The Search for Love in Manhattan A gay odyssey of neurosis
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Here is my second-favorite poem, "The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered," by Clive James.
The book of my enemy has been remaindered And I am pleased. In vast quantities it has been remaindered. Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized And sits in piles in a police warehouse, My enemy's much-praised effort sits in piles In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs. Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles One passes down reflecting on life's vanities, Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book-- For behold, here is that book Among these ranks and banks of duds, These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns Of complete stiffs.
The book of my enemy has been remaindered And I rejoice. It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion Beneath the yoke. What avail him now his awards and prizes, The praise expended upon his meticulous technique, His individual new voice? Knocked into the middle of next week His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys, The sinkers, clinkers, dogs and dregs, The Edsels of the world of movable type, The bummers that no amount of hype could shift, The unbudgeable turkeys.
Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper Bathes in the glare of the brightly jacketed Hitler's War Machine, His unmistakably individual new voice Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook, His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed in by others, His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretence, Is there with Pertwee's Promenades and Pierrots: One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment, And (oh, this above all) his sensibility, His sensibility and its hair-like filaments, His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one With Barbara Windsor's Book of Boobs, A volume graced by the descriptive rubric 'My boobs will give everyone hours of fun.’
Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also, Though not to the monumental extent In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out To the book of my enemy, Since in the case of my own book it will be due To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error-- Nothing to do with merit. But just supposing that such an event should hold Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset By the memory of this sweet moment. Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets! The book of my enemy has been remaindered And I am glad.
Here is my favorite poem, "We Who Are Your Closest Friends," by Phillip Lopate.
We who are your closest friends feel the time has come to tell you that every Thursday we have been meeting, as a group, to devise ways to keep you in perpetual uncertainty frustration discontent and torture by neither loving you as much as you want nor cutting you adrift. Your analyst is in on it, plus your boyfriend and your ex-husband; and we have pledged to disappoint you as long as you need us. In announcing our association we realize we have placed in your hands a possible antidote against uncertainty indeed against ourselves. But since our Thursday nights have brought us to a community of purpose rare in itself with you as the natural center, we feel hopeful you will continue to make unreasonable demands for affection if not as a consequence of your disastrous personality then for the good of the collective.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm too well adjusted and emotionally healthy.
In the last few days, this man and this man have shown boundless generosity. Independently of each other, they offered to put me in touch with their respective connections at gay periodicals so that I might pitch a story about or a review of Gay Haiku, which is now being published in just over a month.
This led me to realize that some of the other readers here may be equally generous and well-connected. (I have experienced first-hand the generosity of several of the readers here, but in a context unsuitable for book publicity.)
So here is the favor I'm going to ask of you: if you 1) enjoy reading my blog and 2) know people who work for gay publications (print or internet), would you consider emailing me and letting me know? Then, depending on what you feel is appropriate, I or my publicist could make whatever approach seems best, in whatever way you feel most comfortable with--whether it means your emailing your contacts and asking whether they'd be interested in doing a piece on the book, or just letting them know we'll be getting in touch, or whatever else you think would work best.
Thank you, in advance. I wish I could offer my sexual favors as recompense, but, alas, E.S. would be displeased. Maybe I can at least secretly videotape us in the act and send you a copy. But first I have to lose seven pounds.
Come to think of it, I'm surprised no enterprising gay man has yet come up with a mood handkerchief.
True, the golden days of the hanky code are long past, the code itself having been rendered all but obsolete by the arrival of the internet as a tool for men to find appropriate sexual partners, but still, how fabulous would it be to wander around with a handkerchief in your pocket that changed from gray flannel (suits) to terrycloth (bathhouses) to brown lace (cut) to brown satin (uncut), depending on what you were in the mood for?
Trickier would be the mechanism by which the handkerchief could change from the right pocket to the left and back, indicating a change from desire to bottom to desire to top and back.
But then again I don't know how much call there could possibly be for such a feature, so maybe we're okay.
When E.S. and I were in Los Angeles in December, I bought a mood ring at the Page Museum at La Brea tar pits. The mood ring came with a chart indicating what color means what state of mind. Deep blue, for example, means "very happy," while black means "tense." Red means "adventurous, energized," and bronze is "jitters, anticipation." Orange is "daring," brown is "restless thoughts," and blue is "relaxed, at ease."
This would all seem very clear to me if it weren't for the fact that my mood ring never displays fewer than three colors at a time.
Sometimes it's yellow/blue-green/gray, which means that I have wondering thoughts, am somewhat relaxed, and feel nervous and strained. Other times it's pinkish/purple/amber, which means that, though I have clarity, I am uncertain and my emotions are mixed. Still other times it's black/green/red/brown/blue/bronze/orange, which means I am drunk.
Actually, upon further consideration, it's clear that this thing really knows its stuff.
When I was a senior in high school, the head of the Fine Arts Department decided that the musical that year would be Grease. For those of you unfamiliar with the musical-theater canon, Grease tells the story of Danny and Sandy, two high-school students in 1950s America. Though innumberable obstacles conspire to keep them apart, in the end love triumphs when Sandy (played in the 1978 movie by Olivia Newton-John) casts off the innocent persona she's cultivated in favor of that of a leather-wearing, high-heel-strutting, smoking-hot babe.
