Sunday, July 10, 2011

Living the dream

I wake up with a new word – collegified! No, that’s not it – collegized? Well, something like that, anyway, the way sleep brings you clarity and then you wake up trying to pull it back out. A character study: a study of character. This guy who Israel and I meet when we’re walking into the café, I mean Israel already knows him and that’s why he comes up and says hey you two! Realizes that maybe he hasn’t met me, but the way he starts the conversation is by saying so, how’s this for a snapshot? I get so smashed I’m in the 404, sucking this big black guy’s dick in the bathroom and then outside I’m yelling at him as loud as I can, making a big scene right there in public: hey, I just sucked your dick for 13 minutes!

Sounds like some kind of hustler story, so at first I’m not sure if this guy is making fun of Israel for some night that I don’t know about, since I do know Israel is a hustler, or if he’s talking about himself. But it’s kind of a good first impression, makes me look past the straightness of his delivery and into the possibilities of something much weirder. I mean I’m not sure why exactly he wants us to know that it was a big black guy in the bathroom at the 404 except to emphasize something out of the ordinary, and why should it be, so I say no reason to get smashed to do that, right? I’m assuming the 404 is a bar, but I guess it could be an area code. And also I say: 13 minutes is a long time. Because I’m thinking he’s saying the guy didn’t pay him, that’s why he was yelling in the middle of the bar or area code, right?

Meanwhile, I’m focusing in on his straight punk boy demeanor, overly masculine in that head-bobbing way that makes no sense with the rest of what he’s saying or wearing or even what he puts in his hair, which is cute, a curly faux-hawk that I’m sure he wouldn’t call faux so should we -- I mean he’s cute, that’s for sure, so I’m studying the contradictions. Like he’s reading or not reading but holding Nausea and something by Baudrillard. Now, Baudrillard seems pompous for sure, but there’s something juvenile about Nausea, right? Sure, it’s part of the Existentialist canon, but don’t you usually read it in high school? Wait, that’s my high school pompousness seeping out – I should probably go back to those books at some point, see what they can tell me now. Sartre in high school and all I could think about was how trapped I felt, I would never get away, but then I did so maybe it helped.

This guy tells us he’s been trying to read, but he’s been doing nothing but drinking – if I didn’t start drinking and smoking when I was 13, maybe I would be your stature, he says to me, and I wonder about the word stature, makes me pull in my stomach like I’m afraid he thinks I’m fat. And then I’m worried about saying something like that, I mean even acknowledging that I think of it, when I’m 6 feet and 150-something but oh the bloating in my stomach brings all those old body issues back. If they ever went away: nothing does. I guess this guy is small, but I didn’t notice it before, just the way his eyes were studying something around my shoulder, armpit, tank top, I mean probably it was the earrings, right? But really it did look like somewhere closer to my armpit, his eyes sizing me up in a jumpy sexual way that I couldn’t exactly read I mean I could read it as excitement but I wasn’t sure what kind.

I don’t tell him that I started drinking and smoking when I was 13 too, or maybe it was 14, but now we’re all sitting at a table, somehow talking about Chuck Pahlaniuk, this guy says his books were important to him in high school, but they’re all the same and listen, in Fight Club they meet on a nude beach, I mean what could be gayer than that? Right, he’s saying something about how Chuck Pahlaniuk came out, and I say I guess I liked Ayn Rand in high school – somehow I didn’t notice the reactionary politics and I really wanted to be an architect after I read The Fountainhead, that was the one, right?

And this guy says yeah, he rapes her, and then she falls in love with him. And I say: sounds like marriage. And this is when he eyes me and says: damn! He wants to know how Israel and I know each other – well, we just met. What do you do? I’m a writer. What do you write?

Oh, he says, once he figures out that I write books, and that they actually get published, and that’s how I know the person I’ve never met who introduced me to Israel, I mean he knows my work, and this guy says: you’re living the dream! And the nightmare, I say, and I’m not sure exactly why because writing isn’t the nightmare, just everything else.

He wants to start a screamo band called DRA -- Dead Russian Authors—the hipsters would eat up the T-shirts, he says. Turns out this is the hipster neighborhood, that’s what I’m learning now – the same place with the old-school gay bars but last time I came here the only place where there were people was the ice cream shop filled with straight jock couples licking cones. July 4 I guess. Some people even call this neighborhood SoBo, although it’s just South Broadway so shouldn’t it be SoBro?

