Jerry dropped me off at school, I was scared. Just as I had a minor freak-out before heading to France, reviewing all the things expected of me and imagining all the new people who would be judging me, liking me, not liking me . . . my stomach twisted for fear of being an outcast, unwanted and under qualified.
The school is buried in an office
park; concrete, steel and glass all standing perfectly still, side by
side, on a hill in Culver City. If you were to drive by, no one would
suspect a school was nestled among the vacant businesses and abandoned
parking structures. There was, though, a colorful, unconventional and
overwhelmingly ambitious writing program for few select talents around
The courtyard was empty. The First Year Orientation was the only event planned for the day. I was early.
roamed the halls a little bit, and ran into my first friend- a
gorgeous, black man in an olive green sock hat wearing a satchel.
George. His skin was rich like espresso beans, with that glossy shine
that that catches the overhead light and forces it to ride his skin. He was
immediately friendly, and we discovered we were both first years, asked
where the student lounge was and parked ourselves inside of it. The
Lounge was also empty, filled only with empty, generic, wood tables and a
big glass wall exposing the courtyard.
I wondered if I would
fall in love with George, then I wondered if he was gay. I can’t really
describe my gaydar. No gay man is alike. Some drag their Ssss, some
laugh with a flip of the wrist, some give no indication whatsoever other
than being kind and respectful to women. I don’t know which was
sparkling from George’s eye; he was tall, engaging, polite, laughed at
my jokes and seemed more determined for a proper education than I was.
the lounge, I confided that I was shopping around for a suitable lover
at the school. I said, “Sometimes I can’t tell if they are sloppy and
despondent because they are arrogant, or sloppy and despondent because
they are sensitive and cool.”
George likes to cap off things with
an exhilarating, “Thank you!” Its almost sing song, and makes you feel
smart even though you probably aren’t as smart as he is.
He said, “I am gay, so I am in the same boat.”
relief, he was gay. I felt a weight off my shoulders. I didn’t have to
worry about fucking this up. The gays, I always say, are my people. Now,
there are evil gay people out there, I have worked for them. There are
no absolutes in the universe. However, there is something about the Gay
& Lesbian community that jives with me. I feel instantly comfortable
around them, part of it may be I am not in sexual competition with the
women, the men are never interested and fumbling in the wrong or
temporarily right direction with me and, maybe, overall, the tone is
always about friendship.
I think it is actually something else.
My humor is dirty, blunt, off-beat and almost blindsides people. I do
make the effort to tone it down, but it creeps up on even me, popping
out my mouth at the perfect moment, exposing a sub-conscious confession
with a sarcastic spirit. Some people will say I lack a filter, that is
part of it. My humor exposes things that everyone is already thinking.
Some people are embarrassed and in denial, and other people feel the
relief of laughter, as if diffusing the subliminal time bomb. Usually
the people who laugh are Black, Asian, Hispanic, Gay, Transgender or
just Foreign. Usually, the people who do not laugh are straight and
ticking time bomb of tension can throw people on opposing sides, those
in denial and those so familiar that they aren’t afraid to get the joke.
Those are my people.
George said he was 40. I said, “My God, you look young for 40.”
“I was going to say, you look like you are in your early twenties,” he said.
you. Thank God I am not in my early twenties anymore, or my twenties
period. I took everything way too seriously,” I fumbled with the chair, a
little disappointed he was gay.
He said, “Thank you! My twenties were a painful blur, and I would never go back, even if I could.”
all just want to look like we are in our twenties, but not actually be
in them- we have the best of both worlds . . . like vampires,” I said,
raising my eyebrows.
He laughed and used the chair to steady himself, “Exactly. Exactly.”
told him how my parents thought I was lazy and being a writer was some
kind of unobtainable dream to avoid real life. He said, “It’s so good
being around people going through the same things. I am 40 and going
back to school, so I am going through a similar thing.”
7pm, we all walked into the major classroom put together for new student
orientation. There were only about 30 or so people in the room, so I
was a little surprised. More importantly, there was free food, so George
and I made an immediate B-line for the wraps, cold vegetables and
sandwiches. We were both starving and waiting for those financial aid
checks. I followed him around like a puppy dog. I was intimidated and
scared, the room was full of a lot of soft face white people, and
especially a lot of white girls- my worst enemy.