I was horrified by the whole thing. Deeply moralistic and prim, I couldn't imagine a worse message to send to the student body.
"Are you honestly telling me," I homosexually asked the head of the Fine Arts Department, voice quivering with righteous indignation, "that we're supposed to get on stage and tell our classmates that they should just ignore their principles and pretend to be people they're not, just so they'll be accepted by the cool gang?"
"I've got you in mind for the Teen Angel," she said.
"I'll be there at 3:00," I replied. My scruples, while considerable, could not in the end overcome my secret desire to come down from heaven and sing "Beauty School Dropout," an exhortation to Frenchie to abandon the salon and come back to high school. "Now your bangs are curled," I'd sing, "your lashes twirled, but still the world is cruel." Who among my classmates knew that as well as I?
I don't remember what we had to sing at the auditions but it was not "Beauty School Dropout." However, as the class's most nearly out homosexual, I had the best voice in the bunch, so whatever it was I'm sure I was immensely pleased with myself. The role was within my grasp.
Unfortunately, we still had to read lines; all the boys had to alternate in a scene near the beginning of the show in which the ne'er-do-wells who surround Danny are stripping a car. I had no idea what stripping a car was but I knew that, if these roustabouts did it, it had to be an insalubrious pastime. When my turn came to read, I assumed a menacing pose and hissed:
"I don't know why I brought thith tire iron! I coulda ripped thothe babieth off with my bare handth!!!"
Not my finest hour, I knew, but I wasn't worried. As the Teen Angel I wouldn't have to say anything about tire irons; I only had to sing about teasing combs and the steno pool. And so it was with great confidence that I walked into the Fine Arts building the next day to look at the cast list.
I was Eugene, the gay geek, who has a line or two and no songs. Other characters refer to him as "Fruit Boots," but our director, who worked in an arts and crafts store and whose name was Warren, cut all those lines because he found them offensive.
I got out of that place as soon as I possibly could.
She is very nearly her old irresistible self again. She's eating, drinking, and being generally adorable. She's not allowed to run, jump, or play roughly for two weeks, and I may have to have her fitted with an Elizabethan collar if she keeps licking the sutures.
But all these are as naught compared with the joy her wagging tail brings me.
After an entire weekend during which she ate, tiny piece by tiny piece, exactly a quarter of a strip of turkey bacon (no fat, the vet said) over the course of five or six excruciating feedings, I couldn't take it any more. The vet suggested she have a sonogram but couldn't do it for a week, so he sent me to another vet--a Fifth Avenue vet. The new chi-chi vet said he suspected there was a foreign object in her gut and he wanted to do exploratory surgery to remove it. I was initially thrilled at the thought he might open up my dog and remove a samovar or perhaps a yurt, but this was not what he meant.
In the event, the exploratory surgery did not reveal a foreign object but it did reveal a couple other things going on inside. The vet fixed one of them right away and took biopsies of the other one to see if it was a problem or not.
E.S. and I (and my brother and his girlfriend) visited A. last night. She looked very happy, mostly because she was FLYING from the pain medication they were giving her.
I'll find out soon if I can take her home today or if she has to stay in the hospital for more treatment, in which case the credit card I took out to pay for the surgery won't be enough, and I'll have to take out another one.
My mother was Episcopalian when she met my father, and chose not to convert. This meant that, according to the strictest precepts of Jewish law, as a child I was not Jewish, even though that was the religion I practiced. When I was seven or so, my parents, recognizing that there is no force on earth more irritating to deal with than religious bureaucracy, told me and my brother that, if we wanted to be Jewish, we ought to convert.
Being even then a savvy consumer, I went to church a couple times, just to check out the competition. Satisfied that it was just as boring as synagogue--more so, actually, because people actually showed up on time and didn't talk to each other during the service--I figured sure, why not, and we set it up. It would be a short ceremony, I was told: the rabbi and cantor would say a few prayers, I would be dunked three times in the mikvah--the ritual bath--and that would be that, except for the part where they cut the head of my penis with a razor blade.
Jewish men are circumcised as a sign of God's covenant with Abraham. I was circumcised at birth, so the cut was merely ceremonial. Nonetheless, the idea discomfited me. Not so much getting cut with a razor blade, you understand; that didn't bother me so much. No, it was the fact that the rabbi and the cantor would see me naked.
Clearly in the two subsequent decades I managed to get over my squeamishness about being nude in the presence of other men, but at the time it was a mortifying thought. I had a flash of inspiration, though, that would save both my pride and my religion: I would bring handkerchiefs with which the rabbi and cantor would blindfold themselves before the relevant part of the ceremony. They would be able to perform their duties and I would stay unexposed. (It did not enter my head that I might not want somebody aiming a razor blade at my penis to be wearing a blindfold, but even then I was not the most practically minded of homosexuals.)
