Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Clouds And Miss America

I had just hung up on Gary a few minutes earlier, and was about to leave the house for work, when he called me back.

"Joe, um...something has happened." Gary's voice was quavery and high.

"What? What's the matter?"

Gary's voice came rushing back. "I'm at Wendy's. I'm mean, I'm in the drive-thru. I can't see anything. I don't why I'm calling you in San Francisco...I just hit the redial I guess."

About six months earlier, Gary had lost all the vision in his left eye. He had CMV. He was taking oral gancyclovir in the hopes of staving off the loss of his right eye. And he seemed to be doing great.

Just that week, the local early evening newsmagazine show had done a feature story on Gary. Their newly hired reporter was the most recent Miss America, a local girl done good. Miss America and Gary had been close friends in high school, and when she chose AIDS awareness as her 'platform', despite strong dissenting advice from her advisors, Gary was ebullient.

Gary spoke of his 'good friend, Miss America' so often, sometimes we teased him about it. Miss America had done some photo ops, with 'her friend with AIDS' during her reign, and naturally she came back to Gary when it was suggested that she do a story on the new hope being offered by the just introduced anti-retroviral cocktail. There was no mention of Gary's eye problem during the story, and Gary told us the next day that he was disappointed that the scene of Miss America sitting on his bed, hugging him, didn't make the story.

"What do you mean you can't see?" I asked, hoping that I sounded strong and confident.

"I mean, I just ordered some food, and I pulled around to pay...and I ..I thought that the sun was going behind some clouds....but it just got worse and worse. I can't see a fucking thing, Joe."

Just then, I could hear some talking. A Wendy's staffer had come outside to see what the hold-up was. I told Gary to hand them his phone.

"Hello, I think your friend needs help." It sounded like a young girl, with a strong Cuban accent.

"Yes, he does. Is he still blocking your drive-thru?"

"Yes, he needs to move."

"OK, yes...I understand. He's having trouble seeing right now. Is there any way you can help him move his car?"

"I can't drive the customer's cars, no way I can, sorry."

By now, I could hear the angry honking of cars backed up in the drive-thru. The manager was summoned, and he reached in thru Gary's window and steered Gary out of the lane, and into a parking spot. Gary's phone began that annoying, almost out of juice, beeping that early generation cellphones made, then went dead.

I picked up my landline and called another friend in Orlando. He called another friend who lived close to Wendy's, and within 15 minutes we had 4 people there. Gary's roommate arrived from work, and they took him directly to the hospital.

Gary never regained his vision.

And with his vision, went his hope. Gary began a rapid spiral down, lost more weight, got a fungal throat infection, pneumocystis.

Eight weeks after the Wendy's incident, he was dead.

We scattered Gary's ashes off Pas-A-Grill Beach, near St.Petersburg, as Gary stipulated. We then went directly to T-dance, as Gary stipulated. We got spectacularly drunk, as Gary stipulated.

Miss America did not attend.


.

Monday, December 13, 2004

"Aunt" Susan

UPDATE: Go away, perverts. There is NOTHING about incest in this story.

My mother's sister, Susan, was eight years younger than my mom.

She was everything my mother wasn't.

My mom was married and pregnant and living in a trailer in North Carolina within months of high school graduation.

Susan was a hippie. She was THE hippie.

She wore tie-dyed clothes, and fresh flowers in her waist-length jet-black hair. She called the cops 'pigs' and the government 'The Man.' She taught me how to string beads for necklaces, which my father would immediately throw in the garbage. She taught me the words to Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone.'

Once, she let me hang out while she and her friends sat around and set dry cleaning bags on fire. I was a kid, thinking 'Cool...FIRE!'....and it was many years before I realized that they were all tripping on acid, watching the plastic curl and smoke.

While my mom seemed smart and prim and restrained, Susan (and we were NEVER allowed to call her 'Aunt') was foul-mouthed and wild and entirely fascinating.

Shortly after she finished high school, she married for the first time. Bad Billy was his name, I don't think I ever heard his last name. He had wild eyes, a bushy beard and he never wore shoes. He left Susan to go live in a commune.

