Friday, December 23, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.” That line from The Wizard of Oz is part of pop culture now. I am reminded of it and the vicious animals it mentions as I think of some of the candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Bachmann and Perry and Gingrich, oh my! Singsong it with me. Bachmann and Perry and Gingrich, oh my!!

Bachmann. She won’t respond to an 8-year old who says his lesbian mother doesn’t need fixing, but she’ll certainly cast an icy glare at said mother. She’s a coward, Mrs. Bachmann. Maybe the child’s mother shouldn’t have put him up to saying those words to Mrs. Bachmann. Maybe the child thought them up on his own. Who cares? The child spoke the truth to her. To him, the lesbian is nothing more than his mother. Bachmann and her husband call the Kinsey Report a myth. That’s their defense when asked to respond to the alleged fact that 10% of the population is gay. It seems to me that the Bachmann’s like to make feather-ruffling statements to goad liberal-public outrage. They then stand back and watch or walk away and watch. I’ve always wondered how gay people getting married affects heterosexual people. I mean lets face it, heterosexual people getting married doesn't affect me. Bachmann has been asked by a gay-friendly, heterosexual man what her issue is with gay marriage. She has been quoted saying, "Public schools would have to teach that homosexuality and same-sex marriage are normal, natural and that maybe children should try them." Bullshit! That’s like telling a heterosexual person to try homosexuality if they really think it’s a choice. All people, children included, she be taught that all people are equal no matter their color, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Gay is not a disease. It can’t be cured. I’m not sick. To me, being gay is normal. I’ve been gay all my life. Maybe if children were taught that being gay is as normal for some as being straight is for others we wouldn’t have so much gay bashing and bullying in schools.

Perry. He seems to think the country was better off when gay people couldn’t serve openly in the military. He uses his religious beliefs as a basis for his comments. You see, he thinks being gay is a sin. Doesn’t religious teaching come from man? Isn’t it man’s interpretation of God’s word? My question is, why is it better for someone to risk their lives for the country, in time of war, hiding the truth of who they are? Doesn’t the real problem with the repeal of DADT have to do with the heterosexual people who are scared of homosexual people? Let’s be honest. There are straight men who think that every gay man wants to sleep with them. I’ve worked with one of those men in my life. While living in Nashville, Tennessee I had a manager who on my last day of employment wished me well in my new venture, but said he still didn’t want to shower with me. What a confusing statement to make. I’m sure my face registered some sort of shock as I said I didn’t want to shower with him either. He responded to me saying, “Yes, you do.” Truthfully, I didn’t want to shower with him. I didn’t want to sleep with him. (Perry thinks we gays should just abstain from sex.) I might have wanted to see him naked, I will admit that, but it was nothing I ever would have acted upon. I thought he was handsome, but I knew he was straight. I also knew he was uncomfortable with me being a gay man. Everything about that situation was his problem not mine. I never flirted with him. Not even accidentally. I was very aware of my surroundings and his homophobia. Is my desire to see a handsome man - gay or straight - naked any different from a straight man’s desire to see a beautiful woman naked? As for that abstention, maybe Mr. Perry should abstain. No, that would be silly wouldn’t it. Who am I to say that because we don’t have the same kind of sex that I think you’re wrong and should just bury your desires somewhere in the back of the closet you wish I would crawl back into?

Gingrich. He’s a heterosexual man against same-sex marriage who thinks the government should be defending DOMA even as his record stands at: marriage - 3, divorce - 2. He cheated on his first two wives. So much for the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. What makes his current wife think that his desire to "uphold personal fidelity to my spouse" is really going to work this time? Maybe he wasn’t listening to those vows about honoring until this third marriage. Gay marriages have as much likelihood as straight marriages at being successful. People cheat, both gay and straight. People stay faithful, both gay and straight. One of my best friends from college - a person who has been in my life through tears and laughter, ups and downs, loneliness and companionship - has been with his partner more than 10 years. They have been husband and husband for 7 years. They’re faithful and loving. It’s a gay marriage that’s working. Love is what should matter, not the plumbing of the two people exchanging rings.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could all just treat each other as equals? As people? Instead of the governing few spewing their rhetoric upon the masses and trying to make it law? What if we could just respect each other instead of living in fear. What will happen in this country if we elect leaders who want to do nothing more than stop the progress of human rights for all people?

I realize that I live in one of the most - maybe the most - liberal cities in the country. We all live together - gay, straight, bi, transgender - in the biggest melting pot of races and sexual orientations around. I’m here, a citizen of the United States of America. I’m not invisible. None of the aforementioned politicians represent me and none of them have my best interests at heart.

The fight for equality is going strong and that makes those opposed fight just as hard to block it. There’s a heightened sensitivity to any comment, look or gesture that might be misconstrued as prejudice. I’m very conflicted about that sensitivity. It’s a fine line between allowing the bullies to walk all over us and realizing there was no harmful intent. We need balance. When will the road even out? I don’t remember necessarily being offended when someone said, “That’s so gay” before it became such an issue. I’m not saying we shouldn’t stand up against the big things, but being sensitive to every inconsiderate, ignorant, button-pushing person out there makes us look like weaklings, like tattle-taling children. That’s an odd statement, I know, considering how strong the gay community truly is. My dad used to tell me to ignore the bully and he will eventually leave you alone. That’s easier said than done; I know that. Shouldn’t we start ignoring some of the slanderous verbiage so that those who spout it will realize they aren’t affecting us anymore and they will slink off to pick on someone else?

