Foot Foot

The Hole Story

In the early ’70s we lived on Acacia Tree Lane in Irvine. I don't know how old I was in the following memory, but I'm guessing three or four. If you went into the back yard, out the gate and down a small hill across the sidewalk, you'd be on another street that was probably the better half of a mile away by car, but only 30 feet as the crow walks. Such was the anomaly of the town's circuit-board-like layout—a poorly planned planned community.

The house directly behind ours, both half a mile and 30 feet away simultaneously, belonged to a very old couple probably in their ancient 50s. (My parents were merely Really Old in their early 30s.) The ancient couple were not friends of my parents that I can recall, though everyone in that time and space was friendly and neighborly enough. I used to toddle down the hill and ring their bell to visit on occasion. They would always invite me in and were nice to me. I don't think they knew what to do with the young neighbors' wandering child—the house wasn't particularly child-friendly, no toys or anything eye-catching. I don't know how this got started, but I went there to punch holes. They'd give me several sheets of blank paper and a hole puncher and I would happily sit there for what seemed like hours to me—and probably seemed even longer to them!—and punch little holes in paper.

We must have had a hole puncher at home, but I don't remember ever zen'ing out making endless little circles there. The joy in hole punching was intrinsically tied to the old couple's house. I didn't have any particular interest in the boring old farts; I was in it solely to punch holes.

Eventually mom asked me not to go bothering the ______'s anymore. I don't know if they complained to mom about me, or if she felt bad that her kid was popping by unannounced. (I'd have admonished my 3 y.o. to stop bothering elderly neighbors myself.) I remember briefly mourning such a riveting pastime, snatched away. It was on my little kid circuit, after all, like a cat on its stupid cat rounds. A routine pilgrimage that had its significance simply because it was part of my autonomous toddler plans.

I don't remember the old couple's names or faces; I have no recollection of the blueprints of their hole punching haven house nor its décor or furnishings—I can only see a sheet of paper with hundreds of holes in it, punched so closely together as to reap the greatest number of circles without breaking the honeycomb structural integrity of the sheet of paper. I didn't know if my goal was to render the most holes I could into a little pile, or erode as much negative space as physically possible and still have one contiguous sheet of paper. Both were crucial, probably—a dedicated multitasker at age 3. Fugues and counterpoint years before I would know those words.

In 1997 I remembered the hole punching house, and I began making paintings playing off the simultaneous positive and negative space of hole punching to render the image I had in mind.

No particular point to these ruminations, other than a mental shout-out to the _______'s for their kind patience when an uninvited, seemingly autistic little weirdo would come a-calling.

I'm sure they're dead now (though if either of them are still alive, I'd love to send them a painting), but I hope they had a nice, quiet, hole-free dotage.
Scully

Oh, What a Tangled Wed We Weave.

Today I perform my first wedding. Technically, my wards were married two weeks ago in New Orleans, because it was much simpler since I'm a registered holy man in Orleans Parish, not Rhode Island where the ceremony will take place in two hours. In New Orleans, we did a quick paperwork transaction at a coffee shop near City Hall, husBen being one witness, and the friendly barista girl being the other. After the transaction, I was presented with three dead rats—true, I had asked for them because Scully, my python was hungry, but I like to think of such an offering as a standard ministerial fee. "Don't forget three more dead rodents with which to cross my palm!" I texted Ryder last night from Provincetown, the gayest city east of Gaysville, GA at the land's end of Cape Cod where husBen and I had enjoyed a pleasant three day sojourn.

This morning found us up and, if not exactly at 'em, then at least towards 'em, at 7:00am to make the early afternoon ceremony in Portsmouth, R.I.

This is a particularly meaningful event for me, due to the identity of Ryder, the groom. Flashback: it's 1991. I'm a student at The American University in Washington. My favorite band in the world, Throwing Muses, is playing our university. I'm in seventh heaven; their music, at that time in my life, was often my only solace and reminder that the world didn't entirely suck, and that there was realness afoot, you just had to go to some trouble to find it in an otherwise shallow, live-for-the-moment western civilization. (Yah, these were my semi-Goth days. Shaddup. It's a necessary stage for the discerning gourmand of life's full buffet.)

Kristin Hersh, the lead Muse, was in many ways MY muse, and when I saw her perform that belovèd music…seven and a half months pregnant, I nearly swooned. Talk about your anti-rockstar! My reverence redoubled. End flashback.

Present day: in two hours, I will be officiating the marriage of that 1991 soon-to-be-born Ryder, erstwhile a rock n roll lump, now a tall, striking lad that I've had the enormous good fortune to have known lo these last six years.

A couple of years ago he lived with us for a semester while attending Tulane U. It was supposed to be just until he found somewhere Uptown that was both affordable and livable. But Ben and I were so taken with the lad's thoughtfulness, gentleness, intelligence, and incredible baking skills that we offered him Manderley's guest room for as long as he liked, gratis. Thus I became f'uncle* to Ryder. (*Faux-Uncle.)

He met Jade during a year in Japan, and they fell for each other hard. I met her eventually when she came to New Orleans and my first impression was of the tenderness they felt for each other. I delighted in the giant smile that so rarely had appeared on Ryder's often-troubled visage. I didn't think he could be that happy. Probably, neither did he.

A couple years later they decided to marry. Jade dreamed that I officiated the ceremony, and they asked me if I could do that. I'd always meant to become a holier-than-thou man for just this kind of call, so I did all of my paperwork and got myself all ordained n' stuff.

So today I marry off my ne-faux-yew and so begins his life as a real-life grown-up with his own family.

It'll be odd, looking at Kristin in the congregation, remembering her slow, gravid sway as she slashed out the guitar licks I still love and howled her beautiful music 24 years ago. So much has happened since 1991, and I'm profoundly grateful that one of the aspects of that time lapse was that our paths not only crossed, but seem to have merged together.

Today, I'm a proud f'uncle.
Desperation

The Long, Hungry Walk Home

It's probably because I just left an open mic stand-up comedy gig my friend Paul curates. An hour of tales of people's mundane events rendered brilliant by the Comedic Process may have inspired me to login to dusty ole' LiveJournal to air my yarn. It's my walk home from the gig that I wish to speak about.

I left the Allways Lounge a bit famished, having not supped since luncheon some nine hours prior. On the ten block walk back to the structure I call my demesnes, there are a number of comestible options to choose from, that with the most propinquity being a venerable late-night establishment called Rally's. I'm no chicken; I crossed the road. And I waited at the outside window, said institution not having a proper dining room.

There were a couple people standing about awaiting their order, I presumed. My presumption proved correct when the scullery maid slid open the window and fairly barked at a girl standing near, "Wotchoo order? A Oreo smoovie?"

The girl nodded. The wench retreated back into the bowels of the restaurant to begin smoovifying some Oreos, never mind the new prospective customer (your humble narrator) waiting patiently at the window to deliver his order.

When she had finished her machinations, she slid open the window again and handed the prize to the lady in waiting. "Uh, there's no damn Oreos on this," she rolled her eyes at the harried serf. The frosty cocktail disappeared back into the aforementioned bowels and more ministrations were thrust upon it. Your servant, this humble narrator, once again went not only neglected, but unacknowledged—a most perplexing existential crisis suggested itself!

