We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off

Monday morning and everything outside this morning looks wet; the sky is filled with clouds and so it’s not blindingly bright outside this morning either. This, of course, can be deceptive: I am almost afraid to check out the temperature because I know it’s going to be something insane that is going to make me want to not ever leave the house.

Okay, I looked. It’s a cool eighty right now, with an expected high of ninety-six later. Hurray.

Yesterday was awesome. I don’t know if it was the glass of wine or the two glasses of summer punch I had before dinner on Saturday, but I slept amazingly well Saturday night and woke up refreshed and rested on Sunday morning. I still feel rested and refreshed this morning, which is even lovelier. I have two chapters to go on the Scotty first draft and then it is finished, I have a short story to finish, and then I have another project to work on for the next two months. I am enormously pleased to be so close to finished with the Scotty book; I just need to make sure of something before I can write the second-to-last chapter, and then it gets to sit and percolate for two months. We also continued watching season two of Cardinal, which isn’t nearly as creepy as season one, but still enjoyable.

I also have continued reading the Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but am not getting into it. It might get better later on, but I’ve decided to simply put it aside for now and move on to something else that might get me more involved. The question is which ARC? Sarah Weinman’s? Lou Berney’s? Alex Segura’s, which I still haven’t gotten to? The Hank Philippi Ryan? Or something from the shelf? Questions, questions. But this week is a very brief one; I only have to work today and tomorrow and then I am taking a stay-cation; a word I hate using but it works as a shorthand explanation. I am off work from Wednesday on, and don’t have to be back into the office until the following Tuesday. I intend to do some of the things I didn’t get done on the last stay-cation; primarily cleaning out the storage attic to make room for new stuff, as well as do the floors and windows and clean the car as well as write write write read read read.

I also made it to the gym yesterday where I did thirty minutes of relatively easy low impact cardio on the treadmill while watching the second episode of the Netflix series Troy: The Fall of a City, which was much better than the first, frankly, and also triggered a memory of another book I want to write, The Trojan Boy.

Because of course I don’t have enough to write on my plate already. Heavy heaving sigh.

The next story in Promises and Every Star and Other Stories is “The Sea Where It’s Shallow”:

They weren’t happy. I could tell.

The couple was sitting on beach towels a few feet beyond where the lapping of the waves at the sand turned it a darker hue than where it was dry. One was blonde, the other brunette.  The blonde was older, maybe by as few as five years, maybe as many as ten. The brunette was taller by about four inches, but the blonde was stockier, with thicker muscles.

I crossed the line from where the depth of the water changes, where it switches from blue to green. I’d been swimming a long time, and perhaps it was time to come out. This couple definitely needed me, my intervention. Their auras were all wrong. They loved each other but something was going on with them, something that was making them forget how much they loved, how much they cared, how deep the feelings actually ran. The brunette was scowling. They weren’t talking, they were merely sitting side by side on their individual blankets on the powdery white sand. Not even looking at each other, not even stealing the occasional sidelong glance.

My feet brushed against the bottom and I smiled. I’d been in the water long enough it seemed to forget how to walk. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. I hoped not, at any rate. My feet sank a fraction of an inch into the sand, and the small waves lifted the weight off of my feet momentarily as each one passed, moving me a little closer to the water’s edge.

I kept my eyes on the brunette as more of me emerged from the water. He tried to make it look like he wasn’t looking at me. I was getting the sidelong glances as his eyes scanned the horizon, but they always came back to me. He seemed afraid to look me in the eyes, for our gazes to lock, but his eyes, I could see them moving, drinking in every inch of my dripping body as it emerged from the green sea. The white sugary sand of the Florida panhandle scrunched under my feet as I walked at last out of the water. I smiled at the brunette. The blonde had laid back, sunglasses on, his eyes unreadable. The brunette was more susceptible to my charms, I decided, sitting down on the sand a few feet from where he sat.

I would wait a few minutes, letting the sun dry my skin, I decided, giving him the opportunity to speak first. Unless I missed my guess, he would.

The sun’s rays were warm, and my skin dried quickly in its glare. I sensed him there, wanting to speak, to open a dialogue, but afraid of how the blonde would react.

Fair enough.

I turned my head and looked right into his brown eyes. He looked away quickly, his tanned face coloring slightly, embarrassed at being caught looking. “Hello.” I said, rearranging my facial muscles into a smile. It felt awkward. Surely it hadn’t been that long since I’d smiled? For a brief moment, I tried to recall the last time I’d smiled.

I don’t remember–again–which anthology or magazine I wrote this story for, but I do remember writing this story; it was in our old apartment on Sophie Wright Place, which places the writing somewhere between August 2001 and June 2003, which is when we moved to where we live now. I’ve always been interested in mermen (not Ethel, but rather the male version of mermaids)–the video for Madonna’s song Cherish is a great example of this–and I wanted to write a story about one. The couple was loosely based on a couple I met, actually on a Hawaiian beach, in 1995, whom I went home with. I ran into both of them at LA Pride–independently of each other; they’d split up in the months that passed between my trips, but this next time I saw them it was more of a “hey, nice to see you hope all’s well” brief conversation as we passed each other in the crowds on Santa Monica Boulevard.

