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John Hughes Ruined Us All

Met up with Mr. Geekslut for coffee on Friday night. I always get a little nervous when I am about to meet another blogger for the first time, like a blind date of sorts, but he made for great company, and he wasn’t too bad to look at, either. His weblog has a distinctive voice, a unique combination of writing style and subject matter, the kind of blog I visit frequently. Which doesn’t mean that I always agree with what he says, I’m a little more idealistic in matters of love and devotion, but it makes for good conversation, and good reading.

Woke up Saturday knowing I was going to spend the weekend in bed; one of my 48-hour flu’s that hit me once or twice a year. Spent a few hours watching a John Hughes movie-thon on TNT. I didn’t realize that I knew all the dialogue in The Breakfast Club. It was rather sweet, actually, seeing Mollie Ringwald again. Something almost naive about all those stories of love across school cliques, the freaks and the losers triumphing in the end. Something that plays the violin to my naive, romantic heart. I always wanted, at the end of the movie, to leave the church and find a handsome man leaning against a red Porsche, waiting for me.

And indeed he is. Maybe it was the movies, I don’t know. I get these musical obsessions, where a song from my past or present infects me, and I must find it and play it over and over and stew in the blissful melancholy it usually produces. So yesterday the song was “Space Age Love Song”, by yes, a Flock of Seagulls. I searched in a fevered haze for a free MP3 somewhere, with no luck. I told the Space Monkey about this today, and later he uploaded it for me, and here I am writing to you, blissfully stewing. May someone say to you, someday:

I saw your eyes
And you made me smile
For a little while
I was falling in love

When She Knew

We’re under the jungle gym when she says, “I wanna see who’s the best kisser.” In my humble opinion the afternoon has just gone from bad to worse.

“Yeah, right,” Joe says.

“No, seriously,” she says.

Craig doesn’t say anything.

There’s a bar that connects the four legs of the jungle gym, forming a little shaded room of sorts, a ceiling of wood, a floor of sand. Each of us taking up a side of the room, leaning against the bar, facing in towards each other.

Michelle crosses her leg, one foot bouncing in the air. I dig my feet into the sand beneath us. My stomach sinks. Stop this ride, I want to get off.

The playground is empty, school ended hours ago. The restless week before summer. Soon we will no longer be fifth graders. There will be a bigger school a mile away, where it is rumored we will be assaulted daily by eighth graders. The sun is falling lower in the sky, light streams between the wooden support beams, setting Joe’s blue eyes aglow. I watch him smiling. I watch him watching her.

“I don’t know about that,” he says, then looks at me. “Mike, what do you think?”

“What?” I ask.

“Well, you’re going out with her.”

Michelle glances at me. “Yeah, well, he hasn’t kissed me yet.”

“You haven’t kissed her?”

I don’t say anything. The sudden shift in our geometry has left me a little stunned. Allegiances are shifting and I’ve fallen behind.

“He’s shy,” she says, as if it were an affliction. She leans her head back, her blonde hair brushing the top of her shoulders. Her glasses catch the light and I can’t see her eyes. Michelle John. It’s true, I’ve held her hand and that’s it. I’m more enamored with the idea of “going together” than the actual practice. I like the note passing, the whispering, the relentless prodding by friends. But alone with Michelle, in the backseat of the bus, I am conspicuously devoid of any urge to touch her. And while a certain shyness may be attractive, I’m beginning to realize that a girl like Michelle needs more.

She tugs her halter-top up and I watch the other boys watch her. And that’s the problem. Instead of watching her, I watch them.

She folds one long brown leg over the other. “Well?”

Craig’s freckled skin is flushed red. He wears jeans and Docksiders. He has more money than the rest of us. I’ve been on his father’s boat on Lake Superior, leaning over the side, watching the deep green water rushing beneath us. Craig’s eyes remind me of that water. “It’s over 70 feet deep right here,” his Dad had said that afternoon. Or was it 700? I had imagined how dark it would be down there, what kinds of things could slide up to you.

“If Mike doesn’t care, I don’t care,” he says. He’s struggling valiantly to appear as calm as Joe.

Michelle turns to me. “Do you?”


“Do you care?” she asks. Her words are clipped, business-like. Her frankness unsettles me.

“Um. I guess not. No.”

“Good,” she says, standing up. “I’ll kiss Craig first.” His eyes widen as she walks over and sits at his side, balancing on the bar. She turns to him but then stops. She takes her glasses off. “Here, hold these,” she says, leaning over to me. I don’t say anything, I just take her glasses. She places a hand on each of Craig’s shoulders, then leans towards him, and just like that they kiss. I watch them. No, I watch Craig. There is no tenderness, in fact they plunge their tongues in each other’s mouths, and the intensity shocks me. I feel as though everyone has suddenly grown up, and I’ve been left behind. Their eyes are closed tight. It lasts three seconds. They pull apart and without taking a breath she says “He sucks too much.” Which makes us all laugh. Craig makes a feeble effort to protest, but events have reached a momentum of their own, there is no stopping now.