One thing I like about Santa Fe is that no one talks about hipsters; there aren’t any. Or, there are a few, but not enough to make them hipsters really. Hipsters need other hipsters to feel hip, right? Israel says the hardcore scene is dead, but he’s going to start a screamo band too. I say maybe you could be in a band together, but I guess they’re both lead singers, or will be. To tell you the truth, I’ve never heard the term screamo before, although of course it immediately makes sense and maybe that make me some kind of hipster. Are you always a lead singer, or do you start as a lead singer and then become one? And, if you play the drums later on, are you still a lead singer, just someone playing the drums this time? Until you can lead again.

Cooking with an electric stove: it’s very tricky. I have to leave the pots open until they boil, then right when the boiling starts, turn them down low until it goes down, then put the cover on. Otherwise everything bubbles out and then I have to clean the burners again.

This guy, what’s his name? Let’s call him JP, short for Jean-Paul – I’ll admit there’s something about him that reminds me of Chris and maybe that’s part of my comfort, right away when I walk in – maybe it’s the oversized masculinity in a body where it doesn’t make sense, the intellectual straight boy thing although this guy is taking it more seriously, the straight part I mean – Chris never wanted anyone to think he was straight, but he always held onto that masculinity. Actually it became more pronounced over time, but still he would get angry if anyone called him dude. Turns out this guy is 22 and I didn’t meet Chris until he was 26 but I bet he wasn’t all that different at 22 except he wasn’t a college grad, maybe tougher, that’s what this guy just finished. He says Denver is the best city in the country – everyone is 18 to 29 and laid-back and loves to party.

Then there’s the strange flirtation where he says something silly and abstract and I make fun of it by saying something sillier and more abstract and he likes that. Where did you grow up, I say. Colorado Springs, he says, where everyone stared at me because I had dark hair and eyes, me and my mother were the only Jews in town. The only Jews – really?

Well, not really – there were two synagogues, but still it felt that way. We’re talking about the collapse of Bash Back, I’m kind of curious about how exactly it happened and Israel says it’s just that everyone was arguing all the time and so we didn’t feel like we were creating anything. So we had to end it. But I want to know what exactly they were arguing about, whether the problem wasn’t the arguing but the lack of any process to facilitate the discussion, the lack of clarity about what anyone agreed on in the first place, and Israel says something about how most of the people were young and white, it wasn’t very diverse, especially in terms of age, and JP says yeah, the queer scene tends to be young and white because those are the people who have the luxury of thinking that being queer is the most important thing, when you’re a person of color you’re dealing with a lot more homophobia and so much else too.

You know when you take a breath and you miss your chance to intervene? Now Jean-Paul is saying something about how Israel looks more Jewish than he does, even though Israel says he’s mostly Japanese. There’s something comforting about the way I think JP is so hot, and he’s Jewish too, and the way that lately I’ve noticed that some of the features I’m attracted to – that curly hair, for example – are often attributed to Jewishness. Comforting because, well, I am Jewish, and even if I don’t have those features that means I’m not afraid of them.

But let’s back up to that point about the luxury of queerness, and all that’s missing. First of all, that stereotype about how people of color are more homophobic. But mostly what I’m wondering about is whether this straightish guy with knowledge about queerness actually has any experience in gay worlds. I wonder what he would think if he went to the queer youth group at the Center and talked to some of those kids. Whether he did deliberately mean to distinguish queer from gay or whether queer is the only gay that he knows, and whether any of this matters.

I guess we already know that he doesn’t hang out with anyone over 29. Somehow we get on the subject of how I didn’t go to bed before 2 or 3 am for 20 years, but now I like to be home by 9, and he says what happened – you turned 30?

No, I turned 65. Unfortunately I don’t think of that line in time, slightly taken aback because before he was talking to me like he was talking to himself but I guess when I mentioned my books, and living in San Francisco for 10 years and living in tons of places, but pretty much all of them big-city moist coastal until Santa Fe, maybe that tipped him off that I’d stumbled and tumbled past the 30 line and I wonder what that meant to me, turning 30, nothing really I don’t think, I mean maybe beforehand it seemed like it would mean something but once it happened I’m not sure.

JP is saying something about living in a real city, meaning: this isn’t a real city, honey. Not directed at me, obviously, since he’s the one who’s only lived here and Colorado Springs. He’s talking about the people who think this is a real city, which wakes me wonder what a real city is. Maybe somewhere where you never feel safe, go out on the street and get mugged or raped and still know how to get up and go out the next day, right? Maybe I don’t want to live in a real city, anymore.

