Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Place Where My Heart Is Buried

by Annabeth Leong

I found it for the first time in the middle of a hot night. I'd been on a long walk through forbidden places—the cemetery, the city government complex, the golf course. As much as I would have sneered at the golf course by day, darkness transformed it into something grass-scented and fantastical. Sometimes I went on these walks with a friend, but this time I'd gone alone, and this time I picked up a tail on the way back through a bad neighborhood—a collection of young guys who mumbled to each other and laughed menacingly and turned every time I turned.

I knew better than to run. I fingered the switchblade I carried in my pocket, but I've always been honest with myself, and I knew that even though it made me feel tough I didn't actually know how to use it. I just liked the weight of it, the rhythmic swing of it along with my steps. Keeping my apparent cool, I made my way to the narrow downtown strip where things would still be open, planning to duck into the first unlocked door I found.

The guys followed, but they didn't close the distance, so I kept walking until I came across that door I'd been looking for. Even before I stepped through it, I felt the tingle of fate in my belly. This was one of the times in my life that turning left instead of right changed me forever, and sometimes in my memory it is as if that pack of guys goaded me to that place according to the machinations of divine purpose.

Stepping in, I found a set of smoke-filled rooms populated by a collection of beautiful misfits. Punk music blared from the speakers and everyone was drinking black coffee and chain smoking and making out with each other indiscriminately in corners, on the couches, and on the floor. In the front room, they had a poetry slam going, and in the back room they were playing chess. I ordered a coffee from the Robert Smith lookalike behind the counter, and I was too embarrassed to ask where they kept the cream and sugar, so I drank it black. I drank coffee black for the next ten years.

I had read about places like this, and seen glimpses in movies, but I had never before believed this could be real outside of fiction or histories starring ex-pats and the lovers of Anaïs Nin.

This is the place where my heart is buried. Today, the building has been demolished along with the dirty park beside it, both replaced by patio seating for an upscale sports bar, but on that spot of earth I fucked and loved and cried and shouted along with dozens of bands and was shamed and saw my lovers in the arms of others and performed my poetry to acclaim or to mockery and was praised and shouted at and became someone.

It's hard to know which stories to tell. I told one for my 90s post, and I can't think of that place without remembering those two lovers in particular. I still have a photograph of my golden-eyed man from those days—I'd forgotten that he'd fried his hair to an unnatural orange, but I can still lose myself in the shape of his profile. And after the place closed, he kept the key to the door and wore it around his neck, as if we might someday find another door to that same place, with a lock that would whisper open in response to a familiar touch.

When I found that place and those people, I was still coming out of the shadow of an abusive relationship. I remember confessing to my new friends in a dark whisper that my ex had told me I belonged to him forever, and that a part of me believed that and was afraid that he'd come after me. The golden-eyed man beside me wrapped an arm around my waist with a lewd, proprietary expression that left no doubt that we'd been fucking. "Well," he drawled, with no fear in his voice at all, "I guess I'm playing with another boy's toys." Everyone laughed, and it's the last time I can recall feeling afraid that way.

It wasn't all perfect, of course. There was the night I was yelled at by a wild-eyed woman furious that I'd pointed out a poem she'd written about her ex to her ex. There was the night a few of us started having a threesome in the back room and it turned into a fight instead. There was the night the owner backed me into the building's small kitchen and kissed me hard enough to cut my lips with his teeth, saying that the two of us were like Kerouac and LuAnne and clearly it was inevitable that we should fuck, as I winced at the scratching of his beard and fought to get away.

But there was also the night a woman came to read her poetry and stood up tall in one corner and declared, "I never apologize for my work, and I never explain." I'm still in awe of that one, and still trying to live up to it.

In our nostalgia posts over the past couple weeks, there's been the suggestion that nostalgia is about happy times, but I don't think it is. I was in a deep depression for much of the time I hung out at this place, but my feelings are all vivid in my memory, the sadness bright and sharp and the joy desperate and full of adrenaline. I remember that I knew even then that I would one day feel nostalgia for that place and time, and that this fact made me laugh with dark irony because I struggled to get through each day and longed, at the time, for a different nostalgic past.

I think nostalgia is a byproduct of becoming and change. I wasn't happy then, but I was moving. I was learning something about who I needed to be, even if many of the lessons were messy and painful. And because I was so screwed up and confused, I was free to transform. Nostalgia, for me, comes when I feel too finished and I start to miss those times of seismic upheaval, those times of possibility.

I wasn't the only one changed by that place. Anyone who used to hang out there still speaks the name of it in a hushed tone, still trades stories, still proves cred by what they witnessed and participated in and when.

Our whole town was changed by it, and even though its physical form has been obliterated, I still see the echoes when I visit my family. On my last trip, I sat in another coffee shop a few blocks from where the old one was and watched a beautiful woman in a silk corset with hair dyed bright red, and I knew that in those days, she would have been with us.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Our formative years stick close to our hearts. Things that were important to us then, what we had to figure out, created a learning construct. No wonder the building blocks of nostalgia comprise such an integral part of our persona:  who we are, what we are made from.

Odds and ends lodged deep and deeper, hidden in hard-to-access recesses, affect our daily lives, whether or not our conscious thoughts are aware of the connectivity.

The blank slate of a newborn picks up sounds, sights and vibrations as imprints of brand-new experiences. So far, that’s all the little tyke knows. Reactions to new stimuli propel the infancy of memory.   

Nostalgia can alter objectivity. How many of you find yourselves humming the lamest tunes of your formative years? Could it be nursery rhymes? “Or would you rather be a fish?”

Do we like rock music? Betcha if you were born after 1945 you do. Maybe not. Some of us were influenced by the music of our parents’ generation: big bands, bebop, country. Perhaps we were lucky enough to be children of parents who had a deep appreciation for classical. Maybe you took classical piano lessons? Your feelings now about the classics may have something to do with how those lessons went.  :>) Our tastes can be influenced by what we liked and disliked before we even knew what music was. … Is.

Church choirs often provided a starting place for young musicians who may later carry aspects of that sound into more lively versions. Maybe if I was born into a black congregation with a good choir, I might still be religious.

When we see old friends, we see them, to some extent, as we knew them in their youth. We’ve experienced their countenance as youthful and vibrant, much as we see ourselves in our imagination: as a rambunctious eighteen year-old (of course, reality feels different in me bones). On the other hand, as we age and meet new people, they can only see us in our latest version, and only know us as old. Maybe that’s another reason nostalgia and old friends can be so comforting.

Objects carry nostalgia as well. A book we read as a youngster. The report card we’re proud of. The report card we hid from our parents? Did they find out? It’s all part and parcel of who we are.

Nostalgia is the remembrance of the good times. Even the word itself feels comfortable to the ear, flowing easily off the tongue.  Nostalgia is not only for things temporal. We can be nostalgic for a geographic area that brings back memories. Nostalgia for a foreign land, a particular city or familiar part of your country. Perhaps a beach resort, or dance hall comes to mind. Funny, when we go back to these places, it seems the memory is often more pleasant than the actuality of what the places are—or have become. Time has a way of poking its boogery nose into our memory banks, upsetting the works. Better to keep the memories.

