Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

The Book of Disquiet
Fernando Pessoa (as Bernardo Soares)
Edited and translated by Richard Zenith
Penguin, 2003

In India there are bitter vegetables people eat for their health -- to ward off diabetes and counter the effects of a diet over-high in refined sugars.  When I first lived in India, I hated those vegetables.  Now I like them best of all.  “Bitter” is not always a negative adjective.  It may also restore life.  It can serve as an antidote.  There is something similar about The Book of Disquiet -- a book about failure, tedium and disconnection that is repeatedly beautiful and compelling, even life-giving.

Please excuse me for quoting a blurb.  It seems to me exactly right.  John Lancaster wrote, “In a time which celebrates fame, success, stupidity, convenience and noise, here is the perfect antidote, a hymn of praise to obscurity, failure, intelligence, difficulty and silence.”  If you, too, are spooked or nauseated by a world in which people go around trumpeting their own busyness and importance, reciting what appear to be advertisements for themselves, then this book may well feel like an antidote -- as well as a drastically more honest assessment of life, the way it actually feels, as opposed to how it is supposed to feel.

If I may give advice, I strongly recommend using this book as a “tincture”, just a few pages at a time.  I do not believe Pessoa would be offended even if you set it in the bathroom to accompany intestinal disquiets.  As Zenith points out in his introduction, reading at random is actually ideal.  I read this book over six months and was glad of its company -- but I think, if I’d sat down and tried to read through it in a week, I might have found it insufferable.  You could O.D. on ennui.  Taken slowly in small doses however, it is brilliant bitter company.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

CA Conrad, Ecodeviance

CA Conrad, Ecodeviance
(Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness
Wave Books, 2014

Whenever I read CA Conrad, whose poems I find as potent and brave as anyone’s alive, I end up asking, “Who else is taking these kinds of risks?”  I read a lot of poetry.  I seem to be one of nine adults left on the planet who still subscribe to and read literary magazines.  Most of the poems I read just seem so careful, so eager to flash knowledge and earn credentials.  Not bad poems, not bad at all, just semi-dehydrated.  Impeccable and careful poems suitable for publishing in a tasteful university press volume entitled, Poems For Tenure.

Then there’s CA Conrad.  In Ecodeviance he describes an exercise wherein he approached men in suits on lunch break in Philadephia and asked them, “Excuse me sir, on a scale from 1 to 5, 1 being thin and creamy, and 5 being cottage cheese, how do you rate your semen?”  Conrad is unafraid to query businessmen, minerals or ghosts; the results are often spectacular.

As well as being precise, gorgeous and full of surprises, CA Conrad’s poems are marked by a willingness to take real risks and make respectable people uncomfortable.  Yes, please!  I want to read more poets like this!  How can we go on primly celebrating beauty in our rarefied salons and not be pissed off by the poisoning of the natural world and the murder of innocent people?  Real love does not shy away from fury.  Neither do these poems.

The poems in Ecodeviance are the results of rituals created by CA Conrad called (Soma)tics, “ritualized structures where being anything but present was next to impossible.”  The rituals serve as the source for a body of notes that then become the basis of a poem.  Each poem or set of poems in the book is presented with its ritual of origin.  (I hereby predict that these rituals will soon be so frequently imitated and assigned in Creative Writing programs that a boomlet of CA Conrad imitations will result.  This is not a bad thing.  At very least it will provide a respite from Raymond Carver imitations.)

In content and delivery, in ritual and result, Ecodeviance is a wake-up call and CA Conrad is our queer genius alarm clock.  May we heed the call.



Once, at a thirteenth-century French monastery, I collapsed of nervous exhaustion, right straight into the shrubbery, and was given a silent room in the infirmary that looked out on a flowering tree.  This actually happened once. Now I cannot help but wish for it all the time.

I made a great show of liking the dog whom I really did like.  Half Lab and half Boxer, which turns out to really work: love with a square head.  It was one of those dates that feel like an audition.  File under: defeat as self-fulfilling prophecy.  Like one of those nights when I tell myself that the next day will be all right -- if only I can sleep.  “No one likes walking on eggshells!” said my brother before I left home for 25 years.  This one’s a young man with a red beard.  He’s read both Nabokov and Gogol.  His erection is so long and so persistent that, when he needs to go somewhere, he tucks his cock into the waistband of his pants  I enjoy it if a man has one or two positive characteristics.  Any more than that is terrifying.  He was a real-live bisexual.  I named him Waistband.  As he drove me home I asked, “How is it possible that you don’t have eight boyfriends and six girlfriends?”  Waistband said, “I tend to get tired of people.”  I do not expect to hear from him again.

What a difference it would make if I could believe, for several seconds in a row, that anything in which I am involved could ever turn out well.  You know, just temporarily kind of sort of well, the variety of well prevalent on this planet.  I am oh so ready for some of that.

When I feel afraid, I remind myself that I am not without allies, saints, protectors.  I chant their holy names:  Disquiet.  Robert Walser.  Zen tales.  Tiles the Hopi painted and sold to tourists in the 1920s.  Tales of the Hasidim.  Paley, Barthelme and Davis.  Quilting contests.  No Other Life.  Juan Gris.  Excitability.  Hopscotch. Lascano Tegui, Viscount!  Harry Mathews.  Cookie Mueller.  Why Did I Ever.  “I will do this work of transformed and even distorted memory and lead this life, the one I am leading today.”  Are you aware that Clarice Lispector answers prayers?

The man says, “It’s got a button on it.  It might as well work.”  Then later, “What do we do?  I say we PeeWee Herman the shit out of it.”

These are a few notes on the challenges of living with a hyper-devotional nature.  (Another word would be ravenous.)  This is in addition to what I call being nervous!  very very dreadfully nervous in an Edgar Allan Poe sort of way.  On the plus side, I receive intense sensual pleasure from being left alone in large open spaces, including those commonly referred to as “empty”.  I can sit in a silent room and listen to the very minute sounds with the same pleasure others receive from music.  In the same way I am able to feel real visceral relief over the fact that today I will almost certainly not meet any celebrities.  With any luck I will be able to dodge both the successful and the important.  To tell the truth, I very often enjoy having my particular mind.  Most men need to have their prostate repeatedly and forcefully stimulated to receive the same pleasure I get from pencilling in-depth notes on neglected works of literature in translation.  I do admit, however, that this is not a mind well-suited to everyday living.  No.  Not so much.

Always, always I have an idea of the day I ought to be having, the way it ought to unfold, the flawless discipline of my actions (out of bed, meditate, fast walk, work) but then there is the actual day (unexplained itching, ardent thoughts about uniformed South American security personnel, email, unavoidable conversations, complaints -- and before I’ve even had a chance to brush my teeth and then I’m caught up oh yes I am) and how it unravels.  Every now and then I have the day I am supposed to be having.  Sort of a to-do list decathlon.  So many good things!  Spinach salads, bill-paying, strenuous creativity.  I have the day I am supposed to have until about 3.  By 3 I’m ready to fill the water bottle with wine and head to the baths.  Honestly it seems like the most prudent option, considering my level of agitation.  For the next three days I do nothing right whatsoever.

How about some new good habits?  For example, condoms should have an assigned place.  Condoms all the time falling from pockets, notebooks, and bags are tacky and unpleasant for everyone.  When I need a condom, I can’t find one.  Every time I’m looking for something else (for example a dollar) here’s a condom instead.  I ask myself: am I not already sufficiently ridiculous?  One of these days a condom will land in the tip jar.  I will have to decide whether or not to retrieve it.

