Reset

By Richard Jasper 
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I’m half-awake but my eyes are closed, my boner throbbing, the sheets slightly sticky from a summer night’s Gulf Coast humidity, the soft breeze gently rattling the venetian blinds at the head of my narrow bed.

I sit bolt upright.

“The head of my narrow bed…?”

I look around wonderingly. I’m in the room I shared with my middle brother in my parents’ house back in Pensacola.

“Except she sold that house a dozen years ago and even then it didn’t look like this…”

I pad into the bathroom (amazingly, I’m wearing tighty whities and a white t-shirt despite the fact it’s been decades since I wore anything to sleep in…) and take a leak. I see myself in the mirror.

“Oh my god…”

I’m a teenager again. Same greasy hair, same pimples, same dusting of hair on my tummy, same thick bush and hairy legs I had even then.

I don’t say anything to my mom, my dad, my brothers, my friends.

If anything has changed, they don’t know it.

How did I get here? Is it real? Is my real body, the 50-year-old with Type 2 Diabetes, in a coma? Am I dreaming all this?

I see my life stretched out before me. I see every mistake, I remember every disappointment, every trauma, every joy.

“Do I really want to live it all over again?”

Not the same way, I think.

Not the same way.


I spend the first week scouting things out.

I’m 14. School’s out for summer. I’ll be starting high school in a couple of months.

Ah, I think, a few things to consider.

One is my dad (the chronically depressed about to turn 40 possibly gay alcoholic) is due to flip out one evening just before school starts back. It’ll be when I finally figure out what’s going on, when my mom nearly walks out (and doesn’t, much to my disappointment and chagrin.)

“I need a weight bench,” I tell my dad.

“What?”

“A weight bench,” I say. “The barbell set is really no good without a weight bench, too.”

He’s delighted. He’s always wanted me to be a jock, except that he’s done everything in his power to disparage sports and athletes at every point in my life.

“Great,” he says, “we can work out together.”

“Cool, works for me,” I answer, conveniently “forgetting” the time I told him a couple of years ago that I didn’t want to work out with him and (drama queen that he was) he sank against the wall, his beer in one hand, his ciggie in the other, muttering loudly that he was “a failure as a father.”

True, but why hold that against him now? At this point, at least on the inside, I’ve got 10 years of living on him. He was trying (well, not very hard), he just had an insuperable obstacle (namely, his alcoholism.)

So I lift and he lifts, not very well and not very consistently, and that fateful weekend comes and goes and he doesn’t lose his mind.

“You know…” my mother says one day.

“I know,” I say.

“I mean…”

“Really,” I say. “I know.”

She gives me an odd look, like “how could you possibly?” but then her eyes glaze over (she’s always been da Queen of Da Nyul…) and I go on about my business.

I get contact lenses, I take showers three times a day, I (almost obsess) about my hair. I start high school with a sun-lightened shoulder length hair parted in the middle, no glasses, a tan, a six pack, and nice little bumps on my chest, my arms, my shoulders. My classmates, used to the Uber Teacher’s Pet Nerd, are agog.

My dad, who never went to college and always resented those who did, figuring (quite rightly) he was smarter than most people who had done so, enrolls at the local junior college.

My mom is flabbergasted and dad’s colleagues at the newspaper are skeptical but he decides to treat it as an adventure (“Hey, I jumped all those hoops in the Army, this is no different…”) and it gives him something else to write about.

No, I think, not the same way *at* *all*…


I eat like a horse, I lift every day, I spend at least half an hour walking around the neighborhood every day when I get home and soon enough I’m running for the same amount of time.

By Christmas I’m 175 pounds, all muscle.

I go out for the wrestling team and my 9th grade science teacher, who’s also an assistant football coach (and at 23 totally hot as fuck) wants me to go out for football.

“You’d have to show me the moves, I’m afraid,” I say, flexing my new lats and rubbing the back of my triceps. I’m as big as he is and he knows it and Mr. Super Straight Super Lover doesn’t quite understand why he’s getting all hot and bothered in the presence of a 14 y.o. boy.

“My dad is kinda weird about sports,” I say, shrugging my nice thick shoulders. “I never learned how to do anything.”