Meanwhile, another worthy employee flung open a side door holding a paper bag and a chalice of Sweet Tea. He approached the other gentleman waiting for his order with this chilling confession: "You got da burger with da Swiss? Here. Them muthafuckas be SLOW! Bitches be ruinin' my night! I'm OUT, y'hurd?" The worthy, having delivered the required répas, stormed off into the night, throwing his name tag into the sewer, illustrating further his displeasure with the situation he had just departed.

The scullery maid continued to busy herself endlessly over the Smoovée d'Oreo, finally finished, delivered the treat, then began a jaunty chaw with another kitchen hand. Oh! what laughs they shared in the kitchen as yours every so truly and patiently continued to stand in the window, awaiting acknowledgement of my existence, said existence rapidly becoming more elusive and transparent even to my own self.

Another couple of hopeful hungries had queued up behind me in the last ten minutes. I turned to the closest and opined, "Fuck this fucking ghetto shit," and bemade my way down the beavenue on the route behome.

Appetite in no way sated, I espied the nearest option on my path. The Château du Donald's. As I veered towards the establishment, to my ears came the acrimonious wafts of controversy.

"Muthafucka, you want a PIECE!?" Two fellows seemed, as the plebeians say, "at it" in the parking lot. Nothing spoils an appetite like bloodshed, so I crossed the street towards the delicatessen yclept "Subway", which beaconed warmly with its OPEN sign gleaming in the night like a siren to a sailor.

As I neared the eatery, I bethought to myself, "Wouldn't it be perfect, given the results of my last two attempts at sustenance, if, at 9:37pm, a totally random time, the OPEN sign suddenly went off?"

I approached the edifice and placed my hand upon the door. It was at that precise moment the OPEN sign, erstwhile the light at the end of my hungry, hungry tunnel, winked out to darkness, and a becostumed wench on the other side of the door turned the lock and waggled her finger at me, à la the Delta Airlines 'No Smoking' Lady.

A rare moment of religion crossed my mind as I once again realized that such events as I had witnessed in the last eight minutes did in fact prove the existence of Intelligent Design, and I was the butt of this petty, bored god's joke. I sallied forth to the next dining option, a ghetto corner store with a late night deli. I had little hope of exiting the place alive, not to mention with a meal, but the absurdity of the evening bade me thither, and posthaste!

I walked up to the kibble kounter to witness a client giving instructions as to how she would like her sandwich prepared. In a meth-rattled screech, she bade the sandwich lady to, "Put mo' mah-naize on dat shit! Nah! Now dere be too much! Take summa dat shit off!"

To her credit, the poor charwoman followed these conflicting instructions without a grumble, delivered the result to the harridan, and turned to me. I was relieved, I do not mind confessing, that she could even perceive my presence, for I was still afraid of the weft and warp of my very corporeal fabric after such lengthy neglect from my sweet Rally's wench. I do exist! I thought triumphantly.

I bestowed my order of a hot sausage po' boy to the good lady and she was on it like a rabbit on … another rabbit. Such was her vigilance that when a stoopèd and grizzled mountebank approached the counter and began barking orders at her, she replied in not-too-broken English, "I make something else. You wait your turn." She was my unlikely champion, and I mused over the apparent success of my quest in such a base establishment, after such failures at the more 'respectable' eateries I had tried.

As I waited for my coveted po' boy, the next customer approached – a woman with an elaborate up-do-rag, neon Spandex culottes, flip-flop footwear encrusted by the lapidist Swarovski, and an in-no-way-matching neon midriff blouse belying the fact that the woman was, as the saying goes, 'in trouble.'

'In trouble again' should have been the saying, as a toddler freshly sprung from the bun oven three years ago clung to its matriarch's leg like dryer lint, whimpering almost inaudibly, but incessantly. It was occasionally favored with a brisk smack to the Fontanelle by its mother. Quelle tendresse, thought I.

"Gimme dat chicken!" demanded the churlish figure, poking the Plexiglass barrier with knock-off designer sunglasses as she motioned towards the fowl that entranced her.

"You wait. I help another," replied my angel behind the counter.

"Fuck dis shit," rejoined the breeding thing as she stormed down the chip aisle grabbing snacks hither and, yes, even thither.

My po' boy assembled, I happily made my way to the cashier, only to find the neon-beclad woman already at the station, handing money over to the proprietor and beckoning to her progeny gently with, "GITCHO ass over here 'fore I SLAP you!"

I paid my po' boy tithe and made my hasty exeunt, exalted, sobered, a wiser and sadder man.

That which does not kill us gives us po' boys.

Another few blocks towards my Shangri-La, I came across my old friend from Rally's, he who had ceremoniously discarded his very identity into the gutter with a gutterish roar. He was sitting on someone's steps, barking into a cellular device, "Bitch! Pick me up! Ho! Bitch! Bitch-ho! Pick me UP!"

My eavesdropping did nothing to further my wisdom, though my sadness was duly augmented.

I made my way home and munched my po' boy with desultory gloom.

It was a delicious sandwich, by the way.
Retard

A Fugue-like State

My first-person-shooter video performance of Bach's Fugue No. 1 in C from the holy WTC, à la Natalie Wood's Schubert performance in the film "Brainstorm." Who needs a fancy strappy headgear thingy for the GoPro when you have rubber bands, Starburst candies and packing tape? DIY, bitches.

Bach Fugue Video

I have always had a love/hate relationship with Bach. Love his music. Hate that my dyslexia makes learning his music an exquisite torture, for he is a dyslexic's ultimate nightmare. Both of these are reasons why I'm continually drawn to attempting to play his music. Nothing — and I mean nothing — compares to the sense of conquering the unconquerable when, after days or weeks of agony, I can finally surmount my own shortcomings and the incredible complexity of his music, and find Bach flying from my fingers in a bona fide Eureka moment. It's tantamount to those dreams in which you find you can fly.

For the uninitiated: a fugue is a song with a key melody or melodies playing over each other. Think of four people singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat in rounds. Now change everyone's key so they harmonize, add some counterpoint and variations and ornaments, and voilà, la fugue. A child can play RRRYB on the piano. A clever child can play the theme in C with the right hand, and the same theme in G with the left hand, a measure behind. But add FOUR voices, each hand playing two separate songs simultaneously, overlapping, passing from one hand to the next as voices cross, and you have a finger-twisting dyslexic hot mess.