The wish to be led to a silent white-walled room, a room looking out on the upper branches of trees, to undress in silence and bathe for a long time, to dry off and to pray, and then to be comprehensively fucked, fucked and delivered of spunk, then immediately fucked again, or maybe I fuck him the first time and the second time he fucks me, fucked and jacked off down right to the root of the spunk so that, for at least three days thereafter, it is impossible to desire anything more complicated than sandwiches.

Once I fell in love with a man I saw only one time each week.  Just four hours on Thursday.  That was it.  And there wasn’t anything you could call conversation.  Low growls, grunting, praise of various attributes.  The rest of the week we wrote each other notes.  I think it would be very easy for me to fall in love with a man who writes me notes every day.  Of course, it has to be a man with a liking for my particular look and style: accordion / basset hound hybrid with Poe-ish tendencies.  He has to be able to tolerate devotion.  Which is far less common than you might imagine.  I remember a man once told me, “Please.  Less awe.”

Sex for hyper-sensitives.  Ideally, when you take off your pants, there would be a solid hour for staring, sniffing and weeping before initiating the process which leads from nuzzling to full-blown adoration.  I would also prefer to be completely invisible but -- I understand that’s something I should probably deal with.

Few men tolerate devotion.  Not statements of it any way.  (I believe there is evidence that God, too, is annoyed.)  For one thing, devotion is intensely repetitive.  Devotion is not in a hurry to be on to the next thing.  Your left armpit alone is worthy of at least twenty minutes of my focused attention.  When you slap me on the face with your hard pink cock, that’s it, I am done.  Nothing else needs be achieved.  You can go right on slapping me like that for the next ninety minutes.  It’s all I want for Christmas.  It’s a suitable afterlife.  No wonder people find me so annoying.  I don’t blame them.  It is likely difficult to understand that, for me, everything is close and loud and bright.

Evolution, alternate theory.  Perhaps the reason there are so many stones is because so many people want to be them.  In the meantime, there’s liquor.  Liquor is a strategy for sitting in the same room as pain without wailing aloud.  The first three drinks are for relief.  After that, you are human with a head of grief, with feet of grief, with hands of grief.  A hybrid, like a basilisk.  Your letters will never be answered.  Who writes letters?  This is an example of how you have fallen out with the world.  People have moved on.  The pronouncement has already been issued.  You are not to included.

One of my aunts, ever a role model, went away to the asylum in 1964.  For a time she was diagnosed with what is called hypersexuality.  So perhaps there is a biological basis for me.  A more likely explanation is provided by a simple experiment done many years ago now.  Test subjects put their hands in a large pot of water and waited while the water was very, very slowly brought to a boil.  They were allowed to pull their hands out when they wanted, but they were told to keep their hands in the water as long as they could possibly bear it.  Test participants were each instructed to think of different things.  Those preoccupied by sexual fantasies withstood the pain the longest.  By far.  They lasted much longer than those who, for example, attempted to busy themselves with cheerfulness.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hiromi Ito, Wild Grass on the Riverbank

Wild Grass on the Riverbank Hiromi Ito Translated from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles Action Books, 2014

As I read and reread this gorgeous and unnerving book, I thought of an afternoon in graduate school when I went to my adviser and confessed to him that I liked the way that poets told stories much more than the way prose writers did. He agreed with me very seriously and quietly, as though I had discovered something true, but which could not safely be discussed in public. As evidence, here is Wild Grass on the Riverbank, one of the first narrative book-length poems to be written in modern Japan. Gory and explicit, damning and redemptive in turns, this book is required reading for poets, storytellers, wanderers, rebels, and ecologists -- for anyone who aims to survive. This long poem, in 18 parts of varying lengths, is written in a combination of prose and poetry, in language that is sometimes childlike, sometimes scientific, and must have been fiendishly difficult to translate. Angles’ translation’s conveys a tremendous emotional force while giving a sense of the different registers of language through which Ito cavorts with both daring and playfulness. When I began reading this book I was pulled in first by curiosity, enjoying Ito’s wild narrative strategies and her utter willingness to convey the full messy details of life and death, neither of which is ever a closed category or final state. (For Hiromi Ito, as for Jose Saramago, death is only an interruption. It comes and goes.) As I read further, then reread, what finally impressed me most was the emotional and incantatory power of long sections like “We Live at the Riverbank” and “We Make Our Way In”, unified narrative poems that are both edgy and exultant and can suddenly flash with a force that brings to mind Alvaro de Campos or Whitman. Jeffrey Angles, increasingly well-known for his fine translations of Chimako Tada, Taruho Inagaki, and Takahashi Mutsuo, earlier published a translation of “Killing Kanako”, the book that first brought Hiromi Ito renown in Japan. In his introduction Angles refers to other books by Ito: a book of prose poetry, as well as novellas and essays. I hope very much that more of this work can be made available in English. One of the most important poets of modern Japan, Hiromi Ito has been called a “shamaness of poetry”. Exactly right. Here is poetry that is unafraid to strip bare, copulate or reek, hiss or howl. An exploration of being “naturalized” in every sense of the word: an unending series of changes, deaths, ecstasies, resistances, and transformations.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Georges Perec, Series of Spaces and Other Pieces

Series of Spaces and Other Pieces
Georges Perec
Edited and translated by John Sturrock
Penguin Classics, 2008

“How I think when I’m thinking?  How I think when I’m not thinking?”

This is the rare sort of book which may serve as a tonic.  Reading it will make you more prone to interesting thoughts.  More precise and specific thoughts.  Reading Perec, I am reminded again how vastly more exciting it is to hear about the peculiarities of Universal Decimal Classification than about a failed love affair.  (Perhaps because jilted lovers tend to speak in generalities and rarely, if ever, are inspired to keep it brief?)

To me, it seems natural and advisable to feel a little worried when people speak of experimental literature.  But Perec is one of those savants whose experiments are also a swimmingly good time.  (Who would you add to this list?  Calvino, Markson, Mathews, Cortazar, Davis, Barthelme -- who else?  Could you please add suggestions in the comments section so I know who to read?)

This book collects important works by a man who never seems to consider himself important.  He is always playing, improvising and inviting.  And it is so much fun.  His essay “Think/Classify” which points out, then demonstrates, the impossibility (and joy) of classification is one of my favorite essays of all time.  (Purists of the form will likely not consider it an essay, which is appropriately hilarious.)

What a pleasure it is to be confronted by a simple decision: if you enjoy Perec, you’ll certainly want this book.  If you are new to Perec -- and perhaps daunted by ‘LIFE: An Instruction Manual’ -- this is a brilliant and engaging introduction.  Here is found a great playful mind, ceaselessly experimenting in short snippets and flashes, a da Vinci in literary fireworks, hurrying from one invention/apparation to the next.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


the following is a very short excerpt from a novella titled, People Who Don't Matter.  More sections, already written, will appear in the coming weeks.  Thank you.

Series One: OUT

Hello?  This sandwich is for anonymous.  To go.

Most of the people I talk to in America are homeless.  Everyone else is busy.  And important.  So important!  Everyone else is in cars.  Walking across the city, I pass from one conversation to the next.  I fit right in: scruffy beard, big dusty backpack, clothes salvaged from the gutters of 8th Avenue.  The homeless men and I have the same habit of formality, we address each other with meticulous politeness.  Ever been to a grocery where everyone uses food stamps?  People talk as if they are in church.  Walking across the 8th Avenue bridge, I catch up to David, on his way to see a friend who gives him work.  He has to use a cane to walk this morning.  The day before he missed a step while carrying a mattress, went down hard.  The guy he works for has a bottle full of 800 mg pills of Advil.  He’s dreaming of ibuprofen all the way across the bridge.  Smellies! screams a young man who has stuck his head out the window of his shiny red car.

