A New Place on 18th Street

I’ve always been a moody dude, but lately it’s gotten ridiculous. Depending upon the hour – and sometimes upon the minute – of the day, I swing from one emotional pole to the next. Rage at my recent financial collapse, anxiety that my overly-sensitive, creative soul, trembling in the wind, will never find a home in the professional world, and writ-slitting despondency, when I’ve realized that I’ve sent out a dozen resumes with two typos. For writing and editing jobs.

In the space between mood swings I distract myself with complicated job search plans that essentially boil down to three phases: long-term, mid-range, and oh-my-fucking-god. Long-term means I filled out a LinkedIn profile, since the only responses I’ve received as of yet from Craig’s List jobs are three internet scams, and it’s clear that I will find work the way everyone else in the world finds work: through people I know.

The emergency, oh-my-fucking-god phase means I swallowed my pride long enough to shake a couple of hands and pick up an application for seasonal work at a large national chain, and dragged myself to another national chain to fill out the application over a cup of coffee. Which was when I heard a voice over my shoulder:

“I sometimes think I should just make like several dozen copies of those.”

I looked up and found an acquaintance, a recent transplant to our fair city, a few years younger than me, smiling down at me. He pointed at the application.

“I can’t tell you how may of those I’ve filled out.”

Frankly I welcomed the interruption, and leaned back so we could chat a few minutes about our shared misery. At least, I thought of it as shared misery until he said the following words:

“So, yeah, I’ve been living out of my car.”

End shared misery. End self-pity. Begin other, more complicated emotions.

Being a somewhat private guy from the Midwest, I was hesitant to poke too forcefully into his circumstances. He told me a little, but his face stayed guarded, the way your own face would stay guarded should you find yourself in a similar situation. He made a point of saying he wasn’t looking for hand-outs, and he also made a point of saying his pride had sometimes cost him a night or two on a friend’s couch.

I found myself at a loss for words. I wanted to help him, but didn’t know how. The only thing I could think to say was “Where do you park at night?”

“I tell people I live at 18th and Noe,” he said, with a wry grin.

“The cops don’t bother you?”

He shook his head. “I just have to get up early every day, otherwise I wake up to someone peering in at me.” He sipped his coffee. “It makes dating interesting. The other day this guy asked if we could go back to my place. We ended up fooling around in my car. I asked him if it bothered him, but he said it was sort of dirtily romantic.”

I couldn’t help dwelling with fresh perspective on my own more fortunate situation, a situation that just an hour before had led me to a very dark place. My circumstances hadn’t changed, but in the space of 24 hours I’d swung like a deranged monkey from one wild branch to the next, around this same set of circumstances, my view changing with each swing, my breathing and heart-rate, too.

The older I get, the more I see that this is one of the secrets to happiness: a change in perspective. If I was going to come up with an aphorism I might say something like, it’s not what life hands you, but how you look at what life hands you. But I don’t do aphorisms here so just pretend you didn’t read that.

But this is why – when you are sunk in despair, dressed in your pajamas, scrolling through Craig’s List for a golden ring of opportunity – it’s a good idea to get out of the house, to give yourself the chance to stumble across others doing their best in trying times.

I still didn’t know what to say to him. Of course later one idea came to me; I should have just asked him, “What can I do?” and let him supply the answer, the answer his pride would allow. But that afternoon we just shook hands, and gave each other a kind of what-the-fuck-are-you-going-to-do shrug that said more than any words we could manage, at the time.

Didn’t See It Coming

You can have your astrology. No, really, just keep it. I have yet to read a description of an Aries that fits me, and no, I don’t care what light my rising moon might shed on that discrepancy.

But as long as we’re talking categories (and who doesn’t love, deep down, categories?) I will admit a soft spot for the Myers-Briggs. I don’t care if it’s out of fashion, or disproven, or simplistic. It’s the only kind of categorization system in which I’ve ever recognized myself.