I’ve always liked this story.

And I’ve always thought Channing Tatum would make a sexy merman.

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Take Me Home Tonight

Paul and I drove home last night from dinner with friends during a New Orleans summer thunderstorm, complete with torrential rains and high winds and low visibility and lightning, sometimes three different strikes at the same time lighting up the sky. It was a lovely evening, with an excellent cold meal and wonderful drinks and terrific conversation and much laughter. These types of evenings are too few in our life, I think; I was incredibly relaxed and cheerful when I got home, and slept the sleep of the righteous last night. It does feel lovely to be all rested this morning.

In these trying times, one must always take these spots of comfort and joy when one can find them.

We were supposed to go into a heat advisory today, but I think last night’s storm might have have some effect on that; apparently it’s only in the 80’s and with the heat index, “it feels like the low nineties.” The forecast I’d seen late last week indicated a “feels like 109” for today, so this is a blessed relief. I am going to make it to the gym today later on if it kills me; I have some things I need to get done today and I am determined to do them. Yesterday afternoon I braved the hideous heat to make groceries, and then came home and cleaned the floors and washed the bed linens. The Lost Apartment doesn’t look quite the disgusting mess it has all week; when the exhaustion from the heat kind of had me reeling and not wanting to move when I got home. But today, for the first time in a long time, I feel motivated and ready to get a move on.

Which is, quite frankly, absolutely lovely.

So, there’s definitely some organizing that needs to be done around here, and then some cleaning as well as some writing. I’m very close to being finished with the Scotty draft, and I need to work on a short story, and I also want to make a list of things I need to get done this week.

I’ve also started thinking about the next book I’m going to write. I really want to write Bury Me in Satin this year, but I am also thinking about making developing my story “A Holler Full of Kudzu” into a novel; it seems like it would work better as a novel than as a short story. Both are Corinth, Alabama stories; and of course there’s still the WIP to whip into shape. So, I am thinking September will be my revision of Scotty month while I continue to work on revising the WIP, with an end goal of being finished with both by October 1 and then diving into Bury Me in Satin, which I think is a terrific idea and long overdue for me to write….but the other story also beckons me. We shall see; things always seems to change when situationally and I am trying to be more of a go with what is interesting me at the time kind of writer.

I only have to work two days this week: Monday and Tuesday, then I am taking a stay-cation that has me not returning to the office until Tuesday of the following week, which is absolutely lovely. I need to get a list made of everything I need to get done during that free time as well.

I also am way behind on my reading. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda hasn’t really grabbed my interest but I’ve also not gotten very far into it, either. Maybe it will pick up; maybe today when I go to the gym I can take it with me and read it while on the treadmill; or I can watch something on the iPad; which was how I managed to get back into and enjoy Black Sails.

I really need to start going to the gym with greater regularity; hell, I just need to start going again, period. I’ve always had an adversarial relationship with my body; and I think part of my lackadaisical/not motivated issue comes from not going to the gym with any regularity. I need to actual focus on trimming the fat-weight down on my body, and focus on eating better and healthier. It’s not going to get easier to lose the weight, and at the same time I don’t want to keep gaining as I get older either.

That would be a disaster.

And so now I will return to the spice mines. I am going to work on Scotty for a bit before I go to the gym.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “The Sound of a Soul Crying”:

The dream was mild at first, scarcely remembered upon awakening—a vague flash of a blonde man in a pair of tight underwear, wrapped in a blanket of multi-colored wool, almost like a serape, but that flash brought with it a sense of unease, discomfort, that horrible gut feeling that something was wrong. Galen sat up in bed, the slight breeze from the ceiling fan tousling his light brown hair. Rubbing his eyes, he glanced over at the clock. Just before four. He tried for a moment to recapture the dream, the image, but it was just that—an image, nothing more. Not again, he thought, climbing out of bed to get a drink of water. The last time had been too painful, too hard on him. It had taken weeks to get over; he couldn’t afford that again. He took a couple of aspirin. There was no headache this time, but it never hurt to be careful.

More was revealed to Galen the second night, more of a picture of what the blond man looked like: thick blond hair parted in the center, perfectly straight, bleached even whiter by sun exposure. His skin was tanned bronze-gold, his lips a thin, almost austere line drawn above a slightly pointed jaw. The nose was long but not so long as to offset the rest of his face. His eyes were small, frosted with white lashes and crowned with two white brows. Their color was a blue too dark to be called azure. His slender neck connected with heavily muscled shoulders that descended to a hairless, equally impressive chest. He was wearing navy blue cotton sweatpants that hung loosely off his waist, revealing two lines of definition where his hips and torso intersected. Slight lines around his eyes and lips betrayed his age to be early- to mid-forties.

His face looked as though it had forgotten how to smile.

