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On March 19, 1992, my friend John Dentinger died of AIDS at the age of 39. He was a solid libertarian and a gay rights activist with the wickedest sense of humor I have ever encountered. His last writing effort was directed toward completing his autobiography. Alas, it never was finished. It remains the incomplete memoirs of a man of genius whose life went from Catholic school boy to homosexual call boy. The process included teaching mathematics at U.S.C., dealing drugs in L.A., falling in love with Gary Meade, befriending Timothy Leary, and...well, read it yourself.
DANCING ON THE CLIFF
Memoirs and Memories
By John Dentinger
PART ONE OF FOUR PARTS
To Gary Scott Meade
This is not intended as a "gay book" -- rather, it is a shattering of tenacious myths about a wide variety of groups: gays, prostitutes, drug users, drug dealers, left-handers, math geniuses, neurotics, university physics teachers, heterosexual adulterers, civil libertarians, writers.... And how do I propose to tie all these oddities together? Because, at one time or another, I have been all of these things.
And I write of the parallels between these things. They are different ways of dancing on the cliff. Think of this book as a meditation on vanity and immortality, and as a cautionary tale. It is. You'll see.
MEMOIRS AND MEMORY
It's ironic that I should begin writing my memoirs after I've been told I'm losing my memory. I should have started earlier; I knew I'd write them some day; but it seemed arrogant to start before I was 40. For years I idly figured my memoirs would be my fifth or tenth book. Then I could capitalize on a fame I'd created in my 30s, 40s, and 50s to give value to the name-dropping and to my chronicle of sex, drugs, and classical music. I wanted to establish myself as an intellectual before I set out, like a Don Quixote of sensuality, to legitimize the scandalous aspects of my life, even as I capitalized on the scandal. I wanted to present my ideas before I presented the life from which they evolved.
But in the jaws of a disease that could take my eyes, my mind, my life, there's little alternative to that youthful arrogance.
I've probably agonized more over the accuracy of my memory than most writers. After all, short-term memory goes first. Yesterday vanishes, while yesteryear remains. All the good old stuff -- the quotable dirt -- is as intact as it ever was, in the abstraction-mill that is my mind. I apologize that I never trained myself to notice the human details that should grace a memoir like this. What I trained myself to do was to abstract the moral latent in every story. It was the self-defense of an intellectual: moral incantation. But there is still enough skin of remembered experience on the bones and sinews of abstraction, to bring my life back to life.
Years ago I told a self-dissipated friend that he ought to make a living renting himself out as a bad example. Perhaps, gentle reader, you will allow me to do the same for you.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY: ACTON'S DICTUM
I hate the idea that the shadow of AIDS hangs over this book and might seem to invalidate my philosophy. It might suggest that libertarianism leads to a brush-fire of libertinism. This misses the point entirely.
What is wrong with my life is captured by the dictum of Lord Acton, who said, "All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Without meaning to overstate the force of the dictum, I once wrote that perhaps even intellectual power tends to corrupt. I used the example of Ayn Rand who surrounded herself with yes-men (and -women), much as the negative end of a polar molecule surrounds itself with the opposite poles of other such molecules. The result was to surrealize her surroundings.
Although I don't have the rhetorical force of Ayn Rand, I have an remarkable verbal and logical facility, and a wounded childhood that has left me coiled up like a spring. One difference is that I became good-looking. I still had a childhood identity as an ugly duckling intellectual to overcome, but being socially and sexually attractive defused a lot of my anger -- the sort of anger that remained bottled up in someone like Ayn Rand, who admired and perhaps envied physical beauty. Had I not had a release of that pressure in my twenties -- like the burnt exploding gases diffusing out of the silencer of a revolver -- I proba- bly would have buried myself in my career like she did. In other words, I would have been really pissed off.
As it was, I was pissed off enough to select the most difficult career I could imagine and make it look easy. While I was still nineteen, I was already teaching college physics to stu- dents years my senior. I was so touchy about my status that I insisted on their calling me "Mr. Dentinger". Only years later, after having some of the pretentiousness beat out of me at Caltech, did I encourage my physics students at U.S.C. to call me "John."
Of course, I was getting older. Now the scarce commodity was not presumed maturity but apparent youth. This was the fountain of esteem for one still coasting on boyish good looks and the sharp tongue of an enfant terrible. I had the good fortune to look younger than my true age by about ten years. But my thirties were approaching. Soon friends and editors would expect to cash in on the mere promise that had been sufficient in my twenties.
For years, I had gotten away with 'mere promise'. I was young, attractive, articulate, witty -- and, if suitably motivated, I could charm the pants off of... well, perhaps I'll get to names later. The point is: all these attributes represented a kind of power. And that power corrupted me. A few hours a week allowed me to produce prodigies of political writing and scientific consulting that others couldn't produce in a month. For years I fooled people into thinking I was doing my best, although I knew better.
In January 1985, I began to devote myself seriously to writing. Within half a year, I was asked to write a column for a national political magazine. Within a year after that, Playboy magazine asked me to write for them -- an offer most writers would kill for. It was exciting, but as years went by I began to feel disquieted that I had not written a book.
I made busy-work by searching for a literary agent. I wrote a few articles. I busied myself with answering the excellent question asked by a first-rate but lazy writer friend: what is wrong with being a dilettante? I was merely playing at my supposed profession: spending my time reading, listening to music, and indulging in fabulous marathons of sex and drugs.
I could impress old friends and new with far less than my best effort. I had the power to weave illusions with words, and instead of using it to write fiction, I was using it to live fiction. Well, you know what Acton said. I was starting to clean up my act as I watched my career slow to a crawl. And when I sped into the brick wall of AIDS, when I lost even the power to climb the stairs from my office to our bedroom without exhaustion -- that was the final impetus to return to work.
For years my powers had allowed me to slack off in my writing. To get me to buckle down and work hard took the loss of those powers. The loss of my health, my strength, and ninety percent of my remaining life expectancy. Did I have to be crip- pled -- like the novelist in Stephen King's story Misery -- to get me to stay put and write? I hope not. I cling to the escape clause in Acton's dictum: 'tends to corrupt'. I don't want to be corrupted. But I do want those powers back.
Writing about evolution in his book The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins draws an interesting parallel between ideas and viruses. The latter take over certain cells in the body and commandeer them for their own purposes. Now Dawkins analogizes like so: ideas commandeer your brain and make you work for them instead of for yourself. You go marching off to war for Church or State or Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite.
Let's extend the analogy. Some viruses (like herpes) can remain dormant and non-infectious for years at a time; but on sensing the impending death of the host, the infection takes on a more contagious form, in order that its particular strain can survive the death of the host. So now we ask: what do ideas do when faced with the death of the host?