Gay people in the 21st century have gained enormous strides. We are stronger and more represented than ever. We have more support from the heterosexual community than I realized. What scares me is the unsupportive who listen to the bile spoken on a national platform from the lions and tigers and bears mentioned above. They would have us back in the closet, sitting quietly in a corner, averting our eyes in shame. They would have us be second class citizens, unworthy of human respect and protection. There is no closet. There is no shame. There is no hiding.

I may not be wearing a neon button proclaiming I’m gay to the world as I walk down the street, but I am tired of the sexual orientation prejudice that divides us as people and families. Love is inherent. Hate is taught. How about instead of teaching the children of today fear, lets teach them tolerance, acceptance and love. Let's teach them courage. Let’s teach them that it’s okay to be you and me. How about we teach them equal rights for all.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Follies - a Hint of Nostalgia with a Dash of Regret

The ghosts are ever present. Even when they turn their backs to us they are there, representing our pasts, commenting on our present. The wind rustles and on it are carried the eerie sounds of what was.

At 40 I already have that past full of what was and what could have been. I guess at any age one has that, but four decades into life, I'm aware of the roads I didn't take. I'm aware of too many mornings and I certainly know that all dreamers must awake and that I shouldn't look back. The problem is, I can't help but look back.  

During my second viewing of this season's Follies I found myself weeping. I'm always affected by the score, but this time my emotions hovered in that plane between holding on and letting go - where anything can happen - and they overflowed. It’s like on Halloween when the ghosts can walk the earth.

I rent in that place of nostalgia. I teeter on the verge of memory abyss. I don't like to fall in, but sometimes I can't stop it from happening.

Memories can be beautiful things; they can also be tied to regret - the things you wish you'd done, but didn't. "The roads you never take go through rocky ground, don’t they?" Well, don't they? I mean we make up excuses and reasons and justifications for not doing something. My frequent collaborator is fear. Anyone who reads this blog with any consistency knows that.

I was in such an open, receptive place when I sat through this production playing at the Marquis Theatre, that my emotions visibly manifested as tears that ran down my face. I was undeniably moved during “The Road You Didn't Take.” How can one not be when listening to the lyrics below and feeling the pain of the character as it spills forth from the stage and penetrates your heart?

THE ROAD YOU DIDN’T TAKE
BEN:
You're either a poet
Or you're a lover
Or you're the famous
Benjamin Stone.
You take one road,
You try one door,
There isn't time for any more.
One's life consists of either/or.
One has regrets
Which one forgets,
And as the years go on.

The road you didn't take
Hardly comes to mind,
Does it?
The door you didn't try,
Where could it have led?
The choice you didn't make
Never was defined.
Was it!
Dreams you didn't dare
Are dead.
Were they ever there?
Who said!
I don't remember,
I don't remember
At all.

The books I'll never read
Wouldn't change a thing,
Would they?
The girls I'll never know
I'm too tired for.
The lives I'll never lead
Couldn't make me sing.
Could they? Could they? Could they?
Chances that you miss.
Ignore.
Ignorance is bliss--
What's more,
You won't remember,
You won't remember
At all,
Not at all.

You yearn for the women,
Long for the money,
Envy the famous
Benjamin Stones.
You take your road,
The decades fly,
The yearnings fade, the longings die.
You learn to bid them all goodbye.
And oh, the peace,
The blessed peace...
At last you come to know:

The roads you never take
Go through rocky ground,
Don't they?
The choices that you make
Aren't all that grim.
The worlds you never see
Still will be around,
Won't they!
The Ben I'll never be,
Who remembers him?


My choice to stop singing is what comes to mind here. My dreams. The ones I gave up on. The ones that I bid goodbye. As I have aged so has my voice; its strength, power and range withered due to lack of use. The yearnings haven’t really faded, the longings haven’t really died. I’ve just learned to live with them shut behind a door that I don’t open.

Then there’s “Too Many Mornings.” My second blubbering moment. More so this time than in the earlier scene where I first lost my grip on emotional control. I've seen four productions of Follies over the years, this current one twice; I've listened to it countless times. I do believe it is my favorite Stephen Sondheim score. It always moves me and generally breaks my heart. I believe that this time was the first time I've actually cried while watching. I was so connected that I couldn’t stop the flow of tears. At one point my heart broke in two at the mere intake of breath by Bernadette Peters as her “Sally” listened to “Ben,” so robustly portrayed by Ron Raines, singing to her exactly what she has been longing to hear.

TOO MANY MORNINGS
BEN:
Too many mornings,

Waking and pretending I reach for you.
Thousands of mornings,

Dreaming of my girl...


