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Since I’m housesitting for the Tattooed Monk, whose cat has never met a dog, I thought it best to leave Louie with the Ex for the weekend. Because I also get to drive the Monk’s car while he’s gone, I was able to bring the Loumeister over to the Ex’s apartment, our old place, which I had not seen since I moved out over a year ago. I was ready to see Tex, our/his cat whom I had originally adopted from the shelter a few years back. To say I felt bad leaving him after the divorce is a bit of an understatement. But looking for a new place at the time meant one pet only, and so Louie came with me and Tex stayed with the Ex. Hey, that rhymed.

Coming on the heels of the Ex’s recent revelation that he’s been seeing someone for the last seven months, my visit was more than mildly anxious. He had new furniture, new art on the walls, a new computer, new photos. I surreptitiously scanned all the photos, looking for the new boy’s face. I saw no unfamiliar faces, and I did not see myself.

So I sat with him and Lou and Tex, who didn’t seem to be holding a grudge, thankfully. I told the Ex I would most likely be living nearby soon, so he’d see me and the dog more often. A strange look crossed his face, he smiled self-consciously, and then just stared at me.

“What?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing,” he said.

I didn’t push it, but did ask about the boy, whom he apparently met near work on his lunch break. “So, seven months,” I said, “how do you feel about him? Is it serious?”

“Uhhhhhh, no, not really.”

“Are you in love?”

“Uhhhhhm. No. I don’t know.”

He sat there and just looked at me, and I awkwardly changed the subject. Then I said I should go, and he walked me to the door and I offered him a hug and when I went to give him a quick kiss good-bye his lips parted and he started to give me a real kiss, which I pulled out of and laughed and said, “Don’t.”

He turned red and apologized profusely and before I could leave pulled me back so he could apologize again. Another long awkward moment transpired, and then I walked out.

It hurts me to know that we are in two very different places regarding our relationship. It hurts me to imagine what he must have felt after I left. But probably not as much as it hurts him.


Okay, so it’s a done deal. Though I still feel like it’s suddenly going to be snatched out of my grip if I breathe a word. Bearbait says that’s because life’s kind of dicked me around a lot the last couple of years.

I found a place to live.

As soon as humanly possible I will be moving out of my Single White Female flat in the noisy Mission and in with my friend Schwing (don’t ask) who has a lovely place up by Buena Vista Park. For those of you who know Red Rock or the Randall Museum, the place is on Museum Way, the quiet little dead-end road that takes you down to the museum, just off Roosevelt Way. This has always been one of my most favorite neighborhoods in SF; full of parks and views and dogs and trees and quiet. Numerous parks for Louie, including one right across the street. Sweeping vistas of the city a short walk away.

Schwing’s apartment is on the side of a hill overlooking the Castro. It’s spread out over three floors; his bedroom on top, the living room/kitchen/dining room in the middle, and my (!) room on the lower, each with windows looking out on green trees and houses perched precariously on the hills undulating upwards towards Twin Peaks. My (!) room has its own bathroom, its own entrance, and has an outside set of stairs leading down to a wooden deck. And though I had been willing to pay $300 more a month just to find my own place, this place will actually be cheaper than what I currently pay. I can afford a car now, and there is always parking on the street.

Nose to the grindstone: post-trip reality blues and grays playing tug-of-war with each limb; pulling me in directions that I’d rather avoid yet are necessary now. New software transition at work; sitting in a dark room for hours and hours with too much coffee, missed meals, odd IT guys. Imagining every conceivable animal adoption/return/train/evaluate scenario, designing pull-down menus that contain the words we want. Is this item taxable/non-taxable and which of 500 account codes apply? Sigh.

Went into my barber’s shop and in his now-forever absence I sat in his co-worker’s chair and had my head buzzed by a former Mr. International Leather. I played tug with his pitbull, noticed the dying flowers at Paul’s station, his smile in a photo. Mr. IML said everyday brings in regular clients looking for Paul; several times a day he breaks the news.

I am starting another house-sitting gig tomorrow; a welcome break again from the tension here at home; I feel a superstitious reluctance to divulge here an ideal living situation that may be mine by week’s end; Louie and I meet with the landlord tomorrow. More to come.

