Forty long years ago, I met a guy and fell. It was one of those holiday things: I was visiting Canada from England, where I was living, and was heading back there in a week or so. He was—is—a choreographer-dancer on a trajectory that would end in brilliant success, awards, esteem. I, on the other hand, was muddling through, though I daresay looking rather pretty with it.
My heart, not for the first or the last time, broke; cracked like porcelain, erupted like Vesuvius, and when our sojourn of sex ended I experienced, not for the first or the last time, the sensation that an essential part of me had been—not lopped off, oh no; more like maimed, and I would henceforth and forever have to drag around this mangled horror while putting on a brave face and pretending I was whole.
At the beginning of October, 2016, we saw each other again, for the first time since 1978. I was then 61. He was, I would like to say, ageless, and I know he would like that, too. I went to visit him in Quyon, about sixty miles outside Ottawa on the Gatineau, Québec side of things.
He had been living in a outwardly ramshackle four-storey beast of a house that, in fact, once you got past the front doors, revealed a mix of modern necessities and even luxuries—under which rubric does a sunken, heart-shaped bathtub fall, I wonder—and that eclectic, eccentric collector’s style that makes a dwelling into a cozy and endlessly fascinating museum of one’s life.
This is where he had held workshops, mentored dancers, acted as a choreographic dramaturge for visiting groups. And his time here was coming to an end: the house sold during the four days I was there.
The past is another planet. I no longer know either of the young men who inhabited it. When it was time to leave, when he held me and I wept like my heart would break yet again and yet again, I had a dizzying, frantic perception, like a film reel scattering its millions of individual cells, of the arc of time that bound this moment to our first.
Every act contributed: every time I had chosen one street over another, one particular meal, whether or not to skip class, or to hold my tongue or speak my mind, to be friends or enemies or whether to eat toast with jam or drink my coffee black: Like Alice on the recalcitrant road that mocks her plucky determination and flings her back to the present at every attempt to escape, my freedom had been illusory, and I, too, ended up at a destination I could never have foreseen.
This is, I believe, the perception I will have at the moment of my death: Roses touching my fingers when I am an infant, reaching up to a sun burning through summer curtains, my anxious mother’s cheek pressed to mine, all my loves and my cruelties, my grief and my regrets falling away as I step over the boundary
beyond which, for all I know, I may meet her again, meet each and every one of them again, face to beloved face.
(if you’re in, or can make it to, Toronto this November 15th.)
FECKLESS BOY THAT I AM, I HAVE NEGLECTED all this time to arrange a real, bona fide grown-up publicity campaign for my book. This means that my method of selling my book to date has been to purchase copies and give them to friends on the strict understanding that they would write an honest review for Amazon, which they then failed to write.
If you actually knew me, rather than being obliged to stand outside my apartment with your autograph album, a bottle of poppers and a fishing net, you would know that this is simply what I do. You would appreciate the inherent charm of my signature, ever-present, shambolic and lovable life strategy of complete, nutty-professor-style, always-on-the-brink-of-disaster disorganizational entropy.
That’s how the lady from Canada Revenue Agency described it, or, at least, how she would have described it if I’d stopped crying long enough for her to get a word in.
But when I finally get around to things, Murgatroyd McGraw, I tell ya—! I tackle those things with the myopic optimism of a flat-earther walking his feral cats on a leash and the whacked-out persistence of a Stepford Wife stuck in a malfunction loop opening and closing the refrigerator door.
But it’s OK. I have clonazepam.
Be it known, then, that I will be reading from my incomparable collection of short form satire and witty personal essays on Friday, November 15th, at my crumbling mini-Xanadu in the sky, 392 Sherbourne Street, in Toronto
There will be refreshments, sparkling wit, moist eyes, or at least some part of your anatomy, and copies of my book for signing in both paperback and hardcover form. You’ll want to be there, but if you can’t physically you can virtually for I will also live broadcast the event.
Scan the above QR code to send details of my book launch and reading to your mobile device.
