Here I sit, surrounded by hundreds of varieties of birds. They are feeding, flying
and freedazzling in all sorts of voices; making songs and generally creating a
cacophony in multitudinous, avian tongues.
I was taking a week off. God knows I couldn't afford it but I had to get away.
I was at the cape on the South Shore of Boston at a friend’s house in
Marshfield, Massachusetts.Linda, my
landlady, was a quirky, slightly overweight, alcoholic (but a functional one)
who drove a school bus by day, kicked back with Chardonnay-soaked-TV-watching
at night and on weekends attended church regularly along with once a week
bible-study-classes. Here, I could savor a morsel of freedom, fresh air, and
get away from the Golem's Gyre of New York City, where everything is dirty,
loud, rich, poor, or simply untouchable. Here I could experience how I imagined
life must be for the vestiges of my tribe, that formerly great, but now waning,
white American Middle class. We were so powerful in the 50’s. And now so many
of us poor were just a step away from falling through the cracks in the
post-Millenial age of an American society bloated with the the 1% super rich 99%
Dollar-store poor to Middle-class.
I picture the god of New York to be a tall, skinny, grey, and extremely impatient,
old curmudgeon with a hunchback. He is be-speckled, with a hooked nose, and
constantly saying no to whatever is asked of him; or else ignoring everyone
unless they wave money under his nose. I call him Golem, and he is my master.
The gyre is that huge mass of plastic detritus that floats endlessly about the
Pacific ocean and is as large as Texas. Put them together and you have a large
playground, wasteland, i.e., the Golem’s Gyre, or my home, New York City. I
have served my master here since my arrival in 1975. I put up with the constant
anxiety, the rudeness, the abrasive mindlessness, and the awful noise (which
gets worse every year) because it's still a pretty fantastic fucking place to
find men and an even better place to find men massage clients. But for now, I
am taking a respite and the birds are my only eye candy.
The sounds of birds are a joy, the sun is hot silk on my skin, and I breathe
fresh, sea air. I felt
slightly dopey from it. For a little while, I can stop hating and fighting
and start to feel normal, like after a good massage.
Through the years, I’ve worked on thousands of male bodies and seen them come
and go. Scott, one such client, was what I call a legacy client, which means he
paid well and was very loyal. For the legacy client, you can do no wrong. He is
the reason you are in business through all the good times and bad times. When
he calls you, there is the sound of bells ringing, you are suddenly lifted up,
and "Yes of course I'm free right now" is the unwavering refrain to
his always-friendly question "I was
wondering if you were free this afternoon?"
the last few years, Scott had begun to study Bikram yoga, in order to
counteract the tightness and rigidity of his aging body. He was always lean,
tall and handsome with a full head of fine, ash blond hair that tended to flop
over one eye and bounce when he was getting fucked. Though he wasn’t toned, his
body improved soon after he began doing Bikram. He had a youthful face, which,
except for a small pile of flesh forming under his chin, never betrayed his age.
It was a WASPY face, both manly, and boyish. Scott swore he wasn’t gay but his
behavior—especially when he was being a bottom—had a tendency to prove
otherwise. I don’t question the “down-low” clients. They tend to all act overly
macho in the public eye, and many are married or claim be to “bi-curious.”
However many once they get behind closed doors instantly transform into big passive
girls. Though the LBGTQ community is integrated into society more and more
every year, the typical American male is still one conflicted homo sapien. “The
river Denial runs deep and long” in our puritanical, American culture.
first time I met Scott, I rendezvoused with him and a gorgeous, red-haired actress
friend of mine named Angie. Angie had a wicked sense of humor and the capacity
to be both wild and irreverent as a hooker one moment and as reserved as a nun or
a librarian the next. All three of us met up at a Mexican restaurant in the
West Village after Angie’s off-off-off B'way show. At the bar, Scott set
himself up as host, procuring as many margaritas as we both could drink. Men
who bought me drinks were always a huge turn on, for it implied they had power,
deep pockets and I could give up control and be taken care of. And better yet, we
all seemed to be flirting with each other! Here was my first bisexual
experience since college. I was relishing it.
ended up in my apartment in the East Village. Angie's sensual hand caressed the
banister of the staircase as we floated up the stairs. Our clothes seemed to
remove themselves by magic. Within minutes, Scott was fucking Angie like a
jack-hammer. I glued my body to his back and butt feeling every thrust and
muscle as I hugged his chest to mine. My cock wedged into the crevice of his
toned, perfect ass, first upward and then straight forward and down as if I was
fucking Scot while he fucked Angie. Everyone came hard in one, loud sensual earthquake.
I prayed we didn’t wake the uptight Jewess next door.
don't recall too much afterward, except thinking, there, I’ve done it. I’m bi! No
small feat, after myriads of flaming bisexual fantasies and crushes during my
years of college and throughout my acting and dancing career in New York
throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Strangely I don’t recall much of any thoughts of
my two playmates! The next day I remember having the image of a snake shedding
his skin. My sloughed off snake skin was a metaphor for how delicious and
delightful the experience was–a kind of sexual coming of age. For years
afterward, that night would remain a novelty, though from that moment on,
reflecting on being bi brought little more to mind that image of the snake
shedding its skin, and little else in terms of the memories of love.
by that time I was doing massage for a living. It was the early
90's. After that initial experience, Scott soon began to see me for
massage regularly. I had no idea he was also seeing Angie! He would come on the
average of at least once a month and was very generous. He contacted me one
summer in Provincetown, where I worked as a houseboy for two seasons. He even
came to see me in Amsterdam one summer when I’d swapped apartments with an
older, uptight, but very seductive, Dutch, Jewish-American- Princess. I never
asked Scott about his personal life. Although through the years, I gleaned he
had married a female doctor, fell out of love with her, and divorced her.
last time I saw Scott, he offered to take me out to a Thai restaurant in China
town. While there, he revealed for the first time that he was the Father of two
little girls. Then, after about fifteen minutes of hanging with him in public,
the pleasure began to wane. His rigid personality could be oppressive; I'd
had glimpses of it before, but now he seemed subtly disapproving and
contemptuous of me. It occurred to me that possibly I was too gay for his
comfort in public. Always a great fan of horror, at one point, when we were
finished eating, I shared how entertained and fascinated I was to have seen the
film "The Human Centipede" a week before. “How can you watch something
so deplorable and disgusting?" He laid into me. His bombastic
response was almost a tirade. "What a sick, twisted movie–and anyone who
likes something like that has to be just as sick and twisted!" Whoa I
thought to myself. A little abuse anyone?
back now, I should have called Scott's attention to one particular experience
we’d shared. It was a massage he’d booked, more than a year before. During this
session, as was often our custom toward the climax, (when I wasn’t simply
topping him) we were doing sixty-nine. As we were working each other’s bodies,
I became super-aware that he wasn’t clean. Ew. One gets a sense of these things
after so many years of being a body worker. In the next instant, I felt a
particle of something stuck halfway between the back of my tongue and in my
throat and it was larger than a hair. In a beat, without him noticing, I put my
fingers down my throat and extracted the mysterious “thing.” I quickly looked
to see it was a small clump of feces, obviously not mine. I quickly (and
silently) flicked it away and continued licking, and sucking on Scott as if
nothing had happened, albeit with a tad less gusto. Nothing like a piece of
shit in one's mouth, to take the wind out of one's sails while “headin' round
the mountain” toward that oft-hallowed “happy-ending” all the comedians make
fun of in their monologues about massage.
as he was reaching for the door to leave, I stood firm,held the door closed and quickly shared with
Scott the mystery of the nefarious “dingleberry” that had I had extracted from
my throat. My narrative was more clinical than angry; all in all merely a
factual relating of the events; ending with a request "–And that's
why Scott, I would really appreciate it if you would make sure you are clean
when you come to me, and take a shower before the massage." It’s amazing
how some of the most hideous things become commonplace when one sells oneself.
Poverty breeds a kind of desperation and indifference all its own. The judgmental
rich will always hold themselves in high disdain to the struggles of a poor whore.
We are meat to be used and consumed; our humanity disappearing in ratio to how our
cocks are worshiped in business dealings with M4M massage clients.
I'm so sorry bro–", his eyebrows went up, feigning concern. “Bro” was
Scott’s ultimate term of endearment toward me. How I hated it. It reeked of his
fake affection, but I dared not let on. "God” he continued, “I had no idea!
I definitely will." Then I remember him saying something I never really
understood. He paused, looked at me, and said, "You're a good man." It
was as if he were addressing a dog, “Good boy.” We never mentioned the
experience again. A few years later he disappeared from my radar.
a friend of mine told me about her taking Bikram yoga, it triggered all these
memories. With Scott there was such closeness and distance too. What was I to
him anyway? A space to play in? A laundry bag? A closet? Or merely an
object like a sex toy. More thing than human.
these loops of images, spiraling around in my head like that large mass of
plastic detritus, the size of Texas floating round and round in the Pacific going nowhere.
What do I do with them? They play over and over in brain, never dissolving as plastic never dissolves.
And so the memory of this gyre affair plays on.
that afternoon, a pack of fourteen wild turkeys, led by a huge Tom Turkey with
a very red head, paraded like a herd of dinosaurs outside into the back yard
ofthe house. Linda and I watched them
preen, and grandly scratch for food like feathered dinosaurs in the grass and under
the bird feeders. Occasionally, the big old Tom Turkey would puff up and plump
his feathers, showing off and looking twice his normal size. The alpha male. I
tapped on the window. "Don't disturb them" Linda said.
"I'm not disturbing them” I said “I'm communicating with them."
evening began with Mandy, the fat, old, terrier mix that kept slyly slinking
around the bed looking to lap at the oil that glistened on our bodies as the
session unrolled to its anticlimactic, hard-yellow-cum-climax. Midway through
the night there was a bar full of beautiful boys encased in thick slabs of
Lucite, followed by a parade of souls taking off from the roaring runway of the
black jeweled and garbage lit boulevard of Broadway, circa 2 a.m. on a hot
August night. Closure came with a homeless man’s serenade underneath the
Lincoln Center Mozart banners waving in the wind as he waved his change cup,
his mouth covered with something brown. I sat outside a clip joint called The
Saloon directly across from the jewel box of Lincoln Center. The waiter was
entertaining and funny, his head shaved except for a tiny tuft atop his crown
that made him look like a newborn black babe. “You’re not from Switzerland are
you?” He asked. “If I get one more tourist tonight! They’re so cheap.” He
brought me a second glass of wine. “It’s on me,” he said.