Last week a reader wrote me an email expressing some exasperation over my junior-high school sentiments regarding Ski. I told him he was right, I have been acting like a moony adolescent girl, drawing elaborately detailed signatures of Ski’s name on the back page of my Social Studies notebook. It stung a bit to read his reaction, at least at first.

I don’t really know why I’ve kept my feelings for Ski under wraps when I’m in his company. Fear of rejection, sure, but it seems to be more than that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationships with others lately; the ties that bind. On Friday night I spent some time with a friend of mine and a group of guys he’s recently started hanging out with. My friend was originally trying to set me up with one of the guys, and though I heard he was smitten (it’s my boyish charm) he looked disturbingly like me, and really, I’m not my type.

But I’ve gone to see a couple of movies with my friend and the group, and I’ve decided that I don’t like them, and I don’t particularly like my friend when he’s with them. Maybe that’s unfair. Before the first movie, when we were waiting for everyone to show up, one of the other guys mentioned all the homeless in San Francisco, and said in all seriousness that he thought someone should pass out poisoned muffins to them all, and that would solve the problem.

Then, this weekend, one of them makes a comment about the race of the guy in the booth of the parking garage. Afterwards they’re driving me home, and I live in a neighborhood that makes some people uncomfortable. My friend has said he feels unsafe walking to my house. I think he’s a pussy. Anyway, we’re sitting in this huge, garish SUV at a red light when my friend, in the back, says “Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look,” and of course we all look and a car with a few latino guys pulls up next to us. They’re not even looking in our direction and one of the guys says something about migrant farmers and then my friend says “It must be strawberry-picking season.”

He’s a very loyal friend, very different from me in many respects; enormously extroverted, loud, flirtatious, boy-crazy (emphasis on crazy). When I’m in a quiet mood he annoys me. When we’re out in public he invariably draws as much attention to us as possible, both by his good looks and his loud jokes and laughter. I have fun with him.

But I’m pissed, questioning the very nature of friendship, of all my relationships. It’s not a matter of being politically correct; I think unapologetic racism is just plain ugly. I think joking about killing the homeless is ignorant and dangerous. I think any of this coming from priveleged, sheltered white gay boys is ridiculous and fucked-up.

And I don’t want to be around it. Maybe I’m naive, maybe my expectations for friends and lovers are too high, maybe I need to stop looking only for people whose insides are the same as mine. Maybe I can keep a real friendship with someone whose views differ from mine. It’s about seeing outlines; realizing where I end and someone else begins. I’ve blurred those lines, often. Am I really Ski’s friend, harboring what I do?

I’ve stayed pretty single this past year, trying to quietly train my eyes to see the lines, to know them by heart, to trace them accurately, even in the dark. It hasn’t exactly made me the most pro-active guy.

Last week at an AA meeting this woman was speaking, describing a conversation she had many years ago with a friend who told her “…maybe the reason you’re attracted to unavailable men is because you’re unavailable. Hello!



I got an email this week from my mom’s partner:

Michael, I have decided to travel this year.  Your Mom wanted me to, but I felt, I don’t know, not right about it.  But two friends have asked me to join them and a few others to go to Patagonia this Nov.  It is where your Mom and I had planned on going before she was diagnosed.  After much thought, I have decided to go.  It is a trekking trip and the folks going are great, though much younger than me.  Why don’t you join us? Please, think about it.
And, how are you doing?  Plans? Move? are you happy? (I’m not). 
This is all sooo hard isn’t it.  It comes up so unexpectedly and with such sorrow.  I know it is hard for you also.  We really lost a good woman, mother didn’t we., and her life was so short.  So undeserved.
well, I am kind of going on here.  Let me know how you are.  Think about joining me for some travel.  So many people ask about you, and I think of you all the time.

What, like I wouldn’t want to go to on a trek?


The guys who produced and directed a play I was in during the fall of 2001 edited the video footage they had of the show, and had the cast and crew over to see it on DVD yesterday. I have mixed feelings about my performance in the play; the role was, well, humongous, and it came at a particularly raw time in my life; very newly sober, worried about my mom, feeling way over my head. Someone who knows theater said I had more lines than Hamlet, and it took me till dress rehearsals to simply get the memorization done. I got mixed reviews, when previously I had always garnered praise. I continually felt the weight of the entire production on my shoulders, felt amateurish in the company of veteran actors. My voice didn’t quite hold up. I had a shirless scene that felt like a walking nightmare.