You would expect a person who has absorbed ideas all his life, and then suddenly faces death, would boil over with a desire to pass the ideas on, to keep them alive, to enlist others in their glorious causes. This is what my diagnosis did for me. (But don't be alarmed -- some ideas are good viruses.)
I hope I hold on long enough to get a cure -- and that regaining my powers will not return me to the lazy corruption of yesteryear. That the awful discipline of disease and the rewards of work will be remembered. That Acton's Loophole will work for me.
Or, simply, that reading this book will make it work for you.
PART TWO OF FOUR PARTS
I'd known R for years: a friend from libertarian activist days. I was the one who gave him the referral card that admitted him into paradise: the 8709, a bathhouse two doors from my gay gym. The 8709 attracted all the hot numbers from West Hollywood: they all worked out with weights; and they ranged in appearance from well above average to absolute knockouts.
I'd occasionally run into R at the baths, or share a meal with him at a libertarian convention. Where do I meet R now? Like a black comedy screenplay: FLASH FORWARD TO: John and R taking I.V.'s together at the doctor's office. R said that our medical situation was "hanging by our fingernails from the cliff." "Well," I said, "just a few minutes ago we were dancing there."
It was a cliff I had been born to dance on.
LEFT-HANDEDNESS AND OTHER SINISTER DEVIATIONS
My perception of being different began very early in life. I was brought up in the same One True Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that Voltaire called the Infamy in his famous injunction, "Ecrasez l'Infame."
For seven years I attended a Catholic grade school. I call that saga, "Procrustes Unbound." The nuns and priests suppressed every difference they could detect, and still tried to ferret out more. Everyone had to wear uniforms. The girls had to wear a sort of tartan plaid skirt and a white blouse. The boys had to wear white shirts and bowties for the younger boys and neckties for the older. The discipline was so intense that when I attended public school, a classmate commented "Dentinger went to some queer military school where they made you stand up to answer."
The pettiest deviations received instant censure. We were forced to carry "conduct cards." When you crossed over the line -- never clearly delineated -- a nun would say imperiously, "Give me your conduct card." She would pull a paper punch from within the folds of her uniform, and punch a hole in for that period. If at the end of the period (a week, I think) there were no holes, a little star was licked and stuck on.
There was physical violence as well. I saw a nun grab a kid by the ear and bang his head into the blackboard. I saw nuns break wooden rulers over the hands of accused (ergo guilty) miscreants. I saw kids forced to walk to the front of the room and stand on their own fingers while the nun paddled them... hard. And in eighth grade, a priest -- a hot-tempered ruddy Irishman -- thought I'd sailed I paper plane. Since I hadn't, I denied it. Judge, jury, and instant executioner, he slapped me hard enough in the face to knock my glasses all across the room -- and, I think, damage the frame. The next day, having cooled down, the bastard exhibited the shred of grace necessary to apologize in front of the class. I refused to accept his apology, and that was the end of the matter.
The people running the place were crushingly ignorant. For three years none of these educational experts grokked the reason I presented a conduct problem in class -- to wit, I was undchallenged beyond description.
In the second grade I was expelled for rolling a pencil down my desk during Miss Dolan's French class. She said, "If you do that one more time, I'll take you down to the office and have you expelled." How could I resist? You can only know the contour of the darkened cliff -- and the exhiliration of dancing on the edge -- by risking your footing.
She told me to go to the office. I refused, thinking that if I stayed in class, she might cool off. She grabbed me, and in a panic, I held onto the desk. She dragged me -- and the desk -- up the aisle and out into the hallway. Then she trooped down to the head hatchetnun and had me expelled.
For what it's worth, my parents stood behind me, baked extra cakes for the nuns, wrote them letters, wheedled and cajoled them to let me back in. The nuns relented. The next year, in third grade, I got into similar trouble for the usual reason:boredom. So a new head nun, ordered me demoted to the first grade, which she taught.
She assigned me some simple-minded exercise which ideally required a ruler that I didn't have. I was supposed to do drawings in seven neat panels on the paper. I took the paper in portrait orientation, and folded it into three rows. Then, very carefully, I folded the top row and the bottom row in half -- and the middle row into thirds. This display of ingenuity was apparently when it penetrated -- after nearly three years -- that I was ahead of the other kids, not behind them.
Meanwhile, my father had me perform a trick for the principal. Other kids my age were barely ready for fun with Dick and Jane; I read a newspaper story out of the Chicago Tribune to her. I was given special tests.
These were I.Q. tests, and I was decreed "gifted," I think. This word was okay, even within the culture of anti-deviance, for it had an air that the Church had bestowed the "gift" (though it had actually been smothering it). The word "genius" was taboo; it had the sense of being self-willed and deviant.
So it was arranged that I would study at home during the summer and skip the fourth grade. I was young for my grade and short for my age; so I was a runt when I was put into the fifth grade with my sister, whom this embarrassed.
One of my stigmata in grade school was left-handedness. While I was in the first or second grade, we were instructed on the precise manner in which to pick up a report card.
An inflexible instructions was that you must take the card with your right hand. I piped up, "I can't do that. I'm left-handed." So the nun (part of the nervous system emanating from the God-brain to coordinate all us little centipede feet), forced me to walk up to her desk three times and practice accepting the paper with my right hand. I was pleased to discover some use for that hand, but I didn't care for the manifest contempt for the pettiest, almost unnoticeable deviations from The Norm.
Little did I know at the time, but the same institution was doing far worse to us sinister deviants. It was forcing students to write right-handed. This causes significant, sometimes severe, neurological problems in left-handers.
In 1987, my brother and I went back to the suburb of our youth. We went by the Catholic school and a priest happened by. We asked about the school. There were no more nuns -- no one was going into the convent any more. I was pleased that the Church was further losing its iron grip on society's throat.
About ten percent of the population is naturally left-handed. (Though some authorities believe that if all barriers to left-handedness were removed, one in three people would be left-handed.) By coincidence, about ten percent of the population are gay; no doubt more would be, without the stigma.
Sometimes lefties seem part of the same sort of fraternity as gays. Often I will have to sign something in front of someone who will comment, "Oh, another leftie." I'll wink and say, "All the best people are."
ESCAPE FROM IRRATIONALITY: OUT OF THE FRYING PAN....
I arrived at Caltech to study mathematics. I expected this field to be a bastion of rationality, the ramparts of reason invulnerable, the drawbridge to madness drawn up. It proved chimerical. There was no escape, even in mathematics, from conflict and irrationality.
