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Blogging, like walking a tightrope, is best done without looking down. Otherwise you glance down and have a second thought or two. You wonder what the hell made you think that tiptoeing over a canyon was such a bright idea, when the world is full of less ridiculous activities. You…well, this metaphor is running out of steam, so let’s drop kick it and move on.

Moving to another city solves certain problems. Going from 80 billion people to 700,000 is a move in the right direction, as far as I’m concerned. Getting my dog back. Buying a car with a moon roof and getting a pleasurable sunburn on my scalp. Also nature, which I sort of dig. While I was gone the landlord had my back deck redone, and now I wander the aisles of Bay Area garden centers at all hours of the day and night, simply because I can. A pot of lavender is going gangbusters below my bedroom window, next to something called Kangaroo’s Paw, which hails from Australia, in case you were wondering. They’ve taken up residence beside an assortment of cacti that the previous tenant (my Ex) left behind, a dozen neglected cacti which I refer to as the Bad News Bears of the succulent community. Their health and well-being have become my personal mission. Blame it on the two years I spent holed up in my Upper West Side cave. The pendulum, it swung. This is what happens when people move from the East Coast to San Francisco. Investment bankers turn into yoga instructors, art directors become dog walkers, software designers join a landscaping crew, and everyone turns a bit soft. Perhaps you might even call them ineffectual, in the grand machinations of capitalism and power, but then you’d be a cynic, and you’d get run out of town.

But certain problems are loyal companions, no matter the distance you cover. Tennessee Williams had what he called “the blue devils.” This was long before the days of Paxil and Zoloft, and I’ve come to prefer his term over the clinical term of depression. The blue devils suggest an active, almost supernatural force, dogging you despite your best efforts, a far more malicious and tenacious foe than depression, which only suggests an emotional wet blanket, one you could cast off with a little effort.

The blue devils dogged me in Manhattan, but surrounded by a billion overambitious people and faced with a hundred books to read, I could only give them the most cursory attention. Now, in the relative peace and quiet of Bay Area garden center aisles, without a job or academic routine to tether me to the ground, the blue devils are throwing me a party, sort of a Burning Man of the Endless Night. I wake up every morning thinking, “what’s the point?”

I’ve faced more mornings like that than I could count throughout my life, so by now it’s less troubling than, well, dull. It’s so boring, thinking “what’s the point?” Take it from me, it’s not the kind of mental attitude that gets you invited to parties or the social circles of the chronically content, the bastards who think they’re doing you a favor by suggesting that you “lighten up!” or advise you that, surprise, you could just “choose to be happy!!” Yes, folks like this deserve to be chased through the streets with a pellet gun, but what if they’re right? How much of the blue devil dance is genetics, how much of it is the result of two-hits-of-ecstasy-and-a-bump-of-tina-every-weekend-for-two-years, and how much of it is just the comfort of old routine, the soft flannel shirt you slip into on Sundays? How much of it is fueled by self-pity? Or a lack of purpose and routine, easily fixed by a daily schedule of cardio and scribbling the rest of your thesis on coffee shop napkins? Second thoughts followed by thirds, questions that bring you no closer to an answer, a spun-out, strung-out path of consciousness, a rocky, rambling road to paralysis.

Overcast light reflected off a hill full of pale houses through your bedroom window. The dread of an open, cloudless day. Offers of friendship that feel like threats. The staggering weight of a telephone. The hopelessness of an afternoon TV court show, the sassy black-robed judge weighing your slender contributions to life. The bitterness of a locker room, the tyranny of a perfect deltoid. Covering your body in shapeless clothes, repeating a mantra leave me alone leave me aloe. The exhaustion of a room filled with laughter. Wind spinning a soda can in the gutter. A whore in bunny slippers climbing out of a pick-up on 17th Street.

Do you really think you’re in control?

Shortly before I left New York, I told Norman about my plans to retire from this long spell of unintentional celibacy, and to, well, embrace everything that San Francisco has to offer.

“Oh God,” he said, “are you going to end up in the Bare Chest Calendar?”

As if being pictorially rewarded for your manly manliness was something to frown upon. Instead I did the next best thing, and went on a date with a Bare Chest Calendar model. We met at Cafe Flore, the default location of a million first dates.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked.

“I produce child pornography,” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“Just kidding.”

Inappropriate humor is a huge turn-on for me, so he’d just scored points. Later, when we discovered a mutual passion for Almodóvar films, he suggested that for our next date I bring my copy of Bad Education over to his place. Code for: let’s screw around on the couch. Which we did. I had occasion to wonder at some of the innate differences between gay and straight foreplay while watching the movie. At one point, Gael García Bernal, clad in nothing but a pair of skimpy running shorts, is doing push-ups on the living room floor, his hips dipping and rocking to the salsa music coming from the television.