That’s because, according to Myers-Briggs, I am a very special person. My type, INFJ, is the “rarest of all the types.” Which makes my personality “intricately and deeply woven, mysterious, and highly complex, sometimes puzzling even themselves.” I am a freak of nature and you will never get to the bottom of me. Fortunately you are just as self-absorbed as I am, which means you will quickly tire of my infuriating defenses and return to mulling over your own problems.

I mention INFJs here because our supposed first line of defense has been on my mind. “Mute withdrawal,” it’s called, and any friend of mine, and anyone who’s been a regular reader here, knows that I tend to drop out of sight every few weeks. I stop posting because, usually, life has once again grabbed me by the gonads, reducing me to the kind of of pre-verbal vegetative state that makes activities like blogging and cocktail parties challenging at best.

A few weeks ago I was involved in a car accident, an accident that sent someone to the hospital and an accident for which I was eventually deemed “100% responsible.”  I hadn’t had an accident in 18 years; it happened as the Manly Fireplug and I were picking up a pizza, and though I was eventually able to eat a couple of slices, I spent the rest of the night throwing them up.

As the Fireplug kept trying to assure me, accidents are called accidents for a reason. But I have a habit of looking for meaning in everything, a habit common to writers and maybe to the INFJs of the world. And so, traumatized, I turned to this habit with full force.

I can’t say for sure why the accident felt like such a rebuke, only that I harbor low-lying feelings of guilt at most times, and the $500 deductible cast a glaring light on my personal finances, and so that’s where I began my atonement. Somehow, through a deeply intuitive process of association,  fueled by dimly-lit anxieties, I came to believe that my eyes had been closed for some time. To life, to reality, what have you. I’d been blind, and now I wanted to, well, you know…

I gave up a few monthly subscriptions to various non-essential (i.e. porn) websites. I cut down on Starbucks and protein shakes and stopped buying clothes. Most importantly, I gave up my office, a little rental in the Mission, since I had yet to break even with my writing and it felt like an ostentatious display of…something.

Naturally I expected, having made the smallest of sacrifices, to reap immediate karmic reward. But life had other plans.

Due to circumstances outside of my control, money got incredibly scary incredibly quickly, such that as of today I do not know how I will be paying rent. Long story short, I must now get a real job.

I know. It’s so unfair. And though you will want to shower me with pity, I ask for my own sake that you refrain.

With a bank balance that makes it rather difficult to be picky, I’ve started casting my net. And though I just began my search, today I heard back from two prospective employers who had posted on Craig’s List. Asking for my name, address, telephone, social security number, and perhaps my bank account routing number, too, you know, just to get the wheels in motion…

So yeah, for a few seconds here I will set aside this self-protective self-deprecation, and admit that as I fast close in on the age of forty, I am as confused as ever by life. I have spent several years putting all of my eggs into one basket, writing a book, an art form that any cursory glance at media will tell you is going the way of dinosaurs. I did what they say, Follow Your Bliss, though they decline to tell you what to do when the bottom drops out.

All month I’ve been hearing the voice of my father, the most practical man on the planet, whom I have put in severe psychic pain by my lifelong ambivalence towards Jobs That Come With 401ks.

Yes, Dad, I hear you now.

I have a new recovery sponsor, who asks me every time I come to him with a problem, “Have you prayed yet?”  Yes, I usually want to punch him first. And though none of my gauzy-lit visions of a higher power include an omniscient dude who sits up there pulling all the strings, I try to take this question seriously. Really what he means is, “Have you asked for help?”

I hereby argue against the American myth of the self-made man. The up-by-his-own-bootstraps guy. No such man exists. We are helped, all of us, some more than others, all along our lives. Parents, maybe, siblings, friends, coaches, the occasionally stellar English teacher. Someone gave us a break. Maybe our first, maybe every single one. Someone opened a door, someone gave us a job.