All that time wasted,

Merely passing through,

Time I could have spent,

So content

Wasting time with you.


Too many mornings,

Wishing that the room might be filled with you.

Morning to morning,

Turning into days.

All the days
That I thought would never end,

All the nights
With another day to spend.

All those times
I'd look up to see

Sally standing at the door,

Sally moving to the bed,

Sally resting in my arms

With her head against my head.


SALLY (speaks): If you don’t kiss me, Ben, I think I’m going to die.

(sings)
How I planned:

What I'd wear tonight and

When should I get here,

How should I find you,

Where I'd stand,

What I'd say in case you
Didn't remember,

How I'd remind you--

You remembered.

And my fears were wrong!

Was it ever real?

Did I ever love you this much?

Did we ever feel

So happy then?


BOTH
:
Too many mornings

Wasted in pretending I reach for you,

How many mornings

Are there still to come?

How much time can we hope that there will be?

Not much time, but it's time enough for me.,
If there's time to look up and be/see

Sally standing at the door,

Sally moving to the bed,

Sally resting in your/my arms,

With your head against my head.


Sally has loved Ben for at least 30 years - through two children and one unhappy marriage she has held tight to what could have been. It's heartbreakingly sad to desire something for so long and so strongly and never be able to attain it. For the first time, I’m embarrassed to admit, I realized that Ben is singing to the Sally that he fill in love with, the Sally of his youth, while present day Sally thinks he singing to her in the present moment. I can’t believe I never realized that. Sally has wasted so many years of her life unhappy - unable to be happy, or choosing not to be - because she has been in love with a man who loved her once, but not enough to marry her. She settled and has lived with that regret ever since. 

"Losing My Mind" was a performance on the brim of a breakdown. It should be, but I haven’t experienced it like this before. The tears were in Bernadette’s eyes even as the lights came up. She was swimming in a sea of loneliness and regret. As she sang. I wanted to weep with her but was so entranced that I couldn’t for fear of blurring my vision of her as she cried and struggled to tell us her feelings.

LOSING MY MIND
The sun comes up,
I think about you.
The coffee cup,
I think about you.
I want you so,
It's like I'm losing my mind.

The morning ends,
I think about you.
I talk to friends,
I think about you
And do they know?
It's like I'm losing my mind.

All afternoon,
Doing every little chore,
The thought of you stays bright.
Sometimes I stand
In the middle of the floor,
Not going left,
Not going right,

I dim the lights
And think about you,
Spend sleepless nights
To think about you.
You said you loved me,
Or were you just being kind?
Or am I Losing my mind?


There’s nothing Sally can do but stand there and sing her emotional breakdown to us. Even though I’ve gone on verbal record as one who doesn’t fully embrace Bernadette’s performance in this role, her delivery of this song in that moment resinated with me this time. I find it difficult to sing while crying. I don’t know how she got through it, but she did and she conveyed to me her desperation and her crazy. Her sadness filled the space between the stage and me.

The ghost of my former self must cringe every time I say, "I used to be fun." We all used to be something different than we are now. Follies always makes me reflect on my life. It always makes me sad - for the characters choices and for my own. It’s a chance to reflect, but I never leave unscathed. My youth is gone. I’m not old, but I’m no longer that 20-something, new in the City, with dreams that seemed within reach; dreams that I let go of for one reason or another. I don’t regret some of those choices. Others I wonder about a lot. Memory can be hateful, but it should remind us to do it while we can. Don’t give up. Take the leap in the moment. Don’t get to the place where you have something to regret. The biggest goal for me is to look back at my life and be satisfied with my choices, even the bad ones. I made them for some reason in that moment. They are mine. I have beautiful memories of my performing past and I have beautiful memories of a love that I’m glad I opened my heart for.

There will always be a road you didn’t take. There will always be questions about choices made. I need to thrive in the present with an eye on the future instead of hindsight heartbreak for what will never be.

(Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim © 1971)

The Artist

Silence is golden. Black and white is the new color. Music is emotion. What do all of these things have in common? They make up the gorgeously rendered new silent film The Artist. Yes, that’s right, silent film.

What a beautiful way to spend a Friday evening. One hour and 40 minutes that I don't want to get back. On the contrary, I want to lose myself again in the grand simplicity of a bygone era.

A glance, a tear, the swell of the strings, a smile, a rampant drum beat - all of these things used to convey what's happening and how you should feel in that moment while watching the scene. I was mesmerized. There was a moment when I realized my cheeks were aching. It was from smiling. I was there, present and along for the ride. I couldn't take my eyes from the screen. What a fascinating gamble that actually paid off. 

I’d been wanting to see The Artist for at least two weeks. I have to say it was worth the wait even though now that I've seen it I wish I hadn't waited so long. 

As people filled the seats of The Paris Theater I was concerned. I won’t lie. I hate going to the movies in New York City. The people are rude and inconsiderate most of the time. That is, I find, until we hit Oscar season. Oscar bait films don’t draw the same texting, cell-phone-answering/talking, baby-bringing, sitting-in-my-own-living-room kind of crowds that say a summer blockbuster draws; I doubt Mr. Transformers is going to rush to see Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady. For $13 a pop I want to be able to enjoy the film without the added soundtrack of someone else’s bullshit. I’ve gone off on a tangent, but it has to do with silence. The Artist is silent. There are no loud explosions or crashing vehicles to cover the ambient noise. Only a resplendent score and that’s not going to cover it.

