Most of you know that Mr. Wow had a checkered childhood, often spent with relatives and friends, during periods when my mother was unable to care for me, for various reasons. There was also a stint in upstate New York at St. Joseph’s Orphanage. It sounds very Oliver Twist, but really it wasn’t.
By the time I got to St. Joseph’s, I was used to these separations. Of course, this was the most dramatic. I was “taken away” at night. My mother, dressed in slacks and wearing a long dark coat, stood on the sidewalk with two men flanking her (she was admitting herself into Manhattan State Hospital, after slashing her wrists.) Later, in recalling this, it seemed very film noir—like she was mysterious spy, being taken away for interrogation.
She urged me, stridently, to be a “big boy and not cry.” I don’t know that I was going to cry. As I said, this had become normal life. I turned once to look back at the three dark figures on the street. I didn’t cry. (My mother would later regret and be tortured by the fact she ordered me not to cry.)
My first night at the orphanage was rather jolly. We were all in little cubicles with beds, acclimating ourselves. Somebody held a comic book above the top of the partition, I forget why. I was fascinated because I didn’t know what a comic book was. My mother read to me, and encouraged me to read “real” books. St. Joseph’s was a beautiful place. Clean and neat and with sloping green lawns. When I first arrived, I couldn’t help but notice all the religious statuary. I was especially interested in the Virgin Mary figures, some encased in glass. Maybe these were the more merry, wayward Marys, who might take off in the night?
Soon, we were assigned to our room and beds. My bed was closest to the door. There was a huge window at the end of the room with a striking view of the grounds. I liked to look out that window. There was some sort of schooling and I was considered “bright and advanced.” But, as would happen time and again in my future life, I was a disappointment. I never paid attention. I daydreamed. I didn’t much care to interact with the other children. I wanted the interest of adults. Though not necessarily the nuns. They were a chilly bunch. Not brutal, as were so many of the Brides of Christ my mother, her sisters and brothers encountered during their frequent stays at Catholic homes. But if one was looking for tenderness, the nuns were not available. (I developed a huge crush on one of the social workers, and even asked her if I could come and live with her? It was painful because I think she would have, if I’d been a true orphan.)
My lack of interest in any sort of schooling and resistance to discipline (I sulked) did not go unnoted. Or un-remarked upon. Great sighs were heaved as I heaved great sighs when expected to conform to the drill. “He can’t seem to concentrate” they would tell my mother, when she was finally well enough to visit me, though not yet ready to be responsible for my care. Thin and pale with thick-lashed electric green eyes, my mother wasn’t terribly involved in my concentration issues. (Later, when we lived together, she’d see it differently.)
She was more concerned if I’d been hit, and would always ask that. I hadn’t been, but I doubt she believed me; her own experiences having been so extreme. My mother’s presence in my life was, even by that point, was a cause for tension. She was always in a turmoil, ready for an argument, coiled to strike before she could be hurt. Her anxiety was palpable and nerve-wracking. Although I’d have preferred not to be at St. Joseph’s, I never regretted it when her visits concluded.
I was ill, to my memory, only once. An earache. A really bad earache. I recall one of the nuns saying to me, “You have a bubble in your ear, if it bursts, you’ll die!” To be fair, I might simply have imagined this, in my pain, but I remember thinking, “That’s not a very nice thing to say to a child!” (As much as I wanted adult company and acceptance, I never forgot that I was indeed a child. I’d say that was part of my precocious game to avoid certain responsibilities—but I’m only a child! Alas, I never grew out of that mind-set.)
Napping one day in the playroom, I dreamed I fell down Alice’s rabbit hole. Only, I never got anywhere. I just fell and fell and fell until I woke up, extremely disappointed that I’d not tumbled into Wonderland.
I swallowed a marble once. I panicked and cried I was going to die. A nun assured me if I hadn’t died already, I wasn’t going to, and “everything would work itself out.” Now I understand what she meant. Then I thought, “She’s going to let me die—and I’m only a child!”
At Christmas, Santa came and placed a passle of gifts on a huge sideboard. We were then instructed to rush en masse to the pile and pick what we wanted. I had my eye on a certain teddy bear. I asked, “But what if somebody else gets the present I want?” One of the nuns answered, wearily, “There’s plenty here for everyone.”
“But what if somebody else gets the present I want?”
“I’m sure you’ll get something nice and even if you don’t get what you want, you can share.”
“I don’t think that’s fair. Why can’t we choose?”
Enough was enough. “You are very selfish and ungrateful, young Wow. Some children don’t have presents at Christmas at all!” I knew this was true. But I wanted that teddy bear. I didn’t get it. And in a classic case of cutting off one’s nose to spite his face, I stubbornly took nothing from the pile of presents. If I couldn’t have what I wanted, I’d make myself suffer. Like anybody cared? In time I would come to care very deeply about the concept of having things that were my very own. This didn’t lead me to a life in which I would really work for things that were my very own, but the idea of it was quite powerful. And I’m afraid I didn’t become more apt to share, either. I am impulsively generous and never regret my generosity. But I am not thoughtful, and I do always regret that. Which means nothing. “Sorry” is the sorriest word.
My most memorable and dramatic experience at St. Joseph’s happened one afternoon when, for some reason, I was alone in one of the corridors—between a class or some healthy outdoor romping? I was walking slowly down the hall. In my right hand I held a crayon. As I walked I idly ran the crayon on the wall. I had no aggression. I wasn’t thinking. I literally zoned out. Suddenly, I was zoned in. Towering before me was one of the nuns. “What are you doing?!”
“Why are you defacing the walls?”
“The crayon! Why do you have that crayon in your hand?”
“I don’t know.” (Which was completely true. I was surprised to see it there.)
“You don’t know? How is that possible?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know. You don’t know. You never seem to know, do you?”
I felt this needed no response because, well—it was true. I never did know.
“Come with me,” she said. I was taken to a closet, filled a bucket with water, given a sponge and a bar of soap. “Now, you will clean up what you did.”
Okay. Believe it or not, I wasn’t angry about this. I’d done it, after all, even if I had no idea why I’d done it. It seemed like a big job. But everything seems big at that age. After I was done, the nun beckoned me into the boys bathroom, where childish graffiti spotted the stalls . “Now, clean up all this, and wipe down the floor.”
“What? But this isn’t fair. I didn’t do this!”
“How do we know? And anyway, you’ll know better than to scribble on walls in the future.”
She left me alone and I burned with rage and frustration. Even today I can feel my face flush as I recall what I considered this terrible crime against me. I did scrub off the graffiti. I wiped the floor. I did it all in a towering fury. It seemed like I toiled for hours, but I’m sure I didn’t.
Afterward, she said, “You can go outside now.”
“I’m tired. I don’t want to go outside.”
“Very well! Go take a nap.”
I went back to the dormitory, with its rows of beds on each side. I fell into mine, nearest to the door, farthest from the big window. Exhausted—mostly, probably, by my emotions rather than any severe work—I was instantly asleep. And then, my bed elevated, and swiftly flew down the room, between the beds and right out the window. The sky was so blue and so clear. No clouds. It was a dream that seemed to last forever, and with only one function and one character—me, going ever higher, and as far away from St. Joseph’s as I could possibly get. I don’t recall waking. But it remains the most powerful dream of my entire life—the color of the sky, the feeling of elation and escape. Freedom. From everything.
In time, I would escape St. Joseph’s. My wonderful Aunt Margot visited me, and as she, my cousin Stephen and my uncle Louis attempted to leave, I became totally unhinged, shrieking and weeping. I am sure my aunt, like my mother, was convinced I had been horribly abused. Against the wishes of her husband—he loathed his wife’s family—my aunt demanded I come and live with them. My mother approved, though not without some hesitation. (Tensions between all the siblings was always great.)
And so there was that for a year—a happy year–and then back to my poor mother, who was almost a stranger to me by then. When my aunt gave me the “wonderful news” that I would be reunited with my mother, I wept hysterically. She told me, “You don’t have to go.” I knew better. I could not be the cause of such a horror within a family. Sisters fighting each other for custody of me. “I’m crying because I’m so happy.” Never before or since have I told such a lie.
But I’ve never forgotten that dream of the flying bed and blue sky. Only in that dream have I ever felt so much hope, so much potential. Because I don’t remember awakening from it, there’s no memory of sadness that it was only a dream. In my mind, it remains something I attained once, something perfect.
I know I’ll never fly that high again, I’ll never dream that big.
But that’s okay. Once was enough. Even in dreams.
Mr. Wow—Enlightened at 60? Ehhhhhh…Not So Much. But There’s Always 61.
On January 7th Mr. Wow turned 60. My birthday is always the traditional conclusion of “my” holiday season. For more years than I care to relate, the holidays have been less than holly-jolly, tho I have to admit, putting the tree up and sharing it with you guys has become quite a lot of fun.
However, this year I was struck with a cold that turned into a flu that turned into pneumonia. I was literally unable to move, no less lug a great big tree three blocks, set it up and spend hours decorating. The absence of the tree seemed to be symbolic of a fairly traumatic year. It began with being laid off from my job of many years and ended in an emergency room. I felt gloomier than usual (I know—hard to believe!)
But so much else was happening, especially the horrible massacre at Sandy Hook–I sure as hell didn’t want to write anything about my holiday blues. And then all the gun nuts came out to play, and Lance Armstrong wanted to finally confess—to Oprah of all people– and on and on. I felt silence was the merciful tactic. After all, a lot you have issues too. And when I am in a vaguely normal state, I am still aware that I’m luckier, healthier and could be happier than most people in this old world. (The “happier” part would actually involve my getting off my ass, metaphorically, and making myself happy. But God forbid I should strain myself.)
So, the big 6-OH was staggering. Not since I turned 20 had I been so affected by a birthday. (20 was a shock because I wasn’t a teenager anymore, and being a teenager was my bread and butter so to speak.) 30 was great. 40 was even better. 50 was not so hot, but that was because I’d begun my drift into what appears to be a permanently depressed state. Still, friends threw me a party and I mustered up my public face—a person who you’d never think had a depressed thought in his life.
But come on—60?! It had to be some cruel joke. Did I look 60? No, not really. Not at all, when I was healthy.
Did I feel 60? No, not at all, when I was healthy. But being flat on my back–hacking away, feverish and achy–poured gasoline on the fire of my self-pity and inevitable fears of death.
B. did his best throughout all this. And he has been a brick in general. But that’s not enough. I recall retching when I heard the phrase “you complete me” in the movie “Jerry Maguire.” Sorry, one person cannot “complete” another. You have to complete yourself.
I depend on B. for—well, almost everything. I remind myself of the great story about Tallulah Bankhead’s general helplessness—“She dropped an egg, and stood aside.” Well, I’ve dropped a lot of eggs in my time, and B. has been there to clean up the mess. But has he “completed” me? No. He has comforted, loved and protected me. And he’d complete me if he could. But that job belongs to me. I realize we are never finished in life until life is finished with us. But there has to be a point where you accept some aspects of yourself without immediately going into an orgy of self-criticism.