George found a
seat and I told him I wanted to make sure I sat next to him. He laughed
and said, “Of course.” I was a little kid again. With my veggie wrap, I
started talking to a white girl with a butch, blond haircut and bold
font tattoos floating like clouds of thought on pale skin. The loudest
of them advertised the word, “Read” on her bicep. She wore black, bold
eye glasses to match.
asked how I was and my name, and fondling my food, I walked past my
seat and settled down next to her, then realized it wasn’t my seat, so
said, “I am not at my seat, I guess I am just drawn to you.”
She smiled and said, “I do the same thing.”
backtracked to cozy up to George, and we heard a presentation on how
the two-year academic program works. Now I read through it a while back,
but in the foggy haze of the last year, Danny’s suicide, coming off of a
month straight of cocaine, Dora and her general insanity, getting back
together with Abe, then breaking up again, poverty, France . . . I felt a
bit in a daze about things. I really have never gotten a chance to
catch up to my life, everything happens so fast, even a student
orientation couldn’t orient me.
Looking around at everyone’s name
cards, I only saw a few other Creative Non-Fiction students and
realized only five or six students were admitted to non-fiction every
semester. This put me in a bit of a panic. All my snobbery towards being
wait-listed, and I won a very small spot in an elite program with very
little writing experience.
We went around introducing ourselves,
the task being that we interview each other in pairs, and the
interviewer introduce us to the class. George and I immediately paired
up, but had the unfair advantage of an hour together in the lounge
beforehand, so, in my opinion, ours was the best.
I started with
him, “On one fateful day, George delivered a package to Lee Daniels, the
director of “Precious” and “The Paperboy” which is still looking for
distribution. Overwhelmed by his physical beauty, Lee Daniels hired
George as his personal assistant, but the job only lasted one day
because Lee sent George to get a sandwich at Subway with far too many
toppings and omissions, so he quit. What was it . . . 17 toppings?”
George laughed, “I never said overwhelmed by my physical beauty.”
continued, “In 1991, George worked for the Milwaukee Sentinel and was
one of the first people to witness the uncovering of Jeffery Dahmer's
refrigerator. This happened just around the time when George discovered
he was gay, so he considered this a rite of passion . . . (I broke out
laughing) excuse me, a rite of passage.”
We crumpled into each
other laughing and I heard some chuckling, but the overall feeling in
the room was, “Who the fuck is this?”
I continued, “His piece for the Sentinel was a sidebar interviewing children and exploring how they perceive death.”
One of the faculty complimented him in a calm, rich, librarian voice, “Sounds fascinating.”
introduced me, “She made a documentary on battered women in prison who
killed their husbands and are serving life in prison, which is very
I got the rich, librarian voice of confidence this time.
finished with, “She married her professor and left him for the manager
of a pet food store who thought he was a prophet. “ I sipped my beverage
and suddenly dropped it down on the table for punctuation, then said,
“That is absolutely true.”
The room felt still in memory, people
politely chuckled, but what we put on was a performance. Writers were
all about being humble, quiet . . . polite scientists of observation.
Things loosened up a bit shortly thereafter, one girl introduced her partner, “She is a Republican.”
“Just kidding.” We all laughed, my big mouth louder than everyone else’s.
introductions, we all lined up for our student ID photos, and I found
myself in front of a very handsome, Hispanic with tattooed sleeves,
crooked teeth and soft brown eyes, named Miguel. He was a high school
teacher who always inhaled on pauses in conversation, raising both his
eyebrows in resignation for the moment. Those eyes hook you in, and I
immediately had fantasies of burning candles, champagne and making love
to him, face to face, while he sat in his teacher’s chair.
interview partner used Miguel’s memorial tattoo for his dead cat as an
anecdote for introduction. When I brought it up while in the line for
photos, his eyes swam with water, and melted into a deeper brown. He
became unsettlingly quiet and I felt my skin prickle with want.
George asked, “Have you decided on someone to keep your eye on? Someone
to fall for?” I said , “I have my eye on the high school teacher. He
got misty when I brought up his dead cat.”
“Now that’s hot," George said.
next day I would meet the one, the boy who stole my affections and
reduced me to a little girl with a paper heart pinned proudly on her
sleeve. I would fall in love at school, and for better or worse, it’s
what I was hoping for.