to the friends I lost to death or meth: come back.
from the Prologue
Because there is so very little time.
The way a whale’s mouth opens (didn’t he read that it actually unhinges?) the way it feeds by letting in great expanses of the ocean.
Every day he wakes up beneath a sign. A sign with parts that flip, like in a tacky office in the Seventies.
TODAY IS WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 21ST AND STILL YOU AINT DONE SHIT.
That every day you should remember death.
Which is sure to come and may come at any time.
That we are as fragile as soap bubbles and at death must leave everything behind.
Resolve therefore to make the best possible use of your life.
(#) naturally he overdid it
He overdosed. Not on drugs. On death awareness.
Therefore he got no further than: There is something I ought to be doing! Time is running out! There is something I’m supposed to be doing! But what but what but what?
Proud of himself for not wearing a watch. Thinks he’s more free than most people.
But then he wonders, “What time is it?” And, before looking at a clock, he guesses.
Even hung-over, even with a lover, even in a foreign city – his guess is always correct within three minutes.
Now that he is alone, he wonders, “Should I have said to my lover, “Let’s be as unhappy as most people!” And to my brother, “Drink!”
Should I have said to my father, “You, sir, are a great king!”
Is that what I should have said?
(#) his family
As evident from their strained expressions.
(#) family theory
His theory: his family decided to be polite. Of course. They were polite people. Beyond that they resolved to have as little as possible to do with him.
Some months later, he was born.
Presumably everyone else has already noticed that one gets in the very biggest trouble not for arguments or insults but for saying things that are absolutely spectacularly obvious.
The answer to the previous question is: No.
His father writes: my affection has been boundless. The problem is that you are difficult to love.
What is the inspiration actually? How to Turn Ordinary Complaints into Thousands of Dollars?
Burning shit for fuel.
(#) on prophecy
Fortune cookie says: Keep your eye open for an opportunity soon to come!
He wonders: why only “eye”? One?
Like Odin? What’s my other eye supposed to be doing? Is this that one-eyed snake business?
Soon to come!
Not that he’s so interested in money, really. Not, like, compared to sex. (Sex!)
He just thought this might be enough. Just this.
He tells himself that, even if he was the very ugliest man in the world he would still have the chance to see a giant turtle swimming.
Followed swiftly by the fear that he may very well outlive all the giant turtles.
(#) everybody needs a motto
Fellatio. Because it’s not always possible to go snorkeling.
This panic. Turn it over. It is the intolerable underside of a blanket woven with birds, colors and stars.
Can anyone remember why I was called? Was it something about plumbing? Was it about the lights? Are we saving something? May I alphabetize? Are there boxes to carry?
Don’t tell me to be reasonable! Do you have any idea what this day is worth!
Courage was accumulating. He could feel it. It would be several hours before he had even a quarter-teaspoonful.
from My Acrobat
He agreed to help Anita with the grapes. No big deal, he thought. Only two vines. He didn’t even see any fruit. Really just a country way to decorate a cyclone fence.
It wasn’t until he actually climbed inside with a plastic bucket and lifted up the vines –
Hour after hour after hour plucking grapes.
Such a relief to be given a simple repetitive task.
Back in Denver, he saw half a dozen guys from the bad old days. Old lovers. Which is not to say anything particularly romantic. Or even specific.
New and abandoned. The sky and strategies for living with it, ignoring, narrowing it.
Denver: the sidewalks are empty and the bars are full. Everyone is here. No one walked.
By the time he left Denver, age 25, he’d pretty much sucked off every guy who didn’t jump back fast enough.
And guys didn’t jump back. Almost never. Let no one suggest the kid was good for nothing.
(#) Denver / 2
Plastic banners along the street. 50 McNuggets for $9.99. Pitchers three bucks all day!
And most people apparently decided, What the hell why not?!
To judge by their stunned expressions.
America. The body yearns to bloat. The face swells and the eyes recede inside the head.
The United States of it’s-so-hard-to-stay-Awake.
(#) America / 2
One of those reclining chairs that take up half the living room. Pull the lever. Your feet fly up and your head falls back.
So cozy until you think, how the hell do I get out of this thing?
“I can’t believe you still have such a baby face!” said the big floppy cocked blonde who, it turned out, after all these years and minus most of his hair, was named Mark.