And after a while, the people around you begin to agree with your harsh assessments of yourself. Especially if—as in my case—one is persistent and eloquent in self-flagellation. Or, they feel pretty bad about themselves. It’s no fun for B. to hear me and see me dissatisfied constantly. What does that say about him, I’m sure he must wonder at times. “What’s the matter with me that I can’t make him happy?” (Honey, there’s nothing the matter with you, in case you have ever wondered.)
Because movie references jump to my head easiest, I am reminded of Elizabeth Taylor’s magnificent scene by the screen door in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” She says she cannot accept the fact that George, her husband, looked at her with love and thought, “Yes, this will do.” And that’s all I want. I want to be able to look in the mirror of my mind and say, “Yes, this will do.” That’s all. Of course I’d probably die of a stroke if I ever achieved that level of self-acceptance.
Soooo…during all these happy thoughts, while I lay on the couch in my room, cuddling with our purriest, most affectionate cat, Doll, I happened up an HBO series I’d never heard of or paid attention to. It’s called “Enlightened” and stars Laura Dern as a woman who freaks out at work, goes off to some sort therapeutic spa, and comes back, well—enlightened. Or so she imagines. I watched one episode and then got hooked into watching the whole season. (It was a marathon, leading up to the second season premier the next day.)
Dern’s character has to be the most wildly frustrating on television these days. She makes Claire Danes’ bipolar looniness on “Homeland” look like an eternal serenity vacation. The woman Dern plays has a fantastic feeling of entitlement, and an almost total lack of control in how she expresses herself. She is selfish and manipulative, though she doesn’t see herself this way at all. She thinks she’s always doing the right thing. Sometimes she even is. But inevitably she sabotages herself. And just when you think she has worked your last nerve, she expresses her deep feelings of loneliness, emptiness, self-loathing. She does see the other side of her actions, but she is incapable of staying on track. It was in these moments of Dern’s self-revelation that I was continually moved to tears. (Much as I was during so many seasons of “Six Feet Under.”) “Don’t you want to live?” she says to another character. “Aren’t you tired of dying? I’m so tired of dying.” Me too.
I don’t relate to the part of this character to wants so desperately to be recognized as a “somebody.” Maybe I’m simply reluctant to face that part of my personality. I’ve always felt I’d be an insufferable well-known person and/or a horrible boss. But I freely gave away my thoughts, ideas, talent (such as it is) because I was always afraid to stand on my own. I’m still not sure that wasn’t the correct thing to do. Being a background person probably gave me more of a “foreground” than I might have enjoyed on my own.
I want to be “enlightened.” I’m 60. It’s time. And time is so short.
I won’t lie and say I am moved to crying and caring deeply about the concerns of the world. I’m too selfish. I am aware they exist, and I am balanced by the knowledge that my problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. (As Bogie said to Bergman.) Sometimes I’ve even been motivated to send a donation or spend a New Year’s day or Christmas day helping at a shelter. But if I was honest, those were deeds done to make me feel better about myself. Still, I guess that’s better than not thinking or doing at all.
I want B. not to worry about me. I want him to feel he can depend on me, as I have depended on him.
Recently, somebody asked me, “Well, what do you want to accomplish in life?”
I replied: “I want to accomplish life.”
It’s not too late. 61 could be the best birthday ever.
Love, and thank you for your indulgence. And mine.
Watched Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in “An Affair to Remember” recently. Wept throughout. Because it is so bad. Honest. This is a romantic classic? I much prefer Miss Kerr as the gorgeous, sexually frustrated nun in “Black Narcissus.”
Watched a British gangster movie titled “Layer Cake” with Daniel Craig (just prior to his 007 days.) I will have to watch it again to actually know what the hell it was about, but, damn Daniel Craig is one fine specimen.
Watched the Golden Globes. Three cheers for Jodie Foster’s intimate, human and obviously not rehearsed remarks.
I am always scouring the Internet for new, rare, pics of Marilyn and Liz. (My childish infatuations will not abate!) Since Miss Taylor’s death, people are obviously clearing out their collections, so some nifty stuff pops up almost everyday. Fell on the floor finding a shot of ET circa 1980 with Rolling Stone Keith Richards. Keith is slugging Jack Daniels straight from the bottle. Miss T. wears an expression that says, “How dare you be so crude” or (much more likely) “Save some for me, asshole.”
And then there is Marilyn. One hundred years from now, people will still be unearthing new shots of this woman. Came across a pic taken just three weeks before her death. She is on the beach, the sun is setting. She’s wearing a bulky sweater to keep out the chill. Her stiff coiffure has been beaten up by the wind, blowing wild. The makeup has been smudged and washed away. She stands with one hand to her hair, trying to control it. And her left leg is prettily posed, relaxed, with a heartbreaking delicacy to the turn of that ankle. Fresh, vibrant, ready for the 1960s. Oh, well.
Listen, fan as I am, if Marilyn hadn’t died when she did, how she did, we sure wouldn’t be obsessed with her today. (I do hope for an afterlife in which Miss M. can appreciate how appreciated she is now.)
I am extremely happy to report that I do not have a terribly dramatic tale to tell.
Hurricane Sandy struck Hoboken (and plenty of other places) with brutal force. But as usual, in Mr. Wow-land, for all my pessimism, cynicism, depressions and fears, B. and I emerged pretty much unscathed. (Honest, I always feel like a warped Cinderella; just when is midnight really going to strike?)
Our power was out for six days. But we still had the gas stove to cook. (B. used to say, “Why do we have so many can of soup on these shelves?” Now he knows.) Candles were lit. I read by flashlight. I think I went through ten books, including a few fave movie-star bios, some thrillers and a bit of Byzantine history. I watched “Shame” (Michael Fassbender!) and “Rosemary’s Baby” on my DVD player until it ran out of juice. I took agonizing cold showers. (Not because of Mr. Fassbender—there was no heat or hot water, and I like to be clean.)
I missed a doctor’s appointment and another trip down to the Department of Labor, where I was supposed to present a log of my job hunt. Of course I couldn’t make it. And it was closed anyway. And I couldn’t claim another week’s check because, obviously the computer was down. Sooooo…that preyed on my mind dreadfully and is still an issue. (When I got down there finally last week I discovered to my horror that I’d left my passport in my suit jacket, which I’d worn the night before. It’s my only photo ID. So, back again next week.)
In the dark, despite all attempts to divert myself, I, as usual, internalized this huge event, which I knew was ruining and ending lives, allowing it to drive me into a desperate state of depression. This was it, this was a sign. All hope was lost. My left eye was paining me. I have to see my dentist. Maybe I won’t be eligible for further benefits. I have $9,000 in the bank. I have wasted and ruined my life. I should leave B. and set out alone and die on the streets someplace which is what I deserve. I kept trying to make my head explode. (Honest, I thought I could do it.)
Even after the storm subsided and I saw the wreckage of the streets and what some of my neighbors suffered in water damage, I couldn’t rouse myself from myself. The darkness at night was driving me crazy. I was a joy to be with, barely uttering a word to B. (When I am like this, I feel keeping silent is merciful for him.) He’s not too crazy about the dark and lack of diversion himself. So there was a good deal of hibernating. Two bears slumbering.
I upped all my meds. There were no afternoon margaritas. No coffee. If nothing else, I was having a nice little cleansing. No appetite. Lost about eight pounds. The pants I’m wearing right now keep falling off my pert little ass. (I always take stairs two at time—excellent for the legs and rear.)
You all know I’m not religious, tho I’m always ready for a good chat on the subject. But I surely live under a lucky star. And I’ve always known it, no matter how I might bitch and worry and lacerate myself. (Hmmm…when I get to where I’m going, eventually, won’t I be surprised when He greets me with: “Ahhh…about that ‘lucky star’ stuff, wanna re-think it?”)
But now I feel as if I live under dozens and dozens of lucky stars. I do mean all of you. You overwhelm me. And when I say I love you, I’m not kidding. I hope those of you on the east coast didn’t suffer and were much less self-involved than Mr. W.
I’ll ask B. what organization is the best to send donations, and I’ll put in something. The Red Cross probably. It won’t be a lot, but even if all it gets somebody is a few cans of soup, well, I now know how vital a few cans of soup can be.
Thousands and thousands of people are still without power. I look at that and I am ashamed I allowed my six days of inconvenience to undo me as it did.
P.S. A lot of people were concerned about me. Several friends from Manhattan even came in with food and water! (I was thrilled and grateful, but not very welcoming, because of the sloppy condition of our house. “Don’t let people in!” I yelled at B. as he opened the door.) Among those concerned was my boss. (I heard about it, somehow.) I have known and worked with my boss since 1981. It has always been an intimate environment and relationship. In an unprofessional person (me) it has not encouraged maturity or a professionalism I can translate to another job. So far. Sometimes, inevitably, the relationship was volatile. I quit in 1999, only to return a year later. It had been, essentially, the only “real” job I have ever had.
I was extraordinarily touched by my boss’s fear that I had been swept into the Hudson River. That doesn’t mean I’m not still stunned about being laid off, and given to being swept away with some free-flowing bile. But after all these years we are family and I frankly wouldn’t know myself if I wasn’t somehow still involved with Boss. I guess that’s not really a good thing. I should have gotten to know myself a long, long time ago. And maybe it’s not too late.
But for now, I’m still here. And there. And it’s not the worst place to be. And even if I get there, I’ll still be here, in some way. Get it?
Holding a good thought for everyone in my life
Just as I was when I voted for Barack Obama four years ago, I did so with a heavy heart. I did not believe he was going to win. (Of course I was a Hillary man, so that played a part in my reticent attitude.) I feared a long brutal battle to discredit him in a tight race this year. You know, sometimes it is better to be pessimistic. Mostly, one is pleasantly surprised. When I returned from an evening event (just like last year) I was greeted by B. who said, “Obama won!” To say I was happy and shocked would be a vast understatement.
The first thing I said to B. was, “Oooohhh! Let’s watch FOX for a minute!” Everybody looked like they’d just be told their entire families had been murdered. It was great. But I didn’t linger. Even for me, the palpable misery there was hard to look at. I didn’t bother with MSNBC. I’d seen Chris Matthews’ spittle and hyperventilate enough. And Rachel Maddows’ rapid-fire delivery and endless journey to the simplest point no longer amuses me. I actually turned on TCM.
We’ll see what Obama can do with his last term. The handling of the Benghazi debacle hadn’t pleased me. I found him most unconvincing. Now he’s squaring off again with Boehner, in anticipation of the “fiscal cliff” we’re all about to fall over. My cliff has arrived so I’m less nervous. Fatalistic—at least in regard to my own future. And David Petraeous! Resigns over an affair? Much more on this to come, I fear.