Let me tell you, there was plenty of ambient noise when I sat down. The unwrapping of plastic candy wrappers, the juggling of packages from holiday shopping, the bitching and moaning about traffic, the crunching and chewing and slurping. That is to be expected, but I realized that if it continued during the film it would be a detriment to my mental health and physical enjoyment. Thankfully, I can report that it didn’t continue. We as a collective sat and watched a silent film. It must have been what audiences in the 1920’s did when there were no cell phones and people dressed for a night at the cinema. We laughed together and at times gasped together. It was like breathing as one. We applauded together at the end. And guess what, no one’s cell phone went off and no one pulled out their cell to check the time or to text. Insert satisfied, smiling face here.

Pure escapism is what it was. I know you may be thinking, “Why would I want to sit through a silent film?” To be entertained is the reason, and to see what a film maker can do when the idea of revisiting a moment of cinema history comes to fruition for today's audience.

The story is exciting, funny, heartbreaking, triumphant. Boy meets girl. He’s a movie star, she’s a fan. From obscurity she is plucked and to obscurity he falls. Just as her star begins to soar toward the heavens his begins to descend. We’ve seen the story before, but not like this. Not in silence. As for that music that guides my emotions, it is exuberant from overture to final scene, full of life and movement.

For me, the experience was delicious and one worth repeating, from the first frame to the last, with surprises and unexpected moments thrown in. I enjoy revisiting the past. Classic films are some of my favorites. Film making has come a long way since the days of silent pictures, but when something works, it works. I felt exactly what I was supposed to feel without a word being spoken.

Silence does speak volumes.

My Week With Marilyn

“Shall I be her?” she asked.

That was probably my favorite line from the film My Week With Marilyn. It is innocent yet provocative; knowing and not a bit naive.

I must admit that I’ve only seen two films in which Marilyn Monroe appears: the Bette Davis vehicle All About Eve and the cross-dressing comedy Some Like It Hot. I’ve never gone in search of her, but she’s always been in my view: the blast of air from the subway blowing up her white dress as she stands atop the grate in The Seven Year Itch, her rendition of “Happy Birthday” sung to President Kennedy wearing a form-fitting dress she was sewn into, the “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” scene in Gentleman Prefer Blondes imitated by Madonna in her “Material Girl” video. She’s iconic – her platinum hair and big smile, the way she walks and talks. She is part of pop culture and cinematic history.

All of these things ran through my mind as I tried to focus my approach to this piece. Then it occurred to me that the focus is getting what you want.

Colin Clark, who wrote the book upon which the film is based, wanted something different for himself. He wanted to work in the movies. I wanted something different for myself than the small-town life into which I was born. I wanted to perform, the goal being Broadway. Marilyn wanted something different for herself. Norma Jean wasn’t it, so she created Marilyn and gave her the last name Monroe. We’re all similar, with dreams and desires bigger than our surroundings.

If I am too believe Colin Clark’s memory of the week he spent with Marilyn in 1955, then I am to believe that Marilyn was an insecure, vulnerable person who craved being taken seriously as an actress. The persona that she created lent itself to beautiful, sexy, and some might say, dumb girl roles. She wanted more than that. She wanted to be a serious actress. It wasn’t easy for anyone to see her as such. Then there’s the idea that she suffered from stage fright. There are published reports that she would be physically ill before shooting a scene and would have to be coaxed and calmed in order to get the scene on film. She was notorious for being late to set, sometimes not showing up at all. These things are pointed out frequently in My Week With Marilyn. She had her acting coach with her constantly. Laurence Olivier, directing the film, The Prince and the Showgirl, the time period during which My Week With Marilyn is set, is said to have thought Marilyn’s acting coach was there for nothing more than “buttering” up Marilyn. Basically, he thought the coach was just blowing smoke up Marilyn’s ass and collecting a paycheck. Who among us knows what Marilyn got from her coach? Who among us can judge what it takes to do another's job?

Maybe the person answering the phone in the call center for American Express has to give himself a pep talk in the mirror each day in preparation for the inevitable call from an irate customer. Maybe the chorus girl has to convince herself each night that she will remember the choreography when she steps onto the stage by saying a little prayer. Maybe I have to take a breath and know that I can face each customer at my ticket window and that no transaction is the end of the world. We all have our shit. Who can say what we need to get through it? Marilyn needed pep talks. She needed convincing. She needed images to latch onto in order to complete a scene. She needed to find a way to believe her character’s situation. At least that’s what Week would have us believe. I believed it. I’ve read about it in other places. What is astounding is that for however much time it took to get it in the can, it seems worth it. Colin portrays all who view Marilyn in Olivier’s completed film as mesmerized by her, unable to look away.

