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|Publisher:||University of Alabama Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.60(d)|
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Once, Philip got off the bus in a Montana town perched above the flatlands he'd just passed through. In the far distance, black and purple rain clouds had been pasted into the otherwise empty sky. The vapor trails hung down like chromosomes. This all happened a long time ago and nobody knows it. Might as well have dreamed it.
Once, Philip had a crush on a crazy. Roger, the crazy, was in love with Madonna, and had mailed her furniture, naked photos of himself, and dog shit once, and then, to apologize, he'd mailed her his thirty-page proof of the existence of God. He'd mixed words and numbers together with boisterous squiggles and indecipherable equations, all purporting to demonstrate an irrefutable divine truth: time and death, it all added up. Roger believed Madonna was into him, too, or that she was, at least, keeping tabs on him, sending her spies over Big Sur in airplanes and helicopters, and communicating with him through songs on the radio. Roger was handsome, with that childish magnetism that insane people sometimes have. Philip and Roger had both ended up in Big Sur because they'd been down to almost nothing. Separately, passing through, they'd seen the Help Wanted sign at the gas station. Roger had hit bottom in Oregon, living in a cabin in the woods and eating dog food, and was heading south toward LA to confront Madonna once and for all. Philip wasn't headed anywhere in particular at the time.
Now, Philip heads out the side door of his cottage, down the stairs to the basement. The past — it never goes away, until eventually it does. The world is full of different humans now, different sorts of thoughts, differently configured brains. The changes wrought on consciousness by volcanoes, by misinformation, by moving images and dark underground spaces ...
Philip should have ducked into the basement, and he almost always remembers, but not today. The sound of his head colliding with the doorframe is shockingly loud. The pain is disorienting. He presses his fingers against the gummy blood clotting in his hair, and now here he is. Down below, dizzy and bleeding.
Down below, there are unopened boxes full of the books and artwork that Raymond's father left them when he died. The basement is unfinished, with naked Sheet rock and pink insulation shoved between planks here and there. The dirt floors of an adjacent crawlspace slope into dark corners. Philip's never actually seen a rat in there, but he knows they've passed through — maybe recently, maybe long ago. He's never seen the landlady either, who is rumored to be in Serbia, prosecuting war criminals. Mostly, the basement serves as a hydroponic garden. The grow lights buzz and the pumps of the aquafarms gurgle constantly. It's kind of soothing, but Philip sits down on a bucket now, hating the plants.
Upstairs the phone rings. After four rings, the machine gets it and Philip strains to identify the muted voice that drifts down. A voice through a cloud, he thinks. An angel from above. It's Howard.
The words could be coming from beneath the surface of a bathtub. It sounds like Howard's saying something about the Amish and a shocking building and then the phrase hungry for God. It sounds like dreamers gurgling and protesting little boys and it sounds like big spenders sucking blood and then again hungry for or maybe angry with God. The voice starts mumbling again, but then it says something like inefficient in love.
The urgency of Howard's tone suggests to Philip that he should rush upstairs and answer the phone. He hopes it isn't Howard who is either hungry for or angry with God. Howard's repressed anger is legendary; anger with doctors, anger with Daddy, with Mommy, with sixth grade teachers, with the Jehovah's Witnesses and other former coworkers who conspired against him for all those years, before his big breakdown, when he stopped repressing his anger and orchestrated a three- or four-day public tantrum that ended with something resembling a suicide attempt. His public pill-popping, his incoherent ranting, and his all too coherent threats got him fired, served with a restraining order, and eventually hospitalized when his building manager found him passed out on the floor of his room in the Tenderloin. Now, at sixty-one, he's on SSI and will never have to work another day in his life; he spends his days smoking weed, watching old movies, and listening to Judy Garland tapes, occasionally splurging on a masochistic hustler. He's never been happier. Of all the people Philip knows who have aggressively bottomed out, who have sunk as low as they could go, and then even lower, lower than they realized they could go, lower than they actually could go, sometimes repeatedly, only Howard made it work.
There's no natural light down here; the windows have been covered with blackout curtains. Rambling answering machine monologues are actually Howard's favorite mode of communication. Howard says something that sounds like expert opinion and something like providing beef in my old age. Philip's underneath the earth, receiving garbled transmissions from the Milky Way. What would we have to say to another species anyway? It would start out like phone sex, Philip's pretty sure, but quickly go awry. Either Howard hangs up or the machine cuts him off.
The changes wrought on consciousness by volcanoes, by misinformation, by moving images and dark underground spaces. Behold the skies, darkened with ash or satellite transmissions. In gloomy theaters or on tiny screens, with what rapture malnourished teenage boys would watch as rats gnawed a man to death. Basement laboratories, sewers teeming with biological life, constellations of flickering torches leading down.