That’s right -- by the time I turned 30, I thought I would’ve been done with sex work, but then 30 came around and I was as involved as ever, except the freedom was gone and it only felt like a trap. Tracy Quan once said something about how 30 is really the beginning of your career – she worked as a super-high-end New York City callgirl, and I know she meant something about finding clarity in the role, learning it, producing that seamlessness all the tricks unfortunately crave. By the time I turned 30, I’d been turning tricks for 10 years, and that’s when I really knew how to act like I was 20. To act like I wasn’t acting. To shift my demeanor so subtly I didn’t even have to think about it, and tricks would ask me crazy questions like: are you gay?

I wasn’t even trying to pass as straight, just that casual masculinity they fawn over, demand. Then I would go out into the sexual worlds I craved, that also craved that same masculinity that sometimes felt like it would kill me. Embodying it: sometimes it still does. What makes it convincing? And what makes me attracted to the straightness of JP’s queer delivery, not so convincing as the way he wears his shirt, black of course, a button-down, tight, untucked but barely hanging over the waist, which probably means that it’s been altered.

Sarah Schulman said something about how you age out of those worlds, and then it won’t bother you as much. We weren’t talking about the sexual world, but the scenesterism; the way people treat each other; the way you believe in something for so long and then it lets you down in every way possible and you don’t know what to believe in anymore. Like when Chris stopped talking to me, and suddenly this relationship of 16 years was over, without any process at all. Like everything we ever meant to one another, everything we built together, all the values of intimacy and trust and accountability and negotiation, all of it was over, just like that. Three years ago, so Chris was 41, right? I don’t know: so many people get older, and then they don’t believe that anyone younger knows anything. That’s not what I’ve seen. If Chris betrayed me, and part of that betrayal was about aging into the systems that we always hated, no the betrayal was when he refused to allow for both. What is it about youth culture that makes it the only place where it’s okay to dream? And my relationship to it.

But when the dreams are so polluted, can we even call those dreams? I do see the way that people read me as much younger, and so then when that shifts sometimes it feels jarring. I turned 30, and I’m living the dream, I like to be home by 9, and when I wake up I’ll think about this conversation as collegitized, that was the word, right, but now I like collegified better. Like mummified. I’ve never been suspicious of youth, except my own, but I’ve seen the way college can drain people of life, certainly not always but since I went there, and then fled, and then went back just in case, fled again, to save my life, fled into drugs because that’s what would hold me, and that last time was 16 years ago I guess, the last time for college because the drugs went on for another six years. Except when I go back to give lectures, and then I appreciate the critical engagement -- take this paradox, even as it takes you away.

I remember going to a reading by two gay male authors, and they were talking about how most people in their audiences are in their 40s or older, how it’s hard to appeal to a younger audience, but with my work is the opposite. I’m 38 now, and most people in my audiences are my age or younger, sometimes much younger. That’s who relates to the politics I’m invoking. The politics of challenge, outsider intimacy, insider vulnerability, breaking the rules of community in order to create something that might be. Community. And so I remain inside youth culture, wondering about the people who lose the ability to think that young can be smarter, even if often it’s not that way at all it’s certainly not the reverse: aging only gives you something if you learn; most people don’t.

Yes, I do see differences when I hang out with people in their 30s and 40s, differences in what we do and how we see the world and how things like who we know and what we wear and where we go don’t always matter as much, and I appreciate all of the knowledge we’ve obtained, fought for, fought over, maintained. Still I find myself in this place where I don’t know what does matter, or I know what matters but I don’t know how to create it, at one point I did and I miss that certainty, not hope because I wasn’t hopeful, but I believed, and believing is its own possibility. What are the possibilities now? One day maybe there’s a dream we can live with.

But first Israel and I are on our way out while Jean-Paul yells something about how he’s a straight boy who likes to suck cock and it turns out that’s how he actually identifies. There’s something amusing about holding those contradictions, but can there ever be possibility in sucking cock but holding onto straight? So here is where I do think about age: he’s 22, five years away from Colorado Springs; there’s still time. Israel’s saying something about how JP’s always asking if he can suck his cock, but he doesn’t like to sleep with straight boys. I wonder whether, if the straight boy is telling you he wants to suck your cock, it’s not the standard tacky gay narrative. Especially when he’s so open about it. Although then I’m thinking I wouldn’t want him to suck my cock, I mean the way it would feel so objectified but in a gross way because he would be acknowledging his desire for this thing in my body, but not for me. Except, if he said get on your knees and suck out my load, faggot, well then I’d be there in 10 seconds flat. Living the dream.


Oli said...

Five seconds flat.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Ha, you beat me :)