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When in doubt, quote somebody else. I know I’m not the only weblogger who has figured this out. Most of you probably know this, which means that most of you can see right through me. Some of you have even written to comment on my little mood swing, such as Anthony, who reached over from the East Coast and slapped me like Cher and shouted “Snap out of it!” He sweetly followed this up by pointing out how far I’ve come the last couple of years. Sometimes I forget.

One of the 12 steps suggests that we become entirely ready to have our “defects of character” removed. Nobody on this planet is free of character defects, so it’s a gradual, life-long process. “Character defect” may not be the best choice of words. I think of my defects as the things that keep me from the life I deserve. Cheesy, sure, but let’s face it, recovery always sounds cheesy. My most glaring defect (I have many) was fear; of everything, of failure, of success, of men, of family, of love, of being naked or even half-naked around other people. But mostly fear of other people, naked or not.

After the first raw months of sobriety passed, I started challenging these fears, because they were holding me back from a better life. I broke up with the ex and moved out. I got tested for HIV. I sat in the front row of AA meetings. I looked at the floor most of the time, but it was progress. I made myself go to that AA conference in Palm Springs last summer and be half-naked around a lot of other half-naked people. And I had that moment of grace, sitting in front of 500 gay men on a conference room stage. Where I understood that I didn’t have to be afraid of anyone, that I was no more and no less a man than anyone else. A moment of grace that lifted a lot of fear away.

The removal of one character defect sometimes reveals another. Once I stopped being afraid of everything and started living, new problems ensued. I wanted more. Of just about everything. And the problem? I am a very impatient man. I want to take writing as far as I can, whatever that looks like. Now. And I don’t want to sit around at a job answering stupid phone calls. And I want to get my hands on the space monkey. After several months of correspondence and phone calls, my right hand needs a break. Sorry, I went there again.

I was impatient with my career path but hopelessly confused. I had no clue what my step should be. Should I keep the job, should I look for an internship, should I keep taking extension classes, should I start sending stuff out to editors?

I’ve tried to keep Joseph Campbell’s idea of “following your bliss” in mind the last few months. I got a little impatient with him, too.

“That all sounds really nice, Joe, but I don’t know what that means. Where the fuck am I going, and how do I get there?”

Of course Joe is dead, so he didn’t say anything. I also asked my mom for a little sign, or maybe even a thousand-watt arrow over the next fork in the road, but perhaps she is busy. Maybe she and Joe are having a good laugh together at my expense:

Joe: “He looks really funny when he gets impatient.”

Mom: “I know! Look how red his face gets. Wait till he starts pouting, it’s really cute.”

After ten years of real life experience, I’ve decided to go back to school and get an M.F.A. (Somebody in “The Liar’s Club” called it “Mother Fucking Asshole”). Not so much for the degree as for a focused time of writing and feedback. This isn’t an overnight decision, it’s taken a few years actually. And honestly, I just love learning, I love classrooms and research and conversations. I love hearing how other people are doing it. I love being around other people who like learning, who are fighting the good fight. And if taking this step leads me into a life of academia, well, it’s better than answering the phone all day. Or getting into the oil business. When I think about it, it just feels right, in my gut. The nice thing about being sober is that I can actually trust my gut.

Joseph Campbell also said that when you find your bliss, don’t let anyone shake you off. When something feels right in my gut, like my connection with the space monkey, I have that strength of conviction. I know it’s right, and I go for it.

So now I have the spring and summer to look at schools and get a really strong admissions manuscript together.

Also, having a goal makes answering the stupid phone a little more bearable. But only a little. Which means if you were hoping I’d stop bitching completely, you’re out of luck.

Running half-empty on four hours of sleep, mind saturated with the language and the images of the three books I’ve consumed in the last two days, guess that’s one way of getting by. Or shutting out the world and my impatience. Because I’m too tired to write I will let James Joyce sum it up:

“- In pursuing these speculations, said the dean conclusively, there is however the danger of perishing of inanition. First you must take your degree. Set that before you as your first aim. Then, little by little, you will see your way. I mean in every sense, your way in life and in thinking. It may be uphill pedaling at first. Take Mr. Moonan. He was a long time before he got to the top. But he got there.
– I may not have his talent, said Stephen quietly.
– You never know, said the dean brightly. We never can say what is in us…”

Between the Lines

Some of my little brother’s friends were tear-gassed last week at a demonstration against the war in Albuquerque. They blocked an intersection near the UNM campus, four or five hundred students and other assorted radicals. Despite the peaceful nature of the gathering, the police broke it up with tear gas and rubber bullets.

