Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fernando Remembers

Fernando, recently the object of scorn, was first performed at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in the late 80s as part of more intimacies. I have performed the character for more than 20 years, in venues all over the world; most recently for Hollywood Remembers at a Lutheran church. I will let the piece speak for itself.

"A man needs to be fucked."  Those were his exact words.  This white boy with yellow hair, the color of corn. From Ohio. Or Iowa. I do not know the difference. "A man needs to be fucked."  Jim. I call him Jim-Boy because he looks like he could have been on The Waltons. That's my children's favorite show; they watch all the reruns. Jim showed up at the club where I have been dancing for the past twenty-three years--since before he was born. He'd seen my picture in a newspaper advertisement. "I like manly men," he said to me. "Macho men, dark men, older men. Men with sturdy legs and strong stares."  "I guess I fit the bill," I said to this boy with much guts, "but I am not gay." He did not blink. Those clear blue eyes starred right through me, penetrating me. "A man needs to be fucked," he whispered. Everyone assumes male dancers are queer. Not true!  I grew up with kids taunting me. "Here comes the dancer," they'd say. As if dancer meant fairy, pansy, fruit. "Here comes the dancer." I learned to outrun them. Most of those guys are dead by now. Gang fights. I outran them and I outlived them. Dancing was not what my father had in mind for his only son. "Dancing is for sissies," he'd hiss. In order to go to dancing school, I had to prove I was no sissy. I became a ladies man at a very early age. My father was impressed--if not with my dancing ability, with my ability to attract beautiful girls. I got married to please my Dad. I was seventeen. Marrying Gabriella made it easier for my father to accept the idea of me becoming a dancer. There was never any question about what kind of dancer I'd be; from the time I was a little boy and saw a picture of a flamenco dancer, I knew. While other boys wanted to be Superman, I longed for the power and the passion I saw in that dancer's strong stare. His impenetrability. I tore that picture out of the book and carried it in my pocket. For inspiration. Thank God I was good enough to get a steady job, flamenco dancing, about the same time Gabriella got pregnant. After I moved away from  home, I remember only two serious discussions with my father and both of them were about ass-fucking. One of these "man-to-man talks," as he called them, was when Gabriella ballooned up from the pregnancy. "You must not commit adultery," he said, being a strict Catholic. "Yet, being a man, you'll have urges and your wife will be too sick or too fat or too something," he said, looking me in the eye. "Find a boy, a puto, to fuck in the ass," he said, as if this was the Eleventh Commandment. "Find a puto to fuck in the ass. Feels great," he said. "You won't know the difference." Like Ohio and Iowa, I thought. So I did. And it did. Our second man-to-man talk came when Gabriella was pregnant with our third child, less than three years later. "You obviously haven't figured out how to practice birth control," he said. I knew he wasn't talking about rubbers, forbidden by the Church. "You must learn to fuck her like you fuck those pretty boy putos. Then no more babies." Suddenly I knew why I was an only child. Gabriella wouldn't go for it--"hurt too bad," she said--so we had two more kids in as many years. Five hungry kids to feed on the salary of a flamenco dancer was not easy. Many women at the club had offered me gifts. And I accepted. I knew they wanted to feel what was between the flamenco dancer's sturdy legs. When a lady presented me with a hundred dollar bill, I knew she wanted more than a feel. I blamed Gabriella. If she'd let me do what my father suggested, I wouldn't need to fuck this old bag for a hundred bucks. But I did; the kids needed to eat. It became a weekly ritual with this rich old broad. Then I started servicing her girlfriends. I was exhausted but I was making an extra thousand dollars a month. That was fifteen years ago. I still--even at my age--get offers. As long as they don't see my feet, I can make a few extra bucks. As long as it doesn't spread up my legs. Onto my face. Into my mouth. There's one conversation my father and I did not have about butt-fucking. A conversation that might have saved my life. "A man needs to be fucked," Jim-Boy said. He's rubbing my feet. We're in his hotel room, which he's rented for the weekend. The picture of me in the newspaper advertisement is on the dresser. "You have so much attitude when you're onstage," he says. I don't understand "attitude." "Charisma," he says. "Oh! Garbo is what you're meaning." "Garbo? Like in Greta Garbo?" he asks. We laugh. He begins licking my feet, putting each toe in his mouth, like they are cherry popsicles. Sucking my toes. I am feeling things I have never felt before. He tickles my feet with his silky yellow hair; I feel his finger slide into my ass as he works his way up from my feet, kissing my ankles, my calves, my knees, my thighs, my balls. I am completely wet. His tongue is inside me. I will never be the same. He fucks me with his tongue and then he's on top of me, kissing my face, whispering in my ear. "Tell me how much you need it," he says. "Tell me how much you need it." "I need to be fucked," I hear myself say, under the spell of this boy from Iowa. Or Ohio. It does not hurt but I feel tears on my face. Or could it be the juices from his mouth? I am coming. I am gay! I am not gay! I am a husband and a father. A good Catholic. I am a Spanish flamenco dancer. I am not Mexican. I am a ladies man. Those are not lesions on my feet. They are badges of passion, purple tattoos oozing from places on my skin where his lips touched, feet first, then moving up my legs, inside my ass, up my chest, inside my mouth, until I am covered with his lovely kisses, his deadly marks. A violet shroud of love and death. I will not die. He gave me his youth. Injected me with immortality. Into my brain. I do not have AIDS. I am not gay. I am not a grandfather. I am impenetrable. Superman. Immortal. Spanish, not Mexican. A ladies man. A man needs to be fucked. I am a ladies man who needs to be fucked. Now I know the difference. Before Jim-Boy I did not know the difference. Between straight and gay. life and death, Ohio and Iowa. Now I know. The truth.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Letting Go