He was watching a video on his television, holding the remote in his long fingered hand. He pressed the FF button, and Galen’s perception of the scene rotated as though a movie camera on a track was moving around until his line of sight was coming from behind the couch the man sat on, enabling him to see the same blurred images on the television moving quickly by that the blond man was watching: images of three naked young men with low body fat, veined muscles, and erect cocks—one getting fucked while sucking the third’s cock. The blond was watching, massaging his crotch, but nothing was happening; there was no physical reaction at all. He finally stopped the tape, turned off the television, and walked into a bedroom. He dropped the sweatpants, revealing a tight pair of thirty-five dollar white briefs. He slid beneath the multi-colored blanket, turned off the light and lay there, staring at the ceiling in the darkness.

This time Galen woke with a headache. It wasn’t the worst he’d ever had after such a dream, but it wasn’t pleasant. There was a dull aching throb in his forehead over his right eye, close to the bridge of his nose. Lying in bed, his breath coming faster and faster as he focused on the pain, he attempted to will it away. He got out of bed and headed toward the bathroom, his erection poking out from beneath the elastic waistband. The dreams always had that affect: headache and hard-on, two things he would ordinarily consider mutually exclusive. He shook two aspirin out, popped them into his mouth and cupped his hands beneath the faucet for water to wash them down. He stared at himself in the mirror. The bags under his eyes were getting thicker, darker, larger. The whites of his eyes were laced with red, and even the white was starting to look yellowed and tired. He splashed water on his face. “It’s only going to get worse, so stop bitching about it,” he told his reflection. “Now is the easy part.” Praying for the aspirin to work their mysterious magic, he got back into bed.

This is another story that was written for an anthology pre-Katrina whose name I don’t recall; but I had the idea for the story when I was in college, and actually wrote a partial draft of it by hand (as I always did for the most part in those horrible pre-computer days), and when I was asked to write a story for this anthology–it had to do with dreams and nightmares; that much I do recall–I remembered this story of an empath who sees people hurting emotionally in his dreams, and started writing. It was, for an erotic story, much longer than they usually run, and there was a lot more story than there was erotica, which often happens in my stories.

I really like what I did with this story; it’s really more about heartbreak and loneliness and isolation than anything else, and it turned out pretty well.

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Talk to Me

I slept well last night, yet am still tired this morning; it’s the summer malaise, no doubt. It’s weird for me to drive around the city and still see hordes of tourists gamboling around; at this time of year New Orleans used to become a ghost town, locals fleeing the heat and humidity to beach houses (if they had them) and those who could not leave staying inside in the air conditioning as much as possible. It still concerns me, more than a little bit, that just going out into the heat on two separate occasions this weekend and then going to a dinner party on Monday had done such a thorough job of draining and depleting my energy, not to mention made it so difficult for the batteries to recharge. But I only have two days in the office next week before my 4th  of July based vacation; here’s hoping that somehow I’ll be able to get rested and manage to get things done in the meantime.

I spent nine hours yesterday testing in the CareVan; it was National HIV Testing Day and as usual, the day job partnered with Walgreens stores all over New Orleans for us to reach out and test people who might not otherwise get tested. I wasn’t, frankly, too thrilled about doing anything Walgreens-related, after the scandalous behavior of the Walgreens pharmacist in Arizona this past week, but as always in this life, one has to compromise one’s principles, and choose the battles one wants to fight. Identifying new HIV positives is my job and my calling; to help them get treatment and medical care so they don’t infect other people as well as so they remain healthy. I’ve seen too much death from HIV in my lifetime to choose moral principles over assisting those who may be in need.

It’s been, frankly, an incredibly tiresome week. First the Walgreens pharmacy nonsense, where a pharmacist was somehow allowed, by the company and the law, to put a person’s life at risk because of his “sincerely held religious beliefs”, to the Kennedy announcement and the other horrific Supreme Court decisions of this past week. I think the combination of spending so much time out in the heat did the physical damage while the other things did the emotional and intellectual draining. I slept well but still feel drained and tired, tired of having to fight, tired of having to stand up and be counted. It sometimes feels like I’ve been fighting–for my right to exist, to be who I am, to be heard–for most of my life.

It’s exhausting.

This blog began during the Bush administration after a truly terrible year that I didn’t know was simply the beginning of a run of a terrible few years; it was a way to get me to start writing again over on Livejournal and was never meant to be anything other than me being able to have a place to record my feelings, my thoughts, my observations. It was therapeutic, and it also helped to vent out a lot of anger about the injustice in the world that I saw every day; whether those injustices directly affected me or whether they did not. As I’ve gotten older I’ve stayed away from politics and policy; either from mellowing with time or just not wanting to waste the energy on arguing about things with, frankly, human garbage. I stay off Twitter most of the time because I already have to take medicine for high blood pressure; the horrible things I see on there often make my blood boil.

But while I continue to refuse to engage with the sewage, that neither makes it go away nor does it put a stop to it, and what I see going on in this country, as filtered through my marginalized gay eyes, is terrifying.

