Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Necessity of a Precise Diagnosis

Tokyo, 2011

After years of attempting to manage the problem with vitamins and acupuncture, with exercise and affirmations, Randy decided to go to an actual medical doctor.  One doctor led to the next.  Tests found tests were needed.  In a stream of vague explanations, the drugs kept flowing, but Randy did not get better.

Finally Randy secured an appointment with a celebrated and accomplished doctor, an innovator, considered to be the top of his field.  This doctor was able at last to pinpoint the source of the problem, the very origin and essence of the thing.  He introduced a finely-tuned treatment program which made use of innovative medicines in quantities measured precisely according to Randy’s symptoms, weight, and age.  Even though the regimen was daunting, Randy was profoundly relieved to have located the source of so much suffering.  Here was a diagnosis, a treatment, a way forward.  Here, at long last.

It didn’t work.  Not in the least.  Actually he got somewhat worse.  The celebrated doctor said not to worry.  Instead, they would use the “classic” treatment, which worked for nearly everyone.

Didn’t work for Randy.  Certain of his symptoms got better.  Others got dramatically worse.  He felt like a congested urban area that finally solves its traffic problems -- only to discover that its pleasant picnicking volcano is not actually extinct.

The celebrated doctor, surprised by failure, suggested Randy had not followed the regimen faithfully.  Randy swore he had and located the celebrated doctor’s rival, a radical dissenter known for his out-sized ego and celebrity clientele.  This doctor found that, although the diagnosis itself was unassailable, the celebrated doctor’s treatment had been – lo and behold -- entirely wrong, quite dangerously so in fact, just totally backwards.

This renegade doctor placed Randy on an ingenious regimen that would make perfect sense to anyone whose reason was un-blinkered by convention and mistaken assumptions.

This treatment was likewise wholly unsuccessful.  The acute bad periods, which had been interspersed with periods when he was relatively all right, were replaced with a consistent and reliable blanket of grinding misery.  Randy felt like a loyal serf who knew he could trust in the absolute security of a thatched roof over his head, a stone floor under his ass, three meals of stale bread, and back-breaking labor each day of his life until death.  Stability and reliability is not enough, Randy discovered, when it is only pain you are counting on.

Lining up his medicines on his black kitchen table, Randy discovered he had every color of pill except turquoise.  The next doctor prescribed a turquoise pill.  The succession of doctors continued.  It seemed to Randy that they eyed him warily now.  He felt like a girl with a reputation for being impossible.  No treatment helped more than the one before.  In the pastel torture chamber of his problem, the machines just kept moving around.

Suicide, always attractive, now appeared downright ravishing.  After all, this was the only treatment which required no testing or referral and, while a prescription was certainly helpful, it was by no means required.  The treatment itself might be unpleasant, but it was bound to be conclusive if administered with care.

While he was planning his suicide, equivocating over gunshot versus drowning, a tree on the side of the highway versus a fatal plunge, he met a dotty silver-haired lady in the bulk foods aisle of his local health food market.  (In his quest for treatment, Randy had been told at one time or another to avoid meat, wheat, eggs, sugar, soy, nuts, raw and cooked foods.  The health food store had thus become a habit.)

Actually he’d met the dotty silver-haired lady once before.  Once when he’d been having a very bad day and had demanded, out loud, to be told, once and for all, just what the hell tamari was.  She saw him again.  She asked how he was doing.

Her name was Marti.  She was the kind of lady who asks her Tarot cards what to have for lunch.  That day she’d drawn “The Tower” and so she was making club sandwiches.

Marti didn’t wait for the full explanation.  “Why amplify the unfortunate?” Marti said.  “Why dwell on the negative?  Breathe out black smoke!”  She invited him for sandwiches with her friend Denis who just happened to be a Filipino spirit trance medium and conservative churchgoer.  She said Denis had fixed her up plenty of times.  She didn’t get her headaches anymore.  Even her fingernails were stronger.

Denis arrived for lunch with his own can of Spam, which he sliced, and added to each level of his organic vegetarian club sandwich, and didn’t offer to share with anyone.  After they’d finished their sandwiches, Denis told Randy to lay flat on the floor.  He lit candles to St. Rita, Hermes Trismegistus, and the Buddha.  He blanketed the area in rose water.  He called upon Melchizedek, who had vowed always to help the earnest aspirant.  He poured wax on Denis’ forehead, did a short dance with a feather duster, and told the evil spirits to get the fuck out already.

Afterwards, Randy lay on the floor for a long time without moving.  Marti and Denis were on their second cup of coffee before he even dared sit up.

He didn’t think he’d felt so well in the past twenty-five years.  He didn’t think he’d ever felt so well.  Marti and Denis didn’t seem particularly interested.  They were deep in a discussion about manifesting abundance.

For days thereafter, Randy remained very cautious.  He was careful to not lift anything heavy, or think about his childhood.

However, Randy’s symptoms, his pain and misery, his appalling suffering, did not return and have not returned to this day.  If he has even the slightest hint, suspects a little twinge, he doesn’t panic.  He places sixteen drops of a certified organic flower remedy under his tongue.

Randy has become a tremendous source of positivity and good faith to everyone around him.  He is confident that health and healing are possible for everyone, once a correct diagnosis has been made and the correct treatment embarked upon.  He speaks of his gratitude to anyone who’ll listen, of his good fortune, of the way he feels he has, at last, arrived in the real world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tokyo Heart

Tokyo, 2010

(an earlier version of this story appeared in the Bailliwik series of art books.)

At Shinjuku South Exit, in the midst of the crowd, an elderly hunchbacked dwarf in a tweed overcoat and a black beret hurries past. I love that black beret, it says, “You may all think as you like. I have not abandoned myself. Neither do I despise myself.”

Just the same, as I push toward the train, I recall that 78% of these people have also been disqualified. And that's just on a train. On a bus it's maybe 94%. (Many people, in fact, believe they will be disqualified just for riding the bus and avoid it at all costs. In bad weather you can hear them mutter: Look at all this rain! So much for true love and good luck – here’s the bus.)

78% of this train has been disqualified, according to this afternoon's precise guess. And that is not anyone's fault. (Is this true?) That is just how it works.

Each day we are told: you have lost. You are a person who has lost. Commonly known as a _____ . In compensation, we are going to let you work for us. In compensation, please feel free to purchase something.

Once, in my early twenties, I sat at lunch with an older gay couple who announced, "In most people's eyes we've been dead for years!" They roared with laughter -- and went right on enjoying themselves. I loved those two men very much. Unfortunately they dropped me a year or two back. I am no longer sufficiently young, cute and adoring. No more venison pot pie for me. No more Marie Antoinette's favorite wine. No more prosciutto and melon balls. But that is just how it goes. . .

If this is going to be a story, there needs to be a plot. Let's take a moment now to provide one:
She stayed, though she did not know if she was right to stay. She did not know if it was right or just a waste of life. Meanwhile, she got no younger.

A common plot, which will relate to many people. That's what's best for those, such as myself, who intend to address a large and varied audience.

On the train we sit beneath advertising banners. Lines of happy people hang from the ceiling, they drink beer and flirt above our empty commuting faces, our oily thinning hair.  It is as if you can actually see, above our heads, our daydreams of leisure time and friends. Our fantasies of non-exhaustion.

Looking up, I see that the Tokyo Metro subway company has a new promotion. This one shows three men in uniform with hard hats. They are standing in a cavernous black tunnel beneath a vast concrete arch. One stands between the tracks. Two stand at the side. They are all carrying powerful flashlights. The caption beneath the photo reads: Tokyo Heart.

I did not actually scream. I don't think so. At least -- nobody looked at me. But then nobody would, would they, especially if I had screamed.

Who made this sign? Excuse me -- can I get a message to this person?

I want to ask: did you intend to tell this much of the truth?

Should she stay, the woman wondered, or should she go? Was it too late to start over? Once she'd extricated herself from convenience and comfort, would she miss it? Moreover, how was she expected to feel cheerful, knowing that she would become ever so slightly more funny-looking every single day until death?

It's easy to believe that all human beings are significant, lovable and worthwhile. Easy until you haul that belief onto the train and attempt to apply it to actual people. This dead-eyed salaryman, for example, who cannot possibly have smiled at any point in the last 5 prime ministers. (This is Japan, so that's only, like, 4 years -- but still.) His lips pucker in permanent distaste. The only thing he ever touches gently is the screen on his phone.

The thing to do is to imagine him in the presence of the one thing that makes his face light up. Often this means the nieces. For those without nieces, there may be a little dog. Copper-alloy non-stick pans? You must imagine him in the presence of the one thing that makes him light up, even if it only Asahi Super Dry.

She wondered aloud: what is the one thing that makes my face light up?

One of those things no one is supposed to know: how many people fall in love on buses. Pressed together as the rattletrap swerves. This kind of information is anti-capitalist anti-progress propaganda. We squirrel it away here. (Inspector, this is only yet another story about a woman who stayed much too long.)

Black beret black beret black beret!

