Chapter Six Posted

MonkeyI’ll post something of the nonfictional persuasion in the next day or two, for those of you who are all like, “Dude, I don’t care about your fucked-up space creature novel, even if it’s free, creepy, and spectacularly paced. What’s up with YOU, as in the real, virtual, internet-trolling blogger Dogpoet that I’ve come to ‘know’?!?”

Latest chapter from SUICIDE SKIN – my alien-invasion-dysfunctional-family-novel posted for your entertainment. Max infiltrates the Hill, meets a tattooed Marine, and scraps with another alien…

The bell dings and the doors take their sweet time opening. She steps out on the 15th floor but stops short. At a narrow reading table sits a thick-muscled man in a Peppy Step uniform – a janitor hunched in the harsh light, his back to her, shaved head and tattooed neck like a couple of big rocks sitting on his shoulders, which are working slightly. What’s he doing? She can’t see. She can feel him listening to her breathe, the rows of shelves stretching past him in the dark…

Want to start from the beginning? Just hit the ARCHIVES page for easy links.

On a Roll

MonkeyTwo chapters in one week, I guess that qualifies as a roll. Man, fiction is saving my life right now.

Chapter Four introduces Max’s legally insane mother, as well as Cornelius Ito, the male nurse with the impossible face, and the eerie Tall Man…

His face does something to Max. It’s the kind of face you want to study in private, even though you can tell in a split second that a week of studying still won’t get you the answer. A face greater than the sum of its parts: the pure icy greenness of his eyes, for example, the shape of which put the word “almond” to shame. They haven’t even invented the particular nut that could describe them…

Chapter Three Posted

MonkeyIn which Clarence, Max’s father, is introduced in all of his eerie inappropriate-ness, as well as Queso the lab monkey!

“Queso, it’s Max,” she says. The monkey turns his head a half inch to the right. Max tugs at the door but the secure keypad holds its lock.

Boris takes her elbow and guides her away. “Subject 17 has been resistant.”

“Resistant to what?”

Boris says nothing, swiping his card again and leading her through three or four more Peppy Step laboratories – she loses count – until they come to the office at the dead end, where a man with black thinning hair and sensible slacks stands with his back to them, absolutely motionless, peering at an X-ray on a high-definition monitor. The X-ray appears to be of a stomach with something dark and bristly lodged within.

Read all of the first three chapters at SUICIDE SKIN.

Chapter Two Posted

MonkeyChapter Two of my alien invasion thriller, SUICIDE SKIN, now posted online for your entertainment:

Max sucks air into her lungs, face-down on the train platform with a big-ass BART cop pressing his weight on her shuddering body. “Calm down, Miss!” he yells into her ear. Smells like he’s had Taco Bell. “Calm down!’

Stories @ Folsom Street

CAPD-indexI know what you’re thinking.

“A reading? In a bookstore? Will David Sedaris be there? No? Um, well, you see, I have to clean out my lint trap that day. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but this is International Masturbation Month, and ‘clean my lint trap’ is a euphemism! Ha ha!”

I will not hold a gun to your head. I won’t read in a sing-song, wear a beret, or force you to buy six books of poetry at the cash register.

I’ll read an excerpt of my memoir that’s going to be published in the very first issue of California Prose Directory. Some very good writers will read a few stories. That’s it. I promise the pain will be minimal, and it will end at a decent hour, giving you plenty of time to celebrate the month in the manner of your choosing.

That is all.

Sunday, May 19th, 5 pm

Alleycat Books

3036 24th St (between Folsom and Harrison)

 

Chapter One Posted

MonkeyChapter One of my online novel Suicide Skin is now posted. It’s a thriller about a girl, a monkey, and an alien invasion.

“She blinks, and finds herself holding a miniature blow torch, staring into the corner of the room above her brother’s garage, where she’s lived for the past 263 days…”

The Six-Hundred and Eighty-Four Cents (After Taxes) Bionic Man

6MillionDollarManSpent the morning plugged into a treadmill at Kaiser in an effort to find out why I haven’t been breathing like my old self. Electrodes and wires dangling everywhere. Have they made bionic lungs yet? Are they covered? Will people make fun of my now-patchy chest hair?

