the police for immigration violations, or needed a space where they could go with their johns for an hour. David was very disturbed by the cockroach situation. They were abundant and alive and healthy on all the walls and ceilings, even beside my bed, where he’d also placed some good roach poison. Finally I moved into a hotel but didn’t tell him I was doing so. I doubt he noticed. He was standing in his living room alone, completely lost in his alcoholized haze. He was very far away. He just stood there and smiled. Many, many empty beer bottles littered the floor. The statuette of Lenin was as prominent as ever on his dusty shelf, along with books on the militant proletariat and the story of Che Guevara.

This was the last message he sent me, just a few weeks ago:

“Hi Alex, how are things going?” he wrote. “Unfortunately not too great here, since in May I have been told that my head and neck cancer has spread to my lungs and intestine. This time there isn’t much other than palliative (including chemo) that can be done. At that time they gave me up to a year (or at any time in between). Strangely it doesn’t seem to bother me too much! Though I’ve been in and out of hospital a few times since, right now I don’t feel too bad and no pain at all really. I hope to head off to Barcelona for a couple of weeks in October with a few friends, all things permitting….”

He never did make it to Barcelona.

I got word of his death by glancing at Facebook in a small town in Utah in the middle of watching The Good, the Bad and Ugly.

I looked at his pictures again. I hadn’t looked at them carefully. I hadn’t fully accepted how sick he was. How could anyone sound so lucid in a written message and yet be so sick? (He was always braver than I.) The next day I hiked around Zion National Park and thought about David “John” Dinsmore all day. My best friend in Spain for a while. Wild, loving, gentle, confused, insane, rowdy, and passionate about an independent socialist Scotland.  Someone once said of him that he’d make a good Christian. Even though I’m halfway around the world, I feel the loss acutely. I feel that someone who should be there is no longer there. He did not believe in heaven and hell. He always argued that we just stop being. Just stop. I don’t know where he is. I feel he will always be a part of me. For a short time in my life, I lived in the fast lane, lived among street people and beggars and hookers and counts, and my best friend was a Scottish terrorist.

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Wha's Like Us

 

 

The Decline and Fall (and Rise) of Walter January

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There is one loss that still hurts.

I made the journey back to New York City for a short stay. That’s where we’d known each other. I thought of Walter January day and night. What went wrong?  I had a stranger’s apartment all to myself, the kind of place Walt or I might have rented in the old days. As I lay on the couch, I looked over at the dining-room table, and I thought, Walt and I should be sitting there over food talking about our lives. What happened?

*

We met in front of the gates of Columbia, introduced by a mutual friend. I was twenty and dumb and extremely immature. Walt was four years older and a graduate student in philosophy, also my major. After that first day, we ran into each other from time to time, went for coffee, went to museums, went to hear Allen Ginsburg read Howl, went to the symphony; once we drove to West Point and Hyde Park. Walt was mild-mannered, sharp, heavily academic, homely in appearance, a Marxist and an atheist. He’d been raised in Ohio. I’m uncomfortable saying this but I need to: over the first couple of years and maybe all the years, he would’ve liked to be more than friends, but I never thought about him in that way.

He did not live in the fast lane, my Walt.

I was in denial about the nature of his feelings. I valued him as a friend. He was my first grownup friend. Both of us spoke German: I because my parents were German; he because he’d mastered it in school. He could read Kant, Hegel, and Marx in the original. Even though he wasn’t a show-off, he did confess to me how status-conscious he was, how he thirsted for fame and recognition. Of all the people I remember from the early ’80s, he was the gentlest, but… even so… at times I sensed another side of him:

  • As when my beloved dog died, and I cried and said to Walt, “You met him, didn’t you like him and wasn’t he the most adorable puppy you ever saw?” Walt answered this way: “Oh Alex, I don’t get attached to animals.”
  • As when I applied for Christmas work at Macy’s but failed the arithmetic test, and, distraught, I said to him, “How would you have felt?” He answered coolly, quietly, “I wouldn’t have failed.”

He appeared humble and unpretentious, but he was also young and therefore growing into the personage he’d later be. He was, like me, an adult in the making. He hadn’t reached his full Walterness.

*

In those days I was awkward. I was slim and blond. I imagined I’d always be twenty-two. New York City was a fine place to be that young. In those days there were still bathhouses where you could find ten or twenty studs a night. I semiconsciously understood how immature I was and knew one reason for this: it could keep me young; and if I was young, then I’d be desirable.  Walt, on the other hand, never went to a bathhouse in his life. He wanted a relationship, and then he found one, with a young architect from India who shared Walt’s ideas of a male couple making a life together.

Our friendship went on as before. I couldn’t imagine any day in the future we wouldn’t be in each other’s lives. I loved him as an older brother, and yet I always believed our friendship was at heart one-sided. I was the more interested party. I always wanted to hang on when we talked on the phone.  Even when I decided to leave New York for good and move to Spain, I imagined things would stay the same, despite the presence of an ocean between us.

*

After college I was just a proofreader in an accounting firm, and that couldn’t go on. It was too meaningless—“alienating” as Walt put it in his Marxist lingo.  I visited Spain in the fall of 1984. I decided to move there and teach English as a second language and find romance and passion, maybe.

It was Walt who saw me off at the airport. He said, “It looks like you don’t believe you’re leaving that much behind.”

“It’s true,” I replied.