Here’s the beginning of my story “Carnival Ride”, now available in its entirety in the current ERWA Gallery. There’s a root of autobiography (and lots of nostalgia) in this.


                                                    Carnival Ride

Every year, St. Mike’s carnival became a multi-faceted boon for local teens. Days before they opened, individual concessions would hire strong young guys to help set up rides and equipment in the church parking lot. Then, if they thought the kids might have some potential, the booth operators would ask them to work the fair itself.

This was the third year in a row Tim had worked for the blonde. He knew it would be his last, even before what happened actually came about. Tim had just turned eighteen and understood he’d have to go out and get a full-time job soon. That two-week summer gig just wouldn’t do.

Of course, the rest of the town’s teenagers would hang around at night, the smells of French fries, corn dogs and cotton candy thick in the air. Dinging bells, sounds of the crowd, looking to get lucky in the balmy evenings.

Lulu ran a ring-toss game; her husband Hoyt manned a booth where foolish marks pitched baseballs at fuzzy dolls, their girlfriends hopeful for a prize. Both scams, really. To win anything at Hoyt’s booth, someone had to knock down three dolls with three throws. Unbeknownst to the pitcher, on his third toss, the operator hit a lever that clicked a steel bar into place behind the dolls.

And sure, at the ring toss, the hoops would actually fit over the wooden cubes with those cheap trinkets on top, but just by a fraction of an inch. Almost impossible, but it took Lulu only a few minutes to show Tim how to hold the ring properly at the precise cant, slipping it easily over a block when a fleeced customer claimed the wooden rings were too small. Every year, Tim could count the winners of anything at all on two hands.

Hoyt appeared much older than his wife. Of course, at Tim’s age it didn’t affect his recurring crush. Practically everyone was older than him, and her relative youth compared to her husband, gave Tim the illusion of camaraderie.

What mattered most to Tim were her fleshy boobs, jiggling within the various low-cut tops she wore—off-the-shoulder boat-necked jerseys, with wide horizontal stripes, calculated to distract the ring-tossers. Every time Lulu bent down to pick up a ring, the blouse would ride up in back, exposing her slim waist. The image of her dimpled summer ass stuffed in short denim shorts, brightened those dark summer nights, alone in bed, guiding Tim’s hand in a loner’s embrace. 

Over the years, Hoyt, a gruff and moody sort, never had a kind word for Tim. Of course he saw how deferential the lad acted toward his wife. He must have known how doting teenagers can be.

How Tim ogled her. Unharnessed hormones become a driving force in men that age, and most young guys would fuck a gopher hole if the sun shined there long enough to warm it up. He had a hard-on most nights, working by Lulu’s side.

But that last year turned out differently. In 1963 the Pennsylvania legislature outlawed any game offering prizes that were impossible to win. Consequently, this year, Lulu’s husband was working another carnival in the next state. 

Over in Wilmington, Hoyt was applying for a temporary concessionaire’s permit.

“Well, Mr. Hobarth,” said the librarian-type behind the counter “what kind of business?”

“A ball toss, ma’am,” said Hoyt.

“Ones with the fuzzy dolls?” said the official. “The ones with the bar in back?”

“Err… No, ma’am,” said Hoyt. Damn. Too late to go back to Pennsy, back with his wife. Besides, he’d already paid for the space, a non-refundable $300. Hoyt couldn’t afford to go to Pennsylvania. He’d have to figure something out. Fuck them, he thought.

Back at St. Mike’s on set-up day, Tim and Lulu were forming a corner of the booth by securing a wing-nut to a bolt shoved through two pre-cut two-by-fours. “So where is he again?” Tim asked, shirtless in the noonday sun.  

“In Delaware,” said Lulu, pronouncing it ‘Delawayahh’.

“Doing the doll booth?”

“Yeah. Some ol’ city lot down there.”

“The whole two weeks?” Tim asked, lump in his young throat, fantasies gathering in his hormone-whacked teenage imagination as Lulu peered deep into his eyes. In his innocence, Tim thought he saw hurt in those baby-blues. Often back then, alone, he dreamed of fantastic scenarios. Lulu in distress. Lulu kidnapped. Coming to her rescue like a chivalrous knight of old.

“We’re not getting along lately,” she said. “Me an’ Hoyt. It’s hard in a carnival. Hard to keep a good relationship going.”

“What’s wrong?” Tim asked.   

“Nothing you should concern yourself with, fella. He’s not here, that’s all that matters.”

That hurt Tim. He wasn’t a child. Not any more.

“Can I help?” he asked.

“Naw, sonny. You sweet, but you can't help. Not what I got.”

“Oh my god,” he said. “Are you okay? Are you sick?”

“Nah. Not like you think, hon. Don’t you worry yourself none about me. You got your own life to live, Timmy.”

“I’m not no boy!” he boasted. “I’m ready to move out of the house. Gonna make my own way. Get a job at the mill.”

Lulu made a mental note to never call him “Timmy” again. She changed the subject, “You got a girlfriend?”

“Uh… yeah. I see one girl a lot. Name’s Sue.”

“How come I never met her? Will she come down and visit you some night?”

“I doubt it. We just started going out a few months ago. Her family owns the restaurant over in the shopping center. She has to waitress for her old man all the time.”

“Be good to her, sweetie. Don’t be slapping her around.”

“I’d never hit a girl.”

“You’re a good boy, Tim. Stay that sweet all your life and you’ll be okay.”

“I’m not always good,” he blurted with the cockiness of an ego too big for his age, “but I’d never hit a chick.”

“Is that how you think of me? A chick?”

“Well, yeah. You’re sure not a guy!” Tim blushed. Little did she know he thought of her as Venus herself, rising straight from the greasy banks of the Schuylkill river.

“Stay sweet, hon,” she said. “Don’t let things get to you.”

All that night, Tim thought Lulu seemed changed from the previous years. Tired, he thought. Distracted. Maybe getting over some illness. He stuck around, nervous, while she counted the receipts after closing at midnight. Nobody had won anything. 

“Does he hit you?” he blurted out, surprising himself that he’d actually said what he’d imagined so many times.

“Don’t you worry, Tim. I’ll be fine,” she said, stashing two twenties in a compartment in her wallet, then putting the rest in a tin strongbox.

In the past Hoyt would take it all.

“How’d we do?”

“Always good opening night,” she replied. “It usually gets less, after they see they ain’t gonna win anything. Embarrasses ‘em to lose.”

“Does it bother you, Lulu? Ripping people off all the time?”

“Nah. See how they flock in? Every friggin’year. Year in, year out, they come to get took. These hot summer nights—like the moths flittin around them lights, Tim—all they think about is gettin’ drunk and gettin’ laid.”

“Yeah,” he chuckled. “That’s the way it is for guys, for sure.”

“The girls are lookin’ for it too, honey,” she pointed across the dusty lot. “Still a few floatin’ around. There’s a couple of cuties over on that last Ferris wheel ride, son. You’s off work now. Go hang by the gate where they get off.”