This is for everyone who ever wished they could paste their own picture over that of the cocker spaniel on the telephone pole, right beneath the words
Needs Medication!!!

Make it happen, he says.  All I want is to relax at the bar, but the man nearest me is shouting at his buddy beside him.  Announces he’s “got a winning concept”.  Admits that “there are very valid bad reviews in this world and they are very impactful”.  Insists “we are so much greener than them it’s not even fucking funny.”  Tells how much his life has changed now that he’s on top of the right Google searches.  Talks about “giving it your all”.  But mostly he talks about making it happen.  You’ve got to make it happen.  Make it happen!  It is obvious that I have been assigned to the wrong civilization.  Make it happen makes me think of rape.  Listen, how about this?  Is this OK?  Is it all right with everyone if I just go ahead and fail?  Would that be all right?  My attempts at self-promotion are invariably gruesome.  I do not wish to learn to speak American English, that dialect of advertising, the vehicle for becoming important.  You can win.  I abdicate.  That’s OK, isn’t it?  More for you!

Things I’ll not do.  No tennis championships for me.  No work as a foot model.  Someone else has already written Reinventing Yourself With the Duchess of York.  It is unlikely that I will ever be held up as the epitome of health mental or dental.  I should probably admit that my senatorial career has already been seriously compromised.

This will have to be the actual version now.  Not just some notes jotted down while thinking of something else.  Too cool to make an honest effort is an entirely seventh grade excuse.  You see, I had intended to become drastically smarter.  Somehow I imagined that another several dozen IQ points might just show up.  Narrative structure.  “A skill set”.  I might as well wish to become taller.  Or younger.  This is the equipment on hand.  Which is no excuse.  Think of what Matisse could do, in deep old age, with only a pair of scissors.  This person, with his limitations, his obsessions, his very limited skills.  Telling him to rack his brain, make a concerted effort, will only make everything worse.  He’ll only tell you again what he’s told you before.  All the while looking terribly sorry.  The best chance for this one is to sit quiet and receptive, without hope or ambition, like one of those enormous radio telescope dishes, listening day and night to alien variety shows.  People found them interesting, momentarily, many years ago.  Then they forgot about them.  Just the same, they go on listening.

When I walk into the changing room at the rec center, a guy is standing naked at the sink, covering his body with soap from the dispenser.  “Oh, it’s you,” he says, though I’ve never seen him before.  “They’re trying to sabotage me.  I have to walk miles and miles.  They won’t let me on the bus.  Look at how sore I got.  He lifts his balls to show me his chafed and bleeding crotch.  He walks back and forth from the shower and the sink, covering himself with soap, washing again and again.  He doesn’t own a towel.  He’s red-faced and covered with hair.  His penis seems unusually small, but that’s probably just because I’ve watched way too much porn.  He shows me his skinned knee.  He shows me his toenail coming off.  He wants me know how much everything hurts.  Later on the custodian says, “You let us know when there’s somebody like that.  We got children and old people here.”  Clearly the fact that a man is naked, drunk, and ranting is perceived as a problem.  “But he wasn’t bothering me,” I say.  It’s true.  Also it is easier to be patient with naked people.  Also I feel oddly grateful to him.  As if his losing it was a favor to me.  As if he were beserk on my behalf.  This world.  Something’s got to give.  Today he volunteered. 

What form is best-suited to saluting the momentary, the uncertain, the highly perishable?  What form is suitable for the very probable end of human civilization, for seeking to be human even now?  I have always enjoyed small plates.  But they’ve got to keep coming until you’ve had enough to eat.  

Also: because I am the one writing this, since I am ostensibly the person in charge, I am going to make the rule that is is ALWAYS all right to drink wine with this, even if you’re reading at 7:45 A.M.  (As the designated writer, I will attempt to stay sober.  In general.  More or less.)      

Is anyone else entirely haunted by the fact that who matters and who does not is decided entirely arbitrarily?  It is not even a matter of race, class or talent, though of course those things may have an effect.  It is as if you have a sign over your head that everyone can read but you.  And you either matter or you don’t.

I, too, would like to win.  I don’t claim otherwise.  After all, I’ve done all the other drugs.  Now I would like to try success.  I could spend an entire long weekend blitzed on it.  What does it feel like when a whole room full of people imagine that you are someone who matters?  Fucking hell, it has to be better than walking naked down the hall at the baths, snorting poppers in a crowd of admirers.

The principal question posed by America today, or: is it still egomania when everyone’s doing it?

In Tokyo, on the day for three minute speeches, I sat in the back of the room and took notes on my students’ performance.  The next speech that day was from the most congenial of the cheering squad, though only so-so at English.  The young woman stood at the front of the classroom, her hair and make-up just so, Audrey Hepburn everything, a fortune in shoes, clutching a crumpled sheet torn from a spiral notebook.  Louder, please!  I insisted.  She repeated herself, no louder than before,  then dove straight into her paper, clear down to the floor, where she lay sobbing in the center aisle between the desks.  I watched in astonishment.  I couldn’t believe what was happening.  Because I had imagined this scene dozens of times -- but I always assumed it would be ME doing that.  I totally failed to remember that other people were even eligible for hysteria.  It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK, I chanted softly and sat waiting as the other students solaced her, which they did with exquisite tenderness and patience.  I believe they felt, as I did, that the young woman had done something exceedingly gracious, a real favor to everyone. 

How did this happen actually?  How did I end up this far outside, not just left out but opposed?  When did this start?  When was wandering ordained?  Looking back, it’s obvious, though I failed to realize at the time.  I must have felt myself going out, but I didn’t know how far I was going.  I didn’t know that I was never coming back.

In the beginning I spent all day at the hospital, then went home and wrote letters detailing his health, prognosis and treatment.  This behavior was well-received and appreciated.  This was the correct use for me.  Otherwise my visibility was a source of discomfort to everyone.  I was most visible during that the unavoidable moment when each person asked, Did he give it to you?  No, I said, again and again.  No, he did not give it to me.  I do not have it.  Then whoever it was would hurry back to discussing his health, prognosis and treatment.  But not before I saw their face.  Because this was not how it was supposed to work.  I was quite officially the bad one.  I was promiscuous.  And as for him, he was the nicest man.  People have their pictures of the world.  They love them.  They’ll sacrifice anything to save them.  Thus did I become invisible after Did he give it to you?  It’s only very natural that people were unable to disguise their bewilderment at the news, their looks of confusion and, yes, disappointment.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

New & Forthcoming

“Metta Meditation for Hot Male Action, or, how to practice love in sleazy bars” has been translated into Spanish. The translation is by Rico Noguchi with illustrations by Julio Granados. “Recently, At Orgies” appears in Zymbol, number 4, at newsstands now. “A Seat on the Train” is forthcoming in A Capella Zoo.

"The Myth of Single Parenthood" is forthcoming in Jonathan. “The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked” will appear in an anthology of fiction about disability created by the editors of Beauty is a Verb: The New Disability Poetics. “Naked in Sweden” has been published in the reborn international version of Minus Tides, a literary magazine based in Denman Island, Canada. The essay “Just Interesting” is online at Biostories. “Pa, Randy and the Sugarhouse Fire”, originally published in Zymbol, has been nominated for a Pushcart prize. Often I feel utterly and officially nuts to go on writing, studying, and wandering endlessly. Thank you to everyone who encourages me, who provides me with refuge, inspiration, or resources. These small successes are only possible because you aid my survival. I am very grateful.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014


Happy National Useless Persons’ Day!

(Same as Secretaries’, Bosses’, Children’s, Grandparents’ Day!)