She hops up and crosses to Joe, sits at his side. Joe Welecski, my best friend since last year. He lives in a low, shoddy house across the highway from the golf course. Joe has the entire basement to himself. One summer night last year he showed me how to light bottle rockets on the hill behind his house. Joe, who make us hamburgers with ketchup and mayo when I stay over. Joe, who still wears red pajamas with feet. Michelle’s going to kiss Joe.

They close their eyes and lock lips in an equally fervid collision. I watch Joe’s pale, wide face press up against hers. Their kiss lasts five seconds, and when they break apart she says “He’s good,” which again makes us laugh. Joe smiles a little, and I envy him the comfort with which he wears his body, sitting there, solid and sure.

Michelle crosses to me, sits at my side. My blush has drained to pale. Craig and Joe watch from their sides of the square. She sits close, and when she lays her hands on my shoulder I push down on the panic boiling up. I don’t know how to kiss and even if I did, I wouldn’t want to kiss Michelle John.

“Wait, stop,” Joe says. I turn towards him, grateful for any interruption. He’s looking past us, and when I turn I see a car pull up to the curb on the edge of the playground.

“Shit, that’s my father,” Michelle says, standing up. “I gotta go.” She takes her glasses from me and without a word ducks out. The three of us watch her half-run across the grass. She opens the passenger door and slips inside without looking back.

I turn back to the others. Joe pulls a comb from his back pocket and runs it through his feathered hair. “Don’t worry, Beaker,” he says. Beaker’s my nickname, because I have bird legs. “Next year we’ll get you a girlfriend, and we’ll have campfires over in the woods. We’ll bring blankets.”

That sounds awful, I want to say. Instead I watch him comb his hair. It’s a white comb, same color as mine. In fact we are both combing our hair in the boy’s bathroom later that week when he tells me that he’s going out with Michelle. I’m too pissed to reply. I leave him there. After school, when I get home I lie face-down on my bed, crying into the comforter. My mother comes in and rubs my back.

“What happened?”

“Michelle….broke up with me…” I sob, “…to go out with Joe.” I’m a pitiful wreck.

“That was the day,” she tells me, years later, “that I knew. I knew you were gay.”

“Why?” I’ll ask.

“You were more upset about Joe than you were about Michelle.”

I don’t know how she figured that out, from one tear-stained sentence. But she was my mother, and mothers always know.

Will be in New York City for Gay Pride soon, looking forward to seeing the city for the first time in about six years. It’s become somewhat fashionable to diss Gay Pride, for all of the commercialization and the party boy atmosphere. I know a lot of people who won’t go to their local Pride celebrations for these reasons; reasons I understand.

But I always think about something my first boyfriend once said, that we owe it to ourselves, and to those who came before us, who fought for the rights we enjoy now, we owe it to our visibility, our past, our future, to show up and be counted. My experience with the past few Pride days here in San Francisco, at least from my perspective walking in the parade with all the shelter dogs, is that the majority of people lining the route were from out of town; people who might live in towns where there won’t be any Pride celebrations, people who are out there in their cheesy rainbow clothes and fanny packs, with yards of plastic beads around their necks, having a total blast. They make me smile, they make me grateful for the life I lead. (Which is not to say that the cracked-out boys don’t annoy me, sobriety has certainly dulled their limited appeal for me. But that’s a minor loss). I will miss SF Pride this year, I look forward to seeing New York’s Pride with new eyes, to being the dorky one from out of town.

Dork Fears

Something that never seems to go away, no matter how long I have been blogging, is this almost constant desire to delete every post I’ve published. I read over them the next day, and suddenly I feel like such an asshole. My feelings about Pride now read like an annoying lecture given by the kind of guy who’s no fun at a party. Suddenly I can imagine every valid argument against my opinion, and they all sound more intelligent and more funny. Suddenly a minor quip about party boys sounds self-righteous and arrogant, and I want to change everything or just hit delete.

The posts I write about the past, the little stories from memory, are less prone to this, as they deal with past feelings and events. I still feel raw when I post them, vulnerable and anxious. I’ve gone too far this time, I think, every time.

