Dreamed I was swimming with someone, scuba diving without diving equipment. We were holding hands, and our legs were like fins. We admired the beautiful sea life, the jellyfish. Maybe only I was, or we both were naked. I was enchanted by a Portuguese man-of-war overhead, the way its bladder-like cap went convex then concave. Suddenly it descended, all the stinging tentacles, although, in the dream, the jellyfish were the non-stinging kind.
Just before I woke up, I dreamt I went to Oxford Books to find a tarot deck. It was late and Oxford was the only bookstore open. I couldn’t find the game section. Searched frantically. Went to Oxford wearing a scarf, bulky material I couldn’t leave on my motorbike. Again, I think I came with someone who had gotten up out of sickbed. His presence was mostly sensed. I still can’t picture the face.
Later in the dream, as the bookstore was closing, I made a last- minute dash for the tarot cards to no avail. Found myself in a labyrinth, a classroom or a building where, in a dark stairwell, I was trapped or lost, afraid of someone climbing the stairs, though that someone was also frightened.
Saturday, July 1
About 6 a.m. I got out of bed to start the black beans that had been soaking overnight. I was anxious to bake the bread. My hands are proof I have not been in the kitchen for some time. I have several fresh cuts: one made from a paring knife against the index finger while shaving the navel from a Vidalia onion; another cut was made by the “S” blade of the food processor as it slipped off the counter. When I fumbled to catch the appliance, the blade nicked off a bit of skin from the knuckle of my thumb. I also notice other injuries whose origins I have no idea about, except that I probably got them making the meal today, which turned out so delicious.
At about 4 p.m. Dude started getting ready for his weekend evening class. As is his custom, he asks me if his outfit is, or is not, flattering. No matter if I say yes or no, with or without conviction, he hardly takes my word for it. I’ve learned if I don’t exactly prefer his outfit, but say that I do, chances are high he’ll go back into the bedroom and change. We were club kids when we met. Nearly five years later, I suppose I fantasize him as club kid still. Maybe because of his amber eyes and olive skin, black is the color I prefer to see him wearing, although he says he’s, “tired of being Goth.” By the time he was ready to leave, having tried on several outfits, we were both exhausted, and it was terribly hot outside.
On the way to GSU, with what I intended to be an earnest attempt at comic relief, I asked Dude if he wanted to make a quick stop at the “Pakistani Burger King.” Immediately he started into me with a solemn, didactic tone, asking why I insist on calling it the “Pakistani Burger King,” since, “those people could be from India or some other Indus nation.” I told him I don’t think it makes much difference exactly what foreign country they’re from, or rather they’re immigrants or refugees for that matter. My point being—albeit inane and by that point decidedly needling—wherever they’re from, they’re not from here.
Then, as Dude can, he called me out for, “trying to get away with blatant indifference weakly disguised as the devil’s advocate.” He asked why I get so upset when I’m referred to as Latino (a frequent occurrence I mainly attribute to my being, as I was constantly called growing-up, “light-skinned”). “You raise your voice and say you’re one-hundred percent (blank)!” I’m more than a little concerned by Dude’s refusal to say, “Nigger.” Apart from any negative associations the word may conjure, I fear, and fear he may eventually come to feel, that it’s not only the word, but also the reticence to say it that looms like an imminent fatal blow to our relationship.
At the “Pakistani Burger King,” as usual, I requested no mayonnaise on our chicken sandwiches, but, as usual, I got mayonnaise anyway. My subconscious assurance in the rote nature of the exchange, i.e., my request to hold the mayo being answered by receiving extra mayo, lies in my subconscious awareness of the adverse tone of my request. Nonetheless, when we sat on the molded plastic dining bench, and Dude pointed out the heaping servings of mayonnaise extruding from the edges of the sandwiches, I said I was going to take the order back. While swiping napkin after napkin over the drenched half of his sandwich, Dude tried to assure me it was alright.
His meek demeanor of gentle forbearance while swiping the bread fueled either my Libran sensibility, my confrontational attitude, or my overprotective tendencies toward him. At any rate, on occasions such as this (evident in the proceeding account), I attribute my actions to an inability to foresee a union such as ours enduring. Rather valid or invalid, informed by that uncertainty and doubt, I brace myself for inevitable separation. In which case, I imagine Dude may take away at least an understanding of the spirit behind my self-defensive mechanisms, while I attempt to adopt his aptitude for patience and tolerance.
