Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Quarried Life

You grow out of things, and then you have to grow back into them.

There was high school, which was perhaps the darkest time of my life. I was in that cell in the prison of denial and in fact, it wasn’t just a cell. It was solitary, and the term was life, and there was no parole. Oh, and nobody had gotten around to missing me, outside the rest of the world. They peered in at me, periodically, and told me: “these are the happiest days of your life.”

The Shorewood quarry was my ticket out.

It was going to look like an accident. Like all quarries, it had been dug out, and there was a pit with water. Above it, a cliff. And so I would shoot myself, and fall backwards into the water. So it would look like a drowning—see?

All right, fifty or so years later, I can identify some flaws in the plan….

But flawed or not, it was undeniable, the heaviness that burst on me each morning, usually after a fitful night of sleep. Because I had two secrets all during the hell that was high school: I was gay, and I was depressed.

The peculiar irony is that I didn’t know either of the secrets.

It shouldn’t have been that hard. Hadn’t I read, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex? I can see it in my mind’s eye—the yellow paperback that I probably stole, since how could I ever have summoned the nerve to buy such a thing.

“Listen, kid, lemme just ask my manager….”

“No, listen, Sir, that’s OK. I’ll just….”

“Hey, Joe,” shouts the clerk, “we got a fifteen-year old here, want to buy Everything you Always Wanted to Know About Sex….

All heads turn to Marc!

“WHAT!” shouts back Joe.

“Fifteen-year old says he want to buy Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex!

Bring out the spotlights!

“Still can’t hear you!”

“I SAID….”

Door banging….

So I probably stole it, and though I’m not proud of it, I understand it. I only wish, however, that what I had stolen had been worth it. Here’s what I read:

Male homosexuality is a condition in which men have a driving emotional and sexual interest in other men. Because of the anatomical and physiological limitations involved, there are some formidable obstacles to overcome. Most homosexuals look upon this as a challenge and approach it with ingenuity and boundless energy. In the process they often transform themselves into part-time women. They don women’s clothes, wear makeup, adopt feminine mannerisms, and occasionally even try to rearrange their bodies along feminine lines.

But not to worry, because

Q: Can homosexuals change?
A: If a homosexual who wants to renounce homosexuality finds a psychiatrist who knows how to cure homosexuality, he has every chance of becoming a happy, well-adjusted, heterosexual  


There was a little problem, of course, since how was I supposed to find “a psychiatrist who know how to cure homosexuality?” Back step: how would I even find a psychiatrist?

“Dad, I need to see a shrink.”
“What! Oh my God, Marc, what’s wrong? Why? Tell us! What’s bothering you, son?”
“Oh, it’s just nothing…”
“Nothing! NOTHING!....”

Look, if I couldn’t buy a damn book, do you think I could tell my parents I was gay? And that I needed to see a shrink?

And so I lingered at the precipice of the cliff, in several ways figuratively, if never quite literally. I had no girlfriend, but that was no problem, since I was still fifteen or sixteen. And my father had married late—for reasons never quite explained. He was in his early 30’s when he married, and the official story is that he was looking for “the right one.”


True, he found her, but what guy goes through his 20’s without forming some kind of emotional attachment?

At any rate, if I was gay, I wasn’t going to tell anyone, because who knew how he or she might react? What if a “friend” went around telling everybody? What if—worse—the friend decided to tell my parents, since I was sick and needed help?

It is both unique and all pervading. Unique because every other sickness has a cause, even if not necessarily biological. But homosexuality, as then defined, had nothing to do with genes, but everything to do with the family, and guess what that meant? Yes, the distant father, the overly protective mother.

Was that it?

Well, yes, since my father was over fifty when I got to know him at age 3 or so, and I was number three. So the bloom was fading on the rose of parenthood, and he was entering that period when a man realizes: his dream of being publisher was never going to happen. Retirement was in sight. Two of his kids had made it into manhood, the third would likely as well. So when He came home, he slouched against the refrigerator, and rolled his neck from side to side. He was prone, you see, to stiff necks.