But let me emphasize the final words of the previous post: that I am the dorky one. I am the one who is more worried about how to get to campus from La Guardia than I am about writing well during the workshop (at least, that is how I feel today. When I get there, my worries will naturally morph into new worries). I am the dork who is more worried about lifting weights during the workshop than writing during the workshop because I want to look good for when I return to SF and the space monkey finally lands. I am the dork who worries that I won’t be cool enough for New York, that all my clothes will be stupid and too casual and that I will just have to deal because I don’t want to be carting around two or three suitcases of clothes in cabs and on the subway. I’m the dork who is afraid to meet people I’ve been corresponding with for over a year or two because, well, I am a dork. I am a self-indulgent dork who can only write about himself and the dumb past.

But take all this with a grain of salt. I am a dork, but I also exaggerate everything to cover my ass. If I was really all that worried, I’d just stay home.

Jim and Joan

The currently page has been updated and is worth checking out not because my current interests are very interesting, but because Jim’s design skills are beautiful. He kicked it out in two hours, and it makes me feel like an art museum or something. I better work on producing content worthy of such display.

To films I would add Capturing the Friedmans, which I saw last night. Ever since my hours at work were cut, I like to find movies late on Sunday nights to check out, when the rest of the world is getting ready to go back to work on Monday. I like driving through the city at night, the half-empty streets, the parking spots, the quiet theaters.

The film, which documents the true story of a family’s destruction in the wake of sexual abuse allegations, is easily one of the best I’ve seen in the last couple of years. It explores notions of truth, and leaves no easy answers. It is heartbreaking and infuriating, and very funny.

I’ve been a little quiet around here lately. Maybe it’s the summer, maybe I am storing up all of my creative energy for the workshop next week. I’m excited and nervous, flying across the country to a school I’ve never seen, where I don’t know anybody, to work with a writer who is well known in the world of nonfiction, who edited an anthology I read for class last year. As I commit myself more to this, whatever it is, it feels as though the stakes are raised. The possibility of failure becomes more intense, more frightening. And two questions repeat ad infinitum through my neurotic skull; Who am I, and why would anyone care to read about me? I suppose these are the kinds of questions that I have no business asking, the point is to keep writing, and not look down. I mean really, it’s too late now, I won’t find happiness in a normal job. I have to do this.

I know I quoted her before, last year sometime, but because I am reading her again, and because it is so appropriate, I once again give you Joan Didion:

When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off the DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already, even in the old Idlewild temporary terminal, and the warm air smelled of mildew and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever heard sung and all the stories I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never be quite the same again.

-“Goodby to All That”

Jumpin’ Jumpin’

“Something was stolen from us last night,” Chris says. Her statement, apropos of nothing, silences the room. My brother and I look at each other. From my seated position on the floor of the TV room, I look up at Chris and my mother sitting together on the couch. My mother watches her lover. As usual, she will let Chris do the talking. Chris stares straight ahead, her eyes hardened. She seems to be searching for her next words. I lower the newspaper into my lap and look again at my brother, who’s sitting in the recliner, his long legs folded together over the arm of the chair. He holds the sports section aloft, as if he were about to perform for us a magic trick. Then he swallows and folds the paper flat. The silence between the four of us stretches uncomfortably until I am compelled to break it.

“What was it?” I ask.

Chris turns her gaze to me and smiles, but it’s not a smile of warmth. It is the smile she steadies herself with when angry. I know not to smile back.

“A condom,” she replies. She does not blink.

My brow furrows. “A what?”

“A condom.”

I glance over at my mother, who is nodding. She places her hand on Chris’ knee, and the gesture pisses me off. “Wh..what…” I am failing to comprehend what Chris is saying. “Where was it?” I ask, rather pointlessly.

“In my purse,” Chris says. A slow chill descends into my gut. Obviously my brother and I are the prime suspects. A flush of guilt, instinctive and automatic, colors my face. But I haven’t done anything.

I look over at my brother. His eyes are shining, the wheels’ machinery spinning within.
“Yeah,” my brother says. “I had one stolen, too.”

All eyes turn to me. I sit there, speechless. Then my mother picks up the phone from the table beside the couch. She does this slowly; as the ALS has already begun killing off her motor neurons. She turns the receiver over, holding her index finger over the buttons. With steadied focus she aims her fingertip and pushes a series of numbers, and the flat melody of their tones is the only sound in the room. There seems to be a lot of numbers. “Must be long-distance,” I think. Chris turns her attention to my mother.

“Susan, who are you trying to call?”

My mother lifts the receiver to her ear. “My father,” she says. Only it sounds more like fa-her, her weakening tongue struggling over the word. There is the distant sound of ringing, then my grandfather’s voice.


My mother attempts to speak, but her words are garbled. I imagine my grandfather standing with a cup of Sanka in his kitchen. He sets the cup down on the counter and fiddles with his hearing aid. “Hello, who is this?”