In 1969, a bunch of Native Americans occupied Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco Bay, in protest of how the government was treating them. By then, Susan was an art student at NYU, spending all of her time throwing pots and weaving giant macrame 'hangings'.

That year at Christmas dinner, Susan announced that henceforth she would be known as 'Sioux', in solidarity with her oppressed red brothers.

My grandfather shouted: 'Jesus H. Christ!' and stomped out to a bar.

Sioux's present to my mother that year was a huge glazed urn, with her new name scratched into the bottom.

Sioux married a couple more times, hippie-style free love arrangements. Both husbands evaporated to Canada after being drafted for the Vietnam war. I don't think I ever met either of them.

Sioux then began a pattern that would define the rest of her life. Through one of her husbands, she landed an apartment at the top of Stuyvesant Town, on the Lower East Side.

Rent control had already been in effect on the apartment, for decades. She got the place for dirt. Sioux illegally subdivided the sprawling two bedroom into four small bedrooms, and took in tenants...turning a healthy profit. Most of her tenants were art students or musicians.

In the mid-70s, Sioux immersed herself in the burgeoning punk scene. She began to wear only black clothing, something she did for the rest of her life. She hung out at CBGB's with the Talking Heads and Blondie. She fucked half of the New York Dolls and ALL of the Ramones. She got arrested at CBGB's, in the can, for giving a joint to a cop...at least, that's how she told it.

She became the quintessential New Yorker, the black clothes, the smoking, the cursing. Anybody who lived above 23rd Street was a 'fucking idiot'. My mother was clearly depriving her children of the real world by raising them outside of New York. It was 'abuse' she told my mother once, that we had to ride a school bus.

Sioux became Susan once again, sometime around 1977, due to some bitch in a band having the same name. Siouxsie Sioux. Of 'and the Banshees'.

My family had moved to Florida by then. Susan was visiting us, during spring break. She was still going to NYU...a professional student.

Susan sat on the floor in my bedroom, flipping through my albums.

Star Wars soundtrack..'Ugh'.

Stevie Wonder....'Hmm'.

Sister Sledge...'Spew'. Yes, she really SAID 'spew'.

Then she came to Village People.

Now, the first Village People album didn't look like any of the subsequent albums. Yes, it had the same giant art deco 'Village People' logo at the top, but the photograph of the 'band members' was a steamy, black and white photograph of young men, models assembled purely for the album cover. No Indian, no leatherman, no cop. Just a half-dozen young men wearing punk-ish clothes in an alley.

Susan looked at the cover. 'This looks like it has possibilities'.

For a moment, I thought she was going to ask me to play it for her. Part of me wanted her to, because I f*cking LOVED that album. But I also knew that she was expecting the music to live up to the artwork.

She flipped the album over and read the song titles out loud.

'Fire Island'....'Key West'...'San Francisco'....she stopped there.

Susan slowly put the album back on the stack, and looked at me.

I was only 18 years old and had never come out, not to a family member anyway. I steeled myself for what I knew was coming next.

'Are there any good titty bars around here?'

I nearly fell off my bed.

'Um...what?'

'I wanna find some dive bar and watch chicks dance and maybe score some blow...any place like that in Orlando?'

I turned bright red.

'Well, there's a place called 'The Bottom Drawer'...I've never been there...but from the outside it looks.....um....dive-y.'

Later, I heard Susan call information and get the address.

Back in New York, Susan continued to careen through the local music scene, dating musicians, writers, bartenders. She finally finished NYU, with an art degree, nearly 15 years after she started.

From then on Susan's daytime life was a long series of temping jobs with various media companies. Viacom. Time-Warner. NBC. Chrismas gifts were always a huge box of assorted swag, stolen from her employers. One year, it was all things Beavis & Butthead.

In 1995, Susan was diagnosed with pervasive esophageal cancer. She'd smoked heavily for nearly 30 years by then, so no one was really suprised.

Even after chemotherapy, radiation, surgery...Susan showed no improvement. My mother and my sister spent every weekend shuttling up from Orlando, to St. Vincent's Hospital to visit her.

At the end, Susan was confined to an oxygen tent. She'd withered away, skeletal is the only word to use. Her hair gone, tubes in both arms, not even the energy to chew food....she STILL found the energy to use that famously foul mouth.