I don’t know why you’d do this instead of just manually doing it. I just created the code so that I could pander to you, the millennials of today.
I will add that a millennial is anyone younger than me, which is just about everyone who’s not in an ICU with a “do not resuscitate” order.
IF WE WERE POSSIBLE— Christ, what a thought! — it would have to be in some other continuum strung out in time between Lost In Space and Planet of the Apes—
the original, not the remake—
where my love like giant Noma bulbs leaks Red Green Blue pure Christmas colors onto snow; it would have to be
suspended in aspic somewhere in affect between Keir Dullea (lusciously preserved in the vacuum jar of his Paco Rabanne space suit in Kubrick’s ground-breaking 2001)
and Kate Hepburn (magnificent!) shocking the children with jewelry hung from her nipples teeth clenched, then through a narrow slit launching the swift arrows of her repartee in the ’68 screenplay of Lion in Winter.
And while we’re on the subject of me, Have I ever told you I hate being a venomous frog? It is so frightfully inconvenient at times! Like now, when you say
(standing marooned in my bog, drowning in your MacIntosh, squashed hat bobbing with corks)
“I mustn’t leave my guest too long—”
(Meaning I must dance the hootchy-cootchy elsewhere, baby)
And I outlash with a crack of my bull-whip tongue
(That very same bullwhip tongue seen in slow unfurling motion, eternal trope, in the seven o’clock reruns of Animal Kingdom whose subject is the tranquility of nature)
“No we wouldn’t want that, would we?”
not want —would no — would that—oui oui — ?
Oh mon enfant. Blathering’s a lonely task The daily struggle to be astoundingly original so — cliché.
I don’t get your surprise, any more than I get your stiff malodorous socks. Just for me? Such tendresse!
Waiter, gimme the soup doo jour!
And that Entray of the day!
And a littledisgust, on the side
just enough to whet the appetite!
Your sunken totem face no longer worrisome since they took AIDS off the list of acceptable romantic endings
Your muzzy teeth a craft project tombstones glamorous in fake fur rammed haphazardly into the rim of your jaw, as though to commemorate— what?
Recess? Mass burial?
Gimme a break!
This coffee's cold!
Your lips are white and pasty, darling. Grams of guilt-ridden chems, Seasons of serendipity! Avail yourself, please do, of some Colgate and my handy multi-tool travel brush!
And your pubes! Mon dieu! The rusty steel wool pads I use to attack, to scrub and scrape the cast iron pan would more sweetly accommodate my shameless kiss, the nuzzly nestling of my cheek!
Your reek of ether, sour sweat, defeat Your much-vaunted Apollonian line astray, your plump-loaded historical brushes uncontained.
Your staining of me bleeds.
You are my wizened future, Apparition, Ancient Mariner asthmatic, baying at the festooned threshold,
Alone alone, all all alone!
I’m the bride, the groom, I’m Eleanor of Aquitane!—is nothing beyond me?— I’m the unseen wedding room all a-quiver, stinking with white lilacs,
Alone on the wide wide sea!
Gimme that old college try! Gimme that opium dream, And a prolonged attack of the vapours! That's the spirit, honey! Now that's what I call poetry!
Hungry out of habit, I’ll rise to your bait, I’ll take a bite, But you are no more lust-slaking than a blackened pan of chocolate cake mixed at three A.M. with my old man hands, and baked,
then picked over with impatient fingers, black cake scalding, steaming, crumbling out of the black pan wolfed down in close-up, kitchen lights catching all my best angles as I suck in blasts of soothing frigid air to guard the vault of my mouth
SUFFERING TODAY FROM Eine-kleine-schokolade-kuchen-schade, which is the bewildered, mushed-together feelings of shame, hopelessness and despair I experience walking home from the corner store, having purchased a pack of “Two-Bite Brownies” for later, mindful delectation. But I am desperately empty now and I eat them en plein air.