“I want to do something,” he tells me, his voice wavering over the distance between us, “but I don’t think anyone cares. I don’t think they’re listening.”

I’m watching Louie sniff around the courtyard outside my office, cell phone pressed to my right ear. The wind is picking up. I turn my head slightly till I can hear him again.

“Now the protests are only a couple of hundred people.”

“I went to a couple of the big demonstrations here in San Francisco before the war,” I tell him. “But that was it. I don’t get the sense that it makes much of a difference anymore.”

I feel like I should have something to offer him, my little brother, some kind of wisdom, especially now that Mom’s gone.

“I’ve never been arrested,” he says. “I suppose I should keep it that way.”

“I just had that one arrest, during the Contra War.”

“I remember. Dad was pissed.”

He sounds sad and defeated. His girlfriend’s left him for the second or third time. He wants to quit smoking, he wants to go back to school. I want him to get a computer and join civilization, so I can e-mail him. I try not to push. He’s been pushed his whole life, to be different, motivated, educated, goal-driven. To be more like me. I just want him to be happy.

The sun feels good on my face. Louie’s confused by the change of routine; he sits by the door, waiting to go back inside. But I stay still. There’s something I want to tell my little brother, I try to think of the right words…when Mom was sick I tested positive for HIV and I kept it from everyone, I didn’t want them to worry, but now I want you to know…

I almost say it. I can feel between us a short, taut rope, one that I could balance on and walk in his direction. But I don’t. I don’t want to tell him over the phone.

The irony is not lost on me, that I won’t tell him but I’ll post it on the Internet. The still-sharp memory of the September morning I checked my e-mail and found a message from my father, who had just found dogpoet. The subject line of his e-mail had said, simply, “Devastated”.

“Do you feel like Mom’s around?” I ask my brother.

“All the time. Do you?

“Yeah. Not at first. It took awhile, but yeah. I’ve met this guy. Well, not really met. It’s a long story.” I hate describing it. “But I feel like she has something to do with it.”


“Because he’s what I’ve been looking for.”

“Cool,” he says. “That’s exciting.”

“Yeah. And hard. I’m impatient.”

“Uh huh.”

“And fucking horny.”

He laughs. “I know how you feel.”

Louie watches me. I’m smiling. “I gotta get back to work.”

“Okay. Thank for calling. I love you, Mike.”

“I love you, too.”


Thanks to everyone for the housewarming regards and the updated links. You’re beautiful and I like having you around.

It feels a little strange to launch a new site, considering the state of the world. A little less relevant than winning an Oscar, say. I’m at a loss for words. As in, there is so much atrocity occurring that I don’t even want to start. So much hypocrisy and arrogance and bitterness. And now just a lot of death set in motion by men who will never be remotely touched by the loss of these people. I haven’t changed that much since I was fifteen, not much in regards to war. This story pretty much says it all.

My stepsister and her boyfriend are still sailing around the world, just now leaving the coast of Africa. Here is a little of the e-mail they sent today:

“We went over 120 miles upstream without encountering another white person or sailboat and it was surreal, though on the way out we came across 3 other sailboats that were headed up river. And then that seemed surreal too. There were literally only a half dozen motorized vehicles on the river during that entire time. Everyone used dugout canoes and paddles, it was something else…

… We get very little news, and what we do get is often in a foreign language, but it sounds like things have gone a bit amok at home. We are quite safe here, the only thing people say to us when we say we are from the states is ‘oh nice country, will you take me there?’ but everyone in the street is glued to the news radio here and it seems like people are as conflicted about the war here as they are at home.”

I keep thinking about that Onion parady: “Bill of Rights Pared Down to a Manageable Six”. So funny it hurts.