So, going forward, I will still talk about writing and books I love; about New Orleans and writers I admire. I will continue, I will go on. But I am also going to have what used to be called “Julia Sugarbaker moments”–and if that is going to offend your delicate little sensibilities, stop reading my blog and feel free to abandon me on social media.

My next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories was called “Son of a Preacher Man”:

The air was sticky, damp and hot as I carefully slid the screen out of my window. The only sounds in the night was the electrical humming from the street light out in front of my house and the every-present chirping of crickets. Before I climbed through the window, I stuck my head out to see if the light in my parents’ window was still out. They’d gone to bed about an hour before, but better safe than sorry. I’d been sneaking out all summer and they hadn’t caught me once. 

I jumped down into the damp grass and ran as quietly as I could down to the line of trees at the back of our property. I ducked into the trees and walked along the dry creek bed to the little dilapidated wood bridge behind the Burleson house, and sat down with my legs dangling over the side. It wasn’t midnight yet, and Andy was always late. My parents were strict, but his made mine look like—well, I didn’t know what, but something. His daddy was the preacher, and he thought his kids had to set an example for the rest of the Youth for Christ. Andy always had to help serve the Lord’s Supper at least once a week, and instead of playing summer baseball like the rest of us, he spent his summer days working on his grandpa’s farm out in the county. Preacher Burleson was a hard man whose eyes blazed with the power of the Lord who didn’t let his wife or daughters wear make-up or curl their hair.

Andy hated his daddy.

Nobody knew, except me. In front of everyone else, Andy was a good son, never contradicting his daddy, doing what he was told, minding. He studied and got good grades, knew his Bible inside and out, and had never been any trouble. But I was the only one who knew he cribbed cigarettes whenever he had the chance,  could swear like a sailor,  and hated every last adult in Corinth—probably in the whole state of Alabama, for that matter. All he ever talked about was running away, getting the hell out of Corinth, Alabama, the south. He never said where he wanted to go, but I was pretty sure anywhere else would do.

I sat there on the bridge, swatting at mosquitoes and listening to the sounds of the night. August in Alabama was like living in hell, I heard my mama say once, and she was right. The air was like a big hot wet towel pressing down on my moist skin. My armpits were already damp. I dangled my legs over the edge, swinging them like a little kid. My whole summer had revolved around sneaking out at night and meeting Andy. School was going to start in another month, football practice in two more weeks, and then these nights were going to end. I didn’t like to think about that. I wanted to believe that the summer would go on forever, and every night I’d be sneaking out to meet Andy again—

As you can tell, this was also written during that period of time when I was at war with the evangelical right. And what better way to tell them to fuck off than to write a gay erotica story about having sex with the preacher’s son? IN THE FUCKING CHURCH (literally)?

It’s another one of my Corinth stories, like “Smalltown Boy” and so many others I’ve written; even my main character in Dark Tide was from Corinth. But I love the voice of this character; the same voice I’ve used whenever I’ve written a first person short story about teens in that town, and I really think I should write an entire book using that voice.

And now back to the spice mines.

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What You Need

Today is National HIV Testing Day, and I’ll be doing testing all day in the Carevan in the parking lot of my neighborhood Walgreens. A long day, to be sure, and I will most certainly be exhausted tonight when I am done. But at least I’ll only have a two block walk home.

The heat and humidity feels particularly crippling this year; maybe I’ve gotten too old to handle it, or something, but I find myself these days tired and drained all of the time; exhausted, and never hungry; I have to remind myself to eat something every day. Right now, it’s not as bright as it should be outside my windows; there is cloud cover blocking the sunlight but in the distance I can see blue skies. I’m on pace to finish the Scotty by the end of this weekend (thank the Lord) despite the fact the book is a sloppy mess; but a sloppy mess can be fixed.

I’ve also not been reading as much lately; I haven’t had the energy. I have started reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which the film Love Simon was based on, but I am not really getting into it very much. Maybe that will change the deeper I get into it, but what I really want to do is dive headfirst into Lou Berney’s November Road and Sarah Weinman’s The Real Lolita.

Then again, I could be tired and drained and out of it this week because last weekend wasn’t a normal one; and I even was out on Monday night this week. My stay-cation built around the 4th of July cannot come soon enough, Constant Reader.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Oh, What A Friend I Have in Jesus”:

I watched as the storm rolled in from the ocean into Acapulco Bay. The lightning flashes at the mouth of the horseshoe shaped inlet lit up the night sky In the distance, the black water below the jagged white strings turning green. I sat on the balcony of a beachfront highrise, smoking a cigarette, unable to sleep. It was about four o’clock in the morning, and I knew I was going to have to let myself out relatively soon to catch a cab back to the S. S. Adonis, which was setting sail for Mazatlan at promptly eight in the morning. Part of me was tempted to just go on to the airport and catch the next flight back to Los Angeles. I wasn’t enjoying the cruise, as I’d known I wouldn’t. It seemed now, as it had in the days before departure, like an incredible waste of time.