I watched the world pass. A cavalcade of Black Sabbath fans,
tourisistas, bag ladies, sequined dolls wearing Jersey dos and more homeless
wielding paper cups. Next to me sat a typical “New York tribe” talking deals, deals, deals. A fat woman
waddles by. Here comes a hot Italian male with a voluptuous ass. He sees the
need in my eyes and brushes away from it, smirking.
An hour before this, in a high-rise complex called Schwab, as
in Q-tip, Mandy, a client’s dog, with one white eye and one brown eye, had been
sulking and nosing around the bed upon which lay my client, Bill, his legs
spread far part, buck naked, oohing and ahhing his way through the session. I
echoed the sounds. Dick talk, dick talk, dick talk. “Do I get a refund if I’m
not satisfied with the service?” Bill queenily spewed forth in a loud, petulant
voice, shortly after my arrival from the kitchen while I undressed in the
bedroom. “No” I said with a smirk, “All sales are final, no refund and no
return.” I didn’t like Bill. He was an old, anal-retentive twerp, a gypsy-chorus
boy gone grey and paunchy. His tasteless early American bedroom décor made me
writhe with nausea; Mandy, however, was the topper. She had a throaty bark like
a staccato car alarm and refused to shut-up no matter how many times Bill
warned her with his girlish pleas of “Oh Mandy shush” over and over. But on and
on she barked like a schizophrenic on amphetamines, right up to and beyond the
moment of truth, when Bill and I settled business. “Business before pleasure” I
chimed, my mug now beaming with a toothy grin, for receiving money always made
Where I sat now, writing of oil slicks and business dicks was
the exact same spot I had sat years before with my date, a pretty girl named
Elizabeth, on another August evening, worlds away from here. She was my lover of
two months. We’d met in ballet class taught by Richard Thomas on the Upper
Westside early one evening and fucked the same night. Elizabeth, who was
half-Jewish, loved to dress up in her Long Island Mother’s hand-me-downs.
Anything would look good on her with that Claudette Colbert face framed by
honey-blond ringlets. That night, I recall she had on a classic 50’s sleeveless,
brown circle dress with white polka dots, that billowed out from her slim,
taunt waist. Her Mother’s tan stilettos were making it impossible for her to
walk and after searching blocks for something to do on our date we decided to
rest at this outdoor cafe, drink wine and discuss art and music, our favorite
topics. We were still on the honeymoon then, before she began threatening me
about giving up men; before her confessions about being a runaway teenage call
girl, complete with black pimp, specializing in lesbian scenes for rich
clientele at The Plaza. It was also before her cunt started to feel like it was
hiding a dull knife that hurt like hell whenever I fucked her. To this day I
think it was her I.U.D. and that she had inserted it too close to the entrance
of her vagina to get back at me for being bi. I don’t recall noticing a Mozart
banner back then, but I’m sure there was one.
“Ooww, ahh” the dick talk went on and on. I was over Bill,
under Bill, feeling hot, feeling cock, feeling like a man, a whore, a slut, one
who serves, one who is serviced, feeling pain-- “Ouch!” I yelled. Bill stabbed
my cockhead with a sharp fingernail as he ground away on top of me. A few
seconds later--in a stupor of passion, or indifference, he did it again! “Hey
watch it with that nail!” I yelled. “Mm” said Bill, eyes closed, lost in the
moment. Mandy meanwhile, had her eye on the bottle of smoky, cheap, Indian
coconut oil I was using to lube up Bill’s pussy. A few moments later, while he
was on his back, I silently and stealthily threw Mandy a left hook, managing to
graze her little, foxlike head with my knuckle; she recoiled and in the next
second I tried to bitch slap her, all the while not moving my body so as not to
disturb Bill. Mandy jerked back and dodged the blow, then she seemed to stop
and just stare at me. It was as if she were grinning; muzzle half-open, lips
quivering, snarling back to reveal sharp, stinking, yellow, canine teeth.
Was this real? Was this annoying mutt really some sort of
malevolent spirit? A demon? Bill’s familiar? Was Bill actually a Satanist,
posing as a horny, old pansy? What if this whole thing was a set up? And I was
actually some kind weird sacrifice or offering? Christ, no one even knew I was
here! Any moment now, Bill would turn his head toward me, and I would freeze,
powerless, just staring into his eyes. They would be amber and glowing with the
tiniest thread of red running horizontally through the middle of each one,
pupils fine as slits. “Fuck that fantasy” I said to myself silently, “session’s
almost done!” Back to work. Dick talk, dick talk, dick talk. After a nauseating
eternity, Bill’s soundtrack built up and reached a climax; or, a really a kind
of anti-climax. Bill got up quickly and stumbled into the bathroom where he
came in the sink. He probably didn’t want to muss his sheets. I studied his cum
as I washed my hands. It was very dark, almost orange-brown. Not a good sign.
“Goodnight Bill and goodnight Mandy” I said, smiling as I left, closing the
door. I was free. Mandy’s piercing, schizoid, bark echoed down the hall,
muffled but higher in pitch now, as I entered the elevator. The sound was
lingering in my ears like the fluttering of bat wings; painful, like the
haunting, far away echo of a siren or the whispered screams of a baby. I
covered my ears with my hands as the elevator doors paused open. They stayed
open, and they stayed. Moments passed as I pressed my hands and harder over my
ears. I could still hear the fucking dog, barking, barking. Finally I jumped in
just as the doors closed. I went down alone.
Later, I found myself standing against a wall feeling guilty
and ugly and old at a bar called “The Works.” I lingered five or six feet from
the entrance, invisibly as patron after patron trounced daintily on my feet,
their eyes on auto-ignore as they passed. The giant screen on a wall to my left
was showing scenes from the Olympics. Beautiful black female athletes galloped
like deer and handsome white hunks flew, twisted, pumped, pummeled,
jack-knifed, high-jumped, won and lost in a series of montages before thousands
of excited, cheering, fanatical spectators. Here I stood, invisible in a fag
bar, trying to guard my feet from the vicious, uncaring steps of strange,
younger men. Was this my destiny? A middle-aged sex masseur who dreams of
putting himself through Rolfing school? Or maybe this is hell, payback for
knuckling Mandy when all she really wanted to do was lick the bottle containing
the smoky, cheap, coconut oil, or lick any oily skin available, and quite
possibly, even her master’s own shitty boy pussy during the hundred dollar
Suddenly the screen caught my eye as the image of a large
container of liquid Lucite poured out like Star Trek laser beams forming the
words “BY DUPONT.” We were all standing in cases of Lucite; living coffins
formed by ego and society; frozen beauty needing protection from ourselves,
from the Mandy’s, the hundred dollar bills, the thousands of cheering, jeering,
fanatical spectators. “Don’t cry, baby. Don’t cry” I said, blowing a kiss to a
giant, black woman crying her loser’s Lucite tears; then blowing another to all
the boys who didn’t see me enter and wouldn’t bat an eyelash as I left.
A Latino with nice tetas and plucked eyebrows is watching me
go. He would look so much better if he’d let his eyebrows grow. Should I start
a conversation with him? I mean, he does look interested…dick talk, dick talk,
dick talk. Now I’m walking out of the Lucite bar, onto the Lucite street, pass
the Lucite town-house where the Lucite, bi-racial, beatific, corporate lawyer
lives with the gorgeous, ultra moderne, bi-level, sunken living room and the
in-fucking-credible-10-inches-if-it-was-a-foot-long-dick. He paid me for a
hard-working, two hour session; finishing with a mutually explosive happy
ending. The only truly gross part was his unexpectedly phony-sounding
exclamations of “Oh my goodness” when he came. I almost laughed out loud. That
was a week after (or before, I forget, there were so, so many) this Mandy thing
which seems not real and oh too real.
Back at the outdoor café, I"m watching the runway strip,
here comes Lady Diana, in all her black, trashy, he-she, lean, angular and
finely chiseled elegance. She’s roaming or hoin’ down the street like it was
the street of no return or the last catwalk, street-walk of her life. Weary
drama Miss Thang, all 6’ 10” of you with your street cha-cha heels clickin’, as
tall and black as a tree in a fairy tale forest night, flicking your cigarette,
carrying your bags and rags and not caring that your three-day-growth of whiskers
doesn’t match your dark brown rag-tag cut out of a monk’s robe-dress of
transsexual, post-op, pre-op street
saint-gone-bad-and-old-and-young-an-cold-bliss; clicking your Sleeping Beauty
crack high heels. Click, click, click in the night as you flick, flick, flick
your ashes away, you lovely, lost Miss Diana Thang. Oh Miss Thang take me with
you, take me with you for I am your ashes falling, flick, flick flick. In the
opposite direction, walks Black Sabbath moron, bald spot shining through his
died-with-shoe-polish flat, black mullet. He’s carrying a rosary, talking to
himself; he’s saving New York and killing fags in his dreams, then mounting
Madonna in his prayers but she’s got a cock between her legs and spits in his
face as he tries to fuck, fuck, fuck her. The cock turns into a knife and zooms
up and inside his belly, releasing thousands of crab-flower creatures, running
out and over him, fast, and hungry like immigrants running to the borders of
Los Estados Unidos, then dying like fly flowers reborn and seeding like pigeon
maggots under the streets; under the window ledges and hot, sticky tenement
fire escapes where big, black flies are born and homeboy cats hunt and
squirrels do nose dives through their safety nets flying down, down through a
thousand weed tree whisps of dirty, plastic bag shreds. (Singing) “We’re All
Connected!” Yeah, you and me and the drug dealer just outside who sells crack
and coke. He’s a new kid on the block. He appears one day out of nowhere and
you hate him. You complain to the police, to the neighbors, to your God and
Higher Power of the Sweet Violet world and destiny and redemption for
protection from all the drug dealers. You pray for them to all go away. “Please
God, make them go away, make them go away…”
Because my brother’s doing time in an Illinois prison for selling
drugs and he got 12 years on a first offense. Good God what IS this country
coming to? Oh, that’s right, it was an election year, they had to make an
example of someone! But now he writes me from Juliet State Pen that his
“Colored girlfriend who can’t ever get enuf when the rainbow is gone” is on the
stuff and living at the local hick-farm-town YMCA with her 3-year-old and I cry
because I just know that three-year-old is receiving the worst of it. The worst
of hundreds of years of abuse and slavery and hate. That tiny mocha child who
should be singing of green lakes and blue skies and butterflies when the
rainbow is enuf, has already heard the word “nigger” from her own Daddy, the
same as I heard the words faggot, fruit and three-dollar-bill from my own Daddy
and it scared me to death and made me hate myself. When will we ever learn? It
hurt me and the hurt never ever goes away. Go away, go away, make them all go
Then one night it’s raining and your apartment’s leaking and
you go out for a beer and ice cream and coming back you see the drug dealer.