One time, like other graduate students, I gave a seminar on a topic of my selection. Charles de Prima, did not question my proof. Instead, he exposed me to an unexpected and far more fundamental attack: "Why is this important?" Then he let loose one of his famous raucous laughs. We called him Chuckling Charlie.
He offended me with the impertinence of raising the stakes, of bumping the argument up from the mathematical to the meta- mathematical. But I shouldn't have gotten mad; he was merely inoculating me against an ever-present danger: the trap-door in the mathematician's self-esteem. Mathematics is a game, and the player is always exposed to the risk that people will differently value his contribution -- that the other players will pack up their marbles and go home, leaving him as alone as he felt as a little child genius.
A fellow student finally asked a senior professor: What does it mean for something to be an important problem? Conceivably this could mean a real-world application, like secure data encryption. But no. The professor explained it: an important problem is one that a lot of people have tried to solve, without success. There are fads in math, some set off by the selection of the Fields Medal, which is sort of a Nobel Prize in mathematics. Thus is the great cosmic meta-mathematical question -- What is Important? -- answered: in the same manner sheep decide which way to stampede next.
Sometimes the hierarchy of importance is established not with a proof, but with a sneer. One time I talked with my thesis advisor, W.A.J. Luxemburg, about non-measurable sets, which are an ugly but necessary consequence of the seemingly reasonable Axiom of Choice. "Non-measurable sets are an invention of the devil," he jibed. He dealt with them by ignoring them, the same way most of us dealt with turbulence and other then-intractable problems in physics. (These were later dealt with brilliantly by chaos theory; all this fascinating stuff was under my nose during the seventies; but all I saw was the dirt under the rug.) I found the rationality of mathematics was as substantial as a cloud: solid at a distance; fog close up.
This discovery took time. At first, math was still the one area in which you proved a theorem, and all doubt was banished; carping objections were utterly crushed, like ants underfoot. In this I saw power, and safety -- a mirage of youth. As I came closer to the mirage, it proved elusive. There were more disquieting incidents.
In my third (and last) year as an undergraduate, I was taking a graduate course in complex variables. Our distinguished professor, Morris Marden, had a credibility-packed diploma from Harvard, and we were using as a textbook Harvard mathematician's Lars V. Ahlfor's Complex Variables -- the third edition, I believe. In the first few chapters, an occasional exercise discussed metric spaces, of which the complex plane is a very special case.
Professor Marden was only a couple of years from retirement, and had a charming sort of befuddlement about him at the blackboard. He would finger his suit and face, and smudge them all over with chalkdust. One Friday he assigned us several homework problems from Ahlfors, among them to prove this theorem: given two closed subsets C and C of a complete metric space, at least one of the sets compact, then there exists a point in one and a point in the other minimizing the distance between the two. I bent my brain on this exercise for an entire weekend, but no matter how I tried, there was a gap in my proof that I could not paper over.
Finally --duh! -- the light-bulb went on and I thought: maybe it's false. So in a matter of minutes I constructed a counter example.
Later I showed the example to my real variables instructor, the cigar-chomping D.W. Solomon. He puffed away, gloated with me, and said, "I love it. This is an insultingly simple counter example. You know, I had to prove this theorem when I was an undergraduate, and I always thought there was something fishy about it." The reason I had found the error was not that I was some sort of genius, but due to the oddity that I had taken a second-year graduate course in Hilbert spaces the previous summer. Normally students take the courses in the opposite order, and by the time they know enough about Hilbert spaces to construct the counter example, they've forgotten the fishy theorem altogether.
So on Monday, when all of the grad students in the class turned in their "proofs" of this theorem, I turned in this counter example. Marden was a bit flustered, and chalkdusted his face more than usual. But a little embarrassment would wash off. What didn't so readily wash off for me was the sense of disquiet of a little of the solid floor sagging and creaking. How could this error have been propagated for so long in this bastion of certainty?
Well, I could write it off -- it was just an exercise outside the main scope of the book, probably most professors didn't really assign it. If anyone had found the counter example, they had never bothered to communicate it to Ahlfors. I myself did not do so for another eight months, when I sent it, rudely written over a photocopy of the Harvard Math Department's form letter rejecting my application to graduate school there. Ahlfors' reply was a great deal more polite than my tart little note. And in the next edition, the error was corrected by positing that both C and C be compact (which makes the proof trivial). So I was able to put it out of my mind for the time being.
But as Freud tells us, the repressed always returns.
It returned the next year, my first year of graduate school at Caltech. I arrived on campus with tremendous insecurity. My first acid trip the summer before had been a bad one; I feared I had destroyed my mind and my future. I felt the stigma so deeply that I only confided my tortured fears to two people. One, mercifully, was Richard Dittman, my favorite physics professor. He reassured me that there was no evidence of anything like that happening. But I was still horribly depressed and fearful.
Added to this was a disappointment. When I arrived, age 19, I expected at least to have the ego-balm of being the youngest graduate student in the math department. But Arthur Rubin (who was to become my office mate) was sixteen. He had gone directly from high school to grad school, enrolling simultaneous- ly as an undergraduate.
He selected Tech because it was the only school that would allow him to do this. It registered him as an undergrad so he could continue entering the annual Putnam Competition. This was a tough annual mathematics exam, relying more on ingenuity than detailed study. In the previous year, I had barely made it into the top 200. Arthur scored number one in the country for four years in a row. I was still pretty impressed with myself, but all delusions of being "a young Newton" were wiped away.
As were additional illusions. Every year, an assortment of top-notch outsiders serve as visiting professors at Tech. There was a good-natured professor from Ireland, Sean T., from whom I took a course in ring theory. He had a delightful Irish accent, the sort Americans are charmed by. Sean invited Arthur Rubin and me over to his place for dinner. So we got to know each other a little better.
One day I was walking through the math department and saw his door open, and I came in and asked him about his research. Although he was teaching ring theory, his own research was in a different area of algebra, namely finite groups. The particular problem he was working on had developed into a race to see whether computer proofs or an analytic approach would provide an answer first.
A couple of weeks later, I dropped by to see how Sean was progressing on the problem. Well, he said, since I'd last spoken with him, someone "published a paper purporting to prove it." However, as he stated, the guy was notorious for sloppy work. I got a clear sense that it wouldn't kill Sean if mathematical knowledge had to wait, as long as the credit wasn't whisked out from under him.
This is a perfectly understandable human reaction; I've felt that way about getting scooped on articles: I'd done all the work, but gotten no credit because I wasn't fast enough. Yet up to this point I'd maintained a bit of the idealistic notion that science was a great cooperative effort to roll back the chaos of ignorance. Here I was seeing through this. I even got the sense that it wouldn't exactly be the end of the world for Sean if mathematical knowledge has to wait forever for the result, if the alternative were for someone else to get the credit for proving it.