So it was with apprehension that I sat with the others to watch the past flicker before our eyes. And though there were many scenes I would do differently, though I’d work harder today, though I’d like to think I’d bring more life experience to any role, there were also some very nice moments. And it reminded me why I love acting; why the dream life for me would be to write during the day, and act in the theater at night. I stayed away from acting mainly due to my mother’s illness, wanting to be free to leave town suddenly. And I don’t enjoy acting just for the sake of acting; a bad play is torture both for audience and actor.

But I miss it; the long nights and the measly pay, the energy from an audience engaged, the deep pleasure of bringing another writer’s work of art to the stage. The opportunity to take on a more extroverted or devious personality, the challenge of pulling it off.

One of the other actors told me afterwards, “You’re depriving the world of your talents by not acting.”

That was kinda nice to hear.

Some of My Best Friends Have Sep Anx


5 a.m. The alarm. Eyes open in the dark, time to get up. My body resists, but then I think of my roommate, he of the inept social graces, he of the passive-aggressive note-leavings, he of the barking dogs and the Golden Girls on stereo, he who can shove his whiny petulant deadline up his ass, a place so dark and tight there’s a yellowing waiting list for admittance. I jump out of bed. This trip is right on time.

6:30 a.m. Two vans, four humans, and two sweet and troubled dogs pull into the Potrero Shopping Center lot for Peet’s. XL coffee and bagels from Noah’s. Marti manages to spill half her coffee down the leg of her white shorts. We watch as a bagel crumples up on itself in the toaster conveyer and catches on fire. We slip out into the cool morning, divvy up drivers, and toss bagel crumbs to the dogs as we head over the Bay Bridge.

7 a.m. Laurie listens as I recite the note from memory, offers solace and confirmation of my roommate’s emotional unbalance, as we both have the privelege of working with him several days a week. I vent it all; my instinctual, immediate dislike of him buried by my more pressing need of a place to live following my split from the Ex, his silence in the house, his bitchy, pious notes, his refusal to make eye contact with me at work (a ray of gratitude that he works in another department), his unannounced subletting when he takes a month-long road trip, his renting the third bedroom to a couple equally socially dysfunctional, his dog’s high-decible crying when left alone, his silence following my mother’s death, the inane Designing Women reruns he watches daily on the other side of my pocket doors, his refusal to acknowledge my presence when we see each other out around the city, his silence and avoidance and general air of queenly disgust that he carries with him like a blighted gift from God.

Why the hell did I do it for so long?

11 a.m. Boris the lab mutt is with us; he has severe separation anxiety and we’re hoping he’ll find a home out in Utah, or stay with the sanctuary for life. In exchange for him and Karma, a Rottweiler mix with stranger aggression, we will bring ten dogs back to San Francisco where we’ll find homes for them. Boris sits between us, rests his head on my forearm, and beseeches me with brown eyes. I smile, his tail wags, and he places both paws on my leg and begins to climb up into my lap while we’re doing 80. Laurie pulls him back, but not before his head nudges the gearshift, pushing us into neutral while I press the accelerator and wonder why we’re slowing down.

2 p.m. Central California gives way to Nevada desert. Boris pants.

4 p.m. We pull into an absurd casino amusement park truck stop an hour outside Vegas; a rollercoaster winds its way over an artificial lake, in which is reflected a 50-foot tall tiger promoting a magic show at the adjoining hotel. As I sip my Starbuck’s iced chai and pump the van full of Chevron, I watch in disbelief as a monorail train glides high over the lake, bound no doubt for the casino next door. As I tighten the gas cap a man walks by, his belly pushing out his t-shirt’s ageless question, “What part of NO don’t you understand?!?” Shoot me if I talk about “doing Vegas” sometime.

5 p.m. I have brought only four CD’s. Twelve hours on the road; you do the math. I turn the volume down on Rooty on it’s fourth rotation out of respect for Laurie, whose eyes are closed behind her sunglasses. Her head dips lower. I enjoy driving people when they sleep.

