Excerpted from So Many Ways to Sleep Badly (City Lights, Fall/Winter 2008)
Jason’s doing a night at Vertigo, the yuppie bar that replaced the next-to-last hooker bar on Polk Street. For some reason, Ralowe and I go over there, I guess because it’s two blocks away, and we want to be supportive. I get dressed up because I’m feeling my music—fuschia wig with sunglasses and hot pink fishnets pulled over my head and enlarged lips. When we get there, I feel like an animal in a zoo, except everyone’s trying not to watch. It makes me even more alienated that I’m hot for some of the boys, their snide disapproval framed by understated trendiness. Ralowe says he wants them to die.
Air pollution brings me to my senses. There’s a separate smoking room at Vertigo, but it connects to the bar and the whole place smells like smoke. Smoke makes me want to kill people, I want to bring drywall and seal the smokers in that room.
Ralowe and I have the same trick, Room 610 at the Maxwell. Ralowe says did you fuck him? I did. How did you do it? I don’t know. Walking home, a straight couple asks me if there’s a bar nearby—I guess I’m passing. I go to the video booths at the Nob Hill Theatre, just to walk around in circles for a little while. Zee’s back in town, she says why didn’t you call me? Because I didn’t have your new number.
Whenever Rue comes over here, she spends the whole time lying on the sofa. At her house, she seems to have more energy. We always lie in bed a little towards the end, because her bedtime is 9 p.m. these days. I like lying in bed with her the best. I feel like myself, which I guess isn't always the case. So, I have to admit it—even though I’m sick of being a whore, I’m completely over it, I’ve got nothing left to learn from it—I still enjoy nothing more than the cab ride home after a trick that was fun enough, his apartment was interesting, I liked sucking his cock, I liked the view, I even liked coming. And then on the cab ride home, the driver’s playing, “In the still… of the ni-ight. I-I-I held you. I held you ti-ight…” And I just feel great. A little lonely, maybe, but not as lonely as usual. A little tired, but not as tired as usual. The air is cold and refreshing and I feel clear in this overwrought musical moment at 3 a.m., that beautiful time when the buildings contrast the sky, and I guess I’m really not so over it—certain parts of it, being a whore.
I guess I could just be a slut, and have those moments too, but that somehow feels like more work. Jeremy and I visit the sea lions—there’s a new sculpture of two of them kissing, and I start laughing and almost crying and laughing and almost crying. But there aren’t too many actual sea lions around. There’s one group, but they’re on the furthest dock. We go into the marine mammal store to ask about them, apparently it’s different ones every time we go, because they’re constantly migrating, and this is just one stop on their migration. The so-called males migrate and the “females” stay in the Channel Islands and have babies.
It’s fun hanging out with Jeremy, I like hugging him, it feels soft. Afterwards, I’m tired, but that’s to be expected. I meant to buy some new sleep herbs, but then we’re driving back to my house. That fucking herbalist still hasn’t called me, I’ve called him four or five times, and we met a month ago, I guess he must be a mess, but can’t he at least call me to tell me that? I pet the sea lions in the postcards I got at Pier 39.
There’s absolutely no way to explain this, maybe it’s just walking out of the Ritz Carlton at 2:30 a.m., it’s just completely empty and it’s mine. That shouldn’t really get me so excited. My first trick, before the Ritz, is pretty hot—an Asian circuit boy—I come, he gives me 150 instead of 180. I don’t count the money until I get out in the hall, because it’s too dark. He doesn’t answer my knock, and I can’t really deal with causing a scene.
The guy at the Ritz tells me I’m giving him the best head ever, which is always great to hear, and I love the marble floor in the bathroom—all the blue in the white! Then the guy says you didn’t give me anything, right—if I get anything, then I’ll hunt you down and kill you. How romantic! Then he says: you have a great personality, I’d like to get to know you but I live in Georgia. Is he kidding? Afterwards, I’m walking home and why do I feel so completely calm and alive—loving everything except the poison some guy’s squirting out of a hose to clean the sidewalk.
Someone catches sea lions in a dish that’s way too small, they keep jumping up in the air to get out, but there’s not enough water. Where is the nearest ocean? The dish keeps getting smaller, until it’s barely bigger than a soap dish, but no one notices. That’s what waking up is for—if you can’t save the sea lions then you might as well wake up.