Once upon a time, taking acid with Melinda and Audrey, like you do, we came to the section of the evening where each adventurer goes off into a corner and contemplates his or her own solo mysteries. I loaded up Keith Jarrett's CD of the Well-Tempered Clavier, slapped on some cans and read along with the music (as you can in the video below). This first fugue in C became a mystical, mathematical journey which I will always treasure. The music notes turned into a math sentence. With the simple, solo first iteration of the theme at the beginning, the measure turned from notes into a simple '1 ='… The second measure, still one solo voice, gave simple definitions of what 1 could equal: '= 1 x 1 - 4 + 4'… As the second voice joins in, the computation became more elaborate: '1 = (4/4^1) / (4^2 - 2^3 x 2 + 1)…' By the time four voices were singing over each other with the simple theme mimicking, echoing and morphing all over the place, the mathematical sentence became something like you'd see scribbled on Stephen Hawking's doodle pad. Big, obstreperous calculations that you know must end up equaling 1, but you're not sure how such a complex function could possible be reduced to something so simple. Towards the end of the piece, as each voice resolves itself and fades away — three voices, two voices — we are left with one solo voice, rising not in the original theme any more, but with an echo of the theme's meter, landing ultimately at a sweet high C major chord. The sheet music thinned down accordingly until, in the last measure, I saw, ' = 1'.

1 = 1. There are so many places you can go and infinite paths you can take in that simple reflexive. And, of course, no one could do it better, before or since J. S. Bach, the Carl Sagan of Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

Also? I miss good, clean, early-90s San Francisco acid.
Katrina X

Nagin: A Retrospective

Mood today: disappointed.
Confession: I voted for Nagin on the second go-around.
Justification: You must remember this election was not long after Katrina. A lot of the urgent, most devastating, deadliest problems during the aftermath of the failure of the federal levee system came from neglect of the federal government to act. While I was sweating bullets in Upstate New York, watching my city fall to shit, there were three people who gave me hope. In order of importance:
1) General Honoré, who came to town and cracked the biggest bullwhip you ever done seen and got shit DONE!
2) Anderson Cooper who, along with precious few others, actually bothered to verify his facts before airing his reports. (The sloppier journalists who proclaimed early on, "The Bywater is gone!" had me laid out on the floor with palpitations, believing my house was destroyed and animals all dead.)
3) Nagin. He was just a little ole mayor with not much power to implement the massive governmental forces that needed to be set into motion, but he yelled and screamed loud enough to get Baby Bush's belated (albeit somewhat distracted) attention.

When the mayoral reelection came up, I was still doe-eyed and shell-shocked from the storm and figured, hey, he's been through this catastrophe and no doubt has learned which phone calls to make if it happens again. Now he's got the right mucky mucks on speed dial. He seems to actually give a damn about New Orleans and isn't the stereotypical (dare I say ubiquitous?) corrupted city official more interested in lining his pockets than getting his job done.

Then he was elected, and quickly became a useless cunt of a mayor, spurring people on to putting bumper stickers on their cars wistfully naming Nagin's last day in office, counting the minutes until we could have someone effective in control.

For most of his second term, he lived in Houston. Talk about hometown dedication.

I thought, okay, he may be a total waste of oxygen, and about as useful as a helium balloon paperweight, but at least he's not a crook.

And now, years later, he's indicted on a bajillion-minus-one counts of asshattery and going to the Big House (PLEASE let it be the horror show of OPP, arguably the worst prison in the country!)

Thus…
Mood today: disappointed.
Dead Blue Dog

French Quarter Dog Walker: The Video Game!

I'm on Level 20 of the cool new video game French Quarter Dog Walker. I read on the forums that at level 25 you get a new liver!

Granted, I've set the console to EASY mode today since I wasn't a) hungover (NORMAL) or b) still drunk (DIFFICULT). But even the EASY levels are progressively more difficult. Obviously. (New livers don't come cheap.)

Today's quest was one of the simpler ones: walk Dog to the bank and back … on a slow Wednesday afternoon. Which is much simpler than, say, walk from Molly's at the Market on Lower Decatur to the Erin Rose off Upper Bourbon on a Saturday night already half-wasted. But even my simple banking task is confoundedly tricky by Level 20.

It starts at Dauphine & Orleans, just outside Home Base. Usually not too tricky an intersection to traverse. Dauphine has no stop sign. Orleans has one. Though even on EASY mode, Level 20 gives you some real Saturday Night DIFFICULT obstacles. The car coming down Dauphine stopped at his no-stop-sign spot. On previous levels, you just wait for this annoying Baddie to realize that he neither has traffic to yield to, and he never had the stop sign in the first place. Eventually they figure this out and go. You cross. Easy peasy.

Today, the car just sat there. I hit the X/Y buttons in rapid succession to wave the car through his right-of-way-gone-wrong. When he still didn't move, I hit the B button for one of those zippy little lines the character can speak. "Drive, you cunt! Drive, you cunt!" said my character. The car stayed there, driver ignoring my X/Y and B buttons. So I crossed. When I was in the center of the street, and right in front of his grille, he lurched forward. Dog spun around while I tried to dive forward into Drop and Roll mode. We barely made it, and the angry car honked as he squealed off from 0 to 90 down the small, crowded street.

Jesus, and I'm barely out of Home Base? I thought. I sharpened up my reflexes, ready for whatever this level had in store. I'm a professional gamer, after all.

I always choose my Dog to be a Female-Lab-Mutt-Rescue. Friendlier/non-Rescue dogs can get you into trouble because they want to engage some of the Baddies, while tiny "adorable" dogs attract the Baddies and it's more difficult to be on your way. The Mutt is generally not too pretty, so not too attractive to the annoying French Quarter characters, and the Rescue is shy, though a little unpredictable. Lab is a good sized dog as you need a large dog to thwart the approaches of some of the Thug characters. And Female is not generally as aggressive as a Male. (Unless confronted with another Female Dog character out on a walk, but you can always cross the street. If you're careful — ha ha!)

Having almost lost a life crossing the street, Dog and I were immediately accosted by Black Crazy Man, Archetype #17, which, if you don't know the game, is the middle-aged one with the knee-length filthy jeans and the grime-encrusted t-shirt printed with a funny saying you can't read. On earlier levels, he's not much of a threat. He yells at imaginary people, rarely confronting any other "living" sprite. But he can make sudden movements when agitated, and as you know, if Dog bites someone jittering around in front of her, it's Game Over. (Rescue Dog may bite if sufficiently startled. One of the trade-offs for choosing this kind of companion.)

Crazy #17 had just come from yelling at the neighbor down the street painting his house. (I made a note to watch out for paint buckets falling from the sky and got ready to dodge, or just cross the street if it looked safe.) This did not bode well if #17 was already confronting people. Usually they live in their own rich inner worlds, so to speak.

And wouldn't ya know it, but my avatar had just lit a cigarette, which is bad news when Bums or Crazies are around.

I slowed down cautiously as our paths neared crossing each other. He was already jittery and agitated. I held down the A button and pressed L to rein in Dog's lead. She was already getting a little jittery herself. My strategy was to keep my pace slow and alert until I was next to Crazy #17, then hit A-A-A-A for QuikStep Function out of his range.

"Fuck you! Don't talk to me!" Crazy #17 was yelling at a street sign. Good he was distracted by his own chimera. Maybe he wouldn't notice me. When we were about eight feet apart, he spotted the lit cigarette. Crazy #17 stopped in suspended animation while his PowerUp revved. I should have done the A-A-A-A thing then. If you're really quick, you can manage to get out of range before the PowerUp can take effect. This time, I acted too slowly.