He was very happy to hear this. He was flattered. It was several minutes before he realized that Mark was just surprised his face was not sunken from retrovirals or gnawed by meth.
The bathhouse still had corridors the color of rotten eggplant and carpet that could take the skin right off your feet. When he’d used to come here in the 90s, the place was a hospice party, the cubicles full of companionable dying men calling out, hey you can come in my mouth.
Now it was just a gay-themed drug den, a spooky playground. Guys didn’t even bother to undress. They waited in their rooms and stared into their phones.
Such a thing as evil spirits.
Here he was back at the baths and everyone who was still alive was doing what they’d done before except now it was mostly rapturous finger-fucking since they couldn’t get it up. (Spirits.)
Mark still had his all-star cock, impressive even floppy.
Who knows, without that cock maybe he would have had to put on his pants and get a life.
He even saw his old boss, who, when he’d known him before, was still wearing his ghoul on the inside. He had been an entrepreneur – made money turning junk houses he’d fixed up and taking in developmentally disabled sex offenders. He used to boast all the time about one of them, who was hung like an ox.
Now here he was, the old boss, crouched in the triple X video lounge. He looked like he’d been boiled so long he’d popped his skin. Like a forgotten potato.
(#) dumb question
He asked Gerald, “Why don’t they shut the place down? Everyone there is on meth. Even the doorman’s on meth.”
Gerald said, “The cops don’t want to go to no faggot fuckfest.”
Thank you, Gerald.
Gerald was half Ute, half Lakota Sioux. “Do you know what the purpose of the universe is?” Gerald announced. “The purpose of the universe is to HIDE from the universe.”
Protagonist must have a name. Despite the fact that names are seldom used in the places he goes and real names almost never.
What use is a name? Pass it through a gloryhole: HELLO! The cock you are sucking belongs to __________ .
A name. Because in America it is now illegal to travel without identification.
A name. Because otherwise, when two gay guys have anonymous sex, there’s no way of telling who is doing what and to whom. (Even with names it’s often difficult.)
Shaun. Because it is the plainest name the narrator can think of at the moment.
Shaun met Gerald at Broadway’s, at Broadway and 10th, but both of them remembered the place from when it was called Mr. Bill’s and they were both under-aged hustlers sneaking in the back.
They remembered the grand old days of Mr. Bill’s free Sunday meal, the legendary Petty Crime Buffet, when the drunks and the hookers and the thieves and the losers gathered together for the only decent meal most of them would get all week.
Beloved old Mr. Bill, who looked like a bloated corpse even on his good days, stood right beside the salad to make sure no one picked out all the shrimp.
(#) losing track
Shaun saw Gerald later at the baths. Above his towel he was wearing a black t-shirt to hide his tits and belly.
“Hey Gerald. Didn’t expect to see you this early.”
Gerald looked kind of embarrassed. “I thought it was six in the morning. But it’s six at night, innit?”
(#) truth and beauty
Because crazy old drunk Mr. Bill decided that, not only would the petty criminals of Denver be given a free meal, they would be given spinach salad with shrimp. And roast chicken. And fruit salad with berries. And homemade bread.
Lest anyone imagine that compassion is practiced only by pious Anglicans, with their bologna sandwiches.
Why is it he is unable to hear the dance version of “Love is in the Air” without imagining nuclear holocaust?
See the dull-faced workman. His eyes are empty and his back strong. His shoulders up around his ears. No one in camp cares he doesn’t talk. He works.
Here’s the newcomer, curly-haired and dark-skinned. From somewhere nearer the sun. “What’s up with him?” asks the newcomer.
“Never mind him. He’s always like that.”
The two men work alone in the field. Workman doesn’t talk. Late in the day, the light changes. Newcomer is tired of silence, of shoulders up around the ears.
Without thinking, Newcomer touches Workman’s back. “Hey buddy, loosen up.”
Surprised, Workman shudders and pulls away. He has started shaking and cannot stop.
(#)it’s magic, that’s why
Newcomer understands. He holds Workman. He does not stop holding him.
The two men tumble to the ground beneath an immense and ancient tree.
It cradles them.
Workman sobs so much he falls asleep, exhausted. Newcomer continues to hold him.
In the middle of the night the men wake up, blazing with moonlight, and fuck like mad beneath the stars.
Their semen nourishes the tree.
The two men wake up at dawn beside the roots of the great tree.