The hour of the ceremony came. I stood in front of the ritual bath--contrapposto, of course--took off my shirt, and reached into my pocket. "Here," I said, offering the rabbi and the cantor the two handkerchiefs I'd stolen from my father's dresser that morning. "These are for you to wear, so you don't . . . so you don't see . . ." I trailed off, too embarrassed to complete the thought but certain that these two spiritual leaders would divine my unspoken meaning.
"I'm sorry," said the cantor gently. "But according to the law we have to see what we're doing." He may have been making that up, but he definitely had me pegged. If it hadn't been a question of law, I would have insisted.
So I submitted, naked and ashamed, while they made a tiny cut that I barely felt at all. I glanced at the single drop of blood on my penis and jumped in the mikvah. After I had dunked my head under the water three times, I was a Jew.
These days, when the subject of my mother's religion comes up in conversation with other Jews, I say, "She was an Episcopalian," and then instantly follow it with, "but I converted."
Because otherwise some jerk unfailingly says, "Oh, so you're not really Jewish," which I fucking hate.
My dog is in the hospital. Her vet thinks she has pancreatitis. I was going to write a post about how I bet the other dogs are all jealous of the blue cast she has on her right foreleg (to keep her from pulling out the IV) but I simply can't. The vet says maybe I'll be able to take her home tomorrow but I don't see how when she hasn't eaten anything since Tuesday. Today, when I visited her, she licked a little bit of tuna and turned her head away.
This would not be a newsworthy event except that it kept swelling up and then going down, over and over and over again. When it would get almost all the way down, I would bite it again--by accident--and it would swell up again, even bigger this time.
The end result of this was that, by the end of last week, when I had delicious tea with him, I had a repulsive protuberance on my lip so distracting that, when I explained what had happened in the form of an amusing story, he blurted out, "Oh, thank God, because I've been staring at it not knowing what to say."
My harelip was so grotesque, in fact, that it gave me a speech impediment. Ordinarily I have, like many gay Americans, a very slight lateral lisp. With the pustulant boil on my lower lip, though, the lisp was far more pronounced than usual; I also couldn't say the letters F or V without a lot of extraneous hissing.
This made for a great class on Thursday, let me tell you, when we were discussing Falsettos.
In any case, I saw E.S. Friday night for the first time in a few days and he was horrified at what could only be an alien egg sac implanted in my lip. He attempted valiantly to ignore my deformity but the last straw came when I couldn't kiss him in anything resembling an effective manner.
So he lanced it.
I will not provide details, as there are some things simply too gross to bear repeating. But I will say that he started with a paring knife (sterilized, of course, with rubbing alcohol--remember that he is a doctor); when that proved ineffective, he went on to a fondue fork. In the end it was a finishing needle that did the trick. The whole thing was especially unnerving given that we'd had a fight that morning in which I'd crankily blamed him for making me late to a meeting.
It's entirely possible that there are more uncomfortable positions than sitting still while a man who may not have forgiven you for calling him a bastard pokes your mouth repeatedly with a sharp knife.
At the end of last summer, I emailed my editor for the haiku book with a bunch of questions. At the end of the email, I wrote, "By the way, do you guys need a photo for the book jacket or anything?" He replied to all my questions and then said "Yes, we need a photo, by September 22." This was five weeks away.
And I was like, I wrote a book called Gay Haiku. Do you think I don't need THREE MONTHS to get ready for a photo?
At the time I weighed 143 pounds--severely up from my usual and preferred weight of somewhere between 130 and 135. I went into overdrive, spending all my free time at the gym and sacrificing anything I could get my hands on to the gods, so that they'd let me lose ten pounds in five weeks.
The gods were, in the end, deaf to my pleas.
This may have had something to do with the fact that, during this period, every time I saw chocolate I shoveled it into my mouth as if it were antivenin and I had just been bitten by a rhino viper.
In the end I went to my photo shoot weighing something like 141 pounds. (I say "something like" not because hadn't gotten on the scale in the morning and found out how much I weighed to within two tenths of a pound--of course I had--but because on the way there I was so miserable about being so enormous that I stopped at City Bakery and inhaled as many melted chocolated chip cookies as I could get my fat little hands on.)
Fast forward, if you will, to now. I am below 140 for the first time in a year, and fairly lean and muscly for the first time in two years, a state I attribute to having gone on The Abs Diet. I looked in the mirror yesterday morning and the person I saw staring back at me was so hot I wanted him to fuck me. Of course he was a bottom so there wouldn't really have been any point, but still. I looked damn good.
So I'm thinking maybe I should have new photos taken. It would cause a disastrous delay in publication but at least my picture on the ruined book would look fabulous.
It's important to have one's priorities in the right place.
When I was six, I picketed my house, hoping to be allowed to eat breakfast before getting dressed rather than after.
I marched back and forth in front of our front door, carrying a sign that said "BREKFAST FIRST DRESSED LATER."
My parents, being civil rights workers, didn't cross picket lines, and that was the only way into or out of our house,
so they were trapped there until they acceded to my demand.