Coverage of me and other train wrecks: my mama, subway nut jobs, sex and the environment.


Train Lit

My friend Kara lent me her copy of Barbara Kingsolver's High Tide in Tucson. It's a collection of essays about all kinds of stuff. I've been reading it on the train to and from home and work. Yesterday morning one of the essays was too provocative to read standing up. I scrambled for an empty seat.

Here's the passage. She's talking about the Gulf War in early nineties.

"If we felt disturbed by the idea of pulverizing civilizations as the best way to settle our differences--or had trouble explining that to our kids as adult behavior--we weren't talking about it. [...] If democracy were really an issue we considered when going into that war, Iraq might have come out a nose ahead, Kuwait being a monarchy in which women held rights approximately equal to those of livestock. [...] but the level of discourse allowed on this subject was "We're gonna kick butt." A shadow of doubt was viewed as treason."

That last part sounds like our foreign and domestic policies. So what exactly is the discourse now? It's certainly more complex than "let's kick butt." But we're not allowed to see caskets of fallen soldiers and we're not allowed to see pictures of massacred Iraquis, their orphaned children huddled against strangers's legs. Bush recently linked the insurgency to the media's coverage of the "negative" aspects of the War in Iraq. Excuse me--the situation in Iraq. Slowly articles have been appearing analyzing whether or not the situation is actually the eruption of civil war. Questions have been asked, but the public remains inactive, waiting for change.

How mundane my commute was yesterday morning. I should've been in D.C. painting scowling words on my body, ripping apart notions that we have advanced and that waiting will bring change.


Old E Train

The chunky old E trains are relics of early 1980’s design. All silvery metal dulled from pollution and teenage scratchings, ribbed horizontally on the outside and dimly lit on the inside. They clunk along making that nostalgic sound you can’t get anymore, especially not on computerized trains like the 4/5/6 or the L, which make more that clean whizzing sound. The E train is rickety and dirty.

On the E on my way home Sunday afternoon I sat next to an older lady who promptly turned to me and asked if the train was headed to Kew Gardens. Indeed it was. And she went on to explain that it’s been 10 years since she’d taken the E. She used to take it more often—every day, twice a day. Her job was at the hospital doing intake paperwork for patients and she had to take the E to get into Manhattan from her home in Queens. Ten years ago the E ran to and from Kew Gardens, but she wasn’t sure it did anymore. And at 78, she wasn’t sure if she was even remembering correctly in the first place. Her confession came with a nervous laugh.

I assured her her memory was tip top and the clopping train would make the same stop it did last decade. Her smile and thanks were grandmotherly—full of love. And she exchanged the help I gave for bits of her long life. Disconncted memories. The move up to New York from her hometown of Mobile, Alabama at the age of 20. A friend of hers was traveling to Daytona that week. Spring break, I wondered. Another friend was to fly down too but her bones aren’t what they used to be. And we laughed at people who think New York is full of rudeness because we’d found kindness on a rolling Sunday train.


Mama's Dog Day

From a telephone conversation with my miami-based mama yesterday:

MAMA: The front door neighbror’s dogs were getting in my property and tearing up my plants and they had even made a hole in the ground to tear out one of my fruit trees so I went to the neighbhor and told him about the dogs and told him he should keep his gate closed because the dogs were getting loose.

ME: Right.

MAMA: Loose, he says, like he didn’t know his dogs were running outside. All the neighbhors have had the dogs in their property. And then he looks at me sternly and I say, come, come over so you can see the holes. No I don’t need to go see anything, he says. Well in America it’s illegal to let your dogs run loose. Miami’s not America he says.

ME: Uh huh…

MAMA: So I’m going to call Animal Control and then we’ll see if we’re in America. And he says to me, when they come YOU’LL be the one arrested, not the dogs. And so I left.

ME: What an asshole. Did you call?

MAMA: I called Animal Control from a number Fito [another neighbor] gave me and the lady said there was nothing they could do and I told her listen, the man’s sons wear baggy pants and she said to be careful and Fito gave me her number, and she says, if your car is vandalized or if something happens on your property call the police. That means other people have complained about them.

ME: Wait, baggy pants?

MAMA: Yes.

ME: What does that mean?

MAMA: You know the baggy pants, that’s what gang members wear.

ME: That’s a stereotype, you can’t—

MAMA: Delinquents . The other neighbors tell horror stories about what they hear coming from that house, the stuff they scream, and their sons are involved with gangs. That, I know.