While not breathing, I started thinking about stress, which, you know, kind of defeats the purpose. Thinking about stress convinced me that I was suffering a heart attack on Saturday.

“Do you want me to take you to the ER?” asked the Fireplug.

I paused from checking my pulse for the seventh time and whispered, weakly, “Let’s finish this episode of Southland first.”

I crossed a sort of threshold over the weekend, where I stopped looking at stress as a modern badge of honor. I suppose not breathing will convince anyone to entertain the ludicrous idea of slowing down.

When anyone asks me what I’m going to write next, after this family memoir that’s swallowed nine years of my life, after PTSD and therapy and suicidal ideations, I joke that I want to write fiction so that I can just make shit up.

After I finished writing and posting A Story About a Very Bad Thing, my excitement for the idea of fiction began to build. Frankly I didn’t know if I had the correct amount of perspective anymore, after the batshit craziness of the past four months, to finish the memoir. And starting a new project might actually make finishing the first book easier, by redistributing some of the obligational weight.

I sat with the idea for a couple of weeks, to make sure it wasn’t just another compulsive distraction that I regularly cook up to keep me from dealing with Oh-God-My-Family-Is-So-Fucked.

And once I started thinking about the new book, and scribbling down some ideas, I realized that fiction would allow me to confront the batshit craziness, but in a metaphorical kind of way that felt liberating. And then, strangely enough, and for the first time in months, I started to actually feel better.

So starting tomorrow I’ll be posting the (nice and short) chapters from my new novel online. SUICIDE SKIN is a thriller about a girl, a monkey, and an alien invasion. My goal is to write a darkly engaging page-turner. Or screen-scroller. Or, well, you get my drift.

I should add that I’ve written exactly one chapter so far. It’s my goal to post as I write, a prospect that pretty much scares the living shit out of me, and so it kind of negates the whole liberation-from-stress angle. But maybe, if I can push past the need for polished perfection, I’ll get back to liberation. It’s supposed to be a thriller, after all.

As for posting it free online, well, why the hell not? Publishing is all kinds of fucked right now, I’m writing to save my life, and in the process I hope to entertain you.

The Remains of a Family

So what do you when your father, who molested you and your brother when you were both little boys, spends the last three years writing stories that promote incest to the internet, stories that attract thousands of fans and that he wants to share with you? What do you do next?

I mean, aside from therapy.

Yeah, I don’t really have a good answer for that one.

I can tell you that in the weeks following New Year’s Eve (when I found the stories) I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if my father was a psychopath. I didn’t come up with an answer there, either.

Then I started thinking about those common bits of wisdom, you know, like “blood is thicker than water,” or “everyone turns into their parents eventually.”  Sometimes, riding the train home through the tunnel, I’d look at my reflection in the darkened windows and catch sight of him looking back at me, through my own face.

I knew that there was something missing in him, something human, and because I’d felt myself grow cold and shut down as the years went by, I wondered how much of him was in me. But I’d like to think the coldness was a reaction against what he did, not some genetic bit of wiring guaranteed to short me out before I hit 50.

I’m not driven by the need to prosecute my father in a court of law. Maybe because I’ve already done the worst thing imaginable to him – I fucking told the internet everything. And though maybe I changed a few facts about him (not to protect him so much as to make it easier for me to “see” him, and write about him, with less of the obligational baggage I’d been carrying around), anyone who knows the two of us and who reads this thing, will now know what he did.

I’ve gone back over most of our correspondence in the past year and what I found was a man whose ultimate concern was not for his sons, but for himself. He was terrified of people knowing him for who he really was. So writing my 3-part-story shut something off between us. We can’t go back now. I haven’t heard from him, and I hope I never will.

I think a lot about the line between sanity and madness, where I spend most of my time now. And I wonder who gets to decide where that line goes.

What I’m left with is a tremendous sadness, which was never safe to feel, growing up in a family where me and my brother were never wanted, by either parent. Where we couldn’t trust either of them.

My parental figures are gone. My brother and I are trying to figure out how to trust each other. And I know I’ll keep writing, to keep myself a couple of inches this side of madness, and ’cause I hope this fucked-up story will be of use to someone else.