Which is how I find myself in his apartment on New Years’s Day eating his popcorn, drinking his beer, and watching his color console television set.

When the commercials come on, every time, I do 100 perfect push-ups, all with my shirt off. By this time I outweigh him by a good 10 pounds of solid muscle and I can see his chubby in his baggy gym shorts. More to the point I can see all that fucking hot fur on his big thick chest and beefy arms. The boy spent a year playing for the Cards, after all, and it shows.

I roll over and look up at him.

“Let’s wrestle….”

We say it both at the same time.

He takes me home when the last bowl game is over but I don’t know any of the scores.

My dad announces:

“I’m giving up beer…”

Not.

The.

Same.


My 15th birthday rolls around and my parents make me go in for a physical.

The nurse measures me:

5’10½” tall.
200 pounds.
Blood pressure 118 over 60, resting heart rate about 60 beats per minute.

“I’m not sure why your parents sent you here,” the doc says to me. “You’re an exceptionally healthy, well-built young man.”

I grin at him.

“I think it’s the fact I’ve put on 50-60 pounds in the past year.”

“Well, you are big for your age, at least in terms of muscle, but that’s not completely out of the ordinary. Just enjoy it!”

Heh.

Just enjoy it!

If he only knew.

That spring I tried out for 10th grade football. Ronnie had showed me all his moves. “Where the hell have you been hiding this kid,” the other coaches wanted to know. I went straight to varsity, never having played a game in my life.

And so it went.

At 16 I was 220. I outweighed Pat, the bleached blond surfer god, by 40 pounds of solid muscle.

At 17 I was 235, with a 55-inch chest and my biceps were 20 inches cold.

At 18 I was 250 and the first high school football player in history to bench more than 500 pounds (and I did it for reps.)

By then, of course, I’d figured out which ones of my classmaters (and teachers) were secretly gay. One or two of the flamboyant ones, a whole slew of jocks, a couple of teachers. Surprisingly, most of my little geeky nerd friends turned out to be resolutely straight.

I slept with all of them, of course. For a highly recognized scholar / athlete (I did as well in the classroom as I did on the playing field), I maintained a remarkably unassuming, affable air.

While shtupping them right and left.

Not. The. Same. At. All.

The spring of 1976 Jimmy Carter, seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, comes to town. My dad, his newly minted B.A. in history, is a member of the editorial board and the unequivocally proud father of the hottest high school jock in Florida, who just happens to also be an aspiring student journalist.

“Governor Carter,” I say, shaking his small hand, “there’s something you need to know.”

We are enveloped in a cone of silence. The world stops while I tell him:

“In November 1979 Iranian revolutionaries will overthrow the Shah, then take over the American embassy. They will hold the embassy personnel hostage for 444 days, ensuring your defeat for re-election at the hands of, God forbid, Ronald Reagan.”

He looks at me with those ice blue eyes (“the coldest eyes I’ve ever seen,” my dad tells me later), and says:

“Son, are you okay? That’s crazy talk.”

I shake my head.

“Governor, I know it sounds crazy. And it’s going to happen. So watch out.”

I go off to Vanderbilt on a full football / full academic scholarship, turning down every other school in the SEC, plus Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, USC, and UCLA. I start every game from the beginning of my freshman year. For the first time in its history, Vanderbilt has winning seasons, three seasons in a row.

On January 1, 1979, Vanderbilt beats Georgia Tech in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, a stunning upset. President Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter watch the game from the sky box of the Super Dome.

Immediately after the game, a squad of Secret Service agents enter the locker room and approach the game’s MVP, the hulking, bearded 300-pound Vanderbilt center.

“What can I do for you fellas?” I ask when they march up to me. I’m wearing large towel and nothing else, the water still running off my hulking 24 inch biceps and mountainous, furry 60 inch pecs.

“The President would like a word with you.”

I lift an eyebrow and continue toweling off.

“About the game?” I ask, knowing the answer.

The head Secret Service guy, who is licking his lips and appearing to be a bit uncomfortable, shakes his head.

“Ah,” I say. “He remembered.”


“Son,” the President drawls, “How did you know this was going to happen?”

“Sir,” I answer, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

The Secret Service agent, the cute one, cuts in.

“There were Iranian air force flyers in Pensacola at the time.”

