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


Tribal Chic

For the fifth grade Thanksgiving pageant mama sewed me an Indian costume. I’ll refrain from using “Native American” because it wasn’t a Native American costume, but rather an idea of whut the Injuns used tuh wear—completely inaccurate.

She used brown cotton cloth to simulate leather and hides. It had frills all over the place, a brown matching headband with a special slim pouch at the back into which I stuck the final touch, a green feather. Where she got really creative was with the shoes. Mama’s first and only job in the states was at a canvass shoe factory in the sewing machine assembly line. She knew a thing or two about putting together footwear. So she found some scraps of tan suede and fashioned a pair of authentic-looking (and smelling) moccasins.

As part of the pageant, all the little Indians had to perform a dance for all the little Pilgrims. Mama, gushing mother that she is, fell in love with the dance and insisted that I perform it for her at home, freezing into poses at her command so she could take pictures of me.

Then came Noche Buena (December 24th), which Cubans celebrate with a roasted suckling pig, all kinds of boiled and fried roots, two kinds of rice, three kinds of beans, every dessert in the Cuban repertoire. We hosted the feast at our house that year and mama insisted that I perform my Indian dance for the whole family. Luckily we had sparklers on hand and I thought it’d be great if I incorporated them into my choreography. With a few adjustments I was glowing down the yellow-tiled walkway into the house as cousins and aunts and uncles looked on from all sides. Cameras flashed, eyes widened and from the Fisher Price record player I’d plugged into the outdoor outlet came the high-hat taps of "Macho Duck," my favorite song from the Mickey Mouse Disco album.

It wasn’t clear to me at the time how offensive and anachronistic my performance was, nor how queer. In my tight brown frilly pants and my ankle-accentuating moccasins waving around glittery fire sticks, hips shaking to the disco Donald Duck beat, I would’ve been the doll of the Village People.


A Single Sign of Life on a Dead Train

The bodies all swayed together like meat hanging from hooks on the back of a truck. The train does that—it turns commuters into dead things. You would never know it from the stubbornly empty looks that these beings could be capable of shouts, laughter, and sex.

The females wilted into their bodies, arms folded over crossed legs, eyes down sometimes staring into bibles. An occasional glance at another female’s shoes or clothing and a disapproving lift of an eyebrow, as if moved by a quick breeze, were the only sparks of life.

The males sometimes looked at each other, too, sizing up strength and success. Rather than become demurely invisible they tried to take up as much space as possible. Chests puffed arms expanded sideways and legs split open to the sides as if to air out their dangling privates. As with the females, the life in their eyes was soon also extinguished and that glaze, that non-awareness, that look took hold that says if this train exploded right now I wouldn’t care.

At the other end of the train car I saw him. Hair gelled into crisp spikes, brown jacket striped with white, brown slim slacks and gleaming green tennis shoes—he looked back at me for a second too long and I darted my eyes away. My desperation, of which I’d just then become aware, vanished, and I looked back at him. Our eyes celebrated in whispers: we’re not alone!


Poetry in Motion

I usually let fastlad create beautiful days with poetry, but I saw this on the R train in Queens on one of those Poetry in Motion signs (sponsored by--ich!--Barnes and Noble):

An Old Cracked Tune

My name is Solomon Levi,
the desert is my home,
my mother's breast was thorny,
and father I had none.

The sands whispered, Be separate,
the stones taught me, Be hard.
I dance, for the joy of surviving,
on the edge of the road.

--Stanley Kunitz



Boo hoo, I was molested. Another one of THOSE stories. Full of meaninglessfullness. My sense of irony developed the day mama hit me for it.

Maikel and Natalia lived next door. She was a taller 4-year-old than I. Maikel was in the sixth grade. Mama always said to be careful of them and above all warned me never to go into their house or property. The mother was a hooker. The grandfather, a pot head, is what mama said.

Everything which my mind at the time understood to be evil lived in that house. Of course I went in—many times—and enjoyed a stint as a model, posing with Natalia: kissing, topless and holding, lots of biting and occasionally inviting the camera to lean in for a peck on the lips. We bathed in the hot lamps the grandfather shined on us and our eyes throbbed from the shock of the camera flash. The mother sometimes coached from the closed doorway: "Squeeze her--yeah, like that. Like that. You don't like it when she bites you? Bite her back!"

Somewhere in Pee Wee Herman’s living room my body surely once lay spread.

One day I climbed over our fence into Natalia’s yard to play tag. We chased each other around her house and paused for air under a large blue portable pool--the shallow plastic kind painted with green seahorses and pink shells--which leaned against the house’s back wall under the shadow of an endless oak.

Old plastic, broken twigs and limestone chunks made the air under the pool-roof smell like wet pinecones. We only rested for a second and were about to start out again when maikel’s body appeared; he blocked my exit from the pool shed and pushed me so that I almost lost my balance. Natalia held me steady from behind. I tried to get past Maikel’s chunky body but he wouldn’t move. When he started to undo his zipper, I was sure he’d piss on me.