Another trick who wants to know if I have any diseases, he doesn’t want to bring anything home to his wife. I have leprosy, lion bite fever, and ebola. I suck his cock anyway. It cures me. On the way home, I’m walking down Polk Street practically jumping up in the air, wait I am jumping up in the air. Until I see the cops, and I’m waiting by a red light even though the street’s deserted, which probably looks more suspicious than just walking, but I guess I’m white and dressed like a prep, so I can do practically anything. Not like the time they were going to arrest me for walking too fast, they even confiscated my bag of groceries. They were sure I was a tweaker. In this terrible world, tweaking is illegal while preppiness reigns.
So at the Ritz Carlton, all five doorpeople just smiled and waved me in. For some reason, there were six or seven cops in the lobby too, maybe someone important was arriving. Oh, right—me. The thing to remember about the Ritz Carlton is that the lobby is on the fourth floor, so when the trick’s on three, you’ve got to go DOWN.
Benjamin, on the state of the world: I love my new shoes, but I hate my life. There’s one point in chi gung class when the instructor, Suzanne, looks at me and her eyes stay in my eyes, and I can’t tell what she can tell. We’re supposed to exhale the sadness and grief, inhale life and energy—I’m suddenly surrounded by the sadness and grief, flooding my sinuses so it’s almost hard for me to see. The best thing about my 4 a.m. walk down Polk Street is the Latina trannygirls on Post, singing songs in Spanish, practicing dance moves, and hugging each other in the rain.
You know those times when you take a photo of yourself in the dark, and you just hope the flash works? So I’m sitting here, I’m getting ready for bed and I’m thinking: what does it mean to feel rested? What does it feel like? The best thing I’ve heard about this whole Democratic primary election drama is in this interview with a guy in South Carolina. He says: I have to decide what’s best for my two mortuaries.
A momentous occasion: over a million people gather at a rally in Boston—to celebrate the Super Bowl victory. 3 a.m. and I’m so wired, I’m licking the inside of my teeth. I’m so wired, I’m shaking my head back and forth. I’m so wired, I’d be doing back-flips if my hands weren’t so fucked up, or at least I’d be going dancing, or on a long long LONG walk back and forth from here to Atlanta.
I call Rue because she went to some horror movie so she’s up. She keeps trying to tell me about the horror movie, but I won’t let her—I don’t need nightmares! All day long, it’s just pull it together, pull it together, trying trying trying really trying but it’s so hard, and then 2:30 a.m. comes around and suddenly it’s all okay, only it’s not okay because I’m just wired, it’s just a high, I mean exactly like a high like hello, my ecstasy’s kicking in or yes, that first bump, I mean really really like a high dammit I know I’m going to crash and then still sleep like hell and wake up thinking: pull it together.
Rue makes fun of me for getting all teary-eyed every time I think about sea lions, even while I’m talking about the postcard with the two sea lions hugging. But then I’m all teary-eyed, so Rue stops making fun of me and instead he sits on my lap, like a sea lion.
Today’s proof that liberals are a mess: Al Franken, current pundit-of-the-moment, talks about doing an ISO tour for the troops in Iraq. The radio announcer asks how the troops reacted. Al says they loved it, but he didn’t tell them they were dying for a President who didn’t care about them, he asked who was from out of town, made Saddam and Osama jokes. He said: I was there to boost their morale.
Today’s inspirational moment. Cesar Chavez’s daughter, responding to questions about an artist’s depiction of Cesar and Che kissing, says she thought it was beautiful. I go to a make-out party, where everyone likes watching me and Durward, probably because we’re the only fags in the spin-the-bottle circle. Though there’s this hot trannyboy outside the circle who looks like the ideal blond young not-quite-jock. He comes up to me and asks if we can make out—delicious! Mason gives me a tour of his room, with a mid-nineties theme—but who are all these people on the wall with feathered hair? And that sequined shirt on the wall? Mason says he wants to play spin-the-bottle with me, so we make out. He tumbles onto the bed, and so we both do. Then the floor, so I go in the hallway. Pike steams carrots and chard for me.