The path through the bottom. For some reason Philip keeps thinking about Ted — Theodore, he corrects himself — scrubbing the floors of the video booths beneath the Nob Hill Theatre; when Ted was in Philip's writing workshop, back in the '90s, he wrote brutal memoir pieces about the obscure Beat poet he'd dated. Every time they had sex, according to Ted, the obscure Beat poet would say, Yours is big, bigger than Kerouac's, but not like Neal Cassady's.
Philip knows that when Ted's obscure Beat poet reminded Ted, every time they had sex, that he'd done it with both Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, he was surreptitiously placing himself in the great chain of visionaries who'd sucked each other's cocks. He was reminding Ted that no matter how bossy and unpleasant the obscure Beat poet was in bed, there was an esoteric benefit: Ted, too, was now firmly established in the great chain of visionaries who'd sucked each other's cocks, transmitting their occult wisdom through the ages in a kind of mystical osmosis. The osmosis led backward from Ted to the obscure Beat poet to Neal Cassady to the occultist Gavin Arthur to Edward Carpenter. From Edward Carpenter to Walt Whitman and probably on to Melville at least but Philip can't remember if Whitman actually sucked Abe Lincoln's cock or if Melville actually slept with Nathaniel Hawthorne, but he knows that Verlaine and Rimbaud are in there somewhere and that some obscure nineteenth century piece of ass supposedly leads from Whitman to Lord Byron and then back to da Vinci. And then all the way back to Plato and Socrates, supposedly, and further, in somebody's fevered imagination, either Ted's or the obscure Beat poet's, Philip can't remember. In somebody's fevered imagination the cocksucking visionaries were relentlessly leading the species up out of the primordial gruel and pits of primate excrement, up the back stairs and back into the main house, reestablishing some long-lost connection with something or other. In somebody's fevered imagination, the chain of cocksucking visionaries dates back to the first she-male shaman bitch who painted bison on the cave wall, and back further even, to the first androgynous bonobo that picked up a pointy stick.
Before Philip gets a chance to play the messages and decode Howard's bulletin, Tony shows up at the door. Tony, a former opera singer, is always good for some drama. Tony used to drag Ralph up and down the stairs by his hair, consensually, when they were boyfriends and working out their issues together, in the '80s. Tony met Ralph shortly after he'd hit bottom himself, he tells Philip. Tony had eaten until he weighed five hundred pounds.
You should have seen me then, he says.
Five hundred pounds?
Five hundred, says Tony. I was living in Chicago, selling gourmet candy on the ground floor of the studio where Oprah shot her show. Oprah used to slink down, almost every day, wearing her shades, but she'd never say anything, just point at the candy. I had a girlfriend then, and I started smoking crack.
Maybe it was the drugs, but Tony always felt a strange kinship with Oprah, as she stood there, regal and ashamed, pointing at elaborate caramels and raspberry-filled truffles. At times Tony was convinced she was sending him messages telepathically. Her messages were elaborate and coded, but Tony understood the map she was drawing him of a journey involving fat and desire and performance and self-abnegation. She was communicating a deep understanding and revolutionary agenda concerning the sordid history of chocolate and the slave trade. They had become perfect mirrors for each other, Oprah and Tony, but she was the famous one.
On the machine, Howard tells of a tragedy that's all over the TV, a tragedy in an Amish schoolhouse, where a man showed up and started shooting children. His version of events isn't even slightly chronological and focuses on the dumpy white guy whose anger with God drove him to pursue his dream of molesting and murdering little boys. Ten boys were shot in the Amish schoolhouse, he says, their suspenders soaked in blood. Howard says that the dumpy white guy never got over the death of his baby girl and that's why he was so angry with God. I guess he was insufficiently loved, says Howard. There's a long discussion of Howard's own anger with God, But Geez, he says. Enough already.
Howard's main point is that given his Amish heritage, Philip should see if he can exploit the situation, write about it, get paid — he suggests that the world will be clamoring for Philip's expert opinion. He suggests that maybe Philip can make enough money to provide for me in my old age.
They sit in the tiny backyard while Tony smokes the weed he's just bought. The wind blows mutilated clouds across the sky. The clouds seem damaged or ready to lose control, but nothing will come of it, that's a San Francisco sky. Lots of foreboding but nothing ever happens. Behind the house, the bottlebrush trees are in full bristly red bloom. The flowers look like the disposable brushes that Raymond buys to clean the toilet. The potted plants are hopeless. Raccoons or opossums steal every single tomato, every single orange, before it has a chance to ripen. Or maybe it's the rats; Bernal Hill is full of them.
Tony says that every single schoolhouse shooter has either been on antidepressants or recently gone off them.
You're making that up, says Philip.
I've never lied to you, Tony says, I want you to know that. He stands, and dramatically puts his hand on his heart, as if to convey his utter integrity. He looks hurt by the very thought that his integrity might be called into question.
