Architectural Design (sneak peek)

Architectural Desing Cover (Final)I was wearing a pair of brown pants when I went to the dinner, which was a farewell dinner. But I hadn’t dressed for the dinner. I had dressed for the man who was a divorcee and had a daughter who was living with him and had made pasta for dinner. I found out about the daughter, and the son, and the distant wife only after I had sucked him off in the dark, in a forest on the hills, not far from an unfamiliar street. The place was so quiet that when he moved beneath my open mouth his pants made a deafening sound. He told the daughter that he’s not eating the pasta because eating carbs for dinner was bad practice for somebody who worked out at least three times a week and didn’t see that much of a result.

 

The farewell dinner went rather well, except for the lump in my throat that decided to rise when I started to talk in front of everybody else. Across the table from me sat a young guy, whom I had not met before and who had affable looks and manners. I hoped with all my heart that he would like the brownies I had made specifically for the farewell dinner. I spoke in English to them because that was the language I felt most comfortable with, and they danced around my comfort, being particularly foreign to the language and to my way of speaking it.

I played around, too, trying to impress them with my pronunciation. Though I was already foreign, by default, I made myself even more of an alien by showing visible strain at talking into their own language. The food on the table was layered and we took turns at guessing secret ingredients. I sensed fish in the salad but said nothing about it. I resented not saying it because then, when asked about the secret ingredient in the salad, the cook, another friend of mine, said it was something related to algae.

I couldn’t enjoy the dinner because the divorcee was coming to pick me up at my friends’ place when I was done. For once, I had somebody to think about and expect. They told me I should come later for drinks with the secret friend. I already knew I was not going to come back the moment I told them that we might stop by. In my mind, I tried to see the divorcee with my friends’ eyes and I knew they would disapprove of him. I feared they might tell me he wasn’t good enough, that I deserved better, or that he doesn’t deserve me, because that’s what friends are for, to make you feel better about yourself and worse about the choices you’ve made.

I said goodbye to everyone, including to the cute guy who sat across the table from me, who was definitely not gay but who was ambiguous and handsome enough to be one. It was a warm evening that turned into a sweeter night, just good enough for a walk around the church on the hill. There weren’t that many people around so we might have kissed at the back of the church where the light permitted us to have been just an error in the matrix or an apparition you see with the corner of your eye. We might have kissed again by the rail that stopped visitors from plummeting down the abrupt valley bellow, and I might have been disappointed by it because with every kiss I felt like my feet were moving backwards as if I was a crab taking arms against a harmless but potentially dangerous predator.

We were in the car already when he asked me whether I was still using those dating apps, specifically the one we had met on, and which was specifically a way for men to meet and have sex. He had deleted his account and wanted to know whether I was seeing other guys in the meanwhile. And there it was, I thought, this is it, the guy who is going to take me away from myself and build a safe house along the path, a house no bigger than the car and much more welcoming than the rest of the world. And we weren’t returning to the city on the same road and that road got suddenly so quiet. In that darkness in which we existed only when another car’s lights illuminated us, I asked him whether he wanted me to delete my profile on that dating app. He said he wanted me to do that but he said it only after I had deleted my profile, after I had been asked by the system whether I was sure I wanted to delete my profile. I said yes three times and he said it once, after I had said it three times. It was wedding night, the closest we came to it, and the biggest promise we could make was the promise to keep ourselves to ourselves and not seek each other’s bodies in the bodies of other men.

I asked him where we were going as the road kept getting unfamiliar and he told me not to worry, he was not going to rape me. He took a left in the middle of the road with the familiarity of a man who was returning home to his wife and kids. When the car got silent in the dark and even the small red lights on the dashboard switched off in defeat I told him about the stars above us because somewhere deep down within my guts I believed he turned off the engine so that we could enjoy the quiet of the night and the lack of light pollution. I unbuckled my seatbelt and he started to pull me against him while whispering, a whisper barely audible above the swish of his pants, that I was very beautiful. Sei così bello, he said, and I believed him because I wanted this to be it. I wanted it to be the completed version of a manuscript I had worked on for years. One that would have all the commas and the full stops in place; one without the excessive adverbs and adjectives that every writer feared.

His hand went down my back and strained against my belt. Could you loosen it up a bit? And I did, and my erection suddenly had space to move, and I could see it pushing against the brown pair of paints whenever a car passed down the road and seemed like slowing down. I imagined policemen lighting our faces with flashlights and asking us what exactly we were doing there. I thought of the excuses we would make, the kind of excuses that would be credible only to the minds of children caught red handed with the biscuit jar.

His pants were all I could hear in the silence. They were constantly moving and the sound was one with the sound of my desire. A constant hush to my racing heart and yellow-eyed fears that stood suddenly attentive to the movements of the night like restless rabbits. The pants went all the way down and I couldn’t stop but wonder why he had to do that. It seemed a prodigal gesture that made me think of his ass touching the seat of the car the way I thought of my sweat when we went running together in the park and he brought me home by the same car. He pushed my head against his erection and told me to suck it with a voice I had not heard before, the voice of men in bed, slightly above a whisper but coming from somewhere just bellow the tongue, as lascivious as a tongue click.

I said nothing when he asked me where I would like him to come and he didn’t finish, because my legs were pushing against the floor of the car as if forcing the car to move forward into the sweet darkness, above the city vibrating with knowledge. It was on our way down that he mentioned his wife and kids, his wife’s accidental pregnancy when he was barely eighteen, and the daughter who came in second and was no longer a mistake. I did not look at him on the way down. I paid attention to the trees on the side of the road that seemed like half-raised hands in a mock high-five. I wanted to go back to the farewell dinner where the men were still too ambiguous to be something other than what I wanted them to be.

But before all this, before the dinner and the brown pair of pants, before all of it, I knew we were bound to fail. I was just waiting for the right moment to say it wasn’t working, well after I had realized that it was in fact not working.

