[I] may be crazy but I'm the closest thing I have to a voice of reason.

31 March 2010

The Oldest Story in the World

"You lost the key to paradise. That's oldest story in the world."

I'm not lost, but you could say that I am in pursuit of a key to my inner paradise. Today I entered what may best be called Shamanic Boot Camp. I was not expecting to be conscripted quite this soon. Appropriately, I began watching Merlin this evening, but alas I am not being trained as a sorceress. If I were, dearest readers, you would have a blog to read. I will continue Vermilion, and I promise it will get more interesting. As chapters go, it's a slow starter, but it grows on you.

If you are hoping for tales from the shamanic crypt, I must disappoint you again, for I have already learned the password and the secret handshake. Were I to share anything with you now, I would have to blind you on the spot. And nobody wants to surf the web in brail.

Now I'm off to set into motion events that I hope will draw money to my door, and also to sleep. I'm sure it comes as no surprise to you that boot camp is a bit tiring.

Love and kisses,

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

30 March 2010


Cast of Characters for The Movie Lovers
Frank Stovall - Jose’s partner.
Sonia Sequeira - Jose’s mom.
Jose’s Care Team: Corey Baker, Caterino, Lupin, Kay, and others.

Vermilion, part 2

As far as Lupin was concerned, Jose Sequeira was something of a snob. As far as Jose was concerned, Lupin’s pronunciation of Spanish was so misshapen that he could not abide listening to him speak it. Who knows what others might feel or say about my own love of sound and meaning. I know my husband will tell you I seem constitutionally incapable of letting a word slip by mispronounced, in English or any language. But I will tell you that as a child I suffered from a tongue-knotting shyness within myself and a consistent mangling of both my first and last names by others. It marked me. So, naturally, when I began working with Jose, I asked him to pronounce his name. My eyes read "sequeera," but when Jose said it, my ears heard "cicada," like the bug. Jose didn’t know what a cicada was but he approved the sound my tongue made, and when he did, I experienced that particular happiness that comes with calling something by its true and rightful name. It is a gift to know a person, place, or thing by its true name, and it is a pleasure to be known and called by your own. Names, like language, are many things; markers for culture, status, familiarity; opportunities for communication and affection; signs that announce age, class, heritage. A true name and a given name can be, but are not necessarily, the same. When they are, they are so only after the one named has become known, unknown, and then known again to his intimates; only after he and another have stared heart into heart.

Not long after Jose and I became friends, I attended a reunion of my father's family, people I'd not seen since I was small child, and I noticed that my cousin Jose's name was properly pronounced by family members as "Hoseh," with an s sound, not "Hozay" with a z; that the last syllable of his name was not the "ay" American tongues make it out to be, but the "eh" of red. I returned home and began calling Jose Hoseh. Jose said nothing. Our circle of friends, including Frank who speaks fluent Spanish but says "Hozay," said nothing. My Hoseh was identical to the sound Jose’s mother and sister made when they spoke his name, but no one remarked on my pronunciation, not even Frank; and though I carried on awhile for the principle of it, the feel of Hoseh was awkward in my mouth and so I reverted to the Americanized version. I never asked Jose what he thought or what he preferred, and I want to tell you that I don’t know why, but I think I do. What drove me to say Hoseh was the same need which also drove me to say, whenever Jose asked if I knew of so-and-so and then mentioned an author or artist I thought I should know, “Yeah, that name rings a bell,” even when I had no earthly idea. Jose, for his part, said nothing.

When Jose lay close to death in the hospital, years after he'd sat shivering and wishing for death on my living room couch, I read to him from Renaldo Arenas' autobiography, Before Night Falls. It has many words and phrases in Spanish and, while I do not speak Spanish, I could not imagine mangling -- anglicizing -- these words written in Jose's native tongue, so I resurrected my best European vowel sounds and made an effort to say Spanish words in something approximating Spanish. Jose said nothing. During the first days and weeks after we took Jose home to his apartment and I struggled to communicate with his Nicaraguan parents who spoke little English, I often fell back on my college French or something resembling childhood Italian, something vaguely recalled from growing up in my Grandma Dina's household, hoping that Sonia would supply the proper Spanish pronunciation. For example, when Sonia called me to dinner one evening, and I said, "Moment," and she obligingly replied, "Momentito." But Jose said nothing. One evening I asked Jose to teach me how to compliment his mother’s cooking and we got hung up on my pronunciation of delicious -- delicioso in Spanish. Jose made me repeat and repeat and repeat -- delicioso, delicioso -- but I apparently had no ear for it. Although he said nothing, I could see Jose was exasperated when he finally -- finally -- approved my new sentence. It wasn't until my first Spanish class, after Jose's death, that I understood the problem. My tongue had stubbornly formed the word just like Anna Maria Albergetti (remember her Good Seasons salad dressing commercials?) with the first s coming out with a t stopped in front of it: delitsioso, the sound Italian, like my blood.

Jose’s death approached slowly, over a period of months, and so we could have but we never did speak of death. Afterward, I imagined standing next to Frank and watching the approach of the next death in my life, his, and I decided that if he and I could just talk about what was to come, the experience would be easier to accept. But to talk of death at such a time is like pausing in front of a speeding car, watching its approach from half a block away, looking at your partner in crime, and the two of you rationally considering the appropriate action to avoid destruction. While that’s more like the movies than real life, I still thought I could do it, at least until I found myself in front of that car.

I’m at home, parked at the corner, head in my arms on the steering wheel, crying after a long day spent in the hospital at Jose’s side. When I finish, I step out into the warm night air and onto the swath of grass between the curb and sidewalk. I hear the squeal of tires. I turn. I see a pair of headlights swing wide, nearly missing the left-hand turn. They swipe through an extra-wide driveway half a block away as I stand watching, waiting for the driver to overcompensate a second time and speed past me like the idiot he clearly is; waiting to see the headlights become a pair of taillights receding in the dark; but the headlights careen back across the street and thump up onto the curb between a telephone pole and my detached garage; they swerve, squeal, accelerate. Down the sidewalk. Toward me.

Suddenly I'm on all fours, slick-bottomed sandals, grass slope, scrambling toward the house and safety the way I once ran in dreams as a teenager, scrambling like an animal. In dreams I could never outrun the beast at my heels; but tonight that beast, a silver pick-up, wheels sharply, shoots the space between my car and the one parked behind it, and high-tails it down the road into the dark from whence it came. I run into the street screaming, as if it could help, "Who the hell do you think you are?"

That’s what it’s like to watch death. You stand in front of it, blinded by surprise and the bright light of survival, too stunned to realize you’re no match. And then you run, like the prey that you are.

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

28 March 2010

Red Wine and Rust

Welcome to Vermilion, Chapter 3 of The Movie Lovers. Vermilion is the twenty-dollar word for blood red, or as I’ve taken to calling it, red wine and rust. It’s a color constantly shifting, which is what I do in this chapter. I try running. I try facing things head on. I try to make sense of what makes no sense. So don’t strain too much over the song link tonight. It’s nonsensical, almost perverse. Like birth. Like death. It entrances you, it bores you, you wish it to go on forever, you wish it would hurry up and be done already. Who knows, that may even be the way this next chapter goes.

Vermilion, part 1
At the center of every good story sits a lie, an exaggeration that turns the pumpkin truth into a golden carriage. The lie in this story is that Jose was perfect, but that’s not really a lie; perfection has nothing to do with the attributes of self and everything to do with the needs of others. So while we alone may hold responsibility for our shortcomings, it is others who make us perfect.

I don't know why this is. I know that at Garrett's memorial, I heard a lot about how tender and loving he was, how spiritual, how giving. I heard nothing about the pissy queen who bragged of numerous and unverifiable degrees in philosophy and literature, and who hung up on me whenever I couldn't get him the pot he wanted the minute he wanted it. When the time comes to memorialize Frank, I know I'll agree with the words that are spoken: He was a loving and generous friend, giving of himself and all that was his, a joyous and playful spirit. It’s true. He is. But he’s also someone who can lash out at me without warning, making his predicament -- usually something about being out of time, patience, or money -- my fault. The Frank Stovall I know can be every bit the pissy queen Garrett was, just as self-centered, just as grasping and demanding. Damn, but can't we all?

"He expected all of your attention,” she said, “all of the time." I wasn’t there to hear her say this, but when these words ring in my head, words spoken just days before Jose died, I imagine them coming out in a yell. Best friends since high school, this Texan flew to Frank’s side because of a dream that had awakened her in the middle of the night in the middle of her vacation in the middle of the Colorado mountains, miles from any car or road. And now, as she stood jet-lagged in front of Frank’s dream house in the foothills of the Oregon Cascades; the house that had saved Frank from a slow-lane commute to an LA job he’d hated, the house in which he regularly hosted all his California and Texas friends, the house guarded by two smiling, wagging dogs who pranced behind a chain link fence on shit-covered concrete; as she stood in front of Frank’s house, his words swerved like a car on the freeway with a blown tire. If he killed himself -- and the dogs, he’d have to kill the dogs -- if he killed himself when Jose died, then maybe they’d end up together. That could happen, couldn’t it?

This is not what Frank’s best friend had flown from Colorado to hear, and I imagine her words were intended to splash Frank with a little of the cold water of reality, but I still don’t like it. "When Jose lived with you,” she said, “he was just a prima donna, and you know it.”

There had been problems, it’s true, and it didn’t help that Jose got an apartment in town an hour away. Still, the relationship didn’t end all at once. It was more of a slow, foot-off-the-gas-but-not-on-the-brake, winding-down-to-a-stop kind of end. Jose was lucky to survive the CMV he’d battled on my couch, and so when he qualified for subsidized housing near his doctor, he went. His new apartment was near the hospital, the bus, his friends, a branch of the library, a movie house; all the things Jose needed. Except Frank. Jose spent every weekend on the mountain, and over a year later he and Frank were still smiling together at my fall wedding reception, but spring announced their separation. Not long afterward, Jose called me near tears. Frank refused to cut and deliver the flowers that stubbornly continued to grow in Jose’s garden at Frank’s house: daffodils and narcissus, tulips and foxglove, a sea of lilies. "But I love those flowers," Jose cried. "How could he not do this for me?"