"Ahkahava…" he said at me. "Ahkahavacigarette? Ahkahavacigarette?" Fuck. Busted. I switched to Camera Mode and made my guy's eyes look away. Sometimes this is effective as Bums and Crazies might wander off without further molestation if they're feeling you're ignoring them. The price to essay the Ignore tactic is that your eyes are averted, and the adversary can sometimes kill you while you're not looking, or Dog could kill him. In any event, you have to start from the last Save, which is annoying.

Miraculously, Black Crazy Man lost interest in us and started mumbling to himself disconsolately until we were out of range. Phew.

My god. I'm not even a full block from Home yet. Nice, Level 20.

Friendly Neighbor Man rolled his eyes at me to commiserate over the avoided kerfuffle which he witnessed, and I hit X/Y to wave at him, eyeing his paint cans suspiciously. If he engaged with me too much, he'd inadvertently kick over paint. If paint (or Hand Grenade or Hurricane or Chewing Gum or Gumbo Puke or any other sticky substance) gets on Dog, you have to abort your mission and go straight to the Groomers, which costs time and ducats and your Annoyance Level jumps up five bars.

Friendly Neighbor Man's paint buckets stayed put. Potential problem #3 avoided. I was still only one block away from Home Base. This was going to be a long adventure.

Next up, crossing Bourbon Street. I steeled myself as this is always the toughest part of any level, and considering what Level 20 was throwing my way, I was prepared for the worst.

We hadn't traveled far, but Dog had yet to stop my character by finding stale urine to sniff. When Dog smells pee, she goes to sniff it and you can't move forward until she has finished investigating. Then she's usually good for another half block or whole block before she'll stop you again. You can hit Y-Y-Y-Y over and over, tugging at her leash until she is forcibly yanked away from whatever nasty offal she's found, but it makes Dog sullen and slows down your progress and makes sudden maneuvering a little clunky. I could not afford to have clunky moves crossing Bourbon, so I did a little pre-crossing ritual that, though not very daring or exciting to watch, is a funky little strategy I read about on the web that really works! (Don't worry—no cheat codes are deployed. I play fair n' square.)

I let my avatar finish his cigarette (stupid guy lights up almost as often as Dog smells garbage and piss), thus avoiding any Bums or Crazies accosting me for that reason. I also found the stinkiest pole about twenty feet from Bourbon Street and watched as Dog's Effluvium Investigation Meter slid down from red, into yellow, and finally green. Good. That should hold her for a minute or so. I switched back to Camera Mode and eyed my avatar's pockets, looking for any protrusions of ducats that a Baddie might try to lift, or pull an Ahkahava… number on. All clear. Flick back to World View.

I waited for a relative gap in foot traffic on Bourbon St. It took me, like, fifteen tries to cross Bourbon on Level 19 because I kept getting swept up in the flows and eddies of the drunken pedestrians on the street and once ended up all the way down at Famous Door. (If you get too close to Famous Door on a Friday or Saturday night, the shitty cover band's sheer volume shatters your eardrums and Dog keels over with nervous exhaustion and you lose a life. Death by REO Speedwagon. No thank you!)

I saw my break and hit A-A-A-A to dart out into Bourbon. Though I wasn't caught up in any currents, this being a Random Wednesday Afternoon and foot traffic being relatively light, I did somehow stumble into a coven of Drunk Cougars. You can tell these women are Cougars because they wear the bengal-print cowboy hats and lots of faux-gold jewelry. As if the spray-on tan over the tanning-bed tan wasn't clue enough. (The graphics are so good on this game! I heard the designers were Oscar winning set decorators and key set wardrobers. I believe it.)

Shit. They spotted Dog. I held A and pressed the joystick Left to rein in Dog's lead again. Her head was darting around so spasmodically that she started that backwards-circular-walk thing which some forum members say is a glitch in the programming because it's so not-lifelike and weird and almost impossible to snap her out of.

"Ohhhh! Puppy!!!!" screamed all the Cougars at once. I hit pause and checked my Vitals — Eardrum Level was in the yellow. I gotta get out of this, I thought. Drunk Straight Girls may be loud, but the Cougars are the worst!

Dog was still in a tailspin (ha-ha) and I had to hit Y-Y to yank her out of the panicky programming glitch. It wasn't working. If I couldn't get her out of this backwards jumping/stumbling nonsense I'd never get off Bourbon. I hit B and joysticked Down to aim my speech at the dog. My guy said, "C'mon Dog. C'mon Dog. C'mon dog. C'mon dog." Did you know you can press down on the joystick itself, like finding reverse in an old VW, while holding the B speech button and your avatar will make little kissy noises? Only do this if the regular "C'mon Dog," thing isn't working, as the kissy noises can also attract Drunk Straight Girls and Show Queens.

Finally Dog snapped out of her funk and I Y-Y-Y'd her out of the huddle of Hand-Grenade-spilling Cougars and across the street and off Bourbon the requisite ten feet where I stopped and let the Eardrum Meter and the Anxiety Meters (for both my guy and Dog) melt down into green again.

There are lots of characters in this game that can only be on Bourbon Street. It's brilliant design. There's a force field thingy eight feet off the street that they can't cross. It's fun to stand ten feet away from the street, and two feet away from the invisible wall and watch them sorta moonwalk in place, trying to get to you or Dog. My favorite thing is when a Drunk Fratboy wants to start some shit with you and keeps punching the air two feet from your face, then, when he's exasperated, throws up and it bounces back off the force field and drips down his pastel Izod shirt (collars up, of course).

Anyway, meters down into a safe green reading again, I hit B and Down to say, "C'mon Dog," and we continued down Orleans Ave. toward the back of St. Louis Cathedral.

I've played Jackson Mississippi Dog Walk before, but it's not nearly as good as French Quarter. The churches in the Mississippi version are tough to get around. Evangelicals, fundamentalists and Westboro-type hatemongers can be tricky to navigate and if you lose a life there, you go to hell for an eternity—booorrrringgg. And there are just so many damn churches in that other game! In FQDW, the churches are generally considered safe zones though, New Orleans being a godless town, with the sole exception of St. Louis Cathedral and its black wrought iron fence loaded with crap paintings the Bad Hippie Artists are hocking. That's on the backside of the Cathedral. The front is tourist hell, and while you sometimes get extra points for going through Jackson Square, I find it's generally not worth it. Especially on higher levels. Too risky.

I should mention that I chose the avatar "Homo'ner" (the gay homeowner) who is my all time favorite. I set the age to mid-40s. While the higher ages take their toll in your guy's reflexes, speed and shorter-fused Annoyance Meter, I've found that setting the age to, say, mid-20s attracts way too many Cougars and, even worse, A-Gays. If an A-Gay gets a hold of your guy and he's in his 20s, watch out! He'll get dragged to the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann and your Eardrum Level will shatter in a matter of seconds from the Oontz-Oontz Clubs there. So I stick with 40s, cranky and crippled as he may be.