On to trival matters. Anticipating seeing “Skyfall” and “Lincoln” with two of my favorite Daniels (Craig and Day-Lewis)…Wish I’d made a big money bet that Lindsay Lohan would cancel her interview with Barbara Walters. (If the Lohan parents went over an embankment tomorrow, that’s Lindsay’s only hope.) ….I am happy to have an iPhone, but I still don’t understand how people read, text, look at photos and generally conduct all their business out of the palm of their hand. It’s certainly no good for surfing porn. Everything is very tiny. But, I am comforted by having a phone in case of emergencies…Kind of looking forward to seeing Madonna at MSG, though she has done some really dumb shit on this tour. Saw her in Philly when the U.S. leg of tour began and—as usual—there are always brilliant, exciting moments. But, she’s gotta take off the cheerleader outfit and go a bit Dietrich. She is still is young woman. I mean, only 54. People talk like she’s 70! But she tries too hard, and it is that stubborn effort that ages her beyond her years…And I have decided that CNN has a death real wish. The absurd people they have on. This guy, Don Lemmon, who recently engaged in a “twitter feud” with the actor Jonah Hill? Lemmon came off like an insecure little schoolgirl. (And he does lousy interviews.) I don’t think newspeople should be on Twitter. It’s utterly undignified.
Well, I think that’s it for now. Although I find more to carry on about in my responses to any of your comments. That’s always fun.
It’s cloudy here in Hoboken and the sidewalks are still piled high with distressing signs of what Sandy wrought—furniture, entire floors ripped up, books, sentimental items ruined beyond saving, toys, clothes, computers. I walk past it, to a house that’s messy, not well-decorated, but whole and undamaged. And to a person who cares and exhibits remarkable patience in the face of…me.
When last we left 15 year-old Mr. Wow, he’d just stepped off the subway, onto Times Square, determined never to go home to Hollis Queens, anymore–Yeah, the old Shangri-La’s song was deep in my brain! (In case you’ve forgotten where you left off, check “Mr Wow Leaves Home” in April.)
I had yet to discover Greenwich Village, so I kept myself to the 42nd Street area. It was pretty sleazy, but I was hardly Green Garson. I gave myself no airs. Nor did I pretend to have fallen down this icky-sticky rabbit hole by mistake. I’d jumped right in. Sleazy was okay by me. Or at least it was nothing I didn’t relate to. I’d seen “The World of Suzie Wong” and “Walk on The Wild Side.” (Who didn’t want to be Jane Fonda’s Kitty Twist in “Wild Side?” Or Susan Kohner crooning “Empty Arms” in “Imitation of Life.”)
I spent Christmas ’68, New Year’s and my January birthday shivering on the streets and trying to figure out a way to make this way of life my way of life without it becoming my real way of life. That is, how to avoid everybody who drank, took drugs, and seemed determined to become terrifyingly hard and rip everybody else off. I was interested in—believe it or not—a home-like situation. Somebody to take of me. Not in grand style. Just a roof, food, and a person who’d put up with the general emptiness of my soul. This took some doing. My initial experiences were helter-skelter. A night here, a week there. Once I scored a whole month. But he was way too demanding. I hadn’t left home to be told what to do and when to do it! I became well-acquainted with all the flop-houses. Five bucks for the entire night. I ate sparingly. It didn’t seem to matter much. I was more concerned about my teeth. I stole a toothbrush from the drugstore and tried to brush as often as possible. (I later came to have quite a career as shoplifter, and never felt the slightest guilt.) Also, when I’d left home, I was still a bit husky. A healthy boy. Within two months I was a waif. I didn’t even realize it until one night after doing the deed with…somebody, I’d gotten out of bed and passed a mirror. I was shocked. I could see my ribs! I was tiny. Yeah, I was thrilled. I was anticipating Victoria Beckham. It hadn’t occurred to me till that moment why I spent so much of my time hitching up the waist of my now-pretty-grimy slacks—the ones I’d left home wearing.
Soon after, as luck would always have it with Mr. W., I met a guy who was appalled by the condition and fit of my clothes. He bought me jeans that fit, a dark blue shirt, a denim jacket and a little neckerchief thing. He thought that was a cute accessory for me. And it was. (I didn’t bother with underwear. I’d discarded them three days after leaving home, and soon became uncomfortable wearing anything under my pants.)
But he also thought I was way too young to be seen coming in and out of his apartment for any length of time. Still, he was awfully sweet to have bought me those clothes. He also advised me to shave the peach fuzz that had now darkened. I was loathe to do this. I didn’t want to shave, for heaven’s sake! I wasn’t a man, I was a boy! But he was adamant, especially because my cheeks were also blemished with teenage acne. He just took me into the bathroom and, whoosh! Didn’t even need shaving cream. But it was done. That cherry had been popped. I would have to tend to my beard from then on.
Years later I ran into him again, in a bar. He was trying to score with the youngest boy in the place (not me, any longer.) He wasn’t having any luck. He recognized me right away though, which pleased me—I was holding onto my freshness. I was still hustling, but I never needed money so badly I couldn’t return a favor. We went back to his place and did it for old times sake—for that neckerchief. And the shave.
In the chilly spring of 1969, I was living perilously, despite my scaredy-cat precautions. I’d had a few close calls that I escaped through some intelligence but mostly by being young and nimble—I could jump from a slow-moving car, when I had the chilling feeling I was being driven to something pretty awful. But I wanted off the mean streets. I didn’t mind spending a good deal of my hustling money going to the movies instead of eating (I saw “Funny Girl” ten times at the old Criterion Theater on Broadway. Then I’d linger outside, waiting for the next pick-up.) Still, Babs aside, I knew for all my wary ways, I was on a slippery slope, one way or another. I’d already been arrested at the Port Authority for “loitering.”
The two cops who nabbed me were not impressed by my claims of being 19 and my phony name—Tom Kelly. I thought it sounded Irish, since most people took me for Irish in those days. (I’m Irish/Italian) It was scary. I was put into the PA holding cell, crammed in with a filthy clutch of truly skanky, dangerous-looking, full-grown men. Lots of leering and groping and remarks that made it clear—wherever I was going that night, I wasn’t going to be getting any sleep. And I certainly wasn’t going to be paid for anything I had to do.
They still had paddy-wagons back then; we were piled in, and driven downtown to the Tombs. Just before we were all scheduled to be incarcerated, the arresting officers took me aside. “Look, kid. You’re not 19. What’s your name? Who are you? We’ll call your parents.” I was adamant. Garbo never gave such a performance. The cops sighed. “Okay, look. You want to spend the night with them?” indicating my salivating fan club of petty and not-so-petty criminals. I said I’d rather not. “Well, we can put you by yourself, nobody will bother you.” I thought this was a nifty idea. “But” (uh-oh) “you be nice to us, and we’ll be nice to you.” Nothing more needed to be said. I promised to be “nice.” And I was. Much to my surprise, they kept their promise, too. I was alone for the night. (I know, I know. I was taken advantage of. It was rape, abuse! Eh. I was doing it anyway, and they were, I have to admit, both rather attractive. Maybe it was the uniforms. In any case, I chose this path. And these were the potholes. )
In the morning there was some weird, brief, courtroom scene. I was on the streets again within two hours. And after laying low for a few days, I was back “loitering” in and around the PA. (The same two cops would re-arrest me a year later, to a far different outcome.)
I was ready to “settle down.” But how? Salvation came one evening when I was lounging against the lockers on the first floor of the P.A. (these are long gone.) I was wearing my jeans and denim jacket and an unseasonably skimpy tee-shirt. Oh, and the eternal Converse sneakers, in dark blue. My hair was growing long, and I kept blowing one wayward lock out of my eye. I’d seen Marilyn Monroe do this in a movie, and of course, whatever MM did…It was also wildly effective and cute.
A short, stocky guy passed me. He gave me the eye. I have him one of my butch-er looks and shifted my weight from one skinny hip to the other. I blew the hair out of eye. That did it. He came back. He wasn’t good-looking, but he looked nice, kind. And he smelled freshly showered, which indeed he was. (Later I would learn he was, aside from myself, the most showering person on earth.) His name was Jack Santos and he thought I was just the cutest thing he’d seen. He asked me my age. I told the truth. I always did. Except for dealing with the cops, who wanted to be older? Youth sells. He blanched. “16, really? I don’t know, I don’t know.” “Fine,” I said, giving him a bored profile, pretending to dismiss him for the next trick. (Age doesn’t treat the profile kindly. But back then, balanced with a thick head of hair, it was attractive.) “No, no. It’s okay, let’s go to my place. But if anybody asks, say you’re 21 and my nephew!” Who would ask, I wondered?
“His place” turned out to be The Alamac Hotel on West 71 Street on Broadway. I’d come to learn that the West 70’s were just chock full of gay men. I recall laughing once when somebody was driving me up there and I saw from blocks away the big clock on the top of the bank on 74th street. “Does every gay man live up here?!”
The Alamac (which is now a condo) was then a kinda beat-up residential hotel. Right across the street was the infamous Ham ‘n Egger diner, which was open 24 hours and was really hopping around 5:00 am, after the bars closed. The area was run-down and in its “Panic In Needle Park” mode. In fact, I watched parts of that movie being filmed up there.
For all of Jack’s concerns, nobody gave the slightest notice to me and my “uncle.” Up the elevators we went and to his room, where, to my unpleasant surprise, was another young man. Let’s call him Paul. That might even have been his name. He was not 16. Or 21. About 25 I guessed. Dark and good-looking. Well-built. He’d been staying with Jack for a while. Damn! I had to deal with this? Indeed I did. After Jack and I swiftly did the deed. (He never lasted long) Paul decided he wanted a piece. He did last long. So long that I cried. He didn’t mind. Quite the contrary. (I’d already learned this about some men. They liked it when they knew it was painful.) Later while I was sniffling in the bathroom, Jack came in and asked me, with surprising concern, “Did he hurt you?” I was annoyed and bitchy: “What? Couldn’t you tell? I was crying.” I knew he was smitten. On the way uptown, on the train, I’d given him the full treatment—the big gray eyes, the wistful air of fragility, the sudden big smile. (My most prized physical gift—an amazing set of teeth.) He reprimanded Paul. “Can’t you see he’s just a baby?” I smiled sweetly over Jack’s shoulder. Paul gave me a look Medusa would envy.
For about two weeks we were crowded into that small hotel room. Jack didn’t have much money, so I hustled, but I had a roof over my head. Paul, on the other hand, seemed to do nothing but lay in bed. He was eager to have sex with me again, and I allowed it, but I was also aware he wanted me gone. Jack was his little gravy train. As for Jack, in those weeks I learned a great deal about him. He was Portuguese. He was about 47. He’d worked all his life at various odd jobs, including a lot of carnival and circus work. Although he hadn’t seen his family for years, he often talked of them, and felt sure if he ever needed anything, they’d be there for him. I doubted it. He wasn’t super-smart, but he wasn’t dumb. He was deeply prejudiced, however, which amused me. I came to think of him like Archie Bunker. In time I’d be his fey Michael Stivic, always challenging his ideas, and reminding him: you’re part of an oppressed minority yourself. But most of that was years later.