I could not make Frank cut or deliver flowers, and I could not tell Jose that such an expectation was unreasonable, but what I could do I did. Jose started a writing group after moving to town, and although I’d been working with him on his short stories, I wasn’t invited. So I advised Jose on how to make the group run smoothly and helped him edit his novel. I did not talk to Jose about my own writing, and Jose didn't ask. I told him once that I admired his ability to share his work with just about anyone, something all but impossible for me at the time, and I shared my own writing on only one occasion, a poetry reading. Jose came and listened to me read. Afterward he did not comment. I did not comment. I thanked him for coming. He thanked me for inviting him. Then both of us smiled big smiles, somehow pleased, so pleased. I know it sounds odd, and I suppose I could root around here a bit, scrape at the dissatisfaction such interactions might have left behind, but this isn’t the essay where I dig at my regrets. Fact is, I had not a care about Jose, what he thought, how he acted, who he was in the world; I loved him. I loved everything about him. I could fill a book with what made Jose who he was and what made me love him -- his silly horse laugh, his practical jokes that always included me as silent co-conspirator, his sense of timing, his eclectic taste in movies, his worship of words and books and art, his opinions spoken so freely, his beautiful face and dark eyes that looked right in -- but I could not give you the one thing, the feeling of the one thing, that held us fast: being together. That’s it, the essence of our friendship: it felt good to be together.

I have a friend who followed The Bhagwan, living at Rancho Rajneesh here in Oregon until it disbanded, and he once tried to describe the bliss -- that’s the right word -- the bliss that arose in him in the presence of The Bhagwan, but he couldn't. I understood. My friendship with Jose had caught me up in the same star gazing, reality-twisting happiness. The two of us spent our days at the movie house immersed in pictures, symbols of the mythology of emotion, imprinting identical light impressions directly onto our brain stems, not a word between us. And we spent our friendship awash in words, swimming in the love of words, their supple texture, sculling, dipping our laughing mouths, shooting words like Greek fountains high into the sky around us. That’s how it was. We inhabited a magical reality, a wondrous place wherein all things could at once, as in dreams. It was only those around us, and later those listening to me tell the tale, that saw any contradiction.

A man in my writing practice group, the place where I wrote the first draft of this book in a white-hot heat, listened to me pour my heart out about Jose for more than a year, and then one day he wrote this:

Listening to Dina root around for the foible or flaw which will make Jose seem human, watching her come up empty or with only some gossip from Frank or friends, but never anything cruel or unkind which Jose did directly to her -- oh, he didn't invite her into his gay men's writing group, but I think most people will forgive Jose this, even if Dina hasn't quite -- but listening to this one might argue that she is avoiding something, afraid to face some terrible truth, but I don't believe it; I don't think Dina hides from much of anything about Jose. He may have been miserly and penny-pinching with Frank, he may have been a pedant with Lupin, but Jose and Dina had one of those friendships where they brought out the best in each other. And Jose has always seemed quite human to me.

His illness, his suffering, his fear of dying, these are flaws enough. That Jose didn't complain or whine or impose, that he kept his Latino good manners and courtesy with him past the point where others might succumb to pain and fear, these are his strengths. . . . And as Dina points out, Jose's death from AIDS is ample proof of his humanity.

* * * *

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

27 March 2010


I’m the man in the box
Buried in my fate.

That’s my misheard-lyrics version of “Man in the Box.” And that’s where I’m sitting right now, squeezed into my box, afraid both of being crushed if I stay and of being eaten alive if I dare to venture out. There’s no a human being on the planet who doesn’t know this feeling.

So, there’s no Vermilion tonight. At first I thought I felt dissatisfied with last night’s post because the opening section needed an edit, and it did but nothing earth shattering. No, what’s earth shattering is the way in which my daily life, my headspace, my body, my emotions, my everything, is coming unraveled. So tonight I’m going to take a step back and let you all in on my headspace. I’ll return to Chapter 3 of The Movie Lovers in the next day or three.

Right now Alice in Chains is helping me feel some version of normal, though louder would be better of course, if the neighbors weren’t home. This is not unlike what I did as a teenager when I had headaches so severe that from time to time I would slam my head against the wall just to equalize the pressure. Somehow pain was easier if I had it on both sides of the skull.

No, I’m not beating my head against the wall, not even metaphorically. Okay not much.

Last night I had a realization that rocked my world to its foundation. My first response was to yell to The Powers That Be, “Hell yes! Bring it on!” No doubt those of you on Blip heard me. I was all about it. Then, right before bed, something else hit. It went like this. I am wrong. I am doing everything wrong. And there will be no correcting this wrong. I am so fucked. By that I mean, among other things, that I’m in danger of losing all my funding because of something I did, something wonderful for me.

Not surprisingly, today I unraveled.

I called my shaman and told him that I’m doing all the right things, but I’m still feeling wrong, inalterably wrong. It’s like I’m in a game of chicken, the silent treatment version of chicken. I remember this game. My marriage was built around this game. My childhood was founded on it. To lose connection with the people I love eviscerates me; I’m always the first to yield. I show my belly and then they say, You poor fucked up thing. We told you that you couldn’t do it. Now let’s start over. Here, you do it THIS way, by which they mean their way, always, because I clearly don’t know what I’m doing. At least that’s how it’s been up till now.

Last week I made an agreement with the shaman, the short version of which is this: he owns my ass. The point of this agreement is to keep me safe (read: he’s got my back) while I learn to see just very how submissive I’ve been in my life thus far. The most interesting thing is what happened directly afterward. I felt calm. I felt safe. I was able to detach from judgments about myself, and my choices, in a way that I’ve never been able to do before. I lived that glorious Zen moment for exactly three and a half days.

Then the sky fell and I became Chicken Little running around with my head cut off. No, that’s not a mixed metaphor. That is exactly what this feels like: fucked squared.
I’m the dog who gets beat.
Shove my nose in shit.
Tonight the shaman told me, This is what you get. No, not really, but it’s true. I’m clearing out all the old crap that doesn’t belong to me, and believe me it truly feels like crap, as in could I please just take a dump and let all this crap out. I got a headache trying to make enough sense out of things to be able to talk my shaman, but what he said was simple: This isn’t your crap. How many of you would kill to hear that? Really, he said that. It isn’t my shit I’m buried in and my job, he says, is to refrain from trying to make sense out what I’m experiencing, any sense at all. Just let it pass right through.

Okay now I’m having a flashback to Grandma with the enema bag and me pleading, “No! I’ll go. I promise!”

Fuck me.... Wait. I said I’d stop saying that. Bless me!! And just so we’re clear, Grandma wasn’t mean. Like my shaman, she was doing what needed to be done to keep me healthy. It still felt like crap. Feels like crap. The shaman says that every time I do something the way I’ve been told to it, it’s not gonna work, not anymore. Has he been spying on me? Up side, I get to be as willful and rebellious as I want. I mean, at this point who’s to tell me otherwise?

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

The Pumpkin Truth

No preamble tonight folks. I’ve got an early busy day tomorrow. So while I’ve decided to go ahead and post Chapter 3 of The Movie Lovers (entitled Vermilion) tonight you’ll be getting just a taste. More tomorrow, I promise. Goodnight!


At the center of every good story sits a lie, an exaggeration that turns the pumpkin truth into a golden carriage. The lie in this story is that Jose was perfect, but that’s not really a lie because perfection has nothing to do with the attributes of self and everything to do with the needs of others. While we alone may hold responsibility for our shortcomings, it is others who make us perfect.

I don't know why this is. I know that at Garrett's memorial, I heard a lot about how tender and loving he was, how spiritual, how giving. I heard nothing about the pissy queen who bragged of numerous and unverifiable degrees in philosophy and literature, who hung up on me whenever I couldn't get him the pot he wanted the minute he wanted it. When the time comes to memorialize Frank, I know I'll agree with the words that are spoken: He was a loving and generous friend, giving of himself and all that was his, a joyous and playful spirit. It’s true. He is. But he is also someone who can lash out at me without warning, making his predicament -- usually something about being out of time, patience, or money -- my fault. The Frank Stovall I know, at least the one I knew when Jose was on this earth, could be every bit the pissy queen Garrett was, just as self-centered, just as grasping and demanding. Damn, but can't we all?

With Jose, it was different. I loved everything about Jose; I still love everything about him, and I cannot see imperfection in him but that I must first see it in myself. My connection with Jose was such that I could not question his choices, his motives, his needs without questioning my own. I could reveal to you my faults, and they are many, but I cannot show you Jose's. For me they do not exist. Perhaps this is simple self-delusion. Perhaps it is a feeling as common as hunger. But it is uncommon for me.

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

26 March 2010

The End

I am of the generation who finally began to understand the Viet Nam war, the generation that came after the soldiers lost to the horrors they witnessed there, the horrors that duty often commanded them to commit. It was through the lens of Apocalypse Now that so many of us began to realize why our fathers reflexively took cover or maybe even wept at the sound of a certain kind of helicopter. And then Generation X had its own Viet Nam, its own “police action” of an undeclared war: AIDS. There is no movie for us.

Prelude, part 5: TheEnd

This is the end. This is where I take you through the looking glass that leads into the dark wood where we fall down the rabbit hole. There is no coming back. The emotion you’ll be feeling doesn’t have a name; it’s one part roller coaster, one part mad mouse, and a big ole swig of that ride where you’re spinning so fast centrifugal force squishes you against the wall like a bug on a windshield.

And then the floor drops out. You know that one?
Here we go.

