Ain't To Compromise
Valerie Solanas [to man]:
“WHAT DO YOUR INSTINCTS TELL YOU?”
Man [who is hitting on her]:
“To dig women.”
Solanas [who is resisting him]:
“YOUR INSTINCTS TELL YOU TO DIG WOMEN? SO DO MINE. WHY SHOULD MY STANDARDS BE LOWER THAN YOURS?”
I arrive at the bar in my boxers again, with sleep in my mouth, that stinky airless stuff like when you get off an airplane. I forgot to open my mouth last night. I forget a lot of things, frankly. Like girls, tomatoes, yams. It is no secret that I slept in my shirt again, not because of the wrinkles, but because when I saddle up to the bar with the other guys in their briefs all pressed out and ironed, all a person has to do is take one up n’ down look at my formal composition and the conclusion is obvious: that 100% cotton button-down was a nightie last night. Yep, dude slept in his shirt. Well, sleep is not such a bad thing, and nor is snoozin’ in your duds. Ya heard it here. Now that I am single, and have had endless nights to choose from to work on the idea, here’s the foregone conclusion: snuggle up with pride, buddy. Way back when I dated sexy chicks, stayed up late prowling the streets for art, or held line on forest fires in Northern Cali, I never slept. Life was captivating. Folks liked to explore, watch the moon, sniff the dirt, lie down on the dirty cement and stay a while. Now? Life’s just a thing, and bars are just excuses, and sometimes I pass out before changing my duds. There are clothes piling up in the bathroom, a huge fricken pile of them, like they own the place. Like it’s a teleconference next to the tub on account of the lovely royal blue rug. Nicest thing in the place, really. I don’t care, they can take over, because he and everything I ever knew is gone, everything; every little thing, large and small. All matters. Everything. So I head to the bar, figuring, might as well grab a drink and some gab. I really despise drinking, actually. But this ain’t no juice bar and I keep showing up here, thinking something, this time, might change. Like in the movie U-Turn. Only it doesn’t.
We are always returning somewhere … and one of these times, maybe we’ll return dead.
I try to keep things simple. For you youngones at home, don’t drink. Just stop, how about now? “And hey, think three times before you run that red light. Because what with the new technology n’ all, it will cost you a pretty penny.” And don’t catch your z’s behind the wheel of a car. See this scar on my face? It wasn’t cute crashing into the side of the road. Good memory, but life threatening. Which reminds me, this is why I’m drinking. I’m in hell. Here, there’s all sorts of creeps attaching themselves to my life, emotionally starved and angry feel-gooders who bug the shit out of me because of things like being attached to poverty in the name of holdin’ out against tha’ man only because they’re so damn angry about somethin’ they can’t face. Something sticky, stinky, and dense. It don’t crop up. But it’s right there, located in the same place as sex. The other side of how good it feels.
This. Is It. [A thunder sound.] It’s Tuesday. [Lights fade up.] The most horrible thing in the whole, wide world is about to happen. [The rumbling continues, and fades to silence.] You want to know what there ain’t to compromise about? See, no matter how anyone says it in the world—the Greeks, the Fins, my Arab relatives, the South Asians, the New Yorkers, the punks in Missouri, strangers on the road, in your bed, in the joint, there are times in alla life when no one but no one gets it like you do. That is what “ain’t.” I know. I know what there is to remain steady about. I compromise nothing in memory of the sweet life of a gentle boy. My brother is dancing on a disco dance floor, twirling around like he’s never done in his life. The size of the smile on his face is enormous, and, luckily, I slip over to the barstools and grab some countertop. Oh yeah, this is a gay bar, where there’s little white briefs saddled over barstools; they might as well call this night “chat and cum.” Which is why I arrive in my boxers, to strike a middle ground. My brother’s big face is all that I can see, which probably means that my mind is on other things, but the truth is, I just have never seen the guy dance like this. I’ve never seen him dance. Not at all. I’ve never seen him so happy and complete.
It’s Andy Gibbs over the club speakers, “Night fever, night fever, you don’t have to do it.” The disco ball makes reflections on the floor, circles and rainbow light rays all over the place. I figure I can leave him dancing, and go to the “back room” at the club, and do what bois do in these kind of spaces, which for me means cruising through the soap-making parlour, looking for sex that might be something special. I have forgotten about the ozone layer for a minute, as I enjoy the resplendent colors of bright yellow and bright pink polyester ensembles, caked on the fleshy bodies of those getting it on in the back. These things still make my brow a little furry—err, furrowed—cuz really, is this happening? Is this great anonymous sex possible without lying down on that sticky floor? See, I think how we get off in anonymous sex defines us.
My brother has kept his shoes off this time, and the shape of his feet is rough. The guy’s got no friends, no family except for me, a diagnosis as big as four lines on a piece of paper, and a warrant out for his arrest because he stole Advil from the 7/11 store down the street from his house. Just the other day he turned 40. When I called he said, “Happy birthday, yeh. Someone threw a chair at my back today.” He lives off of Social Security Income which, after the board-and-care place where he stays takes out the cost of his rent, leaves him with $30.62 a month to live on. Month after month after month. He said to me, “I know it is not much to some people, but it is a lot to me, and I try to make the best of it.” Like he stands half a chance of making it in Southern California. How many ways can you say “impossible”? Why, even the most crappy meal like at Jack-In-the-Box costs four or five bucks. It’d be different if we had extended family or we didn’t live in a white world where folks just pass each other by. But we don’t. In case anyone wonders why I’m bitter.