The pretty Pakistani girl who took the order looked at me rolling her eyes when I exclaimed that I distinctly remembered requesting no mayonnaise. Then, using an approach used on me by a white Master Chief Petty Officer in the Navy, I inquired about her proficiency with the English language. I over-enunciated, “Do you know the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’?” She turned away and started to shake the fry basket before sprinkling the potatoes generously from a tin of salt kept next to the bubbling grease. This reminded me that I had also asked for fries without salt, but got those crystal-encrusted, lukewarm and heat-lamp dried-out fries anyway. Again, I said, “Excuse me” to the pretty Pakistani girl, and when she got around to acknowledging me, I dropped the bag containing the faulty order on the floor next to her leg and demanded a refund. She summoned—I assumed—the manager, a short maroon-colored man in polyester knit slacks and a pinstriped dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He muttered something along the lines of a warning against, “throwing dings at my employees.” I asked him, “What you gone do about it?”
While waiting in line to return the order, I had surmised my odds with him, and knew that more than likely the situation wouldn’t come to blows (although I’ve been wrong before). He stood at least a foot shorter than me and was slightly smaller framed. Nevertheless, if I happened to have gotten him riled up enough such that he tried something rash, there might have been grounds for a civil suit, which might have served as consolation for both guilty and guilty feeling parties in the event I got my ass properly kicked. So, again I said to him, “What you gone do about it?”
Without blinking, the maroon-colored man leaned in, placed his elbows on the counter and composed his hands to give shape to whatever it was he meant to convey. In what can be possibly described (if there can even be such a thing) as a naive version of “playing the dozens,” he proceeded, with sincerity, to relay his exact course of action. “Well-elle,” he said, “Fahst, I take you nick, and rrrrrrring it! Den, I beat you ast rrrrrrreal goot!” By that time Dude had come up to the counter to say take him home. I was at the ready for a vocal joust, but I turned promptly around and left. Dude drove himself to class from the apartment. As I’m recounting this, I still can’t help but smile at being bested in “the dozens” by the manager of the “Pakistani Burger King.”
When Dude returned this evening, the bread had risen and the beans were well seasoned.
I’m somewhat surprised at the precision of wind. Last night it thundered and rained fiercely for over an hour. I went out this morning to see about the flower garden. The wind had shot pine straw like arrows through the heart-shaped leaves of the salvias. Our proudest, tallest, fullest celosia had dropped its outer petals into a rosette beneath its thick stem, and I fear for the other celosia, their survival.
Despite the garden’s shortcomings, I have noted that where it lacks in depth, it more than makes up for with color. In the back of the garden, the purple impatiens have grown into a bushy impressive showing against the holly. The row of white periwinkle establishes a frontal border for the impatiens and a back border for the coleuses, which are doing quite well there in the sun I thought would overwhelm them. Within the red salvias I dispersed the few fire colored mini snapdragons that were left at the nursery. And, which I like to think of as a testament to summer, surrounding the entire garden are golden marigolds.
Sunday, July 2
Not much private time with Dude lately. Today I began cleanup of the spare bedroom-turned-office. Monumental task. If I apply and get accepted to American College, we’ll need extra space where we both can study.
Postponed my scheduled run, because I was exhausted from the cleaning and the other day’s weight training when I overdid it with dumbbells. Also entertained a case of hiccups. I cut a thick piece of yesterday’s bread, buttered it lightly and tried to swallow down the spasms.
After my run, Dude’s buddy from high school, Tyrone, stopped by. He and I were outside talking about being in the service. He reminisced about the Army and I talked about the Navy. Tyrone made an interesting observation, saying that America is so much more littered than overseas. I don’t suppose I ever noticed, America being littered that is. I seem to pay more attention to nature, which is what I was doing at the time. The snapdragons and salvias (particularly the snapdragons) appeared to be withering. I’ve already had to uproot one plant; the rain has been steady, so I can’t imagine why they’re dying.
