I was an eleven year old boy the first time someone left me alone with Father Thatcher. St Louis in 1850 was a rough place. If diseases didn't claim you, there were plenty of unscrupulous people waiting for you to show a sign of weakness. So the way of the time, was to never to do so. While Pop had died while I was young, at least he'd taught me never to look down at my shoes, never show a sign of weaker character. The moment you do, someone like Thatcher, or worse, would prey on you like a wolf in the wild.
It wasn't something I'd chosen intentionally - the current of the exploration simply swept me up on it's way westward. Once word got back to St. Charles that the wagon train that had left the following spring had reached the Oregon Territory pretty much intact, it passed from the realm of fantasy into something that felt accomplishable. The west presented something new for everyone. It presented a way out. It was an escape from the lure of the city, a strike out at the unknown.
I had a good business there on the waning ends of the Missouri, teaching would-be-wagoners about death. Here in the young city of Saint Charles, we were an odd mix of union soldiers, families and grey-coats who were looking to erase their lives and start over. We all had reasons for wanting to head west. Mormons were convinced that a promised land lay out there past the horizon. Some figuring that if gold sat in streams in California - it figured to do so in streams all up that coast.
It had been weeks now since sharing the bed had gone from necessity against the night's cold towards an air of embrace. We had both surrendered to the truth that we really wanted to be there together. Neither of us had a word for what was happening between us. I would wake up some mornings and he had been watching me sleep. I could feel against my hip that doing so pleased him a great deal. We would both remember these first few nights in our snowed in escape. "I love you," I said rather suddenly and softly.
Where were you at the moment when your sexuality became part of your adult good self and not something to find a private place to practice it in hiding? Priests and Protestant preachers teach us to be ashamed of it all from the moment you are capable of free thought. It’s a miracle we’ve got a population if you ask me. Comes right down to it, its a messy business — and nothing you want to do with any gentleness when you are out in the wilderness in a wagon or your thighs have been wrapped around a saddle all day long. I’d learned in my slow sojourn westbound to just conceal it.
“I don’t even remember taking this shot,” he said incredulously, "It’s beautiful and almost frighteningly perfect. My assistant thought it was photoshop until I showed him the negative.” “Crazy how jubilant they are so happy surrounded by war and such horribleness.” “Well you remember when you were a kid, you could find happiness in the smallest of situations. Piece of paper? World War 2 fighter jet. Overripe tomato?
I like toys. No not that kind, well yes that kind but that's another story. I like playful toys. Bobble-heads seem to dominate as well as artifacts. a ruby slipper, a coffee cup key-chain, a detailed model of an air stream trailer, a surprisingly cheerful fake bush planted like a topiary, my old dog's collar and tag, paintbrushes, a children's sized tiara with a blinking star. a pair of hand blown cocktail stir sticks.
"Nothing worth doing is every easy," my father used to volley at me, in between puffs on his pipe, "You need to realize that approaching everything from laziness is going to get you nowhere fast." Forty-two years later, and that conversation plays in my head like it happened this afternoon. My mind will play a litany of failures - and these uninvited reminiscences happen right before slumber. Terrible romantic breakup conversations played like I am experiencing them for the first time.
It was a strange kind of cool October morning. As Big Ben chimed 6am so proudly across the Thames, you could almost see the fog part as the sound waves collided across the hazy morning malaise. I had been daydreaming, but the sounds of the chime brought me back to focus. Daydreaming is an interesting thing, isn’t it? A doctor would tell you that daydreaming is stimulus independent thought, or a Buddhist might say it is thought about something other than events that originate from the present moment, away from mindfulness.
You could hear the afternoon rains echo in from the alley behind the theater. Curses in French from the house master echoed in when people would linger, letting the offensive humidity in from the outside. The strange dust of the old playhouse frolicked in the softly lit stage. After an hour of unremarkable college students churning through grossly under-prepared auditions, I was growing impatient. "Next please," the stage manager grunted methodically. She shuffled into the light and began. She stood rather plainly.
" 'ere in ze gym south of mar kette - is the cruisehr, " he spoke with a hushed horrible fake Jacques Cousteau accent, " 'eh does two reps out on ze floor and zen reuturhns to ze showehr 'oom to zee if anyone is hot enough. Notess how 'e grunts at you if 'eh tinks you are worth of his sexyehness." He paused for a moment as a large muscular bodybuilder passed him, naked, returning from the showers.
"Whatchya doin'?" "Watching the Superbowl!" "You warned me when we met that you would always be the butch one, and you've never proved me wrong." "It is really excellent, close game so far!" "Who are you rooting for?" "I love rhetorical questions." "No seriously, I have no idea who is playing." “Philadelphia and New England" "Ah, well, then I guess you are rooting for Philly.” "That would be correct!" "So should I root for New England just to make sure the testosterone is even in the house tonight?" "So how about a wager?" "A wager?" "Sure, if you leave me alone and let me watch football an
Forty years in finance had been done. Dutifully, exactly - like a scarlet-lettered penance - and the rest of his life suddenly lay ahead of him. He spent the first chunk of his retirement on a retrofitted volkswagen bus which he'd meticulously detailed out. A mobile home, a gourmet stove, a safe, a soft mattress, and a special shelf for a particularly tattered Rand McNally road atlas. He remembered coming home with that road atlas as a senior in college - his sails filled with dreams which parental and professional expectations quickly deflated.