Maybe it was hurtful of me to say that, but I didn’t believe in my life in New York. I was young enough to fantasize about a new life in a far-off country. Everything would be better in Spain, wouldn’t it? And perhaps I sensed that I wasn’t getting that much from Walt. There was such a formality to him. He was so staid and proper that one always had to set up an appointment with him days or weeks in advance.  And he wasn’t curious about my writing—unless I insisted that he read something and give me his opinion, which he’d consent to do if I bugged him enough.

Youth!

*

As soon as I settled in Spain, I started the work of idealizing our friendship. He always wrote back with his aerogrammes and always responded wisely and insightfully. From time to time I phoned him.

*

Walter January was the first person who told me I should try therapy. No, I’ll rephrase that: he told me I needed to be in therapy. Until I knew Walt, I’d always laughed at people who saw “shrinks.” But after I went through love and loss and melancholia and even thoughts of suicide in Spain, he wrote this to me:

I hope you do seriously look for a therapist in Barcelona and that when you start feeling better (as you’re certain to do), you don’t just drive the whole idea out of your mind. I have felt almost everything you describe, but is there something in you that makes you always pick men like José Luis? The answer is probably “yes,” but is that what you really want? You asked me if it’s possible to love and be excited by the same person, a question I cannot answer. Is it possible for you? Why or why not? I don’t think you can answer these questions yet. Taking ice-skating lessons is a great idea. It’s something fun and affirmative. Yet I doubt that it is a substitute for a prolonged, serious self-reflection (i.e. therapy).

Sincerely,

Walt

 

“Sincerely”? What close friend writes “sincerely”? And the academic style: “Why or why not?”

Walt and I had always thought of our friendship as one of mentor/mentee, though we never said so explicitly. I relied heavily on those who knew more than I. And he? What did he get out of our relationship? Was there a physical component I was—and still am—struggling to deny? Or better yet: the physical component we’d occasionally acknowledged was there, was that what kept him in a friendship with me—me, whose writing he wasn’t interested in, who had little grasp of philosophy (even though it was my major), who was very young and silly. “You’re so dumb” he’d said to me more than once.

As to the content of his letter, of course it was decisive. I started therapy and have been in therapy ever since.

In all my time with the analyst, Walter’s name didn’t come up, not once. Why would it? We had a long-distance friendship, a solid one. In therapy one tends not to dwell on the good relationships.

*

One day he wrote on one of his aerogrammes that he’d been hired “—by Harvard!”  I’ll never forget that well-positioned em-dash and that lofty name. He’d been accepted by The Castle, and I was glad for him.

At first things appeared to go on as before, but we lived on different sides of an ocean. I didn’t at first want to admit to myself that I saw changes in him.

His demeanor was different. He seemed very sure of himself. During one of my visits back to the States, I had dinner one night with him and his lover (they maintained a long-distance Boston/Manhattan relationship) and I noticed that, when we parted for the night, he didn’t say “bye”’ or “talk to you later” or “see you soon” but “good-night.” Maybe that doesn’t appear so strange on paper, but it was also his tone of voice. Businesslike. Aloof.

And from that time on it is possible that if I hadn’t kept writing to him three or four times a year, we wouldn’t have stayed in touch. No break-up. No quarrel. Just a natural ebbing over time. He was now a Harvard professor. Imagine all the doors that were opening for him! He was on a first-name basis with icons in his field.

 

When he spent half a year in Germany, I wrote him with dumb enthusiasm about going to visit him and received this response: “I’m afraid the dates you suggest for visiting Germany won’t work.” The letter said more but that’s the line I remember. Its unadorned coldness.

The next year I found out that while I’d been seeing family in the U.S., he’d gone on a trip with his lover—to Spain!

And then it happened that I visited him in Cambridge one summer. He’d offered to put me up in his apartment for a few nights.

He buzzed me into his building and I took the elevator up to his floor. His door was open and I walked in and shut it behind me. There was no Walt. I peered over into an adjacent room and saw him with his back to me, talking on the phone. He hadn’t just picked it up to say “Sorry I’ve got a guest.” No, he remained on the phone another ten or fifteen minutes before he emerged to greet me with a light hug.

We had a few days in Boston. Sometimes he appeared his old self, but what I most remember are the first few minutes of the visit: me sitting in his living room picking up one coffee table magazine after another, waiting for him to get off the phone. I tend to forget that he told me how unhappy he was, how unfulfilled in his relationship with the architect (who seemed the more interested party), how worried about his future at Harvard, how dissatisfied with Boston (too much “Middle America” in Boston).

I have this theory about Walt. He came from a working-class family in rural Ohio, but spent his life pursuing German culture and philosophy. He even spoke English—to my ear—with a German accent, almost the way I do. I think he hated his roots and did everything possible to run away from them—and even Cambridge, Massachusetts was not far enough, full of too much “Middle America.” If Harvard could’ve been uprooted and put in the middle of Manhattan, he would’ve been happy.

He told me about some of his students from just a few years earlier who’d already become hot-shot authors. “Does that bother you?” I asked him.

“It would,” he replied, with his old candor, “if I were not a Harvard professor.”

*

A committee approved Walt for Harvard tenure, “but it’s not a rubberstamp,” he said ominously as we sat in the Hungarian Pastry Shop on the Upper West Side, almost like the old days, a year later. “Not by any means. It’s up to the president now.”

Even though we lived thousands of miles apart, we no longer broke bread together whenever I visited New York. He would only allot me short sessions—a quick coffee, or a quick drink in the presence of other people. He did not laugh anymore. There wasn’t much spontaneity or fun in him—not that there ever had been, even in our heyday.