Her final coherent words to my mother: 'Fat fucking lot of help YOU'VE been!'.

My mother fled the room, never getting the will to return.

The next day, as my sister walked in, Susan pulled her mask off and rasped: 'Those shoes with THAT skirt? You MUST be joking!'

After Susan died, we went to her Stuyvesant Town apartment to go through her things. The vulture grapevine had already been alerted to her death, there were two dozen notes on her door, inquiring about the disposition of the apartment.

By then, she'd stopped taking tenants, and the place was a rabbit's nest of paintings, albums, full ashtrays and piles and piles of art books. The spare bedrooms were littered with boxes and boxes of junk. Shoes. Winter coats. Hundreds of copies of the Village Voice.

I found a huge pile of spiral notebooks. I picked one out and sat at the kitchen table and began flipping through it. It was filled with drawings, abstract doodling, non-sensical words, and lists. Lots of lists. Lists of bands. Lists of artists. Lists of people I'd never heard of.

Then I came across a page that was different.

In huge bold strokes, the sentences moved directly from the top of the left page and over onto the top of the right.

'I WANT TO GET F*CKED. I WANT TO F*CK SOMEBODY. I WANT SOMEBODY TO WANT TO F*CK ME'.

My mother walked over.

'Anything interesting?'

Quickly, I flipped the page.

'Um, not so far. Just some drawings.'

My mom leaned in to see. I had landed on another page of lists.

In pink magic marker:

I HAVE THREE THINGS TO BE THANKFUL FOR:
1) my lesbianism.
2) my emerald green eyes.
3) that I don't have Dorothy's nose.


I looked up at Dorothy.

'Mom, didn't Susan have dark brown eyes?'

My mom sighed.

'Yes, dear. She did.'


(originally posted 5-18-04)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

933 Harrison

During my six years of living in San Francisco, I visited just about every gay establishment in town. I'd hit the discos, the bars, the restaurants, the porn shops, the gift shops, the clothing stores, the record shops. I like to give my people all of my business.

Occasionally, I'd even get the notion to drop in at one of the local sex clubs.

Actually, replace get the notion to with 'be insanely driven to'. And replace drop in at with 'stay until closing at.'

Oh, and replace occasionally with 'three times a week.'

My favorite sex club in San Francisco (and the world, for that matter) is the legendary Blow Buddies. I won't go into any lengthy description of Blow Buddies, most gay men in America have been there or at least heard of it. The rest of you just.would.not.understand. Let's just say that even on a slow night, Blow Buddies provided a rich menu, a smorgasbord, an All-You-Can-Eat buffet of hot, willing, horny men. All I had to do was arrive, pull off my shirt, and begin sliding my metaphorical cafeteria tray past a seemingly endless selection of steamy dishes from around the world. (OK, let's end this horrible sex-as-food thing...HERE.)

I didn't have a car for the first few years that I was in SF. That's not so uncommon, San Francisco is one of the very few U.S. cities other than New York, where you can live pretty easily without a personal car. So, I was usually taking a cab when I would go to Blow Buddies.

However.

I had a little problem . It might be hard to believe it, but yes, ME...Joe.My.God. himself, relentless outspoken activist and warrior for gay causes, was embarrassed to tell the cab drivers WHERE I was actually going. Ridiculous, but true.

I'd flag down a passing cab from outside the disco, or bar or party. I'd hop in, the driver would bark his 'Where to?', and I'd LIE.

'Oh, I'm going to the Shell Station on Harrison Street.'

Right, who the HELL takes a cab to a gas station? Sometimes if it was early enough, I'd give the name of a nearby bar. Once or twice, I even pretended I was looking for my car parked on the street near Blow Buddies.

I mentioned my discomfort about this to a couple of my friends. Of course, they used it against me, at every opportunity.

'Hey, Joe. This is Leif. We're going out tonight if you wanna join us. Meet us around 10pm, somewhere on Market Street, in the general vicinity of some, uh...bars.'

Bastards.

One night, I slipped up. I stumbled out of Daddy's on Castro Street and hailed a cab. The cab that pulled over was was an old beat up one from one of the smaller, grungier cab companies, of the many that service San Francisco.