This is the day we pause to honor the useless persons in our lives, as well as the determination, luck and fortitude necessary to be useless in the long term.

This is our opportunity to recognize those folks who never quite pulled it together, who possessed either no luck or no visible talents, as well as those whom, by nature, are simply not suited to life in this world.

Useless persons, we salute you!  We celebrate you!  You and your abiding uselessness!

Useless persons, brush the moss from your teeth and climb the stairs of your mother’s basement, for today is your day to be garlanded!

Three hundred sixty four days of the year are reserved for those who strive to be Number One, who grow each day in importance and commotion.  One day alone is reserved for useless persons.  Useless persons, today is yours!

Today we honor the contribution made by useless persons.  A very real contribution -- even though it may seem that useless persons are only forever eating something, eating and complaining of some small pain, of the cost of dentistry, or the lateness of the bus.

In a world saturated by importance, the useless play a necessary role, their very unimportance is important, as persons who embrace unimportance grow ever more rare.

Today we salute useless persons.  The boon of uselessness!  The bliss of mediocrity.  The reliability of failure.

Because we cannot seriously expect the incessantly victorious to sit listening to Grandpa.  Who is going to walk the dogs of the ceaselessly dynamic?  Who will water the plants and wash the floors of the relentlessly beloved?

Even less often are useless persons recognized for their contribution of simple non-damage.  What a mercy it is to the world to never become a CEO, to never fly to your second home in your own small plane, munching on game hens and foie gras and sipping imported champagne.  

The beauty of failure is seldom recognized in a world where success is generally seen as synonymous with one’s capacity to harm.

Instead here you are, useless person, at home in your underwear, boiling lentils and chopping onions, writing poems about how the world is far gone in a dangerous and remarkably dumb direction (of which its total non-appreciation of you is but one small indication.)

Putting aside the poem, you check the clock.  Soon it will be time to walk the dog, maybe check on Great-Aunt Vinnie, before checking in with your sexual partner, likewise thoroughly mediocre, an amiable nobody who doubtless would have died long ago of liquor and TV dinners, if not for your tender and disappointed ministrations.

You pause for a moment to re-consider the poem, which is, after all, just a defense against the list of your friends who won and won and won and won and now explain, quite righteously, that of course they do not have time. 


Happy National Useless Persons’ Day!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bangkok Coup Special

small stories from beneath military rule

June 2014, Bangkok

He never imagined, before he began to wander, how many other people were wandering too, not quite living anywhere, just floating about, how many other people were naturalized citizens of the country called, “I have no place else to go.”  A lot of other people, it turns out, had also done the math and figured that they could live for a very long time in a cheap country and, because ties had grown so weak, had immediately done so, without ever deciding what, exactly, they would do during the day, without recognizing that sanity is just as fragile as any other form of health.

The first night the curfew is relaxed, Bangkok plays to an empty house.  The girls on their bar stools, the boys in white shorts, the rows of fake watches with no one to love them.  Even for the indomitable, maintaining the appearance of cheer is a strenuous task, like a devoted mother who makes her voice sound cheerful every time she walks into the room of her beautiful son, lying there hooked to machines.  Almost everyone is capable of heroics.  The trouble is that trouble goes on and on.

Lucky Lost
He was lost.  He recognized that he was lost.  He did not wish to be lost.  He did not want to go on being lost for a long time.  It was exhausting being lost.  It was better than wanting to die.  He knew that he was lucky to be lost in this way, in what seemed the luckiest possible way to be lost: alone in a bright stark room with white walls, white linoleum, blue polyester curtains, with desk, attached toilet, even a small refrigerator.  He did not wish to be lost and still he did not neglect to be grateful that he was lost in this way, so empty, so clean and so bright.

Thank You So Much
Those men who say, before removing their pants, Please ignore me if I say totally stupid and crazy things during sex, like I love you.

Ice Age Updates
Often it seems to me that return visits to the gay scene in Bangkok are essentially updates on the progress of meth, on an ever-encroaching ice age.  Sneaking up to hug an old friend from behind, hands over his eyes, Guess who? he turns, and I find his eyes like gutted candles, a smile but no one at home in it, and that voice, the voice of ice -- the words all the same, all correct, and the tone like reading aloud from old newspapers.

Sure, he’s using some, he admits, but only on weekends and he’s totally keeping it together, absolutely together, tight, the same four skin creams in the same order and all his porn alphabetized, the door knobs covered in plastic wrap and the shoes lined up, the bottles of poppers lined up, everything neat as a spice rack and he can tell you everyone he hates, either alphabetically or in order of intensity.

Even then there are surprises.  Like the news that one friend, long since zombified, has taken vows as a monk and returned, by all accounts, to being quite recognizably human.  Such is the state of affairs: losing another friend makes me shrug, but the news that one has returned leaves me here crying helplessly into my breakfast of rice soup with chicken.

How is Bangkok?
People want to know.  Speaking as a queer wanderer, Bangkok is fine.  Fine as long as it is enjoyed in a very ordinary way: for bags of sliced papaya, pineapple and guava, for aimless wandering in Lumpini Park, for the pleasures of a clean and silent room, for orchids and sidewalks.  Coup or no coup, the rule is the same: Bangkok is fine as long as you do not attempt to have fun.  If you attempt to have fun, the dogs of misery are at once set upon you.  The trouble is not so much the price list as it is being reminded you are worthless. We do not require the army to police us.  We have been policing ourselves all along.  Try to have fun and you will have toes shoved in your mouth by men who wish to make themselves feel big.   Attempts to have fun are besieged with old pictures of oneself, regrets, catty remarks.  Attempts to reprise one’s career in pornography result in a kind of cascading nightmare.   But if you give up, if you do not ask too much for yourself, it is all right.  Sometimes it can even be fun.

I heard a British woman ask, with zero irony, “Is there a coup rate?”

My very rich friend is part of the Chinese-Thai aristocracy.  He calls deposed prime minister Yingluck, that whore.  When the U.S. makes clear it disapproves of the coup, he refers to the ambassador as that bitch.  Nowadays almost every one of his sentences includes one of these words.  If he’s useless in sex, if there’s shit on the sheets, he says, “I’m Yingluck!”

My other Thai friends are not rich and they hate him.  Chink, they call him.

So true
This sign at the cafe that reads
Beware of your belongings. 

When he jacked off I was astonished by how far out in front of him his hand was, as he tugged on the first third of a cock so remarkably long that it seemed a great distance away from the rest of him, like Florida, or even Alaska.  Reminded me of the photos I’ve seen of Matt Hughes.  Not Matt Hughes the boxer. Matt Hughes eleven inches.  Didn’t look like he’s jacking off.  Not exactly.  More like he was strumming on a small guitar.

As for him, he was rightfully offended that people assumed he was a prostitute just because he was young and black and had a perfect muscular body, as well as a gigantic penis.  “People with big penises need sex too!” he insisted and I agreed vigorously, as vigorously as I could, while trying, at the same time, to seem neither patronizing nor desperate.

One of those things that isn’t mentioned nearly often enough:
You deserve to be warned that more than half the people who urge you to follow your dreams will never forgive you for doing so.

Every day I buy fruit from a vendor on the side of the street.  I feel lucky to be in a place where buying fruit can be such an ordinary thing.  Not like Tokyo, where buying two kinds of fruit that aren’t bananas is classified as an event.

I noticed that the kindly man who chopped up the guava always threw away the central part with the seeds, but that part is tasty too, as well as nutritious, so that I learned to say, in Thai, “give me all of it” and I practiced and then, when I went to buy my fruit, I said it to him, and he looked happy and surprised that I had learned a little Thai.  He put every part of the guava into the clear bag.  When he handed the fruit to me he grinned and asked, in English, “So -- where’d you learn to say that?”