Today a nuthatch, wren, cardinal, titmouse, purple finch, and a grackle (which I recognized for the first time as distinguished from the common crow) landed on the feeder. The titmouse, I’ve noticed, is an aggressive bird that, while feeding, will attack any other bird attempting to feed at the same time. Then again, the titmouse will even threaten me when I’m nearby.
The three of us went to lunch at the Piccadilly. Two guys came in with a tranny who kept looking at me, or vice-versa. I have this fascination with drag queens. They’re the quintessential thespians and muses; everyone should have a drag queen in his or her life. Salvador Dali had his International Crisis, and Dude and I have our CeCe Boom. Interesting to me is that I can recognize a drag queen even out of drag. I’m not implying that the ability is such a big feat. It’s easy to observe when the gesticulations and the body don’t quite jive with the prescribed gender of the costume. I used to think it was just a matter of “acting” like females, when, through CeCe, I realized that there truly is such a person as an androgyne. I think CeCe is one of the bravest people I know.
Over lunch at the Piccadilly, Dude told me that Ms. Marie reported that she is again gainfully employed. Previously, Ms. Marie had quit her job as a collection agent to “get her shit together.” She prepaid four months rent and was sitting back enjoying the cathartic rapture of Montel, Springer, and Oprah. She told me she realized that her life, and her drinking problem was not so bad, comparatively. That was in early May. By mid June an inebriated Marie came calling to announce that she was moving to Africa at the end of the month. I don’t know what spurred that performance, but I had a feeling that Ms. Marie had neither the means nor the intent to leave for Africa, because, when asked, she did not know what part of Africa she intended to visit, nor whether she intended to remain in Africa or return to America. She simply knew or felt that she must “go to the motherland.”
When we got back from the Piccadilly, Ms. Marie was sitting on her steps and serving us severe attitude, cutting her eyes, pretending to ignore us and acting appalled when she happened to glance in our direction. When she is perched on her steps, I usually stay clear unless summoned, since, when she assumes that particular position, she seems to prefer solitude while talking on the cordless, or gently shifting her shift while smoking a cigarette.
As yet I have not examined the American College catalog as closely as I’ve been intending. I must make note to get a grammar checker for the computer. Anyway, I’m looking forward to school, however not getting my adrenaline up, as it is questionable what condition my life will be in when October rolls around.
Monday, July 3
Last night Dude and Tyrone went out. I was having indigestion from the beans and rice we ate for dinner, so I didn’t feel up to going. Probably wouldn’t have gone anyway.
Purple tinged plants, what appears to be cockscomb seedlings, are sprouting throughout the frontal part of the garden. One side of the impatiens has been damaged. How? I don’t know. This week I hope to transplant potted replacements.
Right now, as a result of my spring-cleaning, seven bags of junk—mostly collapsed boxes, newspapers, magazines and what-not— are in the apartment. Six bags are downstairs and one is currently being filled upstairs in the spare bedroom-turned-office. The management has informed us they will be cleaning the windows on Wednesday. Dude says I’m overreacting to think they’d go through the trouble of hiring a crew to clean all the windows in the complex just to spy on the interracial gay couple and find out what they already know, “They’re sleeping together. Imagine that!” Of course, I realize the necessity of periodic maintenance. I also understand it’s sensible for management to survey rental property. Suspicion and logical explanations aside, I still feel apprehensive.
When evening approached, I went out on my run. As always, I began by walking a block or so down Hermance Drive. The elderly couple that live in the house with the plastic flower adorned yard, were not standing out as usual, and I missed hearing their kind greetings as I passed by their home. They’re both so beautiful—grey haired, and with smooth evenly colored brown skin.
Tuesday, July 4
I must remember to work on my vocabulary and review my humanities books. Broke my fast about 2 a.m. with Chinese food. Then I had cornflakes. The rest of the day I ate barley and carrot soup I had prepared in the slow cooker. I also had yogurt. I weighed myself this afternoon and I now weigh one hundred and seventy-one pounds. I started back cleaning the spare bedroom-turned-office. I believe I got five or so books organized on the shelves before I found something else to do. What had distracted me? I can’t recall.