He’s on your front stoop, taking shelter from the rain. He’s selling, with a
friend and you realize he too is trying to get by or get over a system that’s
kicked him out on his ass just as it has you. And then, you love him. You want
to embrace him, say something funny, welcome him to your turf, your home, the
place where you whore. “Hey” you want to say “Come on in man! There’s always
room for one more. Maybe some of my clients would like a little leche before we
play. What did you say, man? Let’s make a deal.” But then you realize you don’t
do drugs anymore, just sex and that’s only limited to those who pay and you’re
white and he’s brown and he’s straight (well, he’s Latin so maybe…) so you just
say; “Hey, how you doin’?” “Okay” he answers “shitty night. It’s supposed to
rain all day tomorrow too.” “Oh yeah” I answer “ that sucks. Kinda nice though,
it washes all the shit away.” Not meaning him or me, but everybody else and all
the other lowlifes who live off prey or each other, doin’ their own particular
duty that they do so well on this mad, mad island called MAAAAN---hattan…
“Yeah, you’re right” he says, and smiles. And you see he’s young and Latino and
hot with that long scar on this cheek melting into his smile as the ozone
orange streetlights glow softly in his eyes and there’s just a shadow of
sparkle and you could so fall in love with him.
Maybe we are looking for the same thing. A way out? An
escape? Some peace? A fuck? Money? An island somewhere in the sun, way off and
far away from this one…
Back in the outdoor café on B’way I’m tired, the voice is
slowing, the magic fading to fatigue as across the street, the Mozart banner is
waving over Lincoln Center, demarcating where the walls of money and elegance
and culture too pure and Republican and money-driven to save or care about the
three-year-olds living with their Mothers-on-crack somewhere in Anytown,
U.S.A.; too hard to care about the Miss Diana Thangs wandering through the
night with their bags and their cut-out brown monk robe-dresses…their cracked
Sleeping Beauty High Heels and their 3-day 12 o’clock shadows that haven’t seen
a home other than a doorway or a cardboard box over a warm air vent in years.
Oh sweet, sweet city life. And under the Mozart banner,
blowing in the wind, a homeless monster lingers looking like he’s impaled on a
parking sign. He’s eating something brown from his change cup as he toasts an
insane moon and laughs and curses at invisible street demons passing him by.
Mozart isn’t playing, in the windy city night. The “New York tribe” continues in
New York-eeze, talking retirement now. The waiter yawns. I have to piss like a
motherfucker. Let’s go home, purple pen, the night lives on and nobody will
remember but you. The night is gone, like the gnat I just squished with a
finger on the black marble sticky table. Goodnight Mandy, Mozart, Lucite,
night. Nite, love you, see you in the morning.
up early Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m., April 28, 2013. He heard a voice and it
“Throw yourself in
the East River. Go on, do it. You know it’s time. It’s time to kill yourself.
Well, what are you waiting for? Throw yourself in the East River. Do it now.”
It was a cold
dreary morning too, so it was a good day for it. He thought he needed to talk
to someone, as he’d never heard this particular voice before. Almost sixty
years old, he hated what he did for a living, which he referred to as turning
tricks. He did massage with happy endings. Recently, he’d lost a rich, older
“patron of the arts” who’d been offering him rent assistance the past few
years. Now, he was three months behind in the rent. Various collection agencies
had been calling relentlessly every day leaving nasty messages. Even his landlord, a former Vet, had begun threatening him. "I carry a gun and I'm not afraid to use if I have to, to force tenants out who don't pay--I'm just warning you." He made no bones about threatening Peter after the first 30 days without paying rent. This year had
been one of the worst on record for massage clients, their numbers slowing
to a trickle. His heart really wasn't into it anymore. He stopped advertising online; that spelled quick end to any gay male masseur's practice who wanted to keep seeing clients and making money.
Ever the creative one, he’d all but stopped directing Off-Off
Broadway plays. Occasionally he still managed to pick up a pencil and sketch or
draw. Now it was an effort to even get out of bed. Finally, he’d heard this voice, the voice telling him to kill himself. It really spooked him. He called
the Suicide Hotline.
“I want to go to
Bellevue. I need to talk to someone. I think I need to talk to a psychiatrist.
I’m hearing this voice, it’s telling me to kill myself. But I’m afraid they
might lock me up if I go there. If I go to Bellevue, will they lock me up if I
just want to talk to someone?”
“No, they can’t
keep you there against your will” said the operator from the Suicide Hotline.
As soon as Peter got to the Bellevue emergency room and asked to speak to a psychiatrist
because he was hearing a voice in his head, they
moved him up to the Psych unit on the second floor for observation. The nurses
referred to this as Purgatory, for it was where they put patients before
moving them up to Hell up on the tenth floor, a locked Psychiatric unit with
beds, for longer, overnight stays.
In a small, dingy,
dressing room, the nurse instructed him to take off his shoes, his belt, wallet and keys. They took his picture and put it on his very own
ID bracelet that they affixed to his wrist. “It was the worst picture I’ve ever
had taken of me” said Peter later. It was at this point when he
discovered that he couldn’t leave Purgatory.
“You can leave as
soon as you see the doctor,” said the Philipino nurse. Just wait a little while,
see the doctor, then you can go.”
Cannes, female whores were arriving in droves for the big film festival. Some
girls got as much as $5K for an hour. “It’s really only like 5 minutes of being
with somebody unpleasant if you think about it” one girl confessed unabashedly
to a writer from The Hollywood Reporter.
Back at Bellevue,
however, Peter was not a happy camper. “What are you doing?” he was
yelling at the nurse as they took his things. “You mean I can’t leave? I want
to leave. I don’t want to stay here! I was told I could leave at any time. I
just wanted to talk to someone. I want to leave.”
There were lots of
homeless men in purgatory. The entire unit smelled like dirty feet.
In Cannes, meanwhile, many female whores
were acclimating themselves on private yachts where they would be called upon
to serve. Numerous parties took place on the yachts. The girls loved Arab
clients the most, for they had so much money, they just threw it at you without
even counting. A girl could make $30-40G in a week if she was a good.
Back in Purgatory,
one of the patients, a homeless man, wrapped himself up in white sheets and
wandered around, a kind of Lawrence of Arabia on acid.
Right next to
Peter was an ancient beat up pay phone. This was the only mode of
communication on the whole unit. As it turned out, he became a kind of
temporary secretary, answering the phone and sometimes even taking messages for
the patients. Even in Bellevue, his talent for co-dependency came shining through.
On his second day in Purgatory, a new patient joined the ward. He was a young,
cute preppy looking white boy, early 20’s, a college kid by the looks of it.
Peter assumed he was sane, because he was white and preppy and because he also
seemed genuinely shocked too when they wouldn’t let him go. Like Peter, "John" only
wanted to talk to someone. Peter
and John commiserated on how unfair it was that they were both being kept
prisoners. How dare they keep them here against his will. Peter had found a comrade. They were both agitated and
pacing. “How dare they lock up sane people. This is outrageous—we’ve got to do
something,” they protested to each other and to anyone who would listen.
stopped. “I can get us out of here” he said to Peter, “I’m a doctor.” Uh-oh,
thought Peter. “After all” said
John, “it’s not over till it’s over. I mean really, you know. It’s not over
till it’s over, it’s not over till it’s over…it’s not over till it’s over…” He
kept repeating the phrase again and again, as if stuck in some bizarre Performance Art monologue. He definitely wasn’t as sane as
Peter first thought.
There was the picture attached to the bulletproof plexiglas wall of the nurses’ station. It was a poster with the headline “Missing.”
On the poster was the picture of a pretty, smiling young girl. The poster caught John's eye. “I know her,” John
said, staring intensely at it. “I know her, and I can save her, I
really can. Nurse, what’s this girl’s name, the one on the poster? I know her
and I can find and save her.” He was tapping on the bulletproof Plexiglas now, getting more and more agitated.
Quietly in the
corner a beautiful young black boy with glasses was sitting very still.
Whenever the phone rang he would plaintively ask,“Is that the doctor? Is that the doctor calling for me? I’m
waiting for a bed upstairs. The doctor is supposed to be calling me so I can be
After about nine
hours, Peter got to see a psychiatrist. After their talk, another nurse
returned his belt, wallet, shoes and keys. He got to keep his ID bracelet with
the horrible picture.
All this had
happened three weeks ago, on a cold dreary Sunday, near the end of April. He
was talking to his friend, Steve. “ I thought I’d told you about all
this. Wow, I didn’t tell you? My sense of time is messed up. Three weeks
already. I thought I'd told you.”
“I really liked
the psychiatrist. Of course I’ll never see her again. She put me on three anti-depressants." "Which ones?" asked Steve.
"Pacil, Laltuda and Wilbutrin" replied Peter. "I don't really get hard anymore." "Jesus, no wonder" said Steve. "But I do feel much better; I mean I’m not happy, but I can function. Things don't seem so hopeless. And I don't hear that voice anymore. Oh and I may be moving.
This old Jew who draws at the Center on Saturdays, he’s also a gay historian.
I’ve known him for years, since I’ve been booking the models there. We got to
talking; he’s taken an interest in me. He wants to help me. I told him all
about what happened. Last weekend, he took me out to dinner. He’s not rich but
he owns a whole townhouse on Morton Street in the West Village. His family left
it to him. He’s offered to rent me the entire first floor for a thousand a
month. It would be private--he said he’d never go down there. I would have my
own private entrance. Of course I’d have to be a whore there too and turn
tricks, but it’s really ideal. I would have my own separate space. Well, there
would be strange men coming in and out. I would have to turn at least ten tricks a month to pay the
rent. I hope he’s OK with that. Of course I’d have to tell him I'm a whore.
He’s just getting to know me. Oh and I'd have to cool it on "the Jew" thing. He already came for a massage the
other day. He even tipped me! And I didn’t even have to give him a Happy Ending. No,
really, I didn’t.”
Shame. I'm ashamed of growing old and ashamed of the vulnerability that being older entails. I never realized how vulnerable I was, until I had my first and very own heart attack on 9-11-09. It creates a divide. Suddenly you realize the absolute truth of not being young anymore and you are hit with the double whammy of both your own mortality and your fragility. That steel strength you thought would never fail you, has jumped ship. You're sucker punched, then wired to an infinite web of heart monitors all connected to other coronary care patients, all beeping their warnings of irregular heartbeats, highs and lows, like electronic frogs calling out to each other in the hospital dark.