A story ought to provide something lacking in the reader's daily life. Most commonly, a happy ending: the woman decided not to worry anymore about whether or not she had wasted her entire life. She moved to Laos.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mr. Gerber Is Living the Life He Always Dreamed About

We never learned how Mr. Gerber maintained himself. He helped out here at the building certainly, he kept an eye on things, but that hardly could have been enough to live upon.

Certainly Mr. Gerber was peculiar. I do not doubt that he was somewhat mad. He may have been a pervert. A skim milk-looking middle-aged man, thinning hair, the kind of man you can hardly tell if he is 38 or 61. The sun seems to never shine directly on such a person.

In a crowd of people Mr. Gerber was useful as an end table. You gave him your drink to hold when you went to the toilet. Fifteen minutes later he hadn't moved. The ice hadn’t melted. I suppose you could have thrown your coat over him.

Mr. Gerber was part of the complex. He lived in a corner basement apartment. A made-over utility closet, I suspect, though of course I never saw it. In this building we're all good friends -- it's required. When we had parties we invited everyone. Inviting everyone meant inviting Mr. Gerber, too.

If you forced him to speak, Mr. Gerber would straighten up, tuck his chin down toward his chest, and say that he was grateful, grateful to be at a party like this, among people such as these. Mr. Gerber was so strenuously grateful one wondered if he was grateful at all.

I should clarify some things about myself. I am a person who tells the truth. Thus many people do not like me very much. I am not a sentimentalist. I am not a sympathetic sort of person. I am a pragmatist. I am an M T V person. Do you know what that means? That means: My Time is Valuable. All right then, let's continue.

Mr. Gerber was extremely unobtrusive, but he was always around. If you came home early feeling under the weather, there was Mr. Gerber. Or late on Sunday afternoon when distractions were running out. At 3am when you couldn't sleep, there was Mr. Gerber, clearing away the junk mail, sweeping out the entryway.

If you caught him alone Mr. Gerber was chatty, in a style both humdrum and bizarre. He'd chat about the light that was out, about trash collection, about the weather -- and then he'd sigh and say, "For so long I dreamed of this and now I'm living it!" And an enormous smile would sweep over his face.

I am not impressed by poetic-type people. If you take a moment to investigate their self-conscious behavior, you will nearly always find an attempt to camouflage failure. Like women who gain lots of weight and become spiritual.

For all his false modesty, Mr. Gerber was extremely grandiose. His life appeared to be 10% of one's own life, which frankly was shoddy in some departments, and yet he talked like he was rags to riches, like his whole wish list had been delivered.

He was delusional obviously. Probably he was actually severely depressed. I'd seen a case or two of this before.

I suppose he was giving me some clue the afternoon we discussed Christmas shopping, while leaning up against the mailboxes. He said he was pleased to be finished with his shopping. (I have no idea who he could have been shopping for. I myself never received anything from him.)

Mr. Gerber said, "I like things -- but most of all I like the space around things."

Well. It sounds a bit spiritual written down, doesn't it? Trust me, it wasn't spiritual at the time. He had one hand in a crinkly bag of BBQ ripple chips, He had little orange specks around his lips.

Conspiratorially he leaned near me, breathing on me with his barbecue chip breath. "Have you ever been in the train station at rush hour, shoving and elbowing along with everyone else, when, without warning, a gap appears? You've got 144,000 people in front of you. 144,000 in back. But nobody is quite exactly where you are. You're in a little gap. I love that."

I bet, if we looked into it, that we'd find out that Mr. Gerber really was a pervert. Perverts resemble skim milk and are always careful to be the nobody next door.

As for myself, I don't shirk responsibility. I believe in doing things. I celebrate achievement. That is why I live on the top floor, whereas Mr. Gerber lived in the basement. Both of us, it's true, live alone. But a top floor penthouse is obviously very different from a corner in the basement!

All religions of the world agree on one point: every little thing you do matters. All of us are born with a 'to do' list. We must work, procreate, ornament, etc. Like it or not this is the situation. When we die we go to Heaven, to the auditors, and all our exotic destinations, university publications, and redheads are tallied.

You can pretend otherwise but that just means you are afraid of life. At very least you must avoid blowing your nose on cloth napkins and eating potato chips on the train.

One night -- I was having some troubles, I admit. I don't have nearly as many troubles as most people, but I do still have some. For some reason I was walking around in my t-shirt. And underpants.

This is not as inappropriate, as abandoned, as it may seem. I am fastidious about underwear, about its cleanliness. And all my underwear is very modest, more modest than what many people wear on the outside.

Anyway, it was the middle of the night. In one of my hands could be found a fifth of whiskey. I turned the corner and saw that there was someone there. I started to apologize -- but there was no need. It was only Mr. Gerber.


Mr. Gerber looked at the bottle. "It isn't really space," he announced. "Actually it obliterates space. But it feels like space." I thought this meant I could continue enjoying my liquor privately, but he took the bottle from me, and had a good strong slug of it.

I remember he didn't shiver and his eyes didn't widen any. So maybe that was Mr. Gerber's story.

"Isn't this the very best time of night?" said Mr. Gerber. "I adore it. I like stumbling on these odd times when one can really live."

Well, this was nonsense, and certainly I would have said so, had I not been overwhelmingly intoxicated. And so I said, "Gosh, Mr. Gerber. You really like some unusual things."

"I like all the things that are likable. And also those things that cannot help but be loved. Dust, for instance." Now he started counting things off on his thick stubby fingers. "I like train stations when the train is gone. I like gardens in winter. Nothing charms like the absence of charm! I like cafeterias. I am addicted to laundromats. I dislike traveling, but I enjoy being in transit. There's no place a man can really live, don't you agree, besides in a city, in a basement apartment, in a building where no one really likes anyone!"

Obviously this was not Mr. Gerber's first whiskey of the evening. Some people actually enjoy being eccentric and contrary. And they expect other people to find it just as delightful.

Personally, I dislike monologists. Don't you, too, dislike monologists? It's the back and forth of dialogue that enriches one, connects one to the species, even has health benefits. Mr. Gerber did not agree with us. He did not seek the back and forth, the to and fro. No, Mr. Gerber had his speech prepared. No doubt he was actually a deeply lonely man, and monologues, as everyone knows, are a hazard of that species.

"One of the joys of modern life," said Mr. Gerber, "Is the perfectly anonymous coffee shop -- not the most popular chain, but its cheaper, though I grant still over-priced, imitators. Each shop is just like another and even the street corners on which they appear are so similar, so dull and gray, that you could never agree to meet anyone there, because you could never think of anything that might distinguish it from any other shop, its street from any other street, its city from any other city, until finally you cannot even distinguish yourself from anyone else: in such a place you can actually really just live!"

My diction doubtless makes Mr. Gerber's gobbledygook more distinguished than it really was. I firmly decided to confront him about his evasions, to remind him that work and restraint are necessary, that the age of consent is 18. Unfortunately that drunken evening was the last I saw of him. For shortly after this discussion, Mr. Gerber disappeared.

I don't mean that there was anything untoward about it. I don't think he ran out on the rent. He just isn't with us anymore.

The odd thing is, now that Mr. Gerber is gone, he has become a very common topic of conversation among residents here in the building. They want to know where he went. They want to understand him. This is a sentimental and foolish interest which Mr. Gerber does not in any way merit.

It disturbs me to discover that I, too, am unable to stop thinking about Mr. Gerber. Mr. Gerber is absolutely stuck in my mind. He appears to have become part of the structure, like train stations and street corners. Like dust.

I very much want to see Mr. Gerber again.  Even though I am a pragmatist, even though my time is extremely valuable, I promise that I would greet him courteously. I'd listen to whatever nonsense he wished to share. And I would be sure to tell him, "Mr. Gerber, we simply cannot forget you.  You are always on our minds.  No one we have ever met in all our lives was ever as unique and special as you, my dear Mr. Gerber."

That is what I would like to say to him.  I am certain the look of disappointment on his dull skim milk face would be most satisfactory.

(Tokyo, 2010)
(second revised version, Siem Reap, 2014)

Friday, April 18, 2014



Siem Reap, 2014

All through the flood-bright afternoon a wiry acrobat with a red mohawk and a clown nose puts up and takes down his small show.  A metal rack for drying clothes he studs with upturned knives, then adds a few flaming torches.  He tosses himself over it.  First one direction, then the other.  Goes around with the hat.  Takes it all apart, moves one block down, and starts again.

This time he hasn't even bothered to swallow the torches.  He just blows them out, then comes around with the red velvet hat.  He's nothing but bone, muscle, and ink.  His eyes are torches.  I reckon it has been some years now since he has been entirely mad.  No doubt about it.  He's a real artist.

On the walls of Happy Special Pizza, paintings of Bayon's stone Buddhas are interspersed with giant faded photographs of drunken tourists stoned on pizza.  Amid the the serenely crumbling Buddhas tables of tourists are ecstatic -- or else very, very nervous.

Ten minutes earlier, I would have made it to the sauna.  Ten minutes later, I could have turned around and sat beside the pool with a glass of wine.  As it is, I have been standing here beneath the tin awning at the laundry for an hour watching the roundabout fill up with rain until any moto that attempts the middle of the street sputters and drowns.  My gut is tight with wanting otherwise, the gusts make me feel mad and it is good just to stand here, experiencing the extent to which I am in charge.