“Look at that chair,” my date said. I was sort of lying in front of him on the couch: totally his idea. He was lying behind me, with his arm wrapped around my chest.


“That chair.”

“What chair?”

“Behind him.”

I glanced at the screen. Indeed, behind Gael was some kind of wacky, multi-colored piece of furniture, as if Piet Mondrian had been let loose in Design Within Reach.

“Isn’t it fabulous?” my date said.

“Whatever, dude,” I said. “Go back to pinching my nipple.”

I first visited San Francisco in 1996, with my then-boyfriend, David. One night we ended up at the Powerhouse, in South of Market, on an off-night. Lamps fashioned from Crisco cans cast dim circles on the scarred surface of the bar, and on the video screens a disembodied fist entered a disembodied butt. We were two boys from the midwest, simultaneously thrilled and scared out of our minds. Around us prowled lone wolves in leather jackets, Rolling Rocks clutched in their fists. They leaned against walls, the bench, the pool table, and looked around like they wanted to kill you or eat you, probably both.

David leaned over and whispered in my ear, “What is this leather thing about, anyway?”

I’d been wondering the same thing. The Village People, and Al Pacino in “Cruising,” was the extent of my BDSM education. My first reaction, when faced with my own ignorance, was to always feign cool. I shrugged and said, “Whatever.”

But David was an entirely different creature. My stepsister once compared him to a sheepdog; big, goofy, lovable, and completely naive. When confronted with his own ignorance, he’d ask the closest person for an answer. Getting nothing from me, he leaned over to one of the lone wolves, who stood nearby, glowering and chomping on a cigar, and said, “Excuse me, sir, but what’s the deal with leather?”

Was anyone ever so young? I’m here to tell you that we were.

I can’t remember the answer to the question, relayed to me by David in another whisper. I do remember that Mr Cigar Daddy was quite generous and respectful with his answer, and I remember that, underneath my nonchalance, was a hunger for knowledge.

The other thing I remember was a boy my age behind the bar: bare-chested, two leather bands wrapped around his thick arms, a tattoo stretching across his broad back, packed tight into a pair of chaps. You could tell he’d worked there for a while; he could pour out a Foster’s, ring up a shot, and swap spit with a muscle daddy all at the same time. He was on stage, in his element, and I watched the lone wolves watch him hungrily all night. Putting the cart before the horse (something I was good at) I figued that if I could ever get myself hired to tend bar at the Powerhouse, then I’d know for sure that I was hot. I don’t mean cute, or handsome, I mean hot – attraction inextricably tied up with sexual magnetism. The kind, well..you get the picture.

Fast forward to 1999; I’ve been in San Francisco a couple of years. Tired of scooping cat shit at the animal shelter, and inspired by weekend ecstasy-fueled fantasies, I quit my job to “become a writer.” A smarter boy would have lined up another job, but I was an idealist. A month later, my savings near depleted, I walked into the Powerhouse and asked for a job, thinking maybe I could start out as a barback, and work my way up the Ladder of Hotness. A half hour later I walked out a bartender, with no idea of the difference between a Rob Roy and a Seabreeze.

Thankfully the Powerhouse was a “leatherish” kind of bar. Guys ordered bottles of Bud and shots of tequila. I had every right to sneer at queens who wandered in and ordered a fucking cosmo. Yeah, sure I had a deck of flash cards with cocktail recipes at home, but nobody needed to know that. I worked South of Market; I could whip you up a cocksucker, a screaming orgasm, and a golden shower. I’d pound shots of Goldschlager with you and the other guys behind the bar, and if someone wanted a mudslide I could flash my endearing, entirely-believable, gosh-darn, I’m-just-the-new boy-smile, and the guy would tell me how to make his drink, squeeze my bicep, and leave me a ten dollar tip.

I wanted to be a bad boy, always had. I wanted to be a twisted, kinky motherfucker. And though I could throw in a tape of fisting highlights from Hot House on the bar’s VCR, I couldn’t walk into a video store in the Castro and rent porn for my own filthy enjoyment. I could serve MGD’s to guys who had just ducked out of our notorious back room, but I myself never went back there. Truth was, I had some dirty, twisted fantasies, but I lacked the balls to say them out loud, so they stayed just that: fantasies. Worse, addiction made my innate fear of the world worse; the further I went with crystal meth, the more I wanted to stay home, alone, and hide from the world. Last thing I wanted was to get on stage behind the bar and take my shirt off for Pec Night.