Maybe it was all a nightmare, maybe I just dreamed I was a prisoner in a sterilized chain gang of crispy sheets and pillow cases, being needled, pricked and monitored by prison guards with warnings of death sentences on their lips for one long, hellish weekend. Some of these things and more were a part of my experiences in September of 2009. I record them here to remember, maybe to help others or perhaps as a fragmented wake-up call to myself.
I am now fifty-seven as I write this from notes gleaned from my four day stay in Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan, which began on 9-11-09. How fitting that I should have been admitted on the anniversary of one of the most stressful events that ever happened in my New York life. Again, the ghost of 9-11 haunts me. This discourse is, in many ways, about stress, that badass motherload that erupts when dreams don't match reality and broken hearts aren't just some twenty-something songwriter's lyrics about angst and nihilism. Stress happens and sometimes may even be measured in traces of troponin in the blood. Troponin is the chemical the heart muscle secretes when it dies. So let me begin. Maybe it will entertain you. Or maybe it will give you an idea of what's it like when you have your first heart attack.
The intense pain started about 11 a.m. on 9-9-09. That first day, I was nonchalantly sending letter out to agents. Letters with my picture and resume, that never seem to get answered. There, maybe that was the beginning of the stress. Might that have been the beginning of the stress? The unhappy career that never reaches fruition in the impossible world of show business, New York City. The thankless world. The world where they all love you if you make it, and don't want to hear about it if you don't. Anger, irritation, rejection, lack of compassion, sterile nothingness; all the red lights for stress. Those letters were like flowing grains of sand. They were the symbols of my own pipe dreams, disappearing into the black hole of ignored talent, daily and yearly. But I digress, I was writing letters to agents and I felt a pain. "Gas"? I thought. It hurt like hell, like an alien gnawing inside my chest with every heartbeat. I wondered if some beats were more painful than others and the degree of pain I was feeling was somehow connected to my thoughts? Think a negative thought, the pain seemed harder, more intense; a positive thought, the pain softer. Or maybe this was wishful new age thinking ala the old mind over matter tap dance routine? It was as if my body was giving me biofeedback for mental instruction beat by beat, moment by moment. "Oh--it's going away now...thank God" I kept looping to that thought. But it didn't go away. Gas, I thought, it has to be gas. I went to the drugstore on Avenue A and got the strongest over-the-counter anti-acid they sold. Then, I called my German chiropractor Dr. Koenig, who pooh-poohed the idea of a heart-attack and assured me "you're not having a heart-attack! --it's just a hiatal hernia. Drink lots of water and jump off a chair; you will then force the hernia down and that will stop the pain." I did the water, then dragged a chair out into our tiny coop garden in the back yard and jumped off like a cartoon character some five times. The pain stayed, then, a few hours later stopped.
On the second day, it began again around the same time and it was even more intense. I did the anti-acid tablets again and a Motrin. The scratching throbbing beat-ache clicked on and on. I lay in bed. I got up out of bed. I stretched. I paced from room to room pleading to the air for it to stop. I was swinging my arms in a combination of Hitlerian rage and supplication for release. I lay back down...I cried...I hugged a pillow...paced more...stretched, this way, that way, front and back. I cursed, prayed, and pleaded with God to make the pain stop. I bargained with God.
"God, I'll do anything, anything, if you just stop the fucking pain, please! I will never whore again, oh please Sweet Jesus!"
That had no effect, so I prayed to die, to just get it over with. I was begging God "Take me now, take my soul and be done with it damn you!" Then I took more Motrin. After about three hours, the pain stopped.
That night I went to Wendy Dillon's Voice Over class. In the beginning of every class, we did a kind of go round in which every performer shared the highlights of his or her auditions or acting or voice over jobs for that week. I was always the one who treated it way too much like group therapy; talking about my health, massage clients, alcohol use, my energy level that week and on and on. The other actors shared about meeting this or that important casting director; or cranking out this audition or getting that job. The other actors were slicker than me. I was the orphan child and the odd black sheep. I always felt like the odd man out of the group, the non-pro (or the feelingful puffta). I so wanted into that slick, non-feeling elite group of the elite, the working actors. Fate would have it otherwise...
"Well" I said when it was my turn to share "I'm sorry to share this but ah, well I'm wondering if I'm having a heart attack. I've been having this intense chest pain for the last two days." Deborah, a sweet, attractive 40-something producer-Long Island Jewish type who always sounded the same no matter what copy she read or how she read it, piped up. "It's probably just a rib, you probably slept wrong. You can pull ribs ya know." "No" I replied "it doesn't feel like a rib." Months later Wendy would remark, slightly drunk, over cocktails after one of the last classes I ever attended, "And this man had a heart attack in my class!"
It's still hard for me to fathom I ended up spending like $6G studying with her. You'd think she could have at least called me when she heard I was in the hospital. But no, hey that's Show Biz. At first what appeared to be a lesson in professional boundaries now just seemed cold indifference on her part and culminated in a sense of being used and disposed of on mine.
But we had no contract. It was my choice to study voice overs and spend all that money on her training and on my demo. It was fun, a skillful challenge. Was it a hobby? It's hard not to be bitter when the business side of show business, without fail ends up fucking me in the ass via my wallet with no little or no reward but the bleak and vapid satisfaction of saying hey, I tried. Wendy warned me when I began studying with her that she made no promises about work. She was totally honest that way. But she should have made it clear she seldom made referrals of her students to the major talent agency that represented her, for she was a name in the N.Y. world of the working actor (a very, very small world). She was also a fair teacher. She charged huge fees but you got something for your investment. She taught you how to sound like you when you read copy, not like some phony actor reading copy in a make-believe voice over fantasy voice. I just never got the work I thought I would for sounding like Steve Orr! Chalk it up to experience. About six months after that final class, I called her and told her how let down I was when she didn't call me in the hospital or in the weeks afterward. When I expressed my disappointment at her non-concern for my health, there was a pause, and then she said in that sexy smoky contralto of hers (she smoked so much she was practically always hacking non-stop in class), "I failed you."
"Well, yeah you did, you were my mentor after all," I said.
Back to the heart attack, that next day, Friday, 9-11-09 at about 1:30 in the afternoon the pain came again while I was taking a shower. OK, I thought, I'm going to the hospital. This is not gas or a hiatal hernia. Around 4:45 or so, I left my apartment. It was a gorgeous day, so I biked up First Avenue on my trusty old rusty, red bike with the old-school chopper handlebars. I locked it by the side of the E.R. to a pole the same as I'd locked it to thousands of poles throughout my N.Y. biking days before. I walked up to the front desk. They were changing shifts so it must have been just before 5. "Can I help you?" said the clerk behind the glass. "I, ah think I'm having a heart attack" I said calmly.
Whoosh. I was behind the closed door and on a gurney in a second. You know it's bad when they don't keep you waiting in an E.R. in New York. Lying down, blood test, blood pressure, more lying down, table transfer, more blood testing; then more waiting-in-line while lying down. I was one in a series of beds behind a not-so-private curtained compartment. Strangers surrounded me. We were prone neighbors now, all with various medical issues. One nerdy looking guy with three friends had fallen during an epileptic seizure. His doctor was asking him if he knew what day it was? I was in denial, taking it all in half-seriously. Surely they would give me some aspirin, deduce a muscle sprain and send me home. I don't belong here. Then, my blood test results came back. The dying heart muscle cell chemical troponin was found. I was indeed having a heart attack.
I yelped when the short, handsome resident told me. "Why?" was all I could blurt out in a high-pitched kid's voice. "Sometimes there is no answer, sometimes we just have to accept," he said, gently touching me on the shoulder. I appreciated his touch. A few moments later he was running an ultra-sound and invited me to watch as my fabulous, sensual strong but hurting heart revealed itself dancing and beating its way on and on like some struggling fat man or jellyfish on the sooty chiaroscuro of the machine's screen.
There was my heart. There was something so explosive about it. So naked. It was violent in its power to beat, doing its only job, pumping and pumping. But it was hurting. I saw its movement as a struggle to live. So, I wasn't superman. It looked so complete in it's passion and desire. Its will to survive a movement like two huge Sumo wrestlers locked in a takedown embrace. To just beat. On and on, its only purpose. My heart was strong, but it was flawed, dying even. Age, death. The thought of cleaning out came to me; the throwing away of old stuff and furniture that didn't work or wasn't necessary anymore.
Journal entry 9-12-10
Now I lie here. This is my second night in the Coronary Care Unit on the Ninth floor of Beth Israel Hospital in N.Y.C. I'm thinking about all the promises I want to make to God in this, my very own dark night of the soul (Thank you Carolyn Myss and St. Teresa of Avilla). Three days of pain. The promises I am making in a desperate deal to escape from the biting, burning, monstrous pain that manifested and raged in my chest like the rage I have so often felt about so many things in my life. The rage that propelled me onward until my own fragile physical flaws knocked me on my ass; the rage I had inherited from my Father. "What are you so angry about?" I ask myself. It's the question of the year! Dates used to ask me that. One younger pup, back in the 80's, even said, "You're an accident waiting to happen."
In Kelly Kimball's acting class weeks ago, there was another actor whom I thought had to be gay. He was a former dancer type. He looked like a hot Italian detective on Law and Order, until he opened his mouth and a bitchy Zach-from-A Chorus-Line-voice came out. He would simply stare at me in awe and fear whenever I took to the stage in class to do the work. "The rage" I heard him whisper once out loud, as I walked up the steps to the elevated platform. I could always feel my heart jump climbing those stairs. I took it for granted this was a natural adrenaline-type response, much like riding a bicycle on a New York Street (but much safer). In class, Kelly even called me a threat type, though an unearthly, beautiful one.
The second day of pain had been on day nine of my new sex plan, courtesy of Sexual Compulsives Anonymous. Looking back on my entire relationship with that group I do not believe I am a sex addict, but that I simply attended meetings in order to reach out, to connect with people. New York can be the most gut wrenching, harsh and lonely place on earth, especially if you are a body worker. As Natasha, a musician who got sober then moved to L.A. said to me once when she came back for a visit "God, this town! You can't even wipe your ass here without a problem!"
I remember praying during the pain, before the hospital, while still at home. "God, please take the shadow out of my heart."