I didn’t feel at ease around him, this new and important Walter.

I was about to leave Barcelona after ten years and move to Los Angeles. Walt was horrified when he heard “Southern California.” He couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live in Stupid Country (as a character in The Buried Child calls it).

 

After our quick coffee, we walked toward Broadway and 116th Street, and I asked him where the subway was.

 

“You don’t even remember where the subway is!” Walt exclaimed. “You really are a stranger here.”

A stranger here…

After that day, I never heard from him again.

*

When I moved to “Stupid Country,” I sent him a postcard with my new address. I wrote a short letter at Christmas—still to his Harvard apartment. Then in the spring I sent him a birthday card and wrote “I hope we don’t get lost to each other forever.” I didn’t really expect a response, and none came. It would’ve been undignified to write any more letters. I promised myself I wouldn’t, and I’ve been as good as my word for the last twenty-two years.

*

My biological father, a philosophy professor, told me one day, “Guess what. Your friend didn’t get tenure!”
“But how do you know?”

“He’s working down at UC San Diego.”

 

San Diego? My backyard? I found out he’d been there for years…Then I used the Internet to discover he’d left “Stupid Country” and gone to work at Cornell. And some time after that I read he was back at Columbia in his beloved New York.

*

The other day I walked my dog and stood outside his home and looked up. He lives on the top floor of a fancy building on the corner of 109th and Broadway. He can walk to work. No commuter train or subway for Walter, at least not to get to work. I saw the janitor polish the railings in the elegant foyer. Walt’s done pretty well for a Marxist.

And then I walked on. I walked through the gates of Columbia and a girl came up to me smitten with my dog and practically begged me to let her pet him. I sat by the Alma Mater statue and enjoyed a very good view of a young man’s extremely athletic back. I walked by Tom’s Restaurant. I went to Riverside Drive and sat on a bench, the same bench where the old Walt and I had once talked about meaning in life.

*

I understand what the alternative to just vanishing would have looked like. He could have written to say—and couched it in nice language—that we’d outgrown each other. That I would’ve accepted and even respected.

There are many explanations for what happened, and I’ve thought of all of them. Not getting tenure at Harvard probably sent him into a crisis, and reaching out to me was not a priority. He needed to look good in front of me. He needed to stay on a pedestal. Now he wasn’t a Harvard professor anymore, but just regular professor who would have trouble with the successes of all his brilliant ex-students.

It’s also possible that his gradual withdrawal from me all through the early ‘90s had built up so much resentment in me that I’d occasionally let it show in snide remarks.

It’s possible that since I was older now (thirty-four), I wasn’t interesting enough to look at, assuming that physical attraction may have played a bigger part on his side of things than I realize.

It’s possible that there were mysterious (intangible) reasons he didn’t feel comfortable around me anymore but couldn’t bring himself to say so. He’d outgrown me. I’d also outgrown him but couldn’t let him go. He was Walt. He was family.

It’s possible, above all, that as he rose in his field (even as a non-Harvardian) I was not a suitable friend. His friends (though perhaps not lovers, where one’s criteria tend to be different) needed to be other academics and people of influence, people who lived and breathed in a world of Fichte, Hegel, Marx, and Rousseau, and also people who admired Dr. January’s work.

*

It troubles me how keenly I still feel the loss.

When I reflect on how much I’ve changed, I realize that similar changes had to have been going on inside Walt. And when I think about things this way, I can begin to stop feeling guilty-dirty for having done something wrong, or for not being good enough to share in a Columbia professor’s life.

*

Walter January has been gone a long time. It’s time to bury him. But a few more thoughts before I close the coffin?

I saw him on YouTube, interviewed a few years ago about his work. Often during the session, he shut his eyes while making particularly profound points. Once, his eyes stayed shut for a full minute while he lectured. His whole manner is affected; he’s putting on a show. The old Walt would have laughed at such pretentiousness.

*

The last time I ever saw him was twenty-two years ago, on the corner of Broadway and 116th Street, at the same spot where we’d first met all those years earlier.

I wonder about the intervening time: his sojourn in my “backyard”—San Diego—his stay, later, at Cornell, and eventually his resumed life at Columbia. All this time I’ve been in Los Angeles, and I think about the visits we could’ve had, the conversations, the insights I would’ve gotten from him. Maybe, if I’d matured faster, he would’ve seen me as an equal and not abandoned me. Maybe, if I hadn’t made a certain snide remark that last visit in New York… Maybe…

I sometimes have visions of waiting another twenty-five years and visiting him in a nursing home and grabbing his shoulders and demanding an explanation for the decades of silence.

I believe friendship has been compared to clothing: having a shirt for a certain amount of years, and then discarding it. Some friendships, I know, are not meant to go the whole way, from schooldays to death. It’s understood that romance often fails to make the long journey, but people seem to take it for granted that friendship is by definition more permanent.

I have gained insights from other people’s losses. I’ll say, “Are you still in touch with so-and-so?” and they’ll say, “No, no, they lost interest years ago.” It’s helpful to keep things in perspective, to realize that I’m not the only one. The common thread in all these cases is middle age. The young mind hasn’t fully developed; it’s open to many things; it’s spontaneous; it’s flexible; and it’s fine with being dumb some of the time. The older mind has thickened and ossified into a state of cozy pickiness and prickliness and odd prissy rules and boundaries; it’s not as accepting of peccadillos and slights; it’s set in its ways and just doesn’t have time. And maybe Walt is just as ashamed of his 24-year-old self as I’m ashamed of mine. Who wants to go back and relive the beautiful and stupid days? Not Walt, I’m sure. And not me.