Which is not to say that we ourselves don’t need to do most of the work. Only that we can’t pretend to be the complete and total masters of our own destiny. And now as the Manly Fireplug and various friends begin to circle around and prop me up, I must once again face a fact I’ve tried often to ignore. Though I retreat into mute withdrawal, though I’m no good at parties, though I think of “networking” as a particularly insidious form of torture, though I find other people to be at times absolutely confounding and infuriating and disappointing, it turns out that I still need them.

Get Lit

An article I wrote about San Francisco literary events in bars, for BarTAB magazine:

You can trace the marriage of booze and books in San Francisco back to the 1950s, when Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac passed around bottles of cheap red wine during live readings at North Beach bars like The Black Cat, The Cellar, and Vesuvio.

That tradition is alive and well today. Several local series blow the cobwebs off the typical staid literary reading with raucous, unpredictable events where you can always slip away from the rare tedious author for a shot of whiskey at the bar, or a quick smoke out front.

October is by far the greatest month for local book and bar lovers. Litquake, the city’s annual literary festival, runs from October 1–9 and brings together an astonishing array of writers and fans for readings and panels in unusual locations (www.litquake.org).

(You can read the rest of the article on BarTAB’s site.)

Four Years of Fireplug

As it happened, the Manly Fireplug did not break up with me just for Dore Alley. On the contrary, we spent it side-by-side, in matching cash belts, slinging suds for my softball team, doing our best to contribute to the drunken kinky South of Market mayhem.

There comes a tipping point at Dore Alley and its big daddy Folsom Street Fair, just around 4 pm, when the crowd expands and slides from buzzed to messy, and when the smart find refuge behind a counter.

Not that I have an aversion to sweaty men in leather, but invariably there is some free spirited creature – boy, girl, or something in between – who’s doused themselves with a half dozen jars of glitter and I’m telling you now, when they rub up against you it’s all over –that shit never comes out.

But since I’ve been a little quiet around here all summer I figured I should at least share some pictures with you. Mostly out of vanity, yes, but I felt I deserved a reward for all the tedious tubs of cottage cheese and protein shakes I consumed. Keep in mind that as a college freshman I was an inch shy of six feet tall, and weighed all of 128 pounds. That toothpick kid still haunts me, though for motivational purposes alone it helps to have a few old ghosts kicking around your head.

San Francisco’s kink-themed street fairs are a good excuse to publicly tap into one’s inner bad boy while simultaneously incurring the wrath of our nation’s most pious Puritans (every year conservatives reliably wring their hands over the Folsom Street Fair). But that’s what makes living in this “bubble” so attractive: we have the numbers on our side, and local politicians need to curry the favor of even the kinky freaks, or at least get out of our way.

Having both given up pretty much every chemical vice many years ago (neither of us understands this thing called “moderation”), the Fireplug and I stick to the sexual ones these days, with one exception: the occasional nice big fat cigar. Last year we attended a sober conference in Palm Springs, but by far the best time we had that weekend was sneaking out to the Barracks and splitting a cigar with two guys, one of whom looked downright UNFAIR in a pair of chaps.

Of course the mild head buzz (no doubt from incorrectly inhaling too much, but that’s part of our charm) didn’t exactly hurt.

So naturally we split another fat one at Dore where, in spite of my general incompetence with all things technical, I happened to take the best picture I have ever taken in my entire life, thankfully of the best person I know:

I know I had more to write, but I’m a little distracted at the moment. Must scroll down, away from hot boyfriend.

So the tips we raked in at Dore went right to my softball team, the Lonestar Inferno D (Burn, baby, burn!) and five months after I timidly set foot on the field for that first day of practice, for my first season ever (as in, my entire life ever) we all flew off to beautiful Columbus, Ohio for the Gay World Series. Something like 150 teams descended on Columbus for their biggest sporting event ever.