Inside the apartment, beyond the open sliding glass doors, Jesus mutttered something in his sleep and rolled over onto his back. I looked inside, noting the long thick brown cock resting off to the side of the large balls. His flat, perfectly smooth stomach rose and fell with every breath. I felt my own cock stir again inside my underwear, but ignored it and turned back to look out to sea. There wasn’t time for another round, and besides, he was asleep. When he woke, I would most likely be out to sea, on the cruise I regretted taking. It’s only five more days, I reminded myself. After Mazatlan, we turn back north and head straight back to LA. You can get through it, surely.

The cruise hadn’t been my idea. Whenever I thought about going on a cruise, my mind automatically returned to movies like The Poseidon Adventure and Titanic. It had been Mark’s idea, one of his harebrained schemes born out of his own boredom and need for change. Maybe that wasn’t quite fair—Mark was just more adventurous than I was, always had been, and I was usually more than happy to go along for the ride. It was Mark who’d dragged me to Gay Days at Disney, Southern Decadence in New Orleans, and IML in Chicago. I’d never regretted letting Mark serve as my vacation planner, having a great time every time I went anywhere with him. It was hard not to have fun with Mark; Mark drew people to him everywhere he went with his infectious big smile, sexy blue eyes and his ripped muscular body. Everyone always looked at Mark, everyone always wanted to meet him, everyone always wanted to fuck him. Maybe I was a little jealous of him, but he’d worked long and hard on his body, and the work showed. He was always prone to take his shirt off whenever he got the chance, displaying the huge mouth watering pecs and gigantic biceps that everyone wanted to touch, to see flexed. But I’d known Mark before he’d dedicated himself to turning himself, as he said, ‘into the hottest man over forty in Southern California.” When he suggested going on the Adonis cruise, I’d been more than happy to fork over the several thousand dollars, despite my aversion to being on the high seas.

Mark made everything more fun.

I flicked my cigarette over the edge of the balcony and watched the little glowing red ember tumble end over end down eleven stories before exploding into sparks on the marble walkway below. The wind was picking up as the storm crossed the bay towards land, and I shivered a little. I debated lighting another one; debated getting dressed and slipping out the elevator and heading back to the ship.

Instead, I went inside and got back into the bed, feeling Jesus’ warmth as he breathed shallowly in his sleep. There was a bedside lamp on, and as I drew on his body heat to warm my chilled skin, I looked back at the semi-hard cock with a little drop of liquid in the slit. It was a beautiful cock, purplish-brown and gigantic when flaccid. When erect, it was the stuff of pornographic dreams. I stared at it wonderingly. That thing was inside of me about an hour ago, I thought, resisting the urge to shake my head. It made me feel like no other cock ever had before. I came three times while he pounded into my ass—no one’s ever done that before. I came the first time without even touching my own cock.

Mark had been forced to cancel his cruise at the last minute—a medical emergency. He’d overdone it at the gym and created a rupture inside his own ball sack, and his doctor had insisted on operating on it right away. The surgery itself was minor and routine—an outpatient procedure I’d driven him to and home from—but the doctor forbade him to leave the country. And when I said I’d cancel, too—Mark wouldn’t hear of it. “NO, you go on without me,” my best friend had insisted. “I’d never forgive myself if you didn’t go because of me. You go on. You’ll have a blast, you’ll see.

This story was clearly based on our trip to Acapulco in the summer of 2006; we rented a beautiful apartment in what was known as the “Mexican” part of the city–where the wealthy Mexicans vacationed, rather than the part where most Americans from the US went. The place was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous; there was a pool, the entire building was done in marble, the bedroom had a balcony that opened out to the bay, the pool was just above the beach with wooden steps down…it was wonderful, and it was our first real vacation in ten years. Jesus, the lovely Mexican local my main character has an adventurous evening in bed with, was actually based on a stripper at a local strip club Paul and I discovered called the Club Caliente; the downstairs had female strippers and the upstairs male. We were startled to discover a major cultural difference between American and Mexican strip clubs: in Acapulco, they are completely naked. My writer’s mind began to wander–this was also the first time I was ever in a strip club, and realized the attention I was getting from the strippers was probably triggered by oh, look, a bald old rich American gay man! (“Rich” being the only adjective that doesn’t fit.) So when I was asked to write an erotic story for an anthology of cruise stories, I decided to write about Acapulco and Jesus, the beautiful stripper I’d met. (I gave him a couple of dollars.) The title came about because the Christian nonsense in Virginia had resurfaced, and hey, if the evangelicals wanted to slander and smear me and destroy my career, well, I’m going to title a gay porn story the same name as one of their favorite hymns.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Acapulco, and the view from our balcony:

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The Sweetest Taboo

Last night Paul and I had dinner at Galatoire’s.

