Sunday, March 30, 2008

Old Poem

I found this old poem today on my old Dell Laptop. It's fun to read your old stuff, even if it makes you cringe.

I fell in love with him,
for a moment,
at the hostess stand at the Big River Grill,
because he knew what I was but he was
not afraid to kiss my cheek or touch his hand
to the small of my back
—where New York fags tattoo sharp,
unprimitive armor into their skin—
and laugh when I told him I wanted to
take him home with me.

And because he had kept his bearded,
polar-fleece and khakis and open-toed shoes,
which to me made him look boring and beautiful,
like soft, sinking foam.
And there was something inside him,
unrestless and successful,
and I cried about it later, having wished
his kindness on me over and over.
I knew that I could never accuse him
of loving me back.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Letter from Utah: Part 8 of 12

This post is part 8 in a series of 12. You can download the entire essay by clicking here, or you can read the serial installments as they appear.

The days pass like brief mirages; the light drawing shadows out across canyons, bending objects like a Dali painting. At night, my dreams stretch into endless histrionic sagas, divided into the credible (misplaced hotel keys and broken shoelaces,) and the absurd (I come home to find my apartment filled with goose down.) It becomes impossible to determine if anything is real.

Wherever we are, I’m still scrutinizing the car’s battery monitor. “Come on, come on, come on,” I’m thinking. I even try telepathy, to no avail.

In a darkened hotel room just before sunrise, I stumble to the bathroom to pee, and when I pass by myself in the mirror, I catch a glimpse of my scruffy face. Something happens. I fast-forward through the years, the decades, mistaking myself for an old man, a stranger. Someone who sits in the same chair all day. Who calls his friends but doesn’t see them much. Who buys toilet paper in ridiculous excess. Whose house is so covered in books and papers and old magazines that he feels almost strangled by them. The scary part is: How is that any different from who I am now?

Monday, March 24, 2008


I'm reading at this fabulous series:

Best Gay Erotica and Best Lesbian Erotica.
Monday, March 24

172 Allen Street (btwn Rivington & Stanton)

With Tristan Taormino and a cast of millions
Get a double shot of scorching, smart, queer erotica from fantastically provocative lesbian and gay writers. For the third year running, please join Tristan Taormino for a evening of hot stories with contributors to the "Best Lesbian Erotica" and "Best Gay Erotica" anthologies. Hear from Charlie Vazquez, Elise Bland, Lee Houck, Sam J. Miller, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Taylor Siluwe, Andrew McCarthy, DL King and Tom Cardamone. Ain't no better way to remind yourself that spring is springing, right?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Letter from Utah: Part 7 of 12

This post is part 7 in a series of 12. You can download the entire essay by clicking here, or you can read the serial installments as they appear.

The drive from the east into Zion National Park begins with a winding, precarious road that hugs the side of the mountain, dips through gullies, and then disappears into the 1.1-mile long Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel—the longest tunnel in the world when it was constructed. We park at the visitor’s center, stroll through the shop, read about the area’s history, and then set off into the canyon itself, which extends for fifteen miles and is nearly a half-mile deep.

Zion feels like it’s name: like home, safe, sacred and timeless. The canyon is spotted with lofty-named formations—The Three Patriarchs, Angel’s Landing, The Great White Throne—who all live up to their glorious descriptions. Zion is also grayer than the rest of the state, and greener, with leafy trees along the valley floor where the Virgin River passes quietly by. Trails extend on either side, climbing up the rock faces, to algae-rich pools of glowing green water, weeping ceilings of stone, and tiny streams that split, disappear, and meet again below you. Compared to Bryce Canyon, which is constantly shifting and changing shape, eating away at itself from the canyon rim, Zion feels like a testimonial, an elaborate shrine that suggests remembrance, vastness, and time.

We scurry up a short, steep trail of hard red dirt, past cactus and lizards. A few hours later, sweaty and wide-eyed, we emerge at the other end, and then walk another mile or so back to the parking lot, along a soft sandy path near the riverbank. I’m tired. Five days of this already.