She tries again, a longer sentence from which I can extract not a single word. As Chris reaches for the phone, I wake up.


I remember in the dream cursing to myself; “Fuck, I forgot to get her a Mother’s Day gift.” But of course she’s been dead over a year. In fact, her father had already been dead years before her ALS diagnosis. Within the flickering light of my subconscious, a spirit attempting contact with another spirit, reaching into the past. What did she want to tell him?


When I first learned about my mother’s diagnosis and about the full extent of ALS, I turned with fury to Chris and said “Who the hell thought of this disease?” As though someone were responsible, someone had channeled all of their delicious cruelty into its creation.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually lead to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With all voluntary muscle action affected, patients in the later stages of the disease become totally paralyzed. Yet, through it all, for the vast majority of people, their minds remain unaffected.

My mother, however, was not among the vast majority. She had a very rare type that included Parkinson’s and dementia. I felt, and sometimes still feel, that someone had to be responsible, someone had cursed us.

The disease first killed the neurons that affected her speech and swallowing muscles. Dinners became white-knuckle affairs, for it was virtually guaranteed that she would choke on her food. Eventually we had to accept that a feeding tube inserted in her stomach was the only safe way for her to eat. Surgery number one. But as the deterioration progressed, she would choke on her own saliva. Then the worst; the trachesotomy, a hole cut into her throat, her windpipe sealed off from her mouth, the vocal cords cut, my mother never to make another sound.

The neurons that affected the movement and strength of her arms and legs were failing as well. My mother and Chris had run over twelve marathons together. They had hiked through Thailand and Alaska and to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. Their circle of friends, all lesbians, had years ago formed a runner’s group, calling themselves “Dangerous Curves.” No longer able to run, my mother was forced into a new role; one of loyal fan.

I know that she mourned the loss of her physical life; the running and the travel and the dinners out. But for me the hardest part was the loss of the mother I knew, the woman who loved long conversations about dreams and emotions. The first person I’d call with good news. She had become so quiet. The disease stripped her of more than her voice; she rarely initiated conversations, answering questions with one or two words scratched out on little yellow legal pads. I assumed it was the dementia, which didn’t seem like the confusion of Alzheimer’s. Rather, it seemed to just simplify her. She recognized her loved ones, but her focus and attention span narrowed considerably. The woman sitting silently beside me in the car was still my mother, but she had changed so much so quickly that our times together were painful; it seemed I could never engage her in conversation, I couldn’t hold her interest. It took me months to learn to enjoy her quiet companionship, though I would never completely accept the continual deterioration, the series of losses that were slowly erasing her.

One summer afternoon Chris and one of her running partners were doing a fifteen-mile run. My mother and I drove ahead on the route, stopping occasionally for water breaks, my mother offering the bottles with a hug.

At the third scheduled stop I parked under a canopy of trees stretching over a quiet residential street in Saint Paul. “I think we’re a little early,” I said, turning to her. She nodded, but then unbuckled her seat belt and reached for the door handle. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay in here for a bit and wait?” I asked her. She just looked at me, smiled a little, then climbed out. She took a bottle of water from the trunk and then walked slowly back to the main road, fifty feet from where we had parked. I watched her walk away in the rearview mirror. She set the bottle down on the sidewalk and stood there at the corner, facing the direction from which Chris would come. She folded her arms across her chest and stood there, and I was seized by sadness and anger. Sadness at the sight of her, standing there alone while the traffic rushed by, so focused, so loyal to the woman who had loved her for twenty years. And pissed, that she was so different, that she didn’t want to sit with me. I thought of going to her and keeping her company, but I knew she would continue to stare off in that direction, searching the distance for the runners.

I turned the radio on, some Top 40 station was playing Destiny’s Child, and I listened to the song while I watched my mother in the rearview mirror.

Ladies leave yo man at home
The club is full of ballas and they pockets full grown
And all you fellas leave yo girl with her friends
Cause its 11:30 and the club is jumpin’ jumpin’

I snarled at the song’s stupidity; infuriated by the inane lyrics. It was a pleasure to hate, it felt good, to stew in my fury. The world’s perpetual ignorance, the insistence that the party must always go on, that every man needed a woman. I laughed in derision, mocking the vapid, shiny girl group and the clueless world of bar culture, where I had spent so many nights. There was before, and there was after. When I heard the words life expectancy averages two to five years from the time of diagnosis everything began to change, and I mocked the world for not changing with me.

I watched her in the mirror, standing there, arms crossed over her chest. The song’s chorus repeating endlessly. Watching her wait, watching with envy her singular devotion, turned not towards me but away. I blinked, tears welling up hotly, but then just as quickly they were gone. I thought of going to her, but I didn’t.