Frankly I was still stunned at being there. One day in January, during that dark time when the Fireplug and I had called it quits, I happened to run into a casual friend who happened to mention that he was joining a softball team. Since I’d recently decided to Get Out There and Socialize More, and since this team happened to be in the D league, home to beginners and misfits and the somewhat-uncoordinated, I got on board. If you missed the ensuing journey, which did to me and for me far more than I ever could have anticipated, you can click on the “softball” tag at the end of this post.

Let’s just say that I never thought I’d be a part of something that would qualify for an event where “World Series” was part of the title.

And though we did not do as well as we had hoped there, winning three games and losing three games, we’d gone farther than the Inferno D team had ever gone before. And since I hit well enough to get on base most times at bat, and because I made one spectacular running low-ball catch from right field, I felt like I could safely say that I’d pulled my weight.

The Manly Fireplug came along for the ride, and the most important consequence of that trip is that the Fireplug got bit. By the softball bug. It had started a couple of weeks back, when we bought him a mitt and went across the street from my apartment to the little park, where he completely surprised himself by actually catching the ball. He had a good arm, too, much better than mine was at the beginning of the season. Then we took him to the batting cages, where he completely surprised himself by hitting the ball, over and over.

At both times I could see the Fireplug transform. He faced those old demons, common to gay boys everywhere, that told him he’d be inept at all things athletic, that he couldn’t measure up to other boys.  A couple of boyhood experiences only fed those demons. These are not demons you’d guess he’d carried, talking to him. Let’s just say that the Fireplug has taught me more about confidence than any other person. But most of us keep our demons out of sight.

And challenging those demons lit a fire in his belly. When he started talking about maybe joining the team next spring, I was at first a little wary. I’d started softball when we were apart, when I was a single man, and I still thought of it as “my thing.” I’d taken on softball, a sport for which I had no natural talent, to prove to myself that I could do something, and improve at something, all on my own.

But watching the Fireplug face down those demons, as I had done earlier in the season, and watching what it did to his soul, all I could think was, who the hell am I to stand in the way? And like, c’mon, me and him on the same team? Fun! Havoc!

Speaking of old demons, I’m still fleshing out and hacking away at my book, that memoir about my big gay family that I’ve been toiling at for oh, six years. Living in the past, resurrecting and wrestling with old demons, wishing many times that I had just for the love of God written fiction instead, where you can make things up!

This story demands the right emotional distance and tone on my part, otherwise it slides really fast into the Land of the Maudlin. It’s taken me six years to figure out that distance and that tone. I think I have it now, though truth be told I’ve thought that before, more than once.

You can’t wrestle with old demons for six years without noting a few uncomfortable truths. Like, I share some not very attractive traits with my parents. The kind that bounced off them and hit me, and then bounced off me, like an echo chamber. Oh there are good traits too, of course, but those don’t gnaw at me.

I’ve seen them play out over my life – traits like coldness, and a tendency to neglect loved ones. Traits that don’t exactly work in my favor, but are stubborn to change.

Today marks my fourth anniversary with the Fireplug. I’ve felt that coldness descend, the closer he gets to me, with confusion. It comes automatically, without my trying. Why would I feel cold towards the man who gives me everything I’ve ever wanted in a partner? I’m not even clear what exactly I’m trying to get at here, by talking about that coldness. By admitting it out loud. I’m still figuring it out.

But the good thing about being a grown-up is that you can try to change, sometimes only in little ways. I try to wake myself up, out of that coldness. I try to draw my own wandering, self-obsessed attention, back in his direction.

I overhear a conversation between two men at the gym, both of them detailing all of their recent acquisitions, their trips abroad, their re-decorations. The thought that comes to me : I’m so glad Joe doesn’t talk like that, a thought that comes and almost goes before I have a chance to note it, to note my luckiness in winding up with someone who talks about what lies under the skin, both in himself and in others.

I note the greater number of compliments I pay people, and I trace it back to Joe, who taught me to do so by example.

I note his phone calls home to family and the ties that bind them together.