I look at him.

“That was three years ago and I was 18 at the time. Besides, they’re all seeking political asylum here, right?”

He nods, tightlipped.

“Not likely to support the Revolution, are they?”

Again with the tight lips.

“Perhaps you should tell us what you do know, not how you know it” the President continues, waving me to a plush arm chair. “I think this is going to take a while.”

So I tell him, well-aware that the tape recorder (reel-to-reel, very fancy) is capturing every word.

Reagan.

The hostages flying home 1 minute after Carter leaves office.

Iran Contra. “Arms for hostages.”

Mondale and “Where’s the beef.”

Dukakis, Bush I, Kuwait, Saddam Hussein, Clinton, Dole, the Twin Towers, Osama, Bush II, Afghanistan, Iraq, Al-Qaeda, McCain, Obama.

“Obama? Really?”

And all the rest, what of it I can remember.

“But things have changed so who knows?”

The President considers this statement, then asks.

“In what way?”

I sigh.

“In so many ways. I wasn’t this then. I was a nerdy closeted kid, not at all sure what I was going to be. Vanderbilt didn’t win the 1979 Sugar Bowl but we just did. Who knows what could happen?”

It’s the President’s turn to sigh.

“I’ve read Heinlein, you know. I understand the paradox. Then again…”

I lean back in the leather conference chair and pinch my nose. I haven’t had a migraine since waking up in Pensacola in 1972 but I feel one coming on now.

“Sir,” I say, sitting up and looking him straight in the eye. “I don’t know why this has happened to me, or how. I only know that the world is a different place than I remember it. I have changed my history already. You can do the same thing.”

He nods to the Secret Service squad and they lead me back to locker room. I’ve been talking for hours, the Super Dome is deserted, my teammates and coaches long gone, waiting for me to return to the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street.

The Secret Service guys stop, as I somehow knew they would.

I keep walking.

I hear a click.

I don’t why I know but I know it’s a .38, a Saturday night special, most recently filched from a New Orleans hustler.

I know what the headline will say in tomorrow’s New Orleans Times-Picayune: Star Athlete Felled By Saturday Night Special: Lovers’ Tryst Gone Wrong?

[RESET]

I’m half-awake but my eyes are closed, my boner throbbing, the sheets slightly sticky from a summer night’s Gulf Coast humidity, the soft breeze gently rattling the venetian blinds at the head of my narrow bed…


Groundhog Day…

“No, it’s not,” my brother says, yawning, from the adjoining bed. “That’s in February. Today is the last day of school.”

I rub the back of my head. It’s there, so I guess that’s a start.

“This is one fucking vivid dream…”

“Potty mouth.”

I spend the next week thinking it over. My second stab at ages 14-20 are just as clear in my memory as the first (plus the 13 years before and 30 years afterwards.)

What now, I wonder?

“I was thinking about buying a weight bench,” my dad says. “They have ‘em on sale at K-Mart. Would you use it?”

Well, that’s different, I think to myself.

“Sure thing, Dad, I’ll show you what to do,” I say, making him chuckle.

He does and I do. This time I skip the wrestling team and the football team.

“I’m in it for myself,” I tell them.

Two years later I’m once again packing 220 pounds of solid muscle on my 16-year-old bod and I’m working up the nerve to tell my dad I want to enter a bodybuilding contest. One day in the gym, Mike, the other surfer god, someone I’ve been lusting over (inside my head) for going on 40 years, asks me for pointers.

“I’ll teach you how to surf,” he offers, smiling that dazzling white smile of his.

Shit, I think to myself, I thought he was straight.

I thought wrong, apparently.

Every day after school we head to the beach in his baby blue 1969 VW Squareback.

I’m no better at surfing than I thought I would be but he’s just as good in the weight room as I knew he would be. (Shit, the kid was built like a little brick shit house when he was 13, fer godsakes.)

At the beach, one evening, curled up in each other’s arms, a little (highly illegal) campfire in front of us. He’s just popped my cherry (I’d popped his a few weeks earlier) and our glow is visible on Skylab.

“I love you,” he says, and I hold his face in my hands while my tongue explores his exquisitely hot, wet, soft, minty fresh mouth.

The sand crunches, heavy footsteps, his eyes widen.