The military has arrested the son of the former prime minister.  He was released after “a talk to fine-tune understanding”.

Because that is just what armies do.

5 Boats
I dreamt I was looking down steep stairs to a river, as though I had returned to Benaras.  Lined up in the water were five very narrow boats.  In each of them a young man was lying calmly, face up, with eyes open.  Each man gleamed, as if lightly coated in oil.

As I watched, the first young man was set on fire.  He had already been doused in kerosene.  His face contorted in agony and then the flames consumed him.  After a few minutes only a black husk was left.  Then it was time for the next young man.

I watched helplessly from the top of the staircase.  I did not understand why these young men had chosen to sacrifice themselves.  The second young man screamed and burst into flame.  The next three waited quietly, staring up into the sky.

If you are fortunate enough to receive an invitation, the host will greet you at the door with a plastic basket for your clothes and a remote control wrapped in plastic wrap.  “This is your remote and that is your TV,” says the host.  It is one of six flat-screen TVs lined up against the wall in a large room which has been cleared out except for the TVs, two cots, a sling, and a table in the corner with bottles of poppers and sugary drinks.

Each television has a memory card with hundreds of movies.  The movies are grouped according to both studio and theme.  You can choose twinks, bareback or Brazil, as well as HotHouse, Treasure Island, or MenAtPlay.  Thus every man can have exactly the porn of his choice.  It is no wonder that the host is renowned and that everyone wants to attend one of his parties.

Here at the orgy you may do whatever you like -- but you must not lose track of your remote and you must not touch anyone else’s.  Any man who attends a party must be both adventurous and versatile.  You must be beautiful and/or hung.  You can fuck the men or get fucked, suck or get sucked, you can fist, you can piss -- in the area designated area, please!  You can do anything -- but you must not touch anyone else’s remote.  Anything else you can do.  The man won’t mind.  He may not notice.  He is watching his television.  Even with his cock is buried in the back of your throat, he has his remote in hand and he is fast-forwarding, searching for the very hottest scene in Viral Loads.

Even if you are one of the passionate minority who believe that a man on the screen -- horsehung, ripped and gleaming -- cannot compare to an ordinary man in the flesh with hair on his belly and his briefs around his ankles, it is of no use.  The man has his remote and he is not letting go of it for anything.

The deposed former prime minister in exile, the man who is perhaps the cause of it all, is asked to comment on the coup.  He says, “I hope the military will soon return smiles to the faces of the people”.

Because, again, that’s just what armies do.

Flip fuck
“Sure, I get fucked, I want to feel what my man feels like, but mostly I am a top.  I like to flip fuck.  If you fuck me, then I am going to fuck you, that’s my rule.  Of course Antonio Banderas and Sean Connery can fuck me, but mostly I am a top.”

My friend is 71.  He makes a fine Manhattan and has just attempted to blow me on the fire escape.  He is upset because he has only gotten fucked in his fancy temporary apartment, he hasn’t fucked anyone, and he can only afford two more months here on the 21st floor.

I ask him what he will do when his visa runs out.  He says he might fly to Sweden -- because who doesn’t want to fuck a tall blonde Scandinavian?  “But it’s expensive,” I say, because I am a paragon of good sense and caution.  He says, “I haven’t figured that part out yet.”  Then he runs his fingers along my neck.  “I assume you’ll be staying over.”  I explain that I am a person who needs a lot of time alone.  It’s my all ages excuse.  He says, “For breakfast I brought croissants.”

I take my shoes from the shoe closet.  I kiss him quickly on his fuzzy mouth.  I didn’t bring flowers or fruit or wine or cheese to dinner with him.  I didn’t bring anything.  Manhattans were my father’s and grandfather’s favorite drink but I had never tasted one.  I don’t wait for the elevator.  I run down the emergency stairs, all the way down twenty-one floors.  It feels good to run.  Nothing will ever change unless I change it.  My bad habits are not going to just peter out on their own.

“He got everything he ever wanted for his funeral.  Except he didn’t want an open casket, so on that we fudged a little.  I decided it was OK because he couldn’t have imagined how good he was going to look!  He hadn’t looked that good in years.  Except they did his hair wrong.  So I got his comb and combed his hair the way he liked it.  He was a good-looking man, I realized then.  I hadn’t really known before.  He was my man and I loved him, but I didn’t know what a good-looking man he was until he was in his casket and I was combing his hair.”

Broad river
Making to love to a tender tall broad-shouldered man in the afternoon behind blue curtains on a clean hard white bed at the infamous and eternal Malaysia Hotel, I feel that my lover and I are just the surface.  Beneath my body, his body, the sheets, the bed, the Malaysia Hotel, there is a broad red river of molten earth and blood and we are just appearances, ripples, in that molten river, which is nothing like I have described, or is only so from this perspective, which is itself entirely dreamlike, an appearance.  That river is a hum, is being.  I see the river as a current underground, but in fact the river is all that is going on.

As I saw this, I carried on kissing him, holding him, tumbling with him, and although I suspect he guessed that something was a little strange, he was a great broad-hearted man and he did not mind.

The sense that a disaster would at least provide some structure.  Surely this is a more popular option than is generally recognized?

Because it is exhausting to make each day from nothing, and then to try to determine what the days before meant, or if they were worth anything.  Such a temptation: to want to know that you are doing it right.  I ought to have agreed on who I was for just one day, knowing full well that it was arbitrary, that I was not that.  I should have at least provided for myself a working title.

When I visited her in the hospital, my friend told me about the first time she ever smoked ice.  “For the first time I was fine just as I was.  I wasn’t being crushed to death.  Everything was so bright.  

“I went to take a shower and, as I dried off, I stood before a full-length mirror.  I looked at myself, at my whole body.  For the very first time in my entire life I did not feel ugly or ashamed.  Even then, high as a kite, it seemed to me a little sad that I had decided to destroy myself, just at the moment I discovered I was all right.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

Not Until They ASK: The Rules of Helping in America

Not Until They ASK: The Rules of Helping in America

The United States of America is a profoundly spiritual nation.  To truly appreciate it, you must understand its spiritual underpinnings, its roots nourished by many faiths, and above all the words of Jesus Christ who taught, You’ve just got to stay positive!

As the bearer of “the good news”, Jesus was persecuted and finally crucified by critics who couldn’t handle his incessant optimism.  Jesus came to Earth to teach us to love, care for and help others.

But there is a very important clause.  (Thank God!  How else would we ever find time for ourselves!)  You are only ever allowed to help someone if they ASK for help.  They must ask.  Otherwise it’s no good.  Helping before you are asked is no good at all.  It’s interference.  It’s totally wrong.  You must not interfere with anyone’s process.  Especially if they’re in the process of dissolving their organs.  That’s, like, practically sacred.

If a person is ready for help, they will announce (to you, to the greater public, and in the presence of an authorized notary) the nature of their problem and their total helplessness in the face of it.  

For example, someone may say, “I am addicted to alcohol, shopping, and frozen desserts.  I have borderline narcissistic personality disorder and I cannot tolerate gluten.”  

Then you are allowed to help.  But not until they ASK.  Always remember: grovelling first!

People must ASK for help.  They must ask for help directly and specifically.  Then and only then you can help.  It’s not enough if they call up and say, for example, “I am covered in my own filth,” or “Honestly it’s difficult sometimes, living here under the bridge” or “I have burnt through my esophagus” or “Excuse me, would you mind if I borrowed a plastic bag, a roll of electrical tape and some barbiturates?”  No!  That’s not enough!  Don’t make a mistake.  They must ASK for help.  