Dear straight people

I get it. You’re in love. But could you stop kissing and touching in front of everybody else? It makes me uncomfortable. You’re doing it while waiting for the bus. You’re doing it on TV. I get it, really, but this is getting out of hand, because there’s no place where I could hide from you. At times, I feel as if you’re doing it on purpose. As if to spite me.

You’re posting pictures of you two kissing by the sea, by the refrigerator, at dinner. Seriously, it’s like watching a sex scene in a movie on TV while your parents are there, right beside you. You’re kissing in my books, in the TV commercials I see everywhere. How can I even dream of wearing a perfume advertised by a man who makes women fall at his feet? I don’t want the women, I just want the nice perfume. I want men to fall at my feet (yes, while I’m wearing stilettos and leather pants). Don’t you get that? Seriously, stop looking at each other as if you’re telling each other you’re gonna have maddening sex when you get home because I can see it. No, I can’t see you having sex, I don’t even want to, but I can see the look and it makes me nervous. As if I’m the one who’s going to have sex with you.

You’re doing it in the library while I’m studying. It’s distracting, because you’re right there in front of me and my eyes tend to drift, especially when there’s a man and a woman cuddling in front of me. It’s a library, for fuck’s sake. It’s where people go to study. If it was supposed to be something other than a library it would have been called “cuddling room”, or some other straight-sounding vaguely-sexual term you invent for tantric reasons. Yeah, I can see you kissing his neck, because I’m right in front of you. I mean, it’s okay to look at your neighbor’s screen every once in a while on a long flight, because it’s so shiny, and it has moving pictures, but you’re not a movie on a screen on a long haul flight. I can hear the sucking noises while you’re kissing, because it’s a library and it’s very silent inside, because it’s supposed to be like that. Even if I’m trying over here, really trying, to read something I can still hear you.

You got married, well, good for you. I’m really happy for you, and hope it won’t end in self-loathing and divorce. But please stop showing me how happy you are, and what a great smile she has in that custom-fit designer dress (which I would so like to wear at one point in my life), and how playful you men are when your best friend is getting married and you feign pity for him because marriage is like a third job, which mostly the woman will have to take because boys will be boys and they can’t stop playing with their pee-pees in the bathtub.

You got an engagement ring? I’m so happy for you, but could you stop shoving it into my face? If you take away the love what remains of the ring? The money you no longer have, because you gave it away to buy a ring. You just had a baby? No picture of your baby is ever going to wash away the knowledge that when they’re little they vomit, crap the shit out of them all day long, and when they’re fully grown they will hate you for not making them more beautiful, giving them more money, or buying them the latest gadget. Nothing will make me suspend that knowledge, not even intellectual curiosity. Love your children, don’t tell us you love them more than anything else, more than everyone else, because we, the childless, are everyone else.

A side note: your kid is not a genius because he can count to five and open a door all by himself. In fact, you’ll be surprised to know that the great majority of kids at that age can count to five and open doors. Your kid is not special. Dogs are smart, too, you know, and some of them can open doors as well. Dogs should be considered geniuses because they don’t have a brain as complex as that of human beings and they can do all that stuff.

You’re having sex, hey, sex is great. It releases endorphins, and those are fucking good, they make your body tingle and glitter in so many ways. It’s great, I can’t even stress enough how great sex is. When you’re the one doing it, that is, not when you have to listen to people moaning and making the bed groan as if you’ve finally decided to pack up your things and leave the house. Seriously, I can hear everything even though there’s a thick concrete wall between us. I get it, you woke up at four am and your little buddy in the basement felt like it, and your woman was in the mood, too, but do you have to wake me up as well? I can hear you’re really into it, the both of you, the pleasure, it’s almost palpable. But a sound so hegemonic triggers rebelliousness in me.

You’re everywhere I look, and every gesture of yours is a negation of the gestures I would like to be free to perform leisurely, the way you do them. In our beds, the ones that epitomize the only sense of privacy we’ve come to conquer and make our own, we speak your language. You’ve colonized our mouths and the way we look at each other, and in our search to be different from you we’ve lost all sense of purpose. You’ve made us ashamed of who we are because we cannot attain a sense a completion that has always been yours.

So please, whatever you do, whether on the bus, or in the library, think. Think that someone out there is not like you and can never be like you.

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Twelve)

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I am often visited by images of my grandmother crying. She is still alive, don’t get me wrong, yet for some strange reason my mental image of her is strewn with tears and constant sorrow. She cried bitter tears when we had to sell our cow to pay for my father’s debts. She cried when we had to sell our car to pay for those same debts. She cried when my uncle had to leave the country in search of a better life. She cried when I went to university. And she cries when we return home for a couple of weeks during the summer. In fact, all of my summer holidays somehow boil down to that moment of leaving. For days before our departure I fear her tears and the way they deform her face; I fear the sobs that come with the tears, and those final hugs and promises to return next year.

In those moments, our car feels like a safe place. We close the door and father steps on the accelerator and somehow we move faster than grandmother’s sobs and the image of her standing beside my grandfather by the front gate, both crying. And it is in those moments that I try my best not to look back for fear I might turn into a pillar of salt. I try to think of our destination, the miles that we’ll have to cover to get back to the place that we, my family and I, call home. Once, when I felt my own tears crowding behind my eyelids, I looked back and the image has stayed with me since then. No matter how much I try to shake it off it’s still there. As McCarthy would say, what you put in your head is there forever.

The car is moving and I can hear mother sobbing in the backseat. My poor parents, she keeps saying, my poor parents. Father doesn’t say anything, his eyes fixed on the road ahead of us. He keeps his composure no matter what; even when we’re about to leave and the crying starts, he does his best to keep us mobilized. ‘Is everything inside the car? Are we all here?’ And we nod, while mother hugs giant grandfather who seems to crumble. Rocks falling from the top of the mountain. We all get in the car and even the car roars pityingly, its slow-motion clunk-clunk-clunk of the rotor becomes a memory in itself. We’re safe now, we’re moving, and I look back telling myself that I need to wave, and I wave back to them, and see grandma’s hunched back hunching further as if bent by some unseen burden until she becomes a weeping-willow of a woman.

