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It’s clear God is trying to tell me something. Last night I ran into M.A. again, this time at my dentist’s office. Twice in two nights, after five years of no contact.

“I’ve been thinking about it all day,” he said, “seeing you last night was exactly what I needed.”

Sigh. I feel like such a fuckwad. First off, gentle reader, I need to change his nickname. M.A. is unwarranted, and all it does is illustrate my stupidity. Granted, it’s stupidity from the past, but even mentioning it in my post yesterday left me with a disturbing case of buyer’s remorse (a feeling I experience more often than you might guess.)

So I’m presented with an opportunity for self-growth. Vomit all you want, the writing’s on the wall. I must face my insecurities and throw them off a cliff. Or let them go, or whatever euphemism for throttling their bratty little necks you prefer.

There’s a common sentiment expressed in AA meetings that it is through helping others we lose our worries. And I need to get way lost.

Oscar Wilde once said; “It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco.” (and Billy Graham said “The Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I’m here, ” a feeling we wish he honored more often.) Nobody visited me in Minneapolis, but the longer I live in San Francisco, the more people I see from my past. Such is life in a destination city.

The first time I got sober, I was nineteen and still living in Minneapolis. There was a guy who got sober about the same time I did. People used to say we looked like brothers, but I often felt like the ugly sister in his company. Guys loved him. Hell- girls did, too. Though we both worked out, his body just took to it in a way that mine never did. It seemed overnight that his muscles grew; a speed so disheartening to me; the eternal skinny boy. He was truly stunning. Eventually he met a man equally good-looking and they became the unofficial Beautiful Couple of Minneapolis. They were whisked off on one of those gay cruise ships to be photographed frolicking in the surf, kissing in the pool, laughing over dinner on the Acapulco Deck. It was impossible to open a gay rag and not see pictures of them splashed all over the ad pages.

I developed a slight jealousy problem. Because his boyfriend was an economics professor, I nicknamed my friend “Mary Anne” behind his back (as in “The Professor and Mary Anne” of the 3-hour tour fame). I had some insecurities. But I was also human. After one hundred men asked me about my friend, the one hundred and first had his head ripped off. Metaphorically, of course. It became easier to spend less time with M.A., especially as he became lost in the first throes of a perfect romance. The jealousy never sat well with me (does it ever?)

That was when a certain segment of the gay population held an allure for me; a segment that was pretty and shallow and seductive despite its shallowness, maybe even because of its shallowness. The Beautiful and the Buff; an exclusive club tantalizingly out of my reach. M.A.’s membership was a given, and through him I saw doors open that for me had always seemed shut and locked. I saw rooms of men shift chemically at his entrance; I saw his modest awareness of his beauty, and the modesty made it worse; harder to like him, harder to hate him. Yes, the club too closely resembled popular high school cliques. Yes, I disdained it. But I desired it more. This is the club that we think of as mainstream, when really it’s only a sliver of our population; a sliver photographed far more than its fair share. I wanted membership. If only, I told myself, so that I could revoke it. Torn between pretty and punk, I became neither.

Eventually I met the man who would become my Ex, and we moved to San Francisco. When my mom got sick and I moved back to Minneapolis for a few months, I ran into the Professor. He told me that M.A. had fallen spectacularly off the wagon, ran off to a treatment center in Dallas, and then vanished into the city without a trace, leaving the Professor alone and confused. That was five years ago, and the last I had heard about M.A. I’ve thought about him frequently, wondering what became of him, feeling my bitterness wither and die.

Last night I looked around the fluorescent-lit AA meeting and spotted, under a flannel shirt and baseball cap, my Mary Anne sitting alone in the back, no longer buff but still cute and uncertain. Turns out he came to San Francisco last month to visit a friend who then got him admitted to a treatment program where he’s been ever since. Things do change. “Look how big you’ve gotten!” he cried, pinching my cheek. Serendipity is more than a John Cusack movie.

It certainly felt like something came full-circle last night, just in time to test me or teach me a lesson. Which is silly, because it’s not all about me. But still. Residing within me is a creature that I think of as my Inner Child’s Evil Twin Sister. It demands total attention from men. It whines and wheedles and pouts if someone gets more than me. Granted, I’ve made enormous progress in exorcising this Demon Child. I don’t want everyone’s attention, and I don’t want a club membership; just some good friends and maybe a hunky man with a good heart somewhere down the line. But I felt her stir and kick when I saw Mary Anne, like an angry little fetus, like the ghost pain of an amputated leg. I may never be completely rid of her, but I’m getting better at seeing her for what she is; a whiny brat who needs to go to her room.