In the meantime, while you are waiting and very carefully refraining from helping, what should you do?

Why not focus on yourself?  You’re an important person!  Your time is valuable.  Eat right, meditate, do workouts.  Practice the union of Pilates and Dzogchen.  You need all your force to bring your unique gifts and talents to market in this time of economic uncertainty.  Do you feel fulfilled?  Have you found your unique life path?  Are you receiving the recognition and love that you deserve?  Focus on YOU.  You are the only person you can change.  Be your very best you!  

Also, you need your strength because it is very likely that, by the time your friends and family members ask for help, there will be very little of them left.

America prides itself on efficiency and comfort -- and what could be more efficient or comfortable than ignoring the misery of those around us?  (Ignoring the wretchedness of those at a distance comes naturally.  Ignoring the misery of those in the same room with us requires special reasoning -- and is still totally easy.)

Nothing works -- about that we can agree.  Nearly all pious busybody interventions come to nought.  The simple truth is that many if not most of us, and many if not most, of those we love will be needlessly hindered by our addictions, habits, compulsions and fears.  Our bodies and minds will be damaged and destroyed, our beauty ruined and our talents pointlessly blighted.  

Nothing mysterious about this.  As you no doubt have noticed, life is often painful, not infrequently excruciating, and the desire to throw ourselves on anything that might make us feel momentarily better is well-nigh irresistible.

This is just the situation: pious interventions and equally pious non-interventions both fail most of the time.  The most brilliant and gorgeous people we know will go on drinking and we will watch helplessly as the system shuts down piece by piece: stomach, esophagus, colon, liver, kidneys.

This is the point at which the genius of America really comes to bear: in the assumption that averting our eyes will have a magical effect.  This is the triumph of positive thinking.  We can do little, so doing nothing must be right.  You’ve just got to stay positive!  

We are important people, after all.  We have so very many things to do.  We need more achievements, more successes, more credentials, more influence, more connections, more talents, more romance, more fulfillment.  Why should we waste our mental energy on what is probably a lost cause?  Life is short, people!  

Why should we be haunted by the suffering of those we love?

This is the daring Gospel of Jesus Christ, who said of Judas Iscariot, “You’ve got to let him hit bottom!”  Then wiped him clear out of his mind.  This is Jesus, after all, master of positive thinking and time management, who had the whole Holy Land atwitter and no doubt guessed his gig as World Prophet would be brief.

What is the use of grieving?  Why should we allow our hearts to be broken?  If we went on telling the truth all day long, how could we ever go on being positive positive positive?

You can’t understand America unless you know the Bible, on which the forefathers founded this great nation: Moses and his Ten Commandments, Jesus and his Twelve Steps.  “Not unless they ask for help,” says Jesus in the one of the Gospels.

Then of course there is that other Gospel, on which America was also founded, the Gospel wherein Christ teaches, “Never ask for help. Never ever EVER.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Hipsters Are Not All Bad

(Denver, 2014)

Welcome to the United States of America

I was born in the United States of America, I was raised there (by house cats, primarily) but, as soon as I could, I left the country and did not come back for a very long time.  More than twenty years had passed by the time I flew into Denver and thought I might stay.  Naturally I worried a little about how I might feel.  But I reckoned the U.S.A. would still feel like home.  I’m American, after all.  I thought it would seem, you know, normal.

When I admit I’ve been gone a long time, everyone says the same thing.  “I thought your accent sounded funny!”  Then, they say: “Didn’t you miss American food?!”  What am I supposed to say?  The truth is, I’ve had a stomach ache since I came home.  And my intestines appear to be tangled.  All my life the food has gone right on through.  Now I fear it’s getting lost somewhere in the middle.  Ever since I came back to America, there’s been this really weird knot.

I thought this was a problem because I’d been away so long.  Different water, food, bacteria, altitude, whatever.  But, no, it turns out that nearly everyone has the same trouble.  Bizarro allergies, sensitivities, digestive troubles, cancers.  And everyone seems to think it’s quite normal.  It is very American to be ill.

Hasids Dressed Down?

As is well-known, Americans are very friendly.  Right away I made friends with two men in my neighborhood.  I assumed at first they were Hasids, dressed down for some inexplicable reason.  I thought beards as voluminous as theirs were worn only by the most gung-ho of monotheists.  When they evidenced no religiosity, I thought, “Must be money in jazz nowadays” because, in Tokyo, a beard like that means you’re a musician.

At last I realized that these two gentlemen were examples of what is now called hipsters.  Hard as it is to believe, the ‘solitary forest hermit’ look is currently very fashionable.  And the hipsters are in fact adorable.  No forest hermit’s safe from me!  Crash me through the underbrush any day.

 Man Oil

When the hipsters invited me to a farmer’s market, I agreed enthusiastically.  After all, I grew up on a farm.  I looked forward to meeting Colorado farmers and finding affordable sources of fresh  local food.

I’m sorry if this sounds naive to the point of idiocy.  But this is  what a farmer’s market was, back when I left the country.

At the market the hipsters and I moved from one tent to the next.  We sampled limoncello poppy seed jam ($15), admired air plants in crystal hangers ($35) and ate biscuits and gravy made with portobella mushrooms ($11, but we didn’t pay it.  The hipsters had a connection to the biscuit truck.)  The hipsters were especially fond of a bergamot-scented oil with which they anointed their lush and enormous beards.  Man Oil, it’s called.  ($20)

As this was a farmer’s market, there were also a few cucumbers and eggplants that were organic, special and important.  They must have been because they were like a buck apiece.  Apiece, you may recall, means for one.

Thus I came to understand that a vegetable that tastes like a vegetable and hasn’t been saturated with poisonous chemicals is now officially a luxury item.  You may recall that, as chickens were once a symbol of prosperity, vegetables were once synonymous with poverty.  Think of potatoes in Europe or pumpkins in Japan.  Nowadays the poor have microwaveable burritos and the Value Menu; if you wish to acquire real non-toxic vegetables you must belong to the Vegetable Class.

It was the Vegetable Class I saw around me now, clutching thirty dollar jars of maple-bourbon beef rub.  The men with impeccably groomed beards, the women with gravity-defying breasts, the super-deluxe pets and the children who looked as though they’d been clipped from advertisements, like coupons from the future.

In Defense of Hipsters

As most of my friends are, at mid-life, struggling to remain living indoors, I understand that it is easy to be critical of hipsters, who appear to be living on great rafts constructed entirely of cash.

Just the same, I must insist that hipsters are not all bad.  The two I met had many positive qualities.  I will assign them some, arbitrarily,  just as I do for any person willing to go to bed with me.

(You may wish to keep this in mind.  It’s an easy way to acquire positive qualities overnight!)

My hipster friends turned out to be a couple of hunky woodsmen in love.  But they weren’t jealous.  (Jealousy is now passe, again, at least among persons providing explanations for their behavior.)

“Aren’t I kind of old for you?” I asked.

“We go to bed with plenty of guys older than you,” they said.  “It’s the daddy thing.  Daddies are in.”


Thus you will understand that I am not saying everything about modern life is bad.  Not at all.  Honestly I am excited to be alive now, when the very existence of life on the planet is threatened and, as compensation, the hipsters are enlisting me for threesomes.

In fact, there is something quite moving about the hipsters, at least those I have met.  There is good reason why they are so self-consciously decorative and avid for rarefied pleasures.

The hipsters understand that they have been given the world for only a very short time.  I suspect this is the reason they are able to make love without jealousy -- because they understand that this is most likely the end.

It’s like men have been saying for years: if the world ends in an hour, then let us pray that the stacked blonde executive assistant will permit us to ravish her right there on the Big Boss’ desk!