ME: Okay…

MAMA: So nobody can do anything because they’re afraid, of course. The dogs came in yesterday and since that lady said to be careful because the family must have connections I just tried to shoo them out with a bucket without being seen but these things make me very nervous and my stomach has been terrible. I had six diarrheas that day.

ME: Six?

MAMA: Mm hm. That’s why I called because sometimes the best pill for my stomach is to hear the sound of a wonderful son’s voice.


Less Gentle Manliness

In 7th grade during Mr. Moore’s math class I would sit in my assigned chair-desk-combo behind Shannon Janowsky. She was a red-headed, freckle-faced athlete into running and softball. When other girls were becoming rounder and, dare I say, chubby, Shannon was fit and lithe and strong. And she was such a smartie pants I wondered whether she was THE ONE. Except I didn’t wanna bang her, just, you know, spend the rest of my life with someone LIKE her.

One afternoon, I arrived in class to find that Shannon had put her bookbag on the floor next to my desk. It was right next to my seat, so that if I wanted to get into or out of my seat, I would have to climb over her stuff. So I moved HER bag next to HER, sat down, and dropped MY bag next to ME on the floor. Shannon pushed my bag out of the way and insisted her stuff needed to be next to my chair because there just wasn’t enough room on the floor next to her. In fact there was plenty of room. About 3 square feet of room (Mr. Moore encouraged visual estimates of area).

Like Sisyphus with his stone, I again put her bag back next to her and brought my bag next to me. And she again protested, but this time she threw my bag to the side, before nailing her own bag next to my chair with her foot. As I tried to move her stuff out from under her shoe she grabbed my arm. “Let go.” She muttered, in a tone worthy of The Godfather. A murderous “or else” was embedded in her words. Believing myself to be in the right on the matter of bookbag placement, I didn’t let go. She dug her nails into my flesh, digging and tugging so hard she scraped off my skin in five spots, one for every fingernail. Five bloody skin flaps over five bloody holes that were growing by the second. My whimpering alerted Mr. Moore, who intervened with a roll of his eyes, and told us to quit it and to put our bags by our sides.

My parents had always taught me I wasn’t supposed to hit girls or curse around them or be rude or insensitive. Females were innocent and helpless, they would say. And I was supposed to go out of my way to ensure the comfort of all types of females: young and old, fully-formed and burgeoning. And so, in spite of the fact that Shannon was being a crazy freak, I felt remorse that day because I had broken a cardinal code of gentlemanliness: I didn’t let a girl have her way.

This twisted childhood lesson explains why yesterday I felt the same paranoid guilt after an encounter on the V train. Upon boarding I noticed a row of three seats. The middle one was free. I sat. At each of the two ends sat two similar women: both shorter and narrower-bodied than I, both taking up more room than necessary. They had to scoot over when I sat down to make room for me, and I’m a short skinny guy.

Whether it was because the train’s stop-and-go movements were shoving us onto and off of each other, or because of an eclipse of whatever planet governs subway etiquette, the woman to my right began pushing up against me. At first I figured she was just adjusting. But the pressure increased. First she pressed against me with her forearm. Then her upper arm. Then her thigh, her ankle, her calf—until she was pushing against me with every inch of skin on her body’s left side. My shoulder was crushed by hers. No longer comfortable, I adjusted my shoulders back and what followed between me an Little Miss Putz was this:

PUTZ: Oh no no no no no! You are not going to do that to me! No no no no no!
ME: Excuse me?
PUTZ: No no no. I know what you are trying to do, I know!
ME: What am I trying to—
PUTZ: Shoving your elbow into my side, knocking me off my seat!
ME: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you fall.
PUTZ: Just don’t be jabbing me with your elbow anymore.
ME: My elbow? I was adjusting myself.
PUTZ: Jabbing me with your elbow.
ME: Well it’s too bad you interpreted that as an assault. I’m sorry you can’t reason enough to realize it.
ME: Do you need help?
PUTZ: No, I don’t need help.
ME: Oh, so you’re okay then?
PUTZ: I’m fine.
ME: Good. Well listen if you need me to move—
PUTZ: I don’t need anything from you!
ME: If you need me to Move my bag or readjust myself so I’m not in your way, just let me know. Obviously you can speak, so you should use that—
PUTZ: I don’t need anything from you except for you to stop shoving me off my seat with your elbow!
ME: And you know a thing or two about shoving, don’t you. And you’re still in your seat, so you know a thing or two about exaggerating the truth, too. In fact, in a court of law, that’s called a liar. You lady are a fucking liar.
PUTZ: Stop talking to me!
ME: Okay, I won’t talk to you anymore, but remember, if I’m in your way, you can always open up your mouth and let me know.