Put on New Order. No, Substance, please. Yes. Those first few notes picked out on the guitar and it feels like you should be able to go back, but you can’t. What was I? Nineteen? You made us espresso, then a luxury, from an angular percolator, and you covered your dormitory walls with pictures ripped from magazines; beautiful, half-naked people, all. Naked men were newer then, and I would lay on your futon on the floor, gazing up at them, all the people we were going to be. I ate up everything gay in that shitty little town; the bars and the books and the boys dipping their big toe, testing the waters. What was that title? Oh yeah, “Everybody Loves You.” I couldn’t wait to leave.

We made mixed tapes and held parties in the dark under the giant palms and the stars. All those flower children. Remember? I could have cried when everyone got up and danced to Madonna. We were, briefly, all together, free from arrogance and cynicism and moving to a silly, contagious song; everyone smiling and barefoot, holding beers and spinning. They cheered at the end. I was known for my parties.

Warm nights the temperature of our blood; heat lightning across the gulf. We’d sit on the dock and stir the water with sticks; the phosphorescent plankton swirling like constellations underneath. One heron stood still, scanning for fish. You never knew; I’d disappear and hide down there; wanting him to look for me, but he never did. He only loved you. I wish I could tell you I never do that anymore.

My supposed former infatuation fiancé spent the weekend engaging in New York debauchery with other bloggers and drunken co-dependents. We haven’t had that talk about…er…boundaries, so I shouldn’t complain. And yet. I’m afraid to ask if the shine is fading.

I have been the most absurd gimp lately. Remember when I told you that retail therapy doesn’t work? Well, it goes further. It’s actually harmful to your health. Granted, I never should have worn a new pair of boots to work all day. I should have broken them in gradually; an hour or two here, a dinner out there. But no, I left the house and midway on my walk to work I realized I had made a really bad decision. Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch. Now my Achilles tendon is sore and every pair of shoes I own rub it the wrong way. Limp, limp, limp. No gym, no running, no pounding the sidewalk looking for a new apartment. And Louie, slow down already; your daddy is hopelessly pathetic.

Really, though, this retail injury only serves to highlight the issue that I stumbled upon round about 4 a.m this morning. Tossing and turning, I gave up and logged on, drifting from link to link and realizing, comparatively, that I don’t have enough fun. I need more corporeal satisfaction and bliss. I have been far too cerebral and grief-stricken, and the physical specimen that is dogpoet has been missing out. Really, it all ties together. A drought of sex, the disruption of my gym routine, a sense of uneasiness about the self I project. I haven’t shown other white people how to dance in over a year and a half. What I mean to say is, my body needs some attention. From me, mainly, then others as they see fit. I wake in the morning and hate all my clothes. I want to look the way I feel; I want to look like a human bullet. No more sensitive poet bullshit. I want to be a solid hunk of tattooed manhood. No more plaid boxy campshirts. No more oversized raingear. I want to look like walking sex, even at work. Especially at work. I want to be inappropriate and distracting. You can read my books later. Right now, just want me.

“I want to be the things I see-
give every face and place my name.
I cross the street, take a right-
Pick up the pace, pass a fight.
Did I grow up
Just to stay home?
I’m not immune-
I love this tune.”

I’m warning you now: navel-gazing therapeutic bullshit ahead. Click elsewhere if you can’t stand trainwrecks. With that said, I want to openly declare my present love for music, people, and writing who aren’t afraid to show their hearts. Cynicism will be the death of all art, unless there continue to be people who fight the good fight. More creators and less critics. Who would we be without the expression of honest emotion? A cog in the corporate wheel, another film critic, a consumer. All I want to do lately is read, write, listen to music, hike in the woods, and fuck. Yes, really.

“Despite what your high school English teacher may have told you, literature does not make us or our society better. To be seduced by fiction is to live at cross-purposes with most of the really important things in life. I’ve never entirely succumbed to a story without blowing off housework, neglecting social obligations and flubbing career-critical deadlines.”