I'm dozing off, trying very hard to romanticize or objectify this experience but there's nothing to add to the heroism I have experienced here. I'm seeing the grace that every day people can show in their job of caring for other people. This is the best that humans have to offer each other and the world. Now boy, did I get a taste of it. I still burn to start acting class on Tues. I called Kelly Kimball and left a message at her studio. "Hi Kelly--this is Steve Orr and I, ah, had a little bike accident so I won't be able to start the new class as soon as I wanted, but this coming week I should be back." Ambition shines from my hospital bed even. It's so funny I should be feeling it now with such a force. I love my actor's physical self and life, so much; I cling to it as fiercely as my heart continues to beat, ripple, dance and explode on that sonogram screen like those big, fat, lusty, Sumo wrestlers fucking or fighting in some weird ecstatic cosmic dance.
Maybe I was making promises to my soul? The humble, quiet soul that merely animates the meat of my body. What have you been searching for, my dear, dear friend as you have lived through this lifetime of 55 years? How many lifetimes were there before this one? And what is this karma I need to work out? Falling again and again into countless lovers' arms as if this one--no no, this one is the answer! Is it that every man I make love to, is the manifestation and expression of my soul's love for man, or am I seeking God in every pair of eyes I see; every body I lay on?
Sometimes, while fucking one of those men who keep their eyes so tightly shut, I need to stifle the urge to yell "Open up your eyes and look at me for God's sake!" It's all in the line of bodywork. All the eyes (even the closed ones) and all the bodies are flickers of God's beauty and power. Just as the soul seeks out its own reflection in the cave of warmth or under the open sky mind. I see myself standing, staring into the sun, and feeling the rays on my body's skin. I'm singing I love you to the Father who loves his son, and that son is my soul. I can sign it with such passion that it illuminates a galaxy of worlds and stars with rays of light shining infinitely.
9:02 p.m. 9-13-09
There's no need to reason or seek an answer if every action is approached as a prayer of the body-soul to God, for then all answers are given.
I can't condemn all my years of bodywork. I need no confession. Every man I was (or will be) with is a sort of seeking out of another soul in order to form a union with--therefore, there is divinity in every coupling act. It's not just lust, is it?
Are you he? Are you them? Is it YOU my angel?
My soul's burning desire, through the looking and feeling and touching and being with all the men and women, all the bodies, was, I believe part of an infinite search for itself. Now, I am exhausted to discover my friend, my very own soul anew. And I'm so grateful I've been given more time. Maybe my soul can be free now to rest, I wonder, in this time of my own dark night? Or free for what? Perhaps just to rest and contemplate, as once I contemplated a sheet I used to cover my massage table for a client about to arrive.
I had stolen the sheet from the cancer hospital where I worked doing massage one day a week. Sometimes, attached to these sheets were the remains of bandages, vomit, or dried shit. People died on these sheets; they shit, their flesh rotted, they breathed their last breath. And here beneath my hand was one, replete with half a bandage still stuck to it. One sheet from the dead, about to receive a body full of life and lust and yearning and needing to be touched and touch. How perfect. The paradox of sex and death. The digitized essence of humanness. Ones and zeros, life and death. And here was the evidence, like fossils, traces of the full circle right here on my massage table like cave drawings.
10:18 p.m. 9-13-09
Third night at the hospital. I missed two clients today. I just did a mini-workout in the bed and smell a bit. Told yet another client "I was away and will be back on Tuesday." Feeling client stress now (I'm not working)! Tomorrow angiogram...should reveal something. I must leave here by Tuesday. I must work on Wednesday, back to the cancer hospital. Back to Calvary.
Perhaps I should really consider moving now? Of course, they want to put me on a million drugs. Nichola, one of the nursing assistants who works here was going on and on about the Video Music Awards. I should watch them, just to see how fabulous, but the egos are such a turn off. I'm jealous too. I have great music in me, but I will never be a part of that world. Where do I belong if NYC has become a suicidal dead end? I wish I could simply hear my sweet soul's answer.... maybe I'm not listening hard enough...
ONCE IN A LIFETIME--GOD...=---prayer
God, I'm still in Beth Israel. And another client just called. He wanted it now.
I am the freakishly in-shape man on the 9th Floor of the Coronary Care Unit. Nurses come by to stare and me and sometimes pet me when they take blood. Nichola-bless her soul said "Oh my God!" when she saw my naked body as I washed myself this morning.
My beautiful dear body has served me well. I still want my talent to fly--though I know it's a pipe dream. Alone with soul, in a quiet room now. None of this matters.
My first and basically only roommate was a charming and complaining old Jewish Social Worker named Marty, the patriarch of a large family. It was stressful and fascinating to hear them all altogether divided only by a large curtain that didn't close all the way. They had no sensitivity to me and they were as loud as hell replete with grandchildren. Such a heterosexual clan really exacerbates the gay thing. You know absolutely how alone you are next to a family tribal unit like this. At one point I began fiendishly exercising in order to cope with the noise of their warmth and their affection. Listening to their complaints, their chiding and laughter, I feel excluded, like a ghost, from their world. That world of family, never able to join in. Their banter went on and on endlessly. No easy trick doing Pilates mat exercise on a bed hooked up to various heart monitors and IVs without pulling out all the wires, tangling them up or pulling the fucking needles out of your hands and arms.
"Mr. Orr, you've got to stop! You're here to rest!" One of the nurses chides me, hands on her hips in a Caribbean accent.
"I can't help it" I respond firmly, my legs high in the air in the middle of a Jack-knife Pilates sequence. "He's got the family--I've got the body!" Hoping they will hear. I count loudly to myself. I hope my voice cuts through their endless chirping and squawking. I can't stop exercising. My neighbor indeed does have the family. He is the seeding heterosexual assisting in overpopulating the world. His essence will live on long after he dies. Mine will end right here or die with me. All this beauty. Something tragic about that. All my uniqueness, and so few of me, PHFT-! Gone...and all his mediocrity here to stay. So goes the world. He has raised his brood well. I have perfected my body way beyond his. But he has the support, the loving-complaining Jewish wife, and sons, grandchildren fresh from a Yankees game. I have good abs., a few calls from strangers. We are both New York cliches.
How bizarre doing the Spine Twist in a hospital bed, while allowing for just the precise range of motion of my arms, so that I don't disconnect myself from the beeping web.
I don't hate my roommate. Know your enemies, make friends with them. At one point I introduced myself even. He was cool. When we said goodbye he said I was a very unusual man.
Now there's more intensity, I exercise even harder. I feel my lonely heart pain receding. I'm loving the tiredness in my muscles--and prefer to feel it than the pain of loneliness.
"Mr. Orr-please stop. Rest!", the nurse again.
I'm doing the whole Abdominal series now. I had to prop several pillows under my butt for leverage. The sheets are beginning to get damp. I'm working up a sweat.
A year later I relate my "He's got the family--I've got the body" story to a female musician I meet on a Buddhist retreat at the Garrison Institute.
"Well" she responded, "He must have appreciated that." Why are women so quick to judge? She misses the point completely. My intention in saying that wasn't to harm or demean--it was to give myself comfort, empowerment and recognition in light of feeling totally engulfed by his large, boisterous family's conventionalism--so full of life and love for him, my fat old neighbor, the royal patriarch. I needed an affirmation of my existence, for I was drowning in a sea of humans celebrating his! We cling to things that comfort us when someone holds up a mirror revealing our vulnerability; our weakness or ugliness and we can't get away.
A night later Marty had an attack of dementia, pulling out all of this IV's and monitoring wires. They have to call security. He imagines that there's a secret entrance behind my curtain...maybe what he's seeing is real--and I'm the delusional one...the guards struggle with his fat, nude body. It's quite a drama. I'm enjoying it, but feel sorry for him too. Shall I help him? I choose to leave it alone. He didn't give a shit about me, the lone stranger behind the curtain when his Grand Central Family was here cavorting with him.
Before I was transferred to another floor on my last day, I got to visit the Donna Karan Zen Room--a fabulous sanctuary away from the endless mechanical drone of the sterile hospital functions. It was too warm and airless in the room with the doors thick as a Zen chapel wall, great for blocking out noise but not-so-great for creating a cross breeze. There were giant pictures of burnished gold horses on all the walls. Weeks later I emailed Donna's Foundation asking to do work or volunteer for them. It must have gotten lost in someone's spam folder.
The angiogram which Dr. Gupta performed on Monday, revealed a kinking in one of my coronary arteries. The procedure itself was actually performed by the gorgeous but extremely cold young East Indian female Resident or Intern. God knows what her name was. It seemed like it was her first. If you have Medicaid, the interns are always learning from you, learning on you and in you. In fact, they seem to do most of the procedures, only being guided by their teaching doctors. The patients aren't really informed of this, it's part and partial of your treatment. This beautiful, cold, young female doctor-to-be, wore a color-coordinated faux leopard-skin radiology-shield apron and mask. It was the most fashionable uniform I had ever seen. I wanted one.
As I stated, the procedure revealed a kinking in one of my coronary arteries. This anomaly could only be treated with medication. Gupta prescribed a calcium channel blocker named Cadizem, which I took for about four days, beginning the day after I was discharged. On the fourth day, I couldn't stand the gas and nausea anymore so I stopped.
They also prescribed a statin. Another big young Indian Resident or Intern, Dr. Barhiya, came by one day and said "If you don't do these medications--you will be dead in two years." After taking Zocor for five days, I had such extreme muscle, back and kidney pain, it rivaled the heart attack pain itself! I could barely get out of bed, so I stopped taking that too after the fifth day.
About a month after being discharged, I went to see my Medicaid assigned cardiologist, a young Asian named Dr. Lee, for the second time. The first time, three days after I was discharged, we got on quite well. This visit however, I began by expressing my dissatisfaction with the drugs prescribed. At the time, I had no idea there was even a beautiful new Cardiac Rehab Unit on the 3rd floor of Beth Israel, nor did Dr. Lee ever mention it to me. Looking back, he should have told me about it on that very first visit; going there would have been a prescription-drug-free and integral part of my cardiac therapy. A place for me to heal.
was expressing my dissatisfaction with the drugs and asking about the
use of red rice yeast as a natural statin herbal alternative to the
Zocor when suddenly Dr. Lee freaked. In an almost sneering voice he
said "Mr. Orr, I am not here to educate you about your heart attack!
Yes, yes I know I know! You feel you are healthy and you work out a
lot. So? Stop
asking so many questions, or I'm going to call security! Do you know
how many patients I have waiting to see me today? I can't spend any
more time on you."
I sat in silent shock. Did he just tell me to
shut-up? Any more time? I must have been with him about five minutes
before his outburst. Now, with a smirk on his face, he moved in closer
to me. He began listening to my heart with his stethoscope. At that moment I
began to think how can I let this cunt near me? Let him touch me after
he's thrown shade at me? The bitch just yelled at me! My mind was
reeling, but my body was passive and did nothing. For the doctor always knows best.
now, he continued. "Do you have AIDS? Do you have Hepatitis?" adding
insult to injury. When I
left the consultation office with him and went back out into the
waiting room, his demeanor completely changed. So nice to the staff,
butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Cock sucking asshole! One moment, in
private with me, the bedside manner of a used tampon; the next Mr.