If he were sitting across the table from me now, I’d say something simple and banal like, “I am sorry we lost touch.” I wouldn’t ask him why. I’d be diplomatic, even though most of the time I despise him. What I need to do is release the anger. Put on my boxing gloves and pound the punching bag at the gym, and then do some deep breathing and affirmations, the way I learned in therapy.

One of the best concepts I got out of therapy (and therapy is the thing Walter, more than anyone else, steered me toward): “It’s not what happened; it’s how you deal with what happened.” Over the last twenty-two years I have dealt with it poorly or not at all. Releasing anger, as I’ve described, is one way to come to terms with the loss. Writing this post is another. The slogans of all the 12-step work I’ve done are useful. But as another member of group therapy (an old-timer) said in one of our meetings, “You do all that stuff, you do the meditations and affirmations and the anger work and it’s still gonna hurt.”

I’m sorry that Walt didn’t get a chance to know the mature me. But looking at the tape of him in tweed ensconced in his philosophy chair, I’m not all that sorry I didn’t experience the new him. I like what he has to say about recognition and fame and its relation to evil—I am, like him, preoccupied with thoughts of accomplishment and posterity. I like his thoughts, but the actual Walt I see before me is, for the most part, not the person I knew.

 

I wonder if the attraction he admitted to in the early days wasn’t in some part reciprocated by me in a purely platonic form. I never viewed him as an object (I was into young jocks). But in some way he may have been the “love” of my life. I had the kind of friendship with him that you only get a chance to have in your young years, when you’re free to be dumb and smart and mean and compassionate and giddy with life and future hope in one long session over French toast and coffee at Tom’s Restaurant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Night With Zsa Zsa Gabor

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I was only eighteen. It was the late 1970s. I was working as a houseman (assistant to the maids) at the famous Fairmont Hotel on San Francisco’s Nob Hill. It wasn’t at all glamorous, though a lot of celebrities passed through, either to stay at the hotel or perform in the Venetian Room, or both. I was working the night-shift, five in the afternoon until one in the morning. It was my first job. The ladies who ran the housekeeping department were very strict Germans who all but terrorized us employees–she-wolves of the SS! The parts of the hotel that the guests didn’t see were crawling with giant roaches and busy with fast-moving mice. The place stank. There was no joy there. Some days, in the beginning, I cleaned out toilets in the men’s locker room, a dungeon where the vermin fed on the garbage left by workers. Whenever I could, I sneaked into maids’ closets and read Henry James or Kafka or Garcia Marquez. I was taking a year off from college.

 
When I became an assistant maid, I no longer had to clean out toilets; instead, I helped bring towels to rooms and create king-size beds out of (I think) two double beds. This was how I met Zsa Zsa Gabor.

 

Late one night I received an order to go up to a suite and make a king-size bed. When I got there, I saw the night manager, a distinguished older man in a black suit and bow-tie, fussing around and straightening things out. There were also two women speaking a foreign language. I recognized one of them and said to the night manager, “Who is that?”

 
“Miss Gabor!” he whispered.

 
A few minutes later I proceeded to roll the beds together, put a strip between them, and so on, in this makeshift way creating a king-size bed.

 
“What are you doing?” said Miss Gabor. “I can’t sleep like that.”

 
I explained to her that this was how we made a king-size bed in rooms that didn’t have them. When I was finished, I stood in the middle of the room. The night manager and Miss Gabor’s Hungarian lady assistant had dropped out of sight and it was just us in the bedroom. She accepted the bed I’d made for her now, but still complained how standards had gone down since the 1950s. She was friendly and impressive. I felt I was in the presence of royalty. She must have been in her early sixties then. She was  at once innocent and domineering. As she spoke, she put her hand on my cheek. I’ll never forget that. I was so young then, almost a child. I wonder if her gesture would be considered appropriate today. She didn’t stroke my cheek, just put her hand there gently for a second or two. It was her right hand and my left cheek. Then she went to her purse and took out a five dollar bill and handed it to me. I wished her a pleasant stay and said good-night.

 
I was star-struck and everyone down in Housekeeping could tell, and whispered about it and laughed.

 
The next evening, by coincidence, I got a chance to enter Miss Gabor’s suite after she’d checked out. I was helping the maids and noticed Zsa Zsa’s pillow. It was black and brown and every color in between, the relics of her nightly beauty regimen. One of the other housemen looked at the dirty pillowcase and shook his head. “Not very glamorous, if you ask me!”

 
This happened over thirty-five years ago. At the Fairmont that year I rode the service elevator with Ella Fitzgerald, brought a rollaway bed to Tony Bennett’s suite, and was stopped and questioned by security guards outside the Pavilion Room the night of Princess Margaret’s banquet. But the most memorable moment was the one with Zsa Zsa Gabor. RIP.

A Song of the Cliffs

This is an ambitious, unwieldy fragment from 1993, then 1997, then 2001, then 2005. Interestingly, I still haven’t given up on it! I decided to publish it here on my blog so it will live somewhere, until it gets into my story collection. The one person who enjoyed “A Song of the Cliffs” was my dear friend poet Ann Vaughan-Williams, who lives in London and is just a train-ride away from the cliffs at Beachy Head. Partly as a result of her encouraging words, I decided this torso should find a home online. If you’d like to make your own suggestions on how to rework/improve the suicide-note story, you’re welcome to leave a comment below…or perhaps you’ll be inspired to write your own story/suite of poems…

Beachy Head

Beachy Head, England
December, 2199

I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual.
—Jerzy Kosinski

 

A female soldier from the Third Persian War     4 Dec. 2199

The hills stop abruptly as if sliced by a colossal carving knife. The fields drop, gape down to sea and rock. All those who jumped before stand with me, as if to give me courage, as we look out at a lighthouse that hasn’t beaconed in decades.