A Story About a Very Bad Thing (Part 3 of 3)

Dead-Space-3-Isaac-Floating2

(Part 1) (Part 2)

The little boy stayed up too late one night in front of the TV, transfixed by a movie about pod people –  emotionless replicants taking over the planet. Humans could only escape detection by walking around, stiff and flat and drained of emotion. This terrified the boy, who’d always been one big ball of emotion – sensitive, they said. Thin-skinned. How could one survive a world stripped of feeling? Where the hint of emotion made you a target? Where someone you loved could be replaced by an alien hostile to love or tears? Every night for the next month, and for years afterward, he had nightmares about replicants coming for him.

***

The man now leaves the train, his entire body shuddering from feelings he can neither name nor control, and the center he’s trying so hard to maintain breaks open as he drifts up San Jose Avenue, and noises come out of him, animal, primitive sounds of a very old pain.

In the safety of his house his dogs, alarmed by his noises, climb all over him, pushing him to the ground, where they lick the hot, stupid tears from his face.

* * *

The next night he and his husband drive to their regular 12-step meeting. The man sits hunched over in a metal folding chair in the back row, silent, a dull, brutish anger pulsing within him. It moves through him like a virus, infecting every organ, every nerve ending, every cell. The meeting is meant to keep him steady and sober and true, but he’s no longer there. He’s infected with a rage, and to protect his husband and the friends around them, he leaves his metal folding chair and tries to cool his flat, hot skin outside, in a courtyard, sitting in the dark on a bench.

He feels the full deep sickness of his family. He comes from sickness, and he sits, sick, in the church courtyard, scared of himself. He needs to throw a punch.

The man pulls out his phone and texts Hank the Blank.

I read your stories. Fathers and sons having sex?? Barbers?? Why the fuck would you think that I would want to read that shit? You are not human. You are the most selfish man I have ever known. You are sick. You will never be my father. We’re done. I am through keeping your secrets. I am through paying the price for your actions.

He hits “send,” and feels the rage within him dim, leaving him heavy and sad and cold on the bench. His husband finds him and together they drive home.

The next day on the train after work he reads the email his father has sent him:

1.  I accept the fact that my stories are not your cup of tea, but they have been widely praised by thousands of readers in the past three years, including many well-educated, well-adjusted people whom I’ve come to know and admire, including other more experienced writers.  Far less than 1% of the feedback I’ve gotten has been negative, and certainly none as vicious as yours.  It was uncalled for.

 2.  They are fiction.  In 12 stories there is only one instance of actual father-son sex, which I don’t endorse and which had nothing remotely to do with you.  Even famous authors write about things they would never personally engage in (murder comes to mind as one obvious example).

 3.  Yes, some of my earlier stories lacked maturity and the best of taste, but there’s long been a noticeable shift to ones that now focus on adult relationships, feelings, and upbeat endings.  Yes, there is sex, but sex is a normal human function.

 4.  I think you are a  first-class hypocrite for complaining about my little web stories, for which I get no compensation and write only for adults who choose to come to that site.  For years now you’ve been immersed in writing a non-fiction account about the foibles of the people who raised you and expecting someday to get money and adulation for it.  Maybe it was cathartic for you to write it, but it’s hurtful to many of those you have written about, including your mother who isn’t even around to agree to it or defend herself from your less-than-gracious portrayal of her.  And you have the nerve to call ME sick!  If you’re such a great writer (and you are), why don’t you write a novel instead and leave your family out of it?

 Your beef with me feels like something much bigger than my stories.  Talk to your counselor about it, but keep the above points in your mind when you do, because there are always two sides to any story.  Then I would ask that you take a few months to think it over before burning any bridges or inflicting unnecessary pain on anyone.  I can take anything you throw at me, but I’m not taking sole responsibility for this.  It takes two to make a relationship work, and I don’t think you’ve done your share.

Rage again possesses him. He flies off the train and up the hill, blowing through the front door like a bullet. His husband is there. The man calls Hank the Blank and puts him on speaker, because even now, with hundreds of miles between them, he fears his father, and right now, he fears himself even more.

And what comes out is a primal scream. He loses his mind. He screams the things the nine-year-old boy never could. He screams for every wasted year of his life, every twisted, balled-up feeling he shoved into every back corner of every internal organ.