The lanky Scandinavian tourists in tank tops with elephants offer their armpits to everything.  To say that they are arrogant would imply they have some doubt as to whom the world belongs, that they might feel some small need to assert or defend.  No so -- they wander sleepily and happily, as though in their own home.  They have a precious and delicate new doll, named phone, and they are showing it Cambodia.

Noon burns holes in the village, which has hastily become a city because so many people showed up expecting to be fed, great bright holes the light, like larvae, chews up, holes which by late afternoon are stitched up into something like a city where, more often than not, a shack serving curry and dollar gin and tonic is assembled on the seam.

How is it possible, I ask my pal Amazement, that the dollar gin and tonics are so very strong?  (The wisdom of Amazement would be more widely credited if she were not also a preposterously pretty girl.)  Nothing miraculous about it, Amazement coolly explains.  "Hello?  The gin is cheaper than the tonic."

Kosan, the tuk tuk man with one glass eye, looks like a scholar of Sanskrit, though I suspect it is retrovirals, not libraries, that have sunken his cheeks.  Every day we have a small chat.  Perched in his tuk tuk outside The Sun, he appears cheerful with no visible cause.  Every day I apologize for walking, but Kosan does not mind.  Kosan understands that he has become important to me.  I must learn what he knows.  This waiting which is not even waiting, and which does not give way to despair.

At the Triangle Bar the tables and chairs are suspended from the ceiling by black cables.  Perched on your seat, you swing as you drink.  I reckon this could be a delicate swaying, akin to a sea travel.  Unfortunately the Australians buying pitchers have decided they must swing as high and fast as possible, so that Amazement and I must clutch our beers desperately, as our table crashes repeatedly into the next, like boats in a hurricane at a crowded marina.  We are rescued at last by the waiter, who grabs onto the cables and looks at us sternly.

Swinging chairs and swinging tables, suspended from the ceiling.  An innovation that means it is no longer necessary to drink a great deal before becoming nauseated.  You can be nauseated immediately.

With great relief Amazement and I leap from our chairs and arrive again on land.  Although it is true that success in the business of tourism means providing ever-fresh novelties, there seem to be a number of sensible and valid reasons this type of bar has failed to catch on.

Sex is something I have done.  That's how it seems to me.  Don't be too impressed.  It has taken me nearly 30 years, if you count from the time that I brought, to games of Truth or Dare, a militant fundamentalist level of zeal.  Anyone can explain to you -- I just didn't have that much else to do.  (Also, I read some books.)  I was a Creative Writing major, remember.  I was predominantly an ornamental type of person.  Not that I was ever particularly good-looking.  But, just like Grandma, life has its knick-knacks.

The days are full of incidents of perfect kindness, faultlessly executed.  At the new sauna on the other side of Highway 6, I sit to put on my plastic leg brace, my special shoes.  The Khmers in the locker room watch silently, as if I am performing a stunt requiring my full concentration.

Ten steps down the dark dirt road, a moto stops beside me.  "Ride home," says the young man.  "But there are two of you already."  "One more no problem", he says.  I ride in the middle.  Because that is my dream of life.  The young man in front rubs against me a little.  Not for his own pleasure of course, but because he understands it means the world to me.

The only table left at The Sun is round and immense, and when I ask, “It is OK for me to sit here, only one?” the voice that comes out is infinitesimal.  The waitress tells me of course it is fine.  Just the same, I add, “If other people come you can move me somewhere else, it’s OK.”  Then, because I am failing at appearing sane, I hide myself behind the folding menu as if behind a screen.  When the waitress comes back she speaks to me tenderly, as if to a kindergartener, “Your writing is so neat and small!” and just barely refrains from patting me on the shoulder.

For years I was in the charge of what no one else wanted to see.  How did I get that job?  I guess I married into it.  I was a sort of nurse attendant for what nobody else wanted to deal with.  Now I have gone away.  It doesn’t matter.  The invisibility of disquieting things has long since rubbed off on me.  The invisible nurse needs no health insurance.  There is no room for me in the palace of positive thinking.  Smile and be nice!  Smile, be nice, and avert your eyes.

Conan keeps showing up at my door.  When I first came here I was here with well-to-do Tokyo friends, with my husband from whom I am estranged.  We stayed at a fancy gay hotel.  Conan was the guard, pool boy and tuk tuk driver of the hotel.  His name is Conan because he is so strong.  He could walk around on his hands all day.  He can do a backflip any time he feels like it, just like that.  One step backward, he throws his head at space and lands on his feet.  He has the innocence of a child soldier.  Conan only likes women, but he pretends he likes men, that’s his job.  He gave us all a hard-on at one point or another.  When my friends left they tipped him two hundred dollars.  Two hundred dollars!

Now Conan keeps showing up.  His eyes are gutted and he smells like a bus station toilet.  He’s been on a bender obviously.  He better watch out or he’ll lose his job.  Over and over he shows me, on his phone, the video of his patrons, waving goodbye at the airport.  Every time they wave, he waves back at them.  He tugs at one item after another and calls out its price: necklace, ten dollars!  pants, twenty dollars! underwear, five dollars!  Conan darts a kiss on my lips, the same way you might pick up a cockroach with toilet paper.  He puts his arm around me, rubs up against me, entices.  I have no money! he wails.  I have no money!

I could make a project out of not hating other tourists.  It could be my little hobby.  Something to work on every moment of the day.

This one here for example, blonde American male, waving the breakfast menu at the waiter, voice directing traffic.  "Is it one per person or can we have as many as we want?"

Cradling a frozen margarita at Viva, Siem Reap's best place for TexMex -- excuse me, Mexibodian --  I overhear a lady at the next table explaining that, actually, the Taj Mahal was discovered by the British.

"It was all overgrown and dilapidated!  They hardly knew it was there!  The British fixed it up and just look at it now!"

I should admit that, despite being a tremendously spiritual person, my psychic powers remain very limited.  Basically, I know who is an alcoholic and I know who is well-hung.  That’s the extent of my magical abilities.

Thus I was unable to turn myself into an enormous blazing human fireball at that moment, despite screwing up my face and wishing very hard.

The old sauna is dead this afternoon.  In fact it appears to have been abandoned several years previous.  In front of the ruin a man takes cash and hands out towels.  We abandon the world as we abandon ourselves and go on living in it, with everything languishing and despised.

Who is here?  This tattoo'd robotic Frenchman must have been a star as recently as a few years ago.  It appears that drugs have wreaked havoc with his electrical system.  Then there is this man with a giant gut, plodding obediently after his masseur.  Of course there is also a tall blonde European with bleached hair and a permanently appalled expression.

I am looking, looking at them.  No one is looking back.  Arrogant frozen fucks.  Then again, I am probably wearing my insatiable secretarial look.  Ravenous and taking dictation.  That's hardly inviting.

We are grotesque and our behavior is appalling.  Just the same, I forgive us everything because I understand how much it hurts.

If anyone manages to live a day without giving way to madness or venom it is a miracle and, as is well-known, miracles are not for everyone.  Even to make a wish is so rare that, when some bald child manages it, the papers are full of the news.

Cumulus of bougeanvilla, dark red frangipani.  A lean, muscled shoulder, gleaming with sweat.  Bitter melon curry over jasmine rice.

One thing I must remember is that, nine times out of ten, getting what I do not deserve totally works in my favor.

When at last he understands he spends all afternoon running about, cancelling his previous prayers.  In the temple he waves his hands at the Buddha.  Never mind!  In the cathedral he blows out lines of candles.

"All these years I have yearned for nothing so often as for an over-sized Brazilian security guard to call my own.  Never mind!  I shall continue to yearn.  It does no harm."

He has traded in all of his previous prayers.  Now all he prays is that everyone gets their hook removed.  His or her hook.  That unspeakable ache that makes ordinary life so out of the question.  Just to be rid of that.  With care and precision to extract, from anguished flesh, the barbed and poisonous hook.

What else would be necessary?

Evidently there was a decision to eschew flowers.  Here flowers are not so easy to avoid.  Around the pool are only ornamental banana trees and potted palms.  Each lounge chair displays a white man between the ages of 40 to 55.  Contrary to what you may have heard, these men have not come to South East Asia because they are undesirable.  In fact, each man is exquisitely groomed, lean and muscled.  Not one merits an adjective less laudatory than handsome.

At sunset these men hold diligently their cocktails, which now and then they exchange for their phones.  They are guests at the hotel attached to the new sauna "Men's Resort", which bills itself as a paradise of iniquity in a modern setting.  The men all make great show of ignoring each other.

After dark the Khmers arrive.  Most of them go into the steam room and only come out occasionally to breathe, rinse off, and then head back in again.  Inevitably some of the well-to-do Europeans hook up with the young Khmers.  Such a perfect evening: the guests have had workout, had a cocktail, and checked their messages.  Now, with a young man on their arm, gleaming from the steam, they have gained some semblance of life.

Aquariums on the edge of the street.  On the side of the tank, the words: FEED OUR FISH YOUR DEAD.  I was startled until I realized the tuk tuk man sitting on the edge in the shade was blocking a last word with his feet.