I feel a little like the man I heard speak at an AA meeting tonight:

“I’m kind of having a hard time lately. I mean, as I was walking to the meeting I was feeling proud of myself for getting up and dressed and out of the house. But as I’m sitting here I look down at my feet and I see I am wearing two unmatched shoes.”

I understood.

And we keep living. We drive in the dark across a bridge stretching over the bay; a bridge that could explode, it could fall. But it won’t, at least not tonight. We drive with covered dishes on the floor of the car; food we’ve brought to share. We get lost in the hills of Oakland, following streets named “Snake”. We walk into a house and everyone calls out our name, as though we were regulars on “Cheers.”

Thanks to Jhames and Min Jung for hosting a warm party at their house. Therewerealotofgreatpeoplethere. And thanks to several blogger get-togethers over the last few months, I already knew half of them. I especially enjoyed hanging out with William Ted on the couch all night. It was the first time I’d stopped moving since I finished the film, and besides, he was great company. Welcome to town, Jhames. The Bay Area will never be the same.

This Bar I Used to Know

“My only suggestion would be to change the words ‘letting go’. It’s just become this phrase, kind of new agey, you know?”

My writing instructor looks at the girl who’s read her poem aloud, then around at the rest of the group for affirmation. Everyone nods. I have to agree.

The girl’s not so sure. She wrinkles her brow. “Like what? Change it to what?”

I know how she feels. Everything you learn sounds cheesy, eventually. All those words you pick up in church basements; pithy little sayings on cards printed by AA’s Central Office. Cards with layers of masking tape on the back, cards that can’t stay up all week so they’re taken down at the end of each meeting and stored in cardboard boxes next to tins of Maxwell House, bags of sugar, non-dairy creamer, a mess of plastic spoons. Cardboard boxes stacked into a closet in the hallway outside the room. Each box belonging to a different group: “Monday Night Big Book Discussion”, “Tuesday Keep Coming Back”, “Thursday As Bill Sees It 7pm”. Words and phrases that have worked their way into mainstream consciousness far enough to generate parody in movies and on Saturday Night Live: “One Day at a Time”, “Keep it Simple”, “Easy Does It”. Familiarity breeds contempt.

I forget to let go. I hang on tight to trouble, to worry. I obsess, I sweat, I toss and turn. I want love and assurance. I want affection. I want success. I want comfort and money and sex. I want a life free of embarrassment and boredom. I want a better job. I want the world to be okay. What does Meryl Streep say in “Postcards from the Edge?” The problem with instant gratification is that it takes too long.

On Tuesday we filmed a scene where I used to bartend; early in the morning I parted the thick black curtains hanging inside the front door and slipped inside, the bright sun cutting off abruptly as the curtains fell back in place. The dark windowless rooms, the smell of old beer and urinals and ashtrays and sex. Walls covered with Tom of Finland-like art; beautiful paintings of men, butts, penises. Flyers for every night of the week; a xerox of a boy in a jockstrap, head tilted back, mouth wide open as a leatherman empties a bottle of tequila onto his waiting tongue. A beautiful blue painting of a man’s backside on the restroom door, done by one of the bartenders; does he still work here? Who still works here, how do they do it, year after year? I know where the sinks are, I can lean across the bar with three beer bottles half-full with tea (for the scene) and drain them without looking. I know where the light switches are. I know where to find the votives, where to toss the bottles. I know you have to push the trashcan in front of the restroom door when you take a piss, if you want any privacy. As they set up for the next angle, I leaf through the bar rags, more snapshots of half-naked men, groups of shirtless friends at all the clubs, all of this, it was my life for awhile.

My barber, a former Mr. International Leather, was wearing a “Manhunt.net” T-shirt the other day. I was looking at it thinking, “I don’t want to hunt for men anymore; I don’t want sex just for the sake of sex.” I never have; I’ve always wanted more. I may have acted otherwise for awhile, then again I was doing a lot of drugs, chemicals that would let me do things I didn’t want to be doing.

I don’t want to wait another month to meet the space monkey. Another month of the Imaginary Friend, when I’d rather get my hands on the real thing. I want a date I can circle on the calendar; an oasis in this desert; an eye in the storm. I want a chest to sleep on, a hand to run through my hair. I want the comfort of another man’s arms in uncertain times.

