A lesson in karma from the Morlocks

This past weekend I had a major breakthrough in the burgeoning field of PTSD management: I went out on Saturday night like a normal person.

I saw the loser who sexually assaulted me in the flesh in the same room for the first time since I confronted him.

It went well.

I have a lot to say and write about that interaction. There was both vodka and learnings. Stay tuned.

I’ve been going back over the thousands and thousands of words I’ve written but haven’t posted because much of it consists of fragmented jeremiads, poor formatting, and using “fucking” as a placeholder. One of the aspects of Saturday I’m focusing on is my developing sense of justice and its proper scale.

Back in the last week of July, I wrote several pages exploring the relationship between sexual trauma and justice. It never went anywhere because it just devolved into way too many words about the Categorical Imperative. I TA’d Contemporary Moral Issues for two years; I can do Kant. 

But in those pages from late July, I found this snippet:

Maybe he’s walking down the sidewalk, and a grate opens up underneath him. He plummets down a metal chute — with exposed rivets —at an angle about twice that of the giant slide at the State Fair. Steep enough to frighten and disorient, but not too steep where he’ll land with a pain-ending THUD at the bottom. I think I need the pain to continue.

It’s a perfectly fine paragraph. Could be tweaked in a few places, but I think it captures the capricious nature of justice, and the imagining the loser getting slide burn seems right. I hit save and haven’t looked at it since July.

However, considering how my late AUGUST went….

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I try to comfort myself that, despite a constant worry about the wages of my sin and how I’m bound for Hell, it actually was the Morlocks who were summoning me. Maybe they needed recommendations for good Eloi in town. But, the Morlocks know all the good Eloi places; that’s there whole thing.

Instead… Continue reading

A sheer leotard and a sexy bug: Experiencing Ric Ocasek.

Ric Ocasek’s death this past weekend hit me kinda hard. At this point I’m pretty inured to the musical icons I grew up with dying. Prince. Tom Petty. Heck, I even choked up a bit when I saw that Eddie Money passed away a few days prior. “Shakin’” will always be one of those songs that I scream along with when I’m alone and cannot be shamed for my awful, awful voice.

When I heard that Ric was gone, I needed to sit out on the porch for a while and be quiet. Then I put on Candy-O.

Ric was gut punch. 

For me music is an even more of a memory trigger than an aisle of Yankee Candle scents. And the deepest of those memories have a visual component:

–Sometimes it’s a movie I’ve conjured up in my head based on the lyrics. I do a harrowing Edmund Fitzgerald.

–Sometimes I imagine I’m up there performing a song. Usually that song is “Caribbean Queen.”

–Sometimes it’s the layout of the room where I listened to that song. Whenever I see ice glazing the trees, I’m back in our family room on Long Island during the ice storm of 1973 —the ice storm in The Ice Storm. The power was out for days; my dad was out off town on business; my mom was low on smokes. We huddled in sleeping bags and blankets in front of the fireplace. Our only entertainment was a very sturdy, pretty huge transistor radio clad in avocado green pleather. WABC 77 had this thing where they would play a particular song twice in a row, declaring it a “WABC repeat repeat RE-PEAT!” before starting it over. WABC’s chosen song, again and again, while the world froze? “Top of the World” by The Carpenters.

But so many of the musical memories lodged in my brain are tied to the promotional ephemera put out to promote the work. Album covers, videos, even those carnival prize mirrors —I stole three of them from my job at the Zoo Amusement Park: Mick Jagger’s lips, Pink Floyd’s Wall, and a psychedelic nightmare left over from REO Speedwagon’s “Riding the Storm Out” days. They fit perfectly one atop the other on the side of my stereo cabinet.

My intense memories of Ric Ocasek and The Cars stem from this non-musical side of music.

