Excerpts from the book
I walk along the park side and marvel at the beauty of it all. It’s a little after 11PM. I am giving the quiet permission to seduce me. I stop for a second and gaze at the arch at Grand Army Plaza. This is my happy place. Across, to my right, is the Brooklyn Public Library. This is my favorite part in all of Park Slope. Especially at night. Sometimes I walk here by myself, sit on a bench, and take it all in or close my eyes. I plug in my headphones and listen to music. In all these years I have never taken this spot for granted. It’s almost like visiting a sacred shine or a holy place where a miracle has transpired. During the day it’s not as enticing with the traffic and the people. And on Saturday with the Farmers Market I, unlike many other residents, find it painfully annoying. I stop on the corner and take my last swig of Jameson. The warm buzz from the alcohol settles me in here more.
The Yuppie Regime
The yuppie regime runs home like squirrels, into their designated nests. They never dare to hang out on the stoop like we did. And if they catch you sitting on the stoop with your friends, they look at you like they’re having a migraine. Isolated. Quiet. Depressed. Hungry for a reality show. Everyone is too cheap to throw a party, waiting for someone else to do it. The younger crowd would prefer to frequent trendy, popular happy-hour bars. Everyone works crazy stressed-out schedules and lives. Everyone is too busy being busy running in circles and waiting for an epiphany to happen. Yes. Everyone wants to live here. They want to live close to the city and close to the park. They want to be able to hump a brownstone, feel organic, and have wheatgerm grow through their butt-holes. Everyone. And us native Brooklyn folks, we shake our heads and say to ourselves, “Who are these people? Where did they come from? Can we make them go away?”
My regime growing up
We hung out on the stoops. Always. If we seriously got out of hand our parents thought nothing of sticking our head in the toilet bowl until we couldn’t breathe anymore, throwing us down one flight of stairs, or beating the crap out of us. Our parents lounged out on beach chairs and would chat on the sidewalks for hours. We looked into each other’s eyes when we passed one another on the street. We looked out for each other. We knew everyone on the block. We knew everyone’s business. We went into each other’s houses and opened up refrigerators that were over packed with food and we would always help ourselves. We all carried baby fat and love handles that never went away. We lived in a Peyton Place atmosphere where there was always someone’s mother or father secretly having an affair. That’s right. Right here in stuck-up, snooty- tootie, yuppie-fungus Park Slope. Not Long Island. Not New Jersey. Park Slope. We were a community. We were crazy, hot-headed, and passionate. We smoked cigarettes and weed on the park side. We fucked without condoms. At home in the alleyway, we would hear neighbors and friends arguing, screaming, and threatening to kill each other and this was guaranteed to put a smirk on our faces. Everyone screamed. Everyone yelled.
We take a moment to stare at our nakedness. I look at his body and I feel an immediate tenseness. A tiny red flag pops up. And within seconds he tells me something that I am all too familiar with. I have heard this story more than half a dozen times. I feel it coming. Like I said, I’m a pro. He says, very matter-of-factly, “You know—I, uh, I used to be very heavy.” I act naive to keep it on the surface. I am sensitive to where we are going with this. I’m not callous. This isn’t the time for me to be the selfish prick, only out to bust a nut. I want to hear his story. I am okay with putting all this on the table. I don’t want to brush this off. I want to take this in. This is life. So, I ask very softly, “How heavy?” He responds, “Close to 270 pounds.” I look in his eyes and I let it flow. I say to him very innocently, “Really?” No judgment. I look closer at his body and see stretch marks throughout. I tell myself not to gawk or rudely stare, and give it a quick once-over. He won’t be the first young man to tell me how painful his childhood or teenage years were. He won’t be the first person to say how food was his best friend and number-one confidante. The struggle of being gay, having difficult parents, having no friends, and the loneliness are all familiar stories.
