Authors: Tom Spanbauer
Be careful, she's about to knock something over. Maybe it will be you.
MORE THAN LIKELY
, you're like me and think that something like this could never happen to you. That you could love a man, then love a woman â two extraordinary people, two unique ways of loving, from different decades, on different ends of the continent, and then somehow, through an accident of the universe, or a destiny preordained â either way you'll never know â what's important is that what happens is something you could never in a million years have planned, and there you are the three of you, dancing the ancient dance whose only rule is with three add one, if not, subtract. If three doesn't find four, three goes back to two.
Add or subtract. That's the rule.
Myself, once I left the Catholic Church, and then my wife, I've tried to stay away from rules. For example, I have loved men and I have loved women. Most rule books say you can't do that. So most of me says this rule of three is just that: somebody's rule. Something Jung or somebody like him made up. But for Hank and Ruth and me, I've got to say, three was not an option.
I've tried and tried but I can't figure out the fate, the destiny part. That's where madness lies. So if I can't figure out the big picture, then maybe I can look at the smaller one. How much of this was Ruth. How much of this was Hank. How much of this was me.
Mostly, I think it was Ruth's fault. But I
think that, now wouldn't I? In the end she got Hank and I lost Hank. My ego's hurt and my heart is broken, and of course, I'm going to blame the bitch. I got to cop to it. Most of my days are spent blaming Ruth.
Those years after I got home from the hospital were the years. Just Ruth and me. We were our own world. Funny, fucked up, me half-dead, delusional, both of us awkward. Full of love, so full of fear. My God, now there's a strange love affair for you. Ruth's promise: her sole purpose in life to keep me alive, to make me happy. No matter how much I wanted it to work, Ruth and I didn't work. The way Ruth loved me was the way I loved Hank. How we both thought that great a love would be enough.
Destiny, fate, fucking fortune, whatever it is, it's Christmas
Eve 1999 and Hank comes to visit me in Portland. Nearly twelve years since we'd seen each other. The next day, Christmas day, Hank Christian's crying in my kitchen. Hank's blind in one eye and the doctors say his cancer's in remission. What's left of me after AIDS. I'm fifty-one. Hank's forty-one. Two aging men who'd stared death down, now hanging on to each other for dear life.
The next day, I introduce him to Ruth. Hank Christian.
Hank Christian. Should've known. Hank's always had a thing for redheads.
And Ruth, the woman scorned because I didn't love her the way she loved me. Hell hath no fury â we've all heard that one. But as my therapist Judith pointed out, wasn't
scorn every bit as full of hell's fury? Maybe it's
hell hath no fury like a faggot scorned
. And as Hank pointed out, the
, he said, was that Ruth and I were
. Whatever the case may be, when Hank entered the picture, Ruth Dearden, the over-sized wallflower of thirty-seven years â then the sunflower that with each passing year got deeper and stronger and skinnier, and more and more beautiful, by the time she was forty, once she found herself in the big piece of bright sunlight between me and Hank, that girl
it. She had the both of us by the balls. Trouble was, only I could see it. By then Hank was in love and love is blind but people ain't. But there I was again. Just like with my big sis, Margaret. If I would've said anything it would've sounded like I was just jealous. And hey! I'm here to testify. I was
Then I think the fault was mostly Hank's. Capricorns always manipulate themselves to the best advantage. I believe that about Hank even though I don't believe in astrology. Especially at the end there. Now you might say: don't we all manipulate ourselves to the best advantage? The answer is
. People like Ruth and I only learned late in life how to put ourselves first. Hank never had that problem, believe me. Hank was
the man, Maroni
, and along with that position came his whole shtick about men on Mars and women on Venus â please. And since Hank found Ruth and me
â make that women and
Venus. Really, straight guys can be so fucking obdurate, so on Mars â especially Hank.
And something else about Hank. I'd learned a long time ago with Olga not to get between Hank and his woman. Well, I got between all right. Yet, at some point or another, each one of us was between. Maybe that's the problem with three.
Really though this was my fault. All of it. After all, I am the ex-Catholic and I introduced them. Hank was reeling from a bout with his girlfriend, who was borderline. Time was running out on Ruth's alimony check and she was facing work at Walgreens. Ruth really needed help. But by then I hated her. Not because of Hank â he hadn't quite come on the scene yet. No, I hated Ruth because she just couldn't get it, the way I got it with Hank, that I loved her, but didn't want to fuck her.
If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn't. So much pain involved. Yet all this pain wears my face. If only I could have been one of the big-spirited men who narrate my novels instead of the stink-eyed petty jealous fool that I was.
The rule of three. Her fault. His fault. My fault. Destiny, fortune, fame. All that was left unsaid.
WHEN THE DUST
settled and the newlyweds left town, back to Florida, they left me here in the Portlandia rain, my mind devouring itself.
Yet even now, I've never regretted the Dear Hank letter. It's just that maybe I should have given Hank the hair tip. Made him laugh one last time. But hair tip or no hair tip,
Got to go pal
was the only way.
THERE'S SOMETHING ELSE
important that happened in Jeske's class. How I made it in. After the article about him in
, he was a real celebrity. Everybody wanted a piece of him. Over a hundred people signed up for his class. There was only room for forty. So what Jeske does is he gets all hundred of us together in one big classroom, then announces that each of us
has to stand up and tell the class the scariest thing about ourselves. And if it isn't scary enough he won't let us in.