There is light in the leaves of the tree and in the eyes of the men.
This is the story Shaun tells himself so that he will be able to sleep. Jacks-off, or doesn’t. Night after night.
Imagines himself held by the man from somewhere nearer the sun, whose hair is curly, whose eyes are like rich brown bread.
Miss DeeDee rubs her giant jeweled hand against Shaun’s crotch and asks, “Are you blessed?”
The pock-marked Latino at the recreation center is an evangelist. “Brother, are you blessed in the Lord?”
And, no matter how lucky Shaun feels, to appear just now in the bright crumbling world, he has no choice but to say, “Not in the way that you mean.”
Bags are stolen, valuables taken, and everything else gets tossed onto the narrow tarred shores of 8th Avenue or 11th. So that, in a few weeks time, Shaun has no problem accumulating an entire wardrobe of stolen clothes. Evidently everyone robbed was about his size: plain average. No one had much money. There are sweatshirts with frayed sleeves and bargain jeans, an acrylic ski cap. Nothing is fashionable, there is no 100 percent anything.
Shaun takes home the clothes and boils them. Dresses himself in theft. Fits right in.
Shaun got two kinds of lice. (As if one were not sufficient.)
First he got crabs, which were a nuisance, albeit an exceedingly familiar one. Two rounds of insecticide and three loads of laundry cleared that up.
Except he still itched. Even after six more applications of Nix and nine more loads at the laundromat – each of which gave him a holiday of maybe three hours before he started itching again.
Finally the bitter truth dawned: he’d caught invisible lice. Invisible lice were maybe a fraction less disgusting – since you couldn’t pluck them off and watch them wriggle in the glow of the desk lamp.
Trouble was those invisible fuckers were almost impossible to eradicate.
(#) lice / 2
And were they invisible really – or just very very small? Exceedingly small – but certain to swell into visibility if he ever had an actual date with a halfway decent, employed, tender-voiced man, a gentleman almost, albeit a very hairy one. On whom the invisible lice would then be found, big as blood-engorged ticks.
Shaun considered himself an expert on the ordinary and extraordinary effects of sleeping around. But he had no idea what to do about the invisible lice. All he could do was wash and wash and wash.
Cigarettes, vacations, beer, beliefs, television.
But the body is its own escape. You can follow the animal. You can burrow into the mechanism.
What a relief to be horny, so horny it obliterates everything else, like the hunger of the saints.
(#) mantra / 1
Drunk, late at night, walking home in a blizzard, convinced he knew a new and powerful mantra, which he shouted as he stumbled through the snow –
Late Sunday afternoon at the baths – these men all have something. Anyway you can tell they had it once. Some reason this all worked very well for them. Once upon a time. As even the most wretched gambler (if you’ll just lend him a dollar) will talk of jackpot wins, these men all have tales of Spectacular Sexual Success.
The attendant beams at Shaun. “Man! The guy you were with the guy in Room #3 – do you know who that was? That was Morgan Steed!”
Shaun gets to bed even later that night (the sun is already up) but he swears he feels less tired. It helps to remember he was chosen by one of the gods.
Even more satisfying than the first time with a porn star (he’s ashamed to admit) is the second time, when he knows it’s Morgan Steed in Room #3 and makes him wait, a little. Not too long, just a little. The third time he passes the open door he stops. The god nods to him and he goes in.
(#) Morgan Steed
Oh the porno expanse of Morgan Steed! Every cultivated inch of him. The chest hair buzzed to an elegant bristle, the teeth white as correction tape. The Herculean shoulders and luxuriant armpits. The cock as from box covers – the length indisputably his, the girth reportedly augmented.
It’s true his penis doesn’t feel exactly real, not any more real than it feels to be having sex with an actual porn star. His face is the same as it was in movies from the Nineties. The eyes and mouth still move.
Overall Morgan Steed is remarkably lifelike.
Shaun has his mouth on the giant smooth balls of the star and the star has his eyes on the television. The porn star stares up at the porn as Shaun licks his balls, his perineum and finally his famous porn star asshole which is as smooth and as groomed as a hockey rink. And Shaun believes he’s doing well when Morgan Steed begins to gasp and groan and swear and what comes out of his mouth is a high-speed distillate of Nineties porno dialogue: “Fuck yeah.” “Suck that cock.” “Hell yeah, motherfucker.” And finally he says, “You’re killing me.”