Galatoire’s is a New Orleans institution; like Antoine’s and Arnaud’s and Commander’s Palace, it is one of those places you simply have to experience. This wasn’t my first time at Galatoire’s, but it was my first time there in a while. Galatoire’s was immortalized by Marda Burton and Dr. Kenneth Holditch in their book Galatoire’s: Biography of a Bistro, and Stella famously took Blanche there for dinner the night of the poker game in A Streetcar Named Desire. I don’t think I’ve ever been into Galatoire’s and left without feeling, at best, tipsy; at worse, staggeringly drunk. Last night I merely had a Bloody Mary and a glass of white wine; fortunately Paul and I had about a six-block walk to the car in the infernal heat of a late June evening, so I was completely sober by the time we got to the car.

We were at a dinner party in honor of author Lou Berney, whose last novel The Long and Faraway Gone is one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read, and whose next novel, November Road, drops in October (we were able to score ARC’s at the dinner). I’ve known Lou since Bouchercon in Raleigh, when he and I graced the stage on a panel with Lori Roy and Liz Milliron, moderated by the incomparable Katrina Niidas Holm. (Lori and Lou went on to win Edgars the following spring; coincidence? I THINK NOT.) It was a lovely evening, despite the extreme heat (and don’t laugh; it is unusually hot, even for New Orleans, this June; this is August weather).

Did I mention I got an ARC of Lou’s new book?

Today’s short story, the next one up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories, is, of all things, a story about a baseball player, “Phenom.”

The arms around me hit a grand slam tonight.

 It didn’t matter; we lost the game anyway. But I didn’t care. I’ve never really cared much about baseball. In fact, I’d never been to a game until our local team signed Billy Chastain. As soon as I saw him being interviewed on the local news, I knew I was going to start going to games. It’s not that I don’t like baseball, I just never cared enough to go. But all it took was one look at Billy Chastain, and I was sold.

The interview had been one of those special pieces. He’d been a high school star, played in college a couple of years, and then one year in the minors, where he’d been a force to be reckoned with; with an amazing batting average and some outstanding play at third base, he’d been called up to the majors for this new season, and everyone was talking about him.  I just stared at the television screen.

Sure, he was young, but he was also composed, well spoken, and seemed mature for his age. He was also drop dead gorgeous. He had thick bluish-black hair, olive skin, and the most amazing green eyes. They showed clips of him fielding and batting—and then came the part that I wished I’d recorded: they showed him lifting weights. In the earlier shots, it was apparent he had a nice build; he seemed tall and lanky, almost a little raw-boned; but once they cut to the shots of him in the weight room, I was sold. His body was ripped as he moved from machine to machine in his white muscle shirt and long shorts, his dark hair damp with sweat. As his workout progressed and his muscles became more and more pumped, more and more defined, I could feel my cock starting to stir in my pants. And then they closed the segment with a shot of him pulling the tank top over his head and wiping his damp face with it. I gasped. His hairless torso slick with sweat, his abs were perfect, his pecs round and beautiful, and the most amazing half-dollar sized nipples which I wanted to get my lips around.

I bought tickets and started going to every home game.

Our team sucked, to be frank, and it was soon apparent that there was no World Series or even division pennant in our future that year. But Billy was a great player and everyone was talking about him. He was leading the division in hits and had one of the highest batting averages in all of baseball. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline PHENOM, his beautiful face smiling out at people on newsstands all over the country. There were several shots of him inside without a shirt on; shots I had scanned into my computer, enlarged and printed out for framing. I made sure my seats were always behind third base, so I could get as great a view of him as humanly possible, in his tight white pants that showed every curve and muscle of his legs—and the amazing round hard ass I thought about when I closed my eyes and masturbated. Every so often he would look up into the stands and smile, saluting us with a wave.

I wrote “Phenom” for the Alyson erotica anthology Fast Balls; I was asked by the editor to write a story.

I’m not a big baseball fan; my parents forced me to play when I was a kid and yes, the experience was incredibly traumatic. I do love going to games and watching in person; but watching on television isn’t something I’ve ever really enjoyed a lot. So, writing a baseball story was a bit of a challenge for me.

Then I remembered, when I was a teenager in high school, following the Kansas City Royals, and a Sports Illustrated cover with young star Clint Hurdle with the word PHENOM on it…and I thought, you know, I can write about a player instead of the game, and that was my starting point: a hot young baseball star turns up in a gay bar after a game and a fanboy’s dream comes true.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Invisible Touch

The last Monday in June dawns, and I am tired and sleepy and despite sleeping well, am awake much earlier than my body wants me to be. And while hot New Orleans summers are almost a stereotype at this point, it’s already hotter here than it usually is at this time; it feels more like August out there than late June. Taking the streetcar down to the Quarter both Saturday and Sunday drained me, physically; I think that’s why I am so tired and out of sorts this morning. Perhaps that will allow me to write from my subconscious this morning; we shall see how that goes.

