And I was just thinking of his sweater this morning.
Rest in peace, Mr. Rogers, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
And I was just thinking of his sweater this morning.
Rest in peace, Mr. Rogers, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
I am feeling quite upset with my Haloscan comments (no link, don’t bother). In fact, all three commenting systems I have tried have all sucked. However, Haloscan earns the prize, because for the last couple of days my space monkey has been leaving me sweet little love poems in my comments, making me swoon and get all teary. Then they suddenly disappear. So now not only are they gone, but space monkey was under the impression I removed them MYSELF and thought he embarrassed me. Haloscan, do not fuck with my love life. There are a few technical difficulties I can handle in stride, however, disappearing love poems to me is not one of them. As for the space monkey, don’t you dare stop. I don’t blush that easily. woof.
“You would need to be on drugs for this to be more fun than it is,” I say to Prometheus.
I lean back against the shuttered window of the Stud, watching two tall, lanky boys suck face a few feet away. They are oblivious to the rest of the bar, people squeeze past them with cocktails in their hands. My new t-shirt clings to me, sweat coloring it two shades under the arms and along the crevice of my chest. A small decal of a big-toothed creature sits high on the front of my shirt. Beneath it are the words, “Dirty Monstah”.
We watch the two boys devour each other. Prometheus pumps his fist in the air, “Tall and lanky is my type,” he says in my ear.
We had danced for an hour on the ever-tightening floor, our moves slowly circumscribed as the boys wearing t-shirts with little decals pulled their lesbian girlfriends in leather pants and cowboy hats in for the groove. Pushed against the go-go box, I watched a pale, thin boy with a mohawk above me jerk to the music as the lights wash over him. His hand hit my head. “Sorry,” he said, but I just smiled. Go mohawk boy, go.
I bring my humpy Imaginary Friend tonight. He dances with us, I pull him by the hand, I touch the small of his back. I lift the back of his shirt and slide my hand into his waistband to feel his warm skin against my fingers. He is the hottest boy in the bar.
I sit on the ledge with Prometheus, our backs against the shuttered windows. Between my legs there is a stool upon which the Imaginary Friend sits, his back to me, his hands on my knees. He fades in and out, then suddenly a very tall drag queen with a blonde shock wig yanks the stool away and drags it over to the long line waiting for the private bathroom. She sits and lets her high heels hang from her outstretched toes.
For a few seconds I miss it, the closed door, the swallow or the snort, the lightning juice filling me, the night opening up.
“Mikey!” I look up and see him walking my way. Chest forward. “I’ve been thinking about you.”
I hug him sitting down. “Is this your boyfriend?” he whispers to me. He means Prometheus.
“No, he’s my friend.”
He ignores Prometheus, turns to me. “I lost that poem.”
“The one about the hands, you know, the ‘traffic on La Salle filters in only one direction.”
“Ah. I’ll send it to you again.”
“No! Don’t even say it, you won’t. You know you won’t.”
“I will. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”
“You still seeing that guy?”
“Yeah, what about you?”
I sigh. “I got a long-distance thing going on. We haven’t met yet.”
“You haven’t met him yet?”
“No, soon. Very soon. We met through my writing. He does his own art. He likes my writing.”
“Your ex didn’t get your writing, did he? I remember you saying that.”
“I still believe you and I would be together if you hadn’t been with him.”
I smile. Whatever. “Right,” I say.
“I lost my friend, I gotta find him,” he says. He pats my knee, leaves without saying goodbye to Prometheus.
“Who was that?” my friend asks.
“Trouble from my past,” I say. “He’s uh…he’s very much a Type A.”
“Yeah, I got that.”
I stare out at the boys walking past.
“Everything looks different when someone’s in your head,” I tell him.
“You must get tired explaining.”
“I do. You can’t. How do you say it?”
He nods. “Shall we go?”
A line of boys wait out front. We’re leaving at the peak of the night. Perfect timing. The cool night air against my wet shirt. “Thanks for coming out tonight,” Prometheus says. My jeans are hanging low. I pull at the damp waistband. Three blocks to the car.