It’s snowing lightly and I feel the chilly kiss of snowflakes on my hand as I reach into the brownie bag and pop another one into my mouth. I lick my index finger and press it onto the few remaining crumbs, suck them back, like a crack addict mining the shag carpet, unable to accept that his few fleeting moments of pleasure are done.
This was supposed to be about pleasure, wasn’t it? Or maybe I just used the brownies to, as it were, bribe my anxiety to get out of the house and go see a movie. I feed myself like a depressed new mother feeds the squalling unwelcome alien who popped out of her womb. What do I have to do to shut him up?
I’m tired of being one of the adults, sometimes the only one. I’m tired of peering into the dark and telling myself that everything will be all right. I crave comforting placebos: a hint of childlike sweetness, some undemanding chocolatey depth and a little quotidian complexity. I want a Schubert Impromptu; a Chopin Nocturne; a fugue from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.
I want sanity and order and not quite predictability; more like inevitability, but that of a bud coming into flower more than the fruit’s decay. I want to forget, just for a brief, gooey moment, about death and hatred and everything I’ve broken just by being alive and in the same room.
I want to forget about sex.
Craigslist forgot about sex.
Craigslist succumbed to our never-ending panic over sex, in its common-or- garden and educational forms, after its erstwhile competitor, Backpage dot com, got cocky, if you’ll pardon the expression, and rather lackadaisical about a little matter of underage girls. These knock-off Lolitas, who should have been selling nothing fancier than Girl Guide cookies, proffered their sexual services to stoked-up pervs, for cash, with online ads that left nothing to the imagination, then enhanced them with raunchy selfies that screamed, “Over here, Children’s Aid Society! We wanted to make sure you and the vice squad had lots of evidence!”
The Backpage Horror is a classic example of how you can start out with absolutely no good intentions and a disingenuous belief in laissez-faire, drift into awfulness, then say,
Oh, how did we get here? We never noticed before about the fourteen-year-old girl hookers, and anyway, doesn’t everyone do that—? No? I guess we all kinda got used to it!
Are you sure….?
and not even bat an eye until five hundred police divisions and ten centuries of jurisprudence come parachuting into your call centre.
Because, more than ever, in times of stress and uncertainty, we North Americans cling to the truths that have sustained us through famine, world wars and native genocide: that sex is wrong and sex is sinful; that we endure its distasteful bumps and grinds because, apparently, we are in the grip of a compulsion to produce unnecessary, smaller versions of ourselves with whiny, high-pitched voices and a tendency to spit creamed spinach in our faces.
Sex has become awful, as awful as the people practising it. Sex, primarily, is a weapon that men use against women. Men in positions of power and of trust, your sons or husbands or bosses, maintain their bragging rights in the locker room by casually reducing their female colleagues, employees or trophy wives to scalps on their belt.
Sex is that smelly, messy, hairy chore that needs to be airbrushed, deodorized and manscaped; Sex produces the involuntary squint, the pursed lips and the face hiding from the cumshot’s spray. I am quite fond of you, but may I be on record as saying: I never signed on for body fluids!
Sex is not the naked guy in front of you in the motel room who breaks your heart with his beauty and devours you with his longing while the afternoon sun beats through closed curtains. Sex has left the building, and sex is never now. Sex is just a possibility, the next big thing, the guy or guys, bland and identical as supermarket fruit, a certain number of GPS yards away (maybe even in the next motel room) who are out there waiting to be recruited; so you must log on —sexual encounters without a device no longer exist—line-up ten, then dump nine, exactly what they’re doing to you. The result is that sex is handily avoided, time’s up! and besides, you’ve started to wonder if there’s something suspicious about the way your desktop background keeps changing.
Did you do something malicious to my computer? You are awful!
Sex is the great defiler of the under-prepared and the irresistible tempter of the over-informed. Sex makes us cry, reflexively, “What about the children?” because sex involves body parts, male lust and female mystery, parental control and teenage curiosity, and someone, somewhere is going to have the awful idea of teaching the names of body parts, how to deal with male lust, how to give consent. But if you name those body parts, they’ll start to pay attention to them, and if they can give consent, what’s stopping them from skipping chemistry class, giving consent, and creating a few explosions of their own?