I can’t seem to control anything; my job, the war, my virus. Love. I want to know it’s going to happen, I want it all today. I don’t want to let go of anything; I want to hold on tight. If I can’t clutch him I’m gonna clutch something. What do you have if you let everything go? Who are you without anything to squeeze? I’m not that evolved. I’m changing, but not that fast.

Sex on Returnable Sheets

“We were just saying we would volunteer to be fluffers for this scene,” says Bob. He and the art director are standing in the kitchen drinking Cokes.

“I don’t think it would make a bit of difference,” I say. “This has to be the most un-erotic environment possible. I could never do a porn.” I choose to deflect the implied compliment, moving over to the counter where three delivery pizzas lie waiting. It’s nine-thirty p.m., we’ve been filming the sex scene since five-thirty and we’re nowhere near done. The guys on the crew are coming down the stairs behind me. I grab a slice and head out onto the back deck, into the cool night air. All weekend I’ve been looking out over the amazing view of the city from the deck, during quiet times between scenes. I never get tired of looking at this city.

The cameraman takes his slice halfway down the stairs leading to the backyard, where he can be alone. He calls someone on his cell phone. His quiet words drift up to me. “Hey, I’m going to be late…I don’t know…okay…bye.” The director and the rest of the crew have joined me on the deck. We all stand silently with our slices of Marcello’s, all of us facing the view of downtown, the Bay Bridge extending beyond the skyline into the night, towards the dark hills of Oakland. There is only the quiet noise of men eating. From the houses on the hills above the Castro there is the sound of traffic and Saturday night parties. Music echoing over the hills, voices, laughter. Hearing them reinforces the sense of dissociation I’ve carried since the filming started; caught up in a strange little world outside my normal customs; the normal hours of my day job, my usual AA meetings at night, dinners with friends; everything has fallen away as I go about the work of pretending to be someone else in this house on 19th street.

I’ve been at the house since 10 am. The lead actor, the kid, sits behind me on the deck, munching his pizza. Both of us are introverted and we’ve had only the briefest of conversations. There are other actors and crew members I’ve known for awhile, from plays we’ve done together. Their presence is comforting. The director seems to believe in me, and has given me the role despite my complete lack of on-camera experience. I’m learning as I go along.

“Let’s get back,” the director says.

I eat a banana to clear some of the pizza taste from my mouth, out of respect for the kid, whom I have to kiss repeatedly during the scene. I keep my tongue in my mouth. Besides, he’s a smoker. I chew a piece of gum as I walk back upstairs.

Upstairs the bedroom is lit up like a ballpark at night. They’ve positioned three floodlights outside on the upper deck. They shine through the windows, across the bed. The bedroom still reads as dimly-lit on camera, where it counts. As the crew settles on the other side of the room, I perch on the edge of the mattress. I look at the floor, away from the harsh lights. The kid lies on the other side of the bed. We’ve removed our clothes six or seven times by now. Fortunately they’re only shooting us from the waists up. We can keep our underwear on. I look over at the others. I can’t help but notice there are more people watching than usual. The director, the cameraman, the lighting man, the sound man, the art director, the continuity girl, the director’s boyfriend, and the owner of the house we’re using.

“Nice sheets,” I tell the art director.

“Yeah, just don’t get anything on them, I have to return them.”

I laugh.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

During the filming I open six or seven condom wrappers with my teeth. The first couple of wrappers take at least two or three bites. One small corner gets trapped under my tongue. I am feeling very un-smooth, a failed Lothario captured on camera for all eternity spitting tiny pieces of foil condom wrappers onto the floor, doing my best to avoid the sheets at all times. The director is kind enough not to yell “CUT!” in the middle of my fumbling. The kid lies patiently beneath me. I’d say he has the easier acting job at the moment. After one or two takes my fingers are coated with a slight film of lube, which only aggravates the problem. Somehow I manage a couple of good takes. By now I’ve accepted that whatever the mostly straight crew thinks of all this is totally beside the point.