I get a kick out of being passive aggressive in these circumstances because maintaining an air of politeness while simultaneously exposing someone’s shit-headedness makes me feel so accomplished. I’m a multi-tasker. Everyone else on that train, though, probably thought I was an asshole.


Mama's Boy

My parents have always been noble, honest people with a complete lack of irony. To them the idea of making fun of another person is out of the question--it's a hurtful manipulative thing to them. They don't like it and they taught me not to like it. So in middle school when I'd come home crying, I was a victim, in their eyes, of cruelty, injustice, and the rampant degradation of morality in "these times."

From my father I learned that I could use agression and force to deal with the bullies. But I was puny and weak and didn't stand a chance against those bovine-growth-hormonal pubescent muscle jocks. I was the boy who always flinched.

From my mother I learned that I could use my honesty to fight the teasing. I could approach a teacher and honestly say what I'd been told by the kids. Nothing was respected less than a tattler in W. R. Thomas Middle School, so I refrained.

During the school day I avoided most social contact within the windowless walls of the institution. After school I cried at the names I'd been called and the jokes that'd been made at my expense, which really were funny now that I think of them. Back then my mother still dressed me so I wore these cumbersome button down shirts, short-sleeved with strange pastel prints on them that have never been resurrected since the late eighties. And pants. I wore lots of pants. Nice pants. TOO nice for public school when other kids were wearing old t-shirts and jeans. Oh, and brown mocassins, which today I can't even look at without having nightmarish visions of a preppie teenage hell. Poster child for the Sears Catalog?

And the best reason to make fun of me was that I was so scared using a locker would make me late for class that I carried two bookbags, for all my books and binders and school all times. Walking home from school I'd be carrying the two bags, my magenta tupperware lunchbox and my french horn. My forearms were strong.

I'd get home, forearms pulsing with blood, neck strained from the load, and cry about the day's teasings. One evening, mom couldn't take it anymore. She thought I was being traumatized by the other students and she decided, without telling me, that she would take matters into her own hands.

The next day I was staring at my English teacher guiding us through the symbolism in the Eternity commercials by David Lynch when my name was called on the PA system. To the principal's office for the first time EVER. I was mortified. What had I done?

When I got to the office there were the 4 boys I would sit with at lunch time, the principal, and my mother.

The principle had me face my bullies and confess what they'd said to me and explain to them how it hurt my feelings. So, slowly, with trepidation, I confessed. The principal turned my confession into an accusation. The kids, all 4 boys, were suspended from school for a week, and for that week I sat by myself at lunch. And after that week, none of the boys would talk to me. Alone. A lone eater--the worst social status possible in middle school. Those kids--the "bullies"--were actually my friends, but I didn't know that friends could tease each other and still be friends.


Train Car of Life

When I boarded the train this morning, I moved towards the center as I usually do (pat on the back for courtesy). There was no seat available so I stood, and removed my bag from my shoulder to the floor so that people around me wouldn’t be smacked by it. I accidentally bumped toes with a woman who was seated in front of me and slightly to my left. She looked up from her romance novel, her pretty hazel eyes surrounded by a sultry cloud of black mascara and dark eyeshadow. She smiled. I smiled and said “I’m sorry.” “That’s okay,” she smiled wider. And she softly repositioned her book in front of her and continued to read.

I read too, and held a novel in front of my face at an angle that slightly obscured the woman. But below the bottom edge of the book I spied her stocking covered legs—fish nets—and her patent leather boots, and the tight denim skirt and then above the top rim of my novel I could see her hair: tight, thick curls all black and juicy—the kind of hair you wanna hold gently and then grab tightly in fistfuls of playfully dangerous tension before a light teasing kiss on the—WO! The train came to a screeching halt. I realized I was looking at her, she was looking at me and she smiled again. There was CHEMISTRY!

But I was a gay man. AM a gay…well…What was going on? Who was driving this runaway lust train? I was as shocked by these fantasies as by the fact that the woman seemed to be reciprocating. What was SHE imagining?

I quickly averted my eyes back to my book to process my feelings and thoughts. This agressive fantasy was titillating but not arousing in the same way my sexual subway fantasies of men are. Those usually render me immobile for as long as it takes the internal repetition of the phrase “dead babies” to defeat my hard on.

I wanted to kiss this woman and touch her and I got off on the idea that she wanted me, too. AND I got off even more on the idea that in our sexual fantasy she wouldn't know I sleep with men. But then I'd tell her and it would turn her on even more.