The pride and ownership he takes of his business.

His pride and joy in even my smallest accomplishments.

The way he gets what writing means to me, and the way he makes room for it in our lives.

Our impossibly well-suited-for-each-other sexual natures.

The number of times he tells me he loves me everyday.

We settled on this anniversary because of something I once said. We’d been dating for a couple of months already, but that night, four years ago, he came home from a trip, and when we finally got a hold of each other, in my bedroom, I told him that I loved him.

I’d told him that before. “I love you,” I had said, a couple of times, but I don’t know if he really heard me. Sometimes we need to hear things a few times before they sink in.

But that night I said it differently. “I love you, Joe,” is what I said, right in his ear, and that one extra word made him hear it, really hear it, for the first time. And I guess that’s what I’m trying to do here. I’m trying to to be deliberate, to stop relying on the automatic or assumed phrase, and to say the extra word that lets him know I’m paying attention.

Becoming Heather Leather

The following is an article I wrote for the new issue of BARtab magazine – you can check it out on their site here.

When it came to sex, I used to be a closed book. This was due in part to my innate shyness, though growing up in Minnesota probably didn’t help. “Are you having a good time?” was a question I’d heard a dozen times in bed by various men, usually following a bout of what I thought were obvious noises of my approval. I went through life speaking, and groaning, at volume level 9, while the world heard me at 2.

A few twisted fantasies percolated in my head but I lacked the guts to ever talk about them until the ripe old age of 35, when I went straight from a sex life of pure vanilla to dating an International Mr. Leather.

Low volume was never a problem for Joe Gallagher. Even with his mouth shut he was communicating, like the first time I saw him, wearing a t-shirt that read: “I Make Boys Cry.” The T-shirt scared the crap out of me. My fantasies did not involve tears. But still I found him compelling. Some of us are just cursed with a need for bad boys.

We liked each other for more than just the physical. Still, we both harbored doubts about our sexual compatibility. I didn’t know what to make of leather, which seemed to me a world governed by a million mysterious rules, where stuffing a red hanky in the wrong pocket could lead to trouble. Membership in this world seemed to depend upon the right boots, the right chaps, and knowledge of rigid protocols.

As a kid I’d dropped out of private school because I hated the uniforms, and I found these rules stifling. I liked Joe for his irreverent streak – he’d carved out his own place in leather. He wore what he liked, when he liked, and made no apologies.

He showed me some essays written by Robert Davolt, a leatherman who’d died of melanoma in 2005. Davolt loved the leather community, but like all good writers he was a bit cantankerous. Leather, he argued, was a relatively young world, which began as a group of “outcasts, leftovers, the dark secret of the gay community.” He advised its members to question its “traditions,” and to distrust anyone who claimed to be a leather “authority.” He wrote often of leather as a group of people on individual journeys, with no two paths the same.

Like most of us, I looked for role models in all areas of my life, and here in leather I’d found two. Joe and Robert gave me the permission I’d always thought I’d needed, permission it turned out I had only to give myself.

I began my little journey by learning what I didn’t want. A Leathermen’s discussion group taught me that I didn’t want, for example, to walk one pace behind and to the left of Joe at all times, nor did I want to be in charge of his frickin’ Outlook Express. Fortunately, on these matters, Joe and I agreed.

At Joe’s side, I went to a lot of leather events and met a lot of kinky folk, most of whom I liked. Sometimes, though, I’d meet a boy who’d talk my ear off about protocols, questioning whether or not half the people at the event were “real” leather folk, or a titleholder who seemed to have gotten lost in the intricate local leather politics. I had no stomach for politics, and was wary of protocols, but I’d learned that leather was big enough to fit us all.

Prodded by Joe, I began to speak up in bed, to set in motion my fantasies, and to claim the kind of sex I’d always wanted. And though I’d long feared it, the first time he made me cry (during sex, that is) it came as a catharsis. In leather scenes, I watched others challenge their fears and their limits and come out exhausted, exalted, and content.