As lost as if I were alone in the ocean.  If I considered my situation reasonably, from a practical point of view, I'd drown at once.  Even to call for help would be a lethal distraction.

So I do my best to keep quiet and calm.  I even pretend that this is where I belong, out here with nowhere to stand and no visible landmarks.  Relying on letting go, on buoyant salt.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Metta Meditation for Hot Male Action

or -- how to practice love in sleazy bars

(Amsterdam, 2008)

illustration by Akemi Shinohara

This is an essay about meditation. Which is maybe something you plan to do -- once you get your act together. On the list with getting sober, settling down, eating oatmeal and removing all the porn from your computer.

Personally, I suspect I may be dead before I ever get myself all buttoned-up and presentable. But, in the meantime, I still practice meditation.

Metta means loving-kindness--and loving-kindness is just a fancy word for real love. The Buddha taught metta meditation 2500 years ago. I've found metta meditation to be very useful, even in the most scandalous places, the most low-down situations. Useful even when I am completely nuts.

I’m looking to incite a queer metta craze.

Metta is a perfect accessory for our gay lives, like techno, poppers and fetish gear, like water-soluble lube, like manhunt and gaydar. Leaving your apartment without metta is even worse than neglecting to moisturize or put gel in your hair. Metta is essential. The practice of love need not wait until you're proper and respectable-- it cannot, must not wait.

If it's only noon and you're on beer #4 already, if you've spent the last six hours jacking-off online, if you're reading this hurriedly on the way to the baths--honey, it's metta time. Trust me: I've tested this myself. Repeatedly.

I'm not sure I have a right to talk about meditation. I have zero credentials. OK, I did live in a Buddhist monastery, about a century ago. I was always the one chosen to answer questions about masturbation. I'm not exactly radiant with virtue. Nonetheless, here we are. Someone has evidently neglected to lock up the computer. Therefore I will offer a few notes on the practice of metta in sleazy gay bars.

Of course, I'm sure that metta would also work at, say, a piano bar, or one of those places where gay businessmen gather to drink a very dry martini before going home to their husbands to, uh, assimilate some more. Personally, I prefer sleazy bars. Spectacularly sleazy, if available. Places where you can get blown standing at the bar. Places where there's a fisting party on the first Sunday and watersports on the last Thursday. Red light bulbs, a sling, free condoms, lurkers at the urinal, lubricant in a pump dispenser. What a wonderful place to meditate!

Like most guys at the bar, I often sit alone, staring into space. Macho cruise mode: trying not to slouch, trying to look tough and hunky. Do you ever do this? This is a perfect time to meditate. You can keep the same posture and just change what's in your mind.

If it's a bar that shows porno, pry your eyes off it. (For now -- we will return to this point, and to porno.) And please don't worry -- if a man comes up to you, begging to be ravished, you may interrupt your meditation at any time.

Give yourself a minute or two to breathe. Notice whatever is going on in your mind: complaints, desire, fog. Usually what's going on in my mind is: I want him. He doesn't want me. He wants me. Do I want him? Am I good enough? Shouldn't everyone be paying more attention to me? Is it too late to do something about my ears?  Whatever it is, just notice it.

Traditionally, it should be said, meditation is done without beer. Which is worth trying -- but perhaps not in the beginning. Sip slowly.

To start, think of someone you're fond of, someone for whom you have a soft spot. Imagine that person in your mind. Maybe it's your Mom or your best friend. Or maybe your Mom is a bitch two-thirds of the time, and your best friend just yesterday spilled red wine on the only decent pair of white pants you've ever owned. Try Grandma?

For me, it's often easiest to start with someone who's almost a stranger. A beloved stranger. That guy at Seven-Eleven who winked at you and cheered you up. The coffee lady who slipped you a free muffin. Honey, there are no rules. Kylie Minogue or your dog will do. The point is just to get some love percolating through your sad heart.

When you think of someone, address them in your mind. May you be happy. May you be free of suffering. May you be healed. May you be at peace. These are all phrases commonly used in metta meditation. The point is to use phrases that work for you. I used to say, May you be well -- but I couldn't stop thinking of a pulley and a bucket. Think of a person for whom you feel tender -- and love them in your mind.

Actually it's not really so different from getting turned on. (Buddhist police are coming for me now. They're leaping into their cars.) Maybe you weren't thinking about sex at all until you saw that guy at the gym, the one who struts around with his towel slung over his shoulder, his long floppy penis practicing hypnotism. Then you started checking out random hot pedestrians. By the time you got to the bar you thought, whoa baby, I better have something on the rocks because I am feeling damn friendly toward everybody.

Metta is like that. You want your loving-kindness, which started with one person, to overflow and spill toward other friends, then random people, then to the bar regulars you tired of years ago, and finally even to the guy you gave your number to -- but the bastard never called.

Sitting right there at the bar, looking cool and bored, slowly look around the room. Find someone who has been kind to you, or someone cute, and in your mind offer him loving-kindness. Think of it as cruising with a purpose. Maybe start with the bartender, if he ever slips you free shots. Is he doing all right? Does he look tired tonight?

If it's a weeknight and the task doesn't seem too overwhelming, try to offer loving-kindness to every man in the bar. One by one. Be specific. What else do you have to do? A typical night at the bar: you're there with your vodka cocktail, watching a bareback gangbang video, being totally ignored by the guy that you want most. It’s meditation paradise.

Remember that, just like you, all these men want to be happy. Yeah, and just like you, they're probably doing a piss-poor job of it. Make a wish for them to be happy. Deeply and truly happy. Wish for their healing. Remember that they're going to be dead soon, just like you. Ever come to this bar ten years ago? Who's left?

One by one, send metta. For the vicious queen: may you be full of loving-kindness. For the
leather daddy who’s been on retrovirals forever: may you be healed. For the jittery dealer: may you be at peace. Be careful not to skip over the guys you don't know so well, or the ones who are kind of non-descript. Middle-aged in blue jeans: may your heart be flooded with joy.

Extend your loving-kindness toward the entire bar, toward all the bars you know, all the drunks and depressed folks, all the addicts, the whole city, the country, the world. May you be happy. May you be healed. May you be safe. May you somehow be remotely all right at the end of this long night.

If it starts to seem mechanical, don't worry. Go back to someone you really care about, someone who was kind to you. For me, it's those folks at the soup kitchen, who always called me a volunteer, even though I chopped carrots maybe once a month, but ate there every day. Even if your meditation stays mechanical, don't worry. What would I normally be doing? Watching Big As They Come for the ten-thousandth time, sneaking hits off a bottle of poppers. Keep practicing metta, even when it's just words.

The point is to increase the love in your heart and start including more people in it. The point is to end up a friend of the whole world. However, it is not actually necessary to sleep with everyone. I often forget this. Sleeping with people is optional.

By the way, don’t forget to include the beautiful men in your meditation. Personally, I have this handicap: I think the gorgeous don’t suffer. Ridiculous, I know. But I keep thinking that, if I had a perfect face, a perfect body and, most of all, an uncut porno mega-dong, all my problems would be solved. When in fact it does not work this way. The horsehung bubble-butt big-bicep washboard-abs crowd is also suffering. I have to re-learn this nearly every evening. This man I see now, posed beside the bar, who looks like he fell off the box cover of Real Hung Straight Marines Volume Eleven -- if he was so freaking happy would he really be on coke and using steroids? Would he have this face like sucking lemons?

Remember to include yourself. Send loving-kindness toward yourself. Make a wish for your own healing, your happiness and peace. You there at the bar, feeling a little lonely, with all your bad habits, extra kilos and old hurts. May I be happy. May I be at peace. May I be full of loving-kindness.

Traditionally, metta practice started with yourself because loving yourself was easiest. (Insert hysterical laughter here.)

I try to sneak myself into my meditation, like a drunk crashing a wedding. Once I've thought of lots of other people, I toss myself in as well. Like, oh yeah, and the funny looking guy, whatshisface, may I be free of suffering, may I be joyful, may I learn some social skills which allow me to keep my pants on.

One problem is, if I succeed in smuggling love to myself, I start to cry. Which is oh-so-not the Hot Macho Leather Stud persona I'm aiming for. If at any point you start to cry, massage both sides of your temples with one hand, thus covering your eyes.

At certain points in your meditation, you may find yourself nailed by painful realizations. Such as: if I really loved myself, I wouldn't be drunk in this bar every night of the week. If I really loved myself, I wouldn't be kneeling in this dark room offering myself as a urinal. If I really loved myself, I wouldn't be having safe sex just, oh, well, maybe 70% of the time. Allow yourself to be skewered by these thoughts. Send loving-kindness to yourself. And please feel free to change your life.

Often I hear: first, get sober. First, stop fucking around. Then meditate. One wonders where the love and sanity required to make these changes is supposed to come from.

I'm trusting you already know it would be better to just stay home. Eat dark leafy greens and go to bed early. I’m trusting you know this already. A much better idea than going out, drinking six beers, and four shots that taste like Scope, and sucking off three guys in the corner. Those smart people staying home, I hereby refer to the 700,000 books and articles published every year on Buddhism for Respectable People. These notes are intended as company for those of us headed out. I wish I could buy you a beer. Hell, I wish I could play with your nipples. All I can offer is this typing. Hope it helps.