For wardrobe, I generally choose Locals' Nondescript. Suit-and-Tie attracts too many Bum and Thug characters. And while you can choose Dragqueen, I don't know why anyone would; it attracts everyone! You can mimic other characters too, if you want. You can dress Fat-Midwesterner or Fratboy or whatever, which makes you invisible to those characters, but more attractive to scam artists and Ahkahava…-type Baddies. Like the Bad Hippie Artists. You can also be a Gutterpunk, which is a good choice because everyone avoids you, although the NOPD tend to beat up your character more, and for no discernible reason. But the trade-off for being a nearly invisible Gutterpunk is the only type of Dog you can have is Unfixed-Male-Rabid-Pitbull-with-Mange, which is constantly infecting tourists with its random biting habits and thus you keep having to start over—not to mention slowing down your avatar with frequent stops to scratch fleabites.

Locals' Nondescript wardrobe makes walking down Pirate's Alley along the side of the Cathedral a no-sweat affair. You just have to make sure that when one of the Hippie Artists says, "Nice Dog," you hit the B speech button or do a quick X/Y wave to acknowledge the compliment. If you keep walking and ignore them, they're liable to start screaming after you, "Your Dog's a bitch and so are you!" and hello Annoyance Meter and Dog's Agitation Meter due to the ruckus!

I hooked a right at the Pirate's Alley Bar, by which I sufficiently avoided Jackson Square and the myriad Baddies lurking around there. Plus, the bar's patrons are usually Goths and Pirates, which, if you're wearing Locals' Nondescript, don't pose any sort of threat. (That I've found! I'll let you know what happens on Level 25!) If you're wearing Wiggercap set to Slant or FrumpFrock on one of the Fat Midwestern avatars, the Goths laugh at you and the Pirates … go, "Arrrr," or whatever it is Pirates do. But in my guy's garb, it's safe passage. Plus, they're the prettiest characters to look at. It's not all about strategy and completing your quest, after all. The game is gorgeously designed and you'd be a fool not to enjoy the scenery and (some of) the characters. Stop to smell the flowers. All that.

And by the way, the game designers aren't so misanthropic that all the 3rd person characters are Baddies. I mean, you've got Friendly Neighbor Man, and Bartenders You Know, and Visiting Gay Guys and others who are actually fun to interact with. But when you're on a quest, any character can knock you off your path by dragging you into a bar for a quick shot or shag. So while I admonish you to stop and smell the flowers and interact with some of the non-Baddies, just be aware that even the Goodies pose a threat in their own way — if you're on a quest. Okay. Back to the walkthru—

I made the turn at Pirate's Alley Bar and walked the short stretch towards the Gelateria. If you're playing in August, this can be a doozy. Sometimes your character is sucked into the shop for a refreshing ice cream, but his ducats are decimated due to the Gelateria's exorbitant pricing. I'm playing in October though, so it's less of a threat even on such a high level. The irregular jutting banquettes of the sidewalk in the Pirate's Alley are still perilous, but when are they not — ha-ha.

Another half block went by with relative ease. I managed to dodge the Suburban Pram-Jam—khaki-clad mom and dad pushing twin strollers with little cabbages screaming their fool heads off inside, taking up the whole sidewalk. You could dash between two parked cars to avoid them, but chances are high you'll get stuck because they're parked so closely together, or you'll get run over by a Ghetto Boomboom Mobile with spinning rims if one is happening by. A master of the game mentioned in the online forum a quick and easy way to deal with the breeders and their sidewalk-hogging spawn: you just stop, turn around, and stay still! Rarely will the parents slam the pram into your, or Dog's legs. Note: definitely keep the leash short when playing Lamp Post Decoy as Dog (especially Rescue Dog) sometimes likes to snack on infants. Lose a life. Go to jail. Do not collect $200. Wait. I'm mixing my game metaphors. Back to the scenario…)

After waiting until the Suburban Pram-Jam is out of range, I let Dog sniff something gross on the wall of the Cabildo to drop her Effluvium Investigation Meter back down and sallied forth to the next block.

Shit. The yarn store. I wish I hadn't set my character's Nelly Level so high. It's hard to walk by without getting sucked in, and it lowers your ducats if you get caught in there. Through some joggling of the joystick, I made it past okay. The bank was on the next block.

I saw a clump of Fat Midwesterners taking up the sidewalk. There were lots of drunkenly swerving cars in the street, so I didn't want to go around them that way. The tourists were in the dangerous four-square formation, backs to each other forming a square and their fingers jutting out to point at things at random, like a human throwing star. You have to time walking by these guys very carefully. They often wait until you're right next to them, then — PING! — poke your eye out pointing to something. I pulled in Dog's leash, waited for the mom character in the FrumpFrock to retract her pointing arm, then hit A-A-A-A to dash past them. Made it by a pixel.

The barker outside the Maspero's restaurant had a wicked looking menu that he was pushing in people's faces. After having almost lost an eye to the clumped family on the previous block, I risked darting into the street and around a parked car in order to avoid losing an eye by his sharp-cornered laminated menu. The street was clear of enormous trucks from Texas swerving around — a small miracle for Level 20, and I was at my destination at last.

I steered my guy into the bank, and a few seconds later he came out. I collected my star for completing the quest, but of course if I didn't make it back to Home alive, the star would be forfeited.

The last few minutes of the game had been going pretty smoothly. A lot of newbie gamers couldn't have made it past the yarn store or the pointing/poking Fat Midwesterners, but I've been playing this game a long time and consider myself an expert.

And dat pride sure do goeth before dat fall, because I didn't look twice at the Pottering Old Man standing on the corner by the Napoleon House. I didn't notice he was leaning on an umbrella. Never mind that it wasn't raining, on Level 20, the designers just throw everything they can at you. And sure enough, for no logical reason in the real world (but this was a video game, so logic needn't apply), the man opened his umbrella, hit my guy in the face, he went stumbling into the street and was run over by a mule cart and died. Game over.

Sigh. Back to Home Base to try to complete the quest again.



Retard

Desert Island Music

There are a few — not many — albums that I can listen to on repeat indefinitely and never get bored with them. For one reason or another, each has a complexity that satisfies the requirements to keep me interested. I have a low tolerance for sub-par, facile music that attempts nothing innovative. Which is to say, I have a low tolerance for about 98% of the music out there.

I don't adhere to any particular genre. The only genres I shun entirely are new country and R&B. Oh, and, I'm sorry, but "contemporary jazz" annoys the shit out of me. In the latter case, my music theory and ability to parse what's going on tries to appreciate modern jazz. I know what they're doing, and I often respect the innovations. But aesthetically it's all a traffic jam on 5th Ave. to me. The song titles of most contemporary jazz might as well be, "Fucking Around in Eb."

The following contain no dud tracks. They're brilliant works of art taken as a whole, and I literally can listen to them on repeat all day.

In absolutely no particular order:


I'm fortunate to know these people. I understand this album was recorded acoustically in a church, in single takes. Their entire opus/career is brilliant, and this stands out amongst the other gems.
ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: Mercurial



CIBO MATTO: Viva! La Woman!