That's the thing about ivory towers -- they're so hard to keep clean.
Another aspect of the irrationality of mathematics is the problem personalities it attracts. People who are incapable of dealing with others as human beings are attracted to this intellectual battlefield; it offers clear objective rules by which you can intellectually obliterate people; you can shut them up with just the raw power of symbols.
One of the spookiest examples of this was a young hotshot professor, nicknamed Johnny Mac. He was blond and taciturn and had slightly rugged angular features, like a clothing model or an Ayn Rand hero.
In my second year at U.W.M., I took Mathematical Analysis. It was the first mathematical field I studied while lacking a pre-existing mesh of understanding, like a net-shaped skin graft on a serious burn; and however large the gaps these traceries left, many fish were caught in the net. But I had never developed good studying skills; this left me out of my depth.
Johnny Mac wasn't out of his. In fact, he let on that he resented being forced to teach an undergraduate class (of only eight students, if memory serves), even a senior level class like this one, and even if it were his only class. But dutifully, he lectured on this tough subject, without reference to notes. He performed this same feat for months, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Then one day in the middle of a particularly difficult proof, he pulled a piece of paper from the inside pocket of his sports jacket, referred briefly to notes in his small, pointed handwriting, and secreted the folded paper back inside his jack- et.
This happened only one other time. And those two times, rather than exposing feet of clay, served to italicize his daunt- ing intelligence.
Further daunting was his clear aversion to other humans. Every day at the end of class, he would have his galoshes and raincoat on before any of us could even pack our notes. And presto: he'd be gone. His office hours ranged from brief to non-existent.
One day I walked by his house near campus, and saw what I assumed were his wife and a couple of kids -- handsome little blond clones of their father. Well, I thought, he must have some interpersonal skills.
I returned to U.W.M. in August, 1989 to visit the physics and mathematics departments. When I went to the math department, my old professor Robert Moore happened to be around. I asked about Johnnie Mac, and he was only able to enlighten me a little. The aging wunderkind, it seemed, had been trying to crack an extremely difficult problem, when it happened.
My curiosity had already been piqued by the secretary of the department chairman. I didn't find Mac's name among the mailboxes, and so I inquired after him. The secretary was cagey. "He's not around," she said. I explained that I'd been a student of his, was in town for the first time in ten years, and hoped to see him. Did she know where he was? At last she said, "He's in the county mental institution."
I had the queer, giddy sensation of having survived a near miss that hit another person instead. MacMillan was now hanging by his fingernails from a cliff where I had danced.
What a mathematician proves when he cracks a difficult problem, is not a theorem. What he proves is that he is a better mathematician than anyone else. MacMillan, I conjectured, had all of his ego invested in proving this; and when he couldn't crack the problem, the problem cracked him.
PART THREE OF FOUR PARTS
[January 16, 1992: I had another nightmare about Caltech last night. It was located in Catalina, along one long north-south edge of the island; I was living with my parents on the hillside on the other edge of the island. I was my present age, and my parents were taking me to register and re-enroll, after all these years. There was another element to the nightmare: I had been making some sort of elixir out of my semen which could increase people's IQ's by at least 30 points. Now it had lost its potency, and could barely increase it by 5 points.
Caltech, which had been a big customer for the elixir, was now putting out a competing product. The most nightmarish element was being helpless and being forced to start over. Tech was tolerable the first time because I had a long future ahead of me and I didn't know what all it would bring. But at the age of 39 -- to be surrounded by teenagers looking askance at me, the old man, while I struggled along, starting down the same hard road, but with no shining horizon there to urge me on when I felt like laying down my burden.]
* * *
GAY, STRAIGHT, AND BI
Being left-handed and a math nerd was basic training for being gay.
Our society polarizes people's sexuality. Practically no one, straight or gay, believes that there is any such thing as a true bisexual. If you are bi, there is pressure from both sides not to talk about it.
From straights, this arises from their hostility toward gays, or from their squeamishness about discussing homosexuality and possibly discovering their own.
From gay men, this arises because we think that most men claiming to be bisexual want to have sex with other men without admitting they are homosexuals. "Bisexual" is what we called ourselves when we were only halfway out of the closet.
A subtler polarizing factor is that if predominately gay men do not express sexual desires they may have toward women, then a certain element of inter-sexual rivalry and tension disappears.
For example, I have one woman friend with whom I could easily have an affair, except for a couple of factors. The least of these is having AIDS. More important is that it would change our relationship irrevocably, putting me in the category of another boyfriend to be discussed, rather than the confidante. More important still is that I'm married. I never felt any responsibility to warn tricks at the baths of this fact; if they were especially hot, I'd even tell them my lover, whom I could point out to them, was a hot lay. The context made it unlikely I would break any hearts.
But women take sex more seriously than men. For me to indulge in an affair with a woman would lead her to hope for quite reasonable things, like spending the night. But there are already two in my bed at night, and I like it that way. I would never spend the night with anyone but my lover. Sleeping together, with or without making love, forms an emotional attachment -- and chisels away at existing ones in a way that merely "being unfaithful" does not.
So I never admitted these feelings to my woman friend, going only so far as to tell her she was a great catch, and that if I were straight, I would probably be dating her. Thanks to our rigid conceptions of sexuality, I flatter her without chancing risky change in our relationship. So my relative lack of heterosexual experience, while stemming largely from lack of interest, is completed by an emotional risk-aversiveness.
I didn't always back away from taking emotional risks with women. When I joined the sexual revolution, I pulled out all the stops, blasted through all but the two worst taboos (fucking your mother and being a faggot, respectively) by this one cliched but awful act.
I had an affair with my best friend's wife.
C could have done better in the best friend department, but he was shy and unassertive, and I was the friend closest to both he and his wife.
At the time, all my other friends approved of the affair. What were marriage vows in a post 60's world? And I did it all without personal risk; C was thousands of miles away, in Germany, in the Army.
C and I had known each other back through high school. We were similar yet complementary, like a comedy team. We took elective classes together. We commuted down to college together. As bright science students, we were nerds of a feather. And the first Christmas after I went away to Caltech, I came home in order to visit and to be in C's wedding party. The night before C's wedding, instead of a stag party, he stayed with his parents, and I stayed with him. He had a pleasing deep voice, and he was taller than I was, dark-haired, with a shy, sexy look to him.
We had a great deal to drink, and then --
-- and then we passed out, I'm sorry to report. I probably should have fucked him. It would have changed both of our lives. But I had all the gay desires rigidly repressed. Otherwise I would have been bold enough to proposition him or seduce him, yes, even on the night before his wedding.