“I’d just as soon talk to you.”

“Aww, you sure are a good one, Tim. You want a cold beer? I got some over in the trailer.”

“I’ll follow you,” he said hopefully.

“Nope. You better stay here,” she winked. “No telling who’s watching. Don’t want no rumors gettin’ back to ol’ Hoyt.”

While Lulu sashayed to her trailer, Tim waited alone at the booth, watching her illuminated figure slink into the humid black void surrounding the strings of harsh bulbs.  Thinking how he could get her somewhere. Somewhere alone. 

You can find the rest in the current ERWA Gallery-

Here’s wishing you good memories.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Seductive Charm of Nostalgia

Sacchi Green

Nostalgia is to memory as fantasy is to fact. Or maybe not, but that’s my theory for the moment, and I’m sticking with it. Just be glad I’m going to skip the sort of bittersweet nostalgia that comes with sorting through old family photographs to reduce the stacks to those worth saving when a home has to be emptied of its memories and ghosts, not quite immediately, but inevitably.

So let’s move right on to the more pleasant varieties of nostalgia, whether they tilt more toward actual memories or fantasies of the way things may have been. I even feel nostalgic for times I couldn’t possibly remember, before I was born, but I’ll go into that category later (and share an excerpt from one of the stories such nostalgia has inspired.)

When I tried to decide what period of my life makes me feel most nostalgic, Spencer’s post on Friday about college in the sixties made me realize that being back in college is such a recurrent dream for me that nostalgia must be a driving force. Sure, I dream of high school too, in the universally nightmarish way of not being able to find your locker or your books or the room where the test you couldn’t study for is being held, but that’s different.

When I dream of college, I really want to be there, more or less the way it was, even though the cooperative dorm I lived in was replaced by a parking lot many years ago, and in my conscious mind I know all the changes that have been made because I live close enough to visit the campus easily, and do sometimes, feeling like a ghost but drawn to the displays of plants in the greenhouse complex and certain exhibits in the art museum. I sometimes even dream of having a chance to go there again in something approaching the present, for some special post-grad program or other, but of course with all my old friends still there, and my favorite professors (long retired or passed away,) and the dorm still standing.

I think the appeal is very much a matter of that particular period of my life. So much seemed possible. The college was, and still is, for women only, the first women’s college in the USA (depending somewhat on your definition of the terms.) That didn’t have much to do with why I chose to go there—I had never toned down my argumentative nature in deference to the boys in high school, and it’s not likely that I’d have done it in any college—but the company of women in all their untrammeled intelligence and quirkiness was exhilarating. The academic competition was daunting, and there were certainly extremely stressful times—why on earth did I think I should take calculus when I didn’t need to?—but I did well in my major, and managed to scrape by with a grade average just high enough to keep my scholarship all four years.

I’ve often, in later life, felt real nostalgia for those times when responsibilities were limited to academics, and you could get positive reinforcement from a good grade on a paper, or earning enough by babysitting for professors’ kids to finance the occasional weekend with a boyfriend at Yale, or even something as minor as a winning hand at bridge. Ah, such simple times, or so they seem in retrospect. The Vietnam conflict was impending, but not yet affecting us, though we argued the political pros and cons of foreign policy. The assassination of President Kennedy shook us deeply. Some of us marched on Washington for Civil Rights. We were aware of the problems in the world, and seduced by the notion that we could change things. Feminism was just gaining traction nationally, although we could see it all around us, as with an elderly Professor Emeritus who hired a couple of us to shovel her snow, and gave us a raise when the guy she hired while we were on Christmas vacation charged her more, and she’d be damned if she’d pay a man more than a woman. (Note to Spencer: yes, the sexual revolution was gaining traction, too, but this was just long enough before your time that we couldn’t get prescriptions for birth control pills at the infirmary without flashing an engagement ring, and then only if we were seniors.)

That’s nostalgia for you. I know there was plenty of misery for all of us, but hindsight wears rose-tinted glasses. (Hmm, rather an unfortunate metaphor, but I’ll let it stand.)

Onward to my seduction by imaginary nostalgia. I was born while WWII was still going on, and my parents' memories, the stresses and exhilarations of their youth, the music of the times, seem imprinted on my own memory. “Just give me something to remember you by/When you are far away from me…” No one would want to repeat that time of war, but something about the history has a deep hold on me. I’ve written several stories about that era, and one of them, titled, in fact, “To Remember You By”, begins with the nostalgic reflections of an old woman when her grandson’s wife writes a book incorporating the memories she’s shared about her time as a WAC nurse in England. (Sorry, all the sex comes later in the story.)

Here's the excerpt:

"A movie!" she crowed from three thousand miles away. "They're making a movie of our book!"
"Our book" was Healing Their Wings, a bittersweet, often funny novel about American nurses in England during World War II. My grandson's wife had based it on oral histories she'd recorded from several of us who had kept in contact over the past half-century.
I rejoiced with her at the news, but then came a warning she was clearly embarrassed to have to make. "The screenwriters are bound to change some things, though. There's a good chance they'll want it to be quite a bit, well, racier."
"Racier?" I said. "Honey, all you had to do was ask the right questions!" How had she missed the passionate undertones to my story? When I spoke, all too briefly, of Cleo, had she thought the catch in my voice was merely old age taking its toll at last? The young assume that they alone have explored the wilder shores of sex; or, if not, that the flesh must inevitably forget.
I had to admit that I was being unfair to her. Knowing what she did of my long, happy life with Jack, how could she even have guessed the right questions to ask? But it hardly matters now. The time is right. I'm going to share those memories, whether the movie people are ready for the truth or not. Because my flesh has never forgotten--will never forget--Cleo Remington.

In the summer of 1943 the air was sometimes so thick with sex you could have spread it like butter and it would have melted, even on cold English toast.
The intensity of youth, the urgency of wartime, drove us. Nurses, WAC's, young men hurled into the deadly air war against Germany, gathered between one crisis and another in improvised dance halls. Anything from barns to airfield hangars to tents rigged from parachute silk would do. To the syncopated jive of trumpets and clarinets, to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Accentuate the Positive," we swayed and jitterbugged and twitched our butts defiantly at past and future. To the muted throb of drums and the yearning moan of saxophones, to "As Time Goes By" and "I'll Be Seeing You," our bodies clung and throbbed and yearned together.
I danced with men facing up to mortality, and with brash young kids in denial. Either way, life pounded through their veins and bulged in their trousers and sometimes my body responded with such force I felt as though my own skirt should have bulged with it.
But I wasn't careless. And I wasn't in love. As a nurse, I'd tried to mend too many broken boys, known too many who never made it back at all, to let my mind be clouded by love. Sometimes, though, in dark hallways or tangles of shrubbery or the shadow of a bomber's wings, I would comfort some nice young flier with my body and drive him on until his hot release geysered over my hand. Practical Application of Anatomical Theory, we nurses called it, "PAT" for short. Humor is a frail enough defense against the chaos of war, but you take what you can get.
Superstition was the other universal defense. Mine, I suppose, was a sort of vestal virgin complex, an unexamined belief that opening my flesh to men would destroy my ability to heal theirs.
My very defenses (and repressions) might have opened me to Cleo. Would my senses have snapped so suddenly to attention in peacetime? They say war brings out things you didn't know were in you. But I think back to my first sight of her, the intense gray eyes, the thick, dark hair too short and straight for fashion, the forthright movements of her lean body--and a shiver of delight ripples through me, even now. No matter where or when we met, she would have stirred me.
The uniform sure didn't hurt, dark blue, tailored, with slacks instead of skirt. I couldn't identify the service, but "USA" stood out clearly on each shoulder, so it made sense for her to be at the Red Cross club on Charles Street in London, set up by the United States Ambassador's wife for American servicewomen.