It was a house that screamed with that which was unsaid. My mother, in those years, was a secret smoker; later, she got a job despite the deep reservations of my father. She didn’t have to work, after all. True, in the decades that followed, they aged very well, but when I was in high school? My father spent an entire year in a huge depression, since my brother was living with—but not then married to—the woman who has been his wife for the last 40 years.

Is this comical? Yes, now.

No, then.

They were deeply conventional, and if the 60’s had produced sea changes, none of that was reflected in our home. And so I was—perhaps—a homosexual. Which meant that I would have to become campy, like the Boys in the Band, or like the homosexuals in Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent.

There was no one to talk to. There was, in fact, nothing to say, since nothing had happened, and nothing would happen. I would live alone, or perhaps with my mother, as the man next door was doing. I would have no friends, since any woman friend would always be wondering: when was I going to get serious? And male friends? Not possible, because what would people think: an unmarried man with male friends? And it was unspoken at the time: the wives made the friendships, and the men got along with each other.

This was, of course, completely ridiculous. It was also completely serious. And so I went on, day after day, trudging along with the secret that was a secret even to myself, but still a secret.

And very heavy….

The years went on. I graduated, first from high school, then from college. Things got, as they say, better. I changed, society changed, my family changed.

But in some ways, I haven’t changed. How could I? I will never have those “best days of your life.” I will never feel that I fit in easily, that people unthinkingly accept me, that they would still love me, if they knew me. I will still think, somehow, that I have a secret, somehow, a secret that again is unknown to me. There are, perhaps, ways in which the outsider can become the insider. But not, I think, for me.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Chapter 12, Bad Novel

It was when time bent back on itself that the ancients knew: the angry God had left.

His anger—which roared through al time and space—had pulled the birds from their nests, and startled them to flight. His anger had started the forest fires that ransacked the landscape. His anger had made men seek women, to lie with them in pride and lust and passion.

When he was gone, all things stopped.

“I have stopped, too,” I told my unseen companion.

“So you think.”

“You don’t think so?”

“Unless looking at the hill for scores of years, rather than climbing it, counts,” I said. “Neither the hill nor I have changed. I am older, of course, but still some years from death. Why can’t I climb the hill? Others have, and quite easily.”

“And have you spoken to them?”

“They come back changed. Their eyes are blurred over, their backs are bent, their speech is garbled. They look at you and do not see you. They look away, and see what you do not.”

“Is that why you fear it?”

“Perhaps. Or I may fear that I will not be changed. I may return as clear-sighted and lucid as I started. It may be that the hill is for others, and not for me.”

“You don’t believe that.”

“No,” I told him. “Tell me, is there any turning back, once you are on the hill? Can I choose to return? Or once started, must I continue?”

“You will know once you are on the hill. But the answer may not matter.”

Suddenly, a wind stirred.

“Remarkable,” I said. “There has been no wind here, on the hill, for eons.”

“You have felt no wind,” he said. “But that is hardly to say that there has been none. And how did it feel?”

“As if the hill were sighing. As if it tires, eon upon eon, of watching the pilgrims ascend. As if it, too, wants respite. If we went away, could the hill disappear? Could it rest?”

“Have you ever wondered,” he said, “why the angry God left?”

“I only wonder why he came,” I said. “To what purpose? Surely there were other places for his wrath?”

“The gods, too, are bound. For however much they are gods, they still cannot go against their nature. And that is to come, bidden or unbidden, in good moods or foul.”

“Hmmm, no wonder he is angry.”

“Oh, I think not. And are you entirely sure that he is angry?”

“Look at the hill,” I told him. “That barren, scorched, clawed hill. Nothing grows there, nor ever will. There is more life in the driest desert than could ever be on that hill.”

“Curious that you see what I do not.”

“And what do you see?”

“A valley, lush and verdant, with a thousand streams feeding it.”


“You did ask….”

“But why….”

“You may never know the answer. I will certainly not. But really, isn’t it time to climb that hill? I will go with you, as I descend into my valley.”

I think, until I receive his message: this is not the time to think. And so I nod, and clasp his hand more tightly, and then do what has been done for eons, and what is entirely new. I put my foot forward. And the next after that. And soon, I am walking—not fast—but with the measured pace of a man walking the plank.

“Can we stop along the way?” I asked.