When my mom got sick I quit the bar and left town, and led a quiet, monastic, miserable life in Minneapolis for a few months as she got worse. Then I came back, got worse, got sober, and started cleaning up my life. Since by now everyone in the world has written a couple of books about some kind of recovery, I’ll spare you the details. I’ll just say things got okay, then better, then I went to New York. And now I’m back.

Joe, my good friend and new workout partner, told me over lunch yesterday that it’s a joy to see me transform from the old, passive, barely-audible Michael, to the new smart-ass who can push him back when he gets too bossy. Which is, like, every thirty seconds. A native East Coaster, he thinks it’s all due to a couple of years in New York. Undoubtedly that helped. I think it also helped to hear from some great writers that I myself knew how to write, and that if I would just fucking keep writing, I’d get my book published. I also finally got frustrated with five years of near-celibacy, with fear of what my non-kinky friends would think, with needing to be a nice guy all the time. Whatever the case, I’m no longer a push-over, and thank God for that.

Joe’s an International Mr Leather, from, like ages ago, and one of the most twisted, kinky fuckers I’ve ever known. Thus our work-outs are full of foul-mouthed banter, and my fantasies get aired in his company. He likes this new, smart-ass me. Of course, what I don’t tell him is that I keep smarting off to him in the hopes that he’ll eventually take it out on my ass.

Yeah, so the bad boy sex pig hath risen. If only in minor increments. Last week I fucked around with America’s Favorite Horndog, as he indicated on his blog. A day later I got an email from a friend in New York, who took me to task for getting in bed with someone who held rather, er, controversial views on HIV, reinfection, condoms, and sex, some of which I share, some of which I don’t. This friend also mistakenly believed that Geekslut had posted this without my permission, which wasn’t the case. I told Geek I didn’t care if he posted it, and that I was tired of the image people had of me. Which I told my friend, just before I told him to mind his own fucking business.

But after I sent that email I did a lot of talking, over a lot of coffee, with Jeff, and a lot of hard thinking on my own. It’s hypocritical to agree to allow my sex life to be broadcast over the internet, and then to say that it’s nobody’s business. And my motives were disingenuous. It was a cop-out, letting Geek do the work to tarnish my reputation, rather than doing it in my own words, on my own blog. And where’s the fun in that? It’s one thing to associate yourself with a bad boy, it’s another to admit I’m one out loud. Not that I assume anyone cares. Only that I have a lot more than books on my mind these days, and boy would I love to talk about it.

Bronx Man Arrested in Subway Station Power Saw Attack

“A Bronx man was arrested Thursday in connection with a portable power saw attack on another man in an Upper West Side subway station early this morning.

Investigators say 33-year-old Tareyton Williams has been taken into custody in connection with the attack on a man at the Cathedral Parkway and 110th Street station around 3:30 a.m. Thursday.

According to police, 64-year-old Michael Steinberg was attacked by Williams, who was yelling and waving two power saws in the air. The attack was apparently unprovoked…”

Thanks to my friend Todd for sending me this story. 110th was my subway stop. This is what NYC does to you. You live like a rat in a dark, noisy place for long enough and you end up running around a subway station waving not one, but TWO power saws.

In other news, protein shakes are kind of gross.

But they are a crucial component to my new, superficial approach to life. I go to the gym a lot. I work on my tan. And I flirt with a lot of men. I also spend a lot of time on the back deck with my growing garden. I can stand there for hours just staring at my little plants. I put out a bowl of water and I’ve seen the same dove land there and drink every morning this week. This thrills me. Sometimes I think I’m an elderly retired lady trapped in a young, studly body.

But it gives me a sense of purpose, something I’ve been lacking now that my coursework is done. My book should be giving me that sense of purpose, but between you and me, it’s an awfully abstract concept. And lest you think that I’m engaged in entirely petty concerns, I managed to drag myself to a panel in the Marina put on by Media Bistro a couple of weeks ago.

The Marina is one of those neighborhoods I rarely visit, full of nice homes populated by a large chunk of the city’s young professionals. They come home from the law office, throw on fleece vests and t-shirts from old Bay to Breakers races, and speed-walk resolutely through the fog down to Crissy Field with smooth little Vizslas trotting at their sides. Last week I finally met a gay person who lives there, and this made me feel better. Still, the whole neighborhood is erected on land fill, and it’s not where I’d like to spend my final moments when the Big One hits.