Rain sprayed the garden today, so I left the tending to nature. Soon I will plant replacements for the dying snapdragons and the damaged impatiens. I truly need a book on flower gardening. I found a book from Oxford called, The Language of Flowers, written in 1819 in response to “. . . Europe’s enchantment with the ideogram language of the East and a budding interest in unusual and exotic plants.” Interestingly, the book says that marigolds—which surround our garden—mean “Despair,” and the impatiens in the back before the holly stand for, predictably, “Impatience.” This means that the garden is contained in and inclusive of a desperate arc. Oddly enough, perhaps to counter or echo this sentiment, the red salvias within the borders mean, “Energy” and “Gusto,” while the snapdragons symbolize, “Presumption,” and the white periwinkle mean “Pleasurable Memories.”
Since I arranged the garden prior to any conscious knowledge of the symbols, I’ve tried to consider what it all means. However, it seems I will have to wait until the revelation floats from the subconscious, in a dream perhaps. Meanwhile, I have yet to identify the earth-colored white-rumped bird I’ve seen twice now, both times in small flocks. The first time I saw them, they were in the front yard, flickering in the juvenile black cherry tree. The other time, while jogging, I saw the flock in a juniper brush on the vacant side of Peachtree Road.
Lenox Square put on their annual Independence Day fireworks display, and I went to see the show from (speaking of where I saw the birds) the vacant hill on the corner of Hermance and Peachtree. I sat about midway up and to the left of the plat. Before long a teenaged girl and a little boy sat nearby. With a solemnity beyond his years, the little boy spoke plainly and clearly. As he sat down he said, “It’s a good night.” Although a thunderstorm was approaching, cool winds drifted ahead of the showers, and, since I had encountered no mosquitoes, I was inclined to agree. Just before the finale, a mother arrived with her toddler. “Isn’t that pretty, Tammy?” she asked the baby who shook her head gently, a finger hooked in her mouth.
The evening (following the fireworks) was spent tidying the apartment, making way for the “conscripted” window cleaners the complex promised would show up tomorrow. While cleaning, I again decided to leave the spiderweb hanging in the corner by the back door. One of its three gossamer eggs had already hatched, and dozens of translucent amber hatchlings dispersed in the web; that was days ago when I saw them. The next time I looked, they were gone. I imagined them lighting on the wind that came through the opened door, their silk threaded spinnerets carrying them outside and about the apartment. Indeed, I saw one of the babies crawling on my shirt.
Wednesday, July 5
In the potted coleus kept on the porch, a persistent oak seedling had established itself. I could but pinch it nearest to the bottom as I could, it being so firmly rooted for such a needle of a thing. Poor impatiens had taken a beating in the heat. By the time the window cleaners left, the plants lay wilting like torn balloons. However, after a drink of water and cooling down in the early evening, they fully recovered. Sincerely, I thought they were done for, judging from the condition they were in when I discovered them listless in the sweltering afternoon.
When the window cleaners finally made it down to our end of the building, Dude was leaving for his late afternoon class. The ‘head’ window cleaner attempted to analyze the situation. He asked if the office was my bedroom. When I said yes, that it is all mine so to speak, he went on to ask if I was subletting. “No,” I said, “just visiting.” To which, he responded with a smug, extended “hummmm….” Exactly the reason for my anxiety over their scheduled visit, though the windows (the ones that they cleaned rather) are sparkly clear. “It’s been a good while,” he said despondently, “bout seven years since these windows been washed.”
While the windows were being cleaned, I began a workout, not knowing what else to do. The garbage collector came, to my surprise, a day early, so I took the opportunity to load his truck with the bags filled during my late spring-cleaning. I then ran my usual trek, and it was hot enough, but I like to tell myself that I’m of southern stock and perform best in the heat. I scarcely believe such a boast myself, in such intense heat as there was today. Still in shape or getting there. I’m holding steady at one seventy-one pounds, but plan to eat well tomorrow: great northern white beans slow cooked with ham. I also plan to bake wheat bread. I also hope to finish setting up the office, though last night I sprang my left trapezoid and shoulder when either moving furniture, or during today’s workout. I can’t remember ever being in such pain before. I’ve had to start taking Motrin.