Later, after our attempt at fucking fails, the script calls for me to roll over, sigh, and light a cigarette. Being an ex-smoker and someone who can become addicted to anything, anywhere, I’ve asked for some herbal cigarettes without nicotine. It’s my only high-maintenance movie star request. Somehow I only get two of them, so for the six or seven takes of me lighting a cigarette, I have to re-light each about three times. They certainly smell just like cigarettes. I don’t think the owner of the house is too happy with the air quality of his bedroom by now, but again that is beside the point.

Despite the lights and the quiet audience and the new sheets and the camera and my Midwestern modesty, the sex scene is my favorite, if only because my character, a morally ambiguous asshole, gets a second or two where the real guy underneath all the crap is revealed. And that’s why I love acting.

The director is happy. He comes over to my side of the bed, lies down next to me and puts his head on my chest. “That was amazing. That’s gonna be the most beautiful scene in the movie.” I can only take his word for it. He gets back to his feet. “Go home,” he says.

I put my clothes back on for the last time. The crew is out on the deck smoking. The director’s boyfriend is bringing beers up from the kitchen for everyone. A beer sounds so amazingly delicious right now, but I don’t do that anymore. Now that the scene is behind me I am exhausted, all the tension leading up to tonight is spent. I can barely manage a wave good-bye to everyone, but that hardly matters. I have to be back in the morning.

It’s Called Acting

“He’s fearless. He’s rich, made himself rich. He’s the kind that walks into a room and he’s all you can see,” the director says.

I stand with my script in hand in another actor’s living room. I’ve been in this room many times, have spent hours, weeks here, rehearsing for plays. Tonight I’m rehearsing for a film. In 36 hours I’ll report to a house in the Castro, where for the next three days I will work 12 hours a day, pretending to be someone else.

I nod so the director knows I’m listening. I stare at the floor near his feet, imagining what fearlessness looks like, what fearless people have I known? A man I dated awhile back, Mr. Type A from that night at the Stud a couple of weekends ago. The way his chest led the rest of him as he entered a room. His unwavering eye contact.

“He knows the game, he’ll play the game if that’s what it takes, but he doesn’t really care.”

I really need to get these lines down. I won’t own them till I know them. And until then, it’s all fumbling.

“Let’s take a break.”

In the kitchen Scott fills a bowl with the soup he’s made. White beans and carrots and slivers of ham. It’s a little too hot, I lift spoonfulls to the surface of the soup, turn them over as the steam rises. The director and the kid are out front smoking. All I’m thinking about is the next half hour, the scene waiting.

The director and the kid are back. “I want to show you guys a scene from Querelle,” the director says.

Somehow I know which scene he’ll show. We gather in the back bedroom, he has it on DVD. I make a mental note to get a copy. I sit in a chair next to the bed. The kid stands next to me. The director presses a few buttons on the remote, cues the scene. Sure enough, it’s that one. Brad Davis the sailor losing a bet to Nono. The sailor getting fucked on a table. I wonder if the kid is straight, and what he thinks of all this. The scene makes me sweat, every time. I kind of wish everyone would just leave the room.

The director points the remote, the TV darkens. “No nudity,” he says. “All that heat, no nudity, just the connection between them.”

The kid hasn’t said anything. Then again, neither have I. I check his profile, his bright blue eyes blinking behind his glasses. We clutch our scripts in our hands. I’ve taken off my shoes.

I sit with my back resting against the railing at the foot of the bed. The kid sits on the edge of the mattress while the director pages through the script. He settles into the chair. “I’m still trying to figure out how this is going to work,” he says. This makes me a little nervous. I thought he had this all story-boarded or something. “For the purposes of rehearsal, when the script says “kiss’, just touch your cheek to his, Michael.”

“Okay” I relax a little.

We try a few positions on the bed. Sitting side by side on the edge of the mattress. Sitting, one of my legs curled around him. Lying side by side.

“That works,” the director says. Okay, so you kiss him, he resists. It’s too much for him, too intimate. You get him to roll over on his stomach.” He pauses. “Now, how do we get his pants off?”

We try a few maneuvers; settle on one that’s a little more fluid than the others. I pretend to take my shirt off, back to the camera. I reach over and pretend to take his pants off. I climb on top of him.

“Here we’ll frame you as you grab a condom from the nightstand, waist up. Tear it open with your teeth and spit it out.”