As for J's and my motivations for the affair, the mutual ones were obvious. We were friends, we were infatuated, it seemed natural. In my case there was also this baggage: it was more than just an affair, it was a diploma in heterosexuality.
The diploma would soon become a worthless scrap of paper. I became openly and proudly gay.
My experiences made me even more sympathetic to the problems confronting women. Sexual harassment, for example. At U.S.C., my boss, a noted physicist named W, was quite an old lech. He was always trying to get good-looking young men drunk in his office and seduce them. Sometimes he succeeded.
There was a inside latch screwed onto his door to prevent discovery by snooping janitors. In his office, he would ) project Super-8 gay porn films onto the wall (these were pre- video days). Once, he plied me with drinks and put on a tape ofMendelssohn's gorgeous Octet. Aside from his appearance, he smoked incessantly and had a sort of boozy ashtray breath. And there was his personality; he was brilliant, but far from scintillating in conversation. So none of his seductions had the desired effect.
I'd gotten the work with W through an ad he'd run in the national gay magazine, The Advocate. Initially he claimed he merely felt more comfortable working with someone gay. Later he admitted he wanted to find a co-worker cum lover through the ad. I viewed this gay favoritism as an opportunity to get the work experience I needed to get back into a legitimate science career track. I was under considerable pressure to show some longevity in this job. Meanwhile, I was under considerable amorous pressure from my boss.
Finally we went on an out-of-town trip that was supposed to be business. There was some business, and there was also some fun; I got a tour of the Stanford Linear Accelerator (or, as I called it after the earthquake, the Stanford Slightly Non-Linear Accelerator). What was not fun -- back in the hotel room, he badgered me and wheedled some more. "I'm a world-famous fucking physicist, and nobody loves me," he said in his boozy whine. And I finally figured, oh, what the hell, make the old goat happy. I fucked him on the waterbed. Your tax dollars at work, since a government grant paid for the trip and the hotel room.
When we returned, he assumed this would continue. I told him it had to stop. As subtly as he knew how, he told me that he'd fire me if I didn't continue putting out. I called his bluff. I was prepared to make a stink if he fired me; and I think the physics department personnel knew enough to doubt his protestations of innocence. I should have drawn the line earlier, but at least I drew it now. And he backed down.
By the time he eventually did phase me out, I'd gotten a job with the department teaching undergraduate physics labs. I was just a T.A. and the pay was not exorbitant. It was then, in 1978, while complaining of money woes, that a friend suggested I work as a call boy.
PHYSICS-TEACHING DAYS / CALL BOY NIGHTS
From 1978 until 1980, I taught physics labs at U.S.C. during the day; at night I supplemented my meager earnings working as a call boy.
Two journalists writing on the drug war in the March, 1992 issue of Playboy prefaced their article: "We watched the so- called experts on `Nightline,' ... and we realized that the most significant people in the drug wars were on the front lines. They were also the most silent."
The same thing goes for the war on sex. I've been on the front lines of both, and the time has come to break my silence, to strike at some of the myths of pop culture regarding prostitution, drug dealing, and other supposedly nefarious activities.
In order to illustrate that perfectly respectable people get involved in these activities, let me preface my criminal credentials with an account of my "legitimate" activities. This involves a certain amount of bragging. Bear with me.
By age 19, I was teaching university level physics to students years my senior. I was finishing up my three years of college with a double major in mathematics and physics. I was going to add in chemistry as well, but I was advised that people only had triple majors because they were confused. I was offered a fellowship to attend Columbia graduate school, and other financial aid to enroll at Stanford. I decided on Caltech, where I started with a fellowship and later taught mathematics. Later I worked as a scientific computer programmer and taught physics at U.S.C. Subsequently I became a consultant to a "Star Wars" defense contractor for a number of years; I had no difficulty in obtaining a secret level security clearance from Uncle Sam.
After six months of writing full-time in 1985, a national political magazine asked me to write a monthly column for them. After another year, Playboy asked me to write for them.
I had taught America's sons and daughters physics, helped design our nation's defenses, and written for magazines that you can buy in your corner drug store.
On a parallel track, I became an outlaw. I didn't merely make occasional forays into the front lines of the sex and drug revolutions. I worked there.
Let me describe the sex, first.
From age 26 to age 28 -- while teaching undergraduate physics labs at U.S.C. by day -- I was a call boy by night. I had about two or three hundred clients during that time (more than I had students).
You don't hear much honest talk about sex. This is just another example of your extortion -- er, tax -- dollars at work. Just consider that if it weren't for statutes of limitations, the above admission could put me in prison for hundreds of years.
Now, let's deal with the stereotypes.
Being a call boy wasn't a line of work I advertised widely, although the stigma for male prostitutes is a great deal less than for the female counterpart. To the extent that there is negativity ("He's just a gigolo," or "He's just a kept boy,") the source is primarily envy, which is flattering. More usually there's a certain admiration that you were able to sell a commodity that normally only women can sell.
This is particularly true for fast-lane urban gay men, for whom hustling is only a short step beyond their every day life- styles. When female prostitutes get dressed up for a call, they wear a "tarty" getup and have a lot more sex, with a much greater variety of partners, than the typical heterosexual woman. When male prostitutes get dressed for the street or for a call, they dress much the same as any guy in a gay bar, and they don't have sex with a greater number of partners than their non-working counterparts.
Usually when I tell someone that I'd been a call boy, the response is not, "Ooh, what a whore," but, "Oh, John, how exciting." It's not a nightmare to most gay men; it's a fantasy.
There are some other differences between male and female prostitution. Men, more than women, need to husband their sexual energies carefully (gotta be ready for the next client). That's why it's high flattery for a hustler to say, "I'd fuck him for free."
But because male prostitution is so invisible, so far from mundane experience, people often don't even think to apply their pre-conceived stereotypes to male prostitutes. This is just as well, considering the myths and confusion about female prostitution.
Stereotype #1, the commonest, is "Prostitutes are ignorant bimbos." The real whores, it strikes me, are the Hollywood writers and directors who, without exception, perpetuate this stereotype.
In "Midnight Cowboy," the Jon Voight character was presented as violent and stupid. Even "Pretty Woman," another dishonest movie, shows that while whores may be depicted as manipulative and shrewd, they're never never allowed to be seen as intelligent. Or as being honest; they're always shown slipping someone a Mickey or picking johns' pockets. To the extent they're shown as having any brains at all, it's always "street smarts." The same with drug dealers, though all the ones I've dealt with were honest and intelligent.
Stereotype #2.: Prostitutes are always shown as going into the life because they can't do anything else. To say they couldn't do anything else is like saying that people don't go into nuclear physics because they're all too dumb to do so -- even, presumably, me -- since I went into non-nuclear physics.