From the church basement I walk out into the night, across the cracked asphalt of the lot. They are spilling out behind me, lighting their cigarettes, standing together. Pulling on their jackets and kissing each other good-night. I slip into my car and close the door behind me. Silence. Drops of rain on the windshield. I pull out of the lot the wrong way, avoiding them, like I did when I was new. A single green light across Market, and then the climb home. I do not know how much solitude I need, and what more is trouble.
Lights from the houses on the hills. Who built them, all these houses? The hills at night lit up like constellations thick with stars. The arched windows, the wooden decks on long thin legs, the pale colors and the pines and the palms and the small strips of long grass where yellow wildflowers are blooming. Wind sweeping them back at night, the grasses rustling.
Each bay window, each high ceiling, each open blind. Each framed print on the wall. The carpeted staircase climbing into the dark. The ficus, an orchid, each potted spice. A blue bottle above the sink, strands of garlic hanging from a hook. The glowing computer screens, patterns of light moving in an empty room. The bookshelves and the saints sculpted from stone, blessing the home, the guest. Each balcony or open deck, chairs facing the bay. I wish myself into each room. Each story contained within. Which story would I choose, why do I covet the window’s curving line? Brief wishes, a minute in each room. Reading the titles of their books. Peeking into the humming fridge. The smell of their bread, their dogs and the damp sponge on the edge of the sink. Just a minute or two, the photographs sitting on the mantle, the store-bought logs hissing in the fireplace. The letters and the bills and the lists and the keys. The shoes on the mat, the coats on the rack. The blue digits of their CD players. Standing at their window, assessing the view. My forehead against the cool glass.
A city of houses and rooms, too many stories. Which one is mine, which am I meant to have?
Beyond the eucalyptus trees on the edge of my street, the half moon hangs over the city, above the bay, the painter’s pearl strokes. I slow the car. The street pointing at the moon as if I need reminding. The enormity of the night and the place that lies waiting for me.
what, the bitch says, well you work there, don’t you know anything about dogs that stopped up the wind pipe and ma’am I’m not a trainer nor do I profess to be one click I hung up on her. fire me, someone, please, set me adrift maybe that’s what I need, fuck cut away the safety nets the ropes that tie me to drudgery and duty push me along the razor’s edge can I be poz without insurance oh fuck probably not patience young cricket eater
thank you but I know already all that I don’t know, I don’t need any more reminders
can’t quite hear myself think
pick up the 30 do 21
pick up the 35 do 21
pick up the 40 do 21
pick up the 45 do fucking c’mon 19 arrrgggh get the fuck outta my way
doin’ it for my space monkey
can’t quite hear myself speak
dig a little trench boy, get it flowin again
each word a scratch in the sand
Golden dog, blue bed
Louie, lie still. I gotta
cut your long black nails
The Cala lilies are in bloom again…
I could have said that as I stepped onto our back deck, into the sun. I guess I did say it, to myself, marveling at the flowers blooming at the edge of our shoddy, uneven deck. To a kid from Minnesota the sight of white lilies uncurling in the bright midmorning sun in February is just another confirmation that I won’t be moving back to the Midwest any time soon.
It’s President’s Day and I’m home from work, writing on the back deck for the first time since I moved in last summer. There is the sound of hammering and buzz saws echoing over the hills, from the houses of people rich or lucky enough to afford construction in this economy. There are birds singing, a dog barking, two hummingbirds dueling or flirting among the branches of the tree off the deck; the sound of their wings like a hand flipping quickly through the pages of a book.
This morning I pick up the Stanislavski book on acting from the corner of the bathroom sink, where I had left it the night before. Something falls from its pages and I look down at the envelope addressed to me in my mother’s handwriting. I can tell from the shaky edges of the “M” in Michael and the “C” in CA that it was written after the onset of her symptoms. And by the postmark, September 2000, I know it was when we still thought she might have Parkinson’s. In six weeks, at the end of October, we’ll know she has ALS instead.