Those of us who meditate in sleazy bars have several big advantages. First, there's the proximity of suffering -- that's very helpful. Most of the time, we're not neatly bandaged up, with all our wounds disguised. Nope -- we're bleeding all over the floor. Look around: that guy over there -- he started drinking at dawn. Those three are on tina. That one just got ditched by his lover. That one found out his T cells are shit. That one is so far gone he's willing to get fucked by anyone. Any love you can muster is urgently needed. Things are not going to be all right.

Still, it's astonishing how often I manage to think that I'm the only one with real problems. When I feel this way, I look around the bar and tell myself, "Yeah -- these guys are basically happy. They've got it together. They're at peace in their hearts. They're all going to wake up tomorrow with a smile on their face and a song of joy in their heart." I do this until I giggle. Then I resume metta meditation.

If, while cruising the bar, you notice that you're suffering -- that's useful. Whatever it is that's bothering you -- trust me -- it's bothering someone else too. Feeling not hot enough, feeling rejected, queasy from cheap shots, canker sore coming on, sore dick, hemorrhoids, worried about work tomorrow, love-sick, so horny you're a danger to society? Baby, whatever it is, you've got company.

I maintain that, when it comes to practicing metta, sluts have an advantage. (Buddhist police, driving faster now.) We’ve spent so much time smashing down barriers already. We’ve slept with lovers, friends, enemies and umpteen strangers. Now we just have to learn to share our loving hearts. And actually it’s much easier than sharing your ass.

Another major advantage of sleazy gay bars is the presence of an extraordinary meditative tool: porno. Whenever you’re having trouble meditating, porn is there to help you. When you can’t think of anyone, when you’re distracted, start directing loving-kindness to the boy up on the screen. Think about him. How’s he doing? Is he all right? Look into his eyes: bored, spaced out, or full of that fuck, yeah! fake passion at which I am expert and probably you are too.

Send your tenderness, your care, to the men in the video, to all the fake lumberjacks and lifeguards, to the leather men and twinks, to the Czechs and Brazilians, the experts and the amateurs. You’ll know you’re making progress is your meditation when suddenly the men on-screen are real.

Actually, it's very useful, on the nights you can't find any love at all, just to sit in the bar, looking at the men, reminding yourself, "That man is real. He's real." This sounds simple but it may in fact be quite revolutionary, especially if all your thoughts about him previously have been: "Ohmigod, for trolls like that, spandex should be illegal." Or: "Oh honey, that's gonna hit the spot."

Sleazy gay bars are such ideal places to meditate that I fear, if word gets out, we may be overrun by Buddhist meditators. By you know, respectable people. Clutching their cashmere shawls and their meditation cushions handmade in Vermont. You see, traditionally, Buddhist monks used to seek out places like this for meditation. Graveyards and battlefields -- places respectable people avoided. Now we are in the 21st century -- and here are the new charnel grounds.

If you see anyone at the bar who looks too respectable or, god forbid, holy--no problem. Show them your toys. Or your piercings. Offer to pee on them.

Actually, this is one of the dangers of practice. You might start thinking, “Oh these poor unfortunate men. And I, I am a compassionate meditator, with love in his heart. Oo la la!” This is to be studiously avoided. We’re all in this mess together. If you start feeling puffed-up, direct loving-kindness toward yourself.

Like the pretty boys who pose and act offended if you so much as smile in their direction -- we're all scared to death. Therefore, when you screw up, be even kinder to yourself. We have already been punished sufficiently, thank you.

You might think: I can't walk around a tough, nasty, mean-ass, hard-core leather bar with love blazing in my eyes, like I'm everybody's aunty, like some cow that's been grazing on marijuana.

Trust me: You can. I've tested it. I promise you won't get groped any less. Of course it doesn't help to grin like a happy Jesus poster. Keep your mouth as it is and blaze love out your eyes. If you feel self-conscious, look at the floor or into space. Imagine you are a loving-kindness secret agent.

And remember, love must often take action. The point of metta is not to sit at the bar in a happy daze -- beer does that. You are the designated friend of the whole damn bar -- whether you’re sober or drunk off your ass. It is your responsibility to help and to prevent harm. This is impossible -- and it’s still your job.

Every time you think “somebody ought to” -- honey, that somebody is you. Call taxis, hold wallets, make sure the kid about to pass out does not wind up in the sling. Steal car keys when necessary. Always have love in your heart -- and half a dozen condoms in your pocket. Little packets of lube are also often appreciated.

Metta -- just something else to take along to the bar. And keep it with you the whole time. Like your wallet. Add metta to your check-list. Condoms, lube, butt plug, wrist restraints, latex gloves, tit clamps, poppers and -- oh, yes -- do I have my good heart?

By the way, take it easy with the poppers. (I'm speaking to myself here.) It may be that your brain is something you will want to use later.

As I was saying -- metta is as essential as a condom. We cannot afford meanness. We cannot afford the petty acts of cruelty we dispense so freely. All the bigotry the straight world dishes out is not a tenth as bad as how we gay men treat each other. It must stop and you yourself must stop it. Tonight.

Probably you know plenty of bitter queens, eaten up by meanness. Maybe you’re one of them some nights. I sure as hell am. Don’t give up on yourself, but beware: unlike HIV, cruelty does not have a ten year incubation period. We suffer immediately. The effects of cruelty can be more sneaky than pneumonia and quicker than a brain tumor. We must ditch our petty cruelty like a shit-smeared condom. We must saturate ourselves with kindness. This is an emergency. Metta is essential. This world desperately requires you, and cries out for your loving heart.

OK, now it’s time to talk about some odd side-effects of metta practice. Which some would call rewards. This is where things get a little weird, a little magicky. Nonetheless, you should be prepared. Because it’s not like you just do your metta practice, night after night, forever, and nothing happens. Because -- I don’t know -- maybe the Buddha was wrong about karma. Maybe rebirth is all a hoax. But metta, gents and ladyboys, tops and bottoms, bears and cubs, metta is for real.

Of course metta should be practiced for the sake of cultivating a good heart, because it is our true nature to be loving, et cetera. If that doesn’t motivate you, practice metta because it’ll transform your nights in sleazy bars. (Buddhist police, pushing the pedal to the floor.)

Fill yourself with as much loving-kindness as you can, until you’re as saturated as canned fruit in syrup. Imagine breathing-in loving-kindness like emptying your bottle of poppers in one long whiff. Blast your loving-kindness like a fire hose at the raging fire of misery in the world.

Meanwhile, do not be alarmed if small odd things do occur. If the bartender suddenly refuses to let you pay for your drinks. If men, with no warning, suddenly embrace you and declare their love. Or buy you beer for no reason. If the creepiest junky in the place comes up to you and says, “Could you just hold my hand for a little while? I feel safe here.” If a man says, “Could you please sleep beside me -- I think my nightmares would go away.” If a man says, “Dude, I am going to get shot for saying this, but there is something going on with your aura.”

These are a few of the things that have happened to me, while practicing metta at the bar. Write in with your list, okay?

It can also work the other way. Suddenly the most difficult person in the bar -- actually the most difficult person in the entire metro area -- will accost you. You had such a good feeling going, a happy metta groove, and now you think, "Fucking A -- I have to love this one too?" Yes, him too. Him and his hair gel and his little snide remarks. Keep sending out metta and, when it gets tough, love yourself for trying.

Of course, you are practicing metta for the sake of ultimate liberation, for the good of all humankind. Thus I hate to admit that metta may also lead to drastically better nights at the bar, fewer hangovers and, yes, better sex. (Buddhist police, running up the stairs.) If you practice metta, more men will buy you drinks, chat you up, and, yes, sometimes even the hunkiest, most desirable, lick-able, dreamy, man-god will abruptly want -- you.

If this occurs, try not to act alarmed. For goodness sake, do not start talking about Buddhist meditation! (Ugh!) But don’t feel you have to stop practicing metta. Keep thinking: May you be happy. May you be free of suffering. Right on into his arms.

(Buddhist police, breaking down the door.)

I think I’ll stop here. These are just a few notes, based on my experience, meditating in sleazy bars. Please remember: love is not the property of respectable people. Love cannot wait till you pull it together. Love yourself, even the mess you are now, and love the people around you, busy with their own disasters. Do not wait a day or an hour, don’t wait a moment, not even until you sober up, or get your pants back on. Begin practicing metta at once.

May you be free from suffering. May you be at peace. May you be happy. May you be healed. May you always be full of loving-kindness.

(This essay was originally published in RFD.  This revised version is based on the original -- uncut -- version.  I am hoping very much that this essay, along with many other stories and essays, will soon be part of a book.  If you have corrections or suggestions, please let me know.  Who might ever publish such a book?  Any clues?  Your kindness and help is much appreciated.  Thank you.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Guttersnipe in Print: New & Forthcoming

For reasons I do not fully understand, some of my stories and essays are now appearing in print.  Here's where to find them.  My hope is that someday there will be a little book.