Even feminists push the "can't do anything else" line, so that they can say, women's opportunities are so poor that they're forced into prostitution. But this ignores the fact that for many women, the pay and the freedom from wage-slavery simply makes the proposition so attractive that it is greatly preferable to any alternative. Such as teaching physics.
Stereotype #3. is related to #2. It is that prostitution is inherently degrading -- unlike, say, selling used cars or writing for the National Enquirer. Amongst two or three hundred clients, I felt degraded on only two or three calls. Compare this to corporate employment, where a large portion of every day is spent on bureaucratic bullshit, of having your nose rubbed in your subservience to jackass bosses. This sort of thing is why well- paid staff writers and editors will take a pay cut in order to freelance. They don't have to eat as much shit. Same thing with prostitution.
Mostly the work was extremely pleasurable, with exciting variety. One client, urbane and articulate, a music professor, flew me up to Edmonton for a week -- the only time I ever flew first class.
The same was true of a number of the clients. One of the other call boys said to me, "There's always something wrong with them. If they're good-looking, then they'll be a little crazy." But I didn't find this at all. About a quarter or a third of my clients were good-looking guys who either lived in outlying areas, or had more money than time to cruise -- so they did the rational thing and sent out for it.
So there was a lot more on-the-job satisfaction than wearing a suit and shuffling papers.
In fact, I often compared hustling and drug dealing, with being a hit man: (a) you get to set your own hours; (b) as an independent contractor, the tax benefits are substantial; and (c) you always know the customers will derive pleasure from your work.
Stereotype #4.: prostitutes are always dirty and diseased. Bullshit. Like other guys working for the service, I never gave a client a venereal disease (or even a hickey); nor did I ever contract V.D. while hustling. This is better than I can say for when I was giving it away.
My clients were probably less likely to live a "fast lane" lifestyle than a random trick at the baths. Why, after all, would a client pick up tricks at a bar, when they can just send out for it? It seems that both prostitute and client at a middle class level show more concern for sexual hygiene than those giving it away. (Working for a service, even if you didn't care about the clients or yourself, you would hear about it in a real hurry if you gave a client V.D. There's a real financial incentive to get regular checkups.)
Stereotype #5. is that of prostitutes as helplessly dependent on some violent pimp. I was far from helplessly dependent on mine. Rather, I considered that he (a) protected my privacy, so I wasn't answering the phone to what might be jerkoff calls, cops, or practical jokes; (b) protected me from overly weird clients. I contributed to and benefited from a pool of information on all repeat clients of the service. I have an agent for selling my articles and books, and I had an agent for selling my body. It's the same thing: in neither case was I dependent; I was simply buying a service.
I kept seventy percent of the fee charged to the client, plus a hundred percent of the tips, which sometimes were in the form of hundred dollar bills. I enjoyed whipping out the hundreds in front of the queens manning the register at Tower Records classical section. It was like a badge confirming that I was getting away with something illegal; and if they guessed, from seeing me in my muscle shirts and tight designer jeans, just which illegal activity, well -- they couldn't say anything. The customer was always right.
That was the attitude I took with...
* the good-looking blond -- whom I later met at the gym -- who arrived red-faced at his door (tipsy?) and said his lover was on his way home. He paid me for the entire session plus a hundred dollar tip -- all of which, with this guy, I would much rather have earned the old-fashioned way.
* the paraplegic in the downtown hotel.
* the guy who'd done time for embezzling from Elvis's entourage ("Kinda sleep with one eye open," J -- my pimp -- admonished, leaving little promise of sleep at all.)
* the weird guy in a townhouse on Fountain in West Hollywood, with the great big dog. I finally had to ask him to remove the dog from the bedroom. I commented on the unusualness of allowing it into the bedroom, and he said, "Well, I'm not your usual person." He gave me the creeps to the extent that I asked him to put away his cigarette to make sure there weren't any accidents.
* the truck driver out in Alhambra
* the dark-haired young bodybuilder at UCLA that saved up his fee for one hour in small bills; he had a bit of a complexion problem, but an excellent body. He had always fantasized sending out for a hustler, and now he'd done it. Being a student, he was pleased to get a smart one.
* the hot, well-hung young man from Pasadena who had a thing for hustlers ("When I go to Numbers [a local high-class hustler bar], I have a hard time convincing the hustlers I'm willing to pay for it.") One of the advantages for both hustler and client was that neither feels compelled to make nice talk, to tell their respective Stories. Another advantage: the hustler doesn't have to concern himself with coming (unless the client wants him to); in general it's preferable for him not to, so as to be up for the next client as soon as possible. Also, you don't have to worry whether what you're doing is getting your partner off; he's paying for it, he'll tell you. And the client may be less worried about going beyond what would be acceptable for an unpaid trick. Mr. Pasadena was so well-hung that when he got me in his bedroom, on my back, it was about all I could take. It took a little getting used to. Would I have done it with him for free? Well, I would have required more warm-up time. Some guys might not have done it at all.
* the bondage fantasy at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
* the country western singer at the Sunset Plaza Hotel.
* the guy down in Lakewood who was into verbal and some physical humiliation.
For my first 19 years, I had been a virginal little egg-head. My mind would have boggled if had you told me that some day I'd reach a point where, if someone asked me how many people I'd had sex with, I'd have to estimate, using the same sort of multi plication as a crowd estimator...("the parade route extended a mile, with people an average of five deep on each side of the road...") Or that, asked how many drug trips I'd taken, I would have to make a similar, if much smaller, estimate.
PART FOUR OF FOUR PARTS
My friends in college and in my white middle class high school all did pot and acid and speed. At age 19 I did acid for the first time (it was a bad trip, which turned me off drugs for almost a decade).
From age 28 on I began experimenting with drugs again. I used pot a number of times. Then in the early '80's it was MDA ("the love drug"). When this became unavailable I started using crystal (methedrine). It was a lot like cocaine, As time went on, I got a source for MDMA ("Ecstasy" -- or X for short; I got to be on a first name basis with it), and later had two sources.
Around this time I interviewed '60's drug guru Timothy Leary. When we talked, I fished for rationalizations for taking acid (psychotherapeutic insights, medical benefits, etc.), and he patiently answered my beside-the-point questions. I scrutinized his eyes, probing for some vacant look from thirty years of acid-head brain damage. I saw nothing of the sort. Maybe it's just his Irish genes, but if acid kept him so young and alert even with smoking, I figured I'd give the stuff another try. I developed two or three sources of acid.
When one of my sources of X dried up, I became his connection. I sold him wholesale what I used to buy from him retail. Because the risks of wholesaling are dramatically less than retailing, I thought of myself not as a dealer but as a (low- level) supplier, with only one major customer.