But I had lived in San Francisco for seven years and never made it to Fort Mason, and this was my chance. The panel was held in a renovated firehouse down at the water’s edge, with a killer view of Alcatraz just outside the front door. The panel was for people interested in becoming freelance writers. They were giving out free copies of a new book, Getting a Freelance Life, a title which had associations I preferred not to dwell on. There were several professional writers on the panel, handing out the usual combination of inspiration and depression (i.e. don’t think you’ll get published in The New Yorker. Also, making a living is rilly hard).

One piece of advice we were given: make sure you have a nice, fully equipped home office. Now that is an idea I can totally get behind. You get to buy things and, like going to a panel or reading a book, it gives you the feeling that you’re working when you’re really not being at all productive.

More advice along the same lines; familiarize yourself with the magazines where you plan on pitching stories. More shopping in the guise of work! Awesome. So I took myself to Tower Video, which has an entire wall of magazines. So many magazines, in fact, that my hopeful little brain couldn’t focus on any particular title, and I fell into a catatonic state. Several minutes later I snapped awake and took myself across the street to Books, Inc, which has a much smaller selection. They have a nice window seat where I perused a number of titles. And slowly I realized something that I once knew and kinda forgot: I hate magazine writing.

All of those lists! Five ways to flatten your belly for summer. Seven absolutely essential items you must buy for your dog. Ten people who we promise will be so big next year that every time you hear their name you sort of die inside.

And all of those breezy articles written in the same smarmy, pseudo-savvy voice. Like you’re all in on the joke together. The men’s magazines are the worst. Here’s an example from Men’s Health:

Road Biking Cultivates Cooperation:
Bikers call it ‘drafting.’ We call it a spectacular excuse to appreciate your lady’s spandex-wrapped caboose.”

Literally everything in the magazine lends itself to bad sex jokes. Always straight sex jokes, like the entire men’s magazine industry has a horrible case of gay panic and wants to prove how hetero they are on every. single. page.

Of course the gay magazines do the same thing; they just change a pronoun or two. Then they gush every time an attractive, straight celebrity says something remotely open-minded. OMG, David Beckham likes his gay fans! Isn’t that cool?!? And here’s some hot, HOT photos of him!!!

So I’m a little cranky. And unfair, singling out a few egregious examples and overlooking fine writing and insight available in tons of magazines. To be honest, my research day was short-lived. I was easily discouraged. Where was my niche? Those damn freelance people kept telling us to Find Our Niche! Write For That Niche!

I didn’t know what my fucking Niche was. “Write about your passions,” they kept saying, and I sat there, blinking and confused. My passions? My whole life had been about one thing for two years, one thing that knocked everything else off my list of passions. I couldn’t remember what they were.

After a couple of hours I ended up with only one magazine; BUTT. Is BUTT my Niche? What does that say about me? And could BUTT possibly pay a dollar a word? I mean, BUTT now features full-color ads from Marc Jacobs. And BUTT advertises on Manhunt. Not that I was looking. In the end I bought BUTT (one of the great things about a bookstore in the Castro is that they put a display of BUTT at the cash register. You will not find this in the Marina, trust me.) and walked home in a kind of daze.

My magazine research day reminded me of one of my more immature qualities. I have a few of them. Like with my mother; it’s been four years since she died, and apparently one is supposed to move through those stages of grief, you know, denial, bargaining, anger, acceptance, blah blah blah. Well I’m still stuck at anger. Can’t get past it. Can’t really accept that she’s gone. Still mad that we got cheated out of a good thirty years together. Being a kind of brat about the whole thing, but because she’s my mother I feel entitled. Joan Didion had her year of magical thinking. This strikes me as incredibly short.

Another immature quality that is still kicking and screaming within me is my reluctance to Face the Facts. Most people make a compromise when it comes to paying the rent. They do work they probably don’t love in order to pay the bills. I’ve done the same thing; we all have. And really, are those top-ten-list-writers writing that way because they want to? No! They’re making compromises. They are smart, lovely people who would be absolutely thrilled to engage in a discussion, rife with subtlety, on a thousand different topics. But readers love lists. So magazines love lists. So writers write lists.

I’ve done my share of list-writing, in one form or another, since I was 15 and worked in a yuppie pizza joint in Minneapolis. And yet, for the next twenty years, no matter where I worked, I never quite got over the fact that I had to do something I didn’t love in order to make money. This also gave me a tiny problem with authority.

“Fuck America!” I thought. “They don’t support the arts! And artists! They only care about money! And sports! Why wasn’t I born in France?!?”

Yeah, sure, Joseph Campbell said to “Follow Your Bliss,” but that just brings us back to the whole Niche thing. I think. To be honest I’m not still a little confused by this whole transition period. Which is why I go to the gym a lot. And flirt with men. And think that maybe I should go into teaching instead.