Then the failed fuck. He turns over.

I sigh, roll over, grab a cigarette from the nightstand. I motion and the kid settles against me, my arm wrapped around him.

“Okay,” the director says. “Let’s save the rest for the camera. Unless you guys want to run it again?”

Nope, we’re fine. Let’s call it a night.

The night air is cool, the lights of the restaurants on 16th street washing over the sidewalks. I roll the script up in my fist as I walk to the car.

The Neurotic Artist Type

I really should have picked the piece about the go-go boy I think, all day Saturday I should just entertain, that’s all they’ll want. But it’s too late, I’ve already told my instructor what I’ll read, and the class has expressed their opinion; read the piece about your mother and the restaurant, the piece with the box cutter and the fucked-up therapy session. Oh yeah, they’ll love that piece. Just call me Killjoy.

After the gym I have a few hours alone, to read it through, to clean it up. I resist. I open the lap-top, walk away. I come back, read it once, walk away. Come back, tinker a bit. Open a book. Compared to her I suck I think. Mine’s so simple, where’s the rich descriptive language that she has?. I put the book down. Back to the lap-top. I read it again, clean up a few sentences, tighten a flow of words. I think back to the night I read the piece to the class, searching for the questions the instructor asked. “Why is he so scared to come out of the closet if both his parents are gay?” she wanted to know. I type a few more lines here and there. I open another book, scan a few pages, put it back. Take another. He’s so intelligent, I think, so literary. I can’t catch half his references. I put it aside. I come back, read it again, clean it up a little more. The sentence I added is clunky, tighten it up, delete a few words. Read the section over and over till it flows right. Then read the whole thing. I walk away, draw a bath. Let the dog outside. It’s a beautiful day, sun on the warm wooden deck just out the backdoor, but I need to stay in here and get it right. I take the first book with me to the bathtub, but I only read three pages. Time is slipping past. I flip the drainswitch with my toe. Too early to get dressed for the reading, so I put my sweats on, back to the glowing screen. Read it aloud for the first time, timing myself. I’m reading fast and I’m three minutes over. Read it again, forget I’m timing myself and tinker with another sentence. Stop, start over. You get the idea.

I’m twenty minutes early to the bookstore. I’m always early, to everything. I walk among the broad tables with piles of books facing up. I scan them, marvelling at their colors and their clever designs, all the stories everyone has. I pick up a few, scan the back covers, set them back. Try to remember the author of that book about the middlesexed charater. Too stubborn to ask the guy behind the counter, I play a little game, I’ll just wander and try to find the book myself and kill some time. I stand by the new hardcover fiction shelf, my head tilted to the right, scanning the spines of the books. Oh, she has a new one. And there’s the one that one the Pulitzer. I pull it out, open the book and read a few words. That’s so clever, I wish I were that clever. Maybe I should exchange earnest for clever. I imagine myself a published author, what it would be like to see my book among the others; would there be a sense of satisfaction, or would I worry it’ll end up on the sale table in a few weeks? I never find the middlesex book. I wander to the back of the store where they’ve set up about twenty-five chairs in front of a microphone. The store is so quiet, won’t it be obnoxious once we get up there and start reading? Luckily Bearbait is there, browsing as well, so I can escape my head for a bit.

“Hey,” I say.

“Hey,” he says.

Back to my brain. I stake out two chairs in the third row. Bearbait seems tired. What if he doesn’t really want to be here? He blinks slowly, tells me about his day. Other students come, bearing wine and bags of chips, eyes shinging, laughing a little too high and loud. Everyone looks nicer than they did on Wednesday nights. Bearbait heads for the refreshments while I stay seated. Then a voice at my shoulder.

“Is this seat taken?” It’s Richard. We hug and I move in another chair. I feel so flattered people are here. And nervous.

“I should have picked the go-go boy story,” I tell Richard. He lets me babble nervously, nodding patiently at my ten-minute long disclaimer about how I don’t want to be too heavy and bring everybody down by reading a piece about cutting up my hand with a box cutter.

My instructor stops by, “You’re reading sixth,” she says. A little more than half-way through. How did she decide that? I wonder. Is there some sort of hierarchy here? I let that rattle around inside my head along with everything else. A lot of people are showing up; more chairs are pulled from a back room. I look behind me at all the unfamilar faces.