I will get thru the obvious one first. I lost my virginity on a Friday the 13th in front of the wooden altar of a 25” console television playing MTV and the video for “You Might Think.” It won the very first MTV award for best video. In it, Ric cute-stalks a model who looks like his famous model wife but is not his famous model wife thru an oversaturated fluorescent world set against a black background. Video effect follows video effect until Ric turns into a bug. Continue reading

Panic with purpose; or, that man is clearly trying to slip me a Quaalude!

Part 3 of… “Being vulnerable in the face of sexual assault (when you’re pretty sure it was your vulnerability that got you assaulted)”

This past Friday, I had what can only be described as a “beneficial panic attack.”

I had to flee a location. That alone was not unusual. Since I confronted the loser who sexually assaulted me this past May, I have fled more rooms than I have entered. Yes, it’s a paradox that violates all rules of space/time. I know that. I’m not here to explain quantum mechanics to anyone, but I live in a constant state of Schrödinger’s Panic Attack. Every room can contain a variable that will trigger me OR it may not. It’s completely random; I can never be sure until I open the box. And I never stop opening boxes.

PTSD messes with your sense of space and time. I’m told it’s the amygdala.

Entering new rooms has pretty much devolved into the same multi-point kabuki of driving around the block, breathing exercises, looking for exits, etc. Over and over again.

Once that is all done. I can how scan the horizon like a meerkat looking for that single point of information that I can extrapolate into a dire threat to my person.

Extrapolating from single points of information is what gives each panic attack it’s own nuances, it’s own notes. When you extrapolate from a single point, you can go anywhere. Literally. That’s how geometry works. Each panic is different, which is why each one imprints itself on the palimpsest of my PTSD brain. “Indelible on the hippocampus,” as the wise woman said. Continue reading

Yes! And I would like to stop talking about sexual assault now. Please?

Part Two of series that’ll be as long as I need it to be:

“Being vulnerable in the face of sexual assault (when you’re pretty sure it was your vulnerability that got you assaulted)”

Now that I’ve moved past the etymological implications and diversions of the word “vulnerable,” I need to get busy being vulnerable. Seems like the best way to be vulnerable would be to interact with people.

Of course, it was a “people” that assaulted me. There will have to be some work to do before I can go back to feeling my standard annoyance in crowds rather than dread.

Fear has a way of flattening. Going to a bar or a party is like one of those tactical ranges you see in cop shows. Two-dimensional cut-outs pop into view, and you have to decide RIGHT THEN AND THERE whether or not the old lady with the grocery bags is packing heat. Except I have to peer into the cut-out’s mind and figure out whether or not they’re not going to listen to me if I say no —either that night, or a few months down the road. I shouldn’t have to go all Minority Report just to grab a beer and be around people.

But not all people are that smirking loser, although sometimes it seems all people are smirking-loser-adjacent. Since I confronted what happened, it’s been very easy, too easy, to recall all his behaviors as threatening. Then it’s a quick step to concluding that every action by every person is a threat.

But, there must be literally dozens of people in Greater Columbus who are not him. And nothing like him. If not, I’m screwed anyways. Continue reading

Vulnerability, I am com-miiiiiiiing!



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Part One of series that’ll be as long as I need it to be:

“Being vulnerable in the face of sexual assault (when you’re pretty sure it was your vulnerability that got you assaulted.”

The worst aspect of dealing with the PTSD caused that smirking bastard sexually assaulting me is that I’ve been closing myself off from others. It’s not just that I’m scared to step foot in a gay bar. That I can understand. Unfortunately, I’m also avoiding friends, family, and anyone who can help.

My therapist says I should be more vulnerable, more open to these interactions. I’m not going to get thru this alone.

But isn’t vulnerability what got me into this mess? I certainly was vulnerable when he assaulted me. Now I’m supposed to be some sort of therapeutically vulnerable?

Etymologies will help. Etymologies always help. They’re not just for SAT prep anymore.

As I tried to wrestle with the contradiction of being vulnerable when vulnerability got me in the situation where my therapist says I need to be vulnerable, I went down the etymology hole. I go there whenever my therapist introduces me to a concept I don’t quite grasp.