His offer was that if I rubbed my penis against his, he’d let me pass. It was wrong for men to touch men, of this I was already aware. But there it was, a fleshy brown wormy thing, almost as dark as his face, growing. As he reached out to undo my zipper I stepped back into Natalia. Her arms wrapped around my torso and wringed my breathout. No escape from Maikel’s hands. He pressed against me, his mouth stunk like cherry candy balls. A sugary kiss. I grew in Maikel’s hand and struggled. When he ordered me not to fidget Natalia bit my neck so I would hold still, but when her jaw opened for air Maikel's hands were too busy to stop me, so I flew home.

Mama was looking for me. I didn’t lie about where I’d been, but only confessed the part I hated: that they trapped me under the pool and didn’t let me go under threat of pain. Came the beating, came the screams, mama flailing, kicking, crying, slaps. Fire on my skin. Knees unsteady. I left my body there—useless petal off a dead flower. Me, I floated in a kiss.


Our Life Outsung

There was sunshine, a cooling breeze, twittering birds, and green for miles; I was the doting son she’d always wanted.

In the dream we got along. She sat outside on a yellow and white striped lawn chair with a small white metallic table in front of her. On the table, a piece of unfinished wood, and on that, a wedge of brie. I was out in the lush forest surrounding the house looking for berries and although we were separated by acres our love put distance to shame: I knew exactly how she held the knife she used to press the white chunk into the grainy brown bread. What she did, how she felt, all of her was with me as I looked for fruit to accompany our afternoon meal. Her eyes swung from the bread in her hand to the green horizon.

There was no one else around. The two of us and the fields and jungles and orange groves stretching away from the house, which had become the center of all life--the same house I grew up in, surrounded by a better life than I remember. Even the air was fine and pure, as if mankind had just been born. Just the right amount of crickets, too, which is to say, not so many that the mockingbirds were outsung.

Mama hummed. No, she sang. She sang softly and waited patiently for me to return. Her hair was rich and brown like flowing mud, and it played with the streaming breeze, just how she has always wished it were (not the thinning and stiff dry strands it is). Nothing has ever been as perfect as in this dream.

All my yearnings—vanished. Life was complete. It wasn’t life, come to think of it...but a glimpse of some kind of heaven. Hers. So why, every time I put out my hand to move aside the leaves of dense webbed foliage, did I feel the rush of happiness? Just berries. That’s all that mattered then. The thrill of finding fruit. What a jester life is, to make so much more matter when we’re awake, when in dreams we're happy with so much less.


Layered Cake

My forearms were numb and my back throbbed from hours of moving furniture. I was driving mama and dad to their new house. The sun had set a long time ago and the red brick buildings cast dark green shadows in opposition to streetlamps. They weren’t bickering, but that’s because they were tired. I was surprised they’d decided to move back in together, but it made sense. They’re old. They need to not be alone. And they know each other’s aggravating qualities.

When we got to the house mama noted how purple one of the walls was. She didn’t like it at all because purple is aunt Haydée’s color.

“it’s not the color I would have chosen. And the house is not as good as you said it was,” mama complained, forgetting that she’d picked the house; I simply recommended it. She forgot, too, that she asked me to pick the colors for the walls.

“You always jump into things, Alex” My mouth dropped. “I can’t believe you thought I would like this.” She had made the decision to move in with my dad but now somehow it was all my fault. I couldn’t be bothered to engage her. Instead I thought this will make great blogging material, but then I realized I was dreaming. Still, the dream made a great story.

When our friends Morry and Dennis moved, we went to their house warming. Two trains and a long bus ride through some narrow cobblestone streets got us there at last. The buildings in their neighborhood are all brightly colored, even on an overcast winter day.

Several drinks into the party, a rich slice of chocolate cake sitting in a porcelain plate on my lap, I told everyone about the crazy dream I had where my parents move back in together and mama blames me for the decision she herself had made. I supposed the dream had something to do with Morry and Dennis’ move. As I recounted the story at the house warming, though, I realized I was still dreaming…and was telling them about another dream.

A dream about an unhappy couple moving within a dream about a couple celebrating a move. A long drive. Two trains. A long bus ride. Help me. The universe is folding in on itself.


Locker Room Squeaky Clean

One of them drowns in the shower. The other is covered in paper. The third blows himself daily. And the fourth bathes in clouds of gas.

The cleansing rituals of the men in my gym haunt my subway ride.

When I enter, the prune is washing up. He may have broken his back, he may have never lifted a pound. When I leave, he’s still there, showering...looking for sex, no doubt. Even if my workout takes an hour, his shower begins and ends it.

Man has invented numerous drying agents: towels, paper, hot air, silica gel. Some more appropriate than others.

The flag-bearer is creviced, and claims his body's nooks with sheets of off-white absorbent paper. After he showers he plants a flag between his thighs, and flags behind his balls, and one flag for each armpit. He clips his toenails, moisturizes his face, and blow-dries his hair while the paper sheets wave patriotically.