From the moment of Jose’s death, questions pelted me like a hard rain; no, like hail. Everyone wanted to know:

how could you do it, wasn’t it hard being so close to death, who was Jose to you, why did you stay to help him die, what do you get out of being friends with people who are sick;
what does it say about you that your friends are all men, why do you have so many gay friends, but you’re married aren’t you, why do you surround yourself with people who are dying, what does it mean that you had to be guardian angel for a circle of dying men;
was Jose like a brother, if he’d been straight would you have married him, what about your husband didn’t you care about him, what was your husband doing while you were gallivanting off to care for other men, so why do you have so many gay friends;
what’s it like to be near death, how did you get the strength, how could you put yourself through it, weren’t you ever scared, how were you feeling, why don’t you talk about your feelings, and why are you hanging out with these people anyway;
how you can write about this and not tell us how you felt, you don’t think you’re better than the rest of us do you, because everybody dies, you’re not the only person who’s ever lost someone you loved you know;
why is it you think you know more about this than anybody else does, to hear you tell it sounds like you always know the right thing to do and are unendingly loyal and always informed and tolerant and you have no fears no inadequacies;
you’re married right, kids you have kids don’t you or you want kids right, didn’t your husband get tired of you always leaving to help other people, what’s it like to be close to the dying;
how did it feel to watch your best friend die?

Before I answer, let me ask one more question: Dear reader, how are you feeling right now?

As for me, historically I’ve had two responses to this barrage. My first was not to: to decline to respond at all. My second response went something like this: What the hell do you want from me? I didn’t say that, of course. In fact, you are the first to hear it, but now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, it occurs to me that I have the choice of a third response. Here it is. Watching your best friend shrink fast-motion into an old man, listening to him talk and talk (and talk was once all the two of you ever needed), fading in and out like so much static on a road-trip-radio stuck between stations, this is a lot like having strangers demand that you reveal your feelings because you’ve done something they don’t understand, something maybe they’re afraid of; and while I want to say that this can’t be done, maybe what’s more important is the question it raises. By what device do people develop the sense of privilege that empowers them to ask, no, to demand to know – and then to know more – about private and painful emotions?

Curiosity. Of course.

Curiosity and fear, those two in equal measure push us forward, a hand pressed at our backs whenever we run into the closed door of the unknown. And as I stand in the doorway of the unknown and open my mouth, or rather, begin moving my pen, I make myself something of a moving target. I see that now. Used to be I thought I had a story to tell, simple as that. Two people, four years, a transformation. I’d have made it up and sold it as fiction, but I’m no good at that and it’s the truth anyway. So, let me be clear: if you don’t like the subject matter, don’t like that this story is about gay men or that it includes gender bending, drag queens, and same sex love; if you don’t like being made to examine the choices you’ve made, if you’ve got no reason to look at the boundaries drawn by all of us around love and self and sex; if you don’t want to look at death or disease or see love that strays off the middle path and defies logic; if you don’t like how I tell the story, think I’m on my high horse or just a bitch, then honey, quit reading. This story just ain’t for you.

Ahhh, at last I hear it, that sound I’ve been waiting for: Paul Monette’s partner whispering to him, “You tell ‘em, Paulie.” It means I’m on the right track. So many cautioned Monette when he wrote about AIDS , which he rightly named as just another form of genocide; “the national sport of straight men,” he called it, “especially in this century of nightmares.” Eyes open, heart wide, full-voiced, and in complete awareness of the lightning-rod emotions running through him, Paul Monette spoke the truth: “We are creatures of the cruelties we witness.” Maybe it has taken the transition to a new century for us to see this.

Of course we don’t hear much about AIDS now, and part of this is because we all feel more comfortable with the subject when we can think of it as curable, and after all it is old news. As I sit here writing today, it’s halfway through 2004. That makes two decades since the Center for Disease Control warned blood banks of a possible problem with the blood supply and two decades since the first safe sex guidelines were proposed. Still, as you read this, some of you may find that you know about as much as I did when I started, which was nothing. I’m also guessing, or maybe just hoping, that there are some of you who will remember when living in the ‘80s and ‘90s meant polishing tiaras and emptying bedpans. For you, for the fact that I will cover old ground as if it were new, I offer Jose’s perpetual refrain: “But, Dina, everybody knows that.” For those of you who know nothing about how AIDS landed on the American scene and gutted a glittering generation, let me shelve the attitude -- at least try -- and tell you a story. Call it my coming out story. My path through life has led me down some unexpected roads, and frankly I’m not sure where I am right now but I do know this isn’t the neck of the woods where I went in, it’s not Kansas, and it sure as hell ain’t Oz, honey.

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

24 March 2010

Do You Wanna Die?

Dear Sweet Readers, Do you wanna be my angel? (That’s a wink and some extra love to my readers from BLIP.fm.)
I can promise you
You’ll stay as beautiful
With dark hair
And soft skin
Okay, here we go. This time I’ve given you a cast of characters, so you don’t go cross-eyed trying to remember names. No intro tonight, except to say that if you think I have attitude now (and I do), then just wait for the final installment tomorrow.

Cast of Characters for The Movie Lovers
Setting: 1960 to mid 1990s, when gay men were dying in droves.

Jose Sequeira (pronounced cicada, like the insect) Main character; Dina’s best friend and former student.
Dina Narrator; loving friend and devoted caretaker; sometimes pissy with her readers.
Frank Jose’s former partner; later his primary caretaker, and always his love.
Sonia Jose’s mom; from Nicaragua, she speaks very limited English; she and Dina share a March 2nd birthday.
Cliff Dina’s husband; loyal friend to Frank and Jose; Leo and would-be drag queen.
Jose’s Care Team Corey Baker, Caterino (Cat), Lupin (a Radical Fairy), Kay Exxo, and others.

Prelude, part 4 ....That year at the university was not the simple success I had hoped for. Nothing was.

Here’s a picture of me just a month before Jose died:
Tonight’s my night with Jose. Tonight’s also our Care Team meeting. Only Cliff, Frank, and I will be there. Yesterday I spoke strongly to Cliff about his not having stayed with Jose (he has Friday night, but Frank’s been taking Jose to the mountains for the weekend). I told him I thought he should trade nights with Frank and stay with Jose during the week (pull his weight is what I meant). Last night Cliff spent the night with Jose -- at the last minute because Kat, who had already switched with Frank because of a scheduling conflict, said he couldn’t make it last night either. This isn’t the first time he’s been late, switched, or couldn’t make it. I’m tired. I. Am. Tired. Lupin and Kaye have not been irresponsible, but they have done their share of missing meetings and not being here on their scheduled nights. Corey has bailed out of caring for Jose during the day, a promise he made to both Jose and Frank; he is the one we looked to when Jose’s parents had to leave suddenly. Frank has called Sonia. She’ll be here in a week. When Corey quit, he left Jose’s social worker with the impression that the nighttime Care Team was falling apart. It was a misapprehension -- and a jump to conclusions -- but now I am beginning to feel the same way.

We’re all tired. We’re all at different stages of grieving. I fill my hours and my head with work, and I spend my time burning with self-righteousness. Silently burning.
Back then, I was burning a good deal of the time: at work, in my marriage, over the actions of anyone whose level of commitment didn’t match my own. And every time I tried and failed to figure out why I couldn’t make my life work, I burned. Because I did not speak these feelings aloud, I prefer to think that no one noticed. Then again, before Cliff and I got into marriage counseling, we thought we were doing a good job of covering our feelings. Turns out no one could stand to be in the same room with us.

At work, my husband was my office assistant. And about the same time that Jose’s Care Team was struggling to hold together, my husband had come to realize his complicity in a power struggle that affected both my standing in the department and my ability to perform my job, a situation from which there was no extricating myself. He apologized, but there are some things that once you have allowed them to be done cannot be taken back nor undone. You just have to live with them. At work my psyche had begun to react to the cumulative effect of eight months of disrespect and helplessness the way my body might have reacted to eight months of Twinkies and Easy Cheez: my gut burned with a sickness that was my own fault. I had taken a position that carried responsibility but no authority, and when the graduate assistants working under me rebelled, I responded by gripping the reins even tighter. It’s what you do when you know you’re losing control and you’re out of options. Anyway, it was what I did. In retrospect, I can see that I took responsibility for problems that were mostly not of my own making. It was easier for me to believe I was in control and exercising that control badly than to admit I had no control at all, easier to accept responsibility for problems I had not created than to examine how poorly equipped I was to be an administrator: willful, rebellious, certain my way was right.

But with Jose, even when I didn’t know what to do, which was all the time in the final months of his life, I knew what to do: I loved him. That’s how I remember it, anyhow; I am learning that memory is a strange and sometimes over-flexible thing. It’s odd what the mind runs together and calls memory. Sometimes I think we need a different word. What we call “memory” is more often an attempt at understanding than a simple recalling of the events. Going through my I Ching workbook as I wrote about Jose, I came upon an entry with his name on it. I had posed this question: What may I expect of and from my friendship with Jose over the next six months, especially in terms of demands on my time and energy and rewards for time and energy spent? I was appalled when I read this. I have no recollection of thinking of Jose or our friendship in this way. I'm not entirely certain what I meant nor am I certain I want to know. I know that the date of the entry is less than a year before Jose died, right around the time I realized I needed to spend time with him now, and instead of stepping forward into that realization, I let the demands of my personal and professional lives engulf me. The I Ching responded to my question with the hexagram known as Inexperience, or “youthful folly”:
In its static form, inexperience suggests that a heretofore great mystery or a misunderstood part of your nature must unfold and come forth before further progress can be made. . . . Success is indicated. In fact, once the mystery is unraveled you may experience what is known as "beginner's luck."
The final line of this response, "Don't let this go to your head,” must have sunk in because while I bulldozed through the rest of my life full of “the right way” and “the wrong way”, with Jose I took a different path.