If I have a favorite band ever, it's this one. I honestly don't think I'd've made it through my Turbulent Twenties without them. And as of 2010 when I had the exquisite pleasure of meeting Kristin Hersh, I consider myself the luckiest sum-bitch in the world to be able to call her a true friend and even collaborator. I've never met anyone kinder.
This early'ish album was my introduction to them and holds a special place in my heart because it opened up worlds to me.
THROWING MUSES: House Tornado



I'm not putting in repeats of bands, but Kristin's punk incarnation I consider wholly different from Throwing Muses, and this album is genius in its own right.
Amazingly, not many people know this band exists. They're a brilliant powerhouse, and every time I play them on the jukebox at The Saint — every time — someone asks me, "WHOA! Who the hell is THIS? It's amazing!"
50 FOOT WAVE: Golden Ocean



I had this on cassette and listened to it until it broke in my walkman in the early ’80s.
CHEAP TRICK: At Budokan



THE CURE: Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me



NINE INCH NAILS: The Fragile



I actually dislike "Tainted Love" when played on its own, but in context of the larger, well-plotted story this album tells, it fits, and soars.
SOFT CELL: Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret



Every one of these concertos gives me the goosey bumbies.
(In the case of classical music, these are links to the particular performances I consider definitive.)
CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS: The 5 Piano Concertos



I know everyone's gaga over Glenn Gould's interpretations of Bach, and so am I, but in the WTC books, I prefer the constancy of Keith J.
KEITH JARRETT: J. S. Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" Book I



DE LA SOUL IS DEAD



ERROLL GARNER: Body & Soul



ROGER MILLER: All Time Greatest Hits
  • Current Music
    All of the above, looped in my head.
  • Tags
Gay Stories

Vows

Filing away the previous journal entry on my hard drive, I stumbled across a draft of my wedding vows to Ben.

This is a happy find since I lost the paper I read off of at the ceremony, and the video of the event is so windblown (we were on a beach) that you can't make out the words.

So in the case of my computer and back-ups exploding, I'm putting them here. Livejournal is forever, after all.


Todd Perley's wedding vows to Benjamin Black,
Provincetown, MA, 29 July, 2010
For seven years I have lived each day aware and grateful for your presence in my life. Through the good days, the bad days, and the fly-over days, I have never taken your love for granted. And my love for you has remained constant throughout. (Except for a week or so during our renovation of Manderley, but I never pretended to claim infallibility.)

Your contentment is my peace of mind.
Your joys are my own.
Your worries and disappointments I share equally.

Though few would guess we were birds of a feather, the bonds that have tied us for seven years run profoundly deep. You truly and literally have been my better half.

I marry you today both as testament of the importance of all the joys and sorrows we have experienced together in the past, and as a solemn promise to continue to love you, respect you, support you, and share my life with you. For I cannot envision a life without you. I am forever obliged to the universe, stars, Fates, deity or deities responsible for the unlikely miracle of bringing us together. I would gladly sacrifice a goat to prove my obligation, but I don't see one on the beach at present, and I don't have the proper permit I imagine P'Town requires.

Instead, I will simply repeat, ad nauseum, "I do! I do! I do! I do, I do, I do! I DO! I do! I do!!!"…
Gay Stories

Where Do You See Yourself in Ten Years?

That's always such an annoying question to be asked: "Where do you see yourself in X years?" For the first few years of my college career, my declared major was Undecided, an option weirdly offered by my alma mater. I pounced on it the second I saw it listed along with a phone book of more specific majors that flummoxed me into pigeon-holed claustrophobia. I think I've lived up to my chosen field of study with exemplary aplomb, changing my career, my habitat and my personality with a deft hand that, if I may say so myself, defines the state of being Undecided. Career-wise, I've been an accountant, a furniture mover, a vacuum salesman, a bartender, an armchair psychologist (same as bartender), a graphic designer, a web designer, a musician, a retail salesclerk, something to do with Wall St. (still never figured that one out), a writer, a painter, a composer, a post production do-it-all, a sidewalk artist, a chimney sweep, and just once, a whore, just to see what it felt like to be paid for it. (Answer: sleazy, awesome.) In short, I can do a staggering number of things not very well—a jack-off of all trades.

I've lived in London, Upstate New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans, always looking for something that felt like what I imagined "home" should feel like. (Answer: New Orleans.)

I've been the cool kid, the detested outcast, the studious bookish type, the drunken idiot, the Goth, the bad poet (during the aforementioned stage), the punk, the victim, the bully, the momma's boy, the philanderer, the philanderee, the loyal pillar, the mess of loose marbles, straight, bi and gay. (Answer: gay.)

So where do I see myself in ten years? If I cared to answer the invasive query, I'm certain of the answer's uncertainty. I'm right to say the answer will be wrong. You'll have better luck calling 29 black on a roulette wheel and hitting it, so why not just fuck right off to the casino and leave me alone with your tired, unimaginative questions? And good luck!

My prophetic utterances would never have been more wronger than if you had asked me on 17 June, 2003. I remember the day well. It was the one year anniversary of the breakup with my ex. Though I dumped him, it nearly murdered me to do so, and every one one of those 365 following days after I sadly had to oust him from my life, there was at least one point I'd have a sudden breakdown of tears. It happened like lightning. I could be out with friends, enjoying cocktails on the levee and the moonlight on the Mississippi, and I'd excuse myself, find a quiet corner, and cry for ten minutes. I guessed that was what love did to a person, and I failed to see its allure if this was the price one paid when it ended.

I remember thinking if someone had asked me on 17 June, 1993 where I'd be in ten years, my answer never would have been "Wandering around the French Quarter in New Orleans mourning the loss of a boyfriend whom I'd lost exactly one year prior." I mean, to start with, I was [ahem] "straight" in 1993.

That June evening in 2003 was Movie Night, a weekly thing at the (now-defunct) 735 Club in the French Quarter. My friend Cameron curated the event, mismatching a number of subjects for a wacky triple feature. That night it was The Muppets Take Manhattan, Meet the Feebles, and … funny, I don't remember the last one. I never made it that far, as this story will illustrate.

About half way through the second film, I got up to stretch my legs and take a quick walk around. I think my ass had fallen asleep from being in a chair so long. I walked outside and wandered to the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann. There's a large gay bar there, The Pub, that showed the new episode of Queer as Folk every week. I had never seen the show, so popped in for a moment to watch a bit of it.

This drunk out-of-towner came over to slur and coo at me. I remember feeling lonely, sad and horny during my little walkabout, but mostly sad as I obsessed over this dismal anniversary of being alone.

The guy seemed fun. I took him back to the 735 Club to watch the remainder of Meet the Feebles, which is like the Muppets if Charles Bukowski wrote it and Paul Morrissey directed it. We sat on a round settee making out over the recumbent, sleeping form of my friend Genevieve who would occasionally wake up just long enough to see what was happening, grab my hand, place it on the guy's thigh, and conk back out.

Nature ran her course, the little tramp, and soon we were off to his room at the (now-defunct) Wyndham at Canal Place.

He told me his name was Ben, and I even managed to retain that information for awhile, bad as I am at remembering names. We had a good old-fashioned raunch-fest for a couple hours, and later, when he was in the shower and I was wandering aimlessly around the hotel room, I glanced at a pile of mail and saw it was all addressed to "George."