I felt this sense of liberation spreading into other areas of my life. I was less fearful, less shy, less concerned with what others thought. Still, I considered myself a fringe member at best until I heard an acquaintance dismissing leather as “just another form of drag.” My reaction surprised me with its strength: anger, yeah, but also a sort of protectiveness, for the people I’d met and the experiences I’d had. And pity, too, since the acquaintance was cutting himself off from trying something new. My reaction told me that maybe, in my own way, I did belong.

The Comforting Pity of Three Dogs

The thing about three-legged dogs is that they never whine about the missing leg. Even those two-legged dogs run around with their little wheels, tongues hanging out, giving you that “what’s up, dude!” expression. I hope to be more like them.

But I am human and fallible, with a long memory studded with grudges, regrets, and small slights for which I pledged but somehow fell short of forgiveness. Plus I somehow made it through 39 years without ever breaking a bone, without ever having a limb encased in a cast, and the novelty of the last week hasn’t quite lost its shine.

This morning on MUNI a man standing next to me offered me a seat when it opened up in front of us. He was the first person to do so in the three crowded rides I’d taken to and from work after getting the cast. Three crowded rides during which I alternated from self-righteous indignation at my fellow commuters’ selfishness and rudeness, to self-castigation at my sense of entitlement. Flip flop, flip flop. I felt sure that, hypothetically, in their place I would have at least offered my seat to a guy in a cast. Even a guy who looked reasonably strong and healthy. But then I am always a better man in hypothetical situations, which are made for acts of disarming (ha) generosity.

In the end I did what I swore I’d do, hypothetically; I smiled and let him take the seat.

But yes, there are things I cannot do, like tie my own shoes. Or cut a bagel in half. Or open a stubborn jar. I cannot get the casually-perfect distribution of pomade on my admittedly short bangs, and really, what’s hurting most is simply my vanity, as my hair refuses to cooperate and my hard-won muscles slowly fade from view. Not to mention the decidedly UNFUNNY things perfect strangers yell from passing cars. Something about walking around in a cast elicits a barrage of unrequested comments. The last one, from a coward in an old pick-up, implied that I’d had an accident with a Shake Weight.

Shut up, it’s not funny.

I don’t know how single dudes and ladies navigate the world with only one arm. I suppose they rely upon a lot of Velcro. But I’m a lucky man, with a devoted Manly Fireplug to call my own, a Fireplug who seems to appreciate helping me take a shower, an ordeal that requires garbage bags, duct tape, and a small plastic footstool.

During this morning’s shower I looked over the Fireplug’s shoulder to see our three dogs sitting in the hallway just outside the bathroom, gazing at our spectacle with an unusual solemnity. The Fireplug was using the hand-held nozzle on me, the same nozzle we use when giving them their baths, and I recognized their plaintive looks as sympathy. “Oh man,” they were thinking, “I wonder what poor Mike rolled in now.”

How to Make Me Cut You

Not too long ago I told you about my Facebook Scrabble obsession. Like most of my obsessions it flamed out after three or four weeks of compulsivity, three or four weeks where I had twenty games playing simultaneously with both friends and strangers, three or four weeks in which I rose in the publicly-displayed rankings; out of 400 friends, I placed second or third, depending on the day, an achievement that I will admit warmed my blood.

I have over 400 Facebook friends partly because I have my profile linked to the front page of this blog, and partly due to my low standards. One of these recent guys I’d never met, but I accepted his friend request nonetheless, and soon after he sent me an online invite to a Scrabble game. Yes, okay, I checked his ranking, which I found less than threatening. We started to play.

Now, I’ve played the real, in-person Scrabble many times over the years, usually with my dad, who retired after thirty years as an editor and who has consistently kicked my ass in each and every game, save the one we played when we last saw each other, when I added an R to his “TORQUE,” hitting the triple word square and sending me into paroxysms of poor-winner fist pumping.

