Saturday, October 31, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
In August of 2007, my brother took me to Barton Springs in Austin because he knows how much I like to swim. The calm water of this spring-fed swimming hole was surprisingly cold at first despite the summer heat. I fell in love with the springs at once and found a Jesus Boy amongst the nymphs at the water's edge. Now whenever I go back to Austin, it is the first place that I go.
Barton Springs was described in The Unforeseen, a documentary film about development that threatened to contaminate the springs, as the "spiritual center" of Austin, and it's hard not to feel that on some level. Sometimes in the summer, there are hundreds of bodies lying on the grass, floating in the water, and walking along the trails.
The pool is surrounded by a fence, and it costs a few dollars to get inside. Two distinct communities are separated by the fence: those who can pay to swim and to tan on the lawn, and those who congregate at the edges where the water from the springs spills into the creek. The division is obvious - the right and wrong side of the tracks, so to speak.
The wrong side of the tracks is comprised of teenage boys and girls, pot-smokers, beer-drinkers, hippies, runaways, war veterans, dreamers, lost souls, ex-cons, low income families, young couples and more than a few pit bulls. Some of the regulars could be found there every day, and the economy and joblessness seemed to create even more of a haven for drifters from all parts of the country who found refuge in Austin.
I never anticipated my growing collection of tattooed male chests ... which were everywhere near the creek. Encountering George along the trail brought to mind Jacob on Main Street in Binghamton. They were both walkers and loners whose bodies were covered with cryptic messages and rippling muscles. Both were almost startling in their beauty and their rebel vulnerability. Both were so open and sincere and glad to be noticed. Perhaps it is the same picture in another time and place.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
John could have been one of the young men in Binghamton, except this wasn’t a place like my hometown; this was my hometown. He told me he was an unemployed construction worker, and he patiently let me photograph him against a blue wall without saying much of anything else or asking questions.
I found him in the Vine Street neighborhood, where I spent nights during my teenage years communing with my friends in our hideout spots. We used our fake ID’s to buy Mickey’s forty ounces and Tijuana small cigars from the Oak Street Market and sat by the edge of the woods bearing our hearts and ready to ditch our brown paper bags should a cop car roll by.
I had two best friends in high school and one of them was C. A few years ago, C moved back to Kalamazoo with her husband and three kids, and we’re still as close as ever when I come home.
Back then, C had short dyed black hair and black fingernails and was crazy in love with R, who lived in Chicago. R took the bus from Chicago to Kalamazoo on weekends and brought little bags of white powder, and to us, he was exotic and urban and unlike anyone we had met before.
R was from Argentina and he told all kinds of stories, most of which we realized eventually were not true. It took a long time to figure that out, and it was a sickening feeling when things just weren’t adding up. The one story I recall the most was about how his mother, who despised him, cooked his beloved pet goose, Bobo, and fed it to him for dinner. He was the victim of a lot of his stories, as perhaps many of us are.
But a born storyteller has charisma, and C and I were both enamored of R in our own ways. For a while, I imagined what it would be like to be him and to tell his elaborate stories and to live inside his small, tight, dark body that reminded me of a boxer or a matador. I didn’t understand until much later that he hated himself as much as I did.
Things were stormy with C and R, and I witnessed C’s first heartbreak that sent her driving off to Chicago in the middle of the night in her parents’ car and coming home to a lot of trouble.
The summer before I left for college, C and R and I went to a party and got drunk as usual. R pulled me outside the house and told me he had something important to tell me, and that could only mean one thing. He was forceful when he told me he loved me - and I could let almost anything happen to me - and we had sex on the grass of someone’s yard and went back to the party.
The next morning, C walked into my parents' house and yanked me out of bed. She forgave me in time, mostly I think because she knew by then that I liked girls.
I spent my last two years of high school in love with L. L moved to Kalamazoo from Salt Lake City as a freshman. She had long blonde hair and cat-like blue eyes, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her from the moment she walked into choir class. L’s family was Mormon and they lived my neighborhood, and I drove in circles around her house religiously.
L and I wrote letters almost every night and passed them to each other in the hallway in the morning before our first class. The letter writing continued for months or years, and one day L revealed that she had a crush on my other best friend’s little brother, and I was stunned and humiliated.
During the summer, we drove to the lake at night and I told her I made out with my friend, A, on Venice Beach during my trip to California in the spring. I told her how we were caught on the sand by the LA cops and spent a night in jail as “runaways,” and how they put us in separate cells and gave us a hard time about being two girls. L and I might have kissed that night except something inside me died suddenly when I told her all of that, and after I dropped her off at her house, I didn’t want to see her again for a long time.
I thought my last summer in Kalamazoo would never end and I couldn’t leave for college fast enough. My parents encouraged me to audit an English class at the school where my dad taught so I would have something to focus on, and I focused on E, a writer with a funny bowl haircut and an acute intelligence.
E asked me if I wanted to get a drink, and we met at a bar near Vine Street. We walked back to my house in an intoxicated blur and had sex on the couch in my parents’ living room, and thank god she left in the morning before they woke up.
When I came back to visit from college, E and I sat in the kitchen of her house near the cemetery, and I took pictures of her and told her about my first real girlfriend and my first real heartbreak. She was reading Carlos Castenada and imagining spiritual journeys, and she seemed to find my earthly intensity and romanticism both touching and amusing. We slept on a mattress on the floor of her empty bedroom and understood we weren’t wired the same way but we talked through the night and shared our stories and our dreams.