“You Read Your Book and I’ll Read Mine”

I feel I am living at cross-purposes with most of the really important things in life. The irony being that they’re not important; the job, the bills, the social upkeep. I keep fantasizing about escape, which is really a fantasy about death, or a kind of death at least. Not the morbid kind; just the unrealistic.

My mind is in a strange little orbit lately. My first year of sobriety was basically about survival; getting clean, breaking up with the Ex, starting a new job, testing HIV-positive, watching my mother’s health deteriorate knowing there wouldn’t be a cure in time to save her. I kept holding on through it, held on through her death in February. I cried at her memorial, for the first time in months. Now it seems like grief is under a single layer of my skin; welling up after all my successful avoidance. I never felt my break-up; not really. It was a matter of details; finding a new apartment, packing, moving, AA meetings at night. I never shed a tear over him. I didn’t think about him. Sometimes I would marvel over the sheer absence of drama. He’d come over to get the dog and stand too close and smile that let’s-fuck smile and I couldn’t care less, couldn’t want him less. Now it feels more like a dead clump of cells in my heart. Me; the guy who tattooed a heart on his sleeve.

Attended a dinner party for the man whose dog I watched last week. His boyfriend made faralitos and placed them all around the backyard and we sat out on the patio in the cool night until long after dark, the lights glowing around us. A couple of otherwriters attended, and the conversation was easy and fun. Louie sat near the closest hand of food at all times.

My friend was plugging the Campfire, so if any of the dinner guests are reading this, welcome. I made a remark that night, which is true, that I am grateful to be writing again. So grateful I could cry. If you were to stand near me for long enough, you’d most likely end up drenched.

Oh, hell. Others say it better:

“Seriously, Tommy, yeah. I believe that love is immortal.”
“How is love immortal?”
“I don’t know, perhaps because life creates something that was not there before.”
“What, like procreation?”
“Yeah, but not only…”
“What? Like recreation!”
“Stop! You come in here crying and you want to recreate with me!” (pause) “Maybe just…creation.”

 think I will install a blood sugar tracker on my computer. If I try to write without eating anything that day, it will lock up and tell me to get a Clif bar. I’m certainly melancholic enough. I’d like to retain my audience, rather than lose you to hopelessness and despair. You can get plenty of that elsewhere. You could read about, say, oil drilling in Alaska.

Behind the building where I work they’ve thrown up a brand-spanking new Best Buy. Along the outer walls of the green and purple structure are various light windows with multiculturally-correct displays of beaming consumers holding PDA’s, video cameras, and joysticks. Their smiles betray the truth I’ve gradually uncovered; you can’t buy happiness. No, really. You can’t. This may come as a shock to many of you, but I feel that it is my duty to act as a consumer watchdog and to Tell the Truth. In my recent shopping expeditions (done as research, to serve your interests) I’ve realized that despite massive capitalist efforts, retail therapy does not actually work. Rather than inner peace and satisfaction, you’re left instead with ambivalent gifts and a smaller checking balance.

If the unexamined life is not worth living, the examined life is simply a tragic loss of denial. Oh sweet slumber, what a blessing it would be to never wake up. Imagine it. I could walk through life comfortable in my skin. I could buy lots of stuff and put it in the back of my Chevy Tahoe. I could work for the Gap, live in the Marina, find satisfaction in catalogues, and regard Abercrombie and Fitch models as rilly hot. Ok, that was cheap. Sorry.

Over the weekend someone tacked a cartoon over my computer; one man saying to another, “I’m not a dog person. I’m just a guy with a dog.” That it’s such an accurate depiction of my current moods shows that my internal ennui is showing through the cracks. I watch myself withholding affection from Louie some days; he beseeches me to snap out of it.

Bearbait and a mutual friend (who shall remain nameless) spent time together hanging out in the Castro yesterday. The friend, however, was so busy chasing boys that Bearbait felt ignored. This friend is very attractive, to many men, and he reels them in effortlessly (at least, from my perspective). Bearbait walked away when the friend ran across the street to introduce himself to yet another boy. A rush of sympathetic indignation rose up within me when Bearbait told me the story. It’s so easy to see other people’s desperate attempts to fill the void we all carry. Yet in his actions I stood reflected; distorted perhaps, but there nonetheless. I also saw my jealousy of the attention he commands, though if pressed I wouldn’t trade it for my meager share. For it’s mine.