It’s the size of a small greeting card, and certainly not heavy enough to warrant the two 33 cent stamps stuck in the upper right hand corner. One stamp shows a lacy pink heart, a Victorian valentine with pink roses blossoming along its edges. The other is a child’s drawing; a bright red rocket in a dark blue sky, headed for a pink moon. Below the rocket the child has scrawled, in yellow lettering, “Mommy, are we there yet?” On the edge of the stamp, in tiny letters, it reads “Morgan Hill, age nine”.
I carry the card and the book and a cup of coffee back with me to bed. I throw the comforter over my cold feet and rearrange the pillows, and then open the envelope. Simple gray cardstock with a line of silver letters: “Wishing you wonders great and small”. I open the card and there’s a silver star shooting across the surface of the card. It takes me a moment to realize that the card is backwards; the star should be on the front, the greeting inside. The back cover, with the card company’s name etched in silver, is folded against the front cover of the silver shooting star. Above the star, in her handwriting that has just begun to unravel, it says ” Hi Michael, I’m really happy you’re in the play and working two jobs. Love, Mom”.
Short and terse, unlike her usual cards and letters, which were always full of weather updates and travel plans and training schedules for the marathons she and Lee used to run together. Today, years later, I realize that it was probably Lee who urged her to send the card, perhaps even bought the card. As the illness progressed my mother withdrew from me, and from others. Of course, we didn’t know much about the dementia then, either.
The play she refers to is “The Collected Works of Billy the Kid”; not really a play, actually, neither a novel nor a collection of short stories. Written by Michael Ondaatje, the author of “The English Patient”, it read more like a collection of dreams and nightmares and images, written in Ondaantje’s vivid, visercal prose. I had been cast in the lead role, Billy, and she and Lee would visit me soon and see the performance.
It’s funny to still feel the kick of resentment, the phantom pain of anger towards her. It was just like her to talk about work all the time. Towards the end, the only question she’d ask me on her own initiative was “How’s work?” As if some shitty job title; the organic grocery store stock boy, the coffee shop barista, the paid-under-the-table office clerk; as if any of those mattered to me then. “Fuck work,” I wanted to say, “You’re dying.” I wanted her to say something, anything, about the important shit. Just a few words that weren’t about work. Something about illness, about the sudden shift in priorities, about the value of love and friends and family. I wanted wisdom, I wanted what everyone thought I’d get when they recommended that fucking “Tuesdays with Morrie” book to me. I wanted golden afternoons with my dying mother in which we talked about life’s most important lessons. But Morrie didn’t have the rare type of ALS that included dementia. And the author of that book spent an hour a week with Morrie, he didn’t have to wipe up drool or help Morrie cough over a sink when food got caught somewhere among the weakening muscles of the throat, like I did with my mother. Also, as she once pointed out, “Morrie was in his goddamned seventies already. I’m fifty-three.”
I didn’t get golden movie-of-the-week moments, I didn’t get a thin strand of her pearls of wisdom. I got a mother who answered every question with one word and who could only ask of me, “How’s work?”
Caught somewhere between the dementia and the stoic German work ethic of her father and the Catholic guilt of her mother, my mother seemed to feel that as long as she kept moving, the disease couldn’t catch her. When she lost her job over the illness, she’d never let herself relax. She’d wash loads of laundry everyday, run the dishwasher half-empty, dust the spotless living room. She’d grasp the broom in her weak fingers and sweep the back patio. Afterwards she’d sit with me for a minute at the window, until one leaf would detach from a tree and fall gently onto the perfect patio, and she’d go for the broom again. It all made me very tired.
I haven’t acted since Billy. After the play ended I moved back to Minneapolis for a few months to be with her. Even when I came back to San Francisco I avoided auditioning, knowing that any day I could get an urgent call from home. None of the small companies I performed with had the budget for an understudy. But now she’s been dead for a year, so I can’t use her as an excuse anymore.