Now there’s some nostalgia worth having. Even though I have no right to it, except by way of imagination.



Friday, July 25, 2014


Spencer Dryden

The word brings up jumble of thoughts about movies, life, society, heroes and villains. I'm a subscriber to XM satellite radio. They have a channel dedicated to the 60's. Great stuff.  Memories come floating in with each old song. Unless you were there or study music, it's hard to appreciate how much the Beatles changed pop music, and not necessarily for the better.

Speaking of awakening memories of the '60's, I went to an old time burger joint recently and had a glass of liquid memory, otherwise known as a malted milk. To someone my age, malted milk is the flavor of youth-drive inns, hot cars, hot girls. McDonald's eliminated the flavor of malted milk from the pallet of Americans.

All that said, I've never had a period in life that I wanted to live over again—except for few years in the 80's—but I messed those up as well, and besides, a gentleman never tells.

When I tell people I was in college in the late 1960's they say what a great time that must have been. It wasn't for me. First of all, there were none of the reputed hippy-chicks ready to make love at the drop of a roach. At least I never found them, and believe me, I looked. More importantly, there was this ugly situation in Vietnam, waged by old men looking to fight Hitler again and fought by young men trying to stay alive. The ruling class expected me to go there and die for the worst foreign policy decision our country ever made. A theory, the Domino Theory, the fucking Domino Theory, that Vietnam was Armageddon, the place where freedom loving people would put a stop to the spread of global communism. I managed to avoid the draft by going to college and by luck of birth. Guys a little older than me bore the brunt of that misadventure. So no nothing worth a re-do there.

The 70's. A terrible marriage and a couple of jobs I hated, and hated myself for having to do them. Back to school to earn an MBA which proved to be equally as useless as my degree in Psychology. The economy was in the shitter then. Remember? We hemorrhaged whole industries to the Japanese tsunami that obliterated lives and communities and lots of living wage jobs. Who'd ever want to go back to that? Not me. Not even for disco.

Ah the 80's. Single again. Still wouldn't want to relive those years unless I could avoid the stupid stuff.

The river flows on.

I've had the love of my life with me for 25 years now. Our story isn't over so there's nothing to be nostalgic about, we're still living it.

What's the uniting factor across the decades for me? Sex. Mostly my lack of it during my most virile years, but it's a more than the sex I didn't get, it's female allure that has always had me. I have been captivated by female allure since I felt that first stirring in my pants at the sight of a naked woman over fifty years ago.

So now I'm in my 60's, approaching the supposed golden years. A quick check of my bank account says otherwise. I'm not fearful of aging but what I'm beginning to miss is my sex drive, more specifically the fascination with the female form and spirit. Watching the boat sail away should be a  relief. Sex has been the source of so much misery in my life. It's not that I need the performance enhancing blue pill and I'm not about to get sucked into that low -T thing. Decline is a natural part of aging. I accept that.  It's just that some of the color has gone from life. A smile from a pretty girl, a shapely ass in a pair of jeans, a set of breasts trying to burst their containment vessel—all could brighten up a day and launch me into fantasy without an inappropriate word exchanged. It was like walking in a beautiful flower garden. Now it's fall and the flowers have lost their bloom. That's what I'm nostalgic for-female allure.

Let me be quick to say that vast amounts of brain space have been freed by this transition. There's room now for lovely thoughts and bombastic ideas. I can form more words now and sometimes even get them on paper. I love the writer's life and hope to be able to pass the time well in this new found adventure. I just hope that the color doesn't fade completely.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Back to the Future

by Giselle Renarde

If you follow my Donuts & Desires blog, you've probably gathered that I'm currently on vacation. In the woods. Away from the internet. So I'm writing this blog post in advance of my departure.

There's something a little odd about reflecting on nostalgia for a post that's going up in the future.

Never mind. I'm over it.

Seeing as I'm the Grip baby, I won't be shy about telling you that the first thing popping into my head right now is "Super Mario."  To me, Nostalgia is Super Mario.

I've never been coordinated enough for video games, but Super Mario Bros. still holds a warm place in my heart. Christmas of 1980-something, Santa brought us a "family gift--a present for everyone.  Yes, it was a Nintendo Entertainment System, complete with a Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt game cartridge. Our lives changed in an instant.

Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, and to tell you the truth I don't even remember unwrapping the gift. What I do remember is coming downstairs on Christmas night, after we kids had played all day, to find my parents sitting on the floor in front of the TV. They were playing Super Mario. It was the sweetest thing I'd ever seen.

Because I didn't grow up in a house of sweet moments.  It's pretty amazing they could afford that gift at all, though, thinking back, we had money when my father wasn't binge-drinking.  When he was, we didn't eat. No, that's an exaggeration too.  Dinner would be one can of Campbell's soup, or one box of KD. The sad thing is, that seemed totally normal to me.

My home wasn't always a safe place to be, and most of my memories of my parents' interactions end with my mom fake-calling the police. (She'd hold down the thingy on the receiver while she dialled 911 and have a pretend conversation into the phone.)  My father would always be too drunk to catch on, so he'd lock himself in the bathroom.

Except sometimes the police actually came, so I guess not all those calls were fake...

No wonder that one moment of Super Mario-related peace defines nostalgia, for me. I think it's the memory of my parents laughing together and, in a sense, collaborating instead of warring with each other that makes the thought so beautiful.

My father died when I was in my twenties. By then, I hadn't spoken to him in over a decade. I don't regret that choice. From what his landlady told us after his death, sounds like he didn't change much. So I hold on to this one memory as the cream of the sludge. It's good enough for me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Some Like Fortunato

I wake up with the smell of dust and rayon in my nose. This is the guest room where my books are, spread out between four book cases and a small one in a junk closet. My mouth feels dry and my eyes are sticky. Some dream, I can’t remember. I was young and in the dream I was angry.

Sitting up on the bed, pulling my knees under me, my neck hurts and I want to sneeze. The book I was reading is open to a page discussing some abstract theory about god’s internal and external nature expressed in Korean terms. Sentences highlighted variously in yellow and pink. Notes scribbled enthusiastically in the margins. Bird scratches from a previous incarnation, long dead but still kicking. A small brown spot of mud or maybe blood, I don’t know where that came from because I’ve had this book for forty years.