New concepts from the therapist’s office often land with a bit of a clunk with me. It’s not that they don’t make sense —the words are never “big” words —it’s more that they come into my brain thru the wrong door, too fast. Researching the etymology helps me guide them thru the proper door at a proper speed. Continue reading

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day nine.

I got the window seat at the coffee shop on a snowy day…

Bite me, Mrs. Murphy!

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Instead of doing what I “should” be doing, I’m looking at snow.

It’s a wintry vindication.

Being able to stare at snow in lieu of work is one of my most cherished activities. It’s been that way since the first day it snowed outside of Mrs. Murphy’s fifth grade class at Malibu Elementary in Virginia Beach.

That helmet-haired, pinchy-faced woman was probably the most damaging teacher I’ve ever had. Continue reading

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day eight.

This shirt has fucking pockets!

This shirt has fucking pockets!

This shirt has fucking pockets!

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Yes! This fucking shirt!

The one I got last night at the fucking Von Maur’s in the fucking mall. Six dollars!

My six-dollar, originally 78, plaid, heavy twill shirt has pockets!

All it took was a mindless act. Just putting away my earbuds. Sometimes, it’s the simplest acts which unlock the most.

I was walking into Franklin Park Conservatory, the giant municipal biodome. My sister had gifted me a membership. I would’ve been happy enough with the admission and 10% off in the gift shop. But I had a new shirt that the gentleman at Von Maur’s assured me looked as good as a six dollar shirt can look on someone. Continue reading

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day seven.

Having the whole hot tub, swimming pool, and/or ocean to myself.

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The pool at the Belvedere.

Kate Winslet was right. At the end of Titanic there clearly wasn’t enough room on that headboard for both her AND Leonardo DiCaprio. Jack had to die so Rose could experience the joy of being in the water alone.

There is nothing better than floating alone. When I’m in the ocean, I like to face away from the beach so I can’t see anyone else. Then I pretend I’m Rose, just floating alone, not a care in the world. And somehow still clutching a big ass diamond.

A couple of Sundays ago I spent an afternoon in Columbus, Indiana to soak up that sweet, sweet modernism. I spent the night at the Hotel Indigo downtown. They had an indoor pool and hot tub. Since this was a Sunday night in December, the hotel was practically empty. 

I had the whole pool area to myself —I was nothing but moist, pruny bliss for around 90 minutes.

I could crank up my music, line dancing to Donnie Iris’ “Ah, Leah!” from the 3’ section to the 4’8” section and back. And forth. Again and again. Above the water and below. I am a graceful nymph when unconstrained by most of the gravity.

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Then I took to the hot tub. It was spiral, a fibonacci of pleasure. The unique layout allowed me to contort myself in front on the jets in manners both therapeutic and profane. No one want’s to see a middle-aged man releasing his psoas muscle with the jets.

Then back to the pool to dance to the sixteen-minute version of Santa Esmeralda’s disco classic “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

Then back to the hot tub. My coccyx could use some work.

Then pretending to float dead to “Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins.

I lifted my head out of the water only to see a mother and a father with their toddler. The parents let out a sigh of relief at not having to explain the dead body to the front desk. The little girl was ready to leap in with her puffy pink winter coat. “Come on in. The water’s fine!” I crooned. The girl accelerated he pace to the edge. 

“We’ll wait until after breakfast tomorrow.” They took their daughter away from the happy man in the pool.

One of the best things about solitary pool bliss is that many times your very alone-ness engenders further bliss…

This past August I took a long weekend on Fire Island. I stayed at The Belvedere: A Guest House for Men. The hotel is gay man’s 1950s fever dream, all decaying Roman statues and oil-paintings of young men doing calisthenics.

As is often the case in places with “…for Men” in their names, the entire hotel was clothing optional. Because I’m just soooo blindingly pretty, I optioned clothes upon my body. Why drive men crazy with something they can’t have?

