Wren had to park a good distance from the venue. He wouldn’t have known it was the right spot, except the catering truck was parked there: just a gravel driveway, encroached upon with overgrown bushes and trees. If the country had alleys, this was one. As Wren turned off the car, Franny pulled up, so he paced gathering his things, trying to get out at the same time as her. Franny was one of the managers. She was about twenty years older than Wren, with a range of facial expressions that all conveyed disgust and a musical knowledge vastly limited to new wave bands. One time, at a small event with few staff, while they were setting tables, she played nothing but Tears for Fears and was delighted that Wren knew all of the words: “Going far, getting nowhere, going far, the way you are,” “It’s not that you’re not good enough / It’s just that we can make you better,” “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.” They had been devoted to one another since then.

Franny was a city girl, so as they walked on the shoulder of the road, she muttered, “I don’t want to be out here after dark,” and Wren began listing horror movies set in rural locations. The venue was situated in the countryside, but was still only miles from the freeway. It was a Stars Hollow sort of farm, with darling house, landscaped grounds, little stone patios under trees with lights hanging from the branches. At the back was a huge ancient barn that had been covered in some kind of glue to keep the boards level and dull any sharp grain.

In such an unincorporated area as this, Wren thought of Craigslist, partially because he was always thinking about Craigslist, but partially because his last casual encounter had been around here. In these parts, only the few and the desperate posted: the risk was higher, so your hunger had to be more intense, be it queer or curious. The immediacy, secrecy and security of it were what attracted and addicted Wren. How you could instantly connect and be charged by the knowledge you were desired. How you could delete everything until there was no evidence. How you could intermittently convince yourself nothing had happened. How you could become anonymous even to yourself.

The event was a wedding, which usually makes the entire catering staff nervous by association. Wren was on appetizers and charmed himself to the teeth: “Would you like to try some Spicy Chicken, which is coincidentally the name of my band?” But he needn’t have bothered, because the bride, groom, their parents, parties and guests were content. They were also stylish, diverse, smart and attractive. It was the sort of crowd that absorbed you, made you want to be better, made you believe that maybe you were better.

Wren was not better. He was worse. Worse wasn’t the right word, because that implied movement in some direction, presumably a dangerous one, but Wren hadn’t budged. He just dredged. Dragged up the same shit over and over again. Nearly every decision he’d ever made was wrong, he was wrong, it was all wrong. Of course, this way of thinking was wrong, too. Since the pact, Wren’s behavior had changed, but his mind and heart were the same. It was hard enough to stop the behavior, now he had to stop the thinking and feeling? The only reason to stop one thing was to start another.

Meanwhile, within 24 hours, he had to go from one wedding to another, from server to guest. Some would think of that as going from work to fun, but it was the opposite for Wren. At the first wedding, he could hover and observe, with no obligation to participate; at the second, he would have to engage and interact, so as to communicate his gratitude at being invited. The reality of introversion isn’t just that you can only be around people for a limited time, it’s that the time with them has to be unlimited in its depth of intimacy: small talk requires huge amounts of energy. And that’s all people have to offer at a wedding, unless you find another introvert and a bottle of champagne and a quiet corner somewhere.

There weren’t adequate corners in this venue, long, narrow thing that it was, like a galley. From where Wren was sitting, he couldn’t really see any of the ceremony; only hear the pastor’s voice, talking about the vine and the branches. And pruning. What a vicious job. You had to nearly kill the plant so it could grow.

Nearby, a boy in his early twenties wore a vintage brown tux, somehow both aware that he could work the look and unaware that it was tight in all the right places. Wren admired this briefly, then felt ashamed, as there must have been a decade between them. It was difficult having an aesthetic orientation that pulled every bit of male beauty with its tractor beam. If Wren wasn’t careful, his brain would beam up to another location where he could be with the beauty alone and talk about the weather, or maybe not talk; almost immediately it would beam back, blaming Wren for being so depraved, blaming beauty for attaching to a person. A crossbeam.