The distance growing in between us resembles a tube, the kind of dark space where you lose your keys in, and you mentally capitulate thinking you’ll never get them back. When we’re at a safe distance, and mother’s sobbing subsides like a dying earthquake, we all think the same thing. We think of the moment of our arrival, the moment we say to each other that soon we’ll take the same road back. Soon, we all say, soon we’ll have to go back. We’re so familiar with those roads that the moment feels almost comfortable. I’ve been here before, I know you, we’re good friends. The silence that then descends over us in the car is full of grandma’s tears, and grandpa’s falling rocks, the groans that come out of his long hands as he takes turns to hug us all. The silence is also our almost telepathic realization that another year has to pass for us to return to grandma’s house.

Those long hours of driving and the year that has to pass between our trips to grandma’s house are also our way of measuring time. As migrants we also measure our time by counting the years since we left our country, as if there’s a secret dignity and solemnity to that number. As if to say that we’ve earned the right to stay in the new country. It’s been eight years now. It’s been fifteen years already. Think of all the taxes that I’ve paid in this country. Yet, we don’t realize that with each passing year it gets harder to go back, not because we become increasingly foreign – full integration is never possible, your origins will forever tuck at your sleeve like an underfed child – but because to go back would mean to lose many of the benefits that you’ve worked so hard to achieve. The trip back starts to feel as if it’s not worth the effort, the money and the mental energy we invest into those little preparative rituals before the trip. We save money in view of that trip. Change the engine oil. Check the rubber pressure, make sure it’s within the parameters. Check the suspensions. These, and others, are all ways of measuring time.

I see that time in my grandparents’ changing faces. We’re all in some kind of visual shock when we reconvene each ear. Once, when we got home one summer my grandfather didn’t even recognize us. He told me it was hard for him to believe that it was actually me. That’s how much I had changed. When I lost weight grandmother told me it was not me anymore but some foreign changeling who has come to replace her beloved grandson. It’s hard for us not to recognize the changes their own bodies undergo. They’re getting older each ear and we’re getting older as well, albeit we might not notice it. In terms of flesh, the changes are always gradual; it is proof that silence speaks by accumulation. A wrinkle there, a stretch mark somewhere else, distances become blurry, effort becomes even more effective in its deadliness. Energies must be saved. Bullshit is repudiated systematically.

In a couple of months from the time of writing this, my brother is going to become a father, and I’m going to become an uncle. I’m going to fill the stereotypical (or proverbial?) “gay uncle” sooner rather than later. This new entry in my family’s tree turns mother into a grandmother, and grandma into a great-grandma. These changes feel so huge right now that in my mind they move with the gravity and solemnity of tectonic plates falling into place once they have been disturbed. Father turns officially old although the unofficial symptoms of old age are already there. I hear father and brother joking about it, about this child of the future that will intrude into the rituals of our daily lives, but behind the jokes that silent recognition of time finally showing itself lurks like a grieving mother. The joy of it masks an irreparable sadness, as irreparable as our decaying bodies.

In a similar vein, my uncle must see his own old age reflected in that of his children, the ones who grow so fast it’s difficult to keep track. I see my own age in theirs because I remember perfectly well when they were little. I witnessed their first words, the changing of their diapers. My cousin now tells his mother that his smartphone is out of date because it was released one year ago. It’s so easy to notice these small changes because we are constant witnesses, and it’s the witnessing that makes the difference in this equation. The changes buried deep within our own bodies are so much harder to witness because they somehow feel so remote. You simply wake up and start feeling your body differently. You lose your patience, you detect easier when shit is being served to you, you snap back because you are running out of time. In times of scarcity the thing you need most becomes the most precious thing.

Mother, like grandmother, has trouble sleeping. Father and I sleep peacefully throughout the night. She’s envious and the thing makes her even more anxious and resentful. We grow old just by seeing others grow old. A tree can only grow as big as those of its own species unless it is chopped down. My brother shows me the sonogram of, at this time, genderless child and points to the size of its head. It must be a boy. They’re all hoping for a boy. Still, the image on his smartphone of the genderless offspring feels so distant, virtual almost. You can delete the picture and it’s gone, the thought of it annihilated. It’s so hard to believe that it’s true, that it exists. Perhaps we’ll all feel different when we get to know if it’s boy or girl, when we’ll set a name and a trajectory for it.

I try not to look at my brother when he tells me all this, because I’m ashamed and scared for the both of us. No matter how much effort I put into it I cannot separate mentally this image of the future father from the image of the little boy who jumped over the fence to run away from home, the one who stole money from mother’s purse to buy peanuts from the local store. The high-school dropout who spent his lunch money in Internet Cafes playing online strategy games. The man who kissed a girl in the backseat of a moving car and told her how much he loved her. The man who then dumped her. I’m ashamed that the child from the future will never get to know this unless we say it out loud. I’m afraid for my brother, for the sleepless nights and the constant worrying. And I’m afraid of the moral idealism the child is going to be taught. I’m afraid of the moment when that child will come to know the shadows of this world, when the monsters hiding under the bed will take human form.

My brother’s priorities will change and his strong convictions will wane like a departing storm, I’m almost sure of it. His body will begin to change in unexpected ways, and with that other changes will come as well. Because bigger lives turn obsolete in the presence of smaller ones. Children become yardsticks against which every adult gesture becomes meaningless unless it is integrated into a trajectory that is positive for the child and its future. Finally, my brother will see himself complete, having done the duty that is expected of every man in a heterosexual society. He and his newly forged family will be integrated into a grander narrative that is simply too big to fail. He will be able to say to his kid that “at your age, I did this”. And that narrative, which once was written by my parents as well, will in turn tell him if he’s doing good or bad. It will tell him when he is too old or too young to do certain things. There’s a bigger plan, a blueprint that acts as a tool of project management. By then we will have done this, the child will have this age.
At the same time, it makes me happy to see my brother this way. In the rush of emotions that surrounds this new arrival my parents will ask less of me.