The house rings with his screams. The dogs cower. He bawls, “Inward focused? Non-fiction? That was how I survived, you idiot. You made me that way. I’m your fucking Frankenstein.” The man is nine years old. He is 16. 28. He swings between demon and man.

“Stop screaming. You’re being irrational.”

“You’re a fucking psychopath.” The man has never, in his life, swore at his father.

“What do you want from me?” Hank says.

“I..I don’t…those stories…”

“They’re fiction. They’re fantasy.”

“THEY REALLY HAPPENED!”

“I wasn’t writing about you.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? A father and son naked in a fucking bathroom? You’re in so much fucking denial you don’t even know who the fuck you are!”

“I repeat, I wasn’t thinking about you…”

“I was your fucking son! You were supposed to fucking protect me!”

“…and the story about the barber – I wasn’t thinking about your husband -”

“Shut the fuck up!”

“I don’t know why you are so upset. The incident when you were nine years old. I didn’t plan it, it just happened. And it only took up an hour of your life.”

The man turns to his husband, who sits, crying quietly, on the couch beside him. “He doesn’t get it,” his husband says.

“What do you want from me?” Hank says.

“Nothing,” the man replies. “I don’t want anything from you.”

“Are you going to take this to a public forum?”

“Have a nice life,” the man says, then presses “End.” He sets his phone on the coffee table. Its screen is flecked with layers of dried spit. His clothes hang from him wetly. He’s hunched like a burned-out bulb.

“I’m so sorry,” his husband says.

***

Hank the Blank goes into damage control mode the next day, pulling his stories off the internet, and calling family members to corral their support. The man’s brother calls him that night. “I just talked to Hank. I’ve never told you this, but he did it to me, too.”

They talk long into the night.

***

The man searches and, after some trial and error, locates assistance. Once a week, after work, he sits on a couch in an office of a stranger, above Castro Street, staring at the Chagall print hanging on the opposite wall, and talks to this stranger. A figure in the Chagall floats near the top of the frame. Chagall liked floating figures.

The man tells the stranger that he feels like an astronaut. He tells him that his father, Hank the Blank, comes from another planet, and that the man feels at home neither here nor there. He’s floating, drifting, untethered, with a dwindling tank of air, hovering over a planet that talks about karaoke and Frappuccinos. He’s an alien.

The stranger calls the Minneapolis Police Department, and a detective there tells him that the statute of limitations has long passed, and there is nothing they can do about what happened to the man when he was nine years old.

The stranger asks the man if he believes that Hank is an immediate danger to anyone else. To other children?

“I don’t know,” the man says. “He’s a fucking replicant.”

After a few weeks the stranger has gained his trust.

I call him Ground Control.

I tell Ground Control that I don’t understand the things that are happening to me. I’m afraid all the time. I don’t trust anyone. I panic on BART. “I bought a knife,” I say. “For self-protection.”

“Your father is in Arizona.”

“I’m not scared of him,” I say. “But I ignored my gut and I trusted him, for the last ten years, and look what he did. If he could do that, what are strangers capable of?”

I’m terrified of Facebook, where psychopaths can more easily disguise themselves.

After work I return to the house I bought with Joe – I return to my haven. I close the bedroom door, shut the blinds, swallow my evening meds, and I lie in bed with the dogs breathing beside me. I watch Netflix streaming. I watch documentaries about soldiers coming home from Iraq. Soldiers hiding in their bedrooms with their guns cocked.

I am deeply fucked.

I find an online forum for men who endured childhoods like mine. I talk to other grown men whose lives have narrowed as they aged. Men who can no longer hold a job. Deeply fucked men. Some of them are all alone, in their houses, in their rooms. Talking, at least, to each other, typing on their keyboards and hitting “Send.”

Joe comes home and sees the closed blinds and says, “Bad day?”

I tell Joe that I know that I’m lucky to have him, that someday soon I hope to be a partner to him again.

In addition to the Ke$ha songs and the knife-wielding clowns filling my head, a courtroom trial runs there, and every day I flip between prosecution and defense, running down the list of evidence against my father, trying to determine if breaking off contact was the right thing. How will I feel when he’s on his death bed?

I don’t know why he wanted me to read those stories. Even if I wanted to ask him, I couldn’t trust his answer. I can’t trust that he knows even his clearest motives.