6 p.m. Traffic slows suddenly and we crawl in silence past a white SUV, resting on its roof in the middle of the two-lane highway, lit wildly by the flashing lights of an army of cop cars. Red dust on its doors.

7 p.m. We pull into the green valley of Kanab, motels and gift shops lining its sleepy streets. We gratefully check into the Shilo Inn, Boris and Karma rolling in the grass, tongues out, eyes soft.

10 p.m. After a nice big enchillada dinner we return to the motel and I unpack in my own room, Boris following me around. I sit in my underwear and flip on the television. Oh, good, Carrie‘s on.


We spent most of the day in a large covered shed, in the shade, evaluating dogs. We test them for food guarding, affiliation, and handling. We can bring ten dogs back, far less than the number they offer. I watch the testing and sit with the dogs waiting their turn; they all do well with the strange male affiliation. The strange male being me.

The sanctuary is spread out over 3000 acres in Angel Canyon; a beautiful area carved from red cliffs. Kanab Creek flows through the valley, lined with lush green trees. The air is hot and dry; a world apart from San Francisco.

I sit with a santuary employee at lunch. 600 animals. They’re always looking for help. Few people want to live out here in the middle of nowhere. “You have to have what you want to live out here,” she says. I consider a life out here in the sun and the red cliffs, spending my days with abandoned dogs. I can’t say it’s what I really want. I still love my city.

Walking the sandy paths among the dog runs I find myself worried for my writing; it’s been tough lately, and what I produce seems plain and disjointed. I haven’t written the next assignment for my class, letting the distant deadline answer my worries. Real life, work, apartment searching, AA meetings, friends. The writing needs more room to breathe; I need to sweat it through, I need to carve sentences out of red cliffs and green grass. Waiting for inspiration is waiting for Godot.

I didn’t know Boris before this trip. He curled up with me last night in the motel room as Carrie burned down the school.

He slept peacefully all night, waited for me while I showered, circled the motel’s grassy yard with me. When we left him at the sanctuary today he yelped and yelped, bouncing behind the gate of his run. I push my hand through the chain link fence and he nudges it, panting in the heat. I didn’t mean to get attached.

Later a group of us meet up in Kanab for dinner. It stretches on for nearly two hours, and I just want to sit alone somewhere for awhile. I realize that I can’t talk about troubled dogs for hours and hours; something in me turns off, out of necessity or fear or irritation; there’s so many damn dogs, so many that need help.

In the motel again, alone now, checking my voicemail at home. No messages. I need a place to live. I keep thinking I’m forgetting something, I’m escaping some responsibility by being here. I need to relax. I’ve done what I can, the bases are covered, there will always be more work.


Did I say we’re bringing back ten dogs tomorrow morning? It’s actually going to be 13. Two vans, four people, thirteen dogs. Will you forgive me if I cut this short tonight? (And tomorrow night, too, I would guess).


It’s good to be home. These are the best dogs. My co-workers named this big goofy, adorable Chocolate Lab after me, McAllister. It’ll be hard to see him go. This trip came at the exact moment I needed it; getting me out of my sick home and throwing me out in the hot desert canyons of Utah, finding dogs to save. I am dirty, exhausted, unshaven, covered in dog hair and slobber. I feel great. I missed you all. Especially you.

Louie talks. In his own canine way, naturally. I’m not saying he’s one of those Letterman dogs. I noticed it when I was still with the Ex, usually the three of us laying in bed. The Ex and I would talk and watch movies and read the newspaper and I’d like to think that Louie just wanted to be part of the pack. So he’d sigh and groan between us, his nose buried in the covers, and when we’d mimic him he’d respond in kind; creating a conversation of sorts that was ridiculous and gratifying. He did not talk like that as a puppy; it was an acquired trait. Our conversations have become common to the point that I take them for granted, and strangers and co-workers will laugh at his world-weary sighs and groans.

“Is he growling at me?” they ask.

“No, just talking,” I say.

They laugh some more and scratch his chest and he groans some more; a sound of both comfort and plaintive worry, a call awaiting the response.


