Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What I Found When I Was Lost

Cheerful, Lucky, Lost

I’m no slave to fashion, but I like to think I do all right. Understated, masculine – i.e. undershirt and muscles showing. Overall I think I’m just as cool as any guy could be who carries a clipboard everywhere he goes.

No use for me is found and so I wander taking notes. Each page dated, printed neatly, labelled Hinduism, Ginsberg, Winesburg, Ecology. Notes on the streets of Bangkok, on the round-faced woman selling chicken with rice, hair tucked into her white cap beneath the tattered green umbrella. Ice melts from the cart of the melon vendor and drips beside the bicycle wheels. The British tourists wear plaid shorts, have awe-inspiring calves. I spend too much time looking down, I know.

If anyone looks at me I duck, bow, and smile wincing with vast agonized longing. Quite a little production, really. Then I resume taking notes.

The visiting Italian ladies have blonde-streaked hair and look always as if they are squinting at something bright – and suspicious.

There is a certain cheerful kind of being lost that, loneliness and small anxiety notwithstanding, seems an enormous privilege. All day I wander the street, eating noodle soup, chugging milk on the stoop of Family Mart, the one near Soi Twilight (or Soi Boy) that’s always full of spiky-haired young men in tiny powder blue shorts and white tanktops who shiver in the a/c as they wait to buy hair gel or a Coca-Cola.

Wandering then down the road to the Sri Mariamma Temple where the goddess is taking her afternoon siesta behind the curtain and the brahmins wake up just long enough to apply tilak and receive donations. I love this temple because everyone comes here – Thai, Chinese, Indian, European – to offer a tray with a coconut, a garland of marigolds and a carton of milk. No one notices one more foreigner. Even a few Theravadin monks are here, not bowing to anything but taking a good long look.

I do not believe in anything – all hokum as far as I’m concerned – but when the curtain opens to reveal the goddess I prostrate along with the others, then slip a 100 baht to Lord Venkateshwara, whose job it is to preserve the universe. Think about it: a job more hopeless than Obama’s. Naturally, I check in with Ganesha, who handles beginnings and writers. I do not believe in anything. I hold out some slim hope that I may yet be found mistaken.

At the travel agent nearest the temple I stop in and speak with ‘Rani’, who clearly views her size as one more reason to dress impeccably. Her English is precise and aristocratic, her tone world-weary. She has the quality I look for in a travel agent: an air of being in charge of the universe. Money cannot buy happiness, but it can buy plane tickets and that is close enough. In three minutes she has booked me a one-way ticket to my own heart.

Back up the road to Soi Twilight, where it is twilight now: the boys are just arriving, playing pool, and laughing at each other. Here at Dick’s Café, a few johns are already in attendance too, red-faced men who smoke staring at the ground and glower at everyone except the boy across the way – last night’s boy or last week’s boy and maybe tonight’s boy as well – who waves, blows kisses and makes funny faces.

The johns. Trim well-moisturized well-to-do white men with angry puckered faces: the products of forty years of gay liberation. A liberation that turned out to be primarily a training in consumption: lube, poppers, draperies, gym memberships, vacations. Most of all, we consume each other.

Who has the manifesto for some other path? Who is calling us away from gaydar and manhunt, from our voracious pornographic cave? Where are our mentors? I fear that we have killed them off with the meth, or the bare-backing craze, or else trained them for nothing better than pouty-faced old age, buying boys on Soi Twilight.

Squinting beneath the color lights, I take notes and dream along with Bill Morgan’s new biography of Ginsberg: I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg. It’s a great book -- though I fear it feeds my delusions of poetic grandeur. Most of all it makes me yearn for mentors and community. Some company, please.

Most of all, I love to read of William Carlos Williams and his open-hearted generosity even in broken-down old age. By 1956 Williams was going blind; Allen had to read his poems to him. Allen even showed up one night with his dad and Corso, Orlovsky and Kerouac. They got drunk and no doubt wore out their welcome with Mrs. Williams. Still, it appears the good doctor was charmed by them and wanted to hear what they had to say. William Carlos Williams, I love you.

Despite my obvious deficit in beliefs, purposes and social graces, tonight it is enough to be a quivering and observant fool, a fool half-hidden by the potted palm in the corner of Dick’s Café, keeping an eye on the johns and the boys in powder blue shorts, taking notes perpetually on my fool’s clipboard.

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