I’m not the only one to feel this way. While I was staying in Berlin last month, I had dinner with Thomas, a German guy whose brother had recently had a child. He, too, felt that the pressure coming from his parents had decreased significantly after the birth of the little boy. The sense of urgency inspired by the parents’ desire to have a grandchild subsided and somehow he felt free. The balance in the family had been restored; it was once again business as usual. Yet, as we were talking over our Thai dinner somewhere in the vicinity of Rosenthaler Platz, I couldn’t help but notice a faint trace of sorrow in his voice when he talked about his nephew. (Or perhaps the heterosexual machine had trained me well to hear things that weren’t there.) ‘He is so cute’, Thomas kept saying, when we had to cross the street the boy stopped, looked right and left, and only then crossed the street’. He is so cute. The boy held his hand.

And there it was, I thought, the unsatisfied fatherly instinct, left behind, craving for more of that, the missing blueprint that would tell us that we’re doing good, that our lives do make sense, and that we’re building something that will make the lives of these children better. At your age I… To whom do we say these words without making our children perceive the great chasm that opens between us and them? At your age I didn’t know what was going on because nobody told me what was going on. The books were mostly silent about it, so I’ll try not to make the same mistake for you. I sincerely believe we haven’t yet figured out a way to do this, and the narratives that are supposed to help us are loudly absent, or at least still hidden. You might have figured it out already, you might already be a gay parent, and if you have please write it down for us. Consider us your children.

Against whom do we measure our own time when our children are as silent as time itself? In the eighties, at the height of the AIDS crisis, it was our friends’ deaths. “I’m beginning this book on All Saints’ Day in Paris”, Edmund White wrote in his Farewell Symphony (1997), “six months after Brice’s death.” (3) It’s been six months already. It’s been three years. It’s been fifteen years already. I have earned my right not to grieve anymore, I’m here to stay, in this country of the living. As White’s narrator walks among the other tombstones in the cemetery he notices other names, other faces, and most of all, he notices their age. “A few are young men in their twenties – I imagine they died of AIDS too.” The crisis, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick wrote in Touching Feeling (2003), “has deroutinized the temporality of many of us in ways that only intensify this effect.” (148) “On this scene,” she adds, “an older person doesn’t love a younger as someone who will someday be where she is now, or vice versa. No one is, so to speak, passing on the family name; there’s a sense in which our life narratives will barely overlap. There’s another sense in which they slide up more intimately alongside one another than can any lives that are moving forward according to the regular schedule of the generations. It is one another immediately, one another as the present fullness of a becoming whose arc may extend no further, whom we each must learn best to apprehend, fulfill, and bear company.” (149) It’s been six months since Brice’s death. I begin this book here. Whatever was before, it ended there, six months ago.

We meticulously measure our time on “dry land”, that is, in between lovers. I’ve heard stories of long term and short term relationships. These, too, are marked by the migrant’s complex in terms of the pain occasioned by the end of those relationships. The longer the relationship is the more dramatic the break up. Or at least that is my emotional response when I hear of relationships that lasted up to six years or more. Six years feels like a lifetime on a gay dating site. And we also measure the time since our last sex date. The longer that time is the worthier we are. It’s been years since I had sex with a guy and, at most, you get a worried look akin to, perhaps, the looks war veterans get moments before they get asked whether they had killed someone on the battlefield. At the same time we get it when somebody seems to have too much sex, free of the compulsive thought of categorizing them as whores or sex addicts. It is as democratic as it gets.

We measure our time against that of our gay peers, our companions. Gay dating apps and websites give you the possibility to set age filters, an age range in which you are interested. One of them, I won’t say which, has taken the age filter literally to the extreme so that people outside your preferred age range can’t even access your profile. “After you turn thirty,” one user noticed, “there’s not much to see in here.” (I’m paraphrasing.) After forty, total eclipse of the heart. Another user, on another dating site, threatens his visitors that if they are over forty (with very few exceptions, of course, which mainly refer to overly hot men) they will be blocked on the spot. No wonder some of us lie about our age on dating sites. Yet, it makes me wonder, do these people realize that their ruthlessness will be served cold to them when they turn thirty or forty? Is thirty an age at which we become obsolete in terms of dating capital?

A key to understanding this, I believe, has to do with the way we perceive our bodies. Most often, to a gay man, his body is his only way of measuring time. His muscles, the accumulation of hours spent at the gym lifting weights, are a form of progress that measures the distance from A to B. The progress is visible: the six-pack becomes more evident in time, it emerges from under the skin, akin to a bridge protruding through the fog. The chest becomes more evident, the arms, too, they gain a shape that was not there before. Your peers notice the effort and the discipline that is behind those changes and they start to appreciate you even more. That progress is visible as well, and it translates into…more sex, more dates, envy, resentment. Another user asked his visitors to write to him only if they worked out at least once a week. Children and toned bodies overlap.

All of this makes me think of that last volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, in which the narrator, after having lived for so long in seclusion goes to a party and realizes that, akin to his peers, he is old:

And now I began to understand what old age was — old age, which perhaps of all the realities is the one of which we preserve for longest in our life a purely abstract conception, looking at calendars, dating our letters, seeing our friends marry and then in their turn the children of our friends, and yet, either from fear or from sloth, not understanding what all this means, until the day when we behold an unknown silhouette . . . which teaches us that we are living in a new world; until the day when a grandson of a woman we once knew, a young man whom instinctively we treat as a contemporary of ours, smiles as though we were making fun of him because it seems that we are old enough to be his grandfather — and I began to understand too what death meant and love and the joys of the spiritual life, the usefulness of suffering, a vocation, etc. (6:354–55)

Behold the unknown silhouette. Perhaps that is why we are so obsessed with the way we look, the way heterosexual people are so preoccupied with how their children present themselves. Our relationships are defined by the way we present ourselves to the world. Our bodies are our moral compasses. And we look for those who are equally preoccupied with this aestheticized outlook on life. Perhaps that is why body shaming is so pervasive on gay dating sites because our bodies fall victims to our most hidden cruelties. A German guy I matched with on Tinder told me once that his boyfriend snapped back at him saying that his dick was so small it wouldn’t satisfy a woman, let alone a man. Overweight gay men are stranded on “bear island”, where they seek (guess what) toned men who have a fetish for chubby guys, thus perpetuating the very cruelty that they’re trying to escape. We starve ourselves (I know I did) with the conviction that we will finally get accepted and caressed by the invisible hand of the market. We hate ourselves when we don’t fit someone’s version of a lover. The circle must close. The snake must eat its tail.