You’re killing me. Shaun stops and looks up. Logan Reid takes his eyes off the porn, looks down at Shaun and grins.
OK, so “you’re killing me” doesn’t mean, for example, “watch out for the teeth.” This is just how Morgan Steed expresses pleasure.
“You’re killing me. You’re killing me.”
Abruptly Morgan Steed apologizes, “I’m making you do all the work!” (This is a job they are doing.) Then Shaun is on his back on the bed and Morgan Steed is sitting on top of him, vast, verdant and sculpted, like a designated national monument. Morgan Steed is touching him, looking at him.
He wishes Morgan Steed wouldn’t bounce so much. He’s afraid he’s might throw up. Not really from the motion, really. From fear of visibility.
(#) let’s just admit it
Because the goal is to be successful, finished, and away. To get out of there before Morgan Steed can say, “Hey one of your ears sticks way out” or “your forehead resembles an accordion” or “what happened to your leg?” To have sex with a porn star and feel oneself to be endorsed, just a tiny bit taller. The actual sex just a vulnerable place in-between.
(#) cum shot
Shaun’s happy when Morgan Steed gasps, cusses, blows his load. Porn star spunk. Except nothing actually comes out. The voice of Logan Reid is now aw-shucks all-American boy. “Too much edging, man! Sorry! I’m shooting blanks!” Morgan Steed is the very definition of good gay sportsmanship: willing to kiss someone who has spent much of the last hour licking his asshole. Shaun doesn’t push it however: declares his great happiness and pleasure, his vast and abject gratitude, then moves swiftly backwards out the door. As in the movies.
He dreamed of apocalypse, most commonly. Fighting for his life with a few others on what green scraps of Earth were left.
As time went on, these dreams became increasingly unnecessary. Apocalypse was more and more often the day’s programming as well.
(#) in defense of the world
Despite its abundant trap doors and shoddy broken-down appearance, despite the ascendancy of cell phones and the onrush of old age, 99.9% of the time the world remains vastly preferable to contents of the mind.
(#) how extremely unfortunate
Human beings, it turned out, were spectacularly bad at considering the big picture or the long term.
Thus they had arrived in a world which they were ill-equipped to think about. And even less inclined.
Meanwhile, the old goals were increasingly beside the point. The usual victories turned out to be overwhelmingly toxic.
No refuge other than the moment, which could neither be cut apart nor located. The indivisible, a demon saint with an axe: now now now now now.
The moment as a life raft then. An attempt to add an oar and a sail to the paragraph.
Miniscule prayers – if you believe in such a thing. Otherwise – small superstitious gestures.
Such as the likely superstitious notion that acting like a human being mattered even now. Presuming the human was a positive opportunity and not some kind of cosmic shorthand for the condition of having blinders. Human, i.e. blinkered.
What do you think? Do pigs insult each other by saying, Man!
Like a great hearted animal then. Like a true mammal. An elephant aspirant. With a heart like a whale’s open mouth.
(#) early reviews
The critics are scathing. Already Narrator hears them.
A sort of potpourri of promiscuity and deep thoughts.
(#) the truth about yourself
An acquaintance reported on him. “I watched you walk down the street. You duck your head down and shuffle along. All the way until you arrive at the next corner. At the corner you look around like you’ve never been there before in your life. Like you just arrived on the planet.”
This acquaintance didn’t like him much. Obviously. Felt that he ought to hold up a mirror. That people ought to see the truth about themselves. And become normal.
He was perfectly aware he was ludicrous. His ludicrousness was a hard thing to miss.
He simply knew no other way to proceed. Shuffle shuffle awe shuffle awe shuffle awe shuffle shuffle.
Smart enough to understand that his stupidity was what he had going for him. Overall he understood nothing. Parts only.
All he could do to proceed one broken piece at a time. Pick it up. Turn it over and over in his hand. Then put it down.
The fact that, over the last 5000 years, the human brain has shrunk.
Which is the same thing that happens to animals that have been domesticated.
(#) no meaning, or too much
One of those tacky pictures that look totally different depending on where you’re standing.
From one angle: chaos in a broth of wasted time. From another: Divine Providence is running a schedule tighter than the Tokyo Metro.
(#) the good news
Up at 3 am sodomizing a Mormon!
Lest anyone should think life is bereft of hope or purpose.