Outside, I’m ready to go and Durward rides up on his bike—he says: I’ve come to warn everyone that the powders are arriving, the other party just got shut down—the coked-out one. Sure enough, two taxis pull up, plus a few scooters and the most ridiculous fashiony people from everywhere. The girls on the Vespas both have frosted shags, and their denim skirts look like they were cut with the same scissors, but they probably bought them at Gucci together. All the women have huge plastic hoop earrings, and the boys look faggier than any current fags.
It’s a high-fashion take-over and I’m loving it—everything’s right here to see, all this money and coke and attitude and bad hair. Benjamin arrives and I’m jumping up and down, she’s chasing one of the boys, of course—he’s from Santa Rosa but he’s giving I’ve-been-in-London-since-the-‘60s. Kitty shows up in some elaborately hand-crafted suit with matching hat, I say this party just went from low-end to high-end to high-end giving low-end to low-end giving high-end. Kitty’s a bit wired, and everyone else is upstairs except some really scary coke-heads, so I go over to 24th Street and catch a cab.
Billee calls to tell me the gays are lining up outside City Hall, in the rain, to camp out and get married in the morning, since Gavin Newsom said they could hitch. Billee says he was riding by on his bike and saw all these people, he thought maybe it was a protest, but it was Midnight and the gays were passing around wine and egg salad sandwiches. What could be more depressing?
On the radio, this guy says he was homeless because he was trying to find out what was truth. Sure, I’m looking for new themes or beams of light shining down from the not-heavens, nowhere near heavens NO. But let’s contextualize, elaborate, contemplate—which isn’t the same thing as dreaming—blight, flight and hand-held light, flickering on the walls of doom in my gloom room. Actually the walls are okay, it’s just that flickering in my head until it’s out.
There are these few minutes after chi gung class and ear acupuncture, when I’m on the BART chewing my food, or wait no I’m on the bus because the BART was so quick. But the point is that then I’m on the bus, chewing my food, and I actually notice the texture of the rice, soft and smooth and silky and rough, all at once. The beans taste good, even if they don’t have much taste. This is what it feels like to be in my body. By the time I get home, I’m exhausted again and my brain’s fogged up, but I’m excited about that window of taste and desire that didn’t quite feel like longing.
Later, I’m just tired, cruising for sex on the internet which is great, really great. I send a letter to my man: So I know people on the internet are an inferior breed, but is that like some hot fucking fantasy... dude, I'm gonna send him an email, get him excited, tell him I'm gonna call him, and... ha ha ha... here I thought we were gonna get married... sob... though really, show some manners, I'm sure it just gets your pole rock fucking hard to do rails of tina in your sultry internet abode... but really, humans can be fun too, maybe you should meet some.
I’m in this old German train station with my father, we’re on a trip together and all the sudden someone starts shooting—I’m hurled to the ground by fear, the man in front of me is whimpering and I’m trying to position my head behind his ass, so that at least the bullets won’t hit my brain. I wonder whether that’s ethical, but the drive to survive brings me there anyway.
Six, seven, eight, nine bullets—I think that’s all there are, but actually I don’t know anything about guns. I get up anyway to run, and realize I’m running towards the guy with the gun, because he turns back with it, and then I’m running the other way. Then I say it—Daddy!!!—that’s when I know it’s a dream because I don’t think I’ve called him that since… way before I stopped calling, I mean like maybe when I was five or six. But still, the way dreams are sticky, that’s me, running through the Berlin train station yelling Daddy!
We get outside and there’s no one around. I’m in a panic, pulling my father mentally around corners until we get to the subway, even though it’s above-ground. We have to climb a cliff to get there, and since it’s a dream my hands work but my father’s not in such good shape, someone helps him and then this Dutch boy with short blond hair grabs him in an embrace, like he’s the next big thing.
In this dream, I never really see my father, even though he’s always there—but it’s not like the usual terror, it’s like we’re on a trip together and I’m taking care of him. He and the blond boy go into the bathroom or the conductor’s cabin, and I think, well—I’m going to have to at least tell him to take my needs into account when he goes into bathrooms with boys. I try to look under the glass door, but I don’t want to scare my father with my desire.
That’s the beauty of the dream—and I know it sounds crazy, but it’s my desire and awareness that my father’s afraid of. This is the part where I’m slightly more awake, and so I wonder about the blond boy falling for this sixty-year-old man. Obviously it’s a Daddy-boy thing, except that my father somehow looks like he did when he was my age, his usual beard and moustache but that’s kind of trendy these days.