“This looks like a Marina crowd,” I tell Richard. He agrees. Bearbait comes back. “This is Richard, he keeps a website, too.” Bearbait smiles. “And this is ____. I call him Bearbait on dogpoet.” They smile patiently at my clever nickname. I tell Bearbait to start his own weblog, as a way of luring more bears. He smiles patiently at me and sips his Pepsi.

The reading starts. The woman’s head in front of me blocks my view of the podium. So I listen, staring at her neck or at the bright colors of the children’s book section behind the podium. There is a clock cut out of construction paper hanging on the wall, its hands stuck eternally at seven o’clock. It’s very disorienting. As the fifth student walks to the podium Bearbait leans over and tells me to breathe. Apparently I had stopped. I lean back and take a couple of deep breaths, test my eyesight by reading the titles of books several feet away. I was expecting the intermission but the instructor calls my name. I reach under my chair, grab the four sheets of paper waiting there. Richard moves his legs and I squeeze by, hoping my jeans look good as I walk up to the podium.

“’Michael McAllister used to write a lot of poetry,” the instructor reads from my hastily-written bio. “Lately he’s been writing little stories from his life.’” She pauses and looks at me. “Maybe not that little,” she says. Everyone laughs. “’He lives in San Francisco and keeps a website.’ She looks at me again. “Should I tell them the website?” I shake my head. They’ll ask if they want.

The reader before me was short. I pull the microphone up a bit, set the pages down, take another breath to calm my nerves.

“My mother has a good arm,” I read.

They’re laughing by the end of the first paragraph, laughing at all the appropriate jokes. They’re quiet in the other parts. As I read I remember this feeling, the feeling I used to get when I’d read my poetry in Minneapolis. The feeling of a room full of people listening intently to the words I’ve strung together. I remember how I loved it. What was I so worried about? I wonder. It’s a good story. When I finish there is warm applause that carries me back to my chair between Richard and Bearbait. I sit, my adrenaline pumping, as the intermission is announced. The women in front of me turn around “that was great,” they say. I smile and say thanks. The instructor stops by. “Bravo,” she says, “that revision is wonderful, it brought it all together.” She shakes my hand. “I tried to remember the feedback,” I tell her.

A woman with bright red hair and a commanding presence comes up to me. “You have a website?” she asks. I nod. “Is it a blog?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“We have blogs too!” she says, indicating her boyfriend. As she searches through her purse for a pen, a familiar face walks up.
“I recognize you,” I say. It’s Chad. He introduces himself briefly, then slips away, late for a dinner party. I exchange URL’s with the couple.

The rest of the reading is great, everybody sounds so good. There is another student who I love, someone who’s lived a rough life and is writing about it in a vivid, humorous, heartbreaking way. I think she’s the best writer in the class. She was so nervous about reading, didn’t want to do it. “You have to read,” I told her at the last class. “You’re too good.” She reads and everyone eats it up, they adore her. I want to write as good as she does.

Later Richard, Bearbait and I grab dinner at Max’s Opera Café. A waitress sings “Killing Me Softly” over by the piano. Richard orders a “BIG! BOLD! SALAD!” and we order cheeseburgers. We talk about art and life, and living the lives we want. It’s a good night with good people. The anxiety is behind me. I dip my fries in ketchup and horseradish.

“I thought there was no nudity in this movie,” I tell the director.

“There isn’t.”

“What about that scene where the kid looks over at the mirror in my bedroom and sees me lying on top of him?”

The director taps his outstretched hand against his waist. “Only to here,” he says.

“Oh, okay.”

Yes, kids, bare-chested Dogpoet captured on film (er, digital video) for all time. Having a shirtless scene in a movie ( er, short film) and a potential visit from the space monkey next month has been very good for my short-term gym goals. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time till we hit Sundance. Apparently the film festival in Turin, Italy is already requesting a rough cut. I’ll be huge with the Italians, just wait. Unless they like the kid more. You know, the beauty of youth and all that.

I warm up a piece of left-over peach pie in the director’s microwave while the other actors discuss Robert Deniro.