Though Wren had made the pact some years ago with a fellow addict – they had to stay off Oxycontin, he had to stay off Craigslist – he was seriously unsettled by recent news that the site had discontinued the personal ads, as if it were a collector’s coin he had kept, not intending to use it, just imagining the increasing value, knowing it could always be sold, but then found it had disappeared. It was like that quote from C.S. Lewis about thinking that if we are good enough, long enough, our poor deprived soul will be given permission to return to its fleshy desires.

Afterwards, at the reception, Wren provided commentary on the entire staff, a judge at an event: they hadn’t set the tables properly, weren’t dressed professionally, didn’t behave appropriately; he had plenty of adjectives and adverbs for them all. For example: someone spilled a huge bowl of salad near their table, and after 5 minutes of no one doing anything, Wren began cleaning it up with his bare hands. At this point a server walked by and asked if he needed a rag and Wren almost said “NO, I NEED YOU TO DO YOUR JOB.” It was his favorite part of the day, really. He was a guest, he was a server, he was a guest server, being invited into the work. He texted Franny about all of it and she replied, “give management a business card and say when they want good help, come find us.”

A week later, Wren remembered that he didn’t bring a card for the couple, which was the most he could do. It was frustrating when he didn’t do the most he could do. After reading a dozen cards, he finally selected one that had three panels – Faith, Hope, Love – connected with a ribbon that you could hang on the wall. There was a spot to compose a message. “Sincerest apologies for the delay in getting my shit together,” he wrote, “but there are few wedding cards that are not delusional, damaging or diabetically sweet. Instead, I found one that references the most challenging passage in all of the Bible! Never stop failing beautifully in your attempts to fulfill it.” He signed it with his name.

You Can Do Magic

A trick has been performed. The tricksters union consisted of a magician, a Great Deceiver; an assistant, the willing accomplice; and volunteers, from the audience. But that was just for The Turn. What is meant by The Turn? Certainly not a rotation in dance, although if you are now compelled to visualize it as such, then a 180 degree rotation. The Turn is the moment when a pet raccoon becomes a wild animal. The Turn is always a wrong turn and it must be subtracted from your travel time. But to begin again, every great trick has The Pledge, The Turn and The Prestige.

“The first part is called ‘The Pledge.’ The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal.”*

The Pledge: this boy is a child of God.

This boy was born into a Christian family. He went to Sunday School. He went to Church. He was praised for doing right and punished for doing wrong. His parents loved him and so he believed God loved him.

“The second act is called ‘The Turn.’ The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.”*

The Turn: this boy is a mistake.

This boy was called a girl in elementary school. He was called gay in middle school. He watched the other boys in high school. He watched porn in college. He went to clubs. He went on Craigslist. This boy thought that God had fallen asleep on the assembly line and didn’t give him the right parts. That he should be recalled, like the Easy Bake Oven, for burning other boys who dared to use him, for enabling them to have dessert before dinner. But this boy was not being honest. He did not want to be fixed. He wanted to be excused. To do whatever he wanted. It was a settlement for the injustice committed.

“Making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call ‘The Prestige.’”*

The Prestige: this boy is a child of God.

This boy was not excused. He was called to the Principal’s office. The Principal was God. God was not angry. This boy was angry. The Principal listened to this boy shout for a long time, until the words ran out and the tears ran down. The Principal did not cry. He walked around the desk, around the chair, and placed his hands on this boy’s shoulders, like a father.

And the voices which St. Augustine had described, the ones plucking at his garment of flesh, whispered, “are you going to dismiss us? From this moment we shall never be with you again, for ever and ever. From this moment on you will never again be allowed to do this thing or that.” The mutterings seemed to reach from behind, trying to make this boy turn his head when he wanted to go forward.**

This boy did not turn his head. He knew The Turn was finished and The Prestige had began. The trick had been performed, and this boy was not turning tricks anymore. Not today.


*From The Prestige by Christopher Priest.