How alarming, with almost no warning, to find oneself in the arms of a man who is actually paying attention.
This lean blonde Mormon, the way he cocks his head and says, “Hey! One of your ears is flat to your head and the other sticks way out!”
How scary is that! No way to say, “Please, sir. Pay me no mind. I am only the invisible man who has swallowed your cock.”
Among the principal dangers of anonymous sex:
At any moment you may turn into a real person.
He’s a hell of an exceptional Mormon, really. If he was any better looking it would be impossible to do anything with him.
After sex he plays with Shaun’s hair, which is heavy and dense like a dog’s. “Now that we’ve done the sleazy part – can I take you out to dinner and hold your hand?”
Shaun reckons he’s never heard anything so sweet in his life. The sensation in his chest is akin to that of lung collapse. Of course he agrees.
How could Shaun possibly forget something so wonderful, so piercing?
Nonetheless, he will forget. He will be sure to.
(#) grapes / 2.
The task of plucking grapes. Simplicity comes as sweet relief. Washed and de-stemmed, the grapes may then by crushed or boiled down.
The simplest process however, requires only placing a heaping cup of grapes into a sterilized jar, adding a quarter cup of sugar, then filling the jar to the rim with boiling water.
In this way juice is produced although the grapes remain intact. Green or purple, the juice has a delicate color, and makes a suitable gift for those who do not mind humble things.
After several months the grapes appear nearly translucent. A few float at the top. Others nestle at the bottom of the jar, dense as honeycomb.
(#) public transportation
He imagines the talks buses must get into, on those rare occasions when a bus wonders if human actually think, or even have feelings. Who knows, maybe humans even talk amongst themselves!
Oh that screwball bus! Everyone knows that only buses think. Humans get on and off – that’s it.
Shaun wonders if new arrivals, just learning the language, sometimes made the mistake of thinking the word “veteran” meant “a ragged figure standing on a street corner holding a cardboard sign”.
(#) nope, didn’t see him.
Two angry bicyclists stop fast in front of him.
“Hey! D’you see a red-haired guy, pink polo, runnin’ this way?”
“No. A pink shirt? Definitely not.”
The bicyclists speed off.
Shaun feels incredibly happy. What a pleasure it is to be asked a question to which the correct answer is so self-evident and clear!
(#) buddy booth
In other words, a hole in the wall. Lanky black guy won’t take it out, just lets Shaun feel it through his jeans, so hard Shaun thinks it must be fake but, no, it’s real. Or at least it is firmly attached.
Something’s wrong, Shaun thinks, and buckles up and walks back into the shop, back into the bright afternoon, to stand among the pink dildos and the magazines.
The clerk is standing there like he’s a greeter at church. The men in the store aren’t nearly furtive enough.
(#) invisible buttons
When Shaun was a child he believed that streets were dotted with invisible buttons. Take one step and you might in an instant teleport into another time or nation. Into a wholly different situation, a battle or a jungle. Outer space, a lover’s quarrel.
About this it turned out he was entirely correct.
Before his cock is even soft he’s back on his knees – this time on a red leather pad among the pews before the Holy Virgin at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
To Shaun the Virgin always looks as though she can’t quite make up her mind.
He prays. In case the Vice Squad is in pursuit. In case the Holy Mother has taken charge of horny morons in triple-X video arcades.
If it was enough to be handsome, well, maybe he could manage that. The 99th time someone wanted him – or maybe the 999th – that would be the magic trick.
The problem is that what he’d really like to feel, if only for a moment, is undamaged.
Which unfortunately does not appear to be an option.
The way people describe the almost unimaginable bravery of their elderly relatives.
He eats the fat right off the roast!
She drinks real milk!
The towering otherworldly whiteness of the basilica, with its stone gods and jewel-box windows, like a spaceship landed among the pawnshops, bars and payday loans of Colfax Avenue.
As Shaun kneels before the Virgin, a man runs in shouting, “I saw a man killed running a red light on his bicycle!”
The priest walking up the aisle only nods. He is immune to distress. The man who has just seen a man die runs a lap of the saints and hightails it back to the street.
The basilica on Colfax. It is possible that help was once intended. As it is, God has built himself a fortress. He stays hidden inside it. Does not look out.
(#) dogs / 1
He is like a man with a yard full of dogs. Mad half-dead dogs. Can anything be done with them really?