Nice Guy. Was it because I was handsome, middle-aged and white? Was it
because I was gay? Was it because I asked too many questions about red
rice yeast? And why the meds they had prescribed all made me sick? And
why I was feeling like I needed warmth and compassion from somebody,
not a lecture and a put down? I was the patient for Christ's sake. He'd
basically told me to shut up. He made me feel like a nothing, a no one.
What a change from the hospital. It was then that I
reflected on another possibility. Did this experience have to do with
being on Medicaid? So, you really do get what you pay for, at least
when you're out of the danger zone of that dark night of the soul. Then
you face the true horror, follow up care, or
"Take the drugs, shut the fuck up and go away."
A few moments later when he disappeared back into his consulting room with another patient, the tears began to fall down my face. I was shaking. I asked a secretary, my voice trembling, where to go to file a complaint. There was a moment. Her eyes got wide and she directed me downstairs. Before I left, in the middle of the waiting room I screamed "I am not a piece of shit!" I doubt if anyone but the employees understood. English is not the first language of the cardiac patient demographic at Phillips Ambulatory Care, Beth Israel, Union Square, N.Y., N.Y.
A few weeks later, I filed a complaint about Dr. Lee to the hospital and to the State of New York. The hospital sent me back a Xeroxed letter with my name spelled S-T-E-P-H-E-N. In it, there was no apology for Dr. Lee's behavior but an assurance that "he would be instructed on how to deal with patients in the future to avoid a repeat of the incident that had transpired between us". The reply letter from the State said that after a careful review of my case, they had found "no medical malpractice had taken place." In fact, the letter advised me to "take an educational course in Health if I still had questions about my disease and/or condition." I now understand why in almost every show, Kenny always gets killed off in SOUTH PARK--simply said, he's the poorest one in the show.
Now, prescription-drug-free and deepening my peacefully-abiding meditation practice daily, I believe I'm recovering my heart health. Or I hope I am. I don't think I take stress quite so hard as I used to. But New York is a stressed out town, when you're a working class, educated and poor, gay white male, such as myself. How do I deal with the stress differently? I try not to fight my own demons. When I feel the hating come on, I first try to watch myself, watch my feelings before acting out; and then draw upon loving kindness and compassion toward the person or situation. I try to see uncomfortable or disagreeable situations as interesting opportunities, places wherein I can really see my clinging. I try to say "Ah, interesting" or "I don't know" rather than my former habitual auto-heart-pain-knee-jerk hate back effect. Ignorance in others is my greatest teacher. I want to live more and evolve more. I chose my battles more carefully. Having a voice helps. Have a keyboard and page to type my history, even better.
Today, it was cloudy, overcast, and muggy. I was fighting the urge to go the Day Spa (that's the gay baths) just down the block. I decided to write instead. It's so overcast, then suddenly the molten sun bleeds through the pasty sky, heating the skin on my face like the small Dutch oven heats and toasts the sweet cinnamon bread toast I treat myself to every morning from Health Wanker down the alley and across the street. That's the local organic food store, a short walk away from here. Here is the apartment I'm swapping and living in for the summer, near the Herengracht, in Amsterdam.
The sun feels so good, this silvery North Sea sun. A ladybug wonders up the brick wall off the tiny back terrace (room for one) and jettisons off. The overcast sky looks like the sky over Lake Michigan in a southern suburb of Milwaukee called Cudahy. The name is so ugly spoken on the lips, it can make you feel sick to your stomach. Just think of a cow chewing a cud of hay, and that's Cudahy, both the sound and the style of nothing in particular. A name for a suburban town south of Milwaukee, in between St. Francis and South Milwaukee. It's a town I survived living in from 1966-1972. It's also where I survived the last years of living with my Father; and living through my high school and (middle) junior high school years. Oh, the pain.
I can still see my fat father, sitting on the front cement porch of our four family apartment complex on South Lake Drive, summer, 1972. He’s sitting with his stomach hanging out over his baggy blue pants, eternal cigarette in his hand, legs sprawled open, dreamy, angry, lost look in his eyes as he stares, off in the distance. Maybe I can see a glimmer of sadness in that lost stare. Does he suspect this is his last summer on earth?
He's also wearing a white, silk muscle tee shirt, though God knows there’s no muscle but lots of fat, especially in his tits. Like a fat farm woman’s, they are droopy hanging things, sloping down his chest like curvaceous mountains. He wheezes slightly when he breathes. The first heart attack has come and gone, more than four years before, when we lived over on Edgerton Ave. (another ugly name in the same town). When it struck, he sat in his Laz-Z-Boy chair all day with a hot water bottle on the left side of his shoulder, sweating, and assuring us it was indigestion. Later in the hospital the doctor told him he had to stop smoking, that it was a major coronary. The third day a nurse bought him a new pack of Parliaments. This was 1969. A year before both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King had been shot. Then, Milwaukee had been under martial law for a few days. The country had been close to a revolution. But none came.
After his first heart attack, he returned home from the hospital. I would take every new pack of Parliaments he bought, stick holes in them and try to bury then in the small garden that lined our sidewalk. He made me go out and collect them. He needed to smoke. He was always smoking.
Smoke. Fire. I recall when about I was about 3, he set himself on fire while cleaning a hot water heater with gasoline in the basement of our little white house on North Fourth Street in Savanna, IL. He had forgotten to turn the pilot light off. His screaming sounding like a monster. I got up out of my Mother's bed, and stood at the top of the basement stairs. Down below, he stood, jerking like an animal, on fire. Mother drove him and I, up the hospital hill, in our big black marshmallow of a Buick. I sat in the middle of the front seat between them, crying and staring to my left as one flame still burning, licked his forearm while he murmured and whimpered like a deranged thing, still wrapped in that white, stippled bedspread. In the parking lot of the Savanna Hospital, Mother slammed on the brakes and father flew out of the car door and up the stairs of the front entrance like a winged victory on fire, still nude but wrapped with that white bedspread. Later I prayed to God for him to live. I was on our neighbor Hattie’s screen porch. I knew she was watching me as I prayed. He survived. Weeks later when he was back home again, healing, I couldn’t stand the sight of his bloody, skinned, monster body, the burned boils and the transplanted flesh exposed, dead, black skin still sloughing off, the whole thing festering, oozing and glistening like some living bloody, jelly monster. He wasn't so fat then. My brother and I were allowed to excuse ourselves from the table and sit in the living room, in front of the TV while we ate, otherwise we couldn't eat. Dad couldn’t wear a shirt while he was recuperating. Looking back at his accident, I’m in awe at the strength that he had, and that our family survived the experience and lived together until 1972. We were strong stock.
Now move forward to after his the first heart attack and before the second one which came the in autumn 1972, during my first semester at Stevens Point, WI. That was the fatal one. The big one. Stevens Point was my college of choice because the name of the school had my name in it. No careful ivy league college education planning here.
My brother has become a drug dealer, selling marijuana bricks. He’s big into it. His wife Joan (a dead ringer for an Ivory Girl, she later marries a preacher) has left him and is living with my parents. At one point, Mom and Dad even try to hook me up with her, but I was probably too busy being nice in public and masturbating to pictures of naked bodybuilders in private.
Life is going to hell in the 70’s. Our family is imploding. All the dysfunctions melting our veneer like Christopher Plummer burning and melting at the end of a B Dracula movie when the sunlight hits him or the stake nails him. First Benji, our neurotic dachshund dies. His back goes out after he has been sitting up, begging for food silently, at the side of every supper table, at practically every meal for the past ten years. My Mother trained him well. He goes into paralysis, and then he’s put to sleep.
I’m away at my first week of college when the Big One comes to take my father. Here is Number Two. I am awakened by a phone call, early that cold autumn morning. My tearful Mother informs me Dad has died. I remember in our last conversation, we had talked about pillows. “Come home son” says Mom. I sit in the car studying the crystallized design of frost on the windshield like the silhouettes of psychedelic white paisley jewels for September in Northern Wisconsin is cold. An older student with a handlebar moustache drives me to the bus station. I am numb. It’s finally happened. I’m supposed to cry but tears aren’t coming. This isn’t right, I think, I am supposed to be crying. I pretend to cry, forcing myself and finally a few tears come while I'm on the bus back to Milwaukee and back to (oh that lovely sound again!) Cudahy. Why aren’t there tears for this overweight man of 44 years who has died? My feelings seem unnatural.
They are almost as unnatural, as all the unnatural feelings I had living with this raging, self-centered, bullying, never wanting to get-deep, pseudo redneck thing called Dad, for some 19 years. This fat, complex, dreamy, angry, swinging fat man called Duane H. Orr.
Again I see him sitting on the stoop. Is is anger I see? or just a blank stare; sitting, as if he is in a trance, smoking, dreaming, feeling angry, feeling alone? Does he know he’ll soon be dead? What if someone informed him of the future? Warned him of impending doom and he took up jogging? Had psycho-therapy? Tried to actually connect to his family in a real way? Fantasies. These are mine of him and his life unlived. No, too much tension, cholesterol, rage. Too much trying to keep a family together that’s exploded apart now as this bomb called the 70's hits it. Too much for one man. The “Ink Spots” are playing. Dad’s lighting up a Parliament again and mixing fresh Manhattan’s for the dollies. The dollies are the wives of the men he works with on the Milwaukee Road. These are the couples he invites over during the "company's-coming" weekends. He loves to schmooze with them and make them laugh with his stories, his sarcastic wit, his humor, and his fat power. He's like Jackie Gleason, unstoppable. And they, suburban white Milwaukee folks, love him, love his charm, his power, his overbearingness, his unspoken (and sometimes spoken) racism and his satire. He's a fat, sexy man with balls. They don’t see him raging on the phone, and if they did they’d say “There’s a man who loves his job, who works hard, who demands, who can frighten and intimidate and get things done! There's man whose job is killing him! But isn't he funny? Isn't he entertaining?"
It is said that things happen in threes. First the dog, Benji; and then the Dad--dead at 44. His heart exploded early one morning after a big night out on the town, trying to forget with food and booze and cigarettes that his world is in break down mode, that his oldest son is a drug dealer and his oldest son's marriage is on the rocks, these salients fact probably killed him. At home in bed after he makes love to my Mother one last time, death fucks him when an artery in his heart explodes. The ambulance comes, they try to revive him, but there's been too many cigarettes, too many Manhattans and raging, screaming phone calls directing trains on the phone; and way too much freakishness with my brother because my brother has turned into, of all the ungodly things, a drug dealer.