“Is there indeed a God”, Larry Kramer asks in Faggots (1978), “who would understand such as: ‘Baby, I want you to piss all over me!'”, to which I would answer yes, there is! It’s the same god that had once turned us into bullies against our very own.

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Eleven)

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I’m most afraid of you when you take off your glasses and your eyes appear misplaced, too close to each other, and I wonder, do you know that I hide behind something as well? As we sit and talk over lunch in the university cafeteria, our voices slightly above the general thrum that threatens to drown us, I watch you move fork and knife over your veggies and chicken and see my brother’s hands. So familiar in flesh, I almost want to touch them. In this watchful state I feel like a predator waiting for you to say something revealing, if not about yourself then at least about us. Is this okay? Does it feel good to be this close? Or should I move farther away from you? Where do I stand in this equation of loss and gain?

Then again, it was you who said we should have lunch together. 

But even before the white plates still warm from the bellies of industrial dishwashers, and the lunch and the yogurt I call pudding, as we walk towards the cafeteria, I see a guy who resembles someone who wrote to me a couple of days before. There was not much of an exchange, but from the pictures he had sent me I know it is him. I know I had seen his dick in two consecutive pictures. An erection seen from two different angles (a case study, really, in the wonders of male genitalia), next to a picture of his face. Do you want to feel this in your ass? That’s what he wrote to me after the pictures and I wondered why the face? Is there a dialectics to your body I should take note of? Face, then dick, then dick again as if, in quantitative terms, your erection has a higher rate of success. I did not reply thinking that it would have been barbaric to do so. And as we pass him on the street, we look at each other and recognize each other, and later he visits my profile on that dating app as if to make sure that it had been me, in the flesh. Yes, I wanted to tell him, you saw me and I saw you. I saw your dick and I was not impressed. I had seen you the other day having lunch in the cafeteria with a girl and a guy wearing white overalls. Has he felt your dick inside his ass?

At times, I think there must be something wrong with me. How could you say no to a dick like that?

Then there are others whom I do not recognize as I walk through crowds of people on my way to the cafeteria. I don’t see them because I had not seen their faces. I only saw the beard in the picture and the mouth that wrote ‘would you like some dick as well?’ I said yes and felt ashamed. I wanted to hide. But the guy replied. ‘Meet me in the bathroom.’ Which bathroom, I asked. The reply never came and I imagined he must have thought I was somebody else, perhaps the guy across the aisle in the library who couldn’t keep his eyes buried deep in the books he was reading. He must have been disappointed.

If disappointment could grow a body, my body would look like it.

Of these things and others I think about while I watch your hands hover above the plate. I think of how different our worlds are, and not only because we’re citizens of different countries, in a country that is neither mine nor yours. I think of how, in this world of sex and erections seen from different angles, none of us could ever attain the elegance with which you move. We don’t have the long strides you take with each step unless when we’re running from each other. The white shirt and the leather shoes, your manners, the way your English comes our of your chest as if calling for attention. We’ve abandoned courtship because, unlike you, we’ve been trained to take as much as we can when we’re given the opportunity. Meet me in the bathroom where nobody could see us. The bathroom stall insulates us from the world. There isn’t time for intimate discoveries here, because anytime soon somebody might come in and take our decency away. Here’s my dick, let’s get to the part where we enjoy each other and then leave.

So, I’m taking from you as much as I can. I can only steal the things I like, because I have no currency to give in return. I’m taking your laughter, and the way your lips move when you talk. I’m taking the white shirts and stuffing them here. I’m taking the way you say my name when you’re asking me what I’m up to. I’m taking our conversations. And I’m never giving them back.

‘Tis the season

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It’s always been the same. Christmas. It’s always been about the food and the awkward moments clustering around the notion of food: the family moments, the pictures, the Christmas tree (always missing something), the gifts, the excessive drinking and overeating, the idiotic jokes, and the sudden jolt of recognition that we all are mere shallow human beings who are bound to make mistakes. And like all creatures of habit we’ve turned all this into a celebration of habit. Christmas is the excessive salivation at the sound of the bell. It’s the constant worrying about those extra kilos and the mother-in-law who thinks everything is inappropriate. It’s when food is served with fear. It’s about dad’s jokes, the ones that deep down, hidden between folds of carefully chosen language overheard from other conversations, hide a darker truth, one that always ends up being sexual. It’s about those other people stopping by and about their crinkled noses when they’re offered another piece of homemade panettone. They’re so full of it. I mean, just look at them. And it’s about dad telling them that from the waist down you resemble him. Why would he even say that?

Christmas is also about friends coming over. Those people who are not really your friends because, believe me, there had been a time in their lives, a time as long as a moment’s beat, in which they disagreed with something you did but never had the guts to tell you so. It’s about their sexual frustrations. And yours. Gosh, it’s never been about the birth of Jesus Christ or whatever. That’s just an extended commentary, a side note to whatever we do at this time of the year. That’s Hamlet’s soliloquy, the one that doesn’t push the action forward but doesn’t bring it to a halt either. It’s something that we know by heart; it is etched into our daily lives so much so that we’re not longer paying attention to it. It’s metalanguage, a mental lullaby. And I don’t want to bring that to your attention, don’t worry, I’m not here to preach about how we’ve lost the “true” meaning of Christmas and instead replaced it with a mercantilism as tasteless as fruit out of season. Nothing of the sort. Its magic hasn’t been lost or wasted on us. On the contrary, it has become more subtle, a trait of adulthood, a portent. I’m here to tell you that, at least for me, Christmas is the saddest thing ever. For a couple of reasons.