I'm not always completely clear on how exactly I chose her. or maybe she chose me. Nicki. and her sparkler. We’d met freshman year of college and fell in such love that school seemed to hardly matter. Held her on my shoulders as Prince serenaded to her. We’d stolen booze from my parents liquor cabinet and gone drunk camping, laughing into campfire light. So many stories - so many adventures. I'd bought her that ring with money my parents sent me to pay for a quarter of college. A year later I found myself in the U.S. Navy bringing Nicki's photograph out my wallet -- telling our stories.
"Fluffy Puppy, you're the one!," he sang to the little dog in the sink getting a bubble bath," The one that makes bathtime so much fun! Fluffy Puppy, joy of joys, When I squeeze you, you lick my face!
On Christmas Eve, I had killed someone. I’ll just let that sink in for a moment. I can still recall the sound of the glass of scotch in his hand breaking with his wrist. I can feel the swing upward with broken glass, and the smell of flesh being torn aside. He stepped back from me reaching for his throat, his eyes wide with the realization these were his last moments. “I am not sure what happens when you die, but I’m satisfied to stand here and watch you find out,” I said to him matter-of-factly. He involuntarily knelt. He was very intimate with fear at this point.
She broke out the compact and started applying blush. Her trained hand moving with the weave of the commuter train. The same technique for the soft rose lipstick. Even the mascara was applied precisely despite the oscillating train car. “That is real skill,” said the man across the aisle. She looked over at the man. mid-thirties, strong cheek bones, and almost inhumanly perfect skin.
She runs away into the woods, wormwood and rue cascading around her feet in the autumn woods. The smell of the end of summer, the decay of leaves sticking to her like judgement. Does she notice accidentally falling in the water, simply neglecting to save herself from sinking? Her garments pull her down, as if they had a mind of their own. It is simply the way she'd lead her life: doing what her father and brother — and boyfriend— tell her to do, rather than making decisions for herself. She'd been seen with him was proof enough.
Ginger Men are a proud people. We are bread in deep, surprisingly peppery, cultural origins. It is in our prime ingredients to know that our time here is measured in hours instead of days. Baking at 400F for ten minutes, we all have the chance to dream of that moment when we are set on a plate next to a hot cocoa. We lead simple, tenderly baked lives, always knowing that we immediately start going stale from the moment we are set out in the world. Don't feel pity for Ginger Men - know that we accept our place in the circle of life with a glad heart.
I was in an angry, hurried rush. Who calls a 7am meeting on a Monday morning anyway? I was madly sipping a coffee, and rushing to meet the train in the park. That was the first time I saw him - a 15th century friar sitting in the park watching the dogs play. He seemed like a very robinhoodesque character to be sitting amongst playing dogs and their owners busy instagramming only the cutest pictures before getting on with their day. The doors pulled mechanically shut on my train and I stared back at him sitting so blissfully in the park.
"Even food shows are angry these days, with women throwing stuff and calling each other bitches... it's awful... and then they cut to an interview in the 'truth-booth' where she says 'I'm doing this for my kids'. Does she realize that her potty mouth and horribleness will soon be out on high definition blue ray for her kids and grandkids to enjoy forever? , a classic childhood moment." "yet, you continue to watch it each week........"
The wedding dinner settled down as he tapped his glass with his fork. He took a card out of his suit jacket. He'd practiced, and learned the best words for this moment. He took a big sip of water, took a glance at the newlyweds, and leaned forward to speak into the microphone. "When I was a kid I didn't have much. I just grew up in one of those families where the only things you looked forward to inheriting was sorrow - the future I saw in front of me was workin' at a shit town Pick and Save in a wrinkled red schmock dreaming of the day I'll get promoted to Assistant Manager.
A few dvds, a pair of earphones, and some neatly folded tshirts and underwear sat there. Every night when I came home the small box of stuff taunted me, reminding me of all of it. He had changed his Facebook profile to read "engaged to" - so absolutely sure he knew all the answers. He'd posted photos for all our friends to see of the engagement ring.
I hardly recognized the young boy in photo, walking in the surf, letting the late summer waves frolic with his hands. That beach. It had felt like the very definition of liberation when I visited. I remember trembling with excitement when I stood at the rail, my first trip on a Fire Island Ferry. All that thick black hair waved, shined in the sun calling to men like a siren from Greek mythology. The twinkle in my eye lead to humid late summer days of cruising, relentless sex, strong cocktails, sin and scandal.