At about midnight at the twenty-four-hour hour upscale Harris Teeter (grocer/deli), I found myself standing over the meat freezer, laboring over the steep cost of five dollars a pound for diced ham. I had just about decided to buy bacon instead, when at the back of the bin I spotted a single pack of smoked ham hocks—a steal at a buck fifty. Sinfully rich as the beans will be simmered with the hocks, having found them, I felt they were somehow essential to the meal. The black late shift cashier (notorious for her derisive commentary while either scanning or bagging purchases, i.e., “beans & rice, beans & rice, beans & rice…”) seemed more appalled than amused when I triumphantly announced that I had secured the last package of ham hocks in Harris Teeter. Sister remarked, “I didn’t even much know we sold these.”
Thursday, July 6
I realize that there are two kinds of lifestyles—the healthy lifestyle and the unhealthy one, and that one has a choice. It’s the part about having a choice, however, that I can’t altogether grasp. Too much have I weighed circumstance against fate and tried to attach some sort of reasoning to the factors that constitute either. I feel helpless and doomed at times like this. I also feel afraid. My fear is deep, spurred by the horrors of my imagination, and by the real horror stories portrayed by the media, like that story I read in Psychology Today.
I know I must be optimistic, pursue the affirmative and leave fate to fate. I believe that one can make an effort to avoid situations that tell intuition something is awry. Two a.m., at CeCe Boom’s, I played my part in the opera of urban nightlife, throwing leftover Independence Day firecrackers, smoke bombs and sparklers from the roof of CeCe’s midtown apartment. The apartment building looks out onto the nightclub parking lot. Strobes of dance floor lights can be seen flashing like semaphore in the club’s doorway. Even from a distance, the thump, thump, thump of techno-house music can be faintly heard, and, also faintly, yet deeply, felt registering in the soles of my shoes. The firecrackers we threw fizzled in the littered, dark and narrow alley where hustlers and clients—female, male and transsexual alike, retreated to snort bumps of coke or crank.
There we stood on the rooftop precipice, bearing witness to an elaborate choreography—various hasty and shrouded transactions in flesh and substance taking place in the alley accompanied by a percussion paced laser show. Simultaneously, on neighboring rooftops, other characters could be seen acting out dramas alarmingly similar to our own troupe’s performance. All of us in our mid to late twenties, getting high, we play the fools, white flowers of purity and innocence metaphorically propped behind our ears. What direction has time mapped for me? I want desperately to deconstruct this surrealist, prophetic dream. What have I learned? Find peace. Reflect, not just on the negative such that light has no entry point into my life, but also reflect on what is perceived good. Practice the affirmative. Care for others, Dude, and myself.
Night of Thursday, July 6
I was living with Aunt Sylvie, and she was poor.
The President wanted me to do something for him, give a speech or something like that. Somebody told me he was looking for me, but when I went to see him, he didn’t mention anything about giving a speech. He gave me a gift. We were in a room with a line of people formed beside him. He was handing each person a small, plainly wrapped box with one hand, while reaching out with his other hand to shake his or hers. Aunt Sylvie was also giving out gifts. Darren (my eldest brother) suggested she give away my piano. Aunt Sylvie refused, saying, “You know how I feel about Jack.”
I was trapped in a house where the windows were nailed down. Escape was easy, though we (Darren, myself and others) didn’t get around to it. I had proposed a plan to jump through the upstairs window wrapped in a blanket. Downstairs, some people were having a party.
Friday, July 7
Gale, Dude’s mom clipped the split ends of his hair, and told us who had died recently, and who was ailing. She also mentioned menopause. Since Lawson, Dude’s dad, doesn’t talk too much, and as her generation begins to mature, maybe she feels helpless and somewhat alone. Then again, maybe I’m mirroring.
We talked about Gale’s begonias, about how such vibrant and full plants grew from cuttings. The elegantly spun cup of a cardinal’s nest lay partially hidden in the laurel hedge behind the tomatoes. Two little drum skins blotched with feathers heaved. A bird had taken shelter in the bird box. Lawson thinks it’s a chickadee, but definitely some other small bird since he can’t imagine what would lay such tiny eggs. pale beige and lightly peppered, folded in moss, pine straw and blonde—what he believes to be—dog fur. Gale picked two tomatoes from the vine. She advised that they’ll need to sit in the kitchen window for at least a couple of sunny days to fully ripen. While she harvested the fruit, I imagine that the azalea seedlings Lawson recently planted, judging from their height and breadth already, will, come next spring, make a hearty pink and red blossoming hedge of their own.