As seen through the eyes of a young man in his twenties, Marilyn seemed happiest when she was out of the public eye - strolling along the grounds of her rented house on the arm of a boy who would do anything for her, running barefooted through the grass, swimming nude with no paparazzi in sight. She had achieved international stardom, but it seems to me what she craved most was lost somewhere in the past with Norma Jean. She didn’t seem to have a solid marriage between her personal and professional lives.

As portrayed by the beautifully nuanced Michelle Williams, Marilyn was effervescent when she was Marilyn the actress. But she also sparkled as Marilyn the woman. She was completely at ease out of the spotlight. She was heartbreaking in her desire to please not only the people around her, but also herself. She wanted to be loved and she wanted to trust - desperately.

My time with Marilyn was less than two hours and it wasn’t even the real Marilyn. It was, however, the most insight I’ve had into Marilyn Monroe’s life. I want to learn more about her and above all I want to watch more of her films.

So if I may respond to the question posed above in my favorite line from the film. The answer applies to both Ms. Monroe and Ms. Williams.

“Yes, please.”

Friday, December 2, 2011

Return to Winthrop St. - Part 4

“Nothing” by The Script was playing on the radio the next morning when Atwood’s alarm woke him. His head was pounding slightly as he opened his eyes. He’d felt the pressure behind them as he teetered on the verge of waking. He refused to give in to it.  His mouth felt full of cotton, his body dehydrated. He had to get up, and he needed to do it now. He slowly stood and his stomach lurched. He moved in slow motion as he stretched toward the ceiling, trying to keep the contents of his stomach in his stomach, trying to keep the pounding of his head from making his eyes explode. His body shook as every muscle stretched and tensed. He rubbed his hand across his face, the skin of it feeling more like sandpaper than flesh. He went to the mirror and saw that his upper lip and chin were both red and looked raw. They looked worse than they actually felt. It took a second to figure it out and then memory crashed onto existence.

"It's from kissing," he said to himself in the mirror. "It's from Bobby's scruff.

He made the familiar trek down the hall to the bathroom and felt nauseous as he released the dark yellow liquid into the white bowl. He was definitely dehydrated. He held his breath. He was already fighting the urge to vomit. The last thing he needed was a bad odor to make it happen anyway.

He felt ridiculous and stupid yet somehow proud. The experience from the previous night was real. It had happened. He had given in to the pleasure and let it override his fear.

When he returned to his room he collapsed back onto his bed. He rubbed his head, which seemed to be pounding even harder now. Blood was pumping faster through his heart. He reached, without looking, into the drawer of his nightstand for the aspirin that he knew was there. He chewed four of them and swallowed the bitter, pasty result without the use of water. He wanted nothing more than to lie still in the quiet darkness of his room until he felt normal again.

He grabbed his phone from the top of the nightstand in order to check the time and that's when he saw the text message. It was from Kinlin. His timing was impeccably off. 

Just wanted to say hi. I'm thinking about you.

It had been weeks since they'd had any communication and now, the night after a crazy sexual adventure, Kinlin had decided to break the silence. 

Atwood wanted to respond right away, but made himself wait. Kinlin deserved to wait. He thought he might be acting childish, but he didn't change his mind. 

He threw the phone into the drawer with the aspirin and shut it away. Kinlin, now, somehow only seemed to cause his heart to ache—sometimes with pain, sometimes with pleasure. Right now he wanted nothing more than to protect his heart and shut Kinlin out of it. 

Before curling back into the fetal position of security and comfort something caught his eye. He sat up. He noticed the shadows of the blowing tree limbs outside his window. It was odd and somehow pretty. He’d never taken the time to notice anything like that before. It also reminded him of Kinlin—shadows are almost present but never within reach. He shook his head as he realized that even something as minute as shadows behind the blinds had caused him to think of Kinlin. He collapsed dramatically back onto his bed, pulling the covers over his head, blocking out the shadows, blocking out Kinlin.

He filled his day with late morning classes and an afternoon of sun drenched hours in Murphy Sculpture Garden. It was October and it still looked and felt like summer. He missed the changing of the seasons that would inevitably be happening back home in Massachusetts. 

He kept checking his phone to see if Kinlin had sent another text. After the fifth time with nothing but an empty screen he questioned his own sadomasochistic ways. 

He stared across the Garden. He missed seeing the leaves change colors over night. He missed the sound and smell of the brown leaves as they crunched under his feet—the unmistakable sound and smell of fall on Winthrop Street. He realized he was feeling a little melancholy. He was absentmindedly putting his phone away when it vibrated, replacing his Massachusetts daydream with his California reality. His first thought was Kinlin; he couldn't help it, but it wasn’t Kinlin, it was Bobby.

Bobby: Hi Atwood

Atwood: Hey, Bobby.

Bobby: What’s up?

Atwood: Not much, u?

Bobby: Just hanging out @ home

Atwood: I’m sitting in the sculpture garden taking in the sunshine.

Bobby:  nice

Atwood: You should join me.

Bobby: then I’d have to get dressed

Atwood: you’re not dressed?

Bobby: no

Atwood: ?