Really??? I thought with dismay and disgust. He gave me a FAKE CLUB NAME? Do people still DO that? REALLY?! (Answer: he went by his middle name, Ben, though was still George on the dotted line.)

Ben/George/Whoever asked me to stay the night — a strict no-no in the word of gay trick etiquette, but I enjoyed being with him so much that I said yes. It was that, or go home and reexamine the wormhole that sat where my heart used to be, alone with my cat.

I stayed the night. And in the morning, after more crimes against Leviticus, we went across the street to the (now-defunct) Rue de la Course café and just enjoyed each other's company and conversation. In the ephemeral world of gay tricking, this is pretty much unheard of, and we both knew it. And I think we both recognized the rarity of what was happening.

What if we end up together? I thought, terrified that the very act of thinking it would jinx it. I didn't dare to hope.

Ben went back to his home in Nashville; I went back to my little life bartending graveyard shifts at the (now-defunct) Hideout. But we kept in touch. No, that's not quite right; we did more than keep in touch. We kept our dialogue going as if we were still in the same room thanks to the miracle of the (now-defunct?) Microsoft IM and the amazing modern convenience of the (now-defunct?) ISDN internet connection I had at the time.

He worked from home. I had days off, so we had a lot of time to chat on IM. He was a professional gambler, which I thought was interesting and I grilled him on the minutia of his daily routine. He was satisfyingly forthcoming, telling a relative stranger perhaps more of the trade secrets than he should have, but I was voracious on the subject and demanded specifics.

A couple weeks later, The Hideout closed for good. I wasn't scheduled to work, but I happened to be wandering by and my boss Leila was on the balcony above the bar and spotted me in the crowd in the street. "Todd!" she called, "You're working tonight! This is it! We're closing!"

The Hideout, for those who weren't there, was legendary in the Lower Decatur punk rock dive bar scene, which suited me fine for the personality I inhabited at the time, and that last night out-rocked all previous evenings, which is really saying something. Though I wasn't at CBGB's on its closing night, I could still argue that our send-off was more raucous and stimulating and epic than theirs. (You can read about that night here.)

I was the last one out of The Hideout in the morning when the remaining booze and beer had been consumed or removed and the cash register taken away. Leila's husband Christopher actually had to install a padlock on the doors that had erstwhile remained open for 24 hours a day for the last seven or eight years. And I remember thinking as I followed everyone out the doors, I wish Ben could have been here. The thought was jarring. I had just spent the night with my closest, most beloved friends, and about 900 of my happy acquaintances, and here I was pining for a trick who lived in Tennessee.

Another jarring thought that morning as a small crowd gathered solemnly to watch the padlock being installed: I hadn't cried that night. For the first time in a year, my ex's absence hadn't affected me to that degree.

The Hideout closing was the end of an era, but it was also the end of my job. Though I didn't have much money saved, I felt I needed a break from the whirlwind of New Orleans before I dived into whatever Providence had lined up for me next.

Should I go to Europe? See friends in New York? See family out West? I thought. Or see Ben in Nashville? If staying the night at a trick's hotel was a no-no, and coffee the next morning was even more unheard of, flying to a trick's city where you knew no one else and staying at his house was complete anathema. Madness, I tell you. But I broached the subject with Ben on IM and his response was a resounding YES! AND HURRY!

I booked a flight. He picked me up from the airport and took me to his house. We spent a lot of time in bed. We spent even more time talking, each extending trembling tentacles of wonder and curiosity, ready for the whole thing to collapse at the first sign of flakiness, nefarious agenda, idiocy, psychosis, or whatever else one usually finds in the sleazy world of gay tricking. None of these signs became apparent.

I remember sitting alone on Ben's deck, smoking, looking at some nail heads that had worked themselves up and out by a few millimeters over time and thinking, I guess I'm in love. It was no more spectacular than that. Nary a firecracker exploded, nor angels broke into beguiling harmonies. I didn't dare tell him this yet. No quicker way to scare someone off that by telling him you love him, after all. So I found a hammer and smoothed out the errant nails in his deck instead and contemplated the peace in my heart with quiet gratitude.

The next few months were spent with him or me flying to or from Nashville or New Orleans, weepy farewell kisses at airports though we both knew we'd see each other within a week. Soon after, Ben moved to New Orleans; I drove the moving van from Tennessee. Though we were both optimistic about a possible future together, we were cautious and he didn't move in with me. Instead, he found a rental just around the corner from my house in the Garden District. We could see each other's balconies. I suggested we run a tin can and a string and call it a mobile phone.

And shortly after that move, we made the decidedly UN-cautious move and bought a house together in the Bywater.

I quit bartending and became a professional gambler.

We survived the strife and strain of Katrina together.

We bought another house in the French Quarter and remodeled it (more stressful than Katrina.)

And now it's ten years later. And I didn't see myself where I am, big surprise. And that guy who gave me a fake name at the Wyndham is asleep in our big bed with one or more of our pets. And we've survived now-defunct hotels, bars, clubs, cafés, and all the erosion of a decade. And though it's been a difficult ten years for me physically and emotionally and mentally, there was one thing in my life that was unwavering in its constancy and dependability, and that's the mutual love, care and respect that Ben and I have always shared. My world could feel like it's crumbling, as it often has in the last few years, but there's always Ben ready to stand by me.

In 2010 we were married on Cape Cod in Provincetown with two other couples we know from New Orleans, but really, we were kinda married that morning at Rue de la Course by the Wyndham sharing coffee and trying to fool ourselves that this wasn't happening because things that seem too good to be true are usually just that.

And if you asked me today, "Where do you see yourself in ten years?" I'd roll my eyes and suggest some possibilities. I may be running a firewood business in Vermont. Or a New Orleans daiquiri stand in Sitges, Spain. Or an exotic cattery in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or you can just fuck off with your tired question because I have not a ghost of a clue where I'll be in ten years.

Except I do know. I know exactly where I'll be in ten years.

I'll be with my husBen.
Desperation

The First Time I Got High

"Scott Sussman," I mumbled last night, walking home from the corner pub with my dog and my husBen.

"Who?" asked Ben.

"Just a name I've been trying to remember for a few months," I replied.

[Your screen goes wavy-flashbacky. A lower-third announces "35 YEARS AGO." There is a yellowish-greenish filter over the film to denote the ’70s.]

Scott Sussman lived three houses down on our little cul-de-sac in suburban California. He was a grown-up—probably sixteen or seventeen. I was ten, and that was a generational gap.

He was a Bad Boy. Our little Planned Übercommunity didn't offer much in the way of surprises, so Scott Sussman was someone to be in awe of, even as I feared him and his renegade pack of bad-ass friends.

I guess they were bullies by today's nomenclature, though the term really wasn't used much then. if it were used, it didn't have our current criminal subtext. There were no support groups for the victims of bullies. Kid-life in the ’70s was more like animals sharing space in the wild fields of Africa. Certain species knew to avoid other animals. There was no bitching about how the preying animals were bullies; it was just the natural order of the food chain. Deal with it or get winnowed out.