I used to go caroling when I was little. I rehearsed it months before the winter holidays because caroling was essentially a “profession” for us kids. It was a way of earning money. The better we sang and the longer the carols the more money we got for it. And each year, like ever expanding chain stores, we went farther from our house because rumor had it that certain houses, such as those of the rich people from the village, gave out more money. Relatives and acquaintances also gave out more money and at the end of the night we would return home and count our money and dream of all the things we could buy with it. We hid the money in the most unexpected places. I never knew where my brother hid his money, but mine was always behind one of the holy paintings spread all around the house. We never bought anything significant with it because the things we bought came with a dose of bitterness. We couldn’t buy sweets because our mother and grandmother forbid it. What would the other people in the village think if they saw us buying sweets from the local shop? They would think of them as bad housewives. There were plenty of sweets at home. We couldn’t buy toys. They were useless anyways. And so there was not much left we could buy. So the money lingered, hidden behind the paintings until mother asked us for a loan. The money was never returned but mother used to point to us that she got new shoes for us, and the winter coats, and sometimes she just waved it off with her hand.

Santa, too, was a sly piece of a man. He never cared about what we wanted because the things we wanted were just too expensive. Once, he brought me about two pounds of tangerines and a plastic mask. I can distinctly remember when I opened the package because the logic behind it was so uncanny that even today it leaves me speechless. I ate all the tangerines that Christmas day. I can’t remember what happened to the mask but I do remember I only put it on my face once and it was enough. The plastic had the color of skin and the cheeks were painted lipstick red. It was not funny. At all.

The only other Christmas gift I can distinctly remember is a remote toy car that only went forward and backwards and had a long wire on its tail that connected it to the remote. The car was white and it was a sports car. Mine broke a couple of minutes after I opened the gift. My brother’s toy car kept working long after. I remember our school friends gasping when we told them about the toy cars. I didn’t feel the same. I had never dreamt of toy cars. Cars were not my thing but Santa never listened anyway. He wasn’t interested in the details, he was too far off to see the details. No wonder he lived so far removed from the all-inclusive, politically correct western society.

Eventually we understood that Santa didn’t in fact exist. Yet that realization was not as instantaneous as it is usually portrayed in the movies. We didn’t stare into the abyss when we came to it. We didn’t think life sucked from then on. Life was bad even when Santa was still in power, his totalitarian regime controlling every aspect of our lives. The realization grew on us because of the gifts that we got every year. Santa resembled our family’s financial situation just too much to be something other than a figment of our parents’ desire to maintain a familial fantasy. When times were hard Santa never came, no matter how good we had been during the year. One Saturday night, after our weekly bath, not long before Christmas, mother made me wear a new pajama. It was beige and had little boys drawn on it in repetitive patterns. Then the pajama disappeared and I forgot about it. It reemerged victorious on Christmas when I was given a gift by a fake Santa at the kindergarten. I did not realize at that time it was the same pajama and I even pointed out to my mum that my brother could wear the other one, the one that had been previously given to me on that Saturday night. Mum didn’t say anything. She just nodded in agreement. From that point of view, Santa was a good teacher. He taught us good deeds meant nothing when it came to the money machine.

Back then, Christmas was also about excessively cleaning the house, about keeping up appearances, about those couple of minutes when the priest came into our homes to bless us, the faint smell of basil in the holy water. When all the cleaning up was over we were not allowed to sit on the bed. The pillows needed to look fresh, the covers perfectly tucked. The food had to be plenty and sometimes, when not all of us were around, my grandmother would look at all the food and start crying. It was about remembering those who had passed away and who returned to our homes through food offerings. I can still remember the dumplings one of our neighbors brought on Christmas in memory of her dead husband. I recall the jam inside them.

I recall how every year there were less and less people sitting with us at the table on Christmas eve. First it was my uncle, who went abroad to look for work and meaning. Then it was my father, who also went abroad to look for work and run away from his past. Then it was my mother, who couldn’t bear the thought of living without my father and followed him submissively. My brother went after them and sent us pictures of other people sitting at different tables in different countries. Then I went away as well, as if tired of all those empty seats at my grandparents’ table. Nowadays, when I call my grandmother to wish her happy holidays I can hear something falling inside her voice, a hope that is crumbling. We are never coming back, grandma.

Somehow, Christmas always feels like a reminder of how far removed we are from some nobler, more perfect version of ourselves. A reminder of who we are, where we stand in the grand scheme of things. It’s an indicator of class as it is an indicator of our relationship status. It tells us, like the result of some difficult equation, that some people among us have gotten lucky because, look at them, they have something to hold or kiss beneath, at least, an imaginary mistletoe. It’s that time of the year when we look back at the things we did and realize we cannot have them again under any shape or form. That’s why, for me, whenever I wish somebody to have a merry Christmas what I mean to say is that I wish for them to have a merry recollection of that past, of that nobler version of themselves. And it’s not about putting glitter over shit as it is not about embracing things with joy, or drowning them in liquor. It’s more like realizing that you’re breathing and then holding your breath in until it hurts.

So, merry Christmas, whoever you are.

The effete, novel and social category

10352397_10201907955522302_8911305111952872968_nI wrote The Effete, a novel set in an utopian community on the outskirts of an unknown city, in 2013, and for the first time in my writing career I was experimenting with names. I don’t usually give names to my characters because most often I’m afraid that people who know me will be able to recognize themselves in the things I write about. By not using names, I also want to maintain the widest aperture to the reader, let him or her do part of the work of fiction, fill in the blanks, as well as liberate my characters of a certain excess of interpretation. From this point of view, The Effete is different: though there are no more than a couple of characters, they have a name, they are identifiable. The very title of the novel is a name in itself, one describing a social category. In the Theatür, the motherly company that in the end becomes a way of life and a metaphor for the reality that I myself have been experiencing for quite a while, “the effete” are those who have been expelled from the ranks of presumably “normal” human beings and who have sought refuge in a world where they are being told exactly what they are. No embellishments, no fancy language, the effete know where they stand. The rest is variation. And love.