In a New York minute, quiet in that room like every person sitting in the room had just stopped breathing. We don't go row by row. We don't go alphabetically. Jeske doesn't call on us. He just waits for whoever stands up. It was five minutes on the black and white clock before anybody stands up. Then two people stand up at the same time. Fuck, the tension in the room. One guy, Randy Goldblatt, who's overweight, stands up and says some damn thing and Jeske won't let him sit down until he admits that he's fat. Randy's wearing a red, white, and blue horizontal striped T-shirt. He pulls his T-shirt down over his hairy belly. He's got thick glasses and he is crying. I'm chewing on my thumbnail and then it bleeds and I get blood on my shirt. I'm a fucking wreck.
Maroni's in class that day, but the Maroni doesn't have to stand up.
David, Gary, and Lester all stand up.
Jeske rips them to shreds.
I'm one of the last people to go.
I stand up and I have no idea what keeps me standing up. Try and cover up the blood spot on my shirt. I'm in the second row in the front and most of the class is behind me. I start to speak and Jeske stops me. Tells me he can't hear. Tells me to stop mumbling. To speak up.
The scariest thing about me. That day I don't have a clue what that is. So I make up some shit about not being able to distinguish between dreams and reality.
“That's certifiable,” Jeske says, “Go on.”
What I say next is more bullshit and Jeske knows it and he tells me to sit the fuck down. I think I'm shafted for sure, but the next day somehow I've made it onto the class list.
WHAT I'D LIKE
to do now is take the opportunity. To say what I couldn't even think that Wednesday evening in Jeske's class,
1985. The scariest thing about myself. If I were to have spoken it out loud.
I was impotent.
By that time of my life, my thirty-seventh year â heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, top or bottom, threesomes, orgies with men and women, with a whip in my hand or chained to the radiator, whatever way two or more people can get together sexually. Drunk or stoned or otherwise fucked up. Hell, even when it was just me alone stone cold sober.
I couldn't get it up.
Kaput. Nada. Rien. Kabisa
Fucking limp dick.
Erectile dysfunction, man.
The shame of it.
URSULA CROHN'S INVITATION
was a written invitation. She and some other of Jeske's students were gathering together on a Friday night to read their work to one another. I remember holding the invitation in the bright glare of the fluorescent hallway of 211 East Fifth Street. My steel gray apartment door #1A just past the open aluminum mailbox door. Ursula's handwriting lilted left on blue and yellow swirled stationery with a matching envelope and a stamp of Martin Luther King. I've always wondered at people who have stationery and envelopes and unusual stamps and a handy fountain pen and the address altogether so they can quickly jot off personal notes. It takes me an hour just to find my glasses. Forget the stamp. To coordinate all that shit and then to have it match, like the letter itself is an invention of art, is truly a marvel to me.
The reason why I remember the letter, though, was not because of its bread-and-butter quality but for something else: I wasn't used to being invited to the party. I was easily ten to fifteen years older than the other students at Columbia. Plus, besides being older, I was an odd duck. Always been an odd duck. Above the toilet in my mother's bathroom is a blue and white
ceramic mother duck with three blue and white little ducks swimming behind. They're all swimming with their beaks lined up with their mother's in a straight line â then there's the odd duck, the black duck with his bill tipped down.
Plus, unlike my fellow students, I had a job. Actually two jobs. As a waiter at CafÃ© Un Deux Trois four nights a week. And then my super job. I started out with one building, then after I graduated Columbia there was four. So I didn't do a lot of social gatherings. Especially literary ones. Especially after I quit the restaurant business and was just the super. Make that janitor. More than anything, though, what was impressive about Ursula Crohn's letter was that it was Ursula Crohn inviting me. She was another one of Jeske's favorites.
I had to drink a lot first, Baileys and some kind of cheap brandy. Smoked a doobie. Then I put this big-ass Hoss Cartwright cowboy hat on and these black high platform shoes spray-painted with green glitter from the late Seventies â articles of clothing I'd only wear to a costume party. But for some damn reason wore that night. My black Peterbilt muscle-guy zippered jacket.
Ursula's address was on Maiden Lane or one of those tiny hard to find streets in the financial district. I set off walking from East Fifth Street, already late. I brought the bottle with me. Clomping through those narrow streets that wind through all those monoliths of money. It was raining. I remember because I didn't have an umbrella, but I had the hat. My feet hurt. Finally when I found the address there was a lot of fuss with the intercom and pushing the right button and yelling at a wall in a dark brick doorway. Then the formidable elevator, a freight elevator, all the sides open, just that cross hatch between you and the elevator shaft, the red numbers of the floor going by slow on the back wall. On floor one thousand or something like that, Ursula opened the gates to an industrial loft apartment like you see in Hollywood movies that starving artists live in with a one-eighty view of the city that takes up half the floor.
If my friends could see me now.
Friends: Ephraim, my Native brother in Fort Hall. Reuben Flores, Sal Nash, Gary Whitcombe, and Tim Tyler, my Boise, Idaho, buddies. Other than those guys, I don't know who those friends would've been. Wilbur Tucker, the owner of the Blind Lemon in Pocatello, maybe my ex-wife, Evelyn, or Bette. I didn't know him yet, otherwise, right off, I would have known who my friends were: Hank.
Really though, walking into Ursula's apartment was like sitting in a dentist's office in Bumfuck, Idaho, and opening a
and seeing your name listed under
. Plus, every time I walk into a room with a bunch of people in it, I always get the feeling that they all collectively know something important about me, something wrong, that they've just been discussing.
I must have seemed ten feet tall in my hat and shoes. Plus I was probably an hour and a half late. Dripping wet. And I hate people who come late and make an entrance.
Ursula Crohn is a woman way too smart with a wicked sense of humor. Jewish. Three strikes and you're out. She's tiny, dark, and beautiful. Her hair dyed black and straightened with an iron. She'd told me that about her hair, and just the way she'd told it made me laugh like crazy. Plus, she was one of Jeske's girls. Really, you have to be careful with a woman like that. Especially when you appear to her as someone exotic.