Example: one day I was riding my bike around the neighborhood. I guess I looked like a wounded gazelle because Scott Sussman and his cackle of hyenas spotted me from their car and decided to lunch upon me. Perhaps I had scraped my knee that day and they smelled the blood. Or maybe they, like dogs, bees and common street thugs, smelled the fear that rolled off smaller creatures like me all the live-long day, exuding a perfume of irresistible I'm-weak-please-fuck-with-me pheromones.

Whatever the reason, as I biked across someone's driveway, Scott Sussman revved his car, squealed towards the driveway, and slammed on the brakes, nearly hitting me, and cornering me between the garage and some impenetrable shrubs.

I whinnied like a spooked pony and tried to back my bike up. Scott Sussman revved his engine angrily, still in drive, with a foot on the brake, making the car shake and lunge like Christine getting ready to attack.

The cackle cackled, and Scott as the pack leader howled with glee.

This went on for approximately EVER, and I'm fairly certain there were tears involved. My tears of terror. Theirs of laughter.

As is often the case with memories in excess of 30 years, I cannot recall how this episode ended. I might have maneuvered my way out of the corner and peddled down a small alley, or they might have grown weary with their game and zoomed off. The idea of telling mom about the incident wouldn't have occurred to me. Even at that age, it seemed fruitless to accuse the lion of acting like a lion. "Stay away from lions, stupid," would be the only logical response to my tattling.

Scott Sussman had peed on enough trees in the neighborhood that all the smaller critters knew this was his territory, whether he was immediately present or not.

While I was mortally afraid of Scott Sussman and his pack, I was also intrigued. As a young child, I looked at people older than I to gauge what I would be like when I reached their age. My grandparents were clearly never going to enjoy my Cheap Trick records, so I prematurely grieved the loss of my own interest in rock and roll. My father neither "got" nor approved of my Rocky Horror Picture Show fascination, so I knew when I reached his age, I would disapprove as well.

I did not want to be a sixteen or seventeen year old bully, though by my logic this fate was inescapable, and so I studied Scott Sussman and his cronies’ ways to prepare myself to be the kindliest bully I could be. If I had to be a bully. Which, apparently, all teenagers were.

And so it came to pass, one fine day, that I was happening past Scott Sussman's house. The garage door was open, and he and his friends were messing around inside doing mysterious teen-things and laughing.

"Hey kid!" called Scott as I passed. I cringed, readying myself for another lion attack. But I was simultaneously and equally intrigued by what was going on.

"Yah?" I piped.

Scott stayed seated (which put me a little at ease), eyed me disparagingly, then asked in a quieter, kinder tone, "Ya wanna get high?"

Scott Sussman's pack quieted down as if the teacher had walked into the rowdy classroom. School was about to begin their quietude and stares implied.

"Sure," I said, dizzy with the fact that we were having a peer-to-peer conversation, and thrilled at the potential insight into the mysterious rites of the Alpha-Teens. School was in session!

Scott eyed me for several unendurable moments. His gaze was an inscrutable poker face, but his concentration on me was terrifying and electric. One could almost hear the gears and cogs clanking and spinning as he devised how he mentally penned the plot.

"You ever get high before?" he asked me with the solemnity and gravity of a police interview.

My answer was the standard answer extracted from kids when asked about grown-up things of which they knew nothing: "Sure. Lots of times."

He could have asked me if I'd ever killed and chopped up squirrels, hijacked a car, calculated π to the 100th decimal place, or had sex. The answer could only be: "Sure. Lots of times."

Scott Sussman's gaze penetrated through my liar's face. He allowed himself one chuckle and a half smile—more of a tiny explosive sigh and a lip twitch.

"What'd ya get high on?" he quizzed.

I should probably mention that I had no idea what the fuck Scott Sussman meant by 'high'. In my sheltered world, coke was cola, drugs were Flintstones, and weed was a garden invasion. And goofballs were stupid kids like me, trying to figure out the complexities of a big, scary world.

I rifled through possible answers to his perplexing query. What did I get high on? My bike? Climbing a tree? Getting on the roof of the house? Ooo, that might be a good answer, because it was not only high, but forbidden, and whatever was going on in Scott Sussman's garage that day was clearly something my parents would forbid!

I went with the standard catch-all answer: "You know. The usual stuff." This rejoinder was the pepper to the previous salty answer of, "Sure. Lots of times." Where one went, the other was sure to follow.

Scott assessed me again, taking his time as I agonized like a beetle stuck on a pin.

"All right. You're cool," he proclaimed to my astonishment, and held out a little paper-wrapped square.

I approached with the same caution and terror the rabbit would feel approaching the lion. Scott Sussman's eyes at once mesmerized me, and made my stomach crawl up my throat.

I took the little rectangle and quickly backed away two steps, holding his gaze.

"TRIDENT," said the wrapper in red diagonal repetition.

GUM? Wait, maybe my answers hadn't been lies! I HAD chewed gum before. "Sure. Lots of times," as the saying went. But I failed to perceive how height may have entered into this somewhat pedestrian pastime. Did gum taste different in a tree or on the roof? I must look into this some time.

Why the hushed tones from Scott Sussman, and the conspiratorial silence from his goons? Gum wasn't even forbidden! I mean, okay, maybe mom would prefer I chewed sugar-free gum, but…

"You ever done [hooba-zooba]* before?" asked Scott.

*I can't remember what he called this gum drug, but it was complicated and, in hindsight, completely fabricated on the fly.

"Sure, lots of times," I replied a little more confidently, knowing nothing bad would come from this encounter if a stick of Trident cinnamon gum was the worst culprit on the scene.

"Cool. Take it then. Let's get high."

I unwrapped the little pink rectangle and gave it a cursory glance, checking for broken glass or some other mean lion/hyena trick. It looked unaltered.

I popped the gum in my mouth and began chewing.

Nothing was happening.

After what seemed like hours, but was probably just 30 seconds, Scott Sussman checked on the verdict. "So? Do you feel high?"

I was still lost for an answer since I didn't know the verb "to be high." What could it possible mean? Should I start levitating? Can people do that? Does gum help? What answer was expected of me? I didn't want to seem ignorant now that Scott Sussman was treating me, comparatively speaking, as a peer and even initiating me into a secret teen rite. We were halfway to becoming best friends!

Then —POW!— it hit me. I knew what high meant! I felt a rush—a little dizzy, but in a good way. Everything was clear. I could get used to this feeling, I thought.

I smiled at Scott Sussman. I had figured it all out, and the pride I felt from my cleverly deducing the state of being high got me—well, a little high.

My eureka moment: height had nothing to do with it! Oh, you're a sneaky one, Scott Sussman, and no slouch. I'm onto you though. Because there are in fact two meanings of the adjective ‘high’. You think little kids like me are just too dumb to get it? I'll show you who's dumb!

"So? You high yet?" asked Scott again with grave eyes in which I could perceive a tiny sparkle of merry mischief.

I took a deep breath and squeaked in a tiny voice — as high as my voice would go: "SURE AM!"