Here’s a picture of me with Jose during the last two months of his life:
6 May 1994 -- Home from the hospital today. He puked and puked and puked and I held him close, held the bucket and the paper towels, held a cold cloth to his head. Exhausted, we napped.

As we step out into the dark unknown, will our feet fall on something solid? Will we learn to fly?

9 June 1994 -- Last night Jose said, “What’s done is done, isn’t it?” He spoke of a journey. I promised to go with him as far as I can.

At breakfast he sits motionless before his oatmeal, his eyes following the movement of a figure I cannot see. He says, “I want to go with her.” When I ask him where she is going, he says, “Home.” I place the spoon in his hand and show him how to grasp it, but he does not know what to do with the spoon. I call the VNA nurse. Then I feed him.

17 June 1994 -- We took snapshots of ourselves today. Then we snuggled between the bars of the newly rented hospital bed and watched a video. Jose fell asleep halfway through. When he woke I remarked on how happy he looked. Quietly he said, “You know.”

When I am with Jose I radiate. When I realize that all this seeming normalcy is not, I collapse into darkness. Like a star I pulse bright and dim: joy and fear, joy and fear. “Yes,” I said, and then silently,
I know.
And then he died.

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are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

23 March 2010

It Happened Like This

Welcome to the next installment of The Movie Lovers. I’ve included the last paragraph from Prelude Part 2, just for a bit of continuity.

I grew up in an outwardly happy culture that was inwardly steeped in rage and sorrow, raised as I was by the generation who fought a “war” that was, in fact, a never ending police action. Some of this I began to understand when, as a young woman, I saw Apocalypse Now and later met my soldier father as if for the first time. And some of it I came to understand when I experienced my own generation’s unofficial war: AIDS. My comrades-at-arms were spit upon just as my father and his were. We still don’t have a movie to explain us.

Prelude, part 3

As fate would have it, my father died to me when Jose was born, in February of 1964. And when Jose died thirty years later, my father died all over again, buried memories surfacing like hungry ghosts. Haunted by my own forgotten past, I began to grieve for the first time, to mourn for what I had lost decades before my friendship with Jose had even begun.

It happened like this.

In the winter of 1963 President Kennedy was shot and killed, which I don’t actually remember, but some time after Christmas that year I flew with my mother to a little town in Oregon to attend my great grandfather’s funeral, which I do remember even though I was only three; my father, a soldier serving in Viet Nam, disappeared right after. I asked my mother where he’d gone, but instead of explaining service or duty or divorce, she gave me the same answer she’d given when I asked where grandpa went: “Away. And he’s never coming back.” My first experience with death -- my first two experiences -- came at a time when every American family seemed to be losing fathers and grandfathers; sons; a time when the whole country watched in shock as the complications of an undeclared war abroad and civil unrest at home murdered the men we had built our lives around. But war, protest, assassination, divorce, these were not words spoken in my mother’s family. Few words were spoken in my mother’s family that did not revolve around work or meals or any of another thousand daily tasks, and so in the rhythm of daily life I learned that the people I loved could go away and never came back.

Allowed neither to question the parameters of my world nor to grieve, I did what so many do: I made the pain disappear by refusing to let it show. Problem was, who I was and how I felt wasn’t just hidden from the world, it became hidden from myself as well. By the time I met Jose, I was a stranger in my own life. I just didn’t know it. Growing up, I was an outwardly compliant, intelligent, even eager child, but my inner life spun on a knife-edge. Perhaps I’d be considered just an average kid today. Maybe I was even then. In any case, I grew up in a world where children didn’t have tempers and teenagers couldn’t have depressions. They had attitudes. For me, puberty heralded not only hormones but also head-slamming headaches and suicidal ideation, but the only words I’d learned to describe my experience were “the curse,” “bitch,” and “baby!” It was a childhood guaranteed to produce the woman I became, someone for whom every relationship -- every close friendship, every sexual encounter -- was an opportunity to suck at a breast that had run dry long before I was born. My composed exterior masked an interior that leaked out only through my taste in music: fast, hard, screaming-loud. No one was listening.

My family didn’t fail me. And they didn’t fail to love me. They just failed to see me. From family I learned the pain of saying not what I felt but what was expected, the punishment of asking not for what I needed but for what was possible. I can’t say that meeting Jose changed all this, we were friends for only four years before he died, but I can say this: Jose’s friendship marked the first time I loved anyone without making the child’s bargain I had come to understand relationships to be. It wasn’t what I had with Jose so much as what I didn’t: I didn’t have to fantasize the impossible; I didn’t have to take what was given but secretly wish for something else, something more; I didn’t have to second-guess what the other person was feeling before I decided how I felt; and I didn’t have to be anyone but myself. Through Jose’s friendship I experienced the joy of being seen, and for the first time I knew the freedom of being loved for who I was, instead of in spite of it.

Jose and I loved books, we loved writing, we loved movies, and we loved each other. And although Jose was gay, brown, and from a privileged landed class who lost everything to communism and the subsequent emigration to the US, while I was straight, white, and a third-generation American from a working class family that raised its kids to think they were middle class, inside we were alike. And it was from the inside that Jose and I saw each other. How we differed was mainly in the way others saw us. Jose had the common touch: he could say anything to anyone about anything. He could talk about his novel, his travels, himself; about being gay, being ill with the effects of HIV, being on disability; about being from Nicaragua, not Mexico, becoming a Sandinista to teach the poor to read and then learning that the Sandinistas executed homosexuals. No matter what he said, everybody loved Jose. Me, I was nervous about sharing who I was and how I felt, and when I did, others tended to have strong reactions. Just as it was with my family, these weren’t necessarily positive reactions.

Upon viewing the stars as they mapped themselves out at my birth, an astrologer friend once told me that I bear something called a grand cross. Some might call this a fancy way of saying I had a big chip on my shoulder, for a grand cross indicates someone who is sure to bristle when demands are made to reveal emotion; one who is inclined to be in a near-constant state of rebellion; a willful person who must do things her own way and who puts up defenses at the first sign of being challenged. For such a one as this, tolerance must be a feature and not an accident of one’s behavior, or so I’ve been told. I’ve often find myself wishing I were more like my father, a man who remains proud of me no matter how many knots I tie myself into or how many times I must say I screwed up, again; a man who somehow knows that each person is always doing his or her best, no matter how piss poor the results.

The year Jose activated his Care Team, which is what he called the circle of friends who helped him as his health declined, I was the administrator at a place called The Writing Center, a tutoring facility at the university where Jose and I first met. The position was temporary, transitional, a nine-month appointment while a search was conducted for a Ph.D. to run the place, but the offer had come after three frustrating years of trying to cobble together work as a writer, an editor, a tutor, anything in my field, and since I had trained at The Writing Center as a grad student, the job seemed a shoo-in. I accepted in anticipation of experiencing some much needed success. See, it wasn’t just my career that wasn’t working at that time. My friendship with Jose was one of the few bright spots in a life that wasn’t working in so many ways, including in my marriage. I could say that I felt like a failure; I never slowed down long enough to feel much of anything. Except intolerance. I felt that often enough, though I wouldn’t have believed it if you had told me at the time. I thought the way I felt was just fine: I was intolerant of intolerance, intolerant of others who were intolerant. I have come to understand that this is my biggest character flaw. I’ve tried -- I am still trying -- to be accepting of faults, to keep in mind the fact that we all learn our lessons in our own way, at our own pace, in our own time. I want to be tolerant, I do. All the same, I was quick to judge human failings then, and I am quick to see them now. Jose’s mother, Sonia, may have seen me as an angel because I loved and cared for her son as he died, but too many of the graduate assistants who worked at the Writing Center during the same time period would have painted the flip-side, the portrait of a woman with exacting and inflexible standards, someone unyielding. That year at the university was not the simple success I had hoped for. Nothing was.

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are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

Exit Light

Welcome to Chapter 2 of The Movie Lovers. In Prelude you get the back-story of how I came to be caring for a dying man, what kind of life it was that led me to such a place.

Prelude, part 2

Like Jose, I was trained as a fiction writer, so it’s not unusual that I should try writing a novel; an impossible task, I might add. I don’t write fiction anymore. What I managed to accomplish was written and forgotten the year before Jose’s death, and so when I came across this bit of fiction while writing Jose’s story a decade later, I was surprised to see myself, the very self I had become during the intervening decade, a decade during which I had also become the same age as my main character, a woman who had just lost the person she loved most in the world:

I’m driving home in the dark after my father’s funeral.

I keep saying that. Reminding myself where I am. Explaining to no one why I’m hurtling west through the night air, radio blaring. For a week I haven’t slept, haven’t tasted the food I’ve eaten, haven’t taken a shit. The best I’ve felt was during the service when I sat next to my father’s sister, an aunt I barely remember, who let me cry and didn’t try to fix what can’t be fixed.

It’s Sunday, almost midnight, and home is five hours away. I have the window partway down, but the air is sticky and warm, as it has been since this afternoon when thunderheads rolled in, bringing summer lightning, low-rolling thunder, a full moon, and no rain. I’m speeding. My father always drove fast. I suppose the love of speed can be genetic, like the inclination to be strong willed or tender hearted. I’m doing ninety, foot pressed hard against the gas pedal. I don’t know how long -- or why -- I’ve been doing this, but my thigh and calf muscles are clenched and starting to tire. Metallica has just finished “Enter Sandman” -- though for me this song is and always was, simply, Exit Light -- and since this might be what drives my foot to the floor, when the first chord of the next song rings out, I ease off the gas. It’s a ballad, and declares itself so through the achingly pure, electric-acoustical guitar riffs that metal bands sound as an anthem to the quietly withheld pain underlying the energy, the anger, and the sheer heart-pounding noise their fans call music.