Here’s what I learn: I don’t really care about hiking. I like to meander across the slickrock, climb up the trails, and gaze out across the valley. But a couple of hours are enough. I want the television, I want a warm bed—a good bed with my cloister of pillows—and a blazing hot shower with pummeling water pressure. What does this say about me? Does it say anything?

Our time spent in Zion feels rushed. The air there is heavy, almost holy; somehow, everything is meaningful, everything has a dense affecting weight. Do I sound crazy for saying this?

The sun is setting on our way out of the canyon, but it isn’t dark enough for the datura to bloom.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Best Gay Erotica at Bluestockings

I'm reading at this fabulous series:

Best Gay Erotica and Best Lesbian Erotica.
Monday, March 24

172 Allen Street (btwn Rivington & Stanton)

Featuring myself, and a host of other homosexualists.
Surprise guests! Free! Free!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Great Tragedies

On Tuesday night, Kip and I went to see the new Richard Foreman show, "Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland," and before that we had dinner at Veselka, a Ukrainian diner-kind of place on Second Avenue in the East Village. Ten years ago, when I had three roommates (and a four-bedroom, two bath apartment with a dishwasher in Astoria for $1800,) we used to perform this ritual often. See some kind of experimental, or otherwise 'out-there' theater after having had dinner at Veselka. Sometimes we ate at Odessa, or Cafe Orlin, or Yaffa. We had more money back then--out rent was nothing. We were young, theater-going sponges.

I realize that some of you reading this will say "Before that, back in the 80s, I had dinner here, here and here, before all those places sprang up, and we saw really avant-garde stuff." "Things were different back then," my friend Scott is always telling me. "I don't know," he says, "people didn't care so much, they just were, they were really out there, it was really different in New York." Scott's always talking about people being 'out there.'

I'm usually pretty uninterested in this kind of talk, this woeful nostalgia for old New York, before Disney, before Giuliani, before, before, before. (Outside the Village Voice offices, there is a banner which reads "Where have all the crackheads gone?" But I ask you, do you really want a street full of crackheads? Really?) This is not to say that I do not feel the tragedy of it--skyrocketing rents alone have created a catastrophic housing crisis, the commercialization of culture has lead to the homogenization and stupidization of theater, and I don't think Michael Cunningham was far off when, in his latest book Specimen Days, he presented New York City as purely a theme park for the rest of America. All that said, however, I also believe in the life cycle of urban environments, particularly in cramped, bustling cities like ours. I know that someday the Starbucks will fall, and something else will take its place. I recognize the spirit of mourning Old New York, but I'm equally fascinated, perplexed, and yes, even me, somewhat optimistic about its future.

Sort of.

As I walked down St. Mark's street in the Village on Tuesday night, I was reminded of all those nights years ago, when the four of us, our bratty little gang of Tennesseans-gone-Big-City, walked the same sidewalks and ate in the same restaurants. There used to be a huge community center on St. Mark's. In it's place, there is now: Chipotle, Supercuts, and Grand Sichuan franchises, an upscale grocery store, the St. Mark's Market, and perhaps the worst of all offenders, the CBGB Fashions. This is an outlet which produces no music, serves no booze, but sells licensed products branded with the historic CBGB's logo. (The real CBGB's closed in October 2006, after owing $91,000 in back rent to it's landlord, the Bowery Resident's Committee--which is an organization that helps homeless people reclaim their lives. You see there is some gray area here. The real tragedy, of course, is that in the richest country in the world, we can't support both historic punk-rock music venues and the homeless.)

On Tuesday night, I felt really sad. I felt sad for the people whose lives were changed by that community center--alcoholics and drug addicts and battered women and art collectives and whomever else took refuge inside it. I felt sad for every other New Yorker who's walked down that street and suddenly found their ancient ritual displaced by modernism. Because what are we as a culture, if not a series of rituals? And if franchised fast-food and licensed "fashion" are our rituals, where does that leave us?

But I also felt sad for the new business owners--the intrepid shopkeeper who hopes to make a new life for herself by opening her own place--because they, too, have a right to make their own rituals. Okay, so it's a Chipotle, but at least she's doing well for herself and can actually say that America does what it promised to do: Give the huddled masses a shot at their own self-made future. This, of course, is the sentimental novelist in me, piling layer after layer of gloomy, derivative psychosis on some bright-eyed immigrant intent on forging ahead. (Can't that be true, a little bit?) The cynic in me says that the real owner is some white guy in a suit who lives in New Jersey and drives an SUV, and sends his kids to 'important' colleges. Please tell me the reality is something else.