Letting Go

Fuck letting go.

I attended a rehearsal for the 25th anniversary production of Robert Chesley’s Jerker, marking the first time that I haven’t been involved in a local presentation since the night of the world premiere a quarter of a century ago.. Certainly this band of ribald queers, led by impresario Glenn Kessler, doesn't need my help but I can’t let go of the play. So I’m engaged as a “consultant” which means I get to watch scattered rehearsals and—like flashbacks stored in every crevice of my consciousness—relive my intense relationship to the play’s soul: its humor, its politics, and its inescapable bed of pain.

I happened (?) to walk in during a moment in the play that Chesley and I had wrangled over. In what was a very bold choice, I wanted the two characters—who never meet in person, only over telephone lines—to break the imaginary wall between them and actually kiss, lips on lips. The brilliant playwright finally agreed to see if I could make it work. I did—so much so that the move is now a permanent part of the script. And, passing the torch, Kessler is making it work, too—stunningly.

Kessler’s approach encompasses a company of seven sexy performers; in addition to the two leads, he is incorporating a team of players who will essentially recreate—live—some of the play’s erotically-charged memory passages. What I have seen promises to illuminate the play in ways we haven’t experienced it before. This is why I had to let go.

Producer Jason Moyer and I trade publicity postcards at the rehearsal I attend (you show me yours and I’ll show you mine). His card depicts a telephone (not a cellphone, an actual eighties telephone) and spells out the full title of the play: Jerker Or The Helping Hand, A Pornographic Elegy With Redeeming Social Value And A Hymn to the Queer Men Of San Francisco In Twenty Phone Calls Many of Them Dirty. It provides the details: opening on Friday, November 4 at Space 916; get tickets at

My postcard shows the partial face of a weathered man, with his eyes closed and his silver gray bushy moustache unkempt. My new solo piece, which plays  one night only on November 30, is called Torch. This is the story a man, over sixty, who can’t seem to let go of his youth, his memories, his heat, his sexuality, his past lovers (dead and alive). But he must let go or face the last act(s) of his life as a prisoner to The Past.

The juxtaposition of these two postcards encompasses decades of theatre that speak to  the cultural phenomenon of HIV/AIDS in ways both similar and wildly divergent.

In certain respects, Torch is an emotional sequel to Jerker. The man reconnects with a lover on Facebook and they resume a convoluted romance that they had not finished four decades ago: on the Internet, instead of the telephone, they share emotional and sexual intimacies that never result in a face-to-face meeting. There’s no death in Torch other than the demise attached to letting go of inflamed memories and stumbling into old age as a gay man with HIV.

Directed by Tony Abatemarco, Torch will be presented by the Katselas Theatre Company’s INKubator along with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Tickets: 702 582 8587 or online at KTCTICKETS.COM.

More reality based and less theatrically rendered, here’s the swelling heartache: I cannot let go of my daughter. Can. Not. Let. Go. Of. My. Daughter. She has left our apartment, where we have lived since she was a baby, and is spending her junior year of high school at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, studying filmmaking. My feelings of pride are only equaled by my pangs of agony. If the “love of your life” is the person you have the deepest feelings for, the person you would die for, the person you are entangled with—emotionally and spiritually—more than anyone else, Katherine (Tia) is the love of my life.

I imagine that I hear her in her bedroom. I feel her brush up against me in the kitchen. I hear her coming home, opening the front door; my phantom daughter, haunting my dance with loneliness.  I have not lived alone for seventeen years so here I am, earlier than expected, fluttering about apprehensively in an empty nest. Not Yet. I will not let go of my daughter. But. Not Yet.