Billy was very tough. I was very very raw, sober for like thirty seconds, taking on a role that one critic said had more lines than Hamlet. I was very unsure of myself. I was out of shape and dreaded the scene where I wore nothing but a towel onstage. Our boots walking across the floorboards of the set echoed all over the converted gymnasium in which we performed; the audience would sit forward and strain to hear us over the noise. The reviews were mixed. I remember one review in paticular, from a free weekly newpaper that everyone in San Francisco reads. The critic said I lacked the charisma for the role. That morning I wanted to drive around to every kiosk, steal all the papers and burn them in my fireplace. But I didn’t.
Looking back I understand the criticism. I didn’t feel charismatic then. I was thin-skinned and overwhelmed, and even the wonderful reviews I received couldn’t change that. It was such a relief when the play ended, and I guess you could say that I haven’t wanted to be that vulnerable since.
Recently one of the crew from Billy asked me to read the script of a short film he’s directing. The character he wanted me to play was an asshole, but that didn’t bother me much. I like playing assholes. That’s why they call it acting.
But there is one scene where my character has sex with the lead character, an underage boy. More partial nudity, this time on camera. I’ve never acted on film. But really, I asked myself, how many people will ever see a 30-minute film? At least, one that’s not a porno? Also, I look better naked now. I said yes. It’s scheduled to film next month. One scene will be shot in the bar where I used to work; the one I call the gateway to my own personal hell. It’s where I pick the kid up and bring him home. I find that very funny.
The first time I auditioned for a professional acting job, I was fresh out of college and didn’t even have a head shot. I got the part, beating out 100 other guys. They paid me $300 a week just to act. I worked with one of the most brilliant directors I’ve ever met at a great little theater in Minneapolis. The play ran for three months; I performed six shows a week. I played Martin in Fool for Love. For my entrance I would run onstage in the dark and tackle the leading man as he fought with his sister. Then the lights would come up, catching me as I held his collar in one hand and cocked back my right fist for another blow. One day we punched a hole in the plaster wall of the set. It was great.
A year later I auditioned for a part in a dance/theater piece with a very funny, very talented choreographer. After her first choice was deported over visa issues, she gave me the role. I got paid again, and at the end of our run she was invited to bring the show to New York. We got paid to dance and act crazy at DTW off of Eighth Avenue. Before we left Minneapolis she told me that she was happy I got the part.
During the day I would wander around Manhattan, returning each evening to Chelsea, where I would meet the others and warm up in a cramped dressing room backstage. The choreographer was also presenting a piece that featured just the women dancers. I would watch from the backstage, as three women in Catholic school uniforms prayed reverently in a spotlight to “Ave Maria”. Slowly, as the song played, something poked from between each of their lips, and then dangled lower and lower over their throats. They were rosaries, drenched in saliva.
I was feeling a little apprehensive about this whole film thing, so I decided to re-read my books on Meisner and Stanislavski, which helped get me into the groove a bit. It’s nice to be old enough to know that I don’t have to believe everything I read, either. Then later I turned on the TV and Bravo was having a marathon of Actor’s Studio, so I watched Michael Caine and Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore and Martin Scorsese. And that helped, too. And I daydreamed about what it would be like to be Meryl Streep’s best friend. And then Julianne Moore’s friend, the one she takes the subway with to the gym or whatever. As if all that acting karma would sorta rub off on me by osmosis. And I will admit that sometimes I picture myself in the chair opposite James Lipton, and he’ll have a stack of blue cards all about my life, and I will pretend to be amazed at the thoroughness of his research, and humbled by his proclamations of my acting genius. Then I will also pretend not to expect the famous quiz invented by what’s his name for whatever that French place is at the end of the show, so that all of my answers appear hilarious, deeply moving, and completely spontaneous. Then, in the intimate question-and-answer session with the students I will be very generous and spend lots of time with them so that they’ll think I was the coolest actor ever.
What, like you don’t daydream about this kind of shit?
It sucks being your own worst enemy, letting fear keep you from the things you love, letting it tie you to mediocrity. Haunted by ghosts who only value work. But the ghosts are dead. I’m alive. I don’t need a lot of money, or my name in flashing lights. I just want to do what makes me happy. I want to write and I want to pretend like I’m other people and I want to get paid a little money for it. Is that so wrong?