I’m very claustrophobic; I don’t like people pawing at my body; it makes the walls close in. People think just because you’re staying at the gayest hotel in the second gayest town on Fire Island, you’re a sample cart at Costco. “Please try the Nervous Irish Sausage. It’s only $8.99 on the end cap.”

I actually had to shriek, “This is not a negotiation!” at one gentleman. He assured me that I didn’t understand that entering the hot tub, even when it’s empty, was tantamount to me consenting for an inner thigh massage. “It’ll loosen you up.”

Thank you… happy being tight.

Therefore, I was in heaven the one night I had the whole area to myself from 11pm to 12:30am. It was a salt-water pool. Something about the extra buoyancy gave me the confidence to remove my trunks. Nothing ruins being naked than other people seeing you naked.

The Belvedere had a classic disco Sirius station playing in the pool area. How often in life does one have both room to twirl AND the option to do so naked?

The upside of being the only male in the pool “for Men” is that when someone comes down to the pool, looking for thigh massaging opportunities, they cannot handle your bliss. The see a solitary dumpy —yet blindingly pretty —middle-aged guy frolicking to a 12” of M’s “Pop Muzik,” and they’re kinda weirded out. Most folks do not find the vision of me frolicking sexy, and for that I am glad.

So they leave.

You know you’re properly alone when your solitude makes intruders uncomfortable.

 

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day four.

The album art, especially the lyrics, for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road because Grooving Is Fundamental.

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In my seven-year old opinion the finest turntable that folded out of a wall was made by NuTone Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio. Only the truly civilized had turntables that folded out of a paneled wall. The first time I saw a turntable that just sat on a shelf, doing nothing, I was confused.

Strathmore was the eighteenth subdivision built by Levitt & Sons on Long Island. Situated on 677 acres on both sides of Exit 50, Bagatelle Road, in Dix Hills, they built 560 homes on large lots with no sidewalks. To get to the subdivision’s pool, you had to cross over the Long Island Expressway.

Most of my world consisted of one of four colonial-adjacent floor plans: the Endicott, the Fairfield, the Judson ranch, and ours, the five-bedroom Valbrook. Neighbors my parents did not know were referred to as “Y’know, the Judson up by Bagatelle. Those people.” A life lived in one of four plans —maybe six if you included school and the mall —got old very quickly. I needed more.

Luckily, I knew where in each of the four floor plans you could find the NuTone Intercom System with its fold-out turntable. It was always on the wall of the family room, nearest the kitchen. The fold-out NuTone was my sidewalk; it went places.

If you stood on the part of the sofa where your mom usually sat when she actually sat, you could easily reach the handle and pull down the turntable. Drop a record, hit start. The NuTone did the rest. It knew where the record started. Music just happened, which is the best thing for music to do. From there you could send music into every room, even your own bedroom, where you could let the sound from the three-inch plastic-mounted speaker wash over you in all its monaural splendor. 

Or you could just dance in the family room.

When you were done dancing because you’ve banged yourself into the fireplace and have sit down, you can occupy yourself by reading the lyrics of whichever one of your older sisters’ albums you were listening to.

Back then, there was an ad for Reading Is Fundamental that played constantly between cartoons. A city kid meanders sadly through the rubble of a bombed-out Lower East Side, brand new Twin Towers in the background. He is sad because he has nothing to read, no escape from his humdrum existence.

[No, I did not understand the difference between inner-city poverty and prepubescent suburban ennui.]

rif kidThen he spies the RIF bookmobile and runs to join the one-of-each diverse line waiting to get in. Once among the books, he picks a large one called I Am Somebody. He bounds joyfully to a quiet perch on the edge of the East River. The cruel city melted away.

This is how I felt when I opened up an album sleeve and settled down on the couch in the place where my mother sat but rarely sat. I would follow along with the words to each song. I was going places in my head. I was somebody.

And the place I went to the most was somewhere beyond the Yellow Brick Road. I strapped on my ruby red platforms and stepped thru an album cover shaped poster into what I assumed was Oz. Or at least somewhere Oz-adjacent.

