Month: June 2016

First Crash — Part One

IMG_2150This is Part One of a two part story about the time I was in a car accident.

 

By the age of nine, I knew I was different. When I got into a car crash, I started realizing why.

Mom asked my sister Cheri to go to Penny’s to get some shirts for my Dad’s Birthday. Mom had to stay home, take care of my baby sister, bake a cake, and prepare a fancy dinner. Dad would say, “Beverly, now don’t make a fuss over my Birthday,” but she would always make a fuss.

“Stop at the Arctic Circle on your way home, and get me a Coke,” she told my sister.

“Mom,” I said, “Sister Calhoun says that Mormons aren’t supposed to drink Coke.

Mom handed Cheri a ten-dollar bill and the keys to our white Mercury Comet.

“Get me a Large,” She said.

“Can I go?” I begged.

“I don’t care,” my sister said.

I jumped in the car and bounced up and down on the seat, excited at the chance to tag along.

While Cheri was purchasing the shirts, I browsed through records. Rock stars all had long hair in 1969. I wanted long hair too. I stepped in front of a three-way mirror in the men’s department, and cringed when I saw my reflection. My ears stuck out, fanning wide from my head.  I pushed them back, as if somehow they would magically stay put. My father was a barber; hiding them under long hair would never be an option for me. I’d been self-conscious about my ears ever since Doreen Duncan and Edna Bird, from church, were visiting my Mom one day, after school.  Sister Duncan stopped me and examined me like I was an unruly houseplant that needed pruning. “You know Beverly,” she said to Mom. “You should get him some glasses, they would distract from the unevenness of his ears and, you know, give him some symmetry.”

“Oh, he’d look sophisticated too, just like his Father,” Sister Bird added sweetly, in a high pitched voice.

I ran and locked myself in the bathroom.  I held a comb in front of my reflection to measure, and sure enough, my ears didn’t quite line up, and they stuck out. “I’m a freak,” I told my myself. All my insecurities and feelings of being different were now concentrated on the two flaps of skin and cartilage protruding from either side of my head. For weeks, I slept with one of my Mothers nylon stockings over my head in hopes that my ears would flatten. Now, forlorned at the three-way mirror at Penny’s, I realized that plastic surgery might me my only hope.

My sister brushed by me with the shirts.

“Let’s go,” she said.

At the Arctic Circle, Cheri ordered two large Cokes and a small orange soda for me. She put the drinks next to the shirts on the front seat. With the windows rolled down, the dry summer air blew in our faces and tousled our hair as we drove off with the radio blasting.

I don’t remember the drinks spilling. I don’t remember the car crashing into the telephone pole or my head hitting the dashboard.  I don’t remember the neighbourhood kids gathered around the car, gawking, peering in, and pointing while my sister screamed for help. I was covered in blood, Coke, and ice. My eyes were open and glazed over. Cheri thought I was dead. I remember sounds. My sister crying. She never cried in front of me; always hid in her room. A man’s voice: “Wake up, wake up!” And my own voice, disconnected, crying, “Please God! Please,” and then the howl of the siren devoured everything.

After being unconscious for two days, I emerged into a world of beeping noises and a throbbing pain. In a spinning room, nurses darted back and forth in streaks of white. I noticed a girl with short brown hair in a bed across me. Was it Cheri?  Everything was blurry.

“Mom?”

A nurse with a soft voice said, “Hi sweetie, you’re at Primary Children’s Hospital. You’ve been in an accident, understand?” I nodded and realized that the brown-haired girl across the room wasn’t my sister. My right eye and head were bandaged up and there were tubes sticking my arm.

“Where’s my Mom?”

“She just left.” Said the nurse. “She’s been sitting here by your side all day. Your Dad will be here soon.”

I wanted my Mom and cried out for her. The nurse gave me a shot.

I woke up in a different room, away from the beeps, with light coming only from the hallway. Drifting in and out, I was relieved that Mom was sitting beside me. She held an open magazine on her lap, but wasn’t reading it.

“Stay with me,” I said.

She put the magazine down and held my hand. “Daddy, Grandpa and Uncle Mel gave you a blessing last night. The doctors are going to operate on your eye. It’s going to be okay. We’ll be right here.”

Silhouetted figures hovered over me. I was lifted onto a gurney and pushed down a corridor. I heard footsteps on either side as oblong lights passed over me.  We burst into a very bright room. I had to squint. That’s when I saw him, the surgeon, standing over me. His eyes were aquamarine blue, like the shallow end of a swimming pool. He had long dark eyelashes and dense eyebrows. A mask covered his mouth and nose. The bright lights behind him radiated out from his back like an angel in a painting. His ears didn’t stick out like mine; they elegantly hugged his head as if they had been sculpted out of marble.