"The Heart of the Farm" will appear in Green Mountains Review.

"Love in No Time" (Manifesto #3) is online now at Eleven Eleven.

"Love on a Rampage" (Manifesto #1) and "The Utmost Gentleness" (Manifesto #2) are forthcoming from South Loop Review.

"Psychiatry, Tokyo style" is online now at Hippocampus.

"The Complete Apologies" appeared in Jonathan #4, a magazine of gay fiction published by Sibling Rivalry Press.

"Pa, Randy and the Sugarhouse Fire" appears in Zymbol #3.

"Naked in Sweden" is forthcoming in July from MiNUS TiDES.

"News of My Triumphant Return to India" is online now at Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine.

"Ghost Guide" is online now at

I am grateful to everyone who is kind to me, encourages me, feeds me a hot meal or smacks me on the ass or upside the head (as necessary).  Thank you for allowing me to persist in my folly.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Lemur Tulku Rinpoche

Everyone is extremely upset with Rinpoche.  Two monks and a nun have already disrobed.  Prominent laypeople threaten to withdraw funds from the community.  Rinpoche continues to be adamant, though he remains in seclusion, reportedly due to ill health.  Fervent devotees continue to perform long life prayers morning and night.  Rinpoche points out that his life has been long already.  He says that soon he will die and, when he comes back, he’s coming back as a lemur.

A Greater Bamboo Lemur, specifically.  Also known as the Broad-nosed Bamboo Lemur or Prolemur simus.  The very rarest lemur in the world.

In the shock following Rinpoche’s announcement, the secretary, in tears, flees to Google.  “The Greater Bamboo Lemur is native only to Madagascar!” cries the secretary.  “Its habitat is almost entirely destroyed.”  Rinpoche says, “You’ll know how to serve me,”  “Less than 300 exist!”  wails the secretary.  Rinpoche says, “I’ll be easy to find.”  Then adds, “Once you do find me, please leave me with the other lemurs.  If tagging is necessary, it’s got to be gentle.  I don’t approve of tattoos.  I certainly don’t want my ears notched or anything.”

Rinpoche brushes off Buddhist conservatives, who claim that what he intends to do is unheard of.  He maintains it is now quite common for bodhisattvas to be reborn as members of direly threatened species, or as the last living speakers of languages nearly extinct.  “All beings have Buddha Nature,” insists Rinpoche.  “It is in the nature of compassion to improvise.”

A prominent Dzogchen master – he refuses to say whom – was recently a coelacanth.  Other enlightened beings have taken rebirth to keep company with direly endangered marsupials or tree frogs nearly wiped out by the epidemic of chytridiomycosis.

According to Rinpoche, the most prominent of these buddhas was an emanation of Chenrezig who arrived in Washington in 1972 and spent nearly 30 years proclaiming the dharma at the National Zoo, very far indeed from her beloved bamboo forests.

In the beginning the community refuses to accept any of these arguments.  As time goes on, so, too, does their opposition.  Scholars continue to argue that it is the human rebirth which is precious, as the dharma is only available to those in human form.

“How could that be so?” says Rinpoche, appearing visibly strained.  “I promise you that the lemur dharma maintains that a lemur rebirth is of paramount desirability.”  The lemur rebirth, too, is precious.  Certainly it is exceedingly rare.

Even on Rinpoche’s deathbed the monks continues to argue.  Rinpoche is told that he must live forever, that he must go on teaching the dharma, that there is no precedent, that he must resume human form.

For many hours Rinpoche does not respond.  As his devotees look down fearfully upon his brown gray skin, on the whirls of white hair which sprout from his ears, it seems  that he has already begun to resemble the Greater Bamboo Lemur.

Finally, deep in the night, as his disciples keep vigil around his hospital bed, Rinpoche’s  old and enormous gnarled hard reaches out from beneath the sheets.  Refusing to be stopped, he turns and reaches down toward the floor beside the bed.  As he touches it, his voice booms out, as the Buddha’s did on the night of his enlightenment, The Earth is my witness.  Then he dies.

Grief-stricken, the Rinpoche’s followers arrange for the vigil and cremation.  The ashes are barely cool before the devotees are on a plane to Madagascar.

(India, 2012)

Recently, At Orgies

(expanded second version)

Recently at orgies I’ve become one of the peripheral people.  One of those ravenous middle-aged lugs straining forward shamelessly to get a scrap of what’s on offer.  For years I was one of the dreary stars, grappling with the gods at the center, shoving away hands, amazed and annoyed that, every time I wanted to have sex, a crowd of people showed up.  Don’t get me wrong, I was never one of the gods but -- I was often slated to position of chief devotee.  I had access, understand.

Now I’m one of the guys fumbling on the side, lunging at parts and openings.  This may sound like a complaint, but it isn’t really, or else not wholly, because after all -- I’m still at the orgy.  It’s not like I have tuberculosis.  It’s not like I am gainfully employed.  I’m still taking part, giving and receiving parts, and, you know, I am downright fond of parts and I have been my whole life.

I think I could have been a really spectacular doctor.  After all these years I remain vitally interested in what everyone has in their trousers.  (I understand that the maintenance of enthusiasm may not be all there is to doctoring but -- surely it is integral?)  I didn’t become a doctor, or anything else.  I was never any good at keeping my eyes to myself.  Or my hands.  Now I’ve ended up here on the side which, contrary to belief, is not actually such a dreary location.

Many opportunities exist for the peripheral.  In fact, I reckon that is likely why the gods created us with such a multiplicity of orifices and interesting places to visit -- so that peripheral people at orgies would not become forlorn or embittered, so that there might be many places to put things, and many places to take hold.  We are torchbearers of the electric age, multi-plug adapters, with myriad opportunities for pleasure and attachment, in bodies made for orgies, for multiple loves and disasters.

Today at the orgy, here off to the side, it’s a well above average day because I have been able to secure the pornworthy phallus of one of those near the center.  Mind you, this does not mean that I have re-established centrality.  The gentleman is 6’5” and Scandinavian and thus just actually naturally extends this far into the hinterlands.  Like the long arm of the Lord.  Or something.

From this semi-secure location, with the pornworthy phallus stowed safely away, doing my best to adopt, nonetheless, a natural expression -- though it is impossible to maintain an entirely intellectual demeanor at these moments -- let us faithfully survey the area.  From here on my knees, I peer left and right among legs and arms, past heads and asses, through the steam.

Although I say I am peripheral at the orgy, there are of course others still further out, starting with those administering to various parts of myself which, I earnestly hope, they will return to me in good time, well-satiated and reasonably unharmed.

How extensive is this orgy anyhow, asks the dogged and determined investigative reporter.  How many Rhode Islands?  Could someone with a free hand please perform a census?

Excuse me, sir, I mutter to a man impaled nearby.  (Remember, I’m talking out of the corner of my mouth, which is otherwise occupied by Scandinavia.)  Would you happen to have a pair of binoculars?

He looks at me dazed.  Poppers?

No, sir.  Binoculars.

He does not happen to have any but he is thankfully very well-connected, like all of us here at the orgy, and he asks someone who asks someone who has associates among the voyeurs and, sure enough, binoculars are passed along.  In another moment I’ve located a hand to take hold of them, a hand which may very well be one of my own, or is anyway very amenable.

Looking out as far as I can toward the perimeter, I am see octogenarians in the distance, bald and decrepit, clutching their rock-hard octogenarian pharmaceutical-grade phalluses, aiming moves at the septuagenarians, ready to throw attitude at any centenarian who tries to cop a feel.

The centenarians mark the limitations of the visible, but beyond that I think we must acknowledge (now that death is no longer something in which reasonable people believe) that there is no doubt a horde of invisible beings, pushing in from the sides, brandishing tremendous phantom dildos, slick with astral lubricant, without a speck of spectral terrycloth, determined to locate, for once, a man with a bit of substance.

Contrary to reports, I have not actually been able to sleep with everyone.  Animal, vegetable, mineral, spirit.  Though, believe you me, I did make an effort.  What I can say with confidence, however, is that if you tally up everyone I slept with and everyone they ever slept with, then all of creation is accounted for.  Even the most reclusive hermits in the remotest hermitages have been comprehensively sodomized, and probably (sorry!) given a case of the crabs.

For example, when scientists in Hispaniola discovered an entirely new genus of solendon, we were all meant to be impressed.  But actually my buddy Bill dated that venomous shrew in the Eighties.  Kinky little prehistoric bastard, grooved-teeth and all.

Bill’s long gone now, of course.

Some people say we are wasting our time, here at the orgy.  But fucking and getting fucked by everyone turns out to have been excellent preparation for the world we live in now.  We understand well what it means to be connected as the world goes over a cliff and almost everyone pretends otherwise.  In this fragile fuckstruck world where absolutely everything is connected to absolutely everything else, trilobite to troposphere, exhaust pipe to Arctic ice, Troy to Diego.

But where was I?

And where am I now?


Wait.  Damn.  Oh, nevermind.

I’ve gone and done it.  Did it.  Made it.  The critical mistake.  I’ve fallen prey to the principle peril of orgies, the number one reason teenagers are warned against them, the reason you must always remain vigilant at all times, or at least keep your locker key on that stretchy cord around your ankle.

