Saturday, March 27, 2010


Corvallis, Oregon, 1980. 4:30 a.m.

Too tired to go home and sleep, you wander with your guitar to the park, a square block of grass in the middle of the town. Under a full moon the grass glows. At the northern water fountain you bend to slurp, then sit on a bench serenading yourself. As you do a voice from nowhere says, “You play beautifully.”

You look up at a short, pudgy, dark-skinned boy with a droopy hangdog face. “Oh, please don’t stop. Please—go on.” As you start playing again he says, “Do you mind?” and sits down on the bench next to you.

He says he works the graveyard shift at the Hewlett-Packard factory, his voice soft and dripping with sadness. “I get home too early to sleep and too late to talk to anyone. Honestly,” he says, “I’m a little bit depressed. Sure you don’t mind me sitting here?” You shake your head and keep playing. He watches you with a hungry look. “You play beautifully,” he says again. Then: “Would you mind doing me a favor? Would you come back to my apartment and play your music for me there? I’ve got a color T.V. and some movies we can watch. You can sleep on my sofa if you get tired. It would be a lot nicer than staying in the park all night long, wouldn’t it?” You’re reminded of that Robert Frost poem, the one that begins, I have been one acquainted with the night.

You go to his apartment. By then, you see, you don’t give a shit. You have nothing to fear. And you understand, too, that, whatever intentions this person may have, his loneliness is real. When you lived in New York, when you were going to art school and trying your luck in show business, you got used to telling strange homosexual men to piss off, or just stepping over them, as you did with the actor who looked and sounded like Richard Basehart and who claimed he was with the Royal Shakespeare Company before inviting you to the studio apartment he had sublet and mixing you both screwdrivers. Soon he was stretched out on the floor reading aloud dirty passages from Henry Miller’s Opus Pistorum, his hand busy in his pants as you stepped over him on your way out the door. No: you had no qualms about telling such men to piss off. Sometimes you waited too long, but you had no qualms.

But this man is different. He’s younger than you, first of all, and he seems so sad, so thoroughly depressed and lonely. You resent the fact that life has left him and others like him so alone. You want revenge for his sake, for the sake of all lonesome people everywhere, yourself included. To the conditions that give rise to such extremes of loneliness you wish to convey one great Fuck You! So you go home with him.

His apartment is in a modern building, a single room with an attached kitchen modestly furnished, with white plush carpeting and no paintings or posters on the walls. While he fries up some Jiffy popcorn and mixes up a batch of cherry Kool-Aid you peruse his video collection, settling on Escape From Alcatraz, starring Clint Eastwood.

Halfway through the movie you doze off. The boy’s whispers wake you. “Hey, there,” he whispers. “Do you trust me enough to let me give you a back rub?” You nod. As he kneads your shoulders you drift into a dream. You dream yours lying in a field. In the dream, while lying there some farmers come with torches and set fire to the field. You wake up choking on smoke, groping for an escape, but it’s too late; you’re surrounded by flames. You see yourself from above at the center of a ring of fire.

When you wake up there’s a blanket covering you. The boy sleeps nearby on the floor. You massage his shoulders for a while. Then you cover him with the blanket and leave.

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