The driver was a huge, hairy, tattooed Rob Zombie clone with a ZZ-Top styled beard that reached the bottom of the steering wheel. He had a pipe clenched between his teeth and huge skull ring on his thumb.

After about a block, he stared into the rear-view mirror and grunted back at me, 'So ya gonna tell me where you're goin?'

I snapped out of my beer haze a bit and sat up.

'Oh, right, sorry. Take me to 933 Harrison Street.'

Fuck and FUCK! I gave him the EXACT address for Blow Buddies. I sank back into the seat in shame and rolled the window down to cool my hot and flushed face.

We rode in silence for another block or two. The driver slowed on Market, preparing to turn. Suddenly, his head snapped up in recognition.

'You said 933 Harrison?'

'Yes.'

We made our turn onto Octavia. The driver looked back at me again.

'You mean Blow Buddies,' he spat with derision.

'Yes,' I repeated, quieter.

At the next stoplight, the driver turned around and glared at me.

'Man, I fucking HATE that place!'

'You do?' I said, putting my hand on the door handle, just in case.

'Yeah, I fucking HATE Blow Buddies.'

'OK,' I said.

His shook his head in disgust.

'The guys in there, they NEVER wanna give me their loads!'



Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Sentences

I was in love with Mrs. Shireman.

Teachers in my elementary school were all stamped from the same mold. They wore an air of resigned imposition. Everything was a chore, a bother. Each child a pestering gnat buzzing around their elephantine legs.

Miss Rose. Miss June. Miss Virginia. They all seemed to be named after flowers, or months or states.

But Judy Shireman, our brand new third grade teacher...she was...different.

The other teachers all wore their hair twisted up into prim buns. Mrs. Shireman had a dyed-blond flip. While her colleagues lumbered through the halls in billowing, shapeless Simplicity pattern muu-muu's, Mrs. Shireman wore mini-skirts with matching jackets or bell-bottomed pantsuits.

She was smart, pretty, funny. When a kid was talking to her, she paid attention.

She was Marlo Thomas. She was Agent 99. She was Batgirl.

And I was in love with her.

I was a difficult student. Way too sharp for your average third grader. Insanely hyperactive.

Mrs. Shireman would be handing out an assignment, "Boys and girls, please put your names..."

"I'm done, Mrs. Shireman!"

She would smile at me patiently.

"OK, Joey. Let's find something else for you to enjoy while everyone else does the assignment."

She was very skilled at using leading words like "enjoy", even when I was driving her nuts with my Ritalin fueled battiness. I was earning straight A's from Mrs. Shireman, except in the category of Conduct, although I should mention that in Orwellian rural North Carolina Conduct was actually called Citizenship.

I guess if you were a talkative 8 year old you ran the risk of recruitment by Soviet agents.

To battle my hyperactivity, Mrs. Shireman would invent things for me to do. She called them "experiments".

"Joey, let's perform an experiment. I want to find out how many times you can walk out to the flagpole and back, until the last student finishes the test."

She would tap on the classroom window to let me know when the "experiment" was over.

Mrs. Shireman and my mother were friends. They were about the same age, both from New York City. Kindred spirits of sorts, each set adrift in the cultural wasteland of Carteret County.
My mom and I visited her at her apartment a few times, where they'd talk about the Beatles and Elvis and I'd wander around marveling at her modern furniture. Eight years old and I was already developing a minimalist aesthetic.

I was the teacher's pet, obviously. I willingly stayed after school to clap erasers, staple papers, whatever. I graded tests, ran the mimeograph machine, anything to earn one of those approving smiles.

The other kids hated me. They knew Mrs. Shireman socialized with my mother, because I bragged about it. They resented her attempts to keep my hummingbird metabolism from totally disrupting their lessons, as favoritism. They'd make kissing sounds whenever I was up at her desk, or write "Joey + Mrs.Shireman" on the chalkboard. I didn't care.

One day, Mrs. Shireman snapped on me. I'd been up and out of my seat several times, and each time she'd return me to my desk with her firm grip on the back of my neck. Then I committed the mortal sin of talking during a test.