Let’s have a few more tall glasses of pomegranate juice, a few more nights at the oyster bar and, a few more thirty-eight dollar beard trims.  If you’ve got the money in your pocket, why not?  What are we saving it for?  It is not as if we, are anyone else, will be retiring to Arizona in twenty years.

Do not hate the hipsters.  Like young people everywhere, they want to enjoy themselves.  And they understand that they do not have much time.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Why Are These Bears Having Oral Sex?

Why Are These Bears Having Oral Sex?

My lover sent me a story from the news.  The story regarded “the first observations of long-term recurrent fellatio in captive brown bears kept in proper conditions.”  The observations were made at a sanctuary in Croatia.  28 instances of oral sex were observed within a period of 116 hours between two brown bears, both male.

Even before I had finished the second paragraph I was wondering about those researchers.  Imagine hanging out all day at a glorified zoo, your notebook and camera ready, just waiting for the bears to suck each other off again.  What do you think: did the researchers remain, at all times, very serious?  Did they crack a lot of jokes?  Did they tell their boyfriend or girlfriend what they were doing?  Did the boyfriends and girlfriends then tell their parents?  Did the parents then tell members of the bridge club: What’s Bojan up to nowadays?  Oh, Bojan?  He’s tallying fellatio among the bears. . .

Evidently this is by no means the first time that oral sex has been observed among bears.  Previously however it has only been seen among bears kept in “sub-standard conditions, with inadequate mental stimulation”.  This was the first time that fellatio had been observed among bears kept “in proper conditions.”  But -- how did the researchers determine that the conditions were proper?  Did they ask the bears?  Is there some ursine equivalent of the hotel comment card?

Scientists theorized that the bears, weaned too early from their mothers, had found alternate methods of comforting themselves and each other.  Or, as the researchers put it, “Forced early weaning and subsequent deprivation of proper and sufficient stimulus of the suckling reflex can result in teat-searching behavior persisting into adulthood.”

Other findings included: One bear was always the giver.  The other bear did not reciprocate.  The duration of sex was between one and four minutes.  The article was accompanied by four small blurred images showing the bears getting themselves into position and having sex.

The article was accompanied by four small blurred photographs of two brown bears getting into a position and having sex.  The images are not pornographic.  (But would they be pornographic if bears were looking at them?)  Still, it is very obvious what the bears are up to.

Here’s an excerpt from the report published by the researchers led by Agnieszka Sergiel of the Polish Academy of Sciences Department of Wildlife Conservation: If the receiver’s genitals were not exposed, the provider would push his head into the pelvic region or use his paws to separate the hind legs.  After accessing and initial licking of the penis, the provider would find a more comfortable posture, such as sitting or lying… once actual sucking started, neither bear changed position.

I also thought it was a very nice touch that, just below the headline: Why Are These Bears Having Oral Sex? there was a large color image of the absolute happiest brown bear I have ever seen or imagined, frolicking joyously upon the green, green grass.  The bear appears to be kicking its heels in sheer delight.

“Thank you very much for the article,” I wrote to my lover.  “It is the story of my life.”

My lover wrote back.  “I THOUGHT that.  Instantly I thought that.  But definitely I was NEVER going to actually SAY that.”

I tried to remember if I’d ever admitted to him that my first sexual fantasies were all about bears.  I was six years old.  I was every bit as depraved as I am now.  Back then, of course, I was still sorting out my options.

Aged six, what I wanted most in the world was to get into the bears’ cages at the zoo.  Brown or black, grizzly or polar, color and species didn’t matter to me.  I just wanted to be in with the bears.  I wanted the bears to hold me, to enfold me within their dense and cozy fur.

My fantasies in those days were of being a jungle boy.  I sensed something wild in me and did not know where to put it.  By appearances I was the most fearful bookish child you can imagine, with bifocals and a leg brace, limping around, wincing at any loud noise and cowering as if about be struck.  A feeble and ennervated child.  Just the same, in my mind there remained a free boy, a warm and wild animal, a boy who could run.

That year my mother put a black garbage bag underneath the Christmas tree for me.  In that bag was a large stuffed bear, a Kodiak according to the tag, with big bear eyes and coarse realistic fur.

She hinted later, or someone did, that my father had been very upset that my mother had driven all the way to Maine and spent so much money, just for a stuffed bear -- but I always thought it was lovely of my mother to have gone to so much trouble and effort when she must have been busy and was no doubt tired, that last Christmas she was alive.

My stuffed Kodiak bear was almost as big as I was.  I remember I used to have the most delectable naps, lying on the gold couch in a sunbeam, clutching my bear and imagining I was in a cage at Benson’s Animal Farm and the great grizzly bear was holding me.

When I look into my memory I now, I see grizzly bear pacing in his cage, back and forth non-stop, his head wobbling back and forth.  The polar bear was even worse.  I wove my comfy snuggling fantasy from the nightmare in which these animals were trapped.

While I was in grad school in Chicago, there was a therapist that students could go to for just ten bucks.  As a breathlessly avid student in the art department, I was devoted to scribbling and making portentous messes -- except that I spent 12 hours out of every 72 circling the halls at Steamworks, the gay baths, prowling for sex.  I was concerned that I was a raving sex maniac.  In fact, there was rather a lot of evidence in that direction.  (However, I still cannot compete with the bears.  I don’t think I came anywhere near 28 instances in 116 hours.  OK, maybe once.  Lord, how I miss Montreal!)

The therapist talked to me about “self-comforting activities”.  She said that I was just trying to calm myself down, to feel remotely all right.  It was exactly the right thing to say.  I couldn’t hear it.  I thought of everything as an addiction.  I was addicted and, as an addict, I felt terribly ashamed.

This was around the year 2000, when addiction was the fashion in the United States of America and people would say, “I am addicted to Saltines” and expect to be taken totally seriously.  I believed I had to control myself, I had to sit in a circle of addicts, I had to be good, I had to try harder.  I needed willpower, I needed self-discipline.  Comfort was for me a dirty word.

I tried so hard, I tried so hard in every way, all the right ways and all the wrong, I tried so hard it seems to me that you could summarize my life: “He tried so hard it was scary.”

Which is not to say that trying had much of an effect.  It did not.  Nothing.

Looking back now, I do not understand how it is possible that I did not see the fierce and terrible suffering of the bears.  The bears at the zoo were always either pacing or passed out.  If I’d seen a human act that way I would have understood in three seconds, but about the bears I did not think, I just admired.  I was too busy lusting, same as I do with horsehung Brazilian porn stars, who you know must suffer too.  I always think I wouldn’t suffer if I looked like that.  I’m wrong.

I am sure the bears in Benson’s Animal Farm would have sucked each other off if they could have, but I only remember solitary bears, a bear pacing alone in its cage.  And I doubt if bears can suck themselves off -- though no doubt they’ve tried a time or two, same as the rest of us.

I thought of the lover who sent me the story.  We were both furry smart people with gothic histories we’d somehow accidentally survived.  We had learned to comfort one another -- though it seems to me that comfort, like love, was an accident that happened as we both tried obsessively to give each other pleasure.  He was the one who taught me to accompany ravenous hunger with tenderness, to receive as well as to give.  I thought of him -- my lover who was thousands of miles away and whom I knew I might not see again.

My lover.  Have I told you how beautiful he is?  Outrageously so, to the point of absurdity really.  He is more beautiful than I was eligible for on my most beautiful day, which was something like five presidents ago.  Nonetheless he wanted to go to bed with me.  Because life, as you know, is neither fair nor sensible and often that works in your favor.  The fact that we don’t get what we deserve is more often fortune than punishment.