The most pressing concern was Paul, who daily reminded Jack that I was dangerous jailbait and that Jack would be imprisoned for life if anybody discovered my real age. (As if Paul wasn’t availing himself of Mr. W. at every opportunity.) Jack, always nervous, didn’t want to see me go, but I knew Paul was making headway.
Finally, one day when Jack was out for a few hours, visiting nearby friends, Paul took me by the shoulders and said, “Now, Wow, you know that Jack is a wreck about you. This is a hotel. The front desk sees you come in and out all the time. What you think they think?” I said: “I think they think he’s fucking me, and at least two at the front desk wouldn’t mind either.” My logic didn’t sway Paul. “Jack really left today because he wanted me to tell you, you had to go.” Oh?! “Jack’s so nice, he couldn’t do it. But you really have to go.” Paul, who had a handsome but hard face, was not handsome at all in that moment. It was all hard. And maybe older than 25. With his hands still on my shoulders, he guided me toward the door. “This is the best thing,” he said. As I stood forlornly in the hallway, I asked, “Well, look, could I at least have a couple of bucks?” Paul smiled. “Why, honey? You know how to earn your pennies.” Door slowly closes. Scene ends.
Out on the streets again. Damn. Although it wasn’t a total loss. I did finally discover The Village, The Stonewall, and having been taken to that iconic bar by a pair of gay brothers (not the fraternity type), also found the joys of being part of a community. Such fun, that first night at the Stonewall. I experienced the high-camp cinematic thrill of having a drink thrown in my face and being called a “tramp.” (The brothers weren’t too happy that I’d gone off dancing with dozens of others. Look, they’d gotten what they wanted already. I was only 16. No other excuse needed.)
Still, I missed the stability that Jack had seemingly promised. Two weeks after my expulsion from the Alamac, I went back uptown and “innocently” visited Jack’s friends, a couple to whom he’d introduced me. They were happy to see me, but asked, why had I treated Jack so poorly? Where had I gone? And with no notice? I explained. They said: “Jack’s coming to visit soon. Stick around.” I stuck around. He was thrilled to see me. I explained again—hadn’t he wanted me to go? Paulsaid so. We returned to the hotel. Paul was naked in bed, as usual, watching TV. Nothing in my life up to that point was as satisfying as watching his face fall as I came in. Or when he left. He called me a whore and said I’d get mine. I said I’d already gotten mine—you loser.
And so life began with Jack. We were at the Alamac for another six or seven months. His income was sparse and I often hustled for grocery money. I really didn’t mind. He was besotted. He thought I was smart and cute and funny and couldn’t believe his good luck. I couldn’t believe mine, either. At some point, he secured a better job. So much better that he moved us out of the Alamac and into The Beacon Hotel on 74th Street. It still exists, with the legendary Beacon Theater below. In those days the theater was still showing movies and tarnished by decades of neglect. But it looked fabulous to me. I spent many happy hours there.
The Beacon Hotel was a very nice residential hotel, plush by my standards—which were nothing. Jack said, “Now remember, you’re 23 and I’m your uncle.” 23, really? I was just seventeen, if you know what I mean (as The Beatles sang.)
I settled in as a young matron. Although the two room suite (with huge closets) was furnished, Jack bought a riotously gaudy red-velvet sectional couch. He thought it was high class. I thought it was high-camp and was amused by his innocence. (I would bring friends over just to laugh over the couch.) Jack was the kind of guy who thought the more expensive something was, the better it was. I came back one afternoon to find a new stereo and turntable and speaker set-up. It had cost several hundred dollars. I was aghast. (Give me that money!) He kept quoting the price and insisting it was the very best. I wasn’t picky and pointed out that we could have had the same for a lot less. Especially as I was the only one who ever played records. But it was a matter of pride with him, and in time I knew it was useless to argue.
We weren’t “lovers.” He didn’t demand fidelity. (Although he was actually faithful.) He just wanted to know where I was going and what I was doing and please call if I was staying out all night—or for several nights. I tried to be sensitive to those needs but often I found myself caught up in some experience and I’d disappear for days. He was always there, waiting and worrying, kind of parental and controlling. I knew I’d worried him terribly. He was quick to anger and yell, but as the years passed I was equally quick to respond, rather shrewishly. I saw he actually preferred me with more spirit. Then, he didn’t. But we were together a long time. He didn’t like cats. But when I brought home a Siamese kitten, he let it stay, because I cried over it. I called him Rodan after my favorite Japanese sci-fi movie. In time, Jack came love Rodan more than I did.
During those years I discovered drink and drugs and a set of friends. I also began to wonder what love was really like? Everybody around me talked of lovers and boyfriends and I continued screwing aimlessly. And hustling. Jack didn’t have oodles of spare cash, and I needed things. Mostly records and books and Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. And, to be honest, it was still a thrill to be wanted so much that people would pay.
As I moved into my twenties I became increasingly restless and dissatisfied. I had several major crushes on young men who were willing to sleep with me, but hardly committed to somebody who seemed committed only to a life to whoring, drinking, sleeping till noon, watching soap operas, and generally wasting my time. (It was great!) One of my crushes so effected me I turned into Lana Turner and/or Joan Crawford. Pestering, obsessive phone calls, crying, begging. Not pretty. And he’d already warned me that he didn’t know how to let people down easy. But I was determined to humiliate myself to the nth degree. In time, we parted. That is, he drifted away with determination. I think of him often.
At the lowest point of this “affair” I ran into B., again, whom I’d known for years as a casual, affectionate, playmate. In fact, he was going into the Beacon to meet some friends. I was a mess. I’d gained weight, my skin was broken out (more than usual) I was sullen. He was chipper and attentive and invited me to the party he was attending. I forget now if I went. I do remember how concerned he seemed. I thought little of it then. The rare sweet guy. With a great ass.
Jack watched warily as I paced restlessly from room to room, snapped at him, complained and spent even more time out and about, dragging my sorry backside in at any hour of the day or night and offering no explanation. Finally, a “friend” whom I would sometimes entertain at the hotel when Jack was out, came over one afternoon. He was older and paying me and kind of a drag, but I was floundering. After sex that day, I became extremely hostile. He said, “You know, you seem to be in need of some kind of help, why are you so angry?” I said: “Because of pricks like you, using me.” He ignored that and wrote out a name and number. His therapist! I laughed. “Have you discussed why you need to pay boys to have sex, when you’re only in your thirties?” He left me saying: “Go get help. You don’t know how bad off you are.”
But I did know how bad off I was. And within a week I was at the therapist’s office. “I can’t pay you” I said, after babbling out a few of my issues.
“Because if I did, I’d be paying you with money I got hustling, and I don’t think I want to do that anymore.”
He thought about this for a few seconds and then said, “ I can give you ten sessions free.” At the time, I didn’t realize what a stunning sacrifice that was for a therapist. I thought, maybe, all of them were this kind and concerned? Not really.
So I began. I told Jack I was seeking therapy which totally freaked him out. He was not sophisticated. And he feared (I knew) that I’d become more independent, find more fault in our relationship, leave him.
The sessions were intense, though I attempted to be casual and dismissive. I said—as I always say—that my experiences hadn’t been so awful, others had it worse, I was really okay about everything. He said, “I hate to tell you this, but I’m surprised you’ve survived as well as you have. Do you want to give yourself any credit for that?” Of course I didn’t.
Before and during my visits to this therapist, I
had been experiencing powerful dreams about swimming and driving a car. I couldn’t then, and still cannot do either. But the dreams were incredibly strong. We discussed them. In the time-honored ways of therapy, I was expected to decipher the dreams for myself. “Well, I can’t drive or swim. I’d like to do both. Both seem to be symbolic of taking control, of your body and of this big machine that represents freedom. You get in a car and you are off! You swim and you conquer great fears. You own your body. Is that right?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you should give me some help!”
“You have to decide what these things mean, I can’t tell you.”
And there were my movie star infatuations. I discussed my great obsession with Marilyn, but also, that although I was no less interested in MM, I was increasing fascinated by Elizabeth Taylor, on a less sentimental plane.
“Do you know why it is?” he asked.
“Elizabeth has very big hair and no taste?”
“Is that all?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know! Is it because Marilyn was a victim and Elizabeth is a survivor, and I want to be a survivor?”
“What do you think?
Eventually, it came to an end. The therapist begged me to continue. Not with him (he’d given enough free non-advice) but with others who’d take me for a minimal fee in a group. I was touched by his concern, which I considered genuine, but I’d already made my decision. A week after my last session, I told Jack I was leaving him. He was shocked, distressed, if not entirely surprised. (But I also sensed some relief. I had become a troubled young man. Who needs trouble?)
At the moment I told him, I actually had no plan. I was just sure that leaving was the best thing. But within two days, a good friend called to say he was about to leave his long-time lover, would I come in with him and share an apartment? It was a crummy dump down in Chelsea when that area was still a rotting pit. Rent was less than $100 a month. The place was a wreck. I took a look and said yes.
To meet my commitment for the first month’s rent I needed $50 bucks. I wasn’t going to ask Jack, who was till trying to persuade me to stay. And I didn’t want to do it the easiest way—hustling. So I sold my fairly massive Marilyn collection—books, magazines, stills. It was, even in 1975, worth a small fortune. Well, at least $2, 000. But the guy at the memorabilia store offered me $60 bucks, period. I knew I was getting ripped off, but I knew I had to do it. And in letting go of this precious material, I had my first lesson in the non-value of “things.” I felt cleansed and fresh. (Needless to say, in years to come, I replaced every bit of that collection, and then some. I couldn’t stay that cleansed.)
I left Rodan with Jack. I packed up my books and my records and my few items of clothing and I left The Beacon Hotel. It wasn’t easy, though I was sure I was doing the right thing. Jack was not resigned to my departure. In fact he was still in shock. “You can come back if this doesn’t work out.” And still, I felt he wasn’t shattered by my departure. He’d want me back if I came back as I was during the earlier years. Although I was far from a secure person, I was less compliant. And it did seem like I was living with a parent.
So my friend Richie and I moved to Chelsea. We painted all the walls and ripped up the rotting linoleum. Never in my life had I done anything like this. It felt pretty great. I even had my own room. Tiny, in the back of the apartment, no window, but it was mine. It had a door, and I had blessed privacy. Richie found a job for me, at a card store on 57th Street. Nearing my 24th birthday I’d never worked a day in my life, but the elderly couple who ran the store, Mr. and Mrs. Cohen, took an instant liking to me. (They thought I was a nice Jewish boy at first.) I had to learn the stock, but mostly I had to be charming and sell greeting cards. My “people skills” came in handy. I was charming. I sold greeting cards. The pay was low but the rent was super low, so I actually had a lot of spending money. And, let’s face it, when I went bar-hopped, I still expected to be noticed, flattered and bought drinks. After all, 24 is still pretty young.