The great tragedies are:
1) Cultural landmarks turn into fast-food joints.
2) The 'idea' of America is so much more amazing than America.
3) Nothing is how you remember it.
4) We, as a species, are ill-equipped to deal with these truths.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Quote of the Week: 3/10/08


"Just when you think Pinkberry owns the right to most-vaginal-sounding frozen yogurt place, along comes Red Mango."
--Me, on Bleeker Street
"You know what I'd tell him? Trust me on this one. I'd tell him to grab the girls and get the hell out of Dodge."
--Some guy on the subway upon hearing of Gov. Spitzer's prostitution scandal

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Letter from Utah: Part 6 of 12

This post is part 6 in a series of 12. You can download the entire essay by clicking here, or you can read the serial installments as they appear.

The next day we ride horses through Red Canyon. If I regret anything in my life, it is that 1) I did not make out with Ron Bock when I had the chance, and 2) that we did not have our picture taken with Jim, our real-life Red Canyon cowboy guide. It is the last weekend they will send tours through the canyon—this is the end of the tourist season—and Kip and I are the only two people on this trip. Jim drives us away from the hotel parking lot—“We’ll see y’all in a couple of days,” the other guy jokes—and gives us a brief lesson on horse handling. We stand by the corral, awaiting his word that it’s “safe to come toward the horses.” Jim selects Rio, a huge brown stallion, for Kip, and Kip climbs onto Rio’s back, fitting his toes into the stirrups and handling the reigns like a pro.

Jim turns to me. “We’re going to put you on this mousy brown gal over here. Her name’s Cinderella.”

I’m not sure what to make of this—whether her name might as well have been Judy Garland, or if this is just coincidence, but she is a beautiful creature, with the smart, careful eyes that horses have, and a dark mane, nearly black, that feels rough and dry in my fingers. We set off onto the horse trail, which meanders along a dry creek bed, through red cliffs and stands of ponderosa pine. Jim feels the need to make conversation, it’s his job to give us a good time, I suppose.

“New York, is it?” he asks. “Well, shoot. Y’all sure are quiet back there. Everything okay?” He is somewhat unsure about our silence.

I try to explain that in New York all we get is noise. Sirens and subway trains and crying babies and dumb conversations and advertising and ringtones and that ubiquitous city buzz—we came here for quiet. He tells us about his time guiding at basically every famous ranch you can think of from Montana to Colorado and Texas and California, in his more than forty years of working with horses—“and people,” he says.

“How many people live in New York,” Jim asks.

“Almost nine million,” I say.

“What’s that like, nine million?”

“You’re never alone,” I say.

“I’m never alone,” he says, “I got my horse.”

He tells us how his sister lives in New York City, she’s a bond trader or a banker or something, I can’t exactly determine from his description. He’s never been to visit, and he doesn’t volunteer why.

“So how did you get into this business,” I ask.

“I left home at 15 with my first horse, well, ‘cuz I had to, and I never looked back.” I almost ask him what chain of events led to his removal—on his own terms or someone else’s, I don’t know—but something stops me, and for a moment, I’m afraid of the answer. Jim is the kind of man who knows what he is capable of. This is not to say he’s simple, or low on ambition—it’ just me filling in the blanks, with my over-active imagination and bent toward character-driven fiction. Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with me.

Later, when Jim mentions a girlfriend who he “dragged over from California,” I’m glad. On the ride back to the Ruby’s Inn, he pushes us to visit the Paunsaugunt Wildlife Museum, of which he is the off-season caretaker, and a family-run diner where they’ll give us 10% off if we tell them we rode with him that day. We skip both, anxious to get back to the Thunderbird Lodge, home of the too-casual waitresses, and as the neon outside promises, the “ho-made” pies.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Morning Observations

--What Not to Do: Tilt your head back and lift the bag of Cinnamon Pita Chips (which by this point contains only tiny shards and broken bits, which is why you're lifting the bag in this way in the first place,) so quickly as to slide the sugary-cinnamony goodness not only into your mouth, but into your eye, where the sharp pita pieces stab you and cause you to wonder why you made all the choices that you did.