"Joey, please come up here!"

The other students exchanged gleeful looks. Hah! Finally!

"Joey, do you think it's fair to the class when you talk during their test?"

"I was just..."

"After school I want you to write sentences. 100 times, 'I will not talk in class'."

I was humiliated. Sentences! Me!

I returned to my desk. The other students found every opportunity during the rest of the day to make fun of me. Mr. Smarty Pants, Mr. Teacher's Pet had to stay after school and write sentences. When the bell rang, the other students filed out the room, taking great care to say 'Goodbye' to me, making sure I knew their pleasure in watching my fall.

Mrs. Shireman brought me 10 sheets of the special 'sentence writing' paper, the coarse sheets with oversized lines meant for first graders to practice writing the alphabet. I didn't even look up at her. I was furious and I had already plotted my revenge.

For an hour, I sat and wrote my sentences. I wrote with strong, angry strokes. A dozen times I had to stop and shake out the cramps in my hand and roll dry the sweaty pencil on my lap. While I wrote, Mrs. Shireman graded some papers, then read from a paperback novel. When I finished, I strode to the front of the class and put the sheets on her desk, face down.

Mrs. Shireman looked at me, sadly.

"Joey, I'm really sorry it had to come to this. You know I love you very much, and all I want is for you to learn and grow up to be the fantastic person I know you can be."

Maybe she said more, it seems like I stood there a long time. I couldn't hear anything else she said, because by then the loud painful buzzing in my ears was drowning out her words. Standing there, unable to meet her eyes, all I could think was: 'WHAT HAVE I DONE??'

On the pages on her desk, still face down, were not 100 sentences saying 'I will not talk in class.' Instead I'd written 100 times, in all capital letters: I HATE MRS. SHIREMAN!

Mrs. Shireman dismissed me, with an affectionate rub of my hair. Wordlessly, I walked out. When I got out of her sight, I raced down the hallway and out of the school doors. Running behind the hedges, so I couldn't be seen, I doubled back along the rows of windows. My mind was racing. I knew how to jimmy the windows to the classroom. Once, when Mrs. Shireman had locked her keys in our room, I broke in for her. All I had to do was zip in and grab those sheets.

It was too late.

Watching from the bushes outside, I saw Mrs. Shireman pick up my sentences. Her head cocked in puzzlement for a moment as she leafed through the pages. Her purse dropped from her shoulder onto the desk, and she pressed the sheets of paper to her chest, slumping down into her chair.

And she began...sobbing.

Her tiny shoulders heaved convulsively, and her head dropped down onto the desk. I could hear her cries.

I saw Miss Virginia walk by the open classroom door. She made a tentative move like she might walk inside to see what was going on. Then she saw me standing outside in the bushes. I jumped back, and fell into the hedge, scraping my face open. On my hands and knees, I burrowed out to the other side, jumped up and ran home.

When I burst through our front door, I was wailing inconsolably. I had blood all over my face from the hedge. I couldn't stop crying to explain to my mother, not that I would have. My mother thought that I'd been beaten up by bullies at the school. It had happened before. She called over to the school, but the principal told her that I'd been kept after class by Mrs. Shireman.

Even though they were friends, Mrs. Shireman never told my mother what I'd done. She continued to treat me fairly, but things were never the same between us. The school year ended a month later.

That was her one and only year as a teacher.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Back In The Saddle

Faithful Readers: Many apologies for my lengthy absence. As some of you know, Joe.My.God. was hacked into and deleted on Saturday, November 20th. As a fellow blogger sometimes says, I am completely compu-tarded, so I truly had no idea what to do. After a couple of weeks of hopeless dithering, a friend suggested that I write the world famous rock icon that we both know, and ask that he send up a flare to his vast readership. Within minutes of his posting, I got lots of kind offers, all of which I am deeply grateful for. The well-known blogger/hottie from Cleveland, Jockohomo went into my account and 'tinkered', and voila....I am BACK! Again, many thanks to Bob and Jim, and anyone else who to endure my whining. There's lots of fun stuff coming up on Joe.My.God., dirty gay sex, fist fights, car wrecks, drag queens, and ....of course...my mother.