I was so drained yesterday after I got home that I sat down at the computer and started Chapter 21; I managed about 300 excruciatingly painful words before I finally gave up and retired to my easy chair to watch the end of Cardinal and an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale; we are about three episodes behind on it. It’s hard to watch, particularly with what is going on in the country at the moment, quite frankly; the idea of children being taken away from their mothers, while always sickening, is particularly rough to watch right now.

But I just have to get through this week and I only have a two-day work-week next week; then comes a lovely six-day stay-cation, or whatever you want to call it. I am definitely looking forward to that down time to clean the house, move some things to storage, clean out some cabinets and so forth; I’ve decided that the 4th itself will be my day of rest and then I will focus on getting things done on the other days I have off, which will be lovely.

But all I really want to do right now is go back to sleep. But I must persevere. The spice must be mined.

The next story in my collection Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Disaster Relief”:

“Most of the damage is upstairs,” I said as I unlocked the front door to my apartment and pushed the door open. I stood in the doorway and allowed him to pass. “Although we did get some mold down here on the walls.” I shrugged. I’d shown the wreckage that had been my home for just two months to so many people by this time that it didn’t affect me anymore. The first time I’d walked in after Katrina had gone through I had been in shock. You never expect to see your home in that condition; mold running down the walls, plaster wreckage covering the stairs, your bed a mildew factory. It had made me sick to my stomach.

Well, that and the smell coming from the refrigerator.

It was my home, it was the same apartment I’d been so excited to move into a million years ago in June, but I didn’t feel the same way about it as I did before.

Christian Evans, my FEMA inspector, whistled as he walked in and took a look around. “Nice place.”

“It was.” I used to love the high ceilings, the two ceiling fans, the curved staircase leading up to the second floor, and the hardwood floor I polished until it was like a mirror. Now the floor was covered with dust from the collapsed ceiling upstairs. The plaster on the walls in the living room was cracked, and the true enemy was evident on the ceiling—those horrible black spreading spots of mold that looked like ink blots. But at least the ever-present stench of mold and mildew was hardly noticeable anymore.

And I’d won my epic battle with the refrigerator.

“But I imagine you’ve seen a lot worse.” I went on, hugging myself. It was a cool morning with a strong breeze blowing that made it seem colder, and of course I didn’t have the heat turned on. Not much point in trying to warm the place when there was no ceiling upstairs. Of course he’s seen worse, I scolded myself. That had been my litany ever since I’d come back.

You’re one of the lucky ones, remember that.

Christian shrugged. He was a small man, maybe about five eight, in his early thirties. He was cute in that nondescript metrosexual “is he gay or straight?” way. He had a light brown goatee, and had gelled his brown hair into that just-got-out-of-bed look that seemed to be all the rage. Before the storm, I’d always referred to that style as the freshly fucked look. I’d never really cared for it much, but it worked on him. He had a way of grinning that somehow worked with the gelled hair. “I’ve been out to the 9th Ward and Lakeview,” he said as he pulled his laser pointer out of his pocket and started measuring the dimensions of the room. “So you lost your couch?”\

This story came about because of a post on my blog I made about our FEMA inspector.

That was a crazy weekend, all those years ago. My friends and fellow authors Timothy and Becky, part of the Timothy James Beck writing team, had scheduled a book event the week before Thanksgiving as a fundraiser for Katrina relief and invited me to participate; we’d become friends through our blogs and had communicated a lot, and this was an opportunity to meet in person as well as for me to get away from the ruins of New Orleans for a few days. I had already planned on driving up to Kentucky for the holiday, and the plan was to swing through Illinois afterwards to pick up Paul and Skittle and bring them home at long last. My car needed new spark plugs and possibly a tune-up, which I planned on getting done in Houston.  My grandmother died on the Thursday I was in Houston; my mother called me on Friday to tell me the service/funeral would be on Sunday so I needed to go to Alabama on Saturday. Okay, fine, cool. Then Paul called me to tell me the FEMA instructor was coming by at 8 am on Saturday morning to go through our house, so I needed to be there.

JFC.

My car was finished at six thirty that evening, so I drove back to New Orleans from the auto repair shop and got up at seven the next morning to meet the FEMA inspector–and once he was done, I was going to drive to Alabama. The FEMA inspector was very attractive and sexy; after the tour of the apartment I wrote in my blog Is it wrong to find your FEMA inspector sexy? I could probably write a really weird erotic short story about having sex with your FEMA inspector in the ruins of your house.

Someone–I don’t remember who–commented on the blog not only asking me to write the story but promising to include/publish it; whether it was on a website or in an anthology, I don’t recall. So, while I was at my parents’ in Kentucky for the holidays, I wrote “Disaster Relief.” it was my first Katrina piece of fiction, and it was pretty good, if I do say so myself.

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If You Leave

Sunday morning.

I wrote another chapter, slightly less than three thousand words, yesterday. I don’t know that I can match the output today, but I’m certainly going to give it another try. I only have five chapters left to go on this excruciatingly sloppy first draft, but a finished first draft is a finished first draft, and I can tear it apart and patch it all back together again in September. Oddly enough, I am looking forward to doing that, to be honest; I just wish these five chapters were finished already.