Would a man who was honest, wise and kind – just pick up a gun and start shooting?
(#) dogs / 2
He doesn’t know what to do with all these dogs. One by one he carries them into the house. Pats and examines them.
What sorry-looking dogs!
The dogs lick his hand, growl, bite, shit, die, wag their tails, shed fur.
(#) every character has a history!
Therefore, this summary of the past.
A bookish hustler fell asleep at the baths.
A very strange convoluted dream in which he was awarded a scholarship and completed his studies in a branch of knowledge entirely luxurious, the kind of education the rich buy for their daughters after they’ve already purchased the most exquisitely gorgeous carpet.
(#) marriage / employment
At which point he found himself in a foreign city that resembled both a pinball machine and an airport transit lounge, wherein he married a man (!) and became a lecturer.
He wore a suit and stood before a line of desks. The words that came out of his mouth never made any sense.
The man he married never touched him.
Exotic destinations flickered past, as in a Bollywood music video. Like a flying dream, albeit strangely bereft of exhilaration.
(#) history (finish)
He woke up. A bookish hustler at the baths. As ever.
It was true that a significant amount of time had passed.
To interpret the events of the day like events in a dream.
Even when the most obvious message would be: Buddy! Fucking A! Keep it zipped already! Dude!! Less coffee!
(#) Denver / 3
Bulldozers and yellow poplars, red table umbrellas, dollar refills, tight jeans, burrito supremes, pitchers of beer.
Denver, city of the teasing dare:
you could not possibly enchant me.
At one a.m. walking down Speer past the little park called Sunken Gardens, he sees a fox. The fox bounces on all four feet and has a great bushy tail that appears, at first glance, to be highly impractical.
Beneath the street lamp, the fox plays in the snow. Runs in circles, rolls on his back.
Shaun allows himself to feel encouraged.
The medical students beside him at the cafe are preparing for their big exam.
What is it called when you try to use your coffee cup to mow the lawn?
(#) staff / 1 (our apologies)
If the same guy would show up to write two days in a row – that would help a lot. That would be invaluable!
Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be possible. As it is, this book is being run with a staff of day laborers, guys who hardly know each other, all of whom are prone to wasting time, to the bottle, to throwing everything over in favor of some fresh (or even tawdry) beauty passing by.
Years before, when Shaun worked as a towel boy at the baths, he had two nicknames. One of them was SLUT. The other was SHY. Because he often was heard to say, “I’m shy” and equally often was found fucking in a hallway or halfway down the stairs or even in the parking lot. As if performing a demonstration. In case anyone had questions. About technique. Or other considerations.
It was true that he was also uncommonly shy.
The kind of cowardice that functions as a catapult. The occult force generated by ten thousand times cowering, or flinching as if about to be struck. A force which may be dissipated in addiction or which may, on exceedingly rare occasions, result in actual acts of bravery.
(#) crow, unicorn
The young man at the next table has a young crow perched on his shoulder. The crow stays entirely still and leans slightly forward, as if concentrating very hard on what the pretty young woman with glasses across the way is saying.
The crow is a fake crow twenty-three hours a day.
The woman is talking about a woman she met at dinner party who said, “Could somebody please explain it to me? Are unicorns endangered, or are unicorns extinct?
Entirely screwed-up. A mess. A busted head. A poisoned river. The chance of positive future developments – exceedingly slim.
Then again, it seems equally unlikely that such a person would be able to wash and dress himself or make words and gestures comprehensible to other people.
As happened today again.
(#) two cents
Killed a cockroach.
Prayed it might be reborn as a honeybee.
The night before, as he walked on Broadway past the Capitol building – this message in blue chalk:
Clearly we have all gone INSANE.
(#) staff / 2. (apologies continue)
If only a professional and conscientious staff were available – this book would be great!
Even better, a truly skillful and pragmatic team would swiftly decide that, considering its premise, promise and subject matter, this book had better remain unwritten.
Saving both money and time!
(#) point of view
This him, this you, this I, this quadrillionth. Infinitesimal ambulatory fragment of sky and sea. The immense throttling air, the fertile fucked-up plasticine sea.
The cod may go ahead and die.
Or the cod may grow another eye.
The way a whale’s mouth opens. How it actually unhinges. And swallows the ocean as it goes along. Millions and millions of gallons, innumerable microscopic lives, mysterious abyss – all flows into the whale’s gullet.