I ask myself what advice Madonna would give me. I know what she would say. She would say, “Tony, just breathe.” And I would say, “but Madonna, I even lost my penis. It has shrunk into the size of an ant.” And she would say, “Tony, forget the penis. For once in your life it’s not about the Italian sausage. Try to pretend you’re a first-class bitch. It works for me all the time.” Sorry Madonna. None of this works. None of this gives me inspiration. As I go to mouth the first words, cotton-mouth welcomes me like a motherfucker. There is absolutely no saliva in my mouth. Where did it go? Did someone just insert a local anesthesia in my mouth? I keep asking myself, “Where did my saliva go? Where did my saliva go?”
The love of Tony’s life…Javier
How does someone go from being Godlike in your eyes to, put simply, a complete fucking mess? In the doorway I’m staring into his eyes and I am down on myself for that endless stretch of time I wasted holding on. Why did it take so long to understand how unhealthy it all was? Why did it take an overpriced $150-an-hour therapist to say, “Well, I think in the beginning it was good, you guys had some good stuff going on, and then it changed,” for me to finally let the wake-up-crazy-cat brick land on my brain? Why do we give lovers chance after chance after chance when they should be let go? Holding on to him was like inducing this pain that only allowed me to drag out the finality of something that needed to be put to rest. I know why I held on. No one had ever affected me the way he did. I had been so burnt from the stereotypical New York gay guy mentality. Javier was a native of a small town in Puerto Rico. He was simple and precious. And at the time, his cute, awkward shyness limited his use of the English language. This made him a golden catch. I wanted paradise again. There is a reason why they call it paradise.
Once again I’m standing naked staring into my full-length mirror, with the joint hanging off my lips. The weed is opening up this identity, freeing me of all inhibitions. I whisper to myself, “I’m a hunter.” I like the chase. If I were a caveman, I would happily just wear a cloth to cover my privates. I would have a weapon, a stick or a spear, and I would go into the jungle fearlessly looking for prey. I would grab the prey with force and it would confirm my masculinity. I’m a hunter. I go out there in search of sex. I smell it. I own it. It confirms my manhood. I go out on the hunt again looking for more sex—different sex—hotter sex. I take the sex home with me. I keep owning it. I keep spitting it out. I’m an animal hiding behind an illusion. The only difference is that I speak.
Does anyone tell the truth on the internet about any aspect of themselves? Not often enough. People lie about their name, age, weight, penis size, height, job status, relationship status, how skilled they are sexually, how open-minded and cool they are and, I hate to say, even their HIV status. Guys will email you pictures of themselves that were taken five or more years ago. This is downright scary. This can be Chain Saw Massacre scary. Those who send out those photos have usually grown two more chins, another neck, noses with blackheads and bumps like the creatures in the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video, a head of hair that took a sabbatical many months past, and clothes that are cheap polyester knockoffs. I always find it unsettling that a man can think he looks the same as he used to when his body has taken on a complete, drastic change. Are men that delusional? Or should I say desperate?
I am sitting in the back of the room to the left side and begin to speak. I’m anxious to share something related to the class. There is one problem. My voice is undeveloped. My body is thin, my hair style is girly, and my lips are too big. As I speak, the entire class turns around to look at me. They then look at each other and I hear a low giggle. I feel my face getting warm, flushed with embarrassment. I know what’s happening. They think I sound like a girl. They think I should be a girl. For a second I am certain they thought a girl had slipped into the classroom. If they could, they would gladly throw rocks at me until I bleed to death.
He is curled up in his apartment like a frightened little boy who was never given guidance or simple positive affirmation growing up into manhood. I know many of us were never given those positive affirmation or coaching growing up. Many of us came from that generation whose parents were too busy surviving and putting food on the table. Many of us had parents who never knew how to coach us or open our thoughts up to possibilities. They simply did not have the skills or even think to do so. But somehow many of us were able to walk through many fires and fears and obstacles and come out breathing and surviving and coping and functioning. And building a career attached to a healthy lifestyle. Not Nick.