The Effete is now available for free download here: the-effete-2016.

Enjoy!

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Ten)

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Imagine a world made of cornfields and unpaved side streets that lead to open fields hidden from view, themselves surrounded by forests you used to roam through with your supernatural childhood parents in search of mushrooms on early summer mornings. Imagine the fatigue of walking and not knowing. Imagine the paved roads beyond the forests, which in the meanwhile have gained so much presence on maps you did not know existed, those roads on which, now, an unfamiliar car is carrying you, and outside, as you turn your head from the man with the hairy knees who’s driving the car, you see weddings being carried out, men in white shirts, bellies, and trimmed beards, and women suffering on the high heels of the beauty that is as foreign to you as one of those languages you’ve never spoken or tried to learn. The car is unfamiliar to you because of the clutter that is surrounding your feet, the contrast it confers to your blue designer shoes. It’s unfamiliar because of the smell and because the man driving the car does not resemble so much the man in the pictures. When you first saw him, a dark shadow against the evening sun, you thought it can’t be him, the size of his head in unnatural, and when you actually get into the car, designer shoes and all, you can even see a protruding belly pushing against the seatbelt. That wasn’t there before. Yet, you go with the flow because there’s no turning back now, is there? And you put your seatbelt and listen to the man with the hairy knees and the unfamiliar car.

Imagine a world in which one look is everything and nothing: everything because it can make other men like you want you more than anything else in the whole world, because it can make other men who aren’t like you to turn violent and ruin if not your day, your month, your year, then at least your life, because that look can make other people believe you are sick; and nothing because that look is as transitory as the solitary trees you see in passing as you speed down the road. Imagine a world in which home doesn’t necessarily mean a house, an apartment, or a room that contains, among other things, the bed on which you spend most of your nights, but where home is the igloo-like inside of a car. This house is the perfect setting for men like us. It can move. It can hide. It’s this “double-hidedness” we seek when we wish to sharpen our tongues against the world through the practice of kissing.

You touch the man’s hairy knee to show you aren’t afraid of him though he’s speaking loudly over the sound of the wheels blaring through the open windows. Your touch is soft, non-threatening like a non-invasive procedure, like a caress on the head of a dying king. He’s driving the car, he’s got the power, you can only cajole him into treating you as softly as you wish to be handled. He’s talking about trips to the mountains, about secret trails he’s went down on, and you imagine the men he’s been with before you.

Those secret paths, they’re our kind of terrain, that is where we flourish, that is where we come of age surrounded by cousins willing to explore their sexuality along with ours. Our bildungsroman does not feature private tutors but the constant, nagging desire to know what we are below our waist. You tell him about your running and the way you secretly fear the dark green of the forests surrounding the road, and he tells you there’s nothing to fear, you might just encounter other men like you in those forests and practice escapism by breaking the rules of boyhood. You both make the joke with the peasant and the cornfield. What happens in the cornfield stays in the cornfield. You’ll be lucky enough, he says, if you stumble upon a peasant who takes frequent showers. You laugh your best laugh and with that laugh you begin to get used to the unfamiliar car, the smells, you begin to feel comfortable on the seat that at first felt so rigid against your buttocks.

You drive past the school where you first learned about the human reproductive system and about birth control and where you felt you were yet too young to know that stuff and yet thought such great knowledge had been bestowed upon you. You think of that time you mentioned to your mother about birth control and she suddenly snapped into attention and asked to have a look at the biology textbook. She lingered on one particular birth control technique and you thought that maybe that was the one she was using or considered using in the future. You jump back to those times you woke up during the night awakened by the bed making weird noises. Of course, you also remember the hat your mother wore the next day in the city while crossing that bridge close to the bazaar, and the way your parents smiled at each other. You return then to the man with the hairy knees thinking that he resembles the father that once, just once in your life, drove you to school.

Streets like small rivulets of shame, garnished with piercing eyes, overweight women, men with bellies pulling them down, unshaved faces, a group of men sitting on the porch of a shabby local place that is both a night bar and a supermarket. All of them are sweating including the beers standing stoically on the wooden table. You can’t really smell it because the car is fast enough but you imagine the rancid smell of sweat coming off their bodies, the smell mixing with the hint of alcohol on their breaths. You think of the women waiting for them at home and you wonder why they are drinking. The next day is a Monday. Are they drinking because of what’s ahead of them? You think of your dad, who must have done the same, and from there you jump deep into a past that is almost giddy with sensations, it tickles your entrails so much that you want to laugh a sick laugh, of shame and forgotten bitterness. You see your dad returning late at night with that hint of alcohol on his breath, you see your grandpa coming out and calling your dad a pig. You remember the sudden jolt of shock at hearing such words coming from the mouth of a man who had demonstrated such calmness on more than one occasion and who is now furious. And as much as you admire your supernatural father you know he did something wrong. You see it in the voice of your mother, in the way she moves around the house, furiously, as if she is running late with her chores.

The shame of my childhood.

The shame of not being like everyone else, of being excluded, of being bullied. The shame of having bent the golden rules of a desired innocence. This world of ours that looks at us with a carpenter’s eye, trained to smooth out the tumescent growths in the dry wood. Because if we can use our opposable thumbs to wield weapons and change our environment then why not mold our minds as well as the minds of others to fit sickly patterns? The football field where you had once been humiliated by the other kids because you were wearing a brown leather jacket in sports class. They laughed at the way you took it off to do those push ups. They’re no longer there, of course, but the grass where you once knelt to do your girly push ups, because you were unable to do the manly ones, still retains the shape of your knees and with them the weight of your shame. No wonder you desire to be humiliated by these men of yours, no wonder you wish to kneel again thinking that maybe this time you’re not kneeling out of humiliation but out of control, to wield at them a pleasure that only you could give them.