Home’s getting worse. When I need it for sanctuary, it’s instead a hostile amusement park. I no longer pretend. Asking for peace is turned to treason. Wanted: a little place for an earnest boy and his talking dog. Will trade poems for hardwood floors.

Next week I’m going here for four days, with some co-workers, to pick up a few dogs and bring them back to our shelter for adoption. Utah in the summer, time to break out the shorts. It’ll certainly rank up there with the most interesting and sweaty business trip I’ve ever had (wait…I’ve never been on a business trip). Provided I’m not too exhausted, I’ll keep you updated. I had to pass a little company driving test today, navigating this 20-ft van around Potrero Hill so that I’ll be cleared to drive next week.

Quiet, non-creative mood today. Planning on going to my friend’s memorial service tonight. It felt crass to ask his co-worker if he’d be my barber now that Paul’s gone, but as he put it, “hey, you need a barber.” I do. I’m compulsive about my head. I never go more than three weeks without a haircut, and usually it’s closer to two. What the hell, it’s cheaper than therapy.

My problems lately could be classified as the luxury type, I suppose. My life fills up so quickly I’ve had to start saying no to things; three requests for housesitting over the same one-week period. Good friends I haven’t spoken to in days. Dinners out. Boys? Well, no. That’s on its way, maybe

Have been confused and frankly speechless over the layers of irony and happenstance surrounding my unresolved attraction to Ski lately. Remember when I wrote that on old friend of mine surfaced after five years; the friend from my past who seemed to have a charmed life and who became the object of my jealousy back then, mainly due to his physical appearance and the attention he received? Well, I mentioned that he ended up in a local treatment center, but it wasn’t until later that week that I connected the dots and realized that he’s staying at the treatment center where Ski works. I ran into my old friend at a meeting recently and he said “…isn’t Ski beautiful? God!”

My heart fluttered, rose into my throat and then fell again.

“Yeah”, I said, “he is, isn’t he?”

I think of myself as the kind of guy who’d get visited by ghosts. What I mean to say is that I don’t disbelieve in their existence, and really, I’m a nice, sensitive young man. I have spiritual beliefs that go beyond the corporeal. I’m easily freaked out by scary movies. I’d visit me if I were a ghost.

But they don’t visit me. Well, I take that back. In high school I consulted a ouija board with a couple of friends, and someone on the other side singled me out to tell me that he visited me and watched me.

“When?” I asked.

“At night”, he said.

Obviously that little statement stuck with me for a long time, throwing a little monkey wrench into my masturbation routine. “Are you watching me now?” I’d whisper. Just kidding. I didn’t say that.

I wish my mom would visit me sometimes. I find myself taking it personally that she doesn’t, like there’s something I’m not doing; something I’m forgetting. Maybe if I built a little shrine with her old photos and her rosary and some candles. Wait, I did that. Maybe if I spent more time with the lights out. Or praying in church. Or sitting by the ocean or something. Maybe she’s safely settled on the other side, eating key lime pie. Maybe it’s an exhausting journey. Maybe she’s dating Karen Silkwood.

Maybe I talk too much.

Saturday night Bearbait called me to let me know that my long-term barber, Paul, had died suddenly of a heart attack. Paul, I’m guessing, was in his forties.

Five years ago Paul was the first barber to cut my hair after I moved to San Francisco. He worked then out of a barbershop on Castro Street. Louie’s was a relic of the older Castro, a neighborhood slowly displaced, like every other city on this planet, by Starbucks, Jamba Juice, and Pottery Barn. The kind of barbershop that didn’t take appointments; Saturday afternoons were packed; six barbers in six chairs and a row of seats facing opposite, cluttered with auto magazines, newspapers, and Playboys, which never ceased to amuse me, as nobody in the place was straight.

You’d walk in and if you were new like me, you’d simply take your chances with whatever barber opened up first. Looking back, I was very lucky to get Paul. Though he was Russian and sometimes spoke in an indecipherable accent, he was a damn good barber, and he drew a devoted following. He gave me the best haircut I had ever had for $18, and I was hooked.