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I was very familiar with The Wizard of Oz. It was always a special occasion when CBS ran it. Once my parents insisted that I watch it on the black and white tv upstairs. No! “Then how am I supposed to enjoy when it turns to color? You have to let me watch the beginning in the family room. I will go upstairs when it switches to color.” They agreed to that, probably because they could see my face was turning a bright Technicolor as I continued to argue that a black and white to color switch in only black and white was a metaphor for my miserable life.

And if The Wizard of Oz went from black and white to color, what did it look like BEYOND color after you said goodbye?

Turns out it’s sort of pastel and involves ALL the fonts.

Second grade was the year my teacher put a note on my final report card saying that I needed to lighten up. It was when I started getting bored and feeling different. At school I would try to be interesting. Interesting doesn’t go over well in the second grade. People let you know.

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But when I unfolded Goodbye Yellow Brick Road I went to complicated places where being merely interesting just wouldn’t cut it. You had to be really fucking interesting to merit a mention in this world.

But before you could meet these people, you had to journey thru what you were sure was the longest piece of music every written, “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” Eleven minutes, six seconds.

It just builds and builds as Dix Hills and the fake brick in the family room recede. You’re moving thru Oz. You will only emerge beyond Oz when Elton finally lets you know that the roses in the window box have tilted to one side. 

“The roses in the window box have tilted to one side” may be the greatest flower-related opening line in all of art this side of “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

People did shit in this Oz-adjacent world. Shit that tilted the very ground.

They confronted death… “Funeral For a Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding,” “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-1934),” “Candle in the Wind

They had drinking problems… “Social Disease,” “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

They owned clothes a bit better than my Toughskins. I mean I felt I was close to Bennie sartorially because I had my “Monday” Toughskins jeans with the shiny tic-tac-toe boards bedazzled on the ass cheeks. [“Because it’s Monday, Mom!”] But she had shoes that were electric and suits made from mole hair —here abbreviated as “mohair” to fit the meter… “Bennie and the Jets

There were women just like those next to Dad’s office in Times Square that you went to every Jewish holiday who were dressed up “because they’re on their way to work, son.” This was not a lie. [“Ron! Why do you have to point that stuff out to him?”]… “Sweet Painted Lady,” “Dirty Little Girl,” “All the Young Girls Love Alice

Don’t miss the hardcore girl-on-girl action! Have fun watching your sister Kallen dodge your questions about the lyrical contradictions you’ve noticed pertaining to perceived notions of gender and sexuality… “All the Young Girls Love Alice,” see above

There’s mystery! Seals turn into birds for some reason not apparent in the lyrics… “Grey Seal

Seriously, what the fuck do seals have to do with birds? Why can’t everything be in the text?

Because sometimes you have to do the work yourself.

So I did the work. Each song became a little movie. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doing backstories on each character based upon Elton’s hints. From the album artwork I learned that the stories we get to hear are only a part of a character’s life.

To this day, it’s the lyrics of a song that gets me going. Beats come and beats go, but lyrics are forever. Any idiot can dance to a beat; a true connoisseur mouths along to the lyrics like they’re living it. I dance to a song because, in that moment, I am sure that I am the subject of the song. 

One must bounce around to honor that feeling.

Reading the colorful, ALL the fonts lyrics to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road made me love music. And music makes me interesting.

At least to me.

25 days of joy, constraint, & my holiday brain: Day three.

The distant sound of transport*

*No, this is not the rejected title of a Pink Floyd from their sad late 80s chapter.
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The Lackawanna Valley by George Inness (c. 1856)

Because this is the frozen hellscape Ohio where the ice weasels roam, it’s been really cold the past few nights. Before I go to bed, I like to stroll around the yard to wind down. Most nights the cat accompanies me. She really doesn’t like to go outside during the day because birdsong frightens her. Some really bloodthirsty wrens had a nest near the porch this summer.