“I’m sorry…I guess I’m just nervous. I’ve never been taken home to meet someone’s parents before, let alone conservative parents who come with a pre-prepared list of forbidden conversation topics.” “Well, those are for your safety, not theirs. My family is very passionate about being on the wrong side of history in every situation.
I broke through my hangover to clean up from last night's party. There in the bottom of a large bowl was a single triscuit. I sat there starting at it. Poor Triscuit. All alone in the world. The party is over Triscuit, sorry, you missed it. What does it mean to be this highly tuned and manufactured culinary expression of dullness? What is it worth - until - until you add cheese, or lox, or a thin slice of fig - then pile on goat cheese and honey and .... you see my point.
He was the softest, most tender person I'd ever met. Every touch, every conversation, every sigh of pleasure was a salve. He rode into my life on a large adult sized shiny pink tricycle. He was wearing a matching pink "fur" vest and ridiculously oversized top hat - pulling a trailer of little pink wrapped gifts. His nose was pierced with the largest gauge pink metal ring. He was mesmerizing. He broke the silence by offering me a small pink package. It seemed so magically out of place. It was six-year-old little girl birthday party perfect - out in the middle of the dusty dirty desert.
We met on the old wooden stairs of the old DC Eagle. It had this big dramatic landing between flights of stairs, with enough room for a couple of people could stand and watch the parade. He wore a pair of tight blue jeans, big boots, and a green tank top with the word "DADDY" across the chest. He had that not quite 5'oclock shadow thing going on with this his beard, but the thickest most amazing mustache I've ever known. I literally stopped in my tracks the first time up the stairs walking past him.
टायर टायर, उज्ज्वल जलते हुए, रात के जंगलों में; क्या अमर हाथ या आंख, तुम्हारी भयानक समरूपता को चौड़ा कर सकता है (Tyger Tyger, burning bright In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry? ) He closed the small leather book and let out a weary sigh. Tapping his chest, he confirmed that his papers were in his coat pocket. Papers that would ensure safety. Between his legs, the frantically packed suitcase. Thousands of people just like him had arrived at the station with their ragged bags of belongings.
"You're a bastard, you know that? Fuck you!" were the last words I ever heard her say, as she slammed the door. I can't say that I blame her. I had brought home the clap for the third time. I was horrible to her. I left her alone on nights when I could have been there for her. I "worked late nights," I had told her when she knew I was with other women. I wasn't being such a wreck deliberately, but because I didn't know better. Suddenly, there she was in a cross walk. The light was red and I nearly hit her. She slammed her hand on the hood of my cab in indignation.
We celebrated our own unique independence in the dark alley away from the summer revelry. I ran his shirt up, exploring his firm muscles and curiously thick back hair. He slicked his tongue from my mouth onto the curve of my neck. Looking over his shoulder I spied a woman watching us from the street. She leaned against the drain pipe, letting out the softest sigh. The kind smile on her face told me how much she approved. I earnestly smiled back, but then shut my eyes getting lost in the little French sailor I'd met in the bar. He smelled so good. I needed him to be mine.
So many things have a beginning. and so it was with the idea. It just seemed to be there one day. A terrible idea. It scared me so much at first. It would disappear into the minutiae. Then gently the idea would return. To be considered. To befriend. To become comfortable. To become acceptable. I sit imagining it with my eyes closed so gently as to not damage the beauty of it. I lay down at night and it is my last thought. I awake, suddenly, in a single gulping breath. I panic to do the mental inventory. I rush about in my mind to see if the terrible idea is still there.
She walked into the studio. I looked up, finding her gaping up at one of the large canvasses. "This is so beautiful, but the inside of your mind must be a horrifying place," she said to me, as if I were a light fixture, without turning to address me. No breezy hello. No..... courtesy. I left her standing there. I studiously took a brush full of a golden yellow and gently smeared across the canvas in front of me. I let the silence build. I let her think that perhaps I wasn't the artist after all. "What was your name, again?!" I said, dismissively, looking up at her.
'You were chosen to do something special in this world'. A phrase used not-so-innocently by unprepared parents as emotional novocaine. "Struggle hard, my love, for you, are chosen! Precious. Special." So you buckle down and work hard, you finish school, you marry a beautiful bride and start up a family. There is a sense that there is a prophecy to be fulfilled, there is a Chosen One to do it! If there's an adventure to be adventured, it is just waiting for you to take up the cause.
By 1988, there had been 61,816 deaths in the U.S. alone. I was twenty-one. Two years later, nearly twice as many Americans had died of AIDS as died in the Vietnam War. By the time I was thirty? 234,225 deaths. Forty? Nearly 600,000 deaths.
Just consider that for a second.
Six-hundred thousand dead.
He hummed a small chant reverently as he labored in the small cabin. He returned affectionately to the window sill. He held the small dusty bottle up to the light triumphantly. The leaves had macerated since the last full moon. The sun had indeed turned it all into a lovely brown concoction.