I feel like I’m on a tightrope, with the stabbing pain of neuropathy ever present, walking on tiptoe from the past into the present and terrified of the fall that’s ineluctably in my future. But I suppose it’s that fear I must let go of ultimately, right? Yah, I’ve read all those books, too.

I love the work Glenn Kessler is doing and I know Robert Chesley might have initially winced but would ultimately wallow in this newborn adaptation. Chesley worshipped sex. And the politics of sex which Kessler certainly knows how to portray with a wink and a nod—and perhaps a hard-on?—in Chesley’s direction.

I love my new piece, Torch, and all of its stingers and zingers. I love that Tony is directing me—a man who is unique but also shares so many of the qualities that my fallen brethren possessed. I am nurtured as an artist.

And, finally, I love my daughter with a passion that is unparalleled. And who can be sorry about that, even if there are periods of longing that are torturous.

That’s what life dwindles down to: what we have, what we had, what we remember, and how to let go gracefully: knowing that everything is stored in our hearts, hearts that promise to beat immortally, taking up residence in the hearts of others.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Someone recently asked me, as I am asked repeatedly, to “speak at a meeting.” What kind of meeting needn’t be spelled out (I assumed it was not a meeting of the Daughters of Bilits or the Ku Klux Klan). It is a twelve-step meeting; specifically an AA meeting (Alcoholics Anonymous, not Aryan Acrobats). Summoning the requisite honestly (one of the tenets of 12-step programs, I think?), I declined.

This individual also casually asked, as I am repeatedly asked, for help with kickstarting his career. Another “meeting,” I surmised. To both requests, I replied with honestly:

“I began drinking with no adverse reactions about a decade ago so I’d be a hypocrite to speak at a meeting. I would happily have an initial meeting about your career but I would have to charge for any subsequent meetings since this is how I make a considerable percentage of my living.”

My sincere and expedient response to his requests received no reply.

What I find troubling is the frequent mergence of the GLBT community and The Industry when it comes to 12-step profiling. For the devout twelve-step member (and there isn’t enough ink in my printer to list the myriad addictions)—whether n the queer tribe or the show biz cult—there seems to be a sense of superiority regarding the rest of the human race, especially directed to anyone who has reverted to their “addiction” and begun to function anew with no negative results (not one, in my case). This is a sweeping generalization but I perceive its veracity. There is also that mafia-esque hiring practice that favors its own in spite of talent or ability.

And I’m not an idiot; I know that some people cannot and should not ever pick up a drink. But I also suspect the number of my Facebook friends will plummet.

For the record, I stopped drinking in 1982. I resumed drinking lightly about ten years ago. None of the things “they” said would happen have happened. During the time that I have been drinking, I’ve had more complications (physical, emotional, spiritual) from the voluminous HIV drugs I’ve ingested than reasonable amounts of alcohol and/or marijuana (soothes the 24/7 unbearable neuropathy pain that I experience—wanna argue that one?).

I am neither a doctor nor a scientist but I’ve read a lot about how the brain changes over time, a subject I am particularly interested in as a parent. The formation of the brain we have at twenty (around the time I began drinking alcoholically) is decidedly not the same brain I had in my fifties (when I chose to drink responsibly). That is a fact. Or at the very least it is a scientific theory I not only believe but my behavior supports.

There are also other issues at play. I have a child. And like Susan Hayward, I want to live. I want to be a grandpa.

But I don’t want to be infantilized, treated as if I’m unable to make choices for myself. At some point, I chose to believe HIV would not kill me because I trusted my body. I also trust my body when it comes to having a glass of wine at dinner with friends. I have never gone home and drunk a bottle of vodka and ventured out driving around town in search of tricks (or treats).

I will always refer to myself as “a recovering alcoholic” but part of my recovery and “spiritual awakening” has been taking moral responsibility for my actions. I don’t judge the choices of other people; I am able to decide what is right to put into my body; I return phone calls and messages.

Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life and I am forever grateful. It gave me a renewed perspective that I attempt to apply on a daily basis. But, try as I may, I am still addicted to sugar, work, and saying what’s on my mind in a public way.

There are over 400 Alcoholics Anonymous slogans on the Internet—ranging from Dr. Suess cutesy (“If you stick with the bunch, you’ll get peeled”) to profoundly life-avowing (“More will be revealed).”

I choose to believe that more is constantly being revealed, including data on the dogma of Alcoholics Anonymous. And, whatever you do, please don’t tell me you’re saving me a seat.

P.S. I imagine I will receive many responses to this blog—either demonizing me or extolling me. I will politely tell you in advance that I won’t answer those because I don’t want to appear either defensive or self-righteous.