Summer was divine that year. I didn’t think much about what I might “do” with the rest of my life, but for the first time, it really was my life. Those months were without a doubt the happiest of my entire life. I recall lazing out the fire escape, playing the soundtrack to “Funny Lady.” I was free, I was…well, maybe I was even worthy to be loved.
But, nothing lasts. Though my friend Richie never acted as an authority figure who told me what to do, his mere presence was enough to get me going in the morning, keep me on the strait and narrow. But one week he had to visit family in Florida. I was alone. I went out and partied. I had a hangover. I called in sick. And again the next day. And the next. By the time Richie returned I’d lost my little job. I needed a human presence. Being left to my own devices was clearly not a good idea. Within a month I had to move out. I would not/could not find another job. I stored my belongings in a locker at the PA, and hit the streets again, a wearier, beaten down, deeply disappointed person. Where had all my joyful resolve gone? Had it not been real? Apparently not. I did not return to Jack. I didn’t think it would be fair to either of us. I was bitter, angry at myself. I knew I’d take it out on him. He’d done enough for me. And, perhaps he’d moved on—somebody younger, fresher? That was something I didn’t want to face.
When do you lose hope? I lost it in the spring of 1976, when I left that little Chelsea dump, with my friend and my room and my independence. I resigned myself to life on the streets, in hotel rooms. I wasn’t depressed. Not as I experience depression today. But I was never ever going to get back on the horse that threw me. That did make me sad. And I was scared. I’d been around for a long time. I wasn’t anybody’s idea of the new boy in town.
And then, one night at a bar in the Village (Numbers, I think it was called then) I ran into my old friend, B. I’d lost a lot of weight. My clothes were tatty. I was trying too hard to be carefree. “Come back to my place, we’ll have something to eat.” So I went. I was appalled, as ever, at his incredible sloppiness. (The first time we’d been together, years before, I’d actually tried to clean his kitchen and generally straighten things up. I might have scrambled some eggs, too.) B. made spaghetti and steak. I ate. He didn’t. I figured he’d want something in return for his pasta—everybody wanted something–but he only said, “If you need anything, you can always drop by.” At first I was offended. Did I look so bad that I’d lost my appeal? But I dropped by the next night. (That steak was good!) I hadn’t lost my appeal. I never left.
The saga of me and B during that time is another story altogether. I’ll skip it for now. We lived in his place in Chelsea. Then on to Chicago. Then to Detroit. Then to Hoboken. These were his choices, attempting to advance his life and career. I was either on welfare or not working or working at little thrift shops or housecleaning. I didn’t have much say in our travels. But by then I’d fallen very deeply in love. I felt a tenderness and convern for him which I didn’t think I was capable. Not that I wasn’t still a childish little prick. (I will have to ask B.’s permission to tell more of our life. Neither of us are perfect people.)
For a while, after we returned to the tri-state area, I had a stint scrubbing floors up in my old neighborhood, the West 70’s. One day, while strolling up W 72nd, on my way to washing down a cruddy stairway, who did I see sitting outside a drugstore, checking out the customers wandering in and out? Jack. He was working there.
Usually very concerned about what “people thought” he just got up and kissed me, right there on crowded 72nd Street. I was shocked by his public gesture—so unlike him– but terribly pleased to see him. I gave him a rundown of the past couple of years. He said only, “Do you really love this guy, B.?” I said yes. And then he added, “But why are you scrubbing floors?” I explained—though he knew me well enough—that I hadn’t the slightest idea how to really become a working person. “I have to contribute somehow.”
He asked me to come back to where he was staying—with his old friends whom I’d met years before. He had fallen on rather sparse times himself. He was just getting by. We talked and then we went into his room. Of course we had sex. I couldn’t refuse him. He was no stranger. He’d supported me for years. I did care for him, love him, really. Often, sex is just another way of saying thank you. And then, he gave me money. I objected at first—that wasn’t what it was about, and his own situation was hardly plush. I meant it. He insisted. I was too down and out to be that proud. And why did B. have to know? This was hardly a hot infidelity with a cute young guy.
Over the next couple of years, I’d see Jack sporadically. He was always the same, but kinda different. He’d come around to some of my old liberal rantings that used to enrage him. He wasn’t so ashamed or afraid of being seen as gay. He never used the words “nigger” or “kike” or “spic” in front of me. And he told me, every time, that he’d loved more than anybody else, and if only I’d stayed with him…
Yes, he paid me every time.
In 1981, I began my “career” as…well, I began my career. Real work. Sorta. And it began to pay. And soon I was a nine-to-five person, though my situation was hardly corporate—anything but! My life got bigger. I saw less of Jack. And less. And then months went by. I was too busy being the New Me. (Although it was really the Old Me, dressed up. Mutton, lamb—you know.)
One day, it was autumn, I had determined to go uptown and see Jack again. To let him know what crazy, unexpected changes had occurred. To take him to lunch or dinner. To see me as an adult—though that was just a pose, I was still quite childish, selfish and dependant. But it was a good pose.
I walked up Central Park West, and ran into one of his roommates, Michael (or Dion, as he preferred to be called.) “Oh, I was just coming over! How are you? How’s Jack?” Michael said, with unusual solemnity, and this guy was never solemn—“You haven’t been in touch in a while. Jack missed you.” I said, yeah, but…busy.
“Well, I’m sorry to tell you, but Jack died last month.” I remember exactly the spot we were standing. A woman in a blue sweater walked past and I noticed a Volkswagen parked nearby. “He had a heart attack. It was very sudden. It was fast. Jack never gave us your number. We couldn’t reach you.”
It wasn’t even sinking in. Though I certainly felt Michael/Dion’s disapproval and disappointment in me. “Where is he? Where is he buried?” And then it went from awful to unspeakable.
“His family didn’t want to deal with it. They just disowned him. They were ashamed of him. We didn’t have the money to bury him properly. He’s in Potter’s Field.”
Whatever one thinks about death or the hereafter or being buried or cremated or your corpse kicked to the curb–I couldn’t care less, myself!–I knew Jack cared. He was a proud man. He sought to be dignified even when the essentials of his life were quite the opposite. We’d spoken a few times about death and he always said he wanted a “good tombstone in a good neighborhood.” When he first remarked on this I said, “So I take it you don’t wish to be buried near any black people?” By then, we no longer argued about such things. He laughed. “Black people are okay. But I’ll still not sure about Puerto Ricans.”
And so he was dead and there was certainly nothing I could do about it. It wasn’t my fault. I shouldn’t feel guilty. I couldn’t. My life went on. I traveled and met famous people and sometimes I thought, “Oh, God—wouldn’t Jack be amazed at where I am?” (I also thought the same thing about my mother, who’d passed away in the same period.)
But the really good times ended more than ten years ago. I quit my job, then went back, but nothing was quite the same again, though there was still travel and famous people. I remained a man who could never get back on the horse who threw him. Depression, medications, and endless talk therapy: my childhood, Jack, B., my boss (Oy, my boss. Over and over, my boss!) I haven’t been myself—whatever that was or is—for a long time.
I found most of my therapists well meaning, but essentially prostitutes. Next! Next! Next! And don’t forget to pay. Money first! Next! Maybe I expected too much. After all, it’s a job to them.
But an exchange with one of them has stayed with me. It was toward the end of the session. I was joking around about winning the lottery and what I’d do with the money. He said, “Well, what would you do with the money, first off?” Without a beat, without thinking, I said—“I’d find where Jack is buried in Potter’s Field. I’d put him someplace nice, in a ‘good neighborhood’ with a tombstone.”
I’d shocked myself. I don’t know that I’d ever considered such a thing before. I began to cry. Really cry.
“What would you put on the tombstone?” the therapist asked, after his initial, grisly pleasure of seeing a “breakthrough.”
“I’d put, ‘Jack Santos. Thank You. I Love You. I Remember You.’”
And I would. And I do.
But I Don’t Care About the Wives of Presidential Candidates.
It was boring enough, three years ago, “getting to know” Michelle Obama, and the two kids. I would go into a coma every time she was interviewed and revealed little quirky, funny, endearing details of their life together and what a great guy he is. John McCain’s wife was even less appealing, though her hair-helmet made me giggle almost as much as Michelle’s persistently bare arms. The thing is. I’m not voting for the wife, the kids, the candidates ability to fry an egg or bravely eat heart-attack-inducing food at a state fair. Couldn’t care less about their courtin’ days, the proposal, the romantic fellow under the suit, and the ever-changing stances of this or that issue. (“He really cares, really. Really.”)
Now I have to get to know Anne Romney and she has to let us in on the “real Mitt.” The other a.m. I was flabbergasted to see Romney flipping pancakes. Who the fuck cares? And—please forgive me—I don’t care about Anne Romney’s MS, either. Too bad but join the millions of other who have the disease but don’t have millions to treat it. Go on “Chopped” and give a sob story on the hope of winning something.
Why do we have to be convinced the president is a “nice guy?” Why do we have to see his “humanity” which are only photo ops anyway. How human can you be, having the hubris to want to be president of the United States? Forget “nice” and go straight to “crazy.” I don’t care if the president is a mean, cold bastard, or a philanderer or picks his nose. I want a man or a woman who cares about the American people. All of them. I know, I know—a revolutionary approach to politics. Oh, and you have to get to know the mothers, too. Like I needed to see Paul Ryan’s mama out there on the stump? Like she has any idea what her son stands for? He’s just her little boy.
This “cult of personality”—the building of a personality for the candidate–is ridiculous. It demeans the process, if such a thing is possible now. These days we treat all of our candidates like celebrities—what they eat, what they wear, what they weigh, what their nearest and dearest say about them. How can go along with this tripe after the endless scandals and hypocrisies? It’s all a sham.
I just want a good person, a humane person, a smart person in the White House. Don’t care if the prez is married, an atheist, a foot fetishist, or a randy guy or gal who goes to Las Vegas and gets naked. So long as the Commander in Chief has a heart and soul as big as the ego must be, the rest is, frankly none of my business and a crashing bore. And I really would prefer an atheist, for sure.
Please go away, Anne Romney. You too, Michelle. Let your husbands fight it out, on the issues. Not on bedtime stories or pancakes.
However, I guess the ego of the wife has to be nearly as big as that of her husband. So, there’s no stopping these ambitious women.
Mr. Wow Ponders a Belated Father’s Day.
Every Baby Needs a Da-Da-Daddy. Maybe.
As usual, I must apologize for the long hiatus. Still struggling. Losing weight, losing strength. Upped the meds but feel I’m falling. Still “working” for the old boss. (And quite well, too.) Paralyzed. Unable to motivate myself further.
But I hate to do a weekly, “I am so depressed” post. I know so many of you by now. And many have far graver problems than Mr. W. Better to be mercifully silent. I think so, anyway.
So, I’ll talk today about an event that has passed—Father’s Day. (Mr. W. is like a sloth. You stick a pin in, and ten days later it says “ouch!”)