Drugs are like sex. You don't hear much honest talk about it.
It is customary in our society to obtain information about a subject from those with experience of it. If you want to know how to solve differential equations, you ask someone who has worked with them. If you want to know about a make of car, you ask people who drive them.
But when the subject is taboo, the reverse rules apply. Studied ignorance is what we expect from our " experts," and we get exactly that. In Juden-frie Nazi Germany, experts on Judaism were not rabbis or practicing Jews; they were Nazis or academic Jew-haters. If we wanted information on homosexuality -- in Nazi Germany, in Stalin's U.S.S.R., in post WWII America -- we would not ask gay people. We would go to academic fag-haters known as the American Psychiatric Association, who until 1973 decreed homosexuals to be insane.
And nowadays, all of our drug "experts" are the pharmacolog- ical equivalents of Nazi "experts" on Jews. The "liberals" among them love the sinner and hate the sin. The hardliners among them are unabashedly happy to see the lives of drug users destroyed by the state. In both cases, the experts must have or at least pretend to an utter lack of personal experience with drugs -- i.e., a near total ignorance of their supposed expertise. There are two slight exceptions: drug use during an errant youth, long since repented and turned away from; or, drug experiences so awful that their recounting can be used to terrify the next generation of potential drug users. In a rational society, the expert's consistently horrible experiences would be evidence of his incompetent use of drugs. We would view him like an anti-automobile expert who detailed his innumerable accidents: we would say, "Get off the road, Jack."
The anti-drugs expert is in the position of a doctor who has autopsied the frozen bodies recovered from Captain Scott's ill- fated Arctic expedition. He says, "Look, their risk-taking killed them. No one should be allowed to explore the Arctic ever again." But it was their free choice. One of the last entries in Captain Scott's diary read, "I do not regret the journey; we took risks, we knew we took them, things have come out against us, therefore we have no cause for complaint." Users of new drugs are likewise exploring a frontier, and may well feel as Scott did. Wouldn't we all get a more balanced picture if we interviewed more explorers and fewer well-paid desk-bound "experts"?
When I first wrote the above in 1989, I was cowed by the rules I have just described. I felt that I gained rather than lost credibility by describing my bad acid trip, and I left all further personal discussion out.
Now I feel that reticence was misleading or downright dishonest. I have had more drug experiences, and almost all of them have been overwhelmingly favorable. If you require citation of medical or psychotherapeutic benefits, rather than merely hedonic ones, here they are.
After my second acid trip, all of my allergies disappeared for a year. Normally I suffer from hay fever and horrible cat and dog allergies. During this period, I was able to dispense completely with allergy shots, antihistamine pills, nasal decongestant sprays -- the works. So who was using more drugs: the acid user, or the allergy sufferer?
After my third or fourth acid trip, I experienced a rapprochement with my long-estranged family, which would perhaps never have occurred without it. Far more has been risked in other areas of my life for less benefit than this.
Yet all you hear about drugs users and drug dealers are stereotypes. One of the main ones has users and dealers always getting beaten up, knocked around or shot at. To the extent that they are -- just as with all the other stereotypes -- it's not a matter of dealer vs. non-dealer -- it's a matter of lower class vs. middle class.
In my limited area of drug trafficking, I didn't deal with any Miami Vice-style gun totin' dirtbags. I dealt with middle- class people like myself. One of my dealers was a stockbroker. All of them were friends; we did things friends do, like exchanging recommendations on restaurants, recalling personal anecdotes, getting homegrown tomatoes from the backyard, giving them copies of my Playboy articles blasting the drug war. I even borrowed books from one of them (including "Wired," the story of John Belushi destroying himself with drugs) -- and I returned the books. It was all very normal; it was friendlier and safer than shopping in an all-night convenience store.
You're a lot more likely to get mugged going into a 7-Eleven in Compton than going into a client's bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. So if you want drama in any area of life -- crossing the street, say -- move into a slum. You'll get drama.
Along with stereotypes about drugs come the taboos. Leary stuck his finger in the eye of one of them in a Playboy interview , where he stated acid was fabulous for sex. Robert Anton Wilson (a former Playboy Forum editor) makes the same point in more detail in his book, Sex and Drugs. Words cannot express how they understated the case.
One reason is that the words which might have expressed it have been outlawed. When I interviewed Leary, I didn't know I was showing my ignorance of the incommensurability of "reality" with tripping. This is especially true in our culture, which suppresses the vernacular that could be used to socialize the experience.
The lack of language regarding our internal states forces communication down to a crude level: the doctor asks, "Is the pain dull? Localized? Pins-and-needles?" -- like a police artist displaying a series of drawings of proboscis and saying, "Did he have a nose like this? Or like this? Or like this?" Speech about drugs has been sabotaged. Consider how Leary, a hotshot young psychologist, was forced out of Harvard because of his controversial psychedelic experiments, and later forced to flee the land of the free, an international fugitive. Consider what happened only last year to Stuart Regis, the award-winning Stanford computer science instructor who got canned for speaking honestly about his favorable experiences with MDA.
Someday society will come to the last resort. It will drop its hysteria on sex and drugs, and listen to reason on these subjects. The words of the experienced will be calmly weighed beside the hysterical pronouncements of "experts" facing unemployment. People will be able to speak, as I just have, without being destroyed like Timothy Leary or Stuart Regis; we will be able to speak without even losing credibility. Perhaps I have lost credibility -- but if it speeds our culture's return to reason -- than that credibility could not have been better spent.
DANGLING ON THE CLIFF: AIDS
I was probably exposed to AIDS as early as 1981, when the best information available was 'none'. At the time that I contracted AIDS promiscuous sex was thought to risk little that couldn't be patched up with a little penicillin. Nevertheless, AIDS brings up the whole issue of risk-taking.
People who engage in unpopular and potentially dangerous activities -- recreational drug use, promiscuous sex, even driving without a seatbelt -- are denounced by the majority as irrationally courting danger. If they are injured, they get little sympathy.
Risk-taking in popular activities is not held in contempt, however. If a sports figure is sidelined after an injury in play -- a common enough event -- no one says, "That dummy shouldn't have done something as dangerous as playing football." When someone is injured by a machine on the job, people don't say, "He should have gotten an office job." When a commuter suffers a car crash during his thirty-mile one-way trip on the freeway, no one says: "Why didn't he cut down that risk by living closer to where he worked?" Even Evel Kneivel's breathtaking recklessness never generated actual animosity, as does disapproved sex or drug use.
Everyone in every area of life balances risk against rewards. The risk might turn out to be greater than originally estimated, but this doesn't affect the reasonableness of the conduct based on that estimate. You buy a new car, unaware that the model suffers intermittent sudden accelerations. When an accident happens, no one berates you for being irrational enough to buy such a car.