There are men on every single page of my college-era journals. Sometimes specific men, sometimes not. There is unhappiness and frustration and horniness scrawled across each page, with the underlying solution being some guy or another. Never an inside job; no, that would have required real work. It was easier to pin my happiness on Frank or Enrique or Daniel or Robert or David, who leaned over and kissed me one night outside the Saloon in Minneapolis, at the end of the summer, as we stood around the Sidewalk Sale, the nightly event where everyone spilled out of the bar at closing time, a ridiculously early one a.m. One kiss fueled an entire semester’s worth of despair and ennui, a thousand miles away in Sarasota, where I tried to study but found myself picturing erotic entanglements on the floor of the classroom, as the sociology professor droned on about deviants. Sometimes I’d piece together a dream boy, he’d have a shaved head and tattoos and a leather jacket and muscles and lots of testosterone. There weren’t too many of those in Sarasota.
I don’t pin my happiness on men anymore. But I want to remember this, I want to remember what is happening. And I am a goddamned hopeless romantic.
A couple of months before the Ex and I split, two years ago, I saw the movie Trick. I loved it, loved how it captured that feeling; when you first meet someone, and your heart gets dragged into it, kicking and screaming. I knew then that my relationship was disintegrating. I sat in bed as the credits rolled, and I felt adrenaline pump through me, because I was excited. That I might get to feel that way again.
more Joseph Campbell, on romantic love: “…the seizure that comes in recognizing your soul’s counterpart in the other person…”
Equal parts joy and fear: what if I’m wrong? what if it won’t work? this is crazy, feeling this way, when we haven’t even met.
Things I learn from him:
– just do the work, screw the results
– write down my progress at the gym (it works)
– fuck “what if’s”
– and stop worrying so much.
Nothing anyone could say would throw me off. You don’t know. And I know how that sounds.
I’m a kid again, with an imaginary friend. He drives with me, and I rest my hand on his knee. I spot him on the bench press. We eat at restaurants that I see again with new eyes. He walks on the beach with me and Louie. I’m late to work everyday because I don’t want to get out of bed. Or we fucked in the shower. I show him my favorite views of the city. I kiss him in elevators.
– How are your….
– My numbers?
– They’re good. T-cells are high, viral load is nearly undetectable. My doctor says I could go years without meds.
– That’s great.
– Do you ever think about that?
– Yeah. Do you ever think about the fact that I might not live as long as other people?
– There are no guarantees, Michael. We could all die tomorrow.
– I know.
– I don’t hold back on matters of love.
In the movie Trick the two guys spend the entire night trying to find a place to have sex, but are constantly thwarted by insensitive roommates and Tori Spelling. By dawn they know enough not to have sex. They kiss at the subway stop and part ways. The go-go boy gives the pianist his phone number. As soon as he’s alone the pianist tries the number, afraid it’ll be a fake. It’s not. The go-go boy’s machine says “you got me.”
I am living in a very very long movie of thwarted testosterone. Without Tori Spelling. It drives me up a wall everyday. It’s torture. It’s so fucking sweet.
My only two resolutions for New Year’s were to floss and pray everyday. I’m good to go on the flossing. Sometimes I forget to pray.
Believing in him is like believing in a higher power. I can’t touch him. I can only have a little faith.
Hi. My name is Michael and I’m an Aries and I like driving at night with the windows down. And fried chicken.
My middle name is Lowell, my grandfather’s name. I used to hate it when I was a kid. I wanted a normal name like Tom or Scott. But now I like it.
I have a dog named Louie and I work in an animal shelter. I like dogs but I often don’t like dog people. Louie likes my job more than I do. I think people like my dog more than they like me, too. But I’m okay with that.
I think a lot about flow and what fits and if something doesn’t fit it drives me crazy and I annoy all my friends and loved ones talking about it till it fits or goes away.