On that shelf there, those are the very first toys my kid had when he was born. There, my old camera next to my father’s older camera. There, a shelf of all my diaries where I keep them. There, a jar of fountain pens I’ve collected. That shelf - books about God, about mysticism. How to meditate. How to leave your body. How to pray. How to care. How not to care anymore. That shelf there, great books of world literature. That shelf there, books about how to fuck fancy. That shelf there, books of short stories, many of them also about fucking fancy, the very best stories held up as lanterns in this my magician's garden where I come for ideas.

Running my fingertips over the pages of this book, this book here in front of me, where my head had laid drooling on it’s pages, the pages he wrote in. I once loved this book. Or rather he did. Where do the old ideas go to die?

I close the book, remember something and flip it open to the title page and there - its still there. It’s a blessing. But it might be a curse. I still don’t know. Something he found blowing in the trash of the street in a moment of doubt, in a religion where doubt was regarded as a sin and a sign of weakness. A quote from the Bible “I love them that love Me. And those that seek Me early shall find me.” A serendipitous gesture blowing in the wind among autumn leaves down a street in Minneapolis in 1973 held out to that young man who believed that God spoke to him through everything; that if he persevered he would fulfill his dream, not for wealth or fame or beautiful lovers - but to find God only. Where does such innocence go to die?

The cover of this pretentiously thick book is reverently pebbled black to imitate the cover of a Bible, which book it was meant to imitate and which book it was to him. Lifting the book, feeling the heft of it, there is a ferocious urge to throw it at the wall. I go so far as to raise my arm, but the anger changes to pity. It’s not the books fault. A book doesn’t choose it’s birthright any more than a person does. As Nixie once said “In the end we are only what we are.”

I jump off of the bed, feeling the ache in old bones, these well traveled mortal bones inclined towards solitude and self pity. This book, back in your solitary cell. Let your God, the God in your pages see you there. Let that God speak to me if He cares, because we have abandoned each other. Do not hope again, book. I am your god. I have forgotten you.

I open the closet, put the book back in its solitary cell on death row and leave it.

Oh - these boxes on this shelf here on top, they have all the cassette tapes he made from phonograph records of Shakespeare plays. He used to listen to these tapes on a little Walkman player when he was working in the machine shop late at night, without heat, without food, with hope and faith. Because he belonged to a tribe of people with high minded idealism. People who had their eyes on God. I don’t think I could do that now. There was a strength then which came from a belief in the triumph of goodness. What shall we do with all that beauty now?

These books, they stink of failure. What sadder punishment for a book than to never be read? Never be opened? Like a woman, once cherished, who knows she will never be caressed. Or opened.

There book, there you go. Know you will not be read.Sulk there in the dark alone.

 For the love of God, Montressor!  Yes.  For the love of God.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lucky me - J.P. Bowie

Strange, I've always thought of myself as a forward  looking kind of person, not one who dwells over long in the past, certainly not one who looks back on  life with regrets - Je ne regret rien, has been my motto for most of my life, but recently - perhaps because I am no longer young, skittish and fancy free, there has been a tendency to reflect now and then about those I have known, loved and lost. Now and then I put those memories into stories, glam them up a bit and produce them as fiction. As custom demands they must have happy endings, so there's a lot of fiction towards the end.

When this topic came up, I started thinking of the funny, sexy, tragic events of my past. Tragedy plays a part in all our lives at one time or another and I'm not going into that here. Lets go with the sexy and funny - sometimes they were inter-related...

When I was very young, the world was younger than I,
As merry as a carousel.
The circus tent was strung with all the stars in the sky,
Above the ring I knew so well...

Now I have never worked in a circus, only stages, but I remember this song by Rogers and Hart so well. I was twenty one, alone in London, attending a small jazz club in Soho when the trumpet player, who was leading the band, asked for someone to 'come on up and sing.! How I got the nerve I don't know. The times I had sung in public I could count on one hand, but I suddenly knew I just had to do it. Maybe it was the cheap Chianti I'd been drinking. Anyway, there I was, blinking into the spotlight and the guy said, "What's the song and what's the key?"
"Little Boy Blue", I mumbled. I didn't have a clue about the key, but I added C sharp. So they  gave me a really nice intro and, my heart in my mouth, I started to sing.The nice lighting man dimmed the lights to a faint amber glow which set the right mood

Sit there and count your fingers
What can you do
Old boy you're through
Just sit there and count your little fingers
Unlucky little boy blue.

I got through the song, received pretty good applause, took a bow, and blinded by the spot which the lighting guy had brought up to a full glare,  fell down the couple of steps from the stage. Red faced I landed on a table right in front, and was helped to my feet by a young man who kissed my cheek (this wasn't a gay club by the way) then asked  me to sit and have a drink. I did, and later, back at his place, we did more than kiss. In a romantic novel this would have had a happy ending. Unfortunately my KISA turned out to be a member of the London Mafia. He had to 'disappear' about six months into our affair.

St there and count the raindrops
Falling on you, it's time you knew
All you can count on are the raindrops
That fall on little boy blue

Life goes on, people come in and out of your life. Some stay, some move on, some write or phone, some you never hear of again. Again, I was singing, this time a little further on in my career. A nightclub where I was appearing nightly and gathering a small collection of regulars and fans. Tall, dark and handsome was sitting at a front table with a couple of friends. They were tipsy, smiley and applauded a lot. I liked them. After my set TD&H asked me to join them for a drink. I did, he walked me home ( I lived in the West End in those days). Turned out he was a police officer, but it was too late. I was hooked. We had a really incredible love affair - man, I could write a book! Well, actually I did. But dammit, no happy ending. The cop was married - the swine...

No use old boy,
You may as well surrender
Your hopes are getting slender
Why won't somebody send a tender blue boy
To cheer up little boy blue

So time marches on - it stops for no man, right? I'm on a cruise ship, managing a casino and a bunch of reprobate dealers who gave me nightmares with their chick chasing, and weed smoking. The number of times I saved their asses from being chucked overboard by irate fathers or husbands. Phew! But every choppy wave has its silver lining - I know that was awful - and there it was, or rather he was, playing his guitar and singing guess what....?

Sit there and count your fingers
What can you do?
Old boy you're through
Just sit there and count your little fingers
You lucky little boy blue.

And I was lucky, and I got lucky, and I'm still getting lucky. We got married last May..

Lucky little boy blue.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Old Flame

By Lisabet Sarai

After twenty-five years, she still aches for him. God, she's such a hopeless romantic! Watching him across the table, she remembers that night, the week of their high school graduation. The wind ruffling the reservoir and his black curls. His lips, surprised, questing.  The lust that roared through her as she felt his lean arms circling her and smelled the beer on his breath.

They were friendly antagonists all through school, rivals for honors, verbal sparring partners. He was the bad boy, the one with the car and the reputation. She was the brain, the teachers' darling, socially backward but confident of her intellect. He called her "his nemesis". Aspiring to poetic mystery like Jim Morrison, he called himself the Lizard King.

"Sorry about the party," he had written in her yearbook afterwards. "I think I was drunk. I think you were too. This must happen more often." She had been intoxicated only by his nearness, his maleness, his narrow hips and soulful eyes. Kisses and hands, that was all. She had always wondered what it would have been like, if they had gone further. If they had been braver, sooner.