**From Confessions by St. Augustine.


What you don’t know is before we met, I had work done. A plastic surgery of the soul. I was nipping and tucking and augmenting and – reducking. I was way different. I had turned from my ways. What I didn’t know was my ways had turned too. My ways had followed. I turned around and there they were, turning tricks. Am I repetitive? Am I addictive? At the least I’m fucking uncreative.

Sorry about that. No, not for swearing, it had assonance. And not for swearing again, it’s a poetic term. I’m sorry about that. That white knuckleheaded night in which I closed my fist around what I wanted and would not let go. You were what I wanted. Or what the wine wanted. Excuse me for the excuse.

See, you’re 25; it’s fine. But I’m 29, and it’s not fine. Statements like “boys will be boys” or  “the girl can’t help it” or “girls who are boys” are just barely acceptable anymore. Soon I will be 30, the age of accountability – though that age seems to age with me – and I’m supposed to have it together, in labeled bins, where it can be easily located. Actually, I do have it together. In a whitewashed tomb. Yes, and when I saw you, I flipped a lid and out jumped my bones. And then I jumped yours. All right, it wasn’t a long distance jump, so you would say there’s nothing to be guilty about. But it was still a competition, and I will not be winning the crown of righteousness.

Incidentally, Jesus was 30 when he started ministry. But then, he started by saying, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…for I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” There’s no confusing me for righteous. Not even the ‘80s slang definition of the word. But I’m working on it.

A few nights after I met you, at Bible Club, I helped an Artist do a set of paintings with the kids. Upon each little square mural, he had sketched, in pencil, a line. “You can paint however you want, you just have to stay below this line,” he said, and the kids tried. They did. But inevitably, lines were crossed, apologies were offered, and a wet rag was applied, until there was a pile of filthy rags. And when the kids had all painted, the Artist laid out all the abstracted squares, refining, repositioning, until, remarkably, resplendently, it was Art. I never thought it would work. But then, it wasn’t because of our work. It was because of the Artist.

Win, Lose or Don't Care

“Don’t let the assholes win.”

I am so grateful he was eating a mushroom swiss burger when he said this, rather than salad or baked salmon. Beef always lends an aura of machismo authenticity.¹ Swearing does too, but it should be a special privilege, for it is a delicate poetry, requiring tender handling.²

I was admiring his command of traditional manhood when I realized I didn’t agree with him. I didn’t respond, because entering an argument with a man usually results in me realizing I’m not a man. I may be benefiting or suffering from years of not participating in athletics, but I don’t want to think about anything in terms of winning or losing. If I’m in control, I’m responsible. If God’s in control, He’s responsible. We could introduce pre-destination and free will into the discussion, but let’s not mix liquor and beer.

God’s in control. He’s responsible.

This looks and sounds like faith, but it is only fear doing a good impression (Like Cate Blanchett doing Bob Dylan† in I’m Not There, or Cate Blanchett doing Katharine Hepburn‡ in The Aviator, or Cate Blanchett doing…*). But – have you ever had faith that wasn’t preceded by fear? Aren’t they conjoined? How can you be seated in the certainty of your worldly circumstances and be filled with faith? Something has to be threatened** for you to even think about it. Ideally, difficult times create dependence on God, which is the definition of freedom.

So…the more you lose, the more you win?


A NOTE ABOUT THE FOOTNOTES: Since my writing is a manic secretary consumed with multi-tasking, the footnote is an effort to quarantine potentially hazardous thought processes. Should they have been ommitted altogether? Possibly, but do you want to be the one to tell them that?

1. Unless, I suppose, you’re a ravenously carniverous sissy; then the beef is petulant and will not lend its aura.

2. Like gluten-free products: “Keep frozen/refrigerated” “Best when toasted” “Microwaving not recommended” “Ask how it is doing before you eat it” “Do not open around wheat products as this creates an inferiority complex”

† That’s gross!

‡ No, that’s gross.

* Me. Now that’s not gross.

**Have a recession! It’s good for you!