“Not only can we, we must,” he said. “We will both stop and be stopped.”

And then he disappeared.    

Friday, May 27, 2016

Chapter 11, Bad Novel

It was a barren hill that I chose to climb. All life had been wrenched out of it; an angry God had scraped his talon across the landscape. He had left ravines, crevices, boulders that threatened at any moment to unleash themselves. I would be there, watching, as the juggernaut of death took me in its aim.

The boulder would be laughing—rolling with glee, salivating at the thought of gut and sinew and muscle that would be all that remained of me. The sun would not bother to set, then, and the clouds would be still in the air.

Nothing would remain, everything would change.

The others knew better. They had chosen the sea, some of them, and who knew where they were, at any moment? Of they had found a meadow kissed by a sheltering hill: no winds would rake their house, no snows would bury it. But I had my hill, that I had chosen or that had come with me.

Which was it?

The hill—if I turned my back, it grew larger by far. Better, then, to face it—to look at the ugly scars that adorned it, the kissed ravages of the angry God. Yes, I could see it better when I turned from it. But better made the hill worse: the ravines sharper, the boulders larger and more precariously imposed on the hill.

Each day, I looked at the hill. I tried to study it; I tried to master the ravines, I imagined the tango I might dance with the boulders flying toward me. The hill glowered at me, dared me, threatened to unleash itself at any moment. The boulders screamed to be free of the hill—free to hurtle downwards, as I was steeling myself to go upwards.

For the hill, everything was downwards—there was no ‘up’ there. For me, there was no downwards. Any retreat was death, as was the hill itself. The question was how. Would it be the boulders? Starvation? Thirst?

I knew what I wanted. I wanted, at last one day, to begin the quest: to plant my first foot on the hill.

“Ah, but you have!”

“And you are?”

“The person who is writing. The person you don’t know. And perhaps, the person who chose your hill.”


“You don’t enjoy ambiguity?”

“You always ask question?”

“Don’t you? Come, let us not fence. Would you like to get up that hill?”

Would I?



I think I’d like to embrace the hill. I’d like to put my arms around it, squeeze it, feel its breathing and rest in its arms. This angry hill of an angry God—this is what I have.

“Willing, now?”

“Yes. And scared.”

“Of course.”

“Your hand?”

“Don’t you feel it?”

“Yes. I wondered if you did.”

“And your feet?”

“Yes, I know they’re moving.”

“There was never any question. And they have always been moving.”

“Then why have I been always in the same place?”

“You don’t know?”

I want to tell him—I have looked at the goddamn hill for well over fifty fucking years. And the hill, the hill, the hill has gotten no bigger, no smaller, no prettier. No rain has fallen on it for all of time; the bones and skull and smashed torso of those who have gone before me will lash at my feet. The crows will caw out my death; the vultures will circle. And yes, I am on the hill.

“We could go faster,” he tells me.



“Thank you for not telling me,” I tell him.

“You wouldn’t have believed me, anyway….”

We start. I pause to take off my boots. I will feel every cut of this hill. I will stumble upon every rock, I will take every grain of sand into the creases of my feet. I will know the hill. What good, if not, would death be?

“I didn’t know it could sing,” I tell him.

“It didn’t know you could listen,” he tells me.

The song is lilting and sad, a lament for the absence of the angry God, for even in his anger there was grace. The grace is gone, now, and the anger, though still scorching the land, has abated. The hill remembers the annealing anger—how it scorched the pines, sucked dry the rivers, hardened the stones and lashed open the ravines. Yes, the hill remembers.

“Is it hard to be a hill?” I ask.

“As hard as it is to climb it.”

Hard then.

I gaze at the top of the hill. Now, a little lower.

Or has the sky lifted?


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Well, why not tattoo the cat?

“I think it’s time to tattoo the cat,” I told Lady, “since as we all know, the cat is as much a part of the family as anyone else. So that’s decided; now then, what would you suggest? Tribal? A delicate rose? The sacred heart of Jesus? Or maybe just the traditional heart with ‘MOM’ written under it…..”

“You can’t tattoo the cat,” said Lady. “Or at least, if you can, I don’t think you should. Anyway, it would be annoying to have to keep shaving the cat, just so that you could see the tattoo….”