For many years, I had no feelings about never having known my father. My mother told me he’d dropped dead of walking pneumonia and while that was sad for her, it affected me very little. I wasn’t looking for father figures, really. And I didn’t miss what I never had. But a few years back, I began to wonder how my life might have been different had I known my father, or, more to the point, had he chosen to know me?
Here’s the story. My mother had worked since the age of 16, dropping out of school. She had to. For a while she supported some of her younger siblings. (All had been abandoned by their crazy parents.) In time, she worked as an usherette at the old Paramount Theater and in various capacities in the Biltmore and Waldorf Hotels. Ah, what delicious tales she had of movie stars and other eccentrics. She was a great storyteller and I begged her to write her adventures. But, she preferred to write rather morbid poetry. By the time she was 26, she was working as a nurse’s aide at a New York hospital, Misericordia. Roughly translated, it means Record of Misery. Or giving the death wound to the fallen. Not the cheeriest! I was born there, which explains a lot.
My mom was not totally inexperienced, but pretty close to it. She didn’t care much for sex, though she was prone to crushes on good-looking men. (I think she hoped they’d all be impotent.) One of them was a pretty, gay guy. I still remember his name. Bob Sundell. My mom was just crazy for him. Her friends tried to warn her, but she was undeterred. Finally, her feelings were so obvious, Bob took her out to a bar—“that” kind of bar. And he made himself quite flamboyant and clearly interested in men. My mom was crushed, but they remained friends. She liked gay people. It was only when her only son turned out to be “that way” that she re-thought her liberalism.
So this is where it stood when my mother met my dad. He was a handsome strapping fellow. Older than my mom, in his forties to her 26. He tended bar and sang Irish songs. Apparently he was inordinately charming. (From him I inherited my thinning hair, the prick. But, I, too, can be inordinately charming. So, thanks. You prick.)
My mother and her friends would frequent the place. He was attentive. She was flattered. One night she stayed late. He was unusually attentive and plied her with Brandy Alexanders. (She didn’t care for “liquory” liquor.) One thing led to another, and your Mr. Wow was conceived in the plush banquette of a bar. What a surprise that I developed such a fondness for drink!
She said she would later refer to me as “My little Brandy Alexander.”
My mom continued to visit the warbling Irishman, but there were no further intimacies. She really wasn’t interested in screwing in a bar. A few weeks later, however, she noted some disturbances and changes. She went to her doctor. She was pregnant. When she told my father, she really had no idea what to expect, but the conversation was as old as time. “I’m expecting a baby.” “Yeah, so whose is it?” He then dropped a bit of surprising news. He was long married with several nearly adult children. He wasn’t getting a divorce and didn’t need any more children. He suggested she get an abortion, though he did not offer to pay for it. My mother’s (Italian Catholic) family was also pushing for abortion. She was not keen on the idea. She told my dad it certainly was his child, and though she didn’t want to make trouble, she intended to keep it and he had some responsibility—especially as she had had no idea of his marital status. “Just try to take me to court,” he said.
Ah, but my mother, whose life had been hard, wasn’t easily deterred. She did take him to court. As she put it to me: “By the time we were got there, I was very obviously pregnant. This was 1953. I was beyond humiliated. His wife was there! She looked at me like I was dirt. But what could I do? I couldn’t support a child on my salary. I needed something.” Well, my mother must have been persuasive. He was obliged to pay her a monthly contribution. It was a pittance, but it was something. She never saw him again.
In the meantime, my mother’s family was determined to find her a husband. She could not give birth as single woman. The baby could not have her maiden name. And so, they found her a guy. He seemed nice enough. The family knew him as did my mother, slightly. They married. My mom didn’t love him, but she was married, grateful for the name and determined to be a proper wife. (He would not, however risk any chance of paternity. I had his name, but my birth certificate said “Father Unknown.”)
Soon enough, things changed. He drank. He stayed out all night. He wanted sex, though my mother was just about to pop. One day, the bell rang. My mother found a blowzy, badly bleached woman on her front steps, somewhat tipsy. “Ya see this tooth,” she brayed, opening her mouth and proudly displaying a big gap. “He knocked this tooth out. He’s mine and I ain’t givin’ him up for the likes of you, you tramp.” My mother, who’d had enough, said she was welcome to him, and could probably have him by late afternoon, if he came home. He did. Drunk. My mother told him of her charming visitor and demanded he get out. This guy wasn’t in the mood to be back-talked by any woman he’d done the favor of marrying because she was knocked up. He raised his hand. My mother said, “I just want to tell you this. If you hit me, you better make sure I never get up off the floor. Because if I do, I’ll kill you.” (My mother had almost drowned a nun who was abusing one of her sisters. She didn’t kid around.)
He didn’t touch her. He packed his bags and left. My mother was alone, as she really preferred to be, anyway. I was born. She loved me very much, but was violently high-strung. She found it difficult to deal with a child, as much as she wanted me. Her nightmarish growing up had left her scarred in many ways. One of my very first memories is sitting in a highchair, refusing to eat spaghetti. She was shrieking. I recall how her face was as red as the sauce. The more she screamed the more frightened and resistant I was to eat. For years I was skinny and a notoriously picky eater.
We were separated often, as she escaped into hospitals and finally admitted herself to Manhattan State Hospital after another suicide attempt. (This is when I spent time at St. Joseph’s orphanage up in Peekskill NY)
Interestingly, while in Manhattan State, my mom met a very nice (wildly neurotic) guy with whom I think she was deeply in love. But she was afraid their mutual issues would eventually destroy them. (And he was highly sexed, too. Never a plus in my mom’s eye.) I met him a few times. He was nice. Handsome. I thought he might make an acceptable dad. It didn’t happen. In the end, he committed suicide. As I learned a long time later.
So for years I was daddy-less. There were occasional father-substitutes (a good friend I called uncle. A real uncle, who took me into his home only after his wife—my mother’s sister, Margot—broke down after visiting me up at Peekskill. Apparently, she threatened to throw herself out of the car if he didn’t agree to “take me away from that awful place.” That was a good period. I had a father, mother (my wonderful, glamorous aunt Margot who adored me. And my brilliant cousin Stephen, who was like a brother.) I was pretty happy. Very happy. My mother would appear periodically, always in a tumult. I associated her with stress. She was always high-strung, prickly, insecure. (The family didn’t make her feel welcome, a good deal of the time.) I kind of hoped she’d just go away. I hardly knew her.
We lived in Valley Stream. It was two-family house. One of my aunts, Jeannie, her husband and two other cousins—Eric and Neil– lived upstairs. It was often fraught, because all the sisters were nuts, one way or another. But it was the first real “family” life I’d ever experienced. (Though I had lived with my aunt Margot for a slightly briefer time, a few years previously, during one of my mother’s disappearances into madness.)
One day, I came home from school—where I was doing fairly well. I could tell something was wrong, instantly. My aunt Margot said, “Young Wow, wonderful news, your mother has found an apartment in Hollis, Queens and you are going to go live with her very soon.” I burst into tears and became completely hysterical on the spot. My aunt—my mother’s sister!—said, “You don’t have to go. I’ll fight for you. You don’t have to go!” I saw my uncle, who’d never much cared for this arrangement roll his eyes. But I knew I had to go. What kind of a boy was I, who didn’t want to live with his mother? Unnatural! And I knew what it would do to the family. I said, “Oh, no. I’m crying because I am so happy.”
Did I die then? I’ve often wondered.
Anyway, most of you know how life in Hollis turned out. I left at 15. But here’s the wild P.S. After several years of failing grades in school, and my obvious interest in rather fey subjects—lady movie stars in particular—my mother really felt the need to find a “male influence” for me. (She knew I was gay. She was just fighting it.)
She’d met a man—I forget how, now. But he seemed nice enough. Drove a truck around, was unemployed, had two children, one my age, another younger. Boys. He had bad teeth. My mother, on her limited income, had them fixed. He talked a good line. He was charming. He was looking for work. He was impotent. Yup, that’s what he told her. Music to my mother’s years. He proposed. She said yes. While I wasn’t especially keen on having a daddy and two brothers, why not? My mother, who hated dressing up, looked divine as she and this guy headed off for marriage and then a honeymoon in Canada. She even wore high heels! (I stayed with my Aunt Margot, who was thrilled my mother “had finally found a man.”)
We all moved into our tiny two-room Hollis apartment. Five of us. He did not get a job. He did visit grimy friends in Manhattan, taking me and his sons along while he drank and played cards. Honestly, it was kind of scary. (It was also kind of sexy, in a dangerous way. I was not the typical 13-year-old.) I did like the older boy, my step-brother. We bathed together. (I was already tres gay. He didn’t mind either. Though I think he was just curious.) But how long could we all cram into this place? It was suffocating. My mom did her best, and really cared for the boys. But there were bitter recriminations during the day and strange arguments at night. Finally, it all came to a head, a huge fight ensued and “daddy” packed up his stuff and his kids and headed out to that beat-up truck.
Oddly, despite all the unpleasantness, I was rather upset. I cried, which surprised me. The kicker was, my mother wanted to keep the boys. She said, “You are not a fit father. Just leave them with me.” (I wasn’t really loving that idea. It was still a two-room apartment.) He refused. Then she said, “Okay leave the younger one” (I can’t recall his name.) “He’ll have a chance without you.” Daddy didn’t like that either. It was over. My mother missed the boys. I wasn’t sure what I missed. All her intense attention would once again be focused on me. Shit. (I have mused on what happened to those kids. Nothing good, I imagine. Though I am hardly one to talk!)
My mother, who had always been extraordinarily candid, then gave me the inside story. Aside from his obvious indolence and general piggishness, he was not at all impotent. Anything but. The honeymoon, was for my mother, a nightmare. “He wanted it constantly.” And, even with all of us crowded into the apartment, he kept dragging her into the bathroom in the middle of the night for sex. (Those odd nocturnal disagreements I’d heard.) I felt terribly sorry for my mother, though I couldn’t help think she’d been a fool. Then she said, “I really wanted you to have a father.” I shocked her by saying, “Whatever gave you the idea I wanted one?” Needless to say, this was my mother’s final attempt at male companionship.
Shortly after all this drama—about five months later– my mother felt compelled to tell me the real story of my father. She worked herself up into a lather of “I have to tell you something…something terrible…” Of course, I thought, “what now? I’m adopted?” Or was she dying? (Her health was rapidly declining.) Nope, it was the tale of the singing bartender. With the receding hairline.
After she was done telling, I burst into tears. (Mr. W. was big for bursting into tears!) My mother was all, “Oh, my God, do you hate me?” And I said, “Is that it? That’s the big reveal? Mom, this is not 1949 and you are not Ingrid Bergman. I couldn’t care less.” I paused and added, “You seem more human to me, and I understand more.” I don’t think she quite got it, but was relieved I didn’t denounce her on the floor of the U.S. Congress. I hugged her and took her hand and it was a sweet moment. One of the few we ever had.