Sometimes at night the sky over San Francisco is so bright that it keeps me awake. But I won’t shut the blinds.
I always get the worst songs stuck in my head. This morning in the shower I was singing “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.”
In spite of this I’ve had friends threaten to take away my gay membership card because I wear flannel shirts and own a few Bruce Springsteen CD’s. What do they know about being a gay?
I resent my writing instructor because she fawns over all the women, especially the blind one.
But maybe that’s good for me.
If I love you I will soak up all your favorites; books, music, movies, artists, philosophers.
If I love you I will rearrange my days.
If I love you I will save all your letters and scraps of paper.
If I love you I will put your pictures on my desktop.
If I love you I will try and write it down.
My name is Michael and I like roller coasters, scary movies, and pudding.
“Follow the sound, tonight, it’ll take you away,” he says. So I go.
I have Tenaglia’s new remix of Frankie Knuckles’ “The Whistle Song” carrying me along I-80, northwest to Sacramento. It is one of those perfect house songs, and each time it takes me back to when I first heard it. New York in October of 1992; I was 21. I was visiting my stepsister who lived then in the East Village on 2nd Ave and 6th St.
I was a ballsy little Midwestern white boy, walking alone all over the city at all hours of the night and day. Maybe less ballsy than stupid; this was pre-Giuliani New York, but I was young and invulnerable. It was my first trip to New York; I had been going stir-crazy at college in Florida, and wanted to see it all. My ex-boyfriend in Florida, a former New Yorker, once told me, “That city will chew you up and spit you out.” I wanted to prove him wrong.
Each night I’d pore over my little HX magazine and decide which club to check out. Was it Friday? I went to Webster Hall, a new or new-again-that-year venue. It was an enormous club, several floors full of rooms and dance floors; different lights, different music. I lost all sense of direction that night, wandering from room to room. I remember walking into a bathroom and seeing two men standing at the sinks, each combing their hair. They were enormous men; I was still skinny then, 140 pounds, though I’d been at the gym for a year. They were huge, muscular, god-like, slick-haired Italian men with wifebeaters stretched tight over their shoulders, exquisitely handsome. They never even glanced at me, so intent on their reflections. They finished with their hair and posed in front of the mirrors, flexing their muscles. Their bold, unapologetic narcissism both hilarious and unsettling all at once. I washed my hands at the sink next to them, glanced once at my own disappointing reflection, then slipped out.
Eventually I found my way to the main dance floor; a dark, cavernous ballroom lit by watery, roaming lights from above. I stood off to the side, watching the mass of men on the floor. I picture an enormous glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling, though it may only be an invention of memory. Then a boy climbed onto a box nearby. He wore only a pair of white briefs and black, ankle-high boots. The blue lights circled around his body, then fixed on him, catching him in their light as though he were a boy in a bottle. It was the first time I had ever seen a go-go boy. Sure, I had seen tacky strippers at bars in Minneapolis and Florida, men with moussed hair and fake tans and red g-strings, who danced like drunken frat boys.
But this boy was different; the boots and the way his thick muscles shifted lazily to the beat. A handsome, green-eyed man with prematurely graying buzzed hair stood at the side of the box, staring up at him, smiling. He held a five-dollar bill in his hand, and the boy lowered himself slowly to his haunches, his knees pointing to the man’s shoulders. The man said something and the boy rubbed the man’s head, smirking. The man reached out, the bill crumpled in his fist. He extended a finger and ran it slowly down the boy’s chest and stomach, so slow and deliberate that from ten feet away I felt the boy’s skin on my fingertip. The man pulled slightly at the waistband of the boy’s underwear, and tucked the bill inside. They talked, low and close, and then the boy rose back to his feet, where he rocked in the rays of blue light washing down over him.
Frankie Knuckles was spinning that night. The music was good; damn good, better than anything I had ever heard. I wound my way onto the floor and danced alone, my eyes adjusting to the dim hall and the men around me. I lost myself in the dark ballroom, in the music and the night and the city.
Then he played his song.