Eventually, a slight pang of guilt made me feel like I was toying with her, leading her on.

I’ve always known I had a little bisexual in me. I had sex with men for years before having sex with women, and then I did that on and off for a couple of years before turning my attention to just men again. So here I was finding of a part of myself I thought I had lost. It's understandable to lose a part of yourself in a society where everything is black or white, right or wrong, Republican or Democrat, gay or straight. I think most of us stand closer to the center than to the extremes of the (bare with me now) train car of life. Choo choo.


Meat Mama

Mama is notoriously anti-vegetarian. It’s incredible the bias against a vegetarian diet. She has always been one to ask if I’m eating well, but since Rey (my bf) and I have been together, she’s afraid I’m a closeted anemic. It’s gone beyond her thinking a lack of animal is bad; she thinks greens are evil.

Who can blame her? Those rascally vegetarians are always up to no good.. During the communist revolution in Cuba it started becoming harder to find meat and chicken and fish and there was rationing. So vegetarians, since they’re DENYING themselves meat, are fuckin’ commies. And if you’re living in the land of plenty you should strap on your capitalist bib and eat all the roasted animal parts in sight. She doesn’t think of vegetarianism in exactly those terms, but her view of it is definitely colored by Castro.

So last week I had an all out case of the runs, coupled with intense nausea and intestinal cramps. Doc said I had a parasite, which you get from eating animal flesh. So I got myself some good ol’fashioned parasite killer and blasted the suckers. Not quite sure what I ate that made me sick, but since Last fall I’d started chicken and fish again. Not that I ever STOPPED eating those things, mind you. I simply refused to eat them OUT, at restaurants, because I have a long history of falling prey to microscopic stomach creatures. A couple of years ago I chose to avoid all animal flesh when eating out. And since my bf is a vegetarian, and we only cook vegetarian meals at home, I was eating a mostly vegetarian diet with exceptions here and there when a clean-handed friend would prepare some chicken for me at their home.

Since December, however, I’ve been lax about my “only home-cooked animal” rule. I started eating chicken and fish out at restaurants and of course Gaia slaps my ass with a case of parasitic runs. Oh, it was gruesome.

When I told my meat mama about it, she said: “It’s the grasses you eat.” No, mamá, it’s from meat. “No. Those grasses come from Mexico and Chile and they need to be washed well because they carry parasites.” Uh huh. Maybe they carry illegal immigrants, too.


The Empty Space

Travelling from Queens to Manhattan on the F train this morning. Running late but not caring because, well, I could be dead tomorrow for all I know so what's the use in worrying about the time?

At one end of the train near the train doors in the center of a 3-seat section, slept a man. Homeless, except for the train cocoon surrounding. No one would stand near him, as he leaned against a bundle of clothes kept together by a large winter coat whose arms were tied tight. The bundle took up one seat, he took up another, and the third seat contained his fluids. A large plastic bag full of plastic two liter bottles of brown and clear liquids, some empty, all individually wrapped in plastic grocery bags. Except one. One was covered in a bounty paper towel wrapper, which made a new skin on its surface, it was so tightly bound.

The man's head was covered with an orange hoodie and his face shrouded by black dreds.

He did not smell but no one stood near him. The rest of the car was packed, filled with bodies, but around the huddled mass of man was just an empty space. Home.


Bad Mama

A couple of weeks ago a friend, Sanan, died. We'd known each other since the second grade and grew up together. We weren't BEST friends, but we were friends enough to know each other's vices and virtues and to not care; we accepted each other.

We were part of a group of four. Four boys growing into men, coming together as friends probably because we knew that we were all queer. And so it was no surprise when each of the four came out of the closet during high school. As our families rejected us for who we were, we bonded together in spite of them. Sanan was family to me.

I flew down to the funeral in Miami and decided not to tell my motherI was coming for fear that she would say something hurtful. Mommy dearest is not known for being mild-mannered in the face of death. After my Dad's sister died of lung cancer and he finally told my mom, her response was "good riddance." So I wasn't looking forward to telling my mother that my friend, who she knew had been a big druggie at one point, had died in a car accident. "He was high on crack" she'd say. I've already forgiven my mom for many of the things she has said and done and didn't want to have to forgive her all over again for being insensitive about a friend's death.

I stayed with a friend in Miami and went to Sanan's funeral and that was that. Except that in a phone call the next day I find out my mom's brother is in the hospital dying. It was the last chance I'd have to see him, so I call mom. I tell her I'm in Miami. I tell her Sanan died. And she asks, "AIDS?"

It's like she's been oxygen-deprived.