In all the years we’ve played, I’ve only once seen Dad play a word using all seven letters. This move nets the player an additional 50 points, and catapults them to near-certain victory. So when this new “friend” played two seven-letter words in a row, my hackles raised.

You can’t cheat in face-to-face Scrabble, but online is a different story. Anyone, in the privacy of their home, can check a word in the dictionary. This cheat I will admit to using, but the second, more insidious form of cheating I try to avoid, for ethical reasons. The second form of cheating is the online word generator. Type in your given letters, and a split second later the generator spits out a list of possible words, 90% of which you could go your whole life never once hearing used in conversation.

I was willing to concede to my “friend” the first word he played, “FOUNDED.” But then he played “ATEMOYA.” I gave the screen the finger, but by now it was too late. If I tried to delete the game, it would count as a “loss” and my ranking would suffer. I had the suspicion that he’d targeted me for just that reason, but then I am prone to moments of grandiosity.

I decided that if I was going to lose, then at least I’d go down fighting. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I held back from accusing him and instead played the word “PHONIES.”

Then he really started spewing out the bullshit. “GLEEK,” BRIARY,” “AVOSET,” he played. In the end I lost by thirty-five points, and my Scrabble obsession came to an end.

A couple of days later he sent me another invite. “Hey sexy! How about a rematch?”

In most cases, when someone calls me sexy I will do whatever they want. Call it a moral blind spot. Curious, I clicked on the link which took me to the game. He’d played the first word, “CHUKARS.”

“You know,” I typed back. “I’ve got so many things on my plate right now. Don’t have time for Scrabble.”

“I hear you,” he replied. “I’m really busy too.”

Busy being a seven-letter whore, maybe. I ignored the game, and a few days later he tried to FORCE FORFEIT ME. Now, when you FORCE FORFEIT ME, you give me another loss, and that loss pulls down my ranking. I deleted the game.

Two days later: “Hey gorgeous, how about another game??”

I went to his profile and clicked “REMOVE,” whispering to his smarmy grin, “Bitch, don’t mess with my ranking.”

You Work Out?

“Sorry that took so long,” the dog groomer said as she snipped a stray hair off Finley’s now-sleek coat. “He was furrier than I thought he was.”

“No prob,” I said. It was hard finding someone who could do a Norwich Terrier coat, and I wasn’t about to risk my standing with her by complaining. Plus I’m from Minnesota. We don’t complain, we just let our resentments simmer for eight or nine years.

“But he looks fabulous now,” she said. “He’s got a nice coat. And he’s got a really nice body.”

“Thank you,” I said, as if I something to do with it. As if I spotted him at the gym a few times a week. It was the kind of compliment every gay man would like to hear about their dog, projecting his own needs upon his companion. My dog has a nice little body. My dog could do porn.

Finley didn’t look like he cared much about compliments at that particular moment. “Get me the fuck out of here,” he implored me with his big brown eyes. “Or tonight while you sleep I will chew out your throat.”

Ladies with an Attitude

“Oh my God,” I said, paging through The New Yorker, “a friend of mine has a poem published in here!”

“In The New Yorker?” asked the Manly Fireplug’s roommate.

“Yeah. Well, he’s not really a friend so much as a guy I know.”

“If he’s published in The New Yorker then he’s a friend now.”

I read the poem. “Oh my God! I know everyone in this poem. Including the bulldog!”

But it must be a different bulldog by now. I hadn’t hung out with the poet’s brother since 1990, in Minneapolis, the summer after my first year of college, the summer after I’d come out of the closet.

“I know his brother. Or knew his brother. I’m not sure where he is now, but that summer he used to vogue in the passenger seat of my car, smoking Marlboro reds. His mother thought I was a bad influence on him.”

“You are a bad influence.”

“I know. Everything I touch turns gay.”

The roommate turned back to Playstation 3.

“Have you found the plasma rifle yet?” I asked.