It was 1992.
A good year to say the least. I was working full time in a profession that I loved. Journalism. I was a working journalist, working for a small weekly in Melrose Park, Illinois. Home to ministers and mafia men. Though it didn’t pay me much, it still paid me something. I was in a loving relationship with a woman whom I would have given the shirt off my back to her and anything else for that matter.
I wrote poetry about and to her every single day. I must have written over 500 poems at least. I was a hopeless romantic. To this day, I can barely find a handful of these poems. Most of them are tucked away somewhere, I hope to find them one day.
I’d met her at my last undergrad college I attended, Columbia in Chicago. I was working at the Chicago Health Department in the city of Chicago in the fall of 1988, as part of an internship for my journalism requirement at school. I was still publishing Cops Hate Poetry, my poetry fanzine, in fact she was coming to photograph me for a story an unknown reporter for the Columbia Chronicle on my poetry fanzine had actually written.
In those days I had to dress a bit more proper. Trimmed beard and mustache. Combed hair. Slacks, a collared shirt, sturdy shoes, dark socks and sometimes, a conservative tie. It was just the way of the world. And if I were to represent the city of Chicago, that’s the only way I could.
She came to my office and asked to see me. I looked at her once and know I was in trouble. She was so sweet and nice and kind to me, as she took my photos, but then I always thought photographers had to be in those days just to capture their subjects. I assumed incorrectly.
As I knocked off my internship for that evening, we walked back to the el. I told her my life story and a lot of little stories to boot. She was the first woman who didn’t tire from my stories.
I was so pleased. She never seemed to tire of them, even when I asked her 30 times a week.
“No,” she said.
And always like that.
The next school year, in the fall of 1989 up through graduation in 1990, we worked together on the college newspaper, she in the photographer capacity, while I played office manager and eventually switched over to cub reporter, investigative and entertainment reporter. My internship ended with the city and I received a much more lucrative internship with Variety a larger-than-life entertainment weekly, with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere in the United States and globally. I wrote film box office stats for weekly Variety in New York and for daily Variety in Los Angeles. Faxed all of my stories in. Sill no Internet at this point of in the universe.
I was a full time student, pulling down 40 hours a week in my internship, while another 40 hours at the newspaper. I was 26.
Even though I was intensely dating a Japanese woman whom I adored at the time and in a 2-year relationship, she, meaning the photographer, remained my closest friend. I knew she was in a relationship dating another photographer on the school newspaper. It wasn’t until spring 1990, when I chose to take her with me on assignment to go cover Farm Aid 4 in Indianapolis, I got a closer glimpse of what was happening. I noticed her belly was out a bit and I guessed on my own that she was pregnant, but with whose baby, I wasn’t sure-certainly not the photographer’s.
She never told me until much later.
But we didn’t talk much about that. We were more interested in covering a major star studded benefit in Indianapolis. It was there she cut her teeth, freaking out when she saw Arlo Guthrie up close and personal. I had met him 5 years earlier at the first Farm Aid in Champaign, Illinois. She clung to me as if she and I were intimate, but I knew we weren’t.
We were just the best of friends. And she was someone I could always talk to. Tell her all my troubles and she found a way to whisk them from me. That was her strong hand. We shared the same room and when the lights went out for the night she always told me not to look when she was undressing. And I never did. Never peeked. Never wanted to. I just respected her, even though there was a tiny slow burn of me wanting to, creeping in ever so slightly.
We did our work and I was glad for it. We bonded well on this trip. And it showed.
When it came time for graduation on June 1, 1990 at UIC Pavilion in Chicago, I remembered well at the point when the college authoritative degree handlers called out my name to receive my bachelor’s degree and I danced across the stage and handed the college president a copy of my “Coloring In Peacetime coloring book in a manila envelope, of all the voices in the building that shouted my name, hers was the loudest.
After graduation, she had moved back to her mom’s in Racine, Wisconsin. Had her baby in late September 1990. I would visit her almost monthly.
At first by bus, and eventually by driving to see her.
At long last in 1992, she would move back down to Chicago, get an apartment and a job, baby in tow and all, first somewhere mid-city and then later, a little further north. She worked as I discovered inside Cabrini Green, teaching photography, on and off. She had gotten a job there sometime during the time of her pregnancy and would work there sporadically.
It was the summer of 1992 when I first set foot in that awful place to teach journalism, get assaulted my first day and the agency I worked for never did a thing, fearing the worst of black verses white crime in a city-sponsored job, even admitting to me they knew the suspect. I remember taking the day off, while she cried her eyes out, wishing she had never brought me into the place to begin with. I told her not to worry, that I would come back.
And I did come back the day after next.
One day out of the blue, she would invite me in to have lunch with her. It was like old times. I just figured she never wanted to be around me, but I was dead wrong. Soon all students would come up to us both and individually over the next several weeks and ask us if we were dating or married. We both said no, although I realized we were probably giving that emotion off. And at that time in my life, I kind of wish I had been, but that was not to be just yet.
It had been late in the summer when the job ended and I had to go back to whatever I had to go back to, which was my part time journalism job in the western suburbs. We had been out one night-gone to an art gallery where she sought out the director in order to get a job.