Because he had a loyal following, and because the shop took no appointments, I’d often have to wait an hour or more for him to open up, while the barbers on either side of him sat in their own chairs, flipping through the newspaper, waiting for clients. Saying I was devoted to him is an understatement. I would structure my days around my haircuts, taking the bus in the middle of a workday when I knew he’d be free.

He cut my hair for five years, and we’d talk about dogs or my mother, who was sick for over two of those years. He had lost his mother when he was my age, and always asked about her. I stuck with him through my break-up and my moving out and my getting sober. When money was tight he’d firmly decline my tips.

Recently we had many conversations about happiness and depression. I could sense in him a familiar pain, and I had my suspicions that some of his unhappiness was due to drugs. His face became more drawn and his moods were often dark. I told him about my experience with anti-depressants, gently suggesting that he might find some relief through them, though he seemed intent on “fixing” it himself.

In January he opened his own shop down the street in a cute little studio with hardwood floors and an abundance of natural light. I followed him there, naturally. I’d sit with my coffee and pet his large fluffy dog while I waited for my much-appreciated appointment.

On Saturday I had wanted to go in, but ended up looking at an apartment for rent instead. It wouldn’t have mattered, anyway, because by then he was already dead.

I wonder, of course, if the heart attack was a result of drugs. And it’s a useless torture imagining that I could have somehow saved him from that, that through my experience with speed I could have drawn a door out of nothing through which he could slip and escape the approaching end. It doesn’t work like that. We’re only ready when we’re ready, not when others want to rescue us.

When I moved home, I got a little studio apartment near her house and never called any of my old friends. I wanted something monastic; I threw the mattress on the floor and hung a string of Christmas lights from the ceiling. A single pot of Cyclamen on the windowsill. In lieu of TV, in lieu of a computer, a CD player sat on the card table in the corner, tuned to NPR. Human voices murmuring under everything; companions for the lonely nights.

I’d drive her across the river twice a week for her volunteer shift. When I dropped her off I’d watch as gradually, over time, her pace to the front door slowed; it became harder to push open the door, to lift her foot for the first step, to lean forward and push her weight against the door, to pull herself around the corner and disappear from view. She went from writing reports, analyzing data, coordinating 5k races for women’s health funds, to folding brochures, to stuffing envelopes, and then even that stopped when her fingers quit working.

From here I still think I can save her from all that; I’ll pick her up in my arms and run from the approaching storm. I see her open that door and before she disappears I’ll go to her and follow her and never let her out of my sight. Fuck you. Pick on somebody else. My vision blurs, anger tilts the world on it side. Don’t you know, it’s stupid to mess with me. You’ll have to kill me, too.


I couldn’t breathe. I needed it to breathe.

Each morning I quit. I’d wake early and listen to the murmuring voices as I stretched. I’d pin the housekey inside my shorts and start running at the green light. Two miles, then three, then five. Around the lakes, skirting geese and baby strollers and speed walkers. My legs grew sturdy and I ran like a machine; you could set your watch by my pace.

How did each morning yield such disappointment? My lungs cleared and I was strong. But each day I’d sit at that card table and think about it and not think about it. Four stores within a block. My breath grew shallow and I held on, held it tight till I broke and gave in. I’d pick a store and walk with shame and sick thrill into the fluorescence and buy one bottle, just one. I’ll stop tomorrow. I will.

I follow him for a half-block as he emerges from the gym onto Market Street, his sleeveless shirt damp with sweat. He swings a bag over his shoulder and checks his voicemail, and at the light I kick him in the butt and he swings around, bright eyes widening, pale colored over a dark-stubbled face. Shit, motherfucker, I want to say, why do you look so good? He wraps his arms around me for a moment and I lean in to kiss his sweaty neck. Says he feels better already, seeing me. At the intersection I step into the street and for a moment we’re the same height, and when we look at each other I’m reminded of a book I read, many years ago, about a woman having an affair. When she first meets the man she experiences a jolt of sexual recognition; they’re the same height, and when they look at each other it’s the same view as it would be in bed, lying together, looking into each other’s eyes. He scans my face, looks at my eyes and what else? my mouth? What are you looking at, I want to ask. Instead I let him go, I leave, …I walk away like a movie star, who gets burned in a three-way split…