During my mother’s illness I put happiness on hold. The waiting was the worst. Now she’s gone, and I’m still waiting. For a new apartment, a car, a relationship with Ski, a different job, a different body. I can get satisfaction, I just need to change perspective. I can’t afford to keep shopping.

Against Roles

I believe it was Buddha who said, “The mind is a hummingbird on crack.” But I might be wrong. I pondered this while sitting on the floor, my back against the wood-paneled wall of a large cabin in the woods near the Russian River, the room full of other recovering alcoholics and drug addicts; the sum of us closing our eyes in silence, focusing our attention on our breathing.

At least, that was the goal. My attention, however, wavered from the ache of my lower back to the bright sun and hills outside the window. I peeked and saw in the distance several hawks circling over a lush, green meadow. I focused my attention again, urging it to follow the hawks’ graceful, easy circles. It skittered instead out of reach and flew over to my friend Ski who sat next to me, and my eyes scanned his face, taking for a moment a snapshot of the soft, boy-like expression that appeared when his eyes closed.

I am his friend, but this is not enough. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I also tell myself that friendship itself is a beautiful gift, one to be grateful for, but then my mind pictures him naked, which I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to do with friends. At least, not very often. It wasn’t my intention to share a tiny room with him in the lodge up here for the weekend, but after my original roommate backed out, Ski asked me to stay with him. Because I am his friend, I said yes.

The room is small and cool, shaded by trees, furnished with two twin beds separated by a low nightstand. It’s the stage for my Oscar-nominated performance this weekend as Friend. I wear the appropriately neutral face, look away often, offer jokes and platonic backslaps. But I’m the understudy, the Wisecracking Friend who dreams of playing the Lover. As Ski pores over his Anatomy textbook, I type away like an artist rendering a sketch, glancing up to note his posture, the shadows across his face. Your typing sounds like bugs hitting the windshield of a car on the highway, he says.


Unpredictable rages swept through my childhood home, taking hold of my brother and I, shaking us about and tossing us down. Kids are smart, and they’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. Being Really Good staved off some of the anger, kept me floating below radar. I became the Favorite Student, the Quiet Son, the Avoider of Confrontation.

I carried these roles into adulthood and incorporated others into my repertoire; offering up the Competent Co-worker, the Compassionate Friend, the Sensitive Poet. I have been nothing if not Earnest. I rarely rock the boat.


Friend and Lover sit uneasily together during a group meeting where Ski and I are sunk in a low couch near the fireplace. People around us describe out loud their challenges and joys. Ski kneads the back of my head after I have worked on a kink in his neck. My eyes close at the sensation. The group facilitator suggests an exercise; write out on paper your ideal lover; what he looks like, what he’s wearing, where you meet, where you make love, what you do in that moment of heat together. The mind flies again to the man at my side, wondering what he would write. Later, a friend approaches me. He had watched Ski and I together on the couch, and says “When did you two become lovers?”


Friend is becoming claustrophobic. I lace up my shoes and go for a run on the trails that wind through the woods. Sadness wants to take me now that I am alone, but I keep crossing paths with groups of Outward Bound hikers, and so I put on the Runner Who Looks Like He Knows Where He’s Going. Each time I attempt to lose them, I come across another group. It’s the middle of the woods and I’m never alone.

I’m tired of roles, of the disparate splintering of myself. Who are you when you’re alone? Isn’t that the question to be asking? I’d like to walk through life with one personality, an integrated whole.


After dinner I duck into the small, dark chapel that stands alone off the trail. A single candle flickers on the altar; the room smells of vanilla and dust. I sit in a pew near the front, closing my eyes and focusing my attention on my breath. Instead I think of the small chapel in Minneapolis where I’d take my mother early on Sunday mornings after her diagnosis. Her partner stayed home. “God is not my favorite person right now,” she’d say. My mom grew frail and her body withered under the ALS; I would put my arm around her tiny shoulders when she’d cry. The hymns made her cry, and the communion made her cry. She cried when people greeted her. “You’re a good son,” they’d tell me.

In the chapel I open my eyes and the darkness has abated somewhat, now that I’ve sat here for awhile. Outside I hear laughter as people leave dinner together.