"I'm so glad that you could join me, Beryl." His voice recalls her to the present. "When I heard about this conference in Boston, I really wanted to see you." His raven curls, laced with silver now, are as wild as ever.

"You fit into my schedule," she says, disguising her arousal with near-brusqueness. "I had business in town this afternoon, and tonight Mark has his Tai Chi class, so I was free." Something tightens in her chest as she speaks her husband's name. Mark knows she's having dinner with Alan, an old classmate. That's all he knows.

Alan relaxes in his chair, enjoying Beryl's confusion. He's been in the film business long enough to recognize an act. Her flushed cheeks and quickened breath speak more clearly than her deliberately chosen words. She still wants me, he thinks with a hint of smugness, after all this time.

Of course he remembers. Even during his now-defunct marriage, she regularly populated his fantasies. He gives her an appreciative once over, and her blush deepens. She has aged well. The thick-lensed glasses are gone. Her body is trim underneath her tasteful frock.  Her chestnut hair, unmarked by gray, is frizzed and curly, just as it used to be. In the candlelight, it reminds him of a halo. Such a good girl she was, he recalls. But I sensed the fire burning inside her.

Dinner is over. Their wine glasses are empty. The conversation sputters out into silence. Their eyes lock. Beryl's heart slams against her ribs. Alan brushes his hair away from his brow. He reaches for her hand, turns it over and strokes her palm with a single fingertip. Each touch sends an electric charge to her sex. Her eyes plead, but neither of them knows for sure what she is asking: to be taken, or to be released.

"Beryl," he says finally, "it's so rare to get a second chance."  He holds up his hotel key card, a silent question. She marvels at the lean economy of his movements, the grace that still lives in his middle-aged body. She nods her assent, surrendering to the moment.

They do not touch on the way to his room. As the door closes, he pulls her into his embrace and fastens his mouth on hers. He is not at all as she remembers, no longer the brash, awkward teenager. Still she senses the wild heart in him, the bad boy hidden under his veneer of West Coast sophistication.

He smells of designer cologne. His fingers dance nimbly over her breasts, teasing her nipples through her dress until they cry out for more direct stimulation. His tongue is deft and demanding. She opens to him, her mouth, her body, letting him drive her to fever pitch.

Alan finds her willingness immensely pleasing. As he explores her mysteries, she moans and writhes in his arms. He always knew that Beryl was hot-blooded, despite her virtuous persona. Now she is proving it, or rather, he is proving it to her. He forgets that she's fifteen years married.

Still kissing her, he slips his hand behind her back and pulls the zipper down to her waist. He urges the garment off her shoulders, then brushes his lips against the creamy flesh revealed.

Beryl lets her head drop backward, offering herself to him. Delicately, he nibbles his way along her shoulder blade, up the side of neck to her ear. She trembles. He sucks her earlobe into his mouth and rolls the ripe morsel of flesh around on his tongue. She moans as if he were mouthing her clit instead.

Fever is what Beryl feels, a heat that pulses in her sex, flaring hotter with each expert caress. The wetness gathering between her legs does not quench the flames. She grinds her hips against him, glorying in the freedom of her lust. She lives her dream, the dark one come again to seduce and ravish her.

Alan senses that she is ready. He strips away the dress and is astonished to discover that Beryl wears neither panties nor brassiere. Her tawny nipples are rigid. She cups her breasts in her palms and massages them, following him with her eyes as he removes his own clothing.

He sweeps her onto the bed, dons a condom and enters her. She writhes underneath him as he buries his hardness in her scalding wet depths. He begins to lose control. He pounds her again and again, his mind receding into a fog of sensation.

At first, Beryl savors his roughness. He fills and stretches her. She arches to meet each thrust, grateful for penetration, aching for surrender. Soon, though, something shifts. She feels the connection between them fading. Only his questing cock joins them. His clever, sensual mind is elsewhere. She suddenly feels terribly alone, lying underneath a stranger.

He continues to fuck her. She still moans.  His rod still evokes pleasure from her swollen flesh, but that means nothing. Tears of regret gather in her eyes as he heaves his body into her and with one final jerk of his hips, achieves his release. For a moment, he lies on top of her, gasping. She strokes his hair gently, sadly, watching her dream evaporate.

"I'm sorry, Beryl," he whispers, tasting the salt on her eyelids.

"I'm not," she says. She sits up and begins to dress.

"Please, don't go. I wanted you so much. Next time, I'll last longer."

"No, Alan," she says. "This was what it was. What I needed to know." She's ready to leave now. He's still lying on the bed, prostrate with disbelief. She leans over and kisses him on the mouth, a sweet, chaste kiss. 

"Thanks for dinner, and everything.  Take care of yourself."

She is gone. He lies back, depressed, stroking his cock and thinking of her. He remembers the way her hair tangled around her face, that night long ago, recalls the moonlit water and her jasmine scent. He strokes harder. "I am the Lizard King," he tells himself wryly. "I can do anything."

Friday, July 18, 2014

Channelling Hell

by Jean Roberta

My life has rarely been in synch with the times. In the 1980s, I was scrounging a living, raising a child, and trying to finish a Master’s thesis in English to the satisfaction of my advisor and committee. That was the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, when unrestrained capitalism made a comeback. (I was one of the many who weren't lifted up by that wave.)

In the summer of 1989, my life suddenly improved. I spent my first night with the woman who is now my legal spouse, I was granted a Master’s degree, and I got a positive response to my first three erotic stories. (The editors sent me a letter, saying they “accepted” all three, but then the publisher went out of business.)

In 1990, I was given a little joblet in the local university, in the Faculty of Extension (which offers non-credit classes); I taught creative writing to senior citizens for a modest fee. In 1991, I was given a more serious job, teaching literature and composition to a class of reluctant first-year students who had to take it. (Some of them tried to persuade me that they didn’t need the class because they already knew how to write. I kept explaining that I didn’t have the authority to give them a free pass, even if I had wanted to.) The salary was still so modest that I juggled several other part-time jobs at the same time, including interviewing medical doctors for a medical marketing research firm. In 1999, I finally got job security when a new “Instructor” position was created, and I was offered a contract. My income suddenly increased, I had an expense account, and I was eligible for raises.

Best of all, my first erotic story was published in a print anthology in 1999. (The background of this story deserves a blog post unto itself. It's about a sex toy in a lesbian relationship -- the theme of the print anthology -- and I named it "Something Natural" in sarcastic response to some lesbian skirmishes in the hellacious Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s.)

I was well aware that while my life was improving, all hell was breaking out in other countries. In the world at large, the 1990s were the decade of genocide. Unfortunately, my mind seemed to be tuned into the Hell channel – and I was the one who tuned it.

Let me explain. In 1985, I auditioned as a writer and performer in The Funny Pages: An Evening of Improvisational Theatre. This was a project launched by high school students in Junior Achievement (which enables teenagers to learn how to be entrepreneurs), but the performers were all adults with some acting experience. I was hired by the director to write a satirical political skit, perform in it as an actual Canadian politician (Flora MacDonald), and keep the audience entertained between acts.