This, I’ll bet you one intact Trojan, is what has driven Ford Nation to roll back the sex ed curriculum in Ontario. It’s homophobia, doing double-duty; pulsating behind the superficial reasonableness of children must be protected; children will be sexualized; children can’t cope with knowing the names of their genitals.
What about the children?
What, Ford Nation is saying, what about the pervy fingers of gay men who itch to stroke and probe and excite and defile; what about innocence, and making children say “penis?”
(There is nothing more taboo than a dick, because there is nothing more contingent, more recalcitrant, more unbiddable. Men must be structural engineers before we’re lovers; our success is one awkward moment away from disaster. We dare not let you see how pathetically, hilariously vulnerable we are.)
But wait! Surely gay men are attracted to other men, by definition? It’s pedophiles who are attracted to children (and specifically under the age of thirteen). What gives?
Conservative minds are simple minds, tirelessly engaged in explaining how stuff works to other simple minds. If it fits on your fender, it’s true. Thus, sex is a necessary evil, gay men are a perverse evil, sex education is a Liberal evil and of course child molestation is an unforgivable evil. BINGO! All for one and one for all and evermore shall be so!
Most abused kids know their abuser; when kids are abused it’s usually within the family circle, by heterosexual men; but never mind, give it up, because het is normal; gay men—perverts, queers, nancy boys, poofs, faggots—are abnormal, thus more logical suspects. This one never changes and this one never dies.
Artful arsefulls of awfulness.
Parents labor under the misapprehension that their children belong to them, like their Ford Fiesta or their fifty-six inch smart TV. Our children are chattels, slaves born of our flesh to be whipped and abused and browbeaten and guilted into doing exactly as we say and believing exactly what we believe: Our alternative facts; the facts that should have been reality if anyone had been paying attention.
But children, saith the U.N., are autonomous beings with rights, and one of these is the right to the best education that can be provided.
This means children have a right to be educated about their bodies. Young men have the right to be educated about treating women with respect; young women want to confirm that their bodies are their own to control; young people want to know how to consent, and, yes, they fully intend to do so.
What about the children? Why do we ask this question when so many acts and omissions prove beyond any doubt that we do not care? Is it a cynical political posture or are we actually so deluded as to think our enraged attempts at control and our denial that every system we’ve built has catastrophically failed are the acts of loving guardians?
We don’t care about exposing kids to violence, whether as entertainment or as live-action classroom assassinations. The lucky survivors are ruined souls: white-haired, soot-faced trauma victims, twenty-first century chimney sweeps.
We don’t care about children living in poverty because we decided not to fix the worst aspects of capitalism: its focus on profit to the detriment of the public good; its monopolies, corporate and social, concentrating wealth, therefore power, in the hands of a very few. We don’t care about crippling student debt or that we’ve sold out universities, once centres of original thought and incubators of genius, to corporations, to be run like businesses with profit as their sole motive.
We don’t care that we’ve fucked the planet, bled it dry, squandered our kids’ inheritance, because we know it will be our kids’ problem, not ours. We’ll be dead when the ice caps melt and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans thunder into shore, engulfing in mere hours what has taken generations and centuries of struggle to achieve; We’ll be dead when democracy is replaced with anarchy, its soundtrack the blasting-off of private space shuttles launching to convey the planet fuckers to another fuckable planet. Our kids will have to deal with that, so long, losers!
We don’t care about our kids.
It appears that all we care about is what our kids will do with their genitals, lest they embarrass us with their sexual virtuosity or raise the ire of whatever fairy-tale ogre whose cult we follow, whose jaws drip blood and bone; the ogre who claims to love us, then shakes us from his sandals like dust.
If we believe god made the world and saw that it was good, why did we trash it; fill the lakes with shit and strip the trees from the hills and poison the air?