That Tony is taking the opportunity to defend his constant and integral truthfulness, however, is completely absurd. He must know that his friends don't exactly believe anything he says — that they even harbor some doubts as to whether he'd actually been dating that guy who died on United Flight 93, back in August and September of 2001. Ralph has hazy memories of Tony mentioning some rugby-playing fellow, but in retrospect he's not sure if he first heard about the rugby-playing fellow before 9/11 or whether it was only afterward that Tony talked about him as if he'd been talking about him for months. The dead guy has since been declared a gay hero. Maybe Tony only tricked with him once, maybe he met him at a bar and had a conversation with him, a conversation that transformed Tony, for a moment, into a 9/11 widow. Surely Tony must realize, Philip thinks, that it is assumed by everyone who loves him that every story he tells is exaggerated, if not completely made up. Surely he understands that this is what is assumed to be Tony's style of self-presentation and self-understanding. True for him, as the therapists say. I've never ever lied to you, Tony says again, and I never would.
A squadron of jets thunders across the sky, momentarily drowning out the conversation. It's the Blue Angels, practicing for their annual air show. Tony gazes after the jets, hand still on his heart, using them as a kind of punctuation or transitional phrase.
People love an aura of authenticity, says Tony. They like it when something seems true.
Should I write about the Amish shooting? Philip asks. Should I pitch the story?
Tony shrugs. Why not?
I can tell them my cultural knowledge and family name will get me special access, Philip says.
And will it?
Maybe. I mean I'm surely related to some of them, Philip says. I don't know.
Something rustles in the ivy, a small animal or a bird. For a moment the day seems busy with hidden life and meaning.
Have you heard of Huey Beauregard? Philip asks.
Tony has not.
Did you read that book by Armistead Maupin? asks Philip. The Night Listener?
Philip says that the true story it's based on is even more interesting.
A true story, says Tony.
Not just a true story, but an epic, Philip explains, in which several gay writers, baseball players, and other minor celebrities develop telephone relationships with a boy who was raped, beaten, and infected with HIV by his policeman father and his father's friends. An epic in which this boy gets his oddly titled memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, published, although nobody has ever met the boy, only his adoptive mother. Various friends of the boy lose faith; they note how much his voice resembles that of his adoptive mother, and they begin to imagine that he doesn't even exist. Finally, after a definitive article clearly lays out the case that the boy is actually only an imaginary being dreamed up by this insane woman from New Jersey, the boy, offended by the lack of faith in his magical existence, disappears, only to reappear occasionally as a ghostly presence on various websites ...
The jets fly back over the house, in the opposite direction and then curve westward, toward the ocean. Tony says something that sounds like a juggler and enchanter. Philip's head is throbbing again.
Just around the time that Anthony Godby Johnson disappeared, Philip says, this other boy popped up. Huey Beauregard. Same MO. A different set of gay writers leading to a different set of celebrities. Telephone calls and faxes but nobody ever meets the kid, until this weird munchkin starts getting photographed hidden behind fake beards and wigs. Same childhood of incredible abuse. Same stories of delayed puberty and mutant genitalia, because of the abuse.
But Huey Beauregard could be anyone, says Philip. Meanwhile, he's published a novel and a book of stories about his childhood of abuse. His heroin addiction, his AIDS, his Arkansas childhood with white trash monsters and his mother, who pimps him out in truck stops. My friend Felicia says that she knows for a fact the photo on his book jacket isn't really him. My friend Felicia says he was supposed to meet Sonya Brava in a park once but he never showed up. Felicia says that he claims he's agoraphobic because of the disfiguring Kaposi's on his face. At the same time, he was supposed to be working Polk Street.
Philip says, I used to live on Polk Street. Have I ever seen an androgynous little blond boy who looks anything like the munchkin in the magazines? Has anyone? It's probably the same insane woman in New Jersey who's concocted another fictional boy, says Philip. Felicia says that all of his cultural references are wrong. Like why would a boy born in 1982 be a fan of Suzanne Vega? Felicia says that Huey offered this young writer she knows money to impersonate him on his book tour. Huey's supposed to be this desperate kid who lives in a squat and hangs out with street kids and anarchists, but when the editor of Roost wanted him to find a squat for a spread in their magazine, he couldn't come up with it. An easy two grand for a couple thousand words. Felicia says that she's spoken to people who swear the voice that calls them on the phone sounds more like a woman. Why doesn't somebody investigate this travesty?
Why don't you investigate it?
For a moment Philip isn't sure if Tony really said that.
Tony says, You mean Felicia, Geordi's wife?
Philip says, My friend Felicia — she's kind of obsessed.
Excerpted from "Glory Hole"
Copyright © 2017 Stephen Beachy.
Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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