Yet in the media, among the medical profession and in popular opinion, those with AIDS seem to be blamed for their disease and treated with contempt. At this point, rebelling against such treatment was second nature.
I felt hideously sick on Christmas 1991. The doctor on call, Dr. S., prescribed oral Tigan and Megace for nausea. I knew neither prescription would work, but you can't tell that to the doctor. That gets you nowhere.
Part of the problem may have been that Dr. S. was a woman, with the natural insecurity of a female in a male dominated field. Women feel they have to butch it up, wear those shoulder pads, Assert Their Authority, Take No Crap From The God-Damned Customer because They Are The Highly Trained Experts. The Dentinger Hydraulic Law of Compensating Differences, a corollary of Acton's Dictum, operates here. Personality is ultimately incompressible, like water (as opposed to gas). So wherever you push in the container of the system in one place, it bulges out in another: every good is offset by a bad, however hidden the latter; and every improvement is offset by some deterioration. Art consists of hiding the latter.
Dr. S. became upset because I medicated myself. I said I would stop, but I continued to do so. I knew confrontation would be pointless, and compliance would be aggravating and painful. So I chose the golden mean. I lied.
Carelessly, while in the clinic, I left out a syringe. When after a half hour of my I.V. backing up (my blood creeping out into the tube), a nurse finally showed up -- at the same time as Dr. S., who became quite upset. I had offended her shaky sense of Godhood. Doctor is God; John has sinned and lied about it and then sinned again. In fact, he was living in sin!
She pointed out the difficulty of sorting out what medications were causing which results, if I supplemented them from home. I agreed, but pointed out that, while I'm not a doctor, I'm not as unintelligent or careless as the average patient.
"If you have any problems with the medications, call me," she insisted.
"You're not always that accessible," I pointed out. Well, she said, I could have her paged, or someone from the office would do something.
(Yeah, sure, I thought. Like Dr. L., whom I refer to as "Doctor 'No,'" because 'No' was what he always said when I asked for some drug. "Dr. K (my personal physician) should be the one to do that," he would say, aware that I would not be able to contact Dr. K for at least twelve suffering hours.)
Then Dr. S. got out the heavy artillery -- not the argument from reason, in which she might be outgunned, but the argument from authority. By medicating myself, she said, I was threatening her license, the nurse's license, the hospital's license. And that she would not tolerate. If they caught me at any sort of autonomous activity again, they would throw me out of the hospital.
On the surface, they would seem to be within their rights to do that. After all, it's a private hospital; they're entitled to do what they want, right?
Let's dig under the surface. Medical licensing, like all occupational licensing, is done not at the behest of consumers, but at the behest of those established in the field. By way of a parallel, imagine that America's Chevy dealers bribed Congress into outlawing Volkswagens. This would allow Chevy dealers to be more high-handed and to hike their prices. The intent and effect of medical licensing laws is exactly the same.
The real reason for medical licensing is: to share less money, power and prestige with would-be fellow practitioners; to keep out the competition, who are labeled "quacks" to justify their exclusion.
Thus physicians and hospitals have used the might of the state to enforce their monopoly. Medicine is no more private than the Post Office -- and Constitutionally no more entitled to be high-handed and discriminatory. Translated into this analysis, what was the calm Dr. S. complaining about? The potential loss of livelihood and the practice of the healing art? Or a refusal to betray the medical clan by taking her foot off a patient's throat? Both, I think.
Please understand: I don't tell these tales to say that I've uniquely suffered from the slings and arrows of outrageous doctors. I'm quite certain that Dr. S. is better than average. That, in fact, is precisely the horror of the Doctor Game.
REQUIEM FOR A PARAGRAPH
Writing in the hospital. Drugged, sick, insomniac, thus teetering on the edge of the cliff. My thoughts and short-term memories perched like priceless crystal on traffic-dented stilts -- vulnerable to the monumental derailment and wreck of each successive train of thought.
Well, not monumental.
It was just a paragraph.
But an entire paragraph! A Paragraph Lost, lost somewhere along the short gauntlet between shower (where the paragraph was excitingly, fully narrated in my head), and my hospital room. Too many sights -- and worse! -- too many people to head me off and trip me up and make me drop the paragraph and leave it behind where no one can ever have it.
What spite, what unintended spite. I can't make it all right by changing my standards, by viewing my life only as "private performance art," where the fact that only one spectator (myself) experiences the whole creation. My silenced life -- a trip which can never be recorded for the memories of others. For my tiny bit of immortality -- it's not good enough.
I constantly think: some good must come of this; it can't for me but it will no one gain by it? If only I can live just long enough to get the story out -- to pressure for a better world -- to save at least one soul from gratuitous pain. No, just living and experiencing my own private horror story is not enough. But -- for the lost paragraph -- it'll have to be.
A tiny treasure lost, not even the handles, the frames, the fleshless skeleton or nerves, any longer findable. Nothing here but a geriatric and toothless ghost of a dog, that can't even bring me my slippers, much less my slippery memories.
And so my career -- the only thing left besides Gary to make life bearable, much less worth living -- is shotgunned away piecemeal, in careless ignorance. So it goes in the waning months. So it goes.
Before, as Peter Pan, I did not age; stayed young and beautiful at the cost of stasis. Now the implacable end point of the Great Book Deadline in the Sky looms and zooms toward my terrified face. While relentlessly -- one minute-per-minute -- the magic charm, the boundary of Shangri-La, the portrait in the attic have been breached, lost.
My life has been a struggle against injustice and loss.
Was it not the injustices that impelled me to such accomplishments as I've made? Without loss, would I have been motivated to write this book, or any other? Does most communication arise out of the effort to articulate pain, to get people to stop causing it or worsening it?
As a journalist, I've forgotten how to write anything but horror stories; so to be an interesting memoirist, I had to live a horror story. It's the price I have to pay for trying to get success on the cheap. I tried to write without going out and doing research into the details of real life. In the process I acquired an astonishing variety of experiences, much dearer bought but more valuable than what I'd tried to get without paying.
I managed to prove in my final and true career what I'd proven in each of the dead ends and alleys -- by the legendary arduousness of science, the hair-raising edge to hustling and drug dealing. I proved that I was able to do absolutely anything, including getting out of work, in the absolutely hardest way on the planet. And you know, for years, I somehow figured this proved I was smart.
So now I've become smart or lucky enough to be unable to do anything but write. I face no choice but to make a success of it or die and be forgotten like last year's used book drive. Or tomorrow's fishwrap.
It's the nearest I've come to death, and the closest to immortality.
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