If he made the birds and beasts and everything that crawls upon the ground, and gave Adam the privilege of naming them, why did we cage them for our vicious entertainment, pen them, miserable and terrified, in lakes of their own waste, slaughter them so we could stuff our expanding bellies until we literally died from greed?
If god made our bodies that experience pleasure, why would god not want us to enjoy that pleasure? Why did we choose agony as our only offering and make suffering our primary achievement?
Great big Noah’s Arks of awful.
2. BAD SEX
GAY GURU SHAUN PROULX, venting his righteous anger like an Old Testament prophet but with less sackcloth and more interesting hair, hits the nail on its swollen mushroom head when he excoriates the current crop of fags as douches, albeit unintentional ones. He generously, partially ascribes this to the wiping out of the older generation by AIDS— the men who should have been here to guide them.
“The proof is in the pudding!” one of my awful acquaintances is wont to shout; and I bite my tongue so that I may not lose my cool and man-to-mansplain him that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, idiot!
(Seriously? As long as he’s happy and not focused on me, I’m good.)
The proof of this douche pudding may be the lost generation of guides, or it may be that social media, our beloved burbling cesspit of dreck, has reduced attention spans to nanoseconds and identity to self-serving fakery.
Looking for now, now now! Nope, not fast enough!
You are all fungible. You will do, old shoe, as well as you and you and you. What was your name, again?
Our hook-ups insult us, lie to us, steal from us, gossip about us, go crazy on us. Our hook-ups have never heard of the hostess gift. Our hook-ups are cynical eternal teenagers, wanting an increase in their allowance, and free wi-fi. Our hook-ups don’t like our food or our drinks and are amazed that we’ve read all those books.
Our hook-ups have not brought with them the five things without which they cannot function; we must provide them. Our hook-ups are laughing at us even as they exploit us.
How would my dead comrades—lutenists, and counter-tenors, and artist-inventors of imaginary tribes, and poets, and long-haired angels and choreographers and lovers—how would they even have begun to train these sad, wet pups?
Tabernac ! Marie-Joseph ! Atrocités que vous n’avez jamais imaginé !
And with the older generation gone, gone is technical mastery of sex. My challenge to you, gentlemen: Try to get a decent blowjob from an 18-year-old.
What is this? A half-hearted closing of dry, chapped lips around my dick, no idea of how hard to grip, or where, no consistency or sense of drama, no crescendo in the build-up, and now, thirty seconds in and with their reserves of concentration depleted, their eyes begin to wander. Fatal error! Now they are looking for something shiny that will actually amuse them or something bland and starchy they can microwave.
They never expect what happens next. Their insulting behavior towards me and my dick guarantees an experience, maybe their first, of sexual rough justice. As they reach for their iPhone, I shove their head down on my cock, holding it tightly with splayed, lube-y fingers; I shove it down hard until they gag, and when I hear them gag I don’t release them.
Are you kidding? I watch with pleasure as their faces turn purple and their eyes bulge and water and they start to splutter and flail, and I hold just a little bit longer until they are afraid. Then I let them go; they race back up to the surface like divers whose lungs are bursting, breaking the surface with wild gasps for breath that are close to sobs.
We have nothing at all to say to each other. Correction: You have nothing at all to say to me. You’d have to have something to say to me before I would say to you the many things I have to say to you, but won’t.
And you don’t.
With my compatriots gone, gone, gone to graveyards every one, we have lost the etiquette, the caring, the finesse of sex.
Young man walks into my room at the bathhouse. I’m naked, except, of course, for the army boots; don’t pretend you don’t know the look.
He walks in and flips my limp dick with one hand. Hey, I just arrived and haven’t popped a Cialis yet.
“Do you ever get hard?” he says.
I’m 63. Do I ever get hard? Is that the question?
Oh, I get hard. You’d better believe it.
I also have a refractory period that’s measured in weeks. I last came last Tuesday. My erection’s time frame is geological, like Mount Vesuvius.