A week later, I was back to being truant from school and she was slapping and screaming and bemoaning my existence. Still, telling the truth freed both of us.
How odd then, well into my middle years I began to think about my father. What that might have been like? Were my siblings alive? Had he ever thought of me? (Aside from the teeny child custody check.) These thoughts took hold for quite a while. Then, I recovered. You don’t miss what you’ve never had, as I always used to say in regard to Daddy.
In fact, I was terribly annoyed on this recent Father’s Day, while watching various news programs. Everybody seemed compelled to say “Happy Father’s Day” to everybody else. How tiresome, surely not every man is a father? Or wants to be reminded of that duty?
Boring. Silly. Pointless.
Okay. Yeah–I guess I would have liked a father.
While tearing off a game of golf, I may make a play for the caddy/but when I do I don’t follow through ‘cause my heart belongs to…who?
A cherished movie star, two recent deaths, a shitload of pills, and an idiot have been on my mind recently.
I’ll work backwards.
Chris Hayes. MSNBC. He is Rachel Maddow’s creature, much as she was Keith Olbermann’s. Difference? Maddow is not an idiot. Too cute by half and often grating, but intelligent, potent and…well, not an idiot.
Mr. Hayes, sort of cute and sort of famous for his nerdy eyeglasses took it upon himself on Memorial Day to express his hesitation in referring to men and women who fight in our armed services as “heroes.”
Now, before I unload, let me make myself perfectly clear. I think “hero” is the most overused and debased word in the English language save for “love.” I don’t know where the 20th and 21st century “hero” concept originated. Maybe during the Iran hostage crisis back in the 70’s. I recall all the references to them as “heroes” and I thought—“Uh, actually, not. They’re victims, hostages. Heroes are something else, right?” I was wrong, apparently.
Victims are not heroes. Just volunteering for the Army, Navy or Marines doesn’t automatically make one a hero. Nor does serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Not everybody serves for love of country.
Getting your legs and arms blown off and making a life for yourself despite that, without self-pity—yeah, I’d say that’s pretty heroic. I also think firemen are heroic. And good cops and good doctors. (Good luck on finding the latter two, however!) People who work in homeless shelters, women who escape abusive relationships, rape victims who testify, investigative journalists who bring down the greedy and corrupt, those who give all they can with a truly charitable heart—heroes, all.
So, I kind of understood where Mr. Hayes was trying to come from, in his tortured, hesitant, intellectual way. BUT. Really? On Memorial Day? That’s when you decide you have that little moment on air? How about just stay at home and barbecue? Call in sick if knew you’d have to be talking about soldiers. Mr. Hayes, naturally, was obliged to apologize swiftly. Too late, asshole. Not only did you reinforce the idea that all liberal Democrats are anti-military (anti-soldier, actually) But you undermined the incredible work of Barack and Michelle Obama, both of whom have worked mightily with and for veterans.
More and more I am convinced that self-professed liberals are really conservative plants, doing damage from within. What else could explain it?
The passing of Donna Summer was for me—as it was for many around my age—another door on my youth closing. As soon as I heard the news, I recalled walking down the street with a friend inGreenwich Villagein 1975. We were on our way to a bar called variously “The Stud” or “The International Stud.” (This was where I had originally met B., a few years before.) My friend and I were breathless, discussing Donna’s song, “Love to Love You, Baby.”
“Oh, yes,” I said “She was definitely really having sex when she recorded that.”
My friend was goggle-eyed. “Really? How do you know that?”
“Oh, please,” I said with assurance of somebody who actually doesn’t know a damn thing, “Everybody knows that.”
My friend was satisfied with my “inside” knowledge, which came from inside my head. We trotted over to the bar, determined to have fun. We did. How can you not have fun when you’re 23? When pants are high-waisted, high-crotched and flare bottomed. (Really, jeans were downright pornographic in those days. Those happy days.)
Donna Summer’s greatest successes would arrive during the rest of the 1970’s and into the 80’s. By then B. and me were together. But I can’t say I stayed away from bars, or stopped leaning up against jukeboxes, or dancing my ass off. I was still young. I still wanted to have fun. And Donna Summer’s voice was part of the soundtrack to good times. And to more gossip, too. Media wasn’t what it is today. But there were gossip columns and fan magazines and supermarket tabloids. What fun we all had reading and speculating about Donna and Barbra Streisand getting together to duet on “Enough is Enough.” Who had the better part of the song…who sang better…who sang louder…who held the longest notes? It was such wicked fun.
Oh, I know. Donna supposedly got all Christian-y later in life and maybe “misspoke” about gays. Sometimes people go overboard when they discover religion. I didn’t let it bother me. She regretted what she said, IF she said it. Perhaps for her career, perhaps because she got hit upside the head with what Jesus really said and did. I met her once. She was lovely, funny, earthy. I’m not holding silly grudges. And I must say, her death from cancer certainly held up to the light all those who abused their gifts and died early from their own self-abuse—Billie, Janis, Jim, Jimmy (Hendrix), Judy, Marilyn, Amy, Whitney, etc. Donna took care, protected her instrument. Never made her fans cringe with embarrassment or be forced to make empty excuses.
The death of Mary Kennedy also struck a note. I have no particular nostalgic feeling for the Kennedy’s. I was only eleven when JFK was assassinated. It was a shocking thing, but it had little impact other than that. My Kennedy memories are mostly the scandalous/sordid/tragic years of Jackie, Chappaquiddick, Joan, JFK Jr, and other unhappy events of that family.
However, Mrs. Kennedy’s death was an especially gruesome suicide. Hanging. Unusual for a woman. She was, it was reported, fearsomely depressed for many years. Nobody could help her. Certainly not her estranged husband, Robert Kennedy Jr., (As he was quick to point out at her funeral.) She left many friends and four children. It was her children left behind that impacted me most powerfully. I could not imagine what agony she must have been in to end her life. No, let me rephrase that. I do know that agony. Over the past ten years I’ve thought of it a lot. All the ways. Even to making it look like an accident—get drunk and walk in front of a bus.
Only one thing stopped me. B. I couldn’t leave him behind. I realize suicide is an act of desperation, of giving in, ending the pain—or thinking you’ll end it. (I imagine most people fight to live in the final seconds.) But no matter how low I got—and I got pretty low—I always saw B., alone and wondering how it happened, why I did it, why couldn’t he stop me, wasn’t his love enough? And…how selfish I remained to the end. I saw his face, and knew I’d see it beyond the grave. I don’t believe in hell but I have my superstitions.
Mary Kennedy’s death came just as I began—at the urging of my friends and B.—a new round of anti-depressants and some Xanax thrown in, for the incredible anxiety. I resist so much. I have a tremendous amount of shame. Why can’t I simply will myself to a better place, to be a better person, to be an adult? Well, I can’t. Tough shit, Mr. Wow. You’re weak. Take the damn pills and at least be pleasant to those who still have the patience to love you. And don’t think anymore about leaving.
I have been more pleasant. Though not an endless party. I don’t think about leaving. I’ve been drinking less after “work.” (Yeah, that sick situation is still going on.)
It’s so funny that I always resist medication. Because I never resist anything else that can make my life easier, or at least, I put myself in situations that keep me infantile. And that seems easier. Perhaps I’m afraid if the meds really work, I won’t have an excuse anymore. We’ll see.
Finally, and on a much lighter note, I just read the trade paperback biography of Jennifer Jones, which I’d somehow missed in hardcover a few years back. It’s called “Portrait of Jennifer” by Edward Z. Epstein. Miss Jones was always a particular favorite of mine—she was gorgeous, intense, tormented, quirky and wildly sexy. (Forget modern interpretations that are “truer to the source”—Jennifer Jones is Gustave Flaubert’s Emma Bovary. Period.)
Jones herself was a mass of neurotic need, counter-balanced by extreme discipline and a mania for privacy. She was a more interesting, intelligent Garbo, a less messy Monroe.
Jennifer’s relationship David O. Selznick is one of Hollywood’s great psycho-dramas. He made her a star and he ruined her as well. Her tale—which includes the tragic story of her first husband, actor Robert Walker—just aches for big screen treatment at the hands of a Martin Scorsese.
Was she a hard-nosed girl on the make for a break or was she the victim of a system and mogul who wouldn’t say no?
I don’t know. But I loved this book!
P.S. To all of you—sorry I was away for so long.
Oh, Oh—wait. One more thing. Fox News doing a segment paying tribute to fallen soldiers on Memorial Day. The background music? “Amazing Grace.” A Christian hymn. Hmmmm…what about all the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists or the just-plain-weren’t-sure-about-God who died for this country? I guess they don’t count.
“Taps” is the appropriate accompaniment.
Earlier this week, President Obama offered his personal opinion that as far as he—and Michelle and Malia and Sasha were concerned–same sex-marriage was a-okay. Misty eyes and joyful whooping and hollerin’ emerged from liberals. MSNBC had a collective orgasm. (FOX, naturally, all but put devil horns on the president’s head.)
Well, there were no misty eyes or joyful whooping and hollerin’ at chez Wow/B. In fact, there was a lot of eye-rolling and tongue-clucking and “oh, please.” B. did not offer the big ring. I did not suggest a June wedding.
Never have I seen such a load of horseshit as has been spread by Obama and giddy Democratic pundits and editorial writers on this “evolution” about civil rights. Obama has flip-flopped all over the place about same-sex marriage. “Yes” when he was nobody. “Evolving” when he was leader of the free world.
As a gay man, I found the lead-in (and follow-up) to this event insulting and unconvincing.
First, Joe Biden goes on “Meet The Press” and offers his personal opinion. Unlike his boss, he had evolved and was ready to say so. All hell breaks loose. Then North Carolina says “absolutely not” to same-sex unions. More hell bubbles up. What, what what would Obama do? Everybody who doesn’t want to control other people’s private lives, said it was time for the president to complete his growth as a human being.
Everybody who thinks that gay people marrying has something to do with them, waited, smacking their lips.
Finally, on the third day of this “crisis” (wow, where’d all the jobs and economy stuff go?) the president has a cozy chat with ABC correspondent Robin Roberts, and bravely ventures his personal opinion. He doesn’t say he’ll declare some sort of mandate or demand all states accept his opinion as the law of the land. He just wanted to get his feelings out there. Really? This is a Constitutional issue, Mr. President. The states should have no right to tell me, or you, or Malia and Sasha, what our civil rights are. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. In this country a heterosexual Death Row prisoner has the “right” to marry. I want the same rights as a as cold blooded straight murderer, please.
On the fourth day, amidst cheering on one side and brutal condemnation from the other, the White House allows a story to escape. Joe Biden trotted over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and formally apologized to the president, for having essentially forced his hand on the matter. Sooooo…okay. Obama didn’t really want to favor same-sex marriage right now, looking ahead as he is to a brutal fight to hold onto the presidency. He didn’t think it would help his chances.
The publicized Biden apology sent a message to those who are iffy/negative on the same-sex marriage issue: “I didn’t want to do it. Maybe I don’t mean it. Joe is an idiot.”