I think about fiction, and fantasy, and memoir, and how Hank and I’d hurt each other with our stories. Hank the Blank had feared my nonfiction, for good reason, and Hank’s fiction had been anything but, at least to me. I try to inch down the hall of mirrors, puzzling over fiction and nonfiction, but my head quickly grows weary and confused.

They have power, don’t they? Stories still have power.

The truth has a current, and I’ve spent eight years and nineteen drafts rowing upstream. I wrote a book that was lighter than the truth, wanting something madcap and funny, wanting to entertain with a story about a Modern Family full of same-sex love. I’d set out to write the truth, but I’d left out one crucial bit, to protect Hank, ending up with a book that I couldn’t, in good conscience, release into the world. I’d written the wrong book, and it had nearly killed me.

Eight years and nineteen drafts later, I give up. I throw my paddle into the water and let this boat drift with the current.

Fuck it, I say. I’ll write a book about a deeply fucked family –  to give comfort to the deeply fucked reader.

(Part 1) (Part 2)

A Story About a Very Bad Thing (Part 2 of 3)

PTown1

(Part 1) (Part 3)

A few days after his visit to the emergency room, the man and his husband decide to go through with their honeymoon plans, and they spend a week in a small, popular seaside town on the East Coast.

The man’s hoping the trip will distract him from the 3-week wait for his first psychiatric appointment at Kaiser, but by the second day, he and his husband are counting the minutes till home. It rains every day, which the man doesn’t mind, because he can’t leave the cottage for more than a few minutes at a time. He finds the town, even now in the off-season, claustrophobic. The glut of tourists exists solely to scrape his skin down to the bone, and the shops and the restaurants are gaudy and noisy and he returns to the cottage with snatches of songs stuck in his head, so that for the next 24 hours, every waking moment features a running loop of Ke$ha:

Ain’t got a care in the world but got plenty of beer…

“My brain is eating itself,” he tells his husband. He offers this in a quiet monotone, the most words he’s mustered all day. He’s grown thick-headed and stupid, his voice trailing off as he searches for common words, so that what actually comes out is, “My brain is eating…” Eating what? What was that word?  Over the past year his head has felt like an abandoned carnival taken over by knife-wielding clowns.

Ain’t got no money in my pocket but I’m already here!

His husband grows restless in the cottage and decides to brave the rain for an hour or two. The cottage is charming and adorable, an A-frame with skylights and exposed rafters just a few feet from the beach. Every time he shuts the door behind him, the husband hopes he won’t come back to find the man hanging from the rafters.

The man has the same thought when he looks up at the rafters, though he and his husband don’t discuss it at the time. The man thinks about one of his favorite writers, who ended his life in that exact way just a few years before. The man has brought that writer’s biography with him on the trip, a gesture that even he, in his present state, admits might seem foolish.

Ptown2But for a few days the man is able to read about the writer’s life-long struggle with an illness the writer called the Bad Thing, a name that acknowledges the impossibility of articulating its utter horrors. When he reads the writer’s biography, the man feels a little less alone in his insanity, though the end of the book is, of course, devastating, and reminds the man of the handful of times over the course of his life that he’s been this close to the Bad Thing.

The Bad Thing – accompanied all day by Ke$ha – tells him that his husband would be better off without him. His husband could mourn a little, then find himself a sane and confident new companion, preferably one with a well-paying job that includes dental and maybe even vision. His husband has told him that he couldn’t go on without him, and though the man doesn’t believe this, he acknowledges to himself that the Bad Thing can’t be trusted. So he turns on Playstation 3, which quiets Ke$ha, and allows him to make objective progress, racking up experience points as he rids a distant planet of evil.

* * *

A few weeks later, now more thoroughly medicated, the man feels the fog clearing. Every day he goes to work behind a capable facade, and having barely escaped death, he grows irritated with the Bad Thing, which has dogged him for so many years, and which has nearly cost his husband some happiness. The man is eager now to eradicate the Bad Thing, to dig out its roots, pile it up, and set the whole thing on fire.

The man keeps thinking about his father.

How can he describe to you his father? If his mother – dead now ten years – had been more than the sum of her parts, his father was less. How can he describe him? Take a man – now subtract something. That was his father. That was Hank.