 

A teacher

All I wanted was a dog, a little one. That would have made the difference. I can’t keep up. Moths are spontaneously generating out of old bags of tea in unclean cupboards. The loo stinks and the whole place stinks of loo, no matter how much cleaner I pour in. All day I’m demolishing moths, bills appear on my screen, journals appear on my screen that I no longer read, my toenails are out of control, the phone hasn’t rung in weeks, I never ever hear from Father Paul. But I keep your hair in a jar, it’s holy and soft. Thank goodness you let me trim your young hair the last time you came by!
I couldn’t fight for myself. I always believed there would’ve been hope for me back in the twentieth century, people were kinder then.

 

A man

Dear Keyon,

I thought I was getting better. I hardly have anyone to turn to. I couldn’t even get excited about a voyage to Europa and Callisto.  I can’t stand this anymore. When i think i hit bottom it just gets worse. There was someone in my life for such a long time, and she keeps trying to reconnect, even though she found someone else. No one gets how bad this loss has been.  I’ve tried everything to feel better and nothing is working. Everyone just goes about their business. And I’m expected to show up for work. I know you have your own load. Tonight for the first time I realized I can’t go on. This is the only way. I’ve walked for hours to these cliffs. I hope they are high enough. I am anxious to see the other side.

 

A bedlamite with a tin plate on his arm 13 Dec. 2199

ABOUT PHYSICAL TORTURE: I’ve had acid put on my feet while I slept, and mosquitoes on my back. I’ve had a rope put around my neck and was choked till I had rope burns. I have endured beatings, some severe. I’ve been dropped on my head onto concrete. My neck was gouged by two different people. My education was sabotaged. I was molested by a neighbor when I was seven years old. First time I was gassed with poison I was 17. Knowing I would be looking for a way out, and not telling me what it would do to me they hooked me on t.c.o. When I tried to quit they poisoned me severely. Now that I’m at the Cliffs I know I can escape. I was terrorized into a nervous breakdown. Then I was raped. I’ve been framed. I’ve been robbed. I’ve had three m.r.n’s sabotaged and systematically destroyed. I’ve been unlawfully sued. I’ve been turned into a freak. I’ve been blackmailed with manufactured evidence. I’ve been a victim of mass psychological oppression. I’ve been made to nearly freeze to death without a blanket 70 nights in a row. I’ve been cheated out of all the basic Fundamental Human Rights you take for granted, I swear on all that I hold as good and true that what is written is 100% the truth.

 

A man, 56

Friends:
I walked in my sleep again. The same bad dreams of swans on fire and Mother’s inflated feet. In the emergency room everyone was sleepwalking. “You have a deep bruise,” said the sleeping doctor. “Rest,” he said, and wandered off.
Lesions on the mid-face and trunk. A proliferation of bacteria. Drooping eyelid and other complications. Unilateral pain. Tingling. Burning. The infection of the brain by parasites spreading dementia and quick decline.
Paleness. Confusion. Bone pain. Worsening of the lesions. Crackles in the lung, unease, numbness. The malignancy. A pernicious hoarseness and drooling. The beginning of disfigurements. Blindness.
Dear friends, they say people always change their minds as they fall, but I don’t know. I would have gone to the Golden Gate Bridge in America if it was still intact, but this will have to do.
Bodhi

 

A mother and her mongoloid daughter 13-12-2199

A magpie flew into the house the day my little girl was born, so we brushed her face with a rabbit’s foot to keep away the Evil One. For good luck we stole a bone and set it on a windowsill.
It’s no use going on, for with the new M.E.R.C.Y. laws sooner or later they’ll find out about her and take her to one of the Dignity Camps. I’d rather we end peacefully, by the old lighthouse.
I’ll leave this note on the edge, tidy in a shoe.
Look! An orange balloon! When I was wee I thought that all the stars were balloons that had floated up to the sky.

 

A young lady

Dear Vihaan,
Congratulations on your marriage. I hope you and Lathan find happiness.
By the time you get this you will probably have heard. Maybe you’ll get the news in the middle of one of your parties. I have come to the Devil’s Chimney.  I see your face, Vihann, I see only you.
I love you,
Aleydis

 

 

An old-fashioned poet

The decimation of Tashkent
did not stir up much deep lament—
don’t folks in turbans count for less
than Nicky, Peter, Ted or Bess?
The loss of Rome from Fire and Quake
was harder to assimilate.
But in our compound all went well
far from city, bomb and Hell.
You flew to work, you flew back home,
pollution lurked outside a Dome.
You had a child with flaxen hair
by filling out a questionnaire.
Everyone was smart, magnetic
fast at math and so athletic.
If bombs went off up on the Moon
the pundits would be feuding soon
in smooth and cultivated tones
while you went on with tea and scones. . .