Headlights flash in my rearview mirror, and on the road ahead I see a dark spot the size of a child. A single guitar note strikes, I swerve left, and the dark spot turns, eyes flashing mirror-clear. In the illumination, I recognize a Great Horned Owl. Lights slash the rearview mirror and my eyes as behind me the car gathers speed and veers left to pass. I look ahead into the eyes of the owl. Two high notes sound; he spreads his wings angel-wide. Three low notes progress upward and the owl goes with them. The next chord wings him low over the passenger side of the windshield and roof of my car just as taillights swerve in front of me and recede into the future.

This instant lasts a lifetime. At the end of it I’m flying backward in the wake of the wind, transported into a hundred-thousand vibrating particles hovering together in the dark somewhere over southeastern Washington, listening to the moon sing.

I knew nothing of death when I wrote those words, and yet I had unwittingly described the very experience I would have a year later when Jose stopped breathing, a sensation of mind and body hovering somewhere between the nuclear and the sublime. All but one detail of that scene was true; even when I thought I was writing fiction, I had been recording life. My father isn’t dead, of course, he wasn’t dead when I wrote that opening scene to my would-be novel and he hasn’t died since, but he did die. He died when I was three. It happened the month before my birthday.

As fate would have it, my father died to me when Jose was born, in February of 1964. And when Jose died thirty years later, my father died all over again, buried memories surfacing like hungry ghosts. Haunted by my own forgotten past, I began to grieve for the first time, to mourn for what I had lost decades before my friendship with Jose had even begun.

It happened like this.

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

22 March 2010

Everybody Knows That

Here it is, Chapter 2 of The Movie Lovers. In Prelude you get the back-story of how I came to be caring for a dying man, what kind of life it was that led me to such a place.

I’ve imbedded “Fire” by Kasabian, though I can’t tell you why it speaks to me so. I can tell you that Jose contracted HIV from a man who turned out to be an IV drug user; a partner who hid his other life. I can tell you that when Jose died, his father still believed that his only son had contracted AIDS from a hooker, a story that was preferable to his learning that his son was a gay man.

That was the ‘90s. That was the time of AIDS. That was the time when no one, not even parents, wanted to know who these men were.

Prelude, part 1

This story is about a man named Jose and that which makes life worthwhile: friendship; friendship and the deep, abiding, even surreal permutations of love that true friendship can engender. Here’s the picture:

me and Jose, a darkened movie house, and my heart happy like it hasn’t been since I was a child of three;

me and Jose, a rented hospital bed, and my forehead dripping like a runner in the midday sun as I hold Jose to my body, hold the bucket to his face, stroke his hair and whisper, "It's all right sweetie it's all right sweetie it's all right";

me and Jose, the back deck of my house, and our intertwined voices high with laughter over some prank Jose has played, some tale he’s told, or more likely, how shocked someone has gotten over what he did, and on this day Jose turns and says to me, “But, Dina, you are unshockable.”

Some will read this story and think it’s about me, although that’s not what I set out to write; for me this story is about Jose. Some will think the story is about death and dying, that it’s about AIDS before drug cocktails made it a chronic but not fatal condition, and those things are certainly in here. Some will even think this story is about my need to preach to the choir, and as for that I can’t say, except that it’s true I don’t have a problem voicing my feelings about friendship, gender bending, gay men, or HIV/AIDS. Because I write about my friendship with one gay man in particular, Jose Sequeira, and about my friendships with gay men in general, this story is inevitably about AIDS. Jose died because of it. Most of the friends I had when Jose was in my life died because of it. And let’s get one thing straight right now: you don’t die of AIDS. You die from the complications that come from living with a compromised immune system. These complications run the gamut from opportunistic infections that lodge in the physical body to psychological infections that permeate our social and religious bodies, but that’s not what this story is about either, any more than disease is about punishment or redemption. Sometimes I think this story is simply about the difference between that which is considered normal and acceptable and that which is considered shocking. I laughed when Jose said I was unshockable and I never asked what he meant. Now I think maybe I should have. Now I think maybe this is not such a good thing, being unshockable, being someone who accepts individuals and behaviors considered outside the norm. In the ten years since Jose’s death, as I talked about my friend and told the twin stories of our friendship and his death, the transformation these afforded me, the price they exacted, I found myself shocking people all over the place. I wasn’t entirely certain why.

What I am certain of is this. When I met Jose, I was a stranger in my own life, and unaware that anything was amiss. And I am also certain of this. While I was born into the mainstream of life, I am not of it, and although I understood what words I was expected to speak and what path I was expected to walk, I could not make the middle way -- the expected path through life -- my own. Like a gay man, I can look like anyone else and I can sound like anyone else, but my internal experience has always been that of an outsider, someone who knows what it means to be invisible to others and lost to myself, and so it should come as no surprise that while I’m hopelessly heterosexual gay men have gravitated to me. I haven’t missed being in the mainstream, the path that even Dante called the straight way; I knew where it was, and I knew that I preferred life closer to the edge of things. This perspective worked just fine for me, until Jose died.

When Jose died in the mid ‘90s, gay men were the scapegoat for AIDS, and like any proper scapegoat they were heaped with the sins and secrets of society and sent into the woods to be devoured. Jose’s last year of life was a journey marked by this savagery. It was also a journey marked by love, the beauty of love unexpected, the grace of love unconditioned. At the end this journey with Jose, I remember waking to an oddly familiar sensation, one of being in that “dark wood where the straight way was lost.” This dark, lost place described by Dante is one I have known on and off since childhood, only this time, the experience was a little different. Through my friendship with Jose, I had gained a true sense of myself and found my place in the world. Or so I thought. But I’d wandered out into the woods with the goat and, like that scapegoat, I was not expected to walk back out. Family and friends, peers even, looked me as if I were a stranger, a lost soul, someone to be regarded with a potent mixture of awe, curiosity, and fear. Very few wished to hear the tale I had to tell.

Since the teller of any tale must be trusted to be believed, and since the story I have to tell is for everyone, from those treading the straight way though life to the boys in the band and even those who feel themselves lost in some dark place, let me begin by telling a little bit about myself, because this story is also for me. Simply put, I need to tell it. By the time I’ve finished telling it, I hope the love story that was Jose’s life is seen as simply one of the many facets of all life, gay, straight, or otherwise, a life that Jose used to kid me about by saying, “Dina, everybody knows that.”

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are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

21 March 2010

**This is the New Shit**

How cool is this: “Pisces [that’s me], you’ve got a mandate to fatten up your soul. So gravitate toward situations that incite you to express the most daring brand of innocence and the most benevolent wickedness you can imagine.”

I can get behind that. Hell, I am that. And while I’m guessing that fattening up my soul has little or nothing to do with cookies or donuts, I can now feel better about that brand of fattening, too. Hey, somebody’s got to eat them. The economy needs us to continue consuming, does it not?

I have the most fun expressing this so-called daring brand of innocence and benevolent wickedness posting music on BLIP.fm, and I’ve had too little time there as of late. When one door opens, it gets harder to find enough time to run in and out of two doors, no three doors, no four! An embarrassment of riches is what they call this, but I’m not embarrassed. I’m just tired and disorganized - no organizationally handicapped - and tired, did I say tired? The shaman warned me, but I laughed. Ha-Ha!! I have been death warmed over before, I said. Be careful what you say you can handle.

Today the best I could do was drag my ass out of bed after eight hours of sleep, which culminated at noon, and focus on un-tornado-izing my place before my BFF got here for his belated birthday meal. Cap it off with a little social media and I’m toast. No, I’m Zwieback; a crispy critter.

Yesterday I did things out of order. Exhausted - again! - at the gym, I came home to take a salt bath, which is a simple but highly effective detox. One box of salt, cool water (I use hot, but the recipe says cool), some lavender essence, twenty minutes to an hour. Ding! You’re clean inside and out. No really, it is just that simple. There’s a reason the ancients used salt to preserve. Salt is a universal cleanser for all things physical, energetic, and psychic. Usually when I take a salt bath it is very late and when I get out I pour myself directly into bed, but yesterday I did things out of order. I ate lunch while in the tub, fruit with custard and yogurt - not junk food! - and after my bath I sat in the afternoon sun on my deck. I never sit out in the sun. Every once in awhile I squint at it from the window in front of my computer; oh, yeah, daylight. But yesterday I sat on my deck and, starting the cocktail hour early, I called family.

Perhaps it was the bourbon, but yesterday I enjoyed telling family about my plans and accomplishments, including getting my 1k badge on BLIP, which still thrills me like a diamond ring from a Cracker Jack box. Like sitting in the sun, this just never happens - the enjoying talking with family part - because when asked, I do say what I’m up to and then I listen to the brief silence that follows, and then we go directly back to our regularly scheduled programming, by which I mean whatever the other person was talking about. It’s amusing, really. Whenever I talk about my work, I am for all intents and purposes a momentary blank in the phone reception. Can you hear me now? Perhaps I should always start family phone calls with a cocktail. Perhaps that is why my mother drinks.

I did not plan to rest and renew myself yesterday. Believe me, if I had it would have been a lot of work and I would not have enjoyed it. The whole rest and renew thing sounds, to me, like a fancy way of saying you should eat more vegetables. Yeah. Sure. Of course. And then I wander off in the direction of my computer screen, just let me do this one last..... There are supposed to be two kinds of people who work at home, those who don’t know how to get started and those who don’t know how to stop. I relate to both. In this life I have two speeds, fast and stop, or as I have been practicing them lately, full speed ahead and collapse. For months now, the shaman has been doing the fancy shaman version of “So how’s that working for you?” Don’t bother me, I’m trying to get something done here.

But yesterday, I didn’t do that. Yesterday, I couldn’t do that. Yesterday my body sat my ass down in the tub, and then afterward, planted it in front of the sun. After an hour or two of that, I didn’t feel like I had to get much of anything done. I’d say that I felt serene, but I didn’t notice feeling that way, I just was. When the last of the sun left the deck, I came in and sat down to catch up on social media, just a little, and suddenly all things literary and blog-ish were making their way to my doorstep. Just like that. In the space of half an hour, I connected with enough writers, blog sites, literary magazines, and publishing recommendations to stock me up with a week’s worth of reading. Planning and researching for weeks could not have yielded as much.