--Charlie Vazquez has a way with language.

--What is it with sports teams buying players here and there for millions of dollars? What happened to your loyalty? One minute you're a Bronco and then thirty-five million later and you're a Patriot and who cares? In this way, sports are like theater: a job is a job.

--Why is it that whenever people are listening to their iPods so loud that the sound comes blaring out of their ears and into the space, one more bit of noise pollution, they are always listening to the most tedious music?

--Speaking of music, I can't stop listening to Foreigner.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Letter from Utah: Part 5 of 12

This post is part 5 in a series of 12. You can download the entire essay by clicking here, or you can read the serial installments as they appear.

Day Three.

My boots vanish, left in the parking lot in Moab, or somewhere, forgotten in Mt. Carmel Junction, found by hotel housekeeping who auctions them on eBay—who knows? Kip calls around, asking if anyone has found them, like they are old dogs who wandered away from home. I hike the rest of the trip in my sneakers.

Bryce Canyon hides behind a thick line of trees until you walk to the edge of it. Then it falls away, crumbling into endless hues of orange, ochre, ivory—you will not know names for all the colors. The sky spreads out from the lip of the canyon, opening and widening, bathing the spires and fins and towers in a glorious clean light. Though you will see hikers below, some near, some far off, with packs and walking sticks and sunglasses, the only sound is of your breathing, and the wind.

Bryce is somewhat baffling; you can never quite take it in. It is not nearly as large as Arches National Park, or as Zion, but it has the advantage of concentration, being perhaps the most striking place in the known universe (known to us, that is) to see hoodoos, the tall, eroded formations that make up Bryce’s grand amphitheater. The trails here are beaten white pathways that snake through the hoodoos, doubling back on themselves, disappearing through archways and around corners, wandering as if drawn by Dr. Suess. They hide inside curves, and float precariously on the highest edge of the cliffs.

We take the Navajo Loop trail down into the canyon with a dozen other hikers, voices carrying up through the gaps, and everywhere you look people are smiling. Eventually, maybe a half hour later, we’ve separated ourselves from the crowd, and the trail begins to flatten out. The sun is hot, purposeful, and we shed layers, cramming things into our backpack and slugging water from the bottle. We stop to eat, fitting ourselves into the concave ruts of a fallen tree. Immediately a bird lands nearby, hops directly up onto a close branch and begs for something to eat—inches away. Every sign in the park says “Do Not Feed the Animals.” How can I resist? I feed him—I think it was a him—a tiny piece of our granola bar, and he gobbles it happily. In my memory of this moment, he chirps at us and flits away, but I’m sure that time has eroded that as well. All I can say surely is that we consulted the map, hiked on, and eventually made our way up and out of the canyon, back onto the rim and to our car.

Do you see how Bryce is baffling, how you are constantly pulled between regarding this majestic picture as a whole, and the bird that is no bigger than your palm? Perspective shifts too quickly, the small becomes the large, and you are astonished by the insane notion that all of this is…random? Nature is like this wherever you go—inexplicable, mysterious, impenetrable—be it Bryce Canyon or your backyard, but we forget this, and it feels good to be reminded.

At Rainbow Point, the highest lookout in the park at roughly 9000 feet, we eat apples we’ve carried in our backpack. Standing there, staring off into the distance, I think of again water. How it creates, and takes away. How it falls from the sky in infinite variation, freezes, expands, pushes itself into the visible—and invisible—cracks of the stone it then dissolves. How it draws itself slowly, snaking through creeks, which lead to streams, which meet to form rivers. The rivers then guide it back to the sea. How, like the sky, it is indifferent.

I think of all the years, the millions of years that this canyon stood here with no one to gaze at it. Someday it will be that way again. I can get a bit morbid, flashing forward to the day when human beings cease to exist, having starved or bombed or infected each other into extinction. But the canyon will remain. The sunrise—some kind of sunrise—will still light those formations. The owls at night, if there are still owls, will nest in its trees just the same.