“We’re going to make you sleep.” He said in a deep gentle voice.  He put something over my mouth and nose. “Now, count backwards from ten, like this, ten, nine, eight, seven, six”. I didn’t say anything. I just dissolved.

I awoke in a room with a big window and what looked like an oversized baby crib. A skinny boy with a plaster cast on his head, like a motorcycle helmet, peered through the bars and waved. “Hi, “he said.

I responded with a, raspy, “Hi.”

“I’m Bobby,” he said.

“Um,” I was drowsy.

“You’re Billy. They told me.”

“Oh,” I said. “What happened to your head?”

He was quiet, then after a few minutes he said, “You like to shoot?”

“No,” I said.

“You like to Fish?”

“Don’t know, I’ve never tried,” I said.

“Oh,” he said walking his legs up and down the bars at the foot of his bed. “ You like football?”

“No,” I said.

“Baseball?”

“Not really,” I said.

“Basketball?”

I shook my head.

“Hmm,” he said. “What do you like?”

“Setting off firecrackers in tomatoes and watching them explode,” I lied. Mom never let me have firecrackers.

“I blew up a peach once,” he said.

“Did it look like brains?” I asked. He started laughing and then we both laughed.

“I sleepwalk,” Bobby said, thumping his fingers across the bars. “That’s why I’m in this stupid bed.”

I kicked my leg out from under the covers to expose the jagged gash on my leg, all stitched up, looking like a clutter of spiders.

“Wow!” Bobby said. How did that happen?”

Car accident,”

“Ouch!” Bobby said.

“I don’t remember anything.

I became acquainted with bedpans, awkward sponge baths, ugly hospital pajamas, nasty hospital food, and the nurses waking me up in the middle of the night to take my temperature. Some nurses were nice. Some were cranky, but they were all just nameless faces that would come and go.

One day chubby orderly with curly red hair showed up and pushed Bobby and his bed out of the room. He looked like a clown with a circus animal.  Bobby fired his finger-laser at me through the bars. I faked getting hit and fell back on my pillow. When I closed my good eye and opened my bloody eye, Bobby said I made a pretty convincing corpse.

“Where’re you going?” I said.

“It’s movie day,” said the orderly. “I’ll be back.”

I lowered myself off the bed for the first time and walked over to the window. The entire Salt Lake Valley stretched out in front of me. The rocky granite peaks extended far into the distance. Dotted with buildings, the valley was bursting with shades of mossy green, and the sky was that kind of vibrant blue that you only see in summer. Summer wait for me, I need to catch up.
The orderly showed up with a wheelchair and pushed me to the hospital cafeteria, which was set up like a theatre. He positioned my chair on the front row, just as the lights went out. A nurse was passing out ice cream sandwiches. I looked behind me and saw the room full of sick kids, some in wheelchairs, some in beds, some all hooked up to machines, looking up to the screen.  Next to me, a little girl without any hair, held a stuffed elephant in her lap. A cartoon lit up the screen and a chorus of cheers erupted.  After a few minutes I had to close my eyes because my head hurt, but I didn’t care, I just listened to the kids laughing, reacting and eating their ice cream. With my eyes closed, it sounded like we were all normal, healthy kids. It sounded like hope.

Read Part Two

 

 

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

My First Published Essay

ScanThe Portland Mercury News and The Stranger have both published my essay about Al Parker!

There is a link to the full story below. Here is an excerpt:

The first time I saw him was on a giant screen at a bathhouse in the summer of 1984. Sitting on a carpeted banquette, with a only white towel wrapped around me, I watched him climb a tree to rescue a skydiver, tangled in a parachute. He and the skydiver had sex in the tree, of course. The room filled with men, transfixed by the screen. Their faces, illuminated by the flickering light, looked up in awe, as if they were watching a mother ship land.

“Who is that?” I asked the guy sitting near me.

“That’s Al Parker,” he whispered. “He’s a fucking legend.”

Everyone’s focus was on the tan, ripped, bearded man on the screen. With his dark piercing eyes, and chiseled features, he emanated this unapologetic, raw, sexual charisma that I hadn’t seen that modelled before, not in movies or television, and certainly not in Utah, where I’d grown up. The spell in the room broke when the credits rolled. The other guys in towels returned to wandering the bathhouse.

“I’d love to paint him,” I remember thinking.