It was the sound of pure presence, of the here and now, of joy and abandon. A song of innocence and optimism playing in a city of hard edges. The bass hooking me into the song, and then the chorus, like a tune the seven dwarves would have whistled, had they ever gone out clubbing. So happy that it became wistful, as so many things did when I was that young.
I looked around me, at the men and the blue lights and the boy on the box. I smiled at the same time my heart broke a little, from the purity of the moment, from my loneliness, from the city I would have to leave. One of those moments everyone has; the perfect song in the perfect place at the perfect time. I stayed very late that night, dancing alone in the dark ballroom.
The next morning I went straight to Tower Records and found a clerk. I tried to explain the song. “It doesn’t have any words, but there’s like this whistling.”
“Oh,” he said, “You mean the ‘Whistle Song’.”
Thank you, Mister Tower Clerk. I am eternally grateful.
I hit “repeat” on the outskirts of Sacramento. Again, the bass, drawing me in, taking me back. It was a song of nostaligia for me; a song about a time and place that I would never again see. But today, a year after mom died, it feels like something else. It feels both nostalgic and hopeful; the sun and the blue sky and the Sierras glowing white in the distance. A song that plays on a day when I am alive and driving with the windows down, a song that plays on a day I feel love for a man who lives far away. A man who knows the Whistle Song. “It’s such a happy song,” he tells me when I call. And he’s right. I am good at sadness, it’s safe and comfortable. But now there’s more, and I get to have it all.
“My kind of people,” Aaron says. We’ve wound our way into the video bar at Faces (why are there so many gay bars called Faces?). We’re standing on the edge of the packed floor. There are all races and genders and orientations dancing together; there is a homely 45-year old man dancing with a young, sexed-out blonde bombshell who raises her arms over her head, who twists her hips around and tosses her hair as the man grabs her waist and hops, off-beat, behind her. There is a woman who looks like the winner of the Banji Girl contest in Paris is Burning; she wears a striped hat made out of the same material as her sweater. She sidles up behind every curvy girl dancing alone and molds her hips to the girl’s butt, until each girl moves away. There are two Asian girls with bee-stung lips colored dark, who hang on each other but whose lesbianism is a show for the men who stand nearby, the ones with gold chains glittering on their necks. There are girls in rugby shirts and mullets dancing in the corner, there is a bartender wearing a tuxedo shirt and a bowtie who knows the words to every song. A boy who walks in late, looking like a younger Rick James, his long pressed hair falling past his shoulders. He removes his sunglasses and catwalks into the bar like he owns the place. There are a couple of gay boys here and there, vastly outnumbered. The videos are all familiar; TRL-style. Songs you can’t help but know, no matter how much you avoid MTV and the radio. The bar is bright and crowded and full of clueless dancers who back their butts into you, separating you from your friends and pushing you off the floor while they undulate to J-Lo. And I dance in spite of it all. Am I really dancing to J-Lo? I think. I can’t believe it. As though there is a secret fag committee standing on the sidelines, watching and judging. I look around for the committee when Britney Spears comes on, but everybody is dancing. Nobody is watching me. So I dance, too. I’m a slave for you, baby.
But then Justin Timberlake comes on and I’m all like, no fucking way am I dancing to Justin Timberlake. I draw the line at Justin Timberlake. I stop moving but the not moving is more conspicuous than the moving. Everyone else is moving and they don’t care what I think about Justin Timberlake. Or that maybe deep down inside I wanna dance to Justin Timberlake. So I move, I dance to Justin Timberlake.
I don’t escape anything, I do not lose myself. I am brought straight into the heart of it. I move as everyone here moves. Everyone into their groove, everyone into their friends. Nobody cruising me; I am definitely not sexy to Sacramento. It’s not Webster Hall and the VJ is not going to play “The Whistle Song.” It’s someplace else entirely. Missy Elliot sings Work It and we work it. I watch the entire dance floor go wild and sing all the lyrics together to Kylie Minogue. But when Christina Aguilera gets all dirrrrrrrty I take a break. I must draw the line somewhere.