I go back out front, sagging really well now that the boxers make me look like I have an ass, and stare at my bro’s crappy feet. Poor guy. Size 13 and a half, and front toes pointed in two directions from escaping from a mental hospital by jumping over a 40-foot-high chain-link fence. I support fragments—every kind there is. Short ones. Mi/s/spaled ones. Hypthenated ate-temp-tations to accelerate read/ing when Jerks with little imagnnnnashion forget that they, too, were scared and pimply in high school, and haven’t forgotten how rotten they still feel about it all.
So all of a sudden we are in the middle of a hospital, because I am staring at my brother’s sidewise size 13 and a half feet, and I realize that I’ve been daydreaming—that I’m not really in a gay bar with my brother dancing disco, but rather in the emergency ward of another fricken hospital, with him passed out and yellow. [Boom.] I have lost him. [Boom.] It has happened. [Boom.] He weighs about 90 pounds, even though he’s 37 years old, and his feet are three times the size of his scrawny body, because of the accident. Yeh, “the accident.” He’s been living at a board-and-care home, paying $900 a month for a shared room in a giant hacienda-style slop house, which his case workers from San Diego County Mental Health picked. He gets a room, meals, and his meds. Sounds like a great deal, except for the fact that this place—like so many—feeds him crap out of cans like green beans and Campbell’s soup and probably Spam. For breakfast. After two months at this place, no one has noticed that the guy—who is 6’ 3” and generally 150 pounds—is losing a little bit of weight. Tie a yellow ribbon round it ya old creep.
It turns out, he loses a whole lot of weight. It turns out, in fact, that he barely makes it to the pay phone where he has had to beg some asshole on the street for 35 cents, so he can call my mom and say, “Mom, I want to live.” And then pass out. My mom, who is old and alone and a real sweet person when she’s not frightened, has to find the board-and- care place, only to discover her son looking like he is an emancipated poster child for Life magazine. Seriously. She has to haul him herself, which she does, and take him to the emergency ward.
We find out he’s had a blockage in his large intestine, and he hasn’t peed or shit for 11 days, and no one, in spite of his complaints and rapid weight loss, has decided to pay notice. He has arrived at the hospital yellow, poisoned by the rotten food in his body, almost dead. Something in me clicks, and dies.
[Thunder sound again.] A nurse comes in. She has on oversized gloves and a clipboard in her hands. It seems that the pecking order exists all the way down to the lowliest human being and I, in spite of being a member of a very prestigious university, have no power to vouch for the worth of this individual, in order to ensure that he is treated like a normal person. Being at the hospital teaches me this. Every now and again, the large head and spidery limbs that have become my brother lift up their head, slowly; all that comes from his mouth are two words, and one arm gesture.
“Iceeee chip,” he says, reaching out to the nurse with his extra-long arm, yellow at the fingertips like iodine. If you looked in his eyes, all you’d see would be a kind of hazy fuzz, like those times you’re at the hospital with someone you’ve known forever and they’re drugged out on phat morphine, all loopy and unfocused. There’s no way to connect these two worlds, so I pick up a comb and run it through his hair. He’s going. I search for signs of life from the nurse.
“Iceeee chip,” the boy pleads again, totally chapped all the way down his throat so bad you know that it’s like the Sahara desert probably to the bottom of his stomach. Somehow I am to believe there is healing medical treatment going on in this room, but no matter you spin it, I’m sure it is not coming from the doctors or nurse.
The nurse has used her pen to write something, so apparently this is the cause for a dramatic hand-washing scene. She pulls off her gloves and turns her back to my brother, spinning on the industrial-size faucet water to wash, while she says: “You had one an hour ago, I’m sorry. That is all you may have.” The water is flowing down, an even full force, in which she is washing her hands copiously.
His head drops. He’s gone, down again, passed out from all this ridiculousness and starvation. I stare at the nurse with the meanest eyes I know how to make, to get her to leave the room before I smack her with my fist. She leaves, probably on her own accord, which makes things much worse for all of us. I use all the forces in my body to stand quietly, breathing softly as I can to let out the aggression. My feelings would otherwise turn inward and dismantle me. Then I take out the camera, one I have smuggled into the hospital, and take five quick photographs of my brother’s feet. It’s all I can think of doing. There’s no movement. He’s absolutely gone. There’s no dancing, no lights, no disco balls, no good sex, and nothing but a hospital gown and heavy meds separating me from him. There’s no soap, and not even any water in this hellhole. As I lose my brodda, I figure it out: No. No. In a world all excited about bio-warfare and those little machines that put the Thomas guide in your “It’s so convenient!” car … like the idiots that we are … it is not so convenient for me to lose my brodda. Fricken gone, you get it? —because of the warped thinking of some lady-twit with a bucket full of ice chips and a doctor with “M.D.” stamped on his wrinkled frock. Look here, I have half a mind to pull out some powerful weapon and fire back. Why should my standards be lower than theirs? I compromise nada, warped in a life without him.