And then I sat down to write this blog. The four paragraphs with yesterday in the first sentence? Yeah, those got written yesterday. Then my brain quit. I sat here for another... year.... and I wrote or rewrote or read or something, but the blog just would not be finished. Would. Not. Be. Finished. Finally I admitted defeat and rather than post what I had, I went to bed where I slept a death-like, dreamless sleep. I think it was sleep. I woke this morning - per force, the phone ringing - but I never woke up. I haven’t woken up for weeks now, and my shaman is as thrilled about this as my trainer is about sweat. Really, she loves it when she makes me sweat.

Note to self: You asked for this. So now that you’re here, what do you plan to do?

I’ve been debating the merits of serializing the second chapter of The Movie Lovers. While it could be done in five installments, I haven’t been certain that it lends itself to being chopped up that way, and some of the installments would be long by blog standards, but what the hell. I mean, the mash up is my new darling; my new framework for this pimped out, cookie fueled, spiritually mainlined, suck-ass tired life I’m leading.

Sinfully innocent? Benevolently wicked? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Evanescence v Marilyn Manson [MashUp] Going Under - **This Is The New Shit**
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19 March 2010

Nothing to See Here, So Let’s Move It Along Folks, Part 2

“We got no fear, no doubt
all in, balls out!”
Nickelback. That’s always good for getting my ass in top gear. And I am an all-in, balls-to-the-wall kind of girl. Right this minute I’ve also got The Black Eyed Peas singing “Pump it. Louder! Pump it. Louder!” while the trumpet and guitar ride that famous surf riff in the background. Love it. LOVE. IT. Wait. Slight miscalculation. I can’t type while I’m dancing.

It’s well after midnight as I write this, which isn’t unusual, but having my trainer move our gym date up by two hours - at midnight! - is. Doesn’t that sound successful? “My trainer.” Love that. Actually, it’s not nearly as sexy as it sounds. I can’t afford tires for my car or the last rabies shot for my cat, but I make sure I have someone to kick my ass twice a week. Is this because I’m athletic? Hell no. I sit here in front of my screen eating junk food all day, and even so, I would not knowingly make myself sweat, no matter how good it might be for me. Hence the “trainer.” If I didn’t have to meet her (and pay whether I show or not), I’d never leave the house. Really. And while I was lucky enough to land in the slim end of the gene pool, DNA does not last forever, people, I can tell you that. So I’ve got to pump this little ditty out fast. This ZeroBirthdayBody needs its rest.

I’m feeling flush with success tonight. Hmm, maybe that “You say you wanna be a star?” line I used yesterday is paying off. Heh. Today I got to move forward in negotiations for a professional blog site: domain name, custom design, search engine optimization, the whole nine yards. While in the middle of this nego- wait - back up.

Today I got shamanized. That’s my new word for encapsulating what happens when I do shamanic work. To give you perspective, during shamanic work it’s a good thing when my head gets so foggy I can’t put two and two together. In fact, it’s a good thing when I stop being able to hear. I’m not kidding. The shaman is speaking, I know the words are directed to me and that they are in everyday English, and I have no fucking idea what he’s saying. Sometimes I have to have him repeat it several times. And this is a good thing. It means my head is no longer in charge. Okay. I signed on to be deconstructed.

Fast forward to tonight. I know nothing about web... anything. I don’t speak the language and even if I could, I don’t know what it means. So I’m discussing what will be what with this web designer and my head is as functional as a hangover on Monday morning before coffee and a long shower. Minus the nausea, thank God. The one day I really need my brain power, and the shaman has put it on ice. They don’t tell you about that in the brochure. So I am flip-flopping through this blog design conversation like a fish suffocating on dry land, totally unprepared but all about it, when I realize that my BLIP.fm station has just hit 1000 listeners.

This is where I’m supposed to tie this all up, say something pity, focus the previous five paragraphs toward a final statement about life, love, the pursuit of happiness, and I got nothing; my brain is fried. I got that the hard work I’ve put into my spiritual/energetic life is starting to make a difference, just a bit, even though I feel lost. I got that I’m finally on the road to having a real home for my writing, which is beyond awesome or any other exclamation made with words, even though it comes with a steep roller coaster learning curve. And I got that now I have a really cool star next to my Blip avatar that says, 1K. Of all the good things that happened today, it’s that last one that made me clap and grin like an idiot. I’m such a Girl Scout. One that can swear like a longshoreman when it’s called for. ^_~

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

18 March 2010

Nothing to See Here, So Let’s Move It Along, Folks.

Pearl Jam is screaming, “It’s evolution, baby!” while on every side death and destruction rain down; the wages of humankind’s “growth” as a species. It would sound disingenuous of me to say that this is my life at present, but it is; the wages of my growth as a human being. I can’t say that death and destruction are raining down, exactly, because there isn’t anything others might recognize as that, but I can say that not a goddamn thing in my life fits me. Not even my own skin, and I would shed it if I could.

Oh yeah, here we go: Uncle Ted Nugent has come along to roll me out with that sexy summer-heat beat, and I feel much better even if “Stranglehold” does say it all. Add a little bourbon and it has me thinking of. . . . Never you mind what it has me thinking of. Let’s just say that a little more of some things wouldn’t hurt. In lieu of what I could really use, I have stocked my apartment with awesome amounts of chocolate, ice cream, cookies, booze, and flowers. Hey, I’m allowed one indulgence that isn’t bad for me.

All this evolution, yeah, I asked for it. Transitions are a bitch. You say you wanna be a star? Great! Now change your name, your hair, your clothes, your friends, the way you speak. Next get used to the peeps who know you - put that word in quotations because they haven’t known who you are for some time, but no one has bothered to notice - get used to them being unhappy or unnerved or simply impervious. The new people you know? They’re great, but they don’t know you. So you don’t know if they enjoy you or just want something from you. Real life or cyber life, it’s always hard to know for sure.

Am I famous? No. Am I on my way to becoming famous? Let’s just say that no reality show is calling me. So why am I using this little scenario? Honestly part of me wants to say that I have no idea, that it just came to me, but the fact is that I’m shifting so much in my life the famous thing is all that came to mind as an example-free explanation of how it feels to be here. I mean y’all don’t need a blow by blow of my life. (I heard that snigger. See if you get any more details now.) Mmm, Led Zeppelin v Black Sabbath singing “Whole Lotta Sabbath.” Perfect match: Whole Lotta Love with War Pigs. Yeah, that’s my life, too. Contradictory. Fucked up. Or Mash up. Your choice.

I’ve been walking through these changes for the better part of six months saying, “Fuck me!” It’s my new favorite way to swear and there has been so very much to swear about! Did you know that the Universe cannot tell when you’re being sarcastic? Tin ear, totally. “Bless me!” sounds beyond lame. However, “Fuck me!” is not having the desired effect. Seems I have quite literally been asking the Universe to give it to me in the ass, and no, I don’t mean that in a good way. Think prison sex. With hemorrhoids.

On that note, we arrive at Lunatic Calm. That’s actually the name of the band singing right now, “I wanna take you on a roller coaster.... I wanna push it right over the line,” but I think I’ll adopt the name for myself. It expresses both my feeling state - lunatic, absolutely - and what I remembered today as I talked with a friend about the shamanic work I’ve been doing. (Yes, I can work with a shaman and still swear like a longshoreman.) I forget what he was saying, I’m not sure I was paying attention, but then he said something that did me a V-8 slap. “Surrender!” that’s what I said, “I forgot about surrender.”

Surrender does not mean submission; it’s not about getting used to being fucked in the ass. Surrender means to give up, to abandon what cannot be held. Surrender is an altered state of grace - think the best part of sex - a realization that this river is going to run through you, like it or not, and the only thing that can make it harder than it already is is to resist. Lie on your back. Ride it to wherever it takes you; you’re going anyway.

On a gathering storm comes a tall handsome man
in a dusty black coat with a red right hand.
There won’t be a single thing you can do.
He’s a god. He’s man. He’s a ghost.
He’s a guru.

That doesn’t mean a damn thing. It’s just that Nick Cave and The Seeds started singing “Red Right Hand,” and I went with it. I mean the mash up is a kind of upside to the whole you-got-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter scenario, only with music, right? What if I’m not screwed? What if my life isn’t a fuck up? What if it’s just a mash up? Let’s say Lunatic Calm v Lunatic Fringe. Yeah, that’s it! Now run along. If you were paying attention to the title, then you know that I said I had nothing to say tonight. And I don’t.

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

17 March 2010

Maybe Not

People die. It can’t be helped. In the ‘90s it happened every day.

Not long after Jose died, Garrett died, and after that it was Aaron, and then my Grandma Dina died, too. Grandma’s death was a surprise, but I was there to hold her as she left this world, just as I was with Jose. Frank retired to live out whatever life he might have left on 35 T-cells, staying with Cliff and me in between jaunts to Mexico and Spain, looking more and more like a skeleton with every passing month.

Tonight’s blog is extra long, for tonight we finish The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. I had planned to divide the conclusion of this chapter into two parts, but after last night’s death scene, I don’t have the heart to drag it out.

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

For me, Jose’s death yanked out the tent pegs of the universe, and in that one swift motion, all that I had thought permanent in my life began to collapse: star; black hole. Needing a sense of control -- over something, anything, in my life -- I decided to raze what little remained, make a clean sweep of it. I would divorce my husband. He hadn't understood what I needed before Jose died and he didn't seem to be learning now. Without Jose's friendship, there was no way I could endure the fissures in my marriage. That's what I told a friend who then said to me, "One crisis at a time." So I waited, figuring I could divorce just as easily next month as this.