The director told me to pretend to be a little old immigrant lady dressed in layers of clothing with clashing patterns, including a kerchief. To encourage me to get into the role, he told me to pick an actual country from somewhere in Europe and invent a “language” of sounds. At the end of every act, I was to walk onstage and have a “conversation” with an English-speaking person who was willing to help me. I was to react by pretending to be outraged; I was to “tell off” the other person by raising my voice, waving my arms about, and then walking offstage in a huff.

This role was far from politically correct. Whatever. I wanted to get paid, and I hoped the acting experience would bring me some long-term benefits.

I decided to be the Little Old Lady from Herzegovina, the name of a small nation that existed before World War I. I thought the name sounded funny, possibly even more so than “Saskatchewan.” I created a “language” full of spitting consonant sounds. I got laughs.

The paper programs that were handed out to the audience featured a cartoon image of the Little Old Lady on the cover. I still have mine.

I don’t regret the experience, but no one in the cast got paid a cent. Someone dropped and broke a borrowed sign that was worth $200 Canadian, and paying for a new one ate up all our profit. And I never got enough acting experience to launch a career on the stage. By the 1990s, The Funny Pages seemed like part of my past, when I was a jean-of-all-trades.

In 1991, war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, which fell apart as soon as the old Soviet Union came to an end. A Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was declared, and a democratic vote established the right of non-Serbian residents of that region to secede from the rest of the country. The Bosnian Serbs didn’t accept the vote, and they were well-armed. They launched a war of “ethnic cleansing,” which included mass rape and mass murder. The headlines were full of it.

For several years, no other country intervened. Finally, a U.S.-led coalition of NATO forces stopped the Serbian army and forced them to negotiate. In 1995, the former Yugoslavia was divided in a way that was intended to allow for several ethnic “homelands.”

As far as I know, I have no ancestry from that part of the world. That didn’t prevent me from having nightmares after every massacre was announced on the nightly news. In my dreams, I was in a landscape I didn’t recognize, surrounded by the flames of burning buildings and the screams of civilian victims. I was confronted by an old woman I didn’t recognize at first. But then – oh my god – I knew her. She was the Little Old Lady I had impersonated.

She was definitely outraged. And she was not playing for laughs. She spoke to me in a language that sounded real, and even though I didn’t understand the words, her message was clear enough: Do you find this funny? Am I a joke to you? Would you laugh if you knew how many of my loved ones are dead or missing?

Of course, there was nothing I could do for her except apologize. In time, the nightmares stopped. However, it was hard to forget some of the things I saw, including soldiers mutilating the faces of women they had raped, simply out of spite. I asked myself whether I was more sadistic and perverse than I knew – otherwise, why would I imagine such things?

Then I read a newspaper article that described exactly what I had seen. I didn’t invent the atrocities. My mind was simply tuned in to events I couldn’t control.

Luckily, I didn’t have similar nightmares about the massacre of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, probably because I had never tuned in to that part of the world.

Since then, I’ve tried to avoid inventing first-person characters that I wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night in my head. It’s probably just as well that I’ve never had a serious acting career. Imagine the possibilities!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What I Did Before I Knew Better

by Annabeth Leong

I walked into the smoky, after-hours cafe I'd just discovered and encountered the most beautiful man I'd ever seen. He was lanky and careless, the way I like, with dark skin and honest-to-God golden eyes and a way of smiling with only half his face at a time. Sleeping with him felt like a need, not a want.

Back then, in the 90s, I was so good at setting that sort of thing up. In a matter of days, we were listening to Radiohead and Mazzy Star while making out in the back room (where he also slept in exchange for working the counter). We were making out on the floor in the front room after the cafe locked the door, when only the special people got to stay. We were taking midnight walks in the park behind the cafe and climbing from there onto the tops of official city buildings, where we were also making out.

Then I met his girlfriend. She had periwinkle eyes, a feline throat, and beauty spots everywhere. She had a way of laughing that was both rough and girlish, and when she was in the room, I could never stop looking at her. She gave me a ride somewhere, and my hand crept onto her thigh. It was another need.

I wasn't as cool with her as I'd learned to be with men. With her, I was desperate, all too aware of how badly I wanted her, terribly afraid that she might only be tolerating me. Still, I kissed her every chance she gave me. I would take her foot into my lap and stroke her ankle, then slyly and patiently work my way up her leg to the lower edge of her shorts. Sometimes, we played with boys together, trading kisses in combinations that made me dizzy, or going driving and pulling over so I could lick my way down her neck. She was so fucking beautiful to me that the shape of her name still makes me shiver.

He explained the deal to me one night while walking me home, after this thing had been going on for a while. The two of them were together, and their main loyalties were to each other, but they were both okay if I spent an occasional night with one or the other of them. I didn't know words for polyamory, or the concept of primaries and secondaries, but I got what he was saying, and I didn't mind.

It's not just that I didn't mind. It was perfect to me, even if everything I'd ever heard told me that I ought to be upset by the arrangement. The script I knew said I ought to demand to be his exclusive girlfriend. I'd just opened my eyes to the possibility that I might also be her girlfriend, but again, monogamy was the only story I'd been told. I liked having a boyfriend and a girlfriend, though. I'd spent the last couple years cheating on lovers all the time, until finally I swore off making promises of exclusivity. Our deal gave me the freedom I wanted, but also the right to spend time with what seemed like the hottest two people in the world.

For a while, it worked, and I was happy. Then he came to talk to me again. They were worried, he said, that this thing we had going was too imbalanced. They thought I ought to get a boyfriend who was cool with joining our arrangement. The number three was unstable, and they thought a fourth would even things out. We could go on double dates together without looking weird.

They had a guy picked out for me, a friend of his, and they wanted me to meet him.

It's hard to believe now that I was really this casual about things, but I said sure, whatever they wanted, and agreed on a time to go out as a group of four. I was excited, too. I liked the mathematical possibilities of what they had proposed. The whole thing possessed a beautiful symmetry. I drew lines in my head, connecting the dots in different combinations, and I fantasized about our future together.

There was just one problem. When I met the guy they'd picked, I hated him on sight. He was a good-looking man, if you were into a cold, Aryan beauty, but his smell turned me off in a deep, primal way, and I didn't like the way his skin felt. He'd apparently been told I was a sure thing. Within minutes of our meeting, he took my hand and introduced it to his cock. If I'd wanted him, I would have been thrilled, but as it was, my stomach dropped. I knew this beautiful arrangement was about to end.

The three of them played together without me that night and for several nights after. I'd never been jealous before, but I was then. I gritted my teeth and smiled through their descriptions of the satisfaction delivered at the hands of the man I didn't want.

A few weeks later, I got another visit. The two of them were going to try being exclusive with each other, he said. In my heart, I'd known it was over the night I'd met their friend, so I was ready for this. I gave him a hug and told him I loved him. I don't think I ever really got to say goodbye to her.