Heavy sigh.

Last night I took a streetcar named St. Charles down to the Quarter to have dinner with a friend in town for ALA (I am heading back down there again today, to meet the publishers for the Bouchercon anthology), and it was absolutely delightful to talk with someone incredibly smart about books and writing and publishing; it always is, frankly. The heat and humidity were somehow bearable on the way there; it was the way home that was horrific. I was completely soaked when I got off the streetcar and by the time I got to the Lost Apartment, and the heat/humidity just sucked the energy right out of me. I feel icky and sticky still this morning; I feel asleep in my chair and just went to bed from there, forgetting the cardinal rule of summer in New Orleans: always shower whenever you can, especially before bed.

But, it was a lot of fun. I really do have amazing and smart friends.

So I am going to try to get some work done before it’s time to hit the streetcar again. I would prefer to hit my three thousand words today before I get leave, since I probably won’t be in the mood when I get back home again–note to self: take a second shower when you get home, you won’t be sorry in the least.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Desire Under the Blankets.”

Blair lit a cigarette. The light cast from his match flared briefly, casting shadows in the darkened room. He shook out the match and tossed it into an overflowing ashtray as he sucked in hungrily at the smoke. The menthol clotted in his lungs and he fought against the cough that fought its way up his windpipe, determined to expel the poisons. His eyes watered for a moment, and he gave in to the cough at last, muffling its sound. The clock on his desk read four fifteen. The rest of the fraternity house was silent. The majority of them were undoubtedly passed out from too much alcohol; some of them, he was sure, were huddled in rooms smoking pot out of bongs or snorting cocaine off the glass in picture frames. His own supply of cocaine was sitting in a small pile on a framed photograph of his mother on the desk top next to a bong made of glass and plastic in the shape of a dragon.

He opened his small refrigerator and got a can of Pepsi. He was still a little drunk from the evening’s festivities. Big Brother night, a semesterly tradition in which the pledges received their protectors and advisors amongst the group of the already initiated, ended around two in the morning when the keg ran dry and the last pledge had vomited. His own little brother, Mike Van Zale, was sleeping off his drunkenness in Blair’s bed, snoring a little softly. Mike had puked around midnight, thanks to the Jose Cuervo shots Blair had poured down his throat. After Mike had staggered down the hallway to the bathroom and lost the contents of his stomach, Blair took pity on him and led him up to his room. Some of the other brothers would force their new charges to drink again after throwing up, but Blair was a little more compassionate. Besides, the previous semester one of the Alpha Chi Omega pledges almost died from alcohol abuse. Blair’s brothers at Beta Kappa, for the most part, only paid lip service to the new University regulations regarding alcohol hazing of pledges. They were idiots, Blair reflected as he stubbed out his cigarette and made another line from the cocaine.  It wasn’t the first time he’d thought that nor, he reflected, was it likely to be the last.

His nostrils were already numb from previous snorts and he knew that this one wouldn’t restore the high the first one, hours earlier, had given him. All this would do was make his hands shake and his teeth grind. It was a waste but he was in the stage he called the “I  wants”, when he began to mentally crave more and more cocaine. He took a hit off the bong to lessen the edge of the coke when it hit. He held the smoke in as long as he could before it exploded out of him in a massive coughing fit. He grabbed a tissue and spit out a wad of phlegm.

On the bed, Mike shifted and moaned a little.

Blair took a sip of his Pepsi to cool his burning throat and walked over to the bed. Mike was sprawled on his back on top of the covers. In the moonlight coming through the slightly parted curtains, his skin looked like smooth alabaster. His hairless and hard chest gleamed in the ghostly light. Thick wiry hair sprouted from under his arms. A thin line of drool hung from the corner of his mouth. His face was expressionless. A thin trail of wiry black hairs ran from his navel to the waistband of his white briefs.

He was quite beautiful.

I created the character of Blair–along with two others, Chris Moore and Eric Matthews–years before I was published. When I belonged to a fraternity and was actually living in the house, I created these three fraternity brothers that were very close friends, and wrote lots of notes about them. I was originally thinking along the terms of writing a fraternity thriller, with these three characters kind of a Three Investigators team solving the murder. I’ve always thought a fraternity would be a good setting for a murder, and I still do. This entire scene, in fact, was born from that idea for a novel; I’d always intended Blair, whose parents were movie stars, to be flamboyant and gay, if closeted within the hallowed halls of the fraternity house. I wrote this particular story out as an idea; the title was obviously a play on the Eugene O’Neill play. I used this story for an anthology, and then years later incorporated it into my novel Every Frat Boy Wants It, the first of three erotic fraternity novels I’ve done as Todd Gregory.

I always liked Blair, and should have done a sequel about him. (The fratboy series always focuses on a new character with the new book; the main characters from the previous one show up, but don’t have a lot to do .)

Who know? Maybe someday I will.

And now back to the spice mines.

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