He tugged his shirt over his head and I was scared as a boy chased by a bear.  He unbuckled his pants.  It was like being devoured by lions.  I couldn’t run away; I was already naked.  I was fresh out of drugs.  I couldn’t possibly scream, so I found other things to do with my mouth.  I was scared and so I tried to give him as much pleasure as I possibly could.

A couple years later he told me he had also been scared.

Isn’t that just the craziest thing you’ve ever heard?

I don’t which is more strange -- that terror can transmit as passion, or that passion can transform to love.  The alchemy’s very weird on this particular planet.

Hey, when did the bears turn into men?  Did the bears turn into men?  Halfway, maybe.  (As a person with a fundamentally lustful nature, I have always made do with whatever’s available.)

I wish I could comfort the bears.  I so wish.  I wish I could rise up into the air and comfort could stream out of me, like the rain of mercy, to my lover far away, to the what’s left of me, and to anyone else pacing the floor in agony or sinking down like a stone.  Mercy.  Mercy to everyone.  And to the bears, to the bears above all, who embrace us, who devour us, who permit us refuge in their thick dank fur.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


This is what happens when I get drunk. I mean direly and exquisitely drunk and I am walking home alone after the bars close, along Broadway, left turn at 8th Avenue, and across the long bridge that swoops over the railroad tracks and above the former offices of Sears. Most people don’t like that bridge, it’s too long, too deserted, and the bicyclists will kill you, it’s true, because no one expects someone to be walking, not in the middle of nowhere, not at 3a.m., but I love that bridge and it seems to me that it goes clear across the sky. What do I do when I am walking home drunk across the sky? I argue with karma. Not with a person, not with a god. I argue with the law, with the law to end all laws. Sure, it’s a mad thing to do. But, you know how it is. Must be the liquor gets my courage up. I really let the law of karma have it. Blam! I don’t stop until karma’s shaking in its boots. I announce to the air, to the moon, to the street, to the bridge, that I am entirely FED UP with anyone getting what they deserve. Whamo! Which, as you no doubt have noticed, is not even what happens. Who gets what they deserve? When did you last see a elementary school teacher ascend into Heaven? When did you see a PR man for Big Oil disappear in a flash into a fiery pit? At best you receive a voucher good for justice in the invisible world, or so we are told. Why are you getting your ass kicked now? Because you fucked up big-time in Mesopotamia. Like that lesson is going to do you any good. Like you’re going to learn anything from that. It’s all about as useful as kicking the cat for shitting in the fireplace last week. Ka-POW! I’ve got the shit scared out of karma now! I throw a few punches in the air, just for good measure. I am walking home after six drinks with the outlaws and I am ready to award the outlaws everything. For a lifetime of bad behavior, mister, for sexy drunken lawlessness, here is your home beside the golf course, radiant good health, and an insatiable poolboy. In every desperate moment of my life, who has been there for me? The outlaws, always the outlaws. Blessed be the outlaws. You will know that I have been put in charge of the universe when aged hustlers receive better benefits than former members of Congress. Make no mistake. I got a serious chip on my shoulder. I’m a man with a venomous grudge. (Don’t blame the liquor for this, please. I’m just as pissed when I’m sober. The liquor simply augments my dazzling eloquence.) I am opposed, officially and on principle, to Respectable People whom I have throughout my life found to be reliably reprehensible and, above all, useless. It has been one of the largest and most unexpected lessons of my life, the reliable awfulness of Respectable People. Blindness you can count on. If you define respectable as an adjective meaning useless in emergencies, you will never be disappointed. Oh but they give money! Yes, as a means of not dirtying their hands. Don’t ask me to kiss their asses for it. Respectable People are above all fastidious. They are fastidious and they are busy. They are so very busy. They are busy because they are tremendously important. Too busy to dirty their hands! Busy, busy, busy believing in a fair, clean, decent profitable world, the primary function of which is to keep them comfortable and to tell them, over and over again, what decent and upstanding, nice, nice, nice people they are. Do you imagine you could actually interfere with that? With the messy details of your actual life? Go ahead and try! Whereas your friend of a certain age, with bottle red hair, too many bad lovers and too many cheap drinks, will prove a hundred times more helpful when trouble shows up. She knows trouble, oh yes she does. As opposed to the well-to-do Protestants, who are busy all the time pretending there’s no shit and no fan. Karma quivering in terror, drops the calculator and flees, spreadsheets fluttering out behind. A stampede of Respectable People follows, muttering to themselves what nice nice people they are. The outlaws whistle cheerfully in their wake and go are collecting piles of luxury cosmetics and department store charge cards. The vast majority of what gets called virtue is actually a simple lack of opportunity, initiative and imagination. I hereby command that we stop calling good what is only habitual and safe. What are Respectable People actually doing? They are gnawing their way through everything. They ought not be rich Presbyterians and luxury Buddhists. If they really prize honesty above all, as they are forever saying they do, they ought to worship the termites and the locusts. It’s a wonder the bridge doesn’t fall down, I’m telling you! Because I am mighty impressive when I get going on karma. I’m in tip-top form. I’m downright inspired and with good reason: it’s been quite a night at the bar, a tip-top night, which doesn’t mean the liquor was top-shelf. It certainly wasn’t. Why do people go to respectable bars? Respectable is something I can do on my own, alone, at home. Swooping upon me and my dollar beer, here is Jim, father of four, five foot six but don’t mess with him. Jim delivers a high-speed lecture on race that culminates in a surprise invitation. Turning around, he drops his pants and shows me his round smooth black ass, which even non-mystics would recognize at once as divine. Here, too, is Brian, a day laborer: he's willing to love me but warns he will need 48 hours to get hard. Brian is very drunk but obviously grasps the current situation better than I do. To Jim he announces, “Baby, I would rob a bank for you.” Dana’s a lesbian skinhead and the first thing she does, when she finds me in the corner reading Chinese Zen scriptures from the 11th century, is buy me another cocktail. Then she buys herself one. Then she goes to the toilet to throw up. Was that cocktail tallied? The one she bought me? Will she receive full credit for it? I want that karma to ripen now. Lesbian angels and an Alka-Selzer for Dana and now, in this life. Out of nowhere, Tracy the aesthetician says, “If you keep this in your pocket, it will help your sadness go away.” And she hands me a stone she says was called an Apache’s tear. I’d never met her before. She said she worked in Hollywood but it was making her crazy. Tact seized me in the nick of time and I didn’t ask her if she’d been doing porn. I’m not making any of this up. I got the rock right here, you want to see it? Don’t wait up for some Lutheran to give you a rock! Respectable People spend their evenings tallying reason why they mustn’t become involved. Tracy sees the sadness and right away she’s got a rock for it. Tracy’s 34 and she looks 17. Listen up karma, I want that beauty to go right on. This woman gave me a rock. I know I’m not the first to mention this but, it’s not justice if you have to wait for it, like a bus at the curb or a check in the mail. Tomorrow I will be someone else and so will Tracy. Ever notice how the people giving to the homeless are almost always the people who know they could be homeless next week? The Respectable People don’t give, or they give but look away, or they say, Oh he will just spend it on liquor! Karmically speaking, shouldn’t every bottle of chardonnay in the Respectable People’s homes spontaneously explode at that moment? I demand those bottles explode. BOOM! Bang! Ka-POW! Karma do your goddamned job. Be inexorable already, like you’re all the time boasting you are. Here and now where we can see it. If not, we’ve got Grace waiting in the wings. Grace is ready to take over at any time. I hereby command the chardonnay of Respectable People to explode! If that doesn’t work, I'm happy to smash those bottles myself. More than happy.