Bobby: it’s easier to play with myself if I’m not dressed

Atwood:  LOL! That’s true.

Bobby: ;)

Atwood: did you go to class today?

Bobby: really? That’s your next text?

Atwood: what?

Bobby: I’m naked! You just asked me about class

Atwood: sorry :(

Bobby: ;)

Atwood: so you’re naked, tell me about it.

Bobby: why don’t you come over and see for yourself

Atwood: tell me first.

Bobby:  well, I’m laying on my bed, naked, stroking my cock.

Atwood: and?

Bobby: I’m using the other hand to play with my balls. I like that.

Atwood: ur getting me hard

Bobby: good

Atwood: yeah, but I’m in the sg.

Bobby: so don’t be in the sg

Atwood: ?

Bobby: be at my house. you could replace my hand with your own

Atwood: text me your address.

The next thing Atwood knew he was standing at Bobby’s dorm room door. It felt eerily reminiscent of the previous night waiting for Clancy to answer. The difference was he knew what he was getting into this time.

Bobby opened the door shirtless, the button on his jeans undone. He was barefoot and smiling. His eyes were gleaming. Atwood felt his face flush as a wicked smile formed on his lips. He wanted to be there, and he could tell that Bobby wanted him to be there. He walked through the door.

Before the door had even latched Bobby was right behind him. He felt Bobby’s hands around his waist. He couldn’t stop himself from tilting his head to the left as Bobby’s lips found their way to his neck. His breath quickened and his pants got tighter. He spun around to face Bobby. He looked at the hot guy standing in front of him; taking in the eyes and the lips before closing his eyes and placing his lips on Bobby’s.

Bobby submitted to the kiss fully. He placed his arms around Atwood and pulled him tighter to his body. There was no space for light or air between them. 

Bobby’s right hand found it way to Atwood’s butt. He squeezed and pressed their midsections even closer, if that was possible. Atwood put his hand down the back of Bobby’s jeans to find no underwear. Bobby’s back arched slightly as Atwood gently squeezed. Their kissing intensified. Without breaking the connection of their lips or hands from one another Bobby moved them toward his bed. They collapsed just like in a movie. Unlike in a movie however, they bumped their heads together and teeth met lips.

“Oow,” said Atwood.

“I’m sorry,” said Bobby, laughing. “That was much sexier in my head.”

They lay on the bed looking into each other’s eyes.

“It’s always sexy in the movies,” said Atwood.

Bobby smiled at him. Without breaking eye contact from Bobby’s beautiful blue-green eyes, Atwood moved to reestablish the kiss that had been broken by their fall.

They kissed deeply and passionately. Atwood was trying to let go and enjoy the moment. He couldn’t keep his erection at bay, but he didn’t seem to be fully participating. The text from Kinlin was gnawing at him. Flashes of Kinlin kept crossing his mind, blinding him from what was in front of him.

He pushed Bobby away and sat up. His feet were on the ground and his elbows were planted on his thighs just above his knees. He put his head in his hand and closed his eyes. He rubbed his head as if by doing so he could smear away the image of Kinlin. 

Bobby sat up and gently placed a hand on Atwood’s right thigh. Atwood turned to him. Bobby had a look of concern on his face.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Atwood didn’t answer immediately. He stared at the face of the man sitting next to him as pangs of guilt and frustration cramped in his stomach. How could he be sitting in a room with a guy who actually wanted him and still be thinking of someone who didn’t want him who was miles away?

“I’m fine,” he responded with a look on his face that betrayed his lie. “I think I should go.”

Atwood stood up and made to get his jacket. Bobby grabbed his hand.

“I really wish you wouldn’t,” he said with a smile. “You wanna smoke a joint with me? It might relax you.”

Atwood had never smoked pot before, but he was curious. His head was filled with colliding thoughts—What am I doing? Am I gay? Kinlin. School. Bobby—bouncing around like too much debris in a junk strewn heap. He thought now might be just the time to kill the cat.

“I’ve never smoked before.”

“It’s cool. I won’t pressure you, but you’re in good hands if you decide to,” said Bobby.

“I think I want to,” responded Atwood.

Bobby smiled and got up from the bed to get the joint from its hiding place in his closet. He walked back to the bed with the joint and a lighter in his hand. He motioned for Atwood to come sit next to him. It reminded Atwood of the previous night when they’d met and Bobby had motioned him to the sofa. He tried to recapture the sense of excitement and relaxation that he’d felt with Bobby by the end of the evening.

Atwood sat down on the side of the bed next to Bobby. Bobby lit the joint and inhaled, momentarily holding the smoke before exhaling. He passed the joint to Atwood as he exhaled the smoke. Atwood could smell sweetness in the air. He had only smelled it once before. It was at a bon fire held during homecoming his senior year. He had always been told that marijuana had a smell reminiscent of skunk spray, but that night it smelled sweet. It was the same this time. The sweet smell filled his nostrils. The smell took him back to the bon fire and to hanging with his friends, which included Kinlin.

He took the joint from Bobby and put it to his lips. He must have looked apprehensive because Bobby told him to relax.