I had a strange feeling in my stomach. It had been building up for weeks, now spilling over into days. Then hours into seconds divided into moments. I knew it was coming and I had to ask her before the moment of movement had passed. But instead, the night came to pass and I would only ask her this.
“Hey, this friend of mine really likes this girl and he wants to ask her out but he’s real nervous to ask her out even though he likes her a lot. What you think he should do?”
And she would answer me, “He should really ask her out and not be afraid to.”
And that night, I didn’t ask her out.
The next night came. We had just come from a gallery opening her and I. I had driven there in my red Geo Prism. The car was parked in front of her new place, somewhere in East Rogers Park. I knew tonight would be that crucial night. I was still in the other relationship with the Japanese woman, but that had gone sourly South sometime ago and I wasn’t thrilled by what it was vast becoming.
And so just as she was about to get out of my car, I grabbed a hold of her left hand, got extremely nervous and I said, “Hey, will you go out with me?”
She held back a bit and coyly responded, “Well, we go out already.”
I think she knew what was coming next, so she waited patiently, when I said, “No, that’s not what I meant.”
“I meant as in dating you.”
All she said, was, “Yes.”
My heart jumped for joy, as we embraced.
She told me in the days that followed when I first asked her that hypothetical question, that she thought I was going to ask her out right then and there and was crushed when I didn’t ask her out, so she kind of planned out the alternative, meaning and hoping that I would ask her out the next night, which I did.
In the week that followed, I broke off a four-year relationship with my Japanese girlfriend, knowing full well what I was getting myself into-a new kind of love, someone that I felt wasn’t going to hurt me so much, someone who I felt would protect me from evil and would support my art in ways I could never fathom possible before. She was my friend first and foremost. We had that much going for us-what would follow would be anybody’s guess.
But like my poetry, which had also taken off that year, in particular that summer, it would prove a hotbed of stormy passion, both in writing and in that relationship; a lot of proving, a lot of fighting for what was right; a lot of kissing and making up and a lot of “Yes, I know” and “No, I don’t know” kind of answers.
It was also during that time period that I was informed that one of my poems, had been published in an erotic anthology out of Austin, Texas, entitled, Apex Annual, #1, Erotic Fun. It was 64 pages long. A pretty big book for a poetry anthology.
A poem I had written initially for two men; a gay couple-friends of mine, but the meaning had changed drastically when our relationship, meaning Wisconsin girl and Illinois boy, grew drastically in leaps and bounds. It was no longer about them; even the words were so obvious.
Buys happiness on a stick
70 rigid muscles
For 20 solid minutes,
Riding up and down
On an old man’s dick.
The meaning had changed overnight, though the words were so vulgar and harsh.
The way she liked it when I talked dirty to her.
I decided to go to Austin to partake in the performance-not that they would pay my way, but I would go on my own. Stay with a friend and drive up on my own to the venue on Congress Avenue.
It would be my first exposure to written eroticism, no matter how the form. I discovered just how powerful it was written a few years later when I would have to wrestle away a copy away from a friend of mine whom I had lent a copy to, who refused to give it back to me because he got off on the book sexually.
“I lost it. I mislaid it. I can’t find it; “ he would plead with me, when the book was in plain sight on his bed. His personal fetish was pancakes, but that’s another story for another time.
I snatched it up and called him a liar to his face. How could I not? I learned never to lend anything out to him again. A lesson, I don’t ever seem to learn, either with books or CDs these days.
But back to the matter at hand. It was early November 1992, when I flew to Austin, Texas and took part in the reading. I remember how much I milled around the food table, fressing and then backstage, so nervous to read, and had inserted a tape recorder in my coat (or was it down my pants?) to capture the moment.
There had been every kind of performer on hand, from performance artist to poet and then some. I remember vividly the guy who had a small piece of metal shoved inside his pee hole sideways in order to juggle various objects up and down his penis. That was a sight to see. And the lovely girl assistant helping him.
The guy who had been on before me had used salsa as lubricant to shove bananas up his ass as a part of his performance. I was terribly glad at the time that I didn’t have to see that, just hear it described as I paced nervously backstage, because I went on after him.
All I remember him saying was “Ewwww. Butt-juice. I’m sure he wouldn’t want to see this.”
And I’m glad I didn’t.
As a result of that image floating around in my brain, I didn’t touch bananas or salsa for another seven years.
The reading would go off without a hitch. I would be successful, although I would be written up in the Austin Weekly alternative newspaper sometime afterward and described, “as a rather large man who was hanging around the food table all night.”
I wasn’t THAT big. Nor fat. Nor heavy.
Those images would haunt me for the next several years. And it would take me a few more years before I could write about it comfortably. But to that day and beyond within and without our relationship, she never once criticized me for looking the way I did. She loved me for me. She saw beyond what was.
I wished that the Japanese girl I had once loved but broke up with, didn’t use it as an terrible excuse against me not to have sex with me because she worried about becoming “pg” or pregnant.
I only wished the rest of the world and the whole of Texas felt the same.