“I was watching Godfather II the other night, he’s really amazing in that. I think it’s his best work.”

I cut into the pie. Maybe I should rent that again. Maybe I should act like Deniro next week. No, wait, that’s stupid.

“There’s that scene where he watches his baby and from that moment on he just gets more and more confident.”

“Almost like his body gets bigger.”

I’m trying to imagine how I’m gonna pull this off. The beauty of theater acting is that when you get on stage, you just go, and the play goes, and you and the audience are on a ride. This movie stuff, with the lights and the camera angles and the cuts and the jumps in time; there’s no flow there. Just lots of people holding equipment, holding their breath, as you act natural in a pool of hot light. Not that I’ve tried it yet. Just, you know, it’s what I imagine.

Excuse me, I have to work on my lines.

“I fucking love this place!”

“I fucking love this place!”

“I fucking love this place!”

Yeah, I went there. Sorry.

Dogs in Need

It’s probably just a matter of time till they write me up. I started the week by making a woman cry on the phone. Ha, I fucking love it. I sat there, cold as stone as she sobbed about her miserable life. Granted, she had just been very rude and patronizing and defiant, as in adopting a dog from us Sunday, and by Monday wants to break one of the conditions of the adoption by dropping out of her obedience class. “Because my dog is already perfect and I know everything there is to know about training dogs.”

Lady, everybody thinks they know everything about raising a dog, so why does this shelter even exist? “This is our profession, ma’am, this is what we do for a living. There are reasons we ask you to take the class. It helps you bond with your dog, and frankly it greatly reduces the chance that you will return your perfect dog in three days. This is what we do.”

“And how old are you?” she asks.

I close my eyes for a moment. “Ma’am, please do not do this to me right now.”

“I’m just telling you I’ve had dogs all my life.”

“Well, it sounds like you’ve made up your mind.” Frankly I don’t care.

“Well, I have, but I just want to make sure you aren’t going to try and like, take my dog away from me.”

“We can’t do that. But you did sign the contract, you agreed to the conditions.”

She starts getting snivelly. “But what was I supposed to do, not adopt her?”

“Well, you could have adopted from a different shelter if you didn’t like our terms.”

“But I was supposed to have her! She needed me! She looks exactly like my last dog!”

Ooh, now I really can’t stand her. People who try to adopt the same dog as their last dead one are seriously unbalanced and setting the new dog up for complete failure when it turns out to be, surprise, a different dog.

Then she started crying.

I hate my job. I can’t deny it anymore. I hate the phone, I hate rude people, I hate being on the front lines. I hate everyone telling me they know how to raise a dog but then they abandon their under-exercised, neglected dogs with us. People so chickenshit they’ll tie their dog to our fence in the middle of the night. People who abandon their dogs when they get hit by a car because they don’t want to pay the bill. Within two months this job has become everything I was trying to avoid when I started two years ago. Introverted, oversensitive artists like myself should not be answering phones all day. Worse, it has made Dogpoet cynical about dogs. I like dogs, I do, I just don’t want to build my life around them. The writing is on the wall, I know it’s time to leave. My writing is drying up as fast as my sense of humor.

But I am one impatient mofo who cannot wait. An impatient mofo who doesn’t know the next step, who wants the next step illuminated in million-watt floodlights because I need it that way.

Yes, this is a problem of luxury. As most of mine are now. I made it through hell and now I’m ready for more, I want more from life. None of these clothes fit. Growing pains the space monkey says when I call. “Yeah, well fuck them,” I say. It’s actually exciting to witness, it means you’re hungry. “Glad you’re enjoying the show,” I say. I’m being contrary because I can, and because it’s very sexy.

Later I meet up with the cast and the crew of this little movie I’m going to be in, at the director’s house in the Castro. Some old friends, past directors and co-stars I’ve worked with. And a lot of new people, directors of photography and grips and gaffers and art directors.

“This movie has an art director?” I think. Cool.

I vent a little over tacos in the kitchen. Secretly loving the ground beef. Over the guacamole bowl I meet the young actor with whom I have a sex scene. “Oh, you’re the guy I’m going to pretend to rim.”

No, I didn’t really say that.