I got so busy looking into the distance, surveying and enumerating, that now I’ve entirely lost track, gotten turned around, taken my eye from the ball, from the cock, from the point, from the curve of the Earth, and thus lost sight of what must always be kept in mind.

Excuse me?  Could someone please tell me which body is mine?  Was mine?  Was allotted to me?

As I recall, I was somewhere on the periphery.  Where is the periphery now?  I was servicing some Scandinavian, perhaps that one that looks like a sailboat in the distance, swarmed with gulls.  Which one was I?  I was promising at first, I remember.  Later I was lackluster.  I relied at all times on a highly unnatural enthusiasm, which bordered at times on hysteria.  Still, my hysteria was precious to me, the world was worthy of it, and I would not have traded it for any amount of dull good sense.

I was a man.  I was a man, wasn’t I?  In some regards.  And in other ways I was a porno theater.  This was before or after the time I was a hospital for veterans, a gazebo, a dog pound, a phone booth.  Not necessarily in that order, of course.  For a long time I was a church.  Not a bad church.  One of those churches that take the command to  love your neighbor  very seriously indeed.

(Tokyo, 2014)

Monday, April 07, 2014

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Barthelme, 60 Stories

Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories
Penguin, 1982
introduction by David Gates (2003)

When I was 20 I tried to read Nabokov, and couldn’t, and knew it was my problem, not his. When I was 25 I could read Nabokov. I couldn’t read Barthelme until I was 40. (There are real benefits, it turns out, to not dying young.) Maybe it helped that I had read Beckett, Lispector, Lydia Davis in the meantime. Probably it helped even more that I had suffered serious disappointments and intermittently drank too much. I had finally arrived on the wave-length. New to Barthelme? Read this one first. I’ve heard a few people say that Forty Stories is easier. I don’t see the truth in that. Some stories will grab you instantly, others will seem incomprehensible or opaque. (My favorites; “Me and Miss Mandible”, “City Life”, “A Manual for Sons”, above all: “At the End of the Mechanical Age”.) If you get stuck, bounce around. Read the stories out of sequence. Open the book at random and read sentences like fortunes: “There are twenty-two kinds of fathers, of which only nineteen are important.”

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Barthelme, 40 Stories

Donald Barthelme, Forty Stories Penguin, 1989 introduction by Dave Eggers (2005) Short fiction is capable of drastically more than we use it for. Donald Barthelme is proof of the fact. It’s like that cliche about the brain, that we only use ten percent of it. If you’re new to Barthelme, I suggest starting with Sixty Stories. All of his stories are mad and wildly inventive, but there’s something to be said for proceeding chronologically. For me, enjoying Barthelme meant using strategies I learned while reading poetry. Some stories will grab you from the first line (“Never open that door, Bluebeard told me, and I, who knew his history, nodded.”), others may remain doggedly opaque. Persist, a little, and if you become frustrated, try another. How I would love to have a group of misfit friends who knew this book and talked about what they had discovered and loved, as well as what they did not yet understand. Along with the stories I loved (“Lightning”, “The Genius”, “Paul Klee”, “The Temptation of St. Anthony”) and those I found impenetrable (“Construction”, for example) there was at least one story I adored AND did not understand: “Great Days”. Barthelme’s stories are like any of the great questions of life -- you have to be patient with your own un-knowing. The stories are tremendous fun and fuel -- even when you are dizzy, even when you have no clue how it is all being done.

Louis and His Porn Compassion

An earlier version of this story appeared in MARY in Spring 2011.

The world is squishy, increasingly so.  The surface has gotten so thin it’s easy to stick a foot through, to suddenly be up to your knees in it, to crash through in a flash and be gone so fast no one notices until much later when someone finally asks, “Hey, has anyone seen Stan?"  Or: "Where has Louis gone?”

I’m no science expert, but basically, the way I understand it, how it works is this. Excess CO2 in the atmosphere causes a rise in temperature which, combined with elevated levels of fecal matter in the water, creates an out-of-control bloom of information, which, essential as it may be as a micronutrient, is toxic in heavy doses and results in paralysis, as well as a treacherous weakening of surfaces, to such an extent that pretty soon polar bears are crashing through, and people too, and even when they turn up again, they’re not the same as they were before, for example Louis --

Lou! How you been?

"I got stuck," Louis says.  And looks downright embarrassed as he admits that he got himself one of those on-line porno memberships, which, for just 19.95 a month and gives you access to 675,000 porn sites, which contain upwards of 12 million photos -- more cocks and asses than you could see in a lifetime, even if you were a showerhead at the Y.  Add in the webcams, the chatrooms, and the reality sites and -- well, you’ve got yourself a career.

“Damn Lou, it's been a long time since I seen you.  When did you sign on?”

“1997,” Louis says.

“Lou!  You gotta be careful, Louis.  Nothing like a good wank to make a man lose track of time.  How’d you finally kick the habit?”

“My credit card expired.”

The world, as I said, is getting squishy.  Reality’s not what it used to be, not for polar bears, and not for anyone with a credit card.  People are disappearing right and left, but no one is alarmed because even after they disappear you can still see them – like that girl in the corner of the train with her headphones on.  Here she is and here she isn’t.

Often the people themselves do not know that they have disappeared.  All they know is that they've got a brand new phone and it can do everything.

Louis isn't such a bad guy really .  He’ll be less disconcerting when he’s been out in the sun awhile and looks less like a dwarf albino cave fish.  He still has basic human understanding, even compassion  -- except now it applies only to porn stars.

What’s that you’re saying, Lou?

“Whatever happened to Anthony Gallo?  Ever think about him?  I think about him sometimes.  The same way I think about ex-lovers, like I’d better be ready to feed them and put them up, to help them find work, and for them to still love me, or not.

"I feel that way about Tony Gallo too, even though he was a hairy big lug Italian porn star, with an uncut cock he could have carted around in a wheelbarrow, and I was just a lonely boy with a magazine.  He had a long career for a porn star – a decade at least.  Then he disappeared.  But I still have feelings for him.  I wonder what he’s doing now.  Hey, Tony Gallo – you OK?

“Now of course there are new porn stars to love, spunk on, and worry over.  An ever-increasing cascade of porn stars, like rivulets pouring from a melting glacier.  Because, the way I figure it, 47% of Brazil is now a porn star.  And 71% of the Czech Republic.  Which fills one with indignation.  And makes one wish to move immediately to one of those great nations.

“For example, I am extremely worried about Cooker at  You must have seen at
least the preview clips.  He’s the one who shoots a load in the frypan.  He’s a big lanky chipper boy, not necessarily a genius, but definitely good-natured in an aw-shucks sort of way.  I had a girl call me freak show one time!  And I was like, Wow. 

“In the recent clips however, the color’s been drained from him.  He looks like he’s been stored underwater.  What happened, Cooker?  I should have known to worry more when he talked about comparing cock sizes at the Thanksgiving table with his father and his brother.

“Then of course there are the Visconti triplets.  Now we are in treacherous moral territory requiring professional ethicists.  The Visconti triplets are so handsome, so hairless, and so identical that they appear to have been manufactured: the first manmade men.  But of course they are real, not manufactured, so -- is even just jacking off to the Visconti triplets a profoundly immoral act?  Are we all going to hell for concocting fantasies involving camping and the Visconti triplets?

“Certainly this cannot be good for them – about as good as foie gras for geese.  Because it can’t be A plus super good for one’s psyche to have a career which requires fucking, and getting fucked by, your brother at the same time.  Are fantasies of the Visconti triplets sending a whole army of masturbators to Hell?  What’s going to become of these triplets?  Do they need someone to ghost-write their memoirs?

“At least one of the Visconti triplets – I’m betting real money now – will become a fire-and-brimstone evangelical minister.  Each and every member of his congregation, even if you ask them in private, will swear that they have never ever seen the videos.  I think about those three men and I worry.  No doubt the bar tab of the Visconti triplets is already a sight to behold. . ."

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Everyone Wants to Be Friends With Takashi

Escape from Tokyo: Series One

1. drip

 Under no circumstances should a can of milk coffee be called Boss Silky Drip.  Then again, I still remember the cans of Wild Drip.  Antibiotic resistant, presumably.  And let us not forget Double Shot 69.

 Japanese can coffees are like the boyfriends of your unlucky friend: despite the names and the packaging, they are all the same, and not much good can be said of any of them.  They are what you resort to out of dire necessity, or, more likely,  thoughtless habit.

 There was once one with cinnamon that was really quite tasty, but, like most of everything I ever managed to enjoy in Tokyo, it has since been discontinued.

 Akagi Shrine, Tsukiji Market, Kabuki-za, Mister Donut Senzoku, Sesame Chicken Chips, Alcoholic Ginger Ale: I mourn your passing.

2. we’re all in this together

 For the record, I would like to make clear that only in Tokyo do I lock myself in public toilets to drink liquor.  This is something special.  In other countries I think, “Oh, perhaps a beer with dinner would be nice.”  Only in Tokyo do I find myself desperate to take the edge off before the next time I get crammed onto the train.  Of course I don’t need to lock myself in.  It’s legal to drink anywhere.  But sometimes I need, you understand, just a little time-out.