“Just inhale some of the smoke into your mouth and then take air in with it to take it into your lungs. Just go slow.”

Atwood inhaled. As clich├ęd as he knew it was, he coughed. He couldn’t help it. He had tried to rush it. He didn’t have a lot of patience. He wanted to replace the image of Kinlin with that of Bobby as quickly as he could.

Bobby couldn’t help but laugh. Atwood laughed too, which made him cough even more. Bobby took the joint back and inhaled again. 

“Inhale my smoke,” he said to Atwood while still holding his breath.

Bobby blew the smoke slowly at Atwood and Atwood inhaled the discarded smoke. He then held it briefly before exhaling it back into the air. 

He took the joint from Bobby and took a real hit that didn’t make him cough this time. He was determined to do it right. He slowly pulled on the joint and felt the smoke fill his mouth. He slowly took in air and felt his lungs fill. He exhaled and smiled at himself like a child finally learning to put the circular piece of wood into the circle instead of the square.

Bobby smiled at him and leaned in and kissed him on the lips. Atwood felt Bobby’s tongue, a familiar feeling for sure by now. Bobby pulled away and took the joint from Atwood inhaling deeply another drag.

He passed it back to Atwood as he let the vapor infiltrate his lungs one more time. Atwood took another drag and inhaled deeper this time. As he exhaled he caught himself watching the white smoke as it drifted across the room and danced on the rays of late afternoon sunlight that penetrated the shear curtains covering Bobby’s window. Bobby started to laugh at him and he started to laugh at Bobby although he had no idea why he was laughing. 

Atwood leaned forward and kissed Bobby this time. There was nothing but joy in his heart and his mind. His eyelids felt heavy, but he was more relaxed than he’d been since he’d gotten to California. It was a feeling he thought he could get used to. He then slipped off the edge of the bed, crashing butt first to the floor.

Bobby started to laugh again. Atwood quickly moved from shock to laughter himself. Bobby joined Atwood on the floor. They leaned up against the bed and continued to pass the joint back and forth.

“This shit is amazing,” said Atwood. His body felt weightless as he lifted his arm to take the joint Bobby was trying to pass him.  

Bobby started laughing again.

“Stop it,” said Atwood, trying not to laugh and losing the battle. “Stop it, I’m trying to inhale.” He inhaled and laughed the smoke right out, then started coughing.

“Remember when President Clinton said he didn’t inhale?” laughed Bobby. “You know he did. I mean why would he not wanna feel this way?”

“I don’t know man,” coughed Atwood. He passed the joint back to Bobby. “You were like, two when that happened. How do you even know that?”

“I’m a political science major. I read about our Presidents.” He took another toke off the joint and exhaled while speaking. “I mean can you imagine just holding the smoke in your mouth for nothing? That’s like chewing chocolate then spitting it out instead of swallowing.”

Atwood snorted. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Bobby looked at Atwood and tried to focus. “Your eyes are like slits. Seriously, man, can you even see me?” he said as he passed the joint.

“Slits?” Atwood continued to laugh. His perma grin would not stop. “Of course I can see you.” His eyelids were so droopy that the lashes created a hazy blind through which he had to fight to focus. He tried lifting his forehead, but to no avail. The lids didn’t budge. He took another hit and passed the joint back to Bobby.

Bobby laughed and took another drag.

“Why do you think President Clinton didn’t inhale?” asked Atwood. “Do you think he knew he was going to run for President one day and didn’t want it showing up if he had to take a drug test?”

“A drug test?” The words burst from Bobby’s mouth before he could stop them. They were followed quickly by the infectious laughter that wouldn’t let go of either of them. “It doesn’t stay in your system that long.” He passed the joint back to Atwood. “He just lied like he did about that blowjob.”

Atwood was sitting with his eyes closed now. He looked like he was either asleep or meditating. The joint had burned down to his thumbs. Bobby reached over and took it from him and put it in an ashtray that he kept under the bed. Atwood smiled and Bobby kissed him.

“You said blowjob,” said Atwood without moving anything but his lips.

“Yes, I did,” said Bobby as he stood up from the floor 

Atwood tried, but couldn’t get up. He felt heavy now, yet still somehow weightless. They started laughing again. It was beyond their control. Atwood was too stoned to get off the floor. Bobby did his best to finally get Atwood on his feet. 

They sat back down on the edge of the bed, Atwood making sure he was solidly planted enough to not fall off this time, a checkpoint not lost on Bobby.

They started making out again and lay down on the bed. They continued until the kissing slowly stopped. Atwood turned into spooning position with Bobby the big spoon. They fell asleep. Bobby was holding Atwood in his arms. Atwood was holding Bobby’s right hand in his own. 

When Atwood awoke he saw the hand in his own and felt the body pressed against him.

“Kinlin?” he said with hope in his voice. He turned and saw that it was Bobby. His muscles seemed to collapse as the hope changed to despair when the edge of dreamland melted into the reality of his real-world setting.