It wasn’t hard to find Al Parker videos. In many stores, he had his own section. I studied him, his expressions, the way he moved, the way he made sucking cock a religious experience. Maybe I thought that because he reminded me of Jesus. I wanted to be like him. I stopped bleaching my hair and got a shorter cut. I tried growing a beard, but it made me look Amish.

Almost everyone in the public eye—celebrities, politicians, were still in the closet. Gay culture had just entered the nightmare of the AIDS crisis. Living in LA, I worked at the Pleasure Chest, a store that sold biker jackets, leather chaps, boots, hankies (which came with a pocket-sized foldout hanky code), paddles, tit clamps, magazines, and videos. It was a different world back then. Hanky codes and most porn magazines have faded out of existence along with the stores that sold them.

One day, I was holding a twenty-inch double dildo over my shoulder when I saw someone’s reflection in the glass case. “Can I help you?” I said.

I raised my head and it was him, Al Parker “Poppers and one of those cock rings,” he said.  His close-cropped beard revealed naturally rosy cheeks, and his tight jeans accentuated his crotch.

“Size?” I stammered.

“Large,” he said.

“Of course! I mean, coming right up,” I said, sounding like I was serving cheeseburgers. Maybe that’s how I remember it because later, after moving to San Francisco, I got to gaze into his dark, soulful eyes again, while waiting tables at a diner.

Orphan Andy’s was a classic greasy diner with two window tables, a row of booths, and a long counter. The tiffany lamps looked plastic and the fake potted plants looked thirsty. The jukebox played everything from Edith Piaf to the B-52s. Orphan Andy’s existed outside of time. Or in all eras at once. It filled up after the bars closed, sometimes with a line out the door. I worked the quiet afternoon shift. Regulars told me stories about the glory days—before the acronyms and dark diagnoses. Every Thursday, the gay paper was filled with pages of the faces of newly dead men. Ruby, a retired security guard abruptly announced one Thursday, “I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to know anymore—who died,” and slammed her paper down.

“I refuse to go another goddamned funeral,” said Gary, a 76-year-old leather man. “Just throw me over a fucking bridge.”

“Right now?” said Ruby.

“My ashes, you asshole!” Gary said.

Ruby cackled. “After you die old man, I’m not going to make any new friends. I refuse to watch another person wither.”

Grief hung over the city like smog. I hadn’t lost anyone close, but I grieved for how life had been—the smiles I used to get from men on the street, the lingering eye contact, the exchange of glances to the crotch. It was okay if didn’t lead to a hook-up, there was a connection, a mutual sense of “I see you,” a measure of validation. As men were dying, I’d come to feel invisible, like an out of focus extra on the set of someone else’s nightmare.

When the diner was slow, I’d watch the endless parade of strange and beautiful passersby. Sprinkled throughout were the walking sick: gaunt, frail, sallow-skinned men, unable to keep pace with the hurried throngs, sometimes escorted by a partner or caregiver, but mostly alone.

I got tested back in LA, but was too afraid get the results. I’d convinced myself that I was robustly healthy. I took vitamins and had a gym membership. Sometimes I even worked out.  I rarely got sick, except for that ear infection that put me in the emergency room, or those annoying night sweats, and that weird spot on my leg that I continually obsessed over.

In 1992, I turned away from a table of men who’d just placed drink orders. I froze when I realized that one of them was Al Parker. Just try to act normal, I told myself. Then I accidentally knocked down a tower of plastic glasses.

By the time their food was ready, I’d mustered enough courage to say, “Once I sold you a cock ring and a bottle of poppers.” He and his friends laughed.  Then Al Parker introduced himself by his real name—Drew.

Returning to the kitchen, I heard someone call “Shane! Come back Shane!”

Drew was holding up his empty glass for a refill.

“Come back Shane” became our running joke at Orphan Andy’s. When anyone else said it, I grimaced. But when Drew said it, I got goosebumps. He came to Orphan Andy’s often, though never alone. He was either with friends or his partner Keith, who had silver hair and serious crystal-blue eyes, like an Alaskan Husky.Scan

“Has anyone ever painted your portrait?” I asked Drew one day after taking his order.

He laughed. “Yes, as a matter of fact. Quite a few times.” I thought of him sucking dick in that tree. Then he said, “You want me to pose for you?”

In my shock, I didn’t know what to say. I’d never drawn from a live model before.

“I work from photographs,” I said, shyly. “I wondered if you had any pictures I could use, with your permission.”

He smiled and said, “Sure, I might have something,” and reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. “Give me a call.”

Thunderstruck, I took his card.

Continue Reading in The Stranger

Continue Reading in Portland Mercury

 

If you don’t understand the humour of  “Shane! Come back,” this is what he was alluding to:

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