Well, such was my life until Doc said
“Son, you’re one of the Infected.”
They handcuffed, stripped and branded me,
there was no time to plan or flee.
They forced me into quarantine,
I felt like that sad Florentine
who went down deep into the Earth
a thousand years before my birth.
But at least he had a friendly guide,
I had no one on my side.
A sports arena and a cot—
this was my home, this my lot.
I hardly slept for all the noise,
families, kids, infernal toys
that bleeped and blipped the whole night long
and then at six that horrid gong!
But worse than all the idle chatter,
they never gave us reading matter.
So I began to lose my mind—
a thing, once lost, you rarely find.
They did more blood work, all agreed:
no harm in letting me go free,
but “freedom” meant a rooming-house
with bedbug, roach and sickly mouse.
I looked for work, clerks shook their heads—
some days I lived on milk and bread.
Since Eastern wars lurked in the dawn,
I thought the army’d need some pawns,
but at the Ministry of Discord
I was courteously ignored.
I sat in pubs for the Infected
where I never once connected.
The coup d’etat of ninety-three
at last got rid of Royalty—
now Good King Hal astutely rules
a large estate in lush Peru.
But funding’s gone for those in need,
it makes no odds how much you plead.
Flop-house days were never sweet
but they were sweeter than the street.
Then I thought of this white cliff
renowned in pop song and in riff,
I got to thinking of Release—
that “time” when everything will cease.
Preludes to the Afterlife
are played all thru our routine strife.
A taste of Death’s when you despond,
Death is watching others bond.
A hint of Death’s in notes you get
from Committees That Regret:
The Panel has decided
your petition is misguided. . .
I knew a priest once, Father Paul—
three years since he’s returned a call.
“I’m here to listen anytime”
he’d tell me while he drank his wine.
Very moody, very odd,
hardly ever mentioned God.
He loved to say “You’re not alone”
then loudly yawned into the phone.
Nature? Clouds? Where do we flit to
when a body’s work is through?
Is Death a general anesthetic
or wild and whistling and electric?
But light a flame, watch till it’s spent. . .
no one wonders where it “went.”

All we wish for, all we shun
from cradle to crematorium
is no match for that great Space
we always crave but can’t embrace
not in waking, not in dreaming
not till we fall to riptides screaming. . .

 

The acclaimed artist Steve “Trystan” Sweezey

Viveca, my love,
When you succumbed to plague, and our son with you, long ago, I grieved in a frenzy of self-pity but now I know it was better that you didn’t live to see this war and what has become of me.
It is most curious that my pushing of one button should be the cause of misery to so many millions.
I tailed the Uzbek jet. It was a passenger plane. Four hundred twenty-one people. I can’t write this properly, Viveca. I received the order to fire. I had to obey, I had no choice, otherwise it would have meant a court martial, do you see? I pressed the button. The airliner was hit, mortally, it took seven minutes until it slammed into a mountainside. And the thought of those seven minutes has occupied my life.
In a sanatorium after my breakdown, they encouraged me to draw. And so I took up painting, imagine, Viveca! And for years painting was to be my obsession. The war went on in Central Asia, but I was out of it forever. After my release I stayed in Mama’s little flat, in a room all to myself. I painted. I, the cause of all  this war, sat in a quiet room painting. I painted everything I had done. I painted panic, screams, above all screams, tried to get voices on canvas. Over and over. Giant canvases of screams, terrified eyes, blood, bedlam. The room filled up with these things, overflowed with them, soon I had to move out, to a bigger space in the suburbs. I painted like a madman, worked twenty hours a day, it poured out of me, I never abandoned my cabinful of sufferers, never. How much time passed like this? I do not know. But one day by chance my work was seen by someone. And then by another. And then by another. This third one owned a gallery, and bought six of my paintings. I was grateful for the money because I was running out of paint. He later offered me a show, and I accepted but all I wanted was to paint. The show led to other shows, I still had to get more horror out of me. Soon there were many shows, and many distractions, people began to disturb me. I got a cottage far out but even there they kept trying to see me. I needed to focus on my obsession. So I came to Sussex where they didn’t know me. I worked and worked until I collapsed.
I was institutionalized again. When I left the mental home, I had no more painting in me. And still I felt trapped in a cabin with all the innocents I had slaughtered. I could not paint away my guilt.
So I have come here to fall now. Fall as they did. This is my answer. What awaits me? Have I done penance enough for my crime? Wind blows mightily, all I need to do is stand on the edge and the wind will help me over. Viveca, my beloved!    –Steve

 

Interlude: A Closer Look at the Wreckage

Earlier
much earlier
rivers
bathed people quick ice-cold
above glaciers summer high
and miles   miles of wings     wide     long
where butterflies—

Correct: Man extracts the fang and tooth of nature
Incorrect: Cattle know no pain

Heat    rioting    rotting

Correct: The rain remembers green and coveted slopes
Correct: Valleys shape voices that shape valleys

The damage to light itself

Woods are pulled to desert
Words tremble on the verge

Correct: Ferries are waiting for evacuees to take them to the other side
Not Selected: Feral parrots flutter in the ruins of St. Paul’s

 