That Rachel Maddow, at least, did not pick up on this disappointed me. Maybe she just didn’t want to pick up on it. Despite her incessant “cutes” and her increasingly frantic performing, she is an intelligent voice in the shrieking world of MSNBC’s Sharpton, Matthews and Shultz.
The cherry on the sundae was digging up Mitt Romney’s almost 50 year-old bullying of a high-school classmate, who eventually came out as gay in later years. (Romney gave the kid a brutal haircut.) It’s an awful story, but come on—something from high school? People who hate gays are cheering the well-timed release of this tale. Finally, they have their narrative for Mitt. He hates gays too.
The White House wants to cover every base—yes we do…yes, we do but…Romney is a homophobe. They are gonna strap this haircut guy to the top of Romney’s car with the dog and try to drive to a second term. Good luck with that. Now, about the jobs?
I thought Romney’s remarks on this long-ago event were fairly good, considering—he regretted his youthful hi-jinks, didn’t recall that incident, but was sorry nevertheless. Though I think if I’d forced a haircut on a weeping classmate, I’d remember. Also—where’s all that Mormon peace-and-love-let’s-go-be-missionaries thing? (Maybe being a filthy rich Mormon does make a difference.)
And as B. pointed out, the bullies never remember. The bullied are marked for life.
Bleh! I don’t want to vote for Obama. I can’t vote for Romney. I can’t abstain—then I would have no right to complain. So I’m gonna hold my nose and vote for O.
However, there was something of a silver lining here. Maybe even more precious than silver. Now, I have never known what it’s like to be discriminated against because I’m gay. I never had a traumatic “coming out.” My mother’s disapproval was annoying, not heartbreaking. I’ve worked in a business that is gay-friendly. I never had to hide who I am. I’ve been lucky! Blessed, even.
With my multiple blessings in mind, I tried to imagine being a gay teen, or even a young person in their twenties. A vulnerable kid who is afraid, made to feel ashamed, thinks he or she is alone. To hear, to read, that the president of the United States thinks same-sex marriage is fine, must be a powerful message. They don’t have to understand the political ins and outs, the wussiness of what Obama really said. For these young people, it truly is a new world.
So, Obama did the half-assed right thing, for the wrong reason, but he did it. I give him that much credit. In time, I’ll probably give him more.
P.S. During the course of these recent events I found myself reading Time magazine. (Not the new one, with the nursing child.) It was a story about John Irving and his latest book, “In One Person.” The article tells how Irving responded when his beloved son came out to him. “I love you all the more” Irving said.
I was unaccountably moved when I read that. In fact, I began to cry. That is a real parent and a real human being. There is hope in this old world. It meant more to me, had more of an effect, than all the self-righteous, self-serving political palaver being dished out.
I wish every shocked, unfeeling, angry parent of a gay child could read that quote from John Irving, and understand—this is how you do it. It’s about your child, stupid.
I was reading Playboy over the weekend. Yes. Really. I love the articles. I appreciate the pretty pictures, too. Naked airbrushed ladies—what’s not to like?
Anyway, I got to the end of an interview with David Brooks, who is a conservative I don’t mind. (That means most far-right conservatives dismiss him.) He said something about change, how we really can’t change ourselves, only our environment and habits. But we’re always, essentially, the same.
It wasn’t a new or terribly deep thought. There was much more that was interesting and meaningful in the interview. (I certainly agree with his pessimistic/critical overview of President Obama.) It stayed with me, however, the idea of never really being able to change. My current situation demands change.
I’ve given change a lot of thought over the years. A lot. I’ve never approved of myself, and can’t ever recall a time in my life I didn’t want to be a different person—a different type of person. The only thing I accepted about myself without question was my sexual preference. In time I came to believe God or the Fates or whatever decided, “Look, this kid’s gonna be a mess. Let’s give him one thing about himself he won’t dislike.”
So, I was okay in that department. I honestly never understood what the big deal was—the gay thing. As I said to my mother once, “But it’s only sex. If I live a long life, I hope I’ll have more to remember than who I slept with.” She didn’t see it my way. At least not until it was almost too late.
Everything else? My basic personality, the person I always seem to have been? I did not like him. I did not like him when I was eight or nine—which is when I believe I more or less fully jelled. And I certainly haven’t grown any fonder of him.
By the time I was twelve, I was busy wondering, “What the hell is the matter with you, seriously?” In the catchphrase of the moment, I suppose I judged myself every day with an arch “Really?!
I was smart enough to know my childhood hadn’t been a picnic and surely had affected me. I was also smart enough to know others had it much worse and got over it.
It’s not that I sat around suffering my childhood, or feeling sorry for myself. It was more a matter of being kind of appalled by myself. And then shrugging. And then being somewhat amused. What twisted form of narcissism was this? I didn’t think I was much of anything, but I sure thought about myself a lot!
Aside from a rabid adoration of movies, I was without interests or hobbies. It’s not even as if I wanted to be in movies, or make movies or write movies. I was content to watch—rapt and inert. I loved to read but where did that get me? The more I read and understood, the less complete a person I felt I was. Where was motivation? Where was an innate sense of discipline. Where was self-respect? (Because I don’t believe you can have self-respect without motivation and discipline.)
And where were deep feelings for others? I wasn’t cold or mean. Quite the opposite, I was charming. The whole birds from the trees bit. I was selfish, but could be impulsively thoughtful and generous. I felt things sentimentally—crying over a movie or a book. But I seemed incapable of anything deeper. I thought. (I don’t know what I expected to feel deeply at the age of twelve.) I was profoundly lethargic emotionally. I didn’t have the gumption to become even a serial killer or a drug addict or a burglar.
I would sit on the stoop of my mother’s apartment in Queens and watch people pass by. I’d think, “They are real people. They have real feelings.” I was fascinated by the idea that we are all so separate; each one of us a little universe. I’d watch people walk on and away and still farther away until I couldn’t see them anymore. They hadn’t noticed me, but I’d noticed them. And whether they knew it or not, I’d been a part of their universe for a minute or two. It made me feel more connected. Maybe if I watched enough people, I’d catch what they had? Ah, but remember I told you I was smart about myself? I was. And even at 12 I knew “watching” wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I had to involve myself. But I didn’t want to. It was…too much trouble. Yes, as much as I longed for, or thought I longed for, or told myself I longed for “life”—I didn’t do a damn thing to achieve it.
I could have dealt with my mother, difficult as she was, differently. I could have made more of an effort with school guidance counselors and even one of those Big Brothers I had for a short while. (My mother felt I needed a male influence. I agreed. She simply didn’t know the sort of male influence I was seeking. My Big Brother was clueless as well—dumb, hot and straight.)
But I was already—how to put it—fatigued by life. I’d been nowhere, experienced nothing of consequence, and yet I was as tired as Garbo in “Camille.” And like Miss G. I didn’t mind being alone. I often preferred it. At times, the simplest question, “how are you?” seemed to me like a gross invasion of my privacy. Why did I have to explain myself to anyone? This quirk hasn’t been easy on people close to me—people I’ve lived with. Maybe it goes back to all the different “placements” of my childhood—the requirements expected of me in each new environment. No matter, it’s an unpleasant attitude.
Leaving home at 15 wasn’t a big deal. It had never felt like home, anyway. It was an inevitable consequence of lethargy. It was the easiest thing to do. And I knew just what I’d be doing, so no surprises there. I wasn’t unhappy yet. In fact 15 to 24 were the happiest years of my life. Sure, I had my periodic musing—“what the hell is the matter with you?” But it was the 1960’s and 70’s. I was young and cute and in New York. I had no money but I didn’t need any. A smile worked. I was indolent—reading, watching TV, listening to the radio. Usually all at the same time. Eventually, my indolence palled. I knew I had to move on. I did. I tried.
In all the years that followed, I can count on one hand, with maybe a finger (or two) left over, the positive, comparatively adult decisions I’ve made in life. They were difficult, I was full of fear—my usual state—but I tried to change. Yet I didn’t. I made the decision—this “right” decision–and then stood aside and allowed myself to be prodded along.
I was often prodded into quite reasonable facsimiles of motivation, discipline, and a pretty good work ethic, despite chronic procrastination. In the end, however, I found myself always forcing those who cared enough, to enable me—treating me as a fully functioning adult was a path to disaster. I would only allow so much of that! (I am the strongest weak person you’ll ever not meet.)
In at least one case, my best interests were not truly tended to by my enabler, but I had plenty of opportunities to turn that situation around. Did I? Not on your life. Self-sabotage was my middle name. I fell, eventually, into a steaming pot of resentment that looked like comfort food. Staying was killing me. Going was certain death.
Now I am gone from that situation, more or less. Am I dead? Not quite. But I haven’t felt truly alive—or in any case as alive as I ever allowed myself to feel—for at least ten years.
I’d like to say I had hoped to “change” once I was free of my responsibilities. That would be a big fat lie. I’ve never “hoped” for anything meaningful.
Okay, once I did hope. And I got it. I haven’t treated it very well. Certainly not in recent years. Or ever, perhaps. I don’t know. I did behave like somebody with a heart, when I hoped for B. (Shit—I behaved like Lana Turner—hysterical phone calls to airports, opening his mail and all-around messy, romantic disarray.)
Certainly, despite some rough years at the beginning, B. came to treat me like somebody who did indeed have a heart. Unfortunately, I also encouraged him to treat me like a boy with a slight learning disability—though I was a full grown man and not at all disabled. And then I resented that.
Never enough resentment to change, needless to say.
At no other time in my life has change been as vital to me, to B., to the few friends who remain, as it is now. And never have I been more resistant. I play the age card (but I’m not that old.) I play the helpless child card (I am way too old.) I sit silently in my room cluttered with dead-movie-star memorabilia. I read. I watch TV. Do I attempt anything constructive? No. Do I even speak at this point? No. Over this past weekend I don’t think ten words passed my lips.
I feel perhaps, at this point, B. is relieved, though hurt, all the same. I’ve said nothing new in years. But I am his and he is mine. Can I ever grow up? Can I ever alter our environment and habits? Is it all my fault? Can this marriage be saved, dear Ladies Home Journal?
So…I know at least one of you out there found a recent post of mine depressing, though it was not at all personal. (It was about Obama!) I replied saying if I’d written what I was feeling, you’d all kill yourselves or track me down to put me out of my misery. I don’t expect any suicides, but I will let you know I’ve put myself in witness protection, just in case anybody’s feeling the mercy-killing thing.
There’s no neat round-up to this post. This is what I’m feeling. This is my outlet. You are my hapless victims. I love you all, despite the battering I’ve just delivered.
If I was in better shape I’d do a column about that monumental egomaniac—and perhaps dangerous “medical adviser”–Suzanne Somners. She diverted me on CNN’s Piers Morgan the other night. Those lips, that face, the self-love. OMG, the self-love! Gotta admire it, grisly though it is.
Till next time, better times, I hope.