Mosquitoes ate me alive while Gale and I stood around the tomatoes, talking about the vigor of the plants and eyeing the blushing fruit for the ones that were ripest. As I’m writing this, the whole account seems ethereal. The mosquito bites no longer sting.
That Psychology Today story still haunts me. The article chronicled the mind of a killer. In the story, a man in New York gets into a cab with a couple of strange women to go to their place “to have some fun.” When he arrives at the apartment, he discovers that he’s been set-up. The five hundred or so pound woman who lived there, and who was hired for the deed, binds him and locks him in the closet-turned-torture-chamber. For several days, she enacts these sadistic rituals, like pulling him out the closet and sitting on him while she eats supper and watches television. After the second week of such abuse, she impales him with a smoldering pipe. At the trial, the obese woman was unremorseful. She testified that the man must have been “queer” because when she “stuck the hot poker up his ass, he wiggled.”
My dismay over the article has been so powerful that I have now begun to experience intense paranoia. What if our next-door neighbor Kenny’s friend—that homophobe—becomes violent? He certainly knows where we live. Already, I’ve been thinking about buying a gun, about locking the bedroom and office doors, about moving. I suppose I’m tired, but I’ve always, or lately it seems, found the night threatening. I hate sleeping through the day and being so awake in the evening.
I must water the garden as I speak. I must discontinue my bad habits—smoking, masturbation; both fatigue me and cloud my thinking so that I am susceptible to the negative aspects of my environment.
Saturday, July 8
Today’s roasted chicken dinner came out beautifully, but I vow to never cook a chicken again. It occurred to me while skinning the bird that by buying this meat, I’ve inadvertently contributed to its systematic death. I know that people can live off vegetables alone, and I have already started to do something about it. Dude and I have pretty much given up red meat and we’re determined to give up meat altogether.
Realizing that the chicken is flesh—animal flesh, nearly made me sick as I tore the skin off in a great yellowish pimply sheet. I felt like a masochist. Certainly, if I value human life, I can value other animal life as well. To think about the living conditions of these factory churned-out chickens . . . I had to smoke a whole joint just to get through making dinner, though the foil wrapped bird emerged from the oven wonderfully aromatic, infused with a medley of bell pepper, garlic, onion and celery. Served on a side of white rice steamed in the stock, buttered and sprinkled with oregano, sage, and rosemary, the meal made for a Barmecide feast.
Tyrone came by this afternoon, knocked just as Dude and I had settled in for siesta. While the three of us were sitting on the porch, our neighbor, Reverend Foy who lives in the building across from us, came and stood on the slope appearing distressed and disheveled. He was there to announce, “I needed you reeeeeeeel bad the other day.” Reverend Foy explained how he’d come by the apartment, but his knocking went unanswered.
After giving it some thought, I vaguely remembered that Dude and I were upstairs and thought we might have heard an unusual yet distinctive clang. We recognized the sound, but couldn’t readily discern its source. When we realized it was the brass knocker, I went to answer the door but no one was there. The sound of the brass knocker is so strange to us because, up until Reverend Foy rang it, we’d heard it rung only once or twice during the three years we’ve lived here. And, since on those other occasions the visitors turned out to be solicitors, we’d trained our ears to somewhat tune out the sound.
Reverend Foy explained that he had come calling because he was nauseous with hypoglycemia, and had just had an operation. He managed to have walked several feet (including taking a rather steep flight of concrete stairs) from (and back to) his apartment to ask for assistance opening a medicine bottle.
Although I can’t say we’re unaccustomed to unannounced visitors, a visit from Reverend Foy was nonetheless unexpected. We’ve exchanged pleasantries, but nothing beyond that. I might add that whether or not we’re familiar with someone, does not in all cases ensure or prevent us from answering the door. By way of an excuse, weighed alongside the very real and sad dilemma of someone not having the strength to open and access a prescribed and proven source of relief, the matter of the brass knocker seemed trivial. All I could think to do was offer my apologies. To which Reverend Foy abruptly replied, “See you.” He then walked across the parking lot, got in his car and drove away. Tyrone looked at Dude and said, “What’s his problem?”
Tomorrow I fast, finish cleaning and arranging the office.