“The cat, of course, will be responsible for grooming itself,” I told her. “That’s all it does, anyway, when it’s not sleeping, which is about 20 hours a day. So I will provide the razors and shaving cream, but it’s up to the cat to shave itself!”

“And do you really think you can get a tattoo on a cat?”

“Absolutely—one just has to be firm with it. No nonsense! Brook no dissent! And trust me, the cat will thank me for it, after a bit….”

“Well, several people have tattooed my poem ‘Little by Little’ on themselves,” said Lady. “But you’d either have to shave off most of the cat, or just choose the last stanza. Though perhaps you could write it in really small print, and then hang a magnifying glass around the cat’s neck.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I told her. “Whoever heard of tying a magnifying glass around a cat’s neck? I refuse to talk to you, if you can’t be serious!”

“Well, I am serious! Just a serious as you, with all that insane idea of tattooing the cat! Really, Marc—you’re as bad as all my poets!”

“What have they done now?”

She tells me—one person left the poetry slam because of another person, who left because of a third person, who left because of a dog. So last night, which should have been a great night, had been somewhat frayed by fits of inflated personalities.

“I’m thinking of writing a short story about the seven deadly sins, and assigning each one to a different poet,” she says.

“An excellent idea,” I tell her. “Though it might be a great way to diminish attendance, as well as to trim your friendships. Anyway, it still begs the question of what to tattoo on the cat.”

“Oh, bother the cat,” said Lady. “Whoever heard of such a thing? Maybe you should forget the tattoo, and get a piercing instead? You know, a nose ring on the cat might look wonderful.”

“True,” I said. “And then we could tie the cat up, if necessary. Which it usually is, since Loquito is the worst cat, bar none, in the house.”

“What,” cried Lady, “you have a sick and twisted mind! First you propose to tattoo the cat, and now you’re doing bondage on it!”

With it,” I told her, “though I had imagined nothing of the sort. You, on the other hand…”

“Marc, what’s up with you?”

“It’s a ‘meh’ day,” I tell her. “There’s nothing to write about, and the news is absolutely horrible, and my back hurts. And I haven’t been able to write anything. Plus, the news is just terrible. Oh, and did I tell you that I can’t make my phone play my music? Before, it was no problem. But now, I get this error message, which starts with this annoying, ‘Fiddlesticks!’ I kid you not. So I try to do what it tells me to do, and I can’t. It’s completely stupid, and completely annoying, and I either have to buy an iPod for 300$ or go without music until August, when I finally can get a new phone.”

“I hate your phone,” she said. “I want to take a sledge hammer to it!”

“So do I,” I told her. “Actually, we should probably have a ritual purging for all the people who hate my phone, which would be everybody. Do you know, I still can’t figure out how to establish my voice mail? So now it turns out that my voice mail is full—though how it can be full when I can’t access it, I don’t know!”

“Well, it’s full because you can’t access it,” she told me. “That’s obvious. Now then, how about we tattoo…”

“Don’t tell me,” I said. “I am not paying seriously good money to tattoo that phone!”

“The problem” I continue, “is that technology is moving so fast that the professional world hasn’t caught up. Because we should seriously have telephone therapists. You know, the first session could be just being in the room with it. I’d be on the couch, the phone would be on the coffee table, and the therapist and I could be doing visualization exercises. ‘Imagine,’ she would say, ‘imagine that you are holding that phone in your hand. Now let’s process how you feel!’”

“That,” said Lady, “is even more ridiculous than tattooing the cat. How many words has this silly post been? Can I go now? I can’t be spending all morning discussing cat-tattooing and telephone-therapying, if that’s a word. Don’t you have a novel to write? And what about Julian, revalationing away, and what are you doing about it?”

“I’m a news junkie and a depressive,” I told her, “which is not, at this sunny moment in Puerto Rico’s trajectory, a great combo. Actually, it’s sort of like barbiturates and booze. Which is starting to look more and more attractive.”

“Nonsense,” she tells me, “anyway, I’m going off to France, and you’d better still be here, when I get back.”

“I will be,” I said, though….

…I’m definitely gonna tattoo the cat.