A young man with a suitcase contemplating the foam below

Dayesi,
With my Father—and at his expense, of course—I have traveled. How do I look? I’m filming this for you: so you will see the work you’ve done.
In Paris the boys are wearing Mars boots and flaunts and riding about on little jeepneys, just like you. In Cairo, a city of thirty million, a mess of mosques reaches up to a dirty sun: I left my father dozing in the Holiday Inn and wandered through reeking shantytowns for hours until I found a youth who would help me forget you for half a crown. Afterwards he asked for my watch and I told him to fudge off. In Delhi one of my father’s business friends took me to a bowling alley. All I could do was think of you and remember how graceful you are at anything athletic, so I tried to imitate you. All the Indians laughed at the English ladybug. We spent a week in the Cantonese countryside. While my father talked business in the icy lobby of the Hyatt I toured with a group by landrover. We came upon a massive fish market teeming with strong brown youths like you, but it wasn’t they who excited me, no, no, it was the smell: the whole place smelled powerfully of you. Life is for the young.
Dayesi, I was never good enough. When I started exercising, when I added hair, when I changed my name to be more hip for you—it didn’t matter, there was nothing I could do, there was nothing.
Lately a mother went over the edge with her deformed daughter in her arms. The innkeeper at the White Horse told me tourists were taking pictures of the dead child’s expressive face staring up as it was being devoured by crabs and insects and whatnot. Bodies stay down there for days. Scooping them up is no priority with all that’s gone wrong.
In Bangkok, after an interminable meal, I wandered thru the gardens of the Imperial. A cat began to follow me. I told it: “Don’t! I’m nothing, why are you following me? Dayesi longs for others.” So this mustn’t be called suicide, since you have already succeeded in demolishing what was left of me. But still that cat followed me. “Why are you following me?” I repeated. “I’m nothing. So I thank you, Dayesi, for helping me to know my place. I will leave this camera on the edge. Will it pick up the body break-up, do you think? This is for you, so enjoy. I’m going to dive. See me dive. Athletic!

 

A young seer

Beachy Head Dec. 21, 2199

Dear Mohammed,
When you went to your cave in the mountains, did you ever get lonely? My name is Alicja and I am thirteen, and all my life I have been your servant. At first when my Gift was discovered it was a blessing for my family, with my father and brothers on the dole, that was six years ago, when they found out that everything I said would come to pass really did come to pass. I was put on Channel One, and this caused people to be excited, and overnight all my family could live with enough good things. Only they stole my childhood. I told the world three years ago about Mt. Etna, I described the beings on Triton long before the astronomers found them, I predicted the fires of Teheran and Tashkent. But no one has listened to me when I greeted, no one has thought about what has been taken from me. The Wonder of Humankind is a quill who’s got no friends, who’s never had dolls or sat in a treehouse or sucked on popingel. So I often think of you when you went to your cave to pray and when God called you to be his prophet. Was it ever lonely? I have had one last vision, and this one I can’t bear.
I saw the earth overgrown with plants, I saw butterflies and dragonflies, deer and rabbits and toads. I saw Sun and great big clouds, I something of the world my great-great-great Grandpa remembers. But I saw no grownups or boys and girls. I saw the Houses of Parliament spread over a field covered in ferns and moss, a world of serpents and turtles and crawling things. The dogs, free of their masters, explored the crumbling theaters and empty stations. Sheep without shepherds wandered, wounded. Ornamental birds and ravens became the cities’ lords. The only human speech still uttered was what the oldest parrots could recall: Hello world! I’m Merlin! Wow! Hello world! Wow!
Twenty billion people are asking Where is Alicja? I think I don’t know where Alicja is, or where she will go. But I’ll leave this note on the edge.
I want you, who sit next to God and talk to Him, to ask Him to forgive me for what I’m about to do, perhaps He will understand and bring me to Him to console him if He mourns and greets and help Him turn His eyes to other Worlds.
Alicja

 

Father Paul on Christmas Eve, to his counselor

Dear Seraphina—

I know how hard you worked to help me heal.
If it hadn’t been for you I’d long ago have quit.
When you hear about me, don’t give up, please.
It’s just that even when I cover my ears
the news gets worse: in Asia a million corpses left to rot,
and Rome destroyed, while in Britain one man

wallows in years of couch introspection—one man
comes twice a week at five hundred crowns an hour to heal
a hurt inflicted long ago, clean out the rot
that spreads inside the mind and never quits,
even in sleep: ten years of insights that go in one ear
out the other. . . no, I won’t stay on just to please.

Perhaps you’ll miss the turmoil of my case, but—please—
(now it’s me who’s counseling you): I’m just one man,
there are more out there who need an ear,
who need a way to heal and can be healed
and, unlike me, they will not quit,
they will not waste your time by talking rot.

We built a Byzantine basilica with all my rot:
rich mosaics of dream, spires of lapsus linguae, pleasing
to the mind of an intellectual kind of man
who seeks a couch and shelter from the world, quits
the fray in search of understanding if not healing,
a soothing female voice and well-trained ears.

Did I progress or did we go in circles?—How my ears
freeze in this wind! An old-time lighthouse rots
among the rocks ahead: too late for it to heal,
they ought to knock it down, it’s no sight to please
the eye of any wholesome or morbid man
bent on falling off the edge of England. . . “Quitter!”,

I never felt a true Calling, now all I know to do is quit.
Two steps more and these ears
will hear just my own voice crying out to no man,
no Son of God—that’s all a myth, let’s face it, dead and rotten.
I’ll just drop into empty expanse—please,
let that be the long-sought healing.

I trust you won’t judge me for quitting this place, rotting
with war and pestilence—inside me I hear only pleas
to stop the pain, a pain no Son of Man can heal.

 

An aged gentleman

Dear Samaritan:
Indeed you were there when I needed you. Near the precipice your number stood out on the lone phone box with the message WE’RE ALWAYS THERE, NIGHT OR DAY. I phoned you, but my arguments were better than yours. Samaritan, you have not studied your history or your biology.
I am not going to recycle any of my arguments here. This world no longer seems like home to a civilized man who remembers the way it was. I am one hundred forty-one years old. I have lived enough. I cannot imagine what Earth will be like in a century from now for billions of the unborn.
Please do not condemn me. The work you do is worthwhile; you must get results with some. Your voice sounded so young. The voice of a generation I am out of touch with. I hope you will accept the enclosed donation and trust that it will do something to help save the lives that are meant to be saved.