Why do I continue to invite this guy over to my space? It took him forever to loosen up with me sexually. Ed was initially a kiss-avoider. I nipped that resistance in the bud. I said you better kiss up or else this is a waste of my time. And what is it with guys who have issues kissing? Is that saved for the lover? Do these guys think I’m going to recite love poems if I kiss them? Please, it’s a fuckin’ erogenous zone! Why do I continue to see a guy who has a lover, initially was a bit inexperienced for me, and still has a tremendous fear of catching AIDS? Only recently is he actually decent. He is coming very close to getting three thumbs up. Ed is quiet. The type of guy that if I decided to put up my Christmas tree in July, he wouldn’t even notice or ask why. The only thing he ever talks about is Cher. Mention Cher and he’s alive. Let me tell you why I continue to see him.
“Hi Peach, it’s Michael. Don’t you be screening me God damn it! Tonight when we rehearse, I will be featuring the new wig. Frank spent hours last night putting it together. Today I spent hours putting me together—and va la! I bought the wig at Chez Phyllis Wig Den in Bensonhurst. What a hoot full of dumb tomatoes off the banana boat. I explained to them, because of the chemo treatment, Mama’s lost all her hair—and Mama’s been just a little “frisky” these days. Welcome to my extravaganza. I also picked up some wonderful earrings at CVC. I mean CVS. Whatever. $1.79. Can you bust? It’s Tina all the way. Frank also found some wonderful fabric at Blossoms for my new act. The pumps are fab, the wig is fab, the skirt is fab. Everything is fab, fab, fab. And guess what? Frank booked me three gigs. I’m going to be the first drag queen ever to perform at Su-Su Yum Yum’s Chinese Restaurant in Brooklyn Heights! Could ya bust?”
I have one message on my land line from last night. It’s Monica. “I call you almost a day ago to tell you I have been infected with an STD—that I have washed that man right out of my hair—and you are nowhere to be found. (Her gum chewing as she speaks is annoying the heck out of me.) Tisk Tony. Tisk, tisk, tisk. I’m going to have to call the Italian police and have you shipped back to Sicily. Chlamydia darling. So be it. At one time my name was Monica. A former close friend used to call me Totie. I was a child-actress-star. Now I’m just a girl named Monica who has chlamydia. Monica. No longer, as you always say, the queen of the ocean. Now the queen of chlamydia. Sounds better than the queen of gonorrhea or the queen of syphilis or the queen of thrush. Do you agree, Bozo?
I remember that day very clearly. I probably will remember that day for the rest of my life. It was a Thursday afternoon. Thursday being my favorite day of the week. There was this soft knock on my door. As I opened the door, I stared into the eyes of what appeared to be the most gorgeous man in the universe. If Publishers Clearing House were to ring the winner’s bell accompanied by the sexiest man alive, this would be him. Standing close to six feet tall, probably weighing around 170 pounds, he was born into the cutest dimples. Are those things for real or what? Do they even sell dimple implants? Killer smile, killer body, killer dark brown hair, killer teeth. Everything was killer, killer, killer.
When did you guys first realize you were gay, asked by Monica.
“When did you first realize. Let me say this politically correct. That you were of another sexual persuasion?” Michael says, “The minute my legs became long and lean, I knew I was a screamer.” Nick says, “I knew it when I was cranking out seven-course meals, Martha Stewart−style, at the age of 14. My mother couldn’t even fry an egg due to the fact that she was Irish. Very early on my heart would go pitter-patter if I was in the company of another man. Now my heart goes pitter-patter when I sit in front of the food channels.”
As for me, “I got in touch with my gay side when I saw Ann Margaret in Bye Bye Birdie. She just whisked me away. Let me tell you, I’m not big on show tunes, I’m a rock-and-roll kinda guy, but the opening and ending numbers—oh my god! The makeup, the red hair, the wind blowing up her skirt, those sex-kitten cat eyes, the sky-blue background. I wanted to be Ann Margaret. I still want to be Ann Margaret.” I jump on my couch, “Look at me guys. I am Ann Margaret!!”
Copyright © 2012 by Vincent Caruso. All rights reserved. For reprint information contact Vincent Caruso.