The blower needs a kind of dryness only deserts provide. He places a piece of paper towel on the floor, stands within the white rectangle, takes the blow dryer off the plastic hook on the wall and flicks it on. He blow-dries his pits and crotch, lifting his man-parts and stretching down he pulls apart his ass to reach even his sphincter with the jet of heat. Once his crotch is parched, he dries the rest of his body with a towel.

Axeman dries with a towel but remoistens with Axe body spray, which sends choking clouds into his neighbors' throats. Then he dresses. Then he colognes. So, shampoo-scented, soap-kissed, Axe-sprayed, cologne-bathed, he walks out without a ring on his finger, without lips to kiss.

And my only quirk is I pee in the shower. I am so unstrange.


Beauty of the Mother

I spent the weekend hanging with the kids from the 52nd Street Project in a gorgeous house in the Hamptons. It’s a great project. Each adult gets paired up with one kid. Each kid writes a short play and the adult and kid rehearse the play, the adult directs. The adult also writes a short play in response to the kid’s play. The adult and kid also act in that play. At the end of several weeks of rehearsing and of spending a weekend away together we’ll put on a free show with all the plays.

Okay, so picture me in the sunny Hamptons, relaxing on a break from rehearsal, enjoying the smell of the solid pine house. Mama calls, which triggers my cell’s salsa ring, reserved for blood relatives. I answer. Her first words are a classic, “If Rome won’t come to you, you have to come to Rome, so I decided to call you.” Um, Hi?

After hellos and how are yous I asked about her health and she brushed that question aside to say she misses me more and more each day and “just when I think it’s not possible to miss you more, I DO. And I’m filled with an anguish.” Thinking I might convince mama to leave her 19th century shackles of anguish, I explain the miracle of email and webcams and how Rey and I chat with each other this way almost every day and we even chat with Rey’s sisters all using computer technology. (No, mama doesn’t have a computer, but if she showed some interest, I’d be happy to walk her through the purchase and set up). What did she respond to my explanation of the wonders of modern communication?

“Well, you should waste less time talking to Rey’s sisters and dedicate that time to me.”

“I gotta go, mom.”

“See, now you’re mad. You always get mad. Remember I won’t always be around.”

DUH! Guilt, meet Death. Death, meet Guilt. And you both know mama, right?



There were holes where her sense used to be so, swiss-cheesed, she’d get lost on the sidewalks of Miami. Grandma had a habit of walking out of the house alone.

One winter, the dark brown door to the street was open wide so the house filled with flies. She was my responsibility. I ran outside and saw her wobbling slowly down the sidewalk. Foot in front of foot as fast as I could I ran, my chest pressed against my shirt and the chill burned my lungs. I panted, “come back, Grandma Elena,” and reached her and held her arm till she winced and the wrinkles in her face shook—“go back. You can’t be out here, go back.” I was supposed to keep Elena indoors but I wasn’t supposed to be this far from the house either. Back I ran, looking back often.

Mama knocked on every door for blocks and blocks around until she found her. A local had taken her in.

The dry winter went on into March, when the first showers began and the heat made even the cockroaches sweaty. I found them in her secret spot under her bed and took them to the living room to paint.

The box was thick cardboard kept together with hinges and a latch. Several small tubes fit neatly inside plus one large titanium white. There were also bottles of yellowish liquids, home-rolled cotton swabs and fine brushes—mama’s tools for coloring black and white photographs from her brother’s portrait studio. She said never to use them, but I wanted to color: blue red yellow mixed turned brown. Belly down on the floor, I painted on typing paper making sure the television set’s volume knob was high enough to cover my sneaky sounds. Then a siren unwound. An engine hummed. Red and blue lights spun through the windows.

Mama yelled all words and shot from room to room. She opened the front door, two men came in and carried Grandma Elena out, crossing right in front of me and out the door. Their ambulance went away. Dad was at work. The door stayed open. Insects came inside. And I waited letting mosquitoes drain my calves.

God came to take Grandma is what mama later said. Never play with paints.


Train Jerk

What happened to social responsibility?!

I mean it's not like I left money or food, I left a pencil on the seat of the subway car. The subway pulled into the station before I was ready and I had to gather my bags and get up in a hurry so I didn't notice. And what's a pencil, anyway? Ten cents? Maybe twenty?

The point is, when I was about to walk out of the train doors, I looked back because I felt I left something. My eyes caught the eyes of the guy who took my seat when I got up. He quickly looked away from me as he pushed my pencil to his side. He saw the pencil, he saw me, but he did and said nothing. NOTHING! By this point, I was afraid the doors would close and I wouldn't be off the train. It was just a pencil, I thought, no biggie.

But hell yeah biggie with Mr. Fuckshit sitting on his fuckshit ass not even offering to reach the pencil halfway to me, and looking away from me after making eye contact, off course, because he knew he was being a shit and he was gonna be a shit anyway.

Again. Just a pencil. But if it'd been my phone? My wallet? Would an increase in value of the item I left inspire a jerk like him to return it? Unlikely. Who raises children to become this kind of adult? Other Fuckshit jerks, of course. Why are THEY are allowed to breed while in many states gay couples can't even adopt?