He eased out of Bobby’s arms and grabbed his jacket and slipped out the door as quietly as possible. He had to get over Kinlin. Kinlin didn’t matter. He was unimportant to Kinlin. Kinlin was his best friend. Why didn’t Kinlin want him?

He burst through the doors almost running. The sun was setting; it was dusk. In a full run now he ran away from Bobby’s dorm. He ran as fast as he could. He couldn’t stop the tears spilling from his eyes. He ran until he stumbled into Westwood Plaza. There he sat down on a bench and tried to catch his breath, tried to stop the tears.  

He realized that he was angry with himself more than anything. His desire to be wanted by Kinlin was keeping him stuck. He had just slipped out of the arms of another guy—a guy who wanted him—to run away and cry over a guy who didn’t want him. 

His heart was still pounding, but more from anxiety now than the running. He was shaking. He wanted to scream. He wanted to yell at the top of his lungs. He just wanted to forget. He wanted to pound the thoughts from his head, the feelings from his heart. He had no concept of how long they had slept. The marijuana had helped him forget briefly, but its effect had mostly worn off.

His phone buzzed. He didn’t even stop to think before pulling it out and looking at it.

Haven’t heard from u. R u okay? I’m around tonight. Wanna have a beer and talk?

There it was, another text from Kinlin. His heart immediately slowed. The pain in his chest dissipated. He read the words over and over. He couldn’t stop the smile that formed on his face. 

Atwood: Hey! Been busy. Sorry! A beer and talk sounds nice. I’ll text when I get home.


Kinlin: cool.

©2011 Michael Rohrer

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Margin Call (or Shit Show)

When the stakes are this high tension is to be expected. My heart rate was slightly, just slightly, elevated the entire time I was watching Margin Call. In my opinion it is the suspense thriller for 2011; a true comment on our most recent, some would say current, state of affairs. Some might even call it a horror story.

tick tock

I’ve not really given much thought to the financial crisis and how it affects me. I’m working. I continue to make my salary and put money into savings each week. I continue to see people buying tickets to theatre, which supports my salary. I haven’t exactly been oblivious, but it’s not the first, second or sixth thing on my mind. Of course I noticed when the interest rate on my Orange ING Direct savings account dropped. There’s really nothing I can to about that though but wait for it to regain its former high. I just keep putting money into it. After watching Margin Call however, I wonder what happens to that money, my money. It’s not exactly tied up, but it’s also not exactly available. It’s floating out there in the ether. It appears on paper, but that’s about it.

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My annuity investment through my union is handled through Mercer. I don’t really understand any of it. Contributions are made in my name and an account manager at Mercer puts it into funds deemed appropriate, as I have made no suggestions. I recognize gain and loss. In the past 4 years I’ve noticed one loss in the amount. That was in the last quarter. Is the financial crisis finally catching up to me?

I have trust issues as it is. Watching the powers-that-be at MBS – the fictional financial institution in Margin Call, loosely based on Lehman Brothers – come up with the plan to save themselves at the expense of everyone else does not assuage any of those issues. In fact it fortifies them with chains of unease.

It’s cutthroat. Hide your jugular. Everyone is expendable; from the newest employee to the long-time manager to the executive to the person walking on the sidewalk 20 stories below. I’m one of those people walking on the sidewalk and I don’t like being expendable.

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When the ground is shifting under your feet, when you’re standing atop quicksand, what do you do? You unload the dead weight at what ever cost to you or the buyer. You find a scapegoat and pay them a lovely severance and allow them to walk out the door with their head hung in shame taking the blame for something that you chose to ignore. Step right up folks, get your tickets to the shit show. The warnings were there, but the money that was being made blinded you to reality. Money makes the world go ‘round. We can’t help ourselves. Money is seductive, having it intoxicating. If you made millions of dollars a year, would you want to give that up? Would you bury your conscience so deep that you were unaffected by whatever you had to do to keep making the money?

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The world is full of fat cats and starving dogs. The starving dogs are those occupying Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. – so called representatives of the 99%. The fat cats are the 1%. The owner of MBS is definitely one of the fattest of cats. He was a billionaire until the 24-hour period in which the film takes place. Now he’s just a millionaire. Forgive me if I don’t shed a tear. I don’t feel the need to become a protestor in the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’m not even sure like-minded people represent me there. I do think Margin Call will open the viewer’s eyes to what must happen behind the gray, sun-reflecting windows of the 20th floor every day. It’s a glimpse by us, the laypeople, into their world.

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What’s that sound I hear in the darkness? It’s the sound of shovel upturning earth. Is this a dream? Am I digging a hole to bury my money or is the hole being dug to bury me? Silence. The music has stopped, the wheel has stopped turning. There was a moment of complete silence around the boardroom table in the film to drive home with taut effect, “What happens when the music stops?” The music is of course a metaphor for the buying and selling, the trading, the moneymaking. What happens is shock and silence, despair and darkness.

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If the music stops, time has run out. The Merry-Go-Round ceases to make another turn. The ride is over. We’re left to get off the horse with his fake, nightmarish smile and find joy in what was, moving on to what is. Hopefully what is isn’t something that has been taken away from us without our knowledge of its happening.