Hank is a retired IRS auditor, living now in the Arizona desert with his gay lover. The man has always described Hank as the most practical person he’s ever met.  The man’s brother often has a better way with words:

“He’s got the personality of a calculator.”

Hank the Blank, the man called him privately, the blankness not only a reference to his father’s flat personality, but to the void that the man feels within himself whenever he sees him.

The man has never in his 42 years reconciled in any sustainable way the things Hank the Blank had done to him when he was still a boy. Ten years ago he’d made a veiled reference to it on his brand-new blog, which Hank the Blank found quite easily a few months later. Hank the Blank had fired off an email from his computer at the Internal Revenue Service in Washington, D.C., demanding to know just what the man meant by the veiled reference.

“Okay,” the man thought, “Let’s do this.” In clear language the man set down, in his reply, a detailed account of his memories.

Hank the Blank wrote back: “I’d like to continue this discussion from my personal email account at home.”

Over the next several days, in a dozen emails, they discussed what Hank the Blank had done to him. And after the man had backed Hank the Blank into a kind of virtual corner, his father kind of, sort of, apologized.

The man, a member of both contemporary culture and a 12-step alcohol/drug recovery program, felt enormous pressure to cave into prevailing and conventional notions of forgiveness. The man felt that he could not be a good, spiritual, evolved person unless he forgave Hank the Blank. So he did. Or rather, he thought he did. And for the sake of their improving relationship, the man ignored a great many things inside himself, such as the overwhelming urge to punch his father in the face every time he saw him.

* * *

And now, ten years later and more heavily medicated, the man keeps thinking about the last time he saw Hank the Blank, when Hank had told him that he’d spent some time following his recent retirement from the IRS (30 years, of course, with full pension) writing stories and posting them on the Internet, and that these stories had garnered Hank the Blank thousands of fans, who wrote him tens of thousands of emails full of praise. Hank the Blank told his son that he’d like to share these stories with him now, adding that the stories were posted on an erotic stories website, but that, “They were really about the emotional connections between the characters.”

Despite this emphasis on the emotional connection between the characters, Hank the Blank could see a kind of reluctance on his son’s face, and despite the fact that he’d always been rather creepy and clueless when it came to proper notions of sex and family, appeared now to hesitate, questioning – maybe – the wisdom of sharing erotic stories with his grown son.

“Perhaps another time,” said Hank.

The son, who’d been fighting the urge to punch his father and flee the state of Arizona for good, exhaled for the first time in ten minutes, and nodded his head in a show of compassionate understanding.

* * *

But during his most recent Battle of the Bad Thing, the man had dropped out of contact with everyone, including Hank the Blank. And Hank had begun to send him worried emails from a new account, the one he used to post the erotic stories to the Internet, the one he used to correspond with his thousands of fans. “You can write me here,” Hank the Blank assured him, in case there was something the man needed to say to him alone, something that Hank’s gay lover wouldn’t read.

Which meant that the man now has everything he needs to find the stories himself, which he knows he probably shouldn’t do, and yet which he can’t help but doing, one evening at work, after everyone has gone home for the day. And after a 6-second search on Google, the man finds what he’s looking for.

For the past three years, Hank the Blank has been writing dozens of stories for his thousands of fans, and the man begins to click and scroll through each one. The stories are all about incest. Father/son, uncle/nephew, brother/brother. Each story with a dozen or more chapters. Stories in which the boys are all eager participants in their own “awakenings.” Stories where a tender coming-out talk between father and son morphs, two pages later, into a steamy encounter in the shower. Stories that mirror what Hank the Blank had done to him. There are stories about a barber. There are stories about a character with the man’s own name, a character described as a “hot, hunky stud.”

Ain’t got a care in the world, but got plenty of beer…

The trembling begins in his head.  He shuts down the computer and drifts through the building and out onto the streets of downtown San Francisco, amid the rush of commuters, seeing everything around him in a great blur of color and noise, heightened and unreal, as if he were encased in a game on a distant planet, everything just out of reach. He is an astronaut, sucking down his last tank of oxygen as the aliens close in.

He makes his way to the train, and though he holds onto the handrail as tight as he can, willing his center to hold, his body betrays him, and the tremors now shake through every part of him, and the commuters around him begin to move away in fear.

(Part 1) (Part 3)