Then the dreamy eyed, angry, sad, jolly fat man is a little shriveled thing in a coffin. A cold, steel blue metallic coffin that shines like a car. (Coffins are so expensive) and he’s wearing his Masonic apron and an American flag is folded over his waist (for he was a veteran of two wars).
We are the first to see him, it's open casket. “His hands” my Mother says, "can you change his hands?” They are like dried claws of a bird, curling at his groin. The wet eyed, bald undertaker Cy Law with the thick black horn rim glasses asks us to leave the room for a moment. I imagine him breaking, stretching, moving, manipulating the claw-like hands into a more natural pose, maybe one over the other, as if resting on a lawn chair in the sun. No, then they’d be behind his head. One over the other on his tummy is not Dad’s body language, but it will do. I’ve never seen my Father look so peaceful. But his nose isn’t right. It looks like it’s stuffed with something, it's too full. And that weird smile. How can a dead man smile like that? Probably quite glad to be out of it all. Or maybe it's something manufactured by the funeral director. I know they sew the lips together to prevent lip drift in corpses. Maybe the weird, small smile is a happy by-product of a simple needle and thread job?
But before, before that Big One, I’m coming home from school and have to walk past him, which I hate. He embarrasses me and I fear him. It’s hard to breathe in the house when he’s there. His anger is free-floating, everywhere like some dark cloud that's going to rain any moment. It's in every room. He is fear and cold.
“How’s school?” he asks, like every day and every day I answer the same as always “Fine”, dismissing his invasion of my private life. The fine is sarcastic, but not too obviously so, for he attacks any evidence of me having a brain and expressing independent thoughts. Fear rules in our household like the all prevailing smell of shit. It's constantly thrown in my face "You think you're smart." And I do think I'm smart; for I must think smart to be able to conceal the way I do. In this family, you must play dumb to survive. Now I reflect what if? Like all the what if’s of the parts of a life that could have been, would have been, but never were. My unlived life goes like this...
“Oh really fucking good”, one day I respond to the same old question when he asks his usual "How's school?" But today I'm writing the script; I'm in control. I look him up and down, I plant my legs deep into the sidewalk. “Fucking swell. I'm a big queer. Do you know what the fuck that is like? To have to pretend all fucking day, with fake smiles and fake looks! And you? You fat fucking, redneck old lady you! You hear me? I have to come home and look at you?!? I'm a fucking queer and I hate fat! I love muscle! Yeah...there. I love muscle. And you? You fired as a father. Fired, hear me? Now what are you going to do about that? Throw me out on the street? I can always sell my body! I’d welcome that! Anything would be better than this constipated, fucked up hell of a coffin you call a house that we live in. Family? What family? We don’t talk. We excuse ourselves. We attack, demean, and control. We demand pain. We live on it. It feeds us raw and bleeds us out!"
Oh the joy I feel. It's like an exorcism just imagining that it could have happened. But no. I just respond with fine, again and pass him, afraid of his invasions, his eyes that stare into nothing, his fat, and his rage. He can hurt me, he can hurt me bad. Years later I realize that I’ve assimilated him into me. Where there’s self-confidence in more successful people, there’s the self-bullying, self-loathing voice in me. His voice. It’s looping. Beating me up inside. “I’m sorry” is my favorite phrase when I really want to push someone down the stairs. “Excuse me” a cue for the imaginary power drill I use to put people’s eyes out.
My Father was an only child and I heard that he was beaten by Edna Heckman, his Mother, when he was a child and throughout his life. Edna was a strict, domineering, smart, charismatic woman. And a child beater. That’s what Lucy Miller, Edna's former neighbor says. She says she saw Dad get beat up a lot in that house where he was raised on the Hospital Hill. And Lucy should know. She lived right across the street.
Edna, "Nan", made the best cinnamon rolls in the entire world and even her toast made of homemade bread was to die for, literally. Her secret? Butter! The men in my family all died of it. Butter! First my Grandfather, a dead-ringer for Robert Taylor, that hunky, suave, movie actor of the 1940's, until the fat got the better of him in his fifties. Dead at 54 years old. Then my Dad at 44. The secret? First the butter, then the rage!
Dead at 44. I come home from college but only for a week. I feel frozen, like the paisley designs of frost on the window shield of the car that morning that drove me to the bus station in Stevens Point, WI. Frozen feelings. I was supposed to feel sad. But the frozen designs are beautiful things, as if art in nature itself is telling me "It is beautiful that he died. You can be happy now, you can feel relief." And I can’t cry. Years later I would realize what a relief it was to have him gone. Yes, I was feeling pure, unadulterated relief! Benji is number one, Dad is number two; then comes number three. Welcome Aunt Nina.
For the next two weeks Nina, my Mother’s older protective sister joins her on South Lake Drive, helps her arrange the funeral, and put things in order. After a week I’m back at Stevens Point. Another week passes and one morning, my Mother calls, again in tears. Nina’s dead. My aunt had returned to New Mexico and a few days later, was broadsided in a camper, by an 18-wheeler semi trailer truck, somewhere in the mountains outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico. She had to be cut out of the truck she and Harry, her husband were driving. After the jaws of death (courtesy of the New Mexico State Police) pry her out of the vehicle, like a mangled sardine from a tin can, she lasts for a few hours and succumbs in an agony of pain, before reaching the hospital.
Harry, her husband of some 30 years and a bit of a scalawag and a bully himself (like my Dad) later proposed to Mother within a few days of Nina’s funeral. He had survived the crash without a scratch. My Mom tells him no, as it wouldn’t feel right, for he and Nina had raised her for a time after her own parents died of (in something like this order) alcoholism, incest, a constant diet of mush during the Great Depression, and/or a series of nervous breakdowns. Take your pick, my Mother's is a very talented dramaturge, only thing is, her stories are real. Within a year Harry is dead of a heart attack. Benji, Duane, Nina, and then Harry,
So there was number three; then four…
My Father, the charmer, the swinger! I always pictured him as being bisexual for some reason. I remember a photo he sent my Mother from Korea. He’d reenlisted in the Navy again, after World War II. He loved being in the service. Hey Sailor! It taught him to be a tough, manly man. Being around other fighting men, taught him to swear and piss in the public and feel drunk and touch like one of the boys. The fact that he tried so hard makes me suspicious. In the photo, he is soaking in what looks like a corrugated steel metal tub. Steam is rising from the water, soap in his hand, and that look. Oh, that that sexy come-hither-look he’s got on his face. I always wonder about that, about him and the guy who held the camera. Hey Sailor!
Fire, breathing, bisexuality. Breathing. Before his first heart attack, one Saturday night (I was in seventh grade), circa ’68, Dad and Mom went out. I got very involved in Mother’s make up, in their bedroom. I had just learned how to masturbate and putting on her make-up gave me an erection. I wanted to look like her, like a beautiful, perfumed Barbie Doll. Like an eternal June Cleaver everything is perfect-Mom-of the 60’s. Even when it’s not. It's almost the 70’s and the world is going to hell in a hand basket, deconstructing before our eyes, but please can we not talk about it?
So, I’m all made up and with a hard on and they are coming home way too early. I smear cold cream on my fact and dive onto the couch, feigning boredom, staring at Alfred Hitchcock Presents as they enter our living room. Oh oh. ”What the hell have you got on your face?” my Father yells, as if I’m wearing dog shit. As if I’ve been eating it.
"I wanna be a Goddamn Girl!" I scream! “I'm sick and tired of this fucking charade! I am a girl inside you fat fuck! The girl on the inside is showing on the outside! That's what I've got on my face! It's the real me!"
Oh delicious fantasy, better than sex. But that's not how it went down. I say nothing, and then, for the next 20 minutes or so my Mom goes on and on about how weird it is that I need to play in her make-up like a girl (Steve’s not a fighter. All the queer signs. He’s not a fighter; he’s the artistic one). Christ how many times was that drilled into me until it’s no wonder I was a walking bulls eye for other kids to attack. I was incapable of raising my hand to ward off any blows! Nobody ever took the damn time to show me how to fight!. I lie and make up some lame excuse about wanting to practice making up a monster face for Halloween. Yeah, right. A monster with big red lips and lots of rouge and eye shadow! Clown drag is more like it. The beginning of the lies. They were all there. Mixed up and in with the feelings; walking on eggshells around the rage, mincing around in it. Pretending pretending pretending. But please, let's not talk about it.
Pretending at home, pretending at school.
"How’s school?" Dad would ask. Did he really want to know? Did he have any clue?
“It’s alright.” I answered. The meek, shy teenager. The lamb. The closeted little homo scared of his Dad, scared of school. It seems my life was built around fear.
At home was fat Dad fear. At school was a different kind of nightmare. Since moving to Cudahy, for my entrance into seventh grade, the first year of Junior High School, I was constantly getting beat up, spit at, verbally attacked and accosted by both boys and girls. They hated me in Cudahy and oh how I hated them. We had moved there from St. Paul Park in Minnesota, where I had so many friends, it was crazy. I was Mr. Popular. I was the cool kid on the block. In the sixth grade in Minnesota, kids seemed friendly and fun. It was light there. Cudahy was dark and stupid like it's name. Seventh grade, one wide-open, steel gray tornado sky nightmare. Kids tortured me and I’m coming of age. In this Polish-Slovakian neighborhood, I truly discovered the meaning of the words greaser, hood, and bully. They spit on me from passing bus windows while I was just riding my bike. They beat me up in homeroom when the teacher wasn’t looking, kicked my chair, my legs, punched me in the head and laughed and laughed. I never fought back. I just prayed the homeroom teacher would see them, sometimes she did, more often, she didn't. The bullying was outrageous, it's easy to see where anger can be triggered now.
One day, a whole gang was following me home from school, calling me names, throwing things at me. I was too afraid to even turn around and then, just as one almost jumped me, I turned off, into my back yard. I was safe. Home Sweet Home. Safe at home. Home is where the coronary is just waiting to happen...