 

Age and gender unknown

I’ve got no dreams left.
My brother made it, I failed.
I want death so much.

 

Another Interlude: At Sunset

We’re looking forward to a journey, crushed liver
twenty-seven broken ribs,
a journey
to that undiscovered country, bring us to the brim,
the fishermen like mice below and a lighthouse dead for decades.
Need someone to talk to? Day or night,
we’re always there, so choose LIFE and CALL US,
poor Tom shall lead thee,
within a foot of the extreme . . .

lungs collapsed, damaged spleen

We’re looking forward to a cliff
whose high and bending head looks fearfully, electrodes on the body showed
it suffered . . .
as day mulls into night
as hills and waters rock the gulls
to undreamed-of serenity,
a pair of running shoes points out to sea,
It’s only the edge of England
but it looks like the edge of the world

and there’s a note:
“I feel certain I’m going mad again.”

Neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain

Keep the porch light lit for those expected late,
wait for them by the window fingering curtains,
wait alone for the constable’s call
(Family often have an inkling says the coroner)

Light candles, buy carnations and take them to the edge.

“I feel I can’t go through another of those terrible times and I shan’t recover.
I know that I am spoiling your life.”

Carefully choose a friend, a rabbi, a priest, someone who is likely to listen.

We’d like you to call someone, now. You are not alone.
Crushed spleen, twenty-seven broken ribs.
“If anyone could have saved me it would have been you.
I don’t think two people could have been happier.”

Act your old age. This won’t hurt.

 

A woman 25 Dec 2199

I was just bored with everything & eight years of treatment did not ease my addiction in fact it got worse & I had to get away had no one left in London so I went off to France with the money I came into after Mum died & I opened a creperie in St. Malo I don’t know what I expected I thirsted for something but from the first day on first it was the movers imagine I’d moved into a quaint walk-up in the old quarter & I offered the two sweat-soaked Young Men refreshments when their work was finished one was Algerian the other Nigerian & I plopped down between the two & giggled and they grinned worked their hands under my skirt & I threw rubbers at them & they laughed and tossed them out & the Nigerian took me from behind the Algerian from the front & we did it there in the sitting room ah moments of insane wedlock & one of them said “This is the closest two men can get and not be ladybugs!” & when it was over I made them Turkish coffee oh that was my first day in St. Malo & I’d thought things would be different why didn’t the treatment cure me France is dark now with Arabian and African machos my first August I binged on eleven in one weekend an army corporal on leave from the Central Asian Wars a goateed tea importer from Brest a diver with the whitest teeth he was sixty but looked thirty-nine after just one procedure and there were more I can’t remember them all why didn’t the treatment work I couldn’t stand the emptiness I couldn’t but I won’t go on & on because listen whoever reads this listen it happened in the train one night he was wearing a Jo-burg Olympics T-shirt & shorts & sandals he had a criminal sort of face the other passengers were sleeping & he grabbed my hand & pulled down his pants “We’ll go to the loo” I whispered but he shook his head & we did it there among the sleepers it was degrading it was beautiful males have never loved me even though I’ve been with 2,000 or more I was no more than a release for them not all males are that way just the ones I want & that night I got home I couldn’t bear the solitude of my flat the relentless stillness & that night I got a message from the only person I still correspond with & she wrote that a priest we have both known for years Father Paul has leapt from the cliffs in Sussex I was stunned he would give such solid advice such a comfort she mentioned drink and possibly he’d tested positive but he was a well-liked man & seemed so sane I can’t understand what the world is going through & he wasn’t the first there was Bodhi Malone the media personality of course & so many others no one ever gave me a good reason to go on perhaps it was foolish of me to expect that from the treatment but what I want to tell you who are reading this and don’t give a damn is that the Cliffs began to call me as well I can’t put into words how I felt or words would make it small & so I got on the next train to Sussex I hurried because I heard they want to close off those Cliffs to the public forever too much death but I thought I’d try & the old barman in the pub looked at me perhaps he could sense something & we began to talk he even asked me my name & I thought how new really novel in this world a barman asking your name & I told him I lived in Brittany & he said lovely country there’s nothing like it left over here but I didn’t feel much like chatting yet I was moved by his humanity & he didn’t look at me the way most Males do & I almost forgot to feel alone but once again I heard the wind out there & I walked out of the pub without a word I ran towards the Cliffs & the grey sea was heaving & the rocks were waiting & what I heard as I stood out there was like a faint choir of all the jumpers before me & all the jumpers to come & I’m looking over the edge & the water & the dead lighthouse where the lights must’ve gone out half a century ago & I know I need to do it now now otherwise I won’t I can’t delay it I have always been courageous the rocks down there look miles away & suddenly I hear the voice of the barman from the pub it’s his aged voice like thunder he’s calling my name I don’t know why but at last someone is calling my name “Aviana! Aviana!” he’s shouting & running towards me at last I am hearing the sound of my name & it’s something more than a caress or a fondling it’s something more than a moment of insight in treatment or even the lights of meditation for in the end all that is solitary and pointless but this man is calling my name and it is a beautiful sound as I hover on the edge between the known world & the depths—