There's a reason this is the story I'm telling for my post on the 90s, and it's not just that this is when these events took place. This version of me, so absolutely unconventional, formed at that time, and came as a product of listening to Ani DiFranco and reading The Sandman and having friends who went to Lilith Fair. It came out of reading sourcebooks for White Wolf Games, which stunned me with their easy portrayal of various queer identities and relationships, not to mention other people at the margins of society.

It's not that I didn't suffer for my sins. I got my heart broken a lot, and I hurt people, and people in my small Southern town thought I was a (no-lie) devil worshipper even though I went to church, and I got called a slut in whispers and people screamed that I was a slut from car windows.

But I miss that version of myself, even though for a lot of my life it got a bad rap. See, when the end of the 90s came, that person ended, too, for a long time. I got convinced to stop listening to "negative" music, stop wearing black, stop playing devil games, stop kissing girls, and stop sleeping around like a slut. My journey into a socially conservative life can't be blamed on religion, though the fundamentalist Christian values floating around where I was living were certainly part of where these ideas were coming from.

I was depressed at the time, and I got hooked up with a group of people who convinced me that social acceptability (though they weren't calling it that) was the way out of my problems. In fact, I got brought into that group by that beautiful man I mentioned right at the top of this post. We were in a band together, but he'd decided to settle down. He and his girlfriend had broken up, he'd always remembered me fondly, and this was our chance to be together and make a better life for ourselves.

And I did feel better for a while—it's amazing how good it can feel to give in and stop fighting. And this is why, for a long time, I couldn't understand the "born this way" arguments for gay rights (I still prefer arguments based on personal freedom). In response to the idea that it's some sort of choice to be queer, I've heard the rejoinder, "Well, when did you choose to be straight?" But I had an answer for that. In the year 2000. And it made my life a whole lot more comfortable.

Until it didn't. It wasn't long before that man was telling me he missed "the way I used to be." And my relationships with women became lousy with unspoken desires and weirdness (and I am only just starting to sort that bit out).

In the 90s, I didn't know how to conform, and I wore my pain raw, and I did things the only way I felt I could, and it hurt sometimes but I also love that brave past version of myself. I didn't know much of anything about how to protect myself, and I didn't know the words for half of what I wanted to do, and that hurt, too.

I've learned a lot since then, though, and I've come to see the person I was in the 90s as an important indication of what I was growing into being. I can't just rewind to that, and maybe I wouldn't want to, but if not for that person, I wouldn't be here writing erotica now. In all my confusion, when I ask myself what I honestly want, or what my identity actually is, it doesn't hurt to think back to how I acted then, when I didn't yet know better than to be myself.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


by Daddy X

I started my antiques business in 1989, gradually drawing away from the bar and restaurant career that I’d been involved in since the mid 70’s.  I’d landed a job as sous-chef, then moved on to my own kitchen in North Beach, SF. After moving from the city I worked as bartender/manager in a bowling alley that was reputed to be the toughest bar in the county.

I often tell of the time, at a party, when a big Marine-type heard me say just that—that I worked at the toughest bar in the county.

“Yeah, where?” he said, probably expecting me to mention one of two biker bars (I’d worked one of those, as well.)

When I told him, he said: “That Place! Fuck! I forgot about that place.”

I kept at it until deciding that the antiques sideline needed my full-time attention. Until then, the careers had overlapped. In 1995, I finally thought I could make more by selling things I’d bought than by working behind a bar. Momma X had a good, steady career in book production, so that enabled us to gamble with a situation that could be feast today, famine tomorrow.  

Of course, this wasn’t a decision I’d pulled from the ether (or other, darker places) it was rather an extension of my motis operendi, so to speak. I never had the resources to be a serious hobbyist in any field, so I had had to create businesses. For instance, my professional cooking career had a genesis in my interest in good food. I still do the lion’s share of cooking around the X household.

In 1990, I started with a tiny space in an antiques mall in a local town known for its plethora of antique stores. The little burg still draws tourists from all over the SF bay area and beyond. But to really hit the focused market, a dealer has to exhibit at the shows and antique fairs. People don’t go to shows without money in their pockets. In a tourist town, the malls can attract lots of ‘looky-loos’.

The shows themselves range from local down-and-out flea markets to sky’s-the-limit antique fairs. If a dealer has a reputable name and offers a more sophisticated inventory, they can have the opportunity to do the higher end shows, many of which at that time had long waiting lists for purveyors. The best shows tend to be invitation only.

Over a period of fourteen years, I increased my geographical range, from venues in the SF bay area, to southern California and Nevada. Every year, I took a three-week road trip, driving first to a fair in Pasadena, then on to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the annual Ethnographic Show, which draws top dealers from around the world.

But most shows take place on weekends; I was getting older, not as enamored with a life on the road. So I opened a small gallery near a local community college in 2000.

And that’s about how it went in the 90’s. I stayed at the gallery, doing just selected shows, and my business grew. I can’t say it prospered, but the money coming in eventually overtook what was being spent. Although, as I intimated, the income was not what one would call dependable.

What that business did (and still does, albeit in a greatly reduced capacity) was to introduce me to the esoteric ways of the world. As many of you know from my previous post “Shelf Life” (which happened to be the last post here on OGG for 2013) I deal in ancient and tribal art from all over the world. Yes, I’ll pick up a more contemporary piece that catches my eye from time to time, though ancient and ethnographic are the fields I am known for.

And a grand field it is. Objects enable us to investigate how other cultures lived, what they considered important, and to compare the information in depth, in turn revealing differences among us over the ages, and what we have in common.

If this sounds like a scenario where huge amounts of money were involved, you’d be mistaken. I started on a shoestring and couldn’t even think about going into that business today. Back in the 90’s the US still had a vibrant middle class. The lower to middle range was my bread and butter. I never sold an object over $10,000. In fact, the vast majority of my sales were from $50-$1,000. Many of those pieces could change the atmosphere of a room. Ordinary people could and did afford to buy a rare and beautiful object for their home. Antique shows were packed with people.

Back then, (in fact, even now) I could sell you an interesting 2,000 year-old coin, amulet or bead for $10. Of course, for that money you won’t get the best coin or bead, but the fact remains that almost everybody could afford an ancient sculpture, which is, in fact, what an ancient coin is.

Now, twenty to twenty-five years later, our middle class has just about dried up. Nobody but the rich can afford the luxury of such beautiful and esoteric items, and the privileged desire only the best. This is a microcosm of the entire economy, which at the top level is booming.  In the art world, for example, multimillion-dollar sales are common, while less popular artists go hungry. It’s a slippery slope, to use the cliché.

This inequity speaks to the larger loss of our quality of life since then. The current generation is the first in our lifetime who isn’t looking forward to a better world.

Back in the early 90’s I also began a novel. On a word processor. Not an erotic work, but a ‘last man on earth’ scenario. I guess I had maybe 50,000 words written when it became apparent how much I liked writing dialog in the few flashbacks.


Dialog is difficult when you’re dealing with the last man on earth. Guess I could have made him bonkers. I think the piece is around here somewhere on a floppy disk.