The paved road then curbs in the afternoon heat and before stopping and shoving his tongue into your mouth the man with the hairy knees checks the road in the rearview mirrors. There are no witnesses. Besides, the thought instantly crosses your mind, given the nature of your shared transience, somehow any public display of affection between two men in a speeding car will appear out of context like a meaningless phrase that can be gyrated so as to fit any context. Two men might be playing, fooling around, because that’s what we’re doing. His tongue is not a tongue but a playful serpent innocent as the fingers of savvy men checking a horse’s teeth. His hand, the one that curls around your neck and pulls you towards him, is not a hand of fire, but the hand of a fatherly pat on the back, the slap of playful adolescents, a physical comedy. You’re not kissing back but checking the taste of this man’s saliva. You wonder whether you’re doing it well. Then, when you finally get to that artificial lake with the fishermen and the ducks he’s been willing to show you, the way you hold your hand so as to touch him is simply an accident of closeness. Your hand could be there by mistake because it could be anywhere else but there, feeling the dark hairs on his arms. His hand uncovering your lower back is but a way for him to check whether you caught a tan while carrying firewood from the garden into the shed. The skin on your lower back doesn’t burn when he touches it, nobody else but you can see or feel the gravitational pull your pelvis falls into when he moves around your back. Relax, they can only see two men eating their ice creams by the lake. They might notice your designer shoes and your fancy pants because they’re so inappropriate for the setting. Other than that, it’s all natural, it’s all in the books.

Then there’s the ice cream, the one he bought from one of those bars slash supermarkets when you specifically told him you just wanted water. From his disappointed look you know he expected you to display the enthusiasm of the child you no longer are. You know you humiliated the man with the hairy knees with your dislike for ice cream. He throws both of them at you along with the bottle of still water (as requested), vanilla and pistachios and you choose vanilla. Yet when he looks at the other one he wrinkles his nose and to make it up to him you give him the one with the vanilla flavor. The taste of pistachios feels salty against your tongue and you ask him to have a taste of it, a request to which he complies dutifully, and you quickly bite off the part of ice cream where his lips and tongue had been. For a moment your throat closes as if somebody has shoved his finger just above your collarbone with the strength and savage determination of a boa constrictor.

Halfway through your ice cream you realize you need to change your mind about this man. His tongue might be intruding, his hands as well, especially when they went down your crotch accompanied by the question ‘what are you hiding there?’. He doesn’t talk about books but about other men, and you haven’t been touched like that for a while and there’s that gravitational pull again and you try to forget about the fact that, earlier during your ride, he told you he really wants to fuck you because he likes you very much and he likes the way his dick slides into someone else’s ass. He finds it ecstatic and tells you all men want to do that, distant cousins included. There was that cousin of his, the one who is now married with kids, the one whom he fucked on a drunken night, the one who squirmed at the pain of being brutally penetrated. There was that married policeman he fucked, and there’s such pride in his voice because most likely those men found him irresistible. And at one point, when the car suddenly stops again and backs into a side road that isn’t exactly paved and leads to a cornfield, you find him irresistible as well. He makes a joke about being the older one in the duo and the older guys usually have the upper hand, and with that upper hand he unbuttons his jeans to reveal his erection pulsing under his green boxer shorts. What do you think about that? You say you find it compelling and he laughs and pulls down his pants and boxers and his dick slaps against his belly.

There’s such instant familiarity in that scene, you realize, that it almost feels like coming home. You try not to think about the faces you might see or the people that might see the both of you, you, bending downwards like the twigs of weeping willows to take his pleasure in your mouth so as to make it salient, to bring it forth and out into the cornfields of your childhood shame. There’s the familiar deep grunt that comes out of his chest when you take him in your mouth, and the boa constrictor around your neck. You’re not playing any longer, child, because his body curves to meet your mouth and no innocent child’s play has ever involved this warm, burning touch of his pushing against your head. No child’s play ever involved such grunts and moans, as real as those you hear. Take it all in, he says, and pushes harder against the back of your neck, do those girly push ups. His hand goes down your back and pushes against your belt. He wants to feel your ass. He really wants to fuck you, he tells you that again and then again but you pretend you don’t hear him. When he says it again you say you are not ready. You don’t tell him about your fear of being humiliated. With his dick still out and lowered pants he gets out of the car and, my god, you’re flying, using your hands as wings, and you’re running like a beheaded chicken, what is he doing, what is he doing, what the fuck is he doing, a string of saliva is hanging on your chin and you must look ridiculous, but, good gracious, what the fuck is he doing? He goes on to your side of the car and pulls open the door and deep down, while still flying with your hands, you expect a blow of some sort, a hairy palm landing on your face. That same hairy palm that guides your head towards his crotch and an instant later he’s putting his feet on the threshold of the car so his dick is just about in your face. He complies when you tell him to get back in the car.

There are so many things he wants to tell you right then and there. He wants to tell you that he likes it, that you’re doing it well, and because his body moves in a certain way, curving, trembling, sobbing, muscles contracting all over, he finally tells you that he’s going to let go and he does, full of brotherly warmth, the bitter warmth you then spit out in the grass. You take a sip from the bottle of water you asked for and spit again while he cleans himself with the wet wipes he keeps tucked away in the door of the car. You get out of the car for a smoke with your now dusty designer shoes and you look at the cornfields and the trees beyond. He’s writing emails on his phone. I hope you enjoyed the meal, he says and you think of Happy Meals and the toys that came with them.

Weeks later he tells you, via a dating app, that he still gets a hard on when he thinks of that blow job in the cornfields. You’re a cool guy, he tells you.

And you agree. What else is there to do, right? You post a picture with clouds and birds at rest on Instagram to mark the moment.