Then they come out, too quickly, and I want to say GET HIS NUMBER, because of all those missed opportunities in my life, but maybe this one’s missed too. When I wake up, I think—I have to remember this dream—but I don’t want to write it down, so I piss in the sink—that’s so I don’t wake up too much—and then I move the glass of water to the back of the kitchen counter, so my memory will be there when I get up again.
There’s some music that’s just so good that you could live in it, like when the bicycle horn comes in and out of the song that moves through samples and all these different little melodies on toys, and then back into the beat, which is cracked, all the while sampling various men saying various things but still the beat, and Kevin says: is the narrator a music critic? What I love is when the whole song stops, just for a beat or two and then boom it’s back and almost backwards until the car skids, the record inside the music skips. The music almost slows because of all the talking with various records going so fast that everything else becomes scenery and still the horn, the horn, the horn and then back to the melody—or is it the harmony?—whatever it is fades out and there’s static.
When I fall back asleep it’s weirder, because I’m on my way back to the Berlin apartment and I find Rue on her way back from drinking at Heaven. Why did you go to Heaven, the tackiest club in London, of all the terrible places in the world? But I already know the story. Rue is fixated on who did the talking. I just want him to know that he doesn’t have to lie to me, I kind of want to know the details—what my father’s dick was like—oh no, Rue had sex with my father? Is Rue the blond boy, or did Rue have sex with the blond boy?
From the BBC: our reporter reflects upon the turbulent times unleashed upon South Africa following the release of Nelson Mandela. That's when the turbulent times started? Then on NPR, there’s a guy talking about pitchers and catchers, but I don’t think he means what we mean. I take a sleeping pill at Noon, well just a part of one. It’s after the screeching of the hot water wakes me up, what is wrong with the pipes? Then when I wake up—or at least get out of bed—there’s a sudden hail storm, and when I get out of the bathroom, there are all these tiny balls of ice in the windowsill, and everything smells like vinegar.
Rue wants me to tell him how much more comfortable his bed is, now that he covered the futon in magical foam. No—it’s not magical, it’s memory. I’m lying on top of him, which is the most comfortable position for me, but then I’m crushing out all the air in his lungs, so I move over. It’s 9:30 p.m., so Rue’s decomposing. He holds his hand up in the air—what’s this? I look closely. It looks kind of like a lobster claw. Rue is giggling—and I’m laughing—and his roommates are walking by in the hallway, you can hear the creaking of the floor. Rue holds up his hand again: I’m five, he says. I’m thinking: I’ll be five with you—I want to try it all over again, sort of.
Waiting for the bus, there’s some preppy boy with a thick red hooded sweatshirt, I can’t stop thinking how comfortable it would be to be inside it. With him, sure, and I guess that’s some of what Ralowe feels too—wanting that ease. The safety disease. Though Ralowe’s fetish is a bit more over-the-top, or maybe I just keep mine quieter. On the bus, the preppy boy is looking away and I’m studying his white white calves, lips a bit too red, redder than the sweatshirt which is really pinkish in its softness. Now my desire is more sexual than longing, or maybe it’s just more frantic.
I go to a movie where fifteen-year-old boys plot to jump off buildings, it’s about the dark side of Singapore and the boys who are forced there by the smallest acts—like tatooing or piercing—acts that grow larger, into murder and suicide. It’s about longing, mostly homosexual, though the director claims he only filmed what he saw, since these boys are non-actors acting like themselves. In one scene, this boy swallows condoms filled with pills, to smuggle them across the border, and it’s so clearly sexualized by the camera, even though and especially because of all the pain when the boy has to get the drugs out. Later, the director says: these kids had to do that every day, and if they didn’t get across in two hours then they could die when stomach acid went through the condoms.
Everything in the movie is surreal and you never see the boys do drugs, even though they’re always supposed to be on them. I wonder if that’s because of the law. In one scene, a schoolgirl jumps from a building when she fails her exams, and the boys look down at the blood dripping out of her mouth and walk onwards. Later, they’re making music videos, rapping over techno and doing everything femme. Apparently they shot a lot of these scenes themselves, after the director gave them cameras so they could get used to them. In the end, he says, they got too good at acting, and I had to edit those parts out.