During this time, Frank got two tickets to Portland's La Femme Magnifique, the local competition for a national drag queen contest, and invited me to go with him. Cliff, who had long since quit accepting my invitations to go anywhere, decided to buy himself a ticket and come with. When Cliff and I arrived ahead of Frank, we found ourselves entering a sky-high hall aflame with lip gloss, glitter, sequins: a veritable skyline of resplendent bigger-and-better-than-reality beauty. All the ladies in this flight of fantasy were ‘70s stewardess gorgeous, the preflight drinks strong, and the cruising direct nonstop. Being a mere RG (real girl) under these conditions can be dangerously ego-deflating unless you are a) drop-dead gorgeous and dressed to the teeth, b) a stone lesbian in a killer tux, or c) hanging with a cute friend who needs you to check out all the guys he’s checking out. Frank was late. I didn't know anyone else. In less than forty-five minutes, I'd crowded up to the bar twice, made the looky-lou rounds, chatted up the shy table mates to my right, and was in danger of getting drunk before the festivities if I had one more gin and tonic. Finally with nowhere left to go, I turned to my husband, even though I knew he wasn't one to flirt, not even with me. What I saw made me rethink my plans for divorce.

My husband, man whose posture and movements make clear that he owns not only his place in the world but the seats on either side, whose personality and fashion sense produce an image somewhere between hippie surfer dude and long-haired redneck, was chatting with the near-twin blonds seated to his left. The voice raised an octave, the expansive hand gestures, the scattering of "girl" and "hon" and "doll" as he talked with these men, all the signs were there: my husband was dishing. Don't ask me why I was surprised. I never made a list of the qualities the man I married would have to have, simply assuming that any man I loved would look at the world the same way I did. If I had made such a list, however, being man enough to enjoy the company of gay men would've been in the top five. Jose was my best friend -- not gay best friend; dearest friend -- and when Jose lay dying, Cliff had argued with me as much as he had consoled. More. He was a man who had raged about the checkbook and the daily chores, a man who coped with his friend’s dying and his wife’s disappearance by focusing on the unraveling disorder of things, and I had hated him for it. But as I watched my husband on this evening, I heard Jose’s words. “Cliff is my hero,” he had said. “He’s the model for how I believe a straight man is supposed to be.” And who knows, maybe Cliff is. I know I never contradicted Jose when he said this, nor offered any example that might make him think otherwise. Jose adored Cliff. Every gay man does.

“Oh, Jose would have loved this,” Frank declared as friends and family gathered. At Frank’s suggestion, we drove caravan from Jose's apartment in the city to the memorial an hour away, as a formal funeral procession: single file, headlights on, all the way up the mountain. I was dressed in black, complete with black hose and a fashionable hat. Oh yes, Jose would have loved that, all of it, not because he was such a drama queen, though Frank thought as much, but rather because Jose lived his life guided as the stars are guided. Call it timing, call it style, Jose knew how to play to the mood of a moment. He always dressed for the occasion of meeting for lunch, for example -- casually of course, but with care. That’s how it was with our friendship as well. Whether staying in to watch a video or going out to eat, our demeanor was casual, yet we held each other’s hearts with care, in full awareness of the needs of the moment. Sometimes, as we entered a restaurant or a movie house, our reflection would flash into the room from a mirror, a window, art under glass, and in those moments I could almost hear the glass sound of hearts breaking.

I love the movies. On the big theater screen, on the small glass screen, all movies are marvelous. The television in my living room is just small enough that I don’t have to say I own a big screen TV, but at twenty-seven inches, it’s big enough that the glass reflects everything in the room. The TV was a gift to my husband, given by me for saying “I love you” every day, for picking flowers and arranging them in my favorite vases week after week, for booking a moonlight cruise for our anniversary, which came just two months after Jose’s death. Our marriage survived, of course, for the same reason it had survived up to that point: Cliff and I always gave each other the space to be exactly who we are, and who we are is not exactly what most people expect. I haven’t any close girlfriends to speak of, at least not any that aren’t gay men, and for years Cliff’s closest friend has been a single woman who’s straight and a decade older. I don’t do shopping with the girls; Cliff doesn’t do football with the boys. At our house, it has always been Cliff who does the cooking, while I put away the dishes, recycle, and take out the trash. I’m also the one who takes the car to the mechanic and mows the lawn. Cliff does the laundry and cleans the toilet. (Okay, so I’m the one who does laundry that requires special care; he is still a guy.) So naturally, even though the television was purchased for my guy, I control the remote. Cliff doesn’t mind. He goes to bed early. I‘m the one who stays up late. I stay up watching videos, like Jose and I used to.

The first color TV Cliff and I ever owned was a hand me down from Jose, a thirteen-inch portable, making it a full two inches larger than the black and white set that preceded it. Cliff loved having color, but I loved the TV itself; not because it was color, although that was novel, and not because it came with my first remote control, although that too was novel -- and fun, once I learned that I didn’t need to point directly at the TV -- no, the reason I loved that TV was that it had been Jose’s; we had watched years of movies on it, the two of us sitting side by side against the wall on the living room carpet or the bed, all propped up with pillows. Whatever we couldn’t see on the big screen we watched on the little one, scooted up as close as humanly possible, so that thirteen inches could become thirteen feet, could become Cinescope, could be the world.

After Jose died, I watched movies just to be close to the world we once inhabited. After Jose died, what I wanted most to watch -- but could not -- was the video we made of our trip to the falls. Multnomah Falls is one of the most scenic spots in Oregon. Jose had only been out of the hospital a couple days, but ever the host, he had arranged to drive his visiting parents up the Columbia River Gorge to show them the sights. We stopped at all the roadside attractions, Frank, me, Jose, and Jose’s parents, looking at this waterfall, taking in that view, and reading every other historical marker, a feat made more remarkable by the fact that getting in and out of our rented car was a comedy of elbows and good manners. Picture five adults squeezing into a subcompact meant for four, five adults sucking in their bellies and clutching their packages until every door can be closed and the high hum of the highway can be countered with polite conversation in two languages; then, at each stop, all five adults burst forth like happy candy from a piñata.

At each stop, we’d get ourselves upright and smoothed out and then stand a moment to wonder whether we ought also to take out the wheelchair, packed in the trunk three layers down. Then out came the video camera, and we’d roll tape on Jose narrating the history of the Gorge, Jose posing with his parents next to an historical marker, Jose leaning on his cane before a scenic vista, Jose speaking to the camera as he read from a list all the names of family members in LA to whom he wished to send greetings and thanks. It wasn't long before I could see that Jose was getting tired, hungry too. I could see it in the way he walked, even more slowly than usual, and in the deliberate way that he exercised patience, with himself, with us. And because I saw Jose losing ground, I took the camera from Frank and told him to go stand next to his sweetheart, not yet knowing that this was to be the last thing recorded that day, in fact, the last video altogether; not knowing that after lunch we will have to cut the trip short and return home.

With the camera rolling, Frank cracks a joke about how much Jose loves him. "How much do I love you?" Jose says response. He smiles. He licks his pasty lips. He makes a false start, clears the phlegm from his throat, smiles again. "It's not that I don't want to say," he says in a voice suddenly hoarse. He laughs. The joke is that when he and Frank split up it was over love, displays of love. For Jose, the Catholic from Nicaragua, love was something you showed through your actions, not something you said. For Frank, the white southern Baptist, love was the words “I love you” spoken out loud and often. Standing high above the floor of the Gorge where the mile-wide Columbia slow-rolls to the sea, Jose recovers himself enough to say, "I love you more than I could ever say." Then, as if to show proof, he adds, "Just wait till we get home." Frank smiles, raises his eyebrows. "A little hoochie coochie?" he says. Everyone laughs. For a moment we are, all of us, silly, embarrassed; in love.

Jose's eyes keep rolling up into his head, his long lashes falling, eyelids drooping like those of a child determined to stay up till the celebration at midnight. Patiently, he brings his eyes back down, smiles, flexes the charm he still has so much of. Frank is wriggling his hips in a little happy dance over getting some hoochie coochie tonight when Jose grins at him, a huge smile that says, You know I love you. Out loud, in his lightly accented English, he says, "Maybe." Jose’s eyes roll back into his head. He closes them, opens them, smiles, and in a voice thick as river gravel, "Maybe not."

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

16 March 2010

“Ah, sex, it is life”

Before you plow into this next installment of Low Spark, it’s worth saying that this is where the rubber hits the road. This where you, my sweet readers, learn what heart beats at the center of The Movie Lovers. Jose is the whole reason I began telling this story, but of course at this point you’ve barely met him. That can’t be helped. And I can’t prepare you because nothing can. I had as much preparation as any human being possibly could, and I still wasn’t ready. People die. It can’t be helped. In the '90s it happened every day.

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Part 6

How do we know what things are? Is it the inside that counts? Is it the outside? How do we know when something is what it appears to be? How about when a facade covers the true nature of a thing? By what measure do we judge? Appearances? Intuition? Our knowledge of the facts? What is a fact, exactly, and when is a “fact” actually a philosophy, a theory, an opinion? Once I learned that all scientific facts down through the ages were, at bottom, based upon the philosophy of the day, I stopped expecting reality to be anything outside of or independent of my own point of view. I mean it was once a fact that the world was flat -- you could fall off the edge of it! -- and now that’s just a hopelessly outdated opinion. In the end, what we focus on is what we create, that’s reality. And right now, that’s the only thing I am truly sure of.