My few friends were the other losers, rejects, geeks, misfits, and insecure kids. Joey Majewski’s Mom and mine, made an attempt to connect us, knowing we were both loner/loosers. Joey had three chins, soft, fuzzy, short brown hair and talked with a stutter. I can still recall his voice quivering when he attempted conversation. Clifford Cook and I hooked up in the eighth grade. Clifford was pudgy, had wire-rimmed glasses like John Lennon, and a big flip of Dondi-like, light brown hair that kept falling down over the right side of his face and glasses. He would constantly be pushing back his hair and adjusting the glasses, all in the same quick flick of the wrist of his right hand. Clifford also had the most sibilant s’s I had ever heard out of anyone’s mouth and he had crushes on Janis Joplin and Janis Ian. We used to listen to "Society's Child" together and smoke cigarettes. He made a supreme effort to seem straight. Later on I’d heard he’d even married a woman. Maybe he was straight, after all, in spite of the s’s. He was always inferring that he had these secret crushes on various girls, and they on him.
Once he shocked me, reporting that so and so at school had been caught jerking off.
“What’s jerking off?” I said, feigning innocence and forcing my face into a purely neutral expression. For recently, I myself had discovered the new found joys of jerking off and loved the feeling. “Its when you go like this (he made a fist and moved it up and down real fast with an awful grimace) on your thing until this stuff comes out.”
“Eeww” I intoned making a face. Now, thinking back here's my fantasy reply to Clifford. “Oh I just did that the other night in the bathtub. First I thought I was like sick or dying or something, but then, all this stuff came out of my thing and it smelled like pepper! Then, the more I did it, the better it felt! So I really started liking doing it, especially when I'm doing it to pictures of naked muscle men!"
The simply reality was, very recently, I had discovered jerking off, along with all the strange, strong, accompanying feelings. I had also begun to fashion various props to assist me in my orgasms ranging from pictures of nude boys and men from underground Hippie newspapers, to tanned male surfers on the spray cans of Coppertone Sun tanning Oil. But my favorite visuals were my brother’s bodybuilding magazines. On one photo of a dark-haired bodybuilder, I had actually burned a small hole on the man's skinny black Speedo bathing suit using a magnifying glass and the sun, thinking that somehow I could reveal the treasure underneath if I burned through the speedos.
Another jerk off toy was a small discarded plastic tube which fit perfectly around my dick and was great to twist manually to imitate a kind of slow screwing motion. I would cum immediately and the tube kept the cum contained. No muss no fuss. I kept it outside my window in the eave spout. It was well hidden from my Mother out there, and thunder storms would wash it clean.
I even developed another covert, self-pleasuring ritual, as a way, of getting back at my father. I would tear plastic off from the dry cleaning in my parents closet, wrap it around my cock, in my underwear (in the bathroom) and fully clothed, return to the living room. There, lying on my stomach, head in my hands, innocently watching, All Star Wresting, I would masturbate to my heart's content. Just lying there, in the middle of the living room rug, right under the non-suspecting nose of my dear Dad, with his nose buried in the evening paper, glasses and cigarettes. There was a deliciousness in doing it right under his nose.
There were a few (very few) high spots in Junior High. There was that Mr. Young moment. Mr. Young was the geography teacher and the kid's nickname for him was Conga. He was tall, white, fat, wore bottle-thick glasses, and had huge, thick lips. He used to constantly purse them together, either out of anger or in a vain attempt to show his troublesome students how they couldn’t get over on him. One day Mr. Young went to pull up a map of the world covering the middle of the blackboard. He fumbled with it, pulling it down, then up again, then down and up again. FLAP! It flew out of his hand, snapping up and rolling round and round, to reveal in large chalk letters, perfectly printed, the words CONGA IS MIGHTY. The class went crazy. And and Conga--er—Mr. Young’s face was beet red as if he was going to explode.
Mrs. Silk was my seventh grade English teacher and she discovered that I had a terrific flair for the dramatic. I also had an awful crush on her. So was tall, blond, gorgeous and extremely butch. In one class presentation project, I invented a cereal called “Diet Crunchies” and did a commercial for it, holding the box and talking with an English Accent. She went bonkers over me and had me coming in and performing it for all her other classes. I also used to do imitations of Bobby Kennedy until he was assassinated. The bullies watched in awe one day, as a neighboring homeroom teacher across the large hall (it housed four homeroom classes at once) invited me to come over to his class and perform do my Bobby imitation. The other homeroom loved it! I don't think the bullies ever saw me in the same light.
One of the darkest and most painful memories was when I was punched in the ear and side of the head by mean old Mr. McLymans, the shop teacher from hell. Shop class was a queer student’s nightmare, right up there with gym class. Cultural programming for boys on the how to’s of building and making things. I hated it. We were taught things like how to cut wood, cut wood and cut wood. Also, there was lots of emphasis on how to cut wood. I did come out of class with a great, pig-shaped bread cutting board, made out of maple no less. That memory of being slammed by the old man-witch McLymans still festers. The way it came about was so. One day, goony Mark Spies (a pre-computer geek kid if there ever was one) asked me to do a staring contest with him. We were engaged in for about three or four minutes when McLymans caught a glimpse of us and started screaming bloody murder. He must have tagged us for queers staring into each other's eyes or something. Screaming his head off like a maniac, he demanded we march into an adjoining room. Here, he proceeded to belt us, one at a time, with very wide, powerful swings. His fist was clenched tight, so that it felt like a hammer, pummeling the side of my head, right over the opening in my left ears. Ouch! The old fuck was strong. My ear was ringing and in pain for days after the incident. Immediately after the attack, he grabbed at a cloth towel hanging down from a wall dispenser nearby, haranguing “There! You wanna cry now? Girlies wanna cry? Huh? Here's a crying towel. Here's a crying towel. Cry! Go ahead, cry!"
To this day I can only reflect that it must have been the old bastard’s innate homophobia and sex fear that made him want to attack and punish us so viciously for something which on the surface seemed so innocuous, yet to him implied something much more taboo, i.e., adolescent boys staring into each other’s eyes. Heaven Forbid! Kids razzed me for days about the incident “You want a cryin’ towel, Orr?” I confessed what happened to Mother that night, but we both agreed not to tell Father. I think this was before heart attack number one and he was probably stressed out enough with his railroad job, given his new habit of screaming on the phone about trains and tracks.
But back to social torture. Once Karen Kovac in eighth grade taped a sign to my back that said “I am a Homo.” During this English class, the kids all kept asking me “Is it true Steve? Is it true?” Mrs. Silk she wouldn’t have stood for it. But in this class, the teacher was Mrs. Olsen, who was pregnant, with a face that was a cross between a clown and a orangutan) “Maybe” I intoned mysteriously, not knowing what the heck they were talking about. Then they snickered. Another day, Lynn Bernier, one of Karen's best friends, just went off on me in the hall in between classes for no apparent reason. “You’re such a fem, Steve Orr! Such a fem. You fem!" I didn’t even know what that meant, until Clifford with his sibilant “s’s” explained to me that it was short for feminine as in girlish. Why did they hate me so?
The roots of hate and homophobia, beginning in childhood, are passed on from generation to generation. I had a rage-aholic father and had to process a lot of toxic emotions within me. Internal hate, self hate, and homophobia, outside and inside. It still floors me when I think back on these experiences. The cruelty of kids, and of people, not to mention the twisted roots of our culture.
Yes, there was a Hitler and there has always been cruelty and the general glee of giving pain to the weaker members of the tribe. There is always an effort to finding scapegoats. Do animals do this? No. There, the weak are simply devoured. Is this some perverted form of survival of the fittest? Attack the weak, the handicapped, the strange or different to insure the strong, the majority survive. I don't know. Why do Republicans come to mind? But I do recall that years later at our twentieth High School reunion, a girl named Pat Delaney (who always seemed rather butch to me herself) going off on me as being the poster child for AIDS. Her unprovoked attack went thus, “You queers spreading AIDS all over the place. You! You made it happen. Spreading AIDS everywhere. It's you! You're the ones doing this!” Yikes. My friend, Robin, a female, and fellow star of the class of '72 theater, just looked at me after both Pat and her tirade were gone, held my hand, and simply said, “Don’t”. That was a real bonding moment between us. After the dancing, dinner and drinks, we were taking a walk by the lake shore, when my friend confessed to me that she thought there was something demonic about men fucking each other in the butt where the shit comes out. This wasn’t new to me. My Mother, when I was twenty or so, came up with that same complaint too. It's that's timeless objection. I responded something like, "That's just one aspect of gay sex. Gay to me means not straight. Being able to create whatever kind of kind of love with whoever you want." That's what I told both women. For all time, the debate will rage on, is sodomy a sin? My answer is no, as long as it's consenting adults. Many more people have died from religious wars than have ever died of sodomy.
High School was slightly better as I finally found a kind of tribe to hang out with, the hippies and the drama kids. But for years after High School graduation, I had reoccurring nightmares that some problem had been discovered in my records, that I was really not officially graduated and had to return to school to make up the missed classes. Nightmare.
Masturbation was a wonderful release for me and a kind of solace, I think for the awful pain of being a social misfit, a member of the uncool and a so-called fem. Mark Snowpeck, a beauty of a little jock friend in Junior High, used to walk me to and from home during lunch in eighth grade. I recall jerking off while on the toilet to visions of his tanned little eight-pack belly every day after I ate lunch. Then, after lunch, I would meet him again for the walk back to school. I think everyone had a crush on Mark. Sadly, he never knew what a crush I had on him. Years later, he was struck down while riding a bicycle, on a highway in Iowa, the victim of a hit and run. They never found the coward, or the drunk who killed him. Nice.
Now it’s a rainy afternoon in Amsterdam and I still want to cum. Or meditate. Or imagine a sun burning out all my frustration and feelings of loneliness. Again I reflect on perhaps going to the baths, but I think I'll meditate and imagine I’m out of the East Village in the woods. The lack of men and growing older is best handled by imagining self-happiness and a sense of inner peace. HACK HACK! I hear the pipe-smoking Dutchman below me. His cancerous cough cuts through the thin walls here like muffled gun shots. Maybe it's time for me to take another bath in that bizarre Dutch tub? I love the deep, half tub here, and playing with the water, the way it comes out of that European spigot.
A rainy afternoon in Amsterdam. Am I imagining the sun? I can see the sky outside the windows here, not like that cave in the East Village. I imagine moving out of the East Village. I imagine never having to wait for the phone to ring again. If it does, fine. If it doesn't, that's okay too. I can practice my Pilates, meditate, and be happy on my own. Write, yes. I can write out this life and try to put some perspective on the whole thing. Fucking Noah’s Ark out there now. Here comes the rain. Hmm. Maybe I'll take a bath, or go to the baths. Either is no big deal, here in Amsterdam. I'm free, an ex-pat. Free to hang out my shingle and set up shop. Hey boys, real New York masseur for hire. And free to look back on it all. Even rewrite it if I so desire.