Down the trail, in another cabin, my friend Jake is shooting speed, alone. I remember my own dark, small days with drugs. Before 12-step retreats and before Ski; before Friend or Lover was even a choice. I imagine Jake sitting on the edge of his bed while people walk down the hallway outside his room. He will not join them because they carry something beyond his reach. He hears, like I do, their laughter.


The muscles that controlled my mother’s speech failed within six months of her diagnosis. Unlike most people with ALS, she also developed dementia. The person who was my mother became someone else; someone who needed care, someone quiet, someone who could no longer hear my problems without becoming agitated. She remained sweet and generous, however, and at restaurants she’d insist on picking up the tab.

She did not offer the wise advice we expect of the dying. But if she had, I’d like to think she would have told me to stop putting off the important things; that time is a brief and rare gift. She died shortly after her fifty-fifth birthday.


The mind wants to solve; it lingers over the heart for awhile, pokes and prods, whispers encouragement. Eventually it gives up and moves on to other things. The heart lags behind. Can we choose which of the two we follow, if they both reside within us? Don’t we follow both?

As long as other people roam the earth, we will wear roles. The Competent Professional, the Distant Lover, the Betrayed Sister. Someone will walk into the room and we will shift slightly or completely, we will turn to them a different face than the one we wear when alone, and we will do it every time.


Over the weekend three different people ask if Ski and I are boyfriends. I hesitate each time, as if there was an answer besides “no”. I want to tell them the truth, I want to take a poll, I want to be told what to do.

A retreat. What a lousy word. I am no further away from my problems than before. My mind flits this way and that; every thirty seconds I’ve made a different decision. My mother’s voice urges me on, but then I realize it’s only my own voice trying hers on, thinking it can convince me if disguised. But I will probably wait, like I do, till the heart’s ready to move. As if I had a choice.

Special Appendix for Campfire Readers Only

In the car on the way home, I play him CD’s and think how to word it.
“I’m going crazy here.”
“You know, I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, but…”
“Would you believe that three people asked me if we were boyfriends this weekend?”
I say none of these and point to cows instead. Later, at great risk, I test him by pulling out Hedwig.
“Put that in,” he says, “I love that.”
He even has favorite songs, and we sing along, each of us looking in different directions. For a moment I look down at his forearm next to mine, and I imagine taking his hand, squeezing his knee, doing something besides nothing.

Nearing my house, my favorite song, “Wicked Little Town” (as sung by Hedwig) comes on and, unprompted, he reaches over and turns up the volume.

And if you’ve got no other choice,
you know you can follow my voice
through the dark turns and noise
of this wicked little town

Surely I am too sentimental, surely I am an exasperating case of inertia. You’re right, of course. Be the voice of reason, and tell me to act. I’ll be your doomed poet, your freak, your star-crossed lover.

Sometimes God is like the less glamorous sister in my life; other companions and interests shine brightly and get me to play, while I ignore her quiet steadiness and loyalty. Then the others drive me crazy and I run back to her, and she holds my hand and never complains that I’m fickle. People dress her up in ill-fitting outfits and make her dance, but it’s never her who’s dancing. I don’t sew dresses for her because I could never guess her size, and I’m too shy to ask.


I frequently get an overwhelming urge to contradict everything I’ve just written in a post; take it all back, position myself at the polar opposite viewpoint, deny everything. If it’s a medical condition, I don’t know the name of it yet. So far I’ve resisted the urges and let the posts live.

This morning on my way to work, I walked by a couple lying between two parked cars, the man receiving a blowjob. I’m growing tired of my neighborhood. People seem to view the Mission as a good dumping grounds for all sorts of things they’re too lazy to get rid of the proper way; empty propane tanks and car batteries; ripped-up sofas, miles of cardboard boxes and open garbage bags spilling out contents nobody would want. There’s so much crappy stuff in the world; who keeps making ugly knick-knacks, and who keeps buying them? A forest of newspapers blown apart and spinning in the air. If it’s middle-class of me to want to live in a neighborhood with cute houses, trees, and a park or two, sue me.

Mom’s been gone three months today. I suppose the first of each month will feel like this. All the clichés hold true; I can’t believe she’s gone, I can’t believe it’s been three months already, life just keeps going. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t think of her more often, or that there’s not enough room to fit her memory in somewhere. As if that’s all that’s left. The essence of life is change; to hold onto something too tightly is to risk damage. Acknowledge it and release it, let it slide where it should.