Cliff was a swinger when I met him, but because I have only one relationship rule, which is you can’t cheat on me, he gave up the life without a backward glance. So I was taken completely by surprise when, out of nowhere one day, Cliff volunteered that his tolerance for gay men stemmed from the long-held belief that, as long as there was consent, sex was sex: gay sex, straight sex, swinging sex, kinky, bi, or simple onanism, none of it was anybody’s business but those participating, just like he’d said when we met. Stunned to hear my husband -- or anyone, for that matter -- say he did not imagine love to be a part of the equation for any but heterosexual lovers, I sat silent and pondered the fact that the man I loved seemed to “tolerate” our friends only because all sex was fair game. Meanwhile, Cliff kept going. It was our friendship with Frank and Jose, he said, seeing the love they felt for each other, it was this that had changed his view. He went on to elaborate, but I was only half listening. Instead, I was remembering the early stages of our friendship with Frank and Jose. While at first there had been the pretense of being roommates, soon that fact gave way to the truth of being a couple and the two of them began to embrace and kiss when we were in their home, as we all do with our mates. I remember how excited -- that’s the right word -- how excited Cliff and I were over this new development. Engaging in couples behavior meant that our new friends trusted us, that they felt safe. Wonderful! How could we facilitate more of this behavior? Cliff and I had gotten a couple more sentences into this private conversation before we heard ourselves. What were these men to us, anyway, animals in a zoo? And what did that make us?

To be fair, almost any dance with the unfamiliar can elicit the animal-in-a-zoo response. What is this new thing, we wonder. Is it interesting? Is it funny? Do I like it? What happens if I tap on the glass? This activity is fun when you are on the outside looking in. Being on the inside is another story. My own experience on the wrong side of the glass came as a girl of ten. My parents had made a stop after church at the home of a couple who had two boys and a big tree in the back yard. Looking forward to showing how well I could climb, I changed from my good dress and patent leather shoes into the cotton shirt and shorts my mother had brought, took my little sister by the hand, and went outside to where the boys were. I wasn’t asked to play or to climb. I wasn’t spoken to at all. Instead, I heard the younger brother say, “She’s alright, I guess,” to which the older replied, “The bigger one looked better in a dress.” The younger one nodded. And then. . . . silence. The sun, warm bright, sparkled and winked through the leaves of the cherry tree. I stared into it awhile. Then I went inside.

* * *

Love, beautiful Jose said nothing of love, but love rose from him like the childhood scent of beans and rice for breakfast. Jose talked about sex. He talked about sex like it was love. He‘d sigh and say, "Ah sex, it is life."

Frank once repeated to me the words of his and Jose’s couples’ counselor, who told Frank early on, “Jose has an unusual definition of sex.” For Jose sex was, to put it in the words of an eighteen-year-old, when you, well, you know, when you “did it.” Penetration was sex. But mouths didn't count in that definition. Not when kissing. Not when tonguing other things. Certainly backs and bellies didn't count, and arms -- the embrace -- that counted for love but not for fidelity. Now, if you’re gay or a swinger, this may sound like a lifestyle choice. But if you are straight, particularly if you are married, such a definition might have you calling Jose, what's the word, easy? sleazy? a slut? Words with attitudes like those a teenage boy might lob at a girl who’s turned him down and then made out with someone else at the same party; ugly words that couldn’t be further from the truth of Jose. But then, when it comes to sex, we all tend to speak as if our definition and point of view are the only possibilities.

As Jose lay dying; dying the death that sex had brought him, dying into his short, wildly-bright candle of a life; as he fell away from life and his body shrank like an inflatable love doll unplugged and abandoned in the corner of a rented room, Jose became love. Sex was gone -- “Ah, sex, it is life” -- and now life ebbed, trickled, seeped away. As the body receded into the folds of the bedclothes, sloughing off its muscle tone, its modesty, its toilet training, its words and codes and thoughts, its social graces; as the body lay dying, Jose’s spirit rose up, flooding the room as the sun floods the earth with light. And all who entered there became flushed, breathless, starry-eyed in a universe wholly and completely nourished by the light emanating from Jose. Awash in love, furniture floated, ties to the outside world came loose at their moorings, plans bobbed and drifted away. Freed from the gravity of the everyday, the creases in our faces relaxed, cheeks plumped, mouths lifted into beatific smiles. Each day when I arrived to care for Jose, I flew to him, held as the planets are held to the sun, the sun that burns its own bright body, its yellow-orange emotion, its incandescent, cannibalized light.

* * *

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

14 March 2010

Jane Mansfield

The fifth installment of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, and as promised, here you will find me in my underwear (more or less) and my husband in a size 48 DD, truly not to be missed. Scroll on down if you’d like a recap of my storytelling style or to catch up on earlier scenes, and do be careful when you do, as I am just on the other side of the screen sneezing my fool head off. I am, most assuredly, contagious.

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

"Do you have any Jockey briefs like these in medium?"
"We have this kind," said the sales clerk. She pulled out a three-roll pack of briefs with various colored stripes.
"No, I like solid colors," I said. "Those are the right colors, but I don't do stripes. You have the briefs I want in small and large, but I need a medium."
The clerk looked up from the roll of shorts in her hand. "My small days are over," I said.
"Are these for your boyfriend? husband?" she said, both doubtful and hopeful.
"They're for me."
"They're . . . for you." It was a question, but it didn't sound like one. The clerk continued holding the tube of striped Jockey briefs, the kind without the flap.
"I've always had skinny thighs," I said. "These fit better than women's underwear ever did." The clerk set the three-pack back on the table.
"Did you know they make Jockey for women now?" she said.
"Look, if I buy a pair of women's underwear, Jockey or otherwise, I might as well buy a thong because that's what they're going to turn into as soon as I move. Know what I mean?"
"Uh," she shifted from one foot to the other, looked at the cash register. No one was waiting.
"I found the colors I want in the bikini, but I prefer the regular briefs. Do you have them in back stock?"
"I've just never heard that before," she said.
My lunch hour was ticking away. "Would it make you feel better if I told you they were for my husband? Okay. They're for my husband. Now do you have them?"

It's a straight party, and when Cliff and I enter the room no one recognizes us. This seems odd because I am wearing no make-up, no mask, and no glasses -- I forgot the Groucho Marx glasses I’d meant to wear -- and in a suit, fedora, and eye-pencil mustache, I am so lightly disguised as to be, for Halloween anyway, naked. So there we stand in the archway as the whole room laughs, all their pink college-kid mouths stretched wide: me a down-at-the-heel but nonetheless dapper Italian man in a plaid suit and striped suspenders escorting a hot babe clad in a clingy blue knit that sweeps up into a turtleneck and down into a hip-hugging, knee-length dress. Sultry but demure. Below the hemline, my hot date sports great calves in sheer hose, two pair, because she shaved her face but not her legs and any drag queen will tell you it takes two pair of pantyhose to cover the hair. No one can figure out who we are. Not after a minute. Not after two. Finally a curly-headed man says, "I only know one woman that big."

Because of his size, Cliff is accustomed to being drafted to help with jobs requiring strength. Before the party, in fact, Cliff was at the home of friends who’d just purchased a big screen TV. I was to meet him there to do hair and make-up. When the delivery guy knocked, it was Cliff who answered the door, and in a big voice that matched his big body he said, I'll help you with that. Keep in mind, this was the ‘80s and Cliff wasn’t dressed in some hooker outfit -- the kind straight guys like to wear now to show their girlfriends that their masculinity isn’t threatened by a little make-up and heels -- no, Cliff’s frock was a thrift-store cast off, made by someone’s elderly aunt. So imagine a football player, say six-four, 250, in a skin-tight, hand-knitted, electric blue dress, his hair in hot rollers, wrapping his arms around the end of a box nearly as big as he is. On the other end of the box is the delivery guy. He looked up at Cliff, looked back down at the box, said nothing. Cliff, wearing no make up and walking backward with his size twelve feet stuffed into a pair of red jellies, said, Watch that corner, and, Over to your right a bit, and, Okay, let’s set it down here. The delivery guy said nothing. As they hefted the television out of the box, Cliff caught his reflection: a bit thick at the waist, he thought, but what a pair of knockers! To the delivery guy he said, I'll bet you get a real workout on a job like this. Delivery guy said nothing. But Cliff noticed a slight flick of the eyes -- across the size forty-eight, double D chest -- the kind of half-conscious, half-fearful glance preteen boys have for busty girls. Cliff looked down, paused a moment, and then realizing the problem -- and before the delivery guy could make his exit -- pulled up the dress and reached down into his bra, turning the balloons there knots-forward. “I need nips,” he said. The delivery guy didn’t even wait for a tip.

At the party later, I catch the curly-headed man, one of my classmates, eyeing Cliff's chest. A sneak here. A peek there.
Cliff sidles up to him and says "Go on. Touch 'em."
The curly-headed man shakes his head. "No," he says, but his mouth twitches into a shy smile.
"Come on, man, they're balloons, but they feel real."
The man shakes his head, "I can't."

Many years from now at a high drag affair -- gay, of course, and stuffed like a twelve-year-old girl in her mother’s push-up bra, complete with stilettos and a feathered hat -- Cliff will win the Best Camp award with an over-the-hill-Liz-Taylor muumuu, lime green leggings, fuzzy slippers, and a middle-aged gut. But at the college party tonight, Cliff is svelte in a knit dress, pouty red lips, bedroom eyes, and a hand-on-the-hip stance that would make Jane Mansfield look butch. He focuses his movie-star gaze on the curly-headed man.

"Sure you can," Cliff says and he -- er, she -- snatches the man's right hand and places it on her left boob, palm turned inward against that knotted nipple, fingers wide to embrace a tit so big that even a man’s hand can’t contain it. A circle gathers. Hand still on Cliff’s boob the curly-headed man looks side to side. He makes a tentative squeeze and then, as if propelled by a jolt from a hot wire, his body suddenly rockets backward as he screams -- ”Ahhhh!”

The crowd busts up. The curly-headed man lands on his feet a couple yards away, looking at the offending hand. Then he looks at the Jane-Mansfield chest on Cliff. Her face. Then at his hand again. "Oh, God!" he says. He looks at those pouty lips, the lashes shading Cliff’s eyes. "I'm sorry," he says. The crowd laughs harder. "I'm sorry. Oh, God, I'm sorry."

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