On nights like this the air is clear and cold like leaded glass in an old casement window. It’s frozen, but you can sense movement; the glass is thicker at the bottom. It’s flowing. The higher up you go, the thinner it gets until the glass will shatter if you so much as lay your eyes upon it. That’s how it feels to look at the stars.

railmapOne would expect, or hope, the night would be silent. It’s not. I live in the middle of Columbus, the largest city in the Midwest that’s not Chicago. There’s stuff going on. I live a block from High Street. One mile to the east are the CSXT and NorfolkSouthern railroads and I-71. One mile to the west lay both the CSXT tracks and six lanes of OH-315.

People and things and stuff are moving up and down these corridors all night long. Most nights, it’s just a soft woosh, about as loud as one of those beige metal white noise machines your shrink has outside her office. But on these nights, I can hear each individual car, truck, and boxcar. I even imagine I can tell whether a motorcycle is a Harley or some Japanese rice rocket —as the owner of the only motorcycle I have ever driven referred to his Yamaha. For the record, I went ten feet… and into the side of an Accord. Therefore, I am an expert on what bikes sound like.

It’s like lanes and lanes of individual stories to my east and to my west, heading north and south. I am surrounded by lives being lived, stuff getting done, things being used.

I am alone, but I am a part of something. My world is large even though I dare not venture out of the cat’s sights because, you know, wrens.

Distant transport has always sparked me. When I was a small child on Long Island, I fell asleep to the sound of traffic on the Long Island Expressway. Our street ended at Exit 50. By the time I was eight, I could tell what the weather was like even before I opened my eyes. Tires on dry pavement have a different pitch than on wet. Icy pavement screams.

Since then:

  • Fighter jets out of Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach off to fight the Commies.
  • The Hollywood Freeway competing with coyotes in the hills.
  • The Upper Deck of I-35 in Downtown Austin running over the roof of the Crazy Lady on the next block —a constant back and forth between “Twenty-one, and barely legal!” and “NO ENGINE BRAKES”
  • Tugboats on New York Harbor. There’s been bells helping move stuff there for over three hundred years. I doubt the sound of bells has changed much in that time.
  • All through high school, on cold glassy nights, you could hear the elephants at The Columbus Zoo. It’s the 19th century, and I’m i somewhere in the British Raj.

These are the machines in the garden, just waiting to take me out of my idyll. They appeal to my nomad brain, teasing me with what’s beyond the horizon.

But… I learned that the LIE was a different monster when I would visit my friend Francesca Klein. She lived up the hill, on Petit Court, and her backyard WAS the Long Island Expressway. Francesca liked telling elaborate stories in an odd cadence that made little sense if you didn’t catch every detail, but each car that screamed feet from her patio doors would jostle me out of the narrative. I don’t being jostled, just ask anyone who’s ever tried to get a beer with me.

A lot of Francesca’s stories involved cars that ended up next to her swings or that time a person hurt in an accident came to the patio doors and banged on the glass. Being too close to transport is scary. Cars are big; trains are even bigger. They go fast. Force equals mass times acceleration. It’s expressed in Newtons, which is too ridiculous of a unit of measure to be killed by. Dreaming of hopping on a boxcar and eating beans with jaunty hobos is one thing. Standing next to a moving train is another thing that recalls that time you swore you were going to tump off the subway platform into the path of a G Train. The G Train is a coward’s death.

But from a mile away, it’s nothing to leap up from the alley and onto something going somewhere fabulous —even if it’s just heading down to Cincinnati. Cincinnati is exotic destination on clear nights. They have hills. That’s a change, and change is good.

Bonus joy…

I first encountered the painting at the top on the cover of Leo Marx’s seminal 1964 history book The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in AmericaWhile researching what the name of the painting was, I stumbled upon a page that must’ve been made by some American Studies prof sometime around 2002. There, next to The Lackawanna Valley was The Peaceable Kingdom, which I just happened to mention in Day Two of this exercise.

I love when that happens. Stuff fits together even before we know it fits together.

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go figure