Questions beyond number.
(#) mantra / 2
Drunk, late at night, walking home in a blizzard, convinced he knew a new and powerful mantra, which he shouted as he stumbled through the snow –
(#) my acrobat.
My acrobat. He likes to say.
How often does a person get a chance to put those two words together? This must be a very peculiar life we’ve stumbled upon! One of those lives in which things that almost never happen, happen.
Which must also be very common and ordinary. Enough “almost nevers” for everyone to have a few sprinkled on.
In this case the chance to say, “my acrobat”.
To his credit, he is aware the second word negates the first, that ravenous possessive.
Makes a mockery of it, even.
The acrobat. Shaun noticed him the second time they had sex. (Let’s assume it was the second time.) As soon as he was in the door at the baths, before he’d even gotten to his locker, a man put his arms around him from behind, kissed his neck.
He was very young, maybe twenty, and looked like a tremendously sad angel, who’d never saved anyone.
Shaun knew he wasn’t eligible for a guy like him – and also he was fairly certain he’d had sex with him in the last ten days. He wasn’t exactly sure.
The young man told Shaun to find him when he was ready. Then he turned and walked back toward the showers.
At the top of the spine was a bass clef. That was when Shaun remembered. The bass clef.
Yes – he was an acrobat.
As essential thing about promiscuity, which sure as hell nobody had ever told him: you won’t remember.
All those lovers from the baths – the half-dozen from this week, the half-dozen from the week before – they are all stored someplace exceedingly temporary, like dreams.
Damage is memorable: warts, brush-offs, amputees. Every cold dismissive word. All that is yours to keep. Otherwise, the men dissolve. Even the pretty ones, even the lucky ones. The perfect ones especially.
He knew exactly how to grin when a brand-new lover said, “Hey Shaun, good to see you again!”
He’d even forgotten an acrobat. How could he forget an acrobat? When so few acrobats will ever be vouchsafed to one’s arms!
How could he forget? Like forgetting one’s only sight of a giant sea turtle, or the Northern Lights, or a whale breaking the surface of the water.
Tender acrobat. Not like the gods who just stand there awaiting tribute, shoot their load, shrug, walk off without a word.
That was easier actually. You be the god. I’ll be the devotee. He knew how to do that.
The acrobat was crouched down on the floor. And here he was – excessively visible. He reached over and dimmed the light some more.
“You’re pretty much what crippled boys dream about,” Shaun said.
“You’re not crippled.”
“My left leg is crippled.”
“Didn’t notice.” More kisses. “Anyway if the monster comes, I’ll defend you. You won’t have to hobble very fast. Or else you can hobble away while the monster’s eating me.”
The acrobat acted as if he beauty were entirely beside the point.
As if this was just what he did for work – dress up as a Apollo, naked.
Being an acrobat was just an aspiration actually. So far he’d been a dancer.
“I never had to do anything more than that,” he quickly added. “Just tease.”
The heaviness in the face of the acrobat – the darkness beneath his eyes and his face as hewn from stone. Was that the habit of sadness – or just a side effect of retrovirals?
(#) monster / 2
He thought maybe the acrobat could explain. Every day at least somebody offered it to him. Was it was just something about Denver, or was America now on meth?
“They’re curious,” said the acrobat. “You’re sort of butch. Your cock is thick. They want to see what kind of monster you would be.”
“So – were you ever hooked?” Shawn asked.
“Only when I was a kid,” said the acrobat.
“My dad was a mule,” said the acrobat. “Back and forth to Mexico. So I was a mule too. I was ten. So much coke. But then he went away to jail.
“When I was 12 my mom said she was tired of buying my clothes. She faked all my paperwork and made me 2 years older. So I could go to work. But then, guess what, pretty soon I could take her to court and I was, like, you are pretty much the worst mother ever and I became an emancipated minor. And I was only 16, like, on paper.”
The way he said all this was off-hand and matter-of-fact, the same way he said, “You can fuck me if you want.”
Lying there, in a cubicle at the baths, the acrobat said, “I’d really like to get way out into the woods with you.”
Shaun agreed. He had dreams like that.
They said they would exchange numbers. Of course. They even promised.
Shaun wondered, did anyone ever make it out to the woods?
Here he is again.
Please, this time, remember.