Sunday, November 25, 2007

Imagine not in the fictitious sense

(I'm starting to feel an arc all this writing -- starting with the writing I did when I went to visit my father before he died, continuing with the writing about trying to regain a sense of hope in my own sexuality and now this writing about childhood and growing up -- I can feel that all of it together is going to become some sort of book in some form or another. I'm starting to think of things I've written elsewhere, parts of them that makes sense in this project which is my life to of course -- I started to write about my father's office, then I thought of my introduction to Best Gay Erotica 2006 when I was the judge and the writing I did about cruising bathrooms which were on the way to my father's office, it's fun to cut and paste and think about how things can be arranged inside and outside and around all of this, I'm excited!)

But I want to tell you about my father's office, it all started when my sister and I would meet him there after school so he could drive us home. His patients weren't supposed to see us -- anonymity in the psychiatric practice -- so we would wait upstairs where there was a roof deck and a little library where people would discard old magazines. That's where I discovered Interview, when Lauren wasn't there I would jerk off thinking about whatever new discovery on those hallowed New York streets of radical possibilities I was desperate for the explosion of so many interactions I craved.

The first time I had sex in a public bathroom was on the way to my father's office, at Woodie’s department store. I stopped at the Woodie’s makeup counter to look for a suitable base to cover up my acne, and the salesperson asked if I was shopping for my mother. I could feel my face turning red. The only thing I could bring myself to ask about was the Evian Brumisateur, spring water in a metal can with a nozzle that sprayed out a fine mist. I bought some: maybe gay consumerism hit me early.

But back to the bathroom, I was standing at a urinal right next to someone, which made me nervous but my father was always yelling at me to get used to it, what was I so afraid of, any normal kid would just pull it out and piss. Normal kids had been calling me faggot since I could remember, way before I knew what it meant. I’d go home to my father screaming at me about everything else. He didn’t even know that I jerked off to pictures of guys in onionskin shorts, that I planned to live in an East Village commune, that at thirteen I already searched frantically for the right cream to eliminate the bags under my eyes.

But back to the urinal, I was staring straight ahead at the wall so I wouldn’t get accused of looking, but I could still see what was next to me, which was this guy’s dick sticking straight out after he dropped his right hand. My heart started pounding, I didn’t know how to breathe. My dick got hard and I covered it with my hands. I stood there for a while, facing straight ahead with my eyes looking diagonally down to the left. I didn’t know what to do. I dropped my left hand.

I reached over to touch this guy’s dick, and he reached for mine. Someone came in, I stuffed my dick into my pants and practically ran. Never again, I promised myself. Never again.

I was back a week later, then several times a week throughout high school. Woodie’s Friendship Heights, Woodie’s downtown, Mazza Gallery, Georgetown Park, Georgetown Public Library, Bethesda Public Library. Always promising : never again.

I want to say that every time I came, it was an explosion of unbridled passion. I want to say that every time I looked into the eyes of some old guy with pasty skin standing next to me, tongue flicking in and out of his mouth in anticipation of my eager erection, I was in heaven. I want to say that every time I saw some man shaking out of fear and longing, sweat appearing in the armpits of his starched shirt, I wanted to hold him.

The truth is that I grew up in a world that wanted me dead, in a family that was ready to kill me, except then who would be around to carry on the family name? Kids had been calling me sissy for so long -- I knew about gender deviance, but I didn’t know how to claim it. What I knew is that I didn’t want to feel, that if I just kept going back to the bathrooms, holding my body shut while men opened their mouths down there, then maybe I would win.

Winning meant defeating my father on every front—doing better in school, going to a more prestigious college, getting a higher-paying job. This was the late-’80s that seemed like the tail end of a decade of greed, oh if only it had been the end!. And winning also meant learning not to feel, because then I wouldn’t have to remember my father splitting me open, over the sink in the basement, with all that mold entering my nostrils, when I was a broken toy. I’d already blocked that out, now I just needed to conquer my desires and then no one would be able to erase all my accomplishments with a single word.

Faggot. My sex life started with guilt and shame and grabbing that guy’s dick in the Woodie’s bathroom, it felt so huge and warm and spongy. My sex life started with the urinals, usually me and some old white guy with puckering lips or a business type with a briefcase on the floor between us. Was I attracted to them? I was hard, I wanted to come, I didn’t want to feel it.

I graduated from urinals to stalls after this one guy waved me in; when I pulled down my pants he put his hands under my shirt. Someone entered the bathroom, this guy sat on the toilet and pulled me onto his lap. Shh, he said. He hugged me and this flooded me with so much sensation. But I could feel his dick pressing up against me, I was afraid that it would get inside, that I would get AIDS. When the other guy left, I slid away, pulled up my pants, opened the stall door, and hurried out. Soon I heard the guy behind me, looked back to see his curly hair and glasses, black overcoat with brown leather shoulder bag. I literally ran—out the door and through the parking lot, up the hill and over to my father’s fateful fucking office.

In some ways those bathrooms were my first safe gay spaces—or not safe, really, but more comfortable than the rest of the world. I discovered a hidden culture of foot tapping and notes written on toilet paper, wrapped around pens, and passed underneath stall walls. I imagined entire worlds around shoes and socks and ankles, the texture of hands, the skin underneath wristwatches, the pattern of hair on thighs. I pressed my body against metal partitions while guys on the other side offered hands and tongues and lips and mouths.

Once I brought a guy to my father's office, the doorman gave us a knowing look I wondered what he knew. I was shaking when this guy and I took off our clothes, his crotch smelled like Dial, the way his eyes were so blue they matched his shirt, afterwards he wanted a paper towel. This was a turning point because in that moment I wanted him to love me. I couldn't remember his name.

I grew bolder, cock against cock or my hand cupping his balls. At the Georgetown Public Library, I would kneel on the floor when no one was around and inhale the smell of stale piss. I came all over the floor of the bathroom at Mazza Gallery, right in the center of the room, halfway between the stalls and the sinks, and left it there. I led guys into stairwells and parking lots, I jerked guys off in the safety of their cars. One guy wanted me to meet his wife, another handed me his business card: Capitol Hill. Just after I learned to drive, I picked a guy up at a gas station, by leaving my hand at my crotch a little too long and then moving my gaze to the hill across the street. It wasn’t a hill, really, just some landfill between buildings, but we jerked each other off in the sun anyway. He pulled way too hard.

My father's office became my hideout on weekends like my own apartment in the city, or actually a half block across the Maryland line but still. Erik and Kayti and I would drink pitcher after pitcher of margaritas at Las Rocas, then smoke as much pot as possible and sing the words to “Jane Says” until we passed out. I had the passcard to the front door, and the key to the office, which was really a studio apartment with a wall built in to create a waiting area for patients. He didn't know I was using the office until Erik or Kayti burned a hole in the rug with a cigarette, he said have you been in my office? I said no. He said what is this cigarette burn in the rug? I said that must've been one of your patients.

But his patients didn't smoke in the office anymore, so I had to admit it -- I tried a different tactic: you don't want me to drive home drunk, do you? Remember logic, how it was his weapon? Well, sometimes this worked in my favor.

So his office became my apartment on weekends, sometimes when I didn't have anywhere to go I would go to his office, sit at his desk, drink a few beers and stare into space. I felt very adult, adult meant sadness; I had always felt that. At least now I could stare into space and think about how I had nowhere to go -- but I’d always done that. Then what felt different? Maybe I was starting to imagine sitting somewhere else, imagine not in the fictitious sense but in the sense of creating something to hold onto.


timothy said...

Come visit us! Loved your writing!!

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Thanks, Timothy -- I will visit, for sure.

Love --