 And evidently I am not the only person who feels this way because, look, here are two tall cans of Asahi, a Kirin, and a glass sake jar, lined up neatly beside the garbage bin.

3. spell

 The following is a spell which will render you twenty seven percent more sexually attractive than you are now.  For some of us, that’ll be a really big deal.  For others, not so much.  Still, you have to work with whatever it is you’ve got.

4. married life

 Identify and circle the errors in the following conversation.

 He was making individual pizzas.  He had lit too many candles.  We were both sitting down.

 I said, “Oh, I think the pizzas are burning!”

 He said, “I don’t smell anything.”

 “But I do!” I said.

 “But I doooooo,” he mimicked me.

 “I can’t pretend that nothing is burning just because you don’t smell it!!!”

5. Tokyo monsters

 If you do not know Japan, you might imagine that foreigners stay here for the money.  But the time for easy money passed decades ago.  You might imagine that foreign men stay here for sex, for a vastly more beautiful girlfriend, or younger boyfriend, than they’d qualify for anywhere else.  There’s truth in that surely, but it’s still only part of the story.

 So why do foreigners stay here, year after year, turning into ever-stranger hothouse shapes, into Tokyo monsters?

 Simple.  Foreigners stay in Japan because they get away with things here that they absolutely would not get away with anywhere else.

Excuse me.  I ought to say, “we”.

6. back straight, people

 As any Zen master can tell you, what swirls through your head during these proceedings is not so important, but the correct posture is vital.

 As if suspended from the top of one’s head by a string.  A very ordinary bit of greenish twine, that’s what I’m seeing.  But if you’d rather have a streak of red ribbon, please, go right ahead.

7. I’m only going to say this once 

 Takashi here has the penis I’d like to present every time some moron makes a snide remark about the magnitude of Japanese tackle.  Almost every gay bar I visit in Europe or the States, soon as I say I live in Japan, I hear the same crap.  Pisses me off.  But if Takashi were with me, I wouldn’t have to be angry.

 “Yeah?  Is that what you think?  Show the man, Takashi.  See that?  You feel dumb now, don’t you?  Feel kinda undersized yerself.  Inadequate.  Shortchanged.  You’d like to be friends with Takashi now, wouldn’t you.  Everyone wants to be friends with Takashi.  But you can’t be friends with Takashi if you say stupid racist shit, can you?  OK, Takashi’s going to put his heritage back down alongside his leg now.  No, you do not get to feel how heavy it is.  Not with that kind of attitude.  I think you’d better say you’re sorry now.  How about you start by buying Takashi a beer?”

8. writing in the gap

 Like all writers of ambition, I aim at posterity.  At generations to come.  At eternity.  Which in this case is, what, maybe fifteen years?  Forever gets shorter all the time, though it’s ugly to complain, since forever lasted only seven years, on average, back when the Sioux were signing treaties.

 The survivors will not be much interested in stories.  Not long ones, any way.  They will learn, at last, to make do with much less.  They’ll be interested in -- what?  Desalination, maybe.  Decontamination.  Edible Plants.

 I hope you will excuse me if I sometimes seem uncertain.  I am filling in the gap between literature and emergency manuals.

9. welcome to japan (please follow the rules)

 Italian looked reasonable, from the outside.  In Japan it is always done perfectly right.  But inside the server explains to us that only one person may order the dinner special.  Others must order from the regular menu.

 Dwight asks, “So, can we both have the dinner special if we sit at separate tables and pretend we don’t know each other?”

 The chef boss just stands there, looking terribly embarrassed in his chef hat, because that’s just not a question a Japanese would ever ask.

10. let’s pull a hawthorne

 How about I make like Nathaniel Hawthorne?  Isn’t it time to pull a Hawthorne now?

 How long did he stay home, in seclusion, teaching himself to think -- about twelve years, wasn’t it?  Of course he had help.  He had support, though I’m certain they often got tired of him.  By most reports he was kind of a twit.  Seriously, would it be so bad if made like Hawthorne?  If I sank out of sight?  I am cheaper than most people’s dogs.  If not quite so well-behaved.

 Then again, Hawthorne obviously had the knack some people have, for convincing people they matter.  Whereas I have always been a peripheral person, somewhere between invisible and suspicious.  I was the youngest son of the Pumpkin King.  Then, because it was abruptly possible, I had to go and get married.  And I married The Nicest Guy in the World.

11. high technology

 In this city, which is rumored to be the most technologically advanced in the world, rooms are heated by means of enormous hair dryers, which are hung way up on the walls.  Up there it is warm, surely.  What a pity we all sleep on the floor.

 On the plus side, the room is so dry that, if you wait five minutes to eat the second half of your cheese sandwich, you will find the bread is more or less toasted.

12. directions 

 You might as well do what is right.  If only because what you want is so fucking unreliable.

13. adjustments

 When the space beneath the sink is full I pull out all the milk cartons, cut them uniformly and bundle them, just as all Japanese housewives know to do.  A few I forgot to rinse and so they are moldy.  Those I scrub clean.  Don’t say I haven’t adjusted to living here.  I even wash the trash.

 In other ways I was well-suited to Tokyo even before I arrived.  Ever since I was child I have not stopped apologizing.  I cannot apologize enough.  It may be that if you say I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry enough times you end up in Tokyo, the same way that old women who pray a million rosaries are at once teleported to Lourdes.

14. a few horrors we’re allowed to skip

 Now and then history spares us something.  Seems to me it doesn’t happen nearly enough, but of course there’s no real way of knowing.

 There are days when I can almost cry when I remember that, despite everything, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas did not die in a concentration camp.

15. only

 Life is worthless.  As is well known.  But it is only worthless overall.  The details are lovely.  The details are worthwhile.

 For example, this woman here at the cafe, who thanks me as I leave and smiles while drying a tray.  That’s worth showing up for.  This old tree, too, here bedside the subway entrance, was clearly intending to die, but then Spring came along and it just couldn’t help itself, it burst out green.  The details in this world are really first-rate.  What a shame that I so seldom notice them.  I am too busy thinking of life overall, and of how it is going for me.

16. to the gods,

 Please enter into this, the thin soup of my enduring failure.  Much too much salt.  In this soup in which it is too late.

 Dear gods.  Now that it is too late, arrive.

 In time, if not in time.

 17. karaoke in the afternoon

 Kiyoko explains that karaoke boxes have multiple functions.  They’re not just for drunk kids on weekends, or lovers, or even for singers.  On weekday afternoons middle-aged ladies use them to scream.  You couldn’t possibly scream at home.  Nothing is insulated.  The neighbors are too near.  The police arrive in minutes.  But you can lock yourself into a karaoke box and scream all you want.

 But isn’t karaoke expensive? I ask.  I imagine Japanese housewives mindfully budgeting ‘screaming money’.

 Not weekday afternoons, Kiyoko explains.  Weekdays you can get an hour for maybe 500 yen.  Afternoons no one is there.  No one except middle-aged Japanese ladies, screaming at the top of their lungs.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Takahashi Mutsuo

Takahashi Mutsuo,
Twelve Views from the Distance 
translated by Jeffrey Angles
University of Minnesota Press, 2012 

One of Japan’s most prominent poets, Mutsuo Takahashi knows how to make beauty from suffering. What skill could be more urgently necessary now? How lucky that this book, originally published in 1970, has at last been translated by Jeffrey Angles in language that is as accurate as it is gorgeous. 

Raised in poverty by day laborers, Takahashi appears to be one of those rare persons able to use every misery as fuel for insight. The twelve chapters of this book are indeed “twelve views”, or angles, and the perspective gained thus of violence, sexuality and rural Japan is complex and unflinching.

“I have been loved by many different spirits,” Takahashi writes. This book preserves an understanding of “places outside the world we cannot see with eyes alone” that seems to have been eradicated in modern Japan as surely as the rivers have been lined with cement. “Spirituality” is what it usually gets called but it is a spirituality devoid of wishfulness and precise as cartography. The only other book I’ve found that conveys this level of (how to say it?) rural Japanese spiritual acumen is Michiko Ishimure’s Lake of Heaven.

 Of the twelve views, the view of sexuality is certain to grab one’s attention. After all, Mutsuo Takahashi was Yukio Mishima’s lover and confidante. (You are also unlikely to find another truly compelling literary depiction of sex with chickens.)

 Besides the understanding of “communities outside the world”, what I find most stunning about the book is its profound understanding of violence. After describing a beating at the hands of his mother, Takahashi writes, “It sounds strange to say this, but when adults behave violently toward children, they always seem much sadder than the children they mistreat. Children do not fail to notice that, even as they tremble in fear.” 

Justly lauded for his translations of Tada Chimako and other Japanese poets, Jeffrey Angles is able to render Mutsuo Takahashi’s swirling, image-saturated poetic prose is English that is both clear and full of emotion. Indispensable for anyone interested in Japanese literature, rural Japan, or the lives of gay men, this book deserves to be widely read for its profound understanding of the unseen world, the nature of violence, and the transformation of suffering.