“Who?” I ask.

The world goes black.


My eyes open, the room doesn’t want to focus.

I smell disinfectant, bedpans, freesia. I hear rubber-soled shoes on linoleum, a PA system, doors opening and closing, beeps and clicks.

“What were you and Mike doing there?”

It’s my dad, jutting his jaw in his patented angry look, although I can’t recall ever having seen him this angry looking.

“Mike!” I blurt. “Where’s Mike? What happened?”

My dad looks down, sighs. The anger drains out of him like coolant from a broken radiator.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “Mike didn’t make it.”

I start to cry.

“Look, I…”

“It’s okay, Dad,” I tell him. “It is what you think it was.”

He turns bright red.

“You had one, too, didn’t you?”

His eyes fly open, the vein in his temple throbs dangerously.

“How…?”

I shake my head.

“It’s not the same, though. I know you and Jimmy must have been good buds and apparently he copped your cherry. But you’re not gay, not much anyway, not with two wives and three kids…”

His jaw is hanging open now. He’d never told us about his first wife, much less his high school affair with Jimmy.

“It’ll be okay, Dad. I’m not telling anyone.”

The lights go out again.


Mike’s parents gave me the VW Squareback. I’m standing next to it at the high point of the three-mile bridge, looking down a hundred feet at the choppy waters of Pensacola Bay.

“I’m tired of this,” I say to no one in particular. “I didn’t ask for it either. And if Bill Murray is any indication, I’m going to get to do it again, aren’t I?”

I get back in the VW and drive home.


Two years later I graduate from high school and immediately move to New York. I’ll never be a movie star but I’m built like a Mack truck and I’m primped within an inch of my life.

Within a month I have a sugar daddy richer than sin and I’ve partied with Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, and Elton John, among others.

I’m good in bed, equally happy on top or bottom, and they don’t mind the not-so-big dick considering I’ve got an 18-year-old’s stamina and a body to die for.

“You are very handsome and oh so very young,” says the hot flight attendant, the sexy French man from Quebec.

“You’re not much older than I am,” I point out. “You’re what? 23, 24?”

Gaetan Dugas gives a shake of that lovely dark mane.

“Twenty-five,” he tells me, just turned.

We go to my place. He does indeed have a lovely piece and he’s very energetic. I fuck him for a very long time, so long that eventually he tires and tells me to stop, but I don’t.

“Really,” he says, panting, “enough already.”

I put my square, muscular hand across his mouth and keep humping his ass. His eyes widen but I see that the thought of role-playing turns him on. He gets his second wind and minutes later he’s coming again, his eyes rolling back in his head.

I straddle his hips as he lays there panting.

He doesn’t see me pick up the foam pillow.


“Son,” the judge says, “It breaks my heart to hand down this sentence.”

“You had it all. Youth, beauty, intelligence, a loving family. And yet you threw all that away for debauchery in Gotham. Debauchery that must have unhinged you, in some fashion, because nothing else explains your treatment of poor Gaetan Dugas.”

He sits there, staring at me.

“What did he ever do to you?”

I look back at him. I have to try hard not to yawn. I know where this is going.

“It’s what he won’t do to others, Your Honor.”

The gavel bangs.

“I sentence you…”


At the prison I’m very popular.

“All I ask is that you live the little fucks alone, Big Leroy.”

Big Leroy was very happy with me but not happy enough. He had his eye on Charlie, that effeminate little douche bag from Jersey. While I was pulling Leroy off of Charlie’s broken little body, Fat Joey’s shiv severed my spinal cord right at the base of my skull.

[RESET]

Not

I’m half-awake but my eyes are closed, my boner throbbing, the sheets slightly sticky from a summer night’s Gulf Coast humidity, the soft breeze gently rattling the venetian blinds at the head of my narrow bed.

again…


No more playing hero, I think to myself.

I get the weight set, I get the contact lenses, I get the haircut. By Christmas, I’m 200 pounds of solid muscle, smoking hot.

I get the stud assistant football coach.

I get caught.

“What are you,” my dad yells, “some kinda faggot?”

I look at him.

“Two words,” I say. “Jimmy Smith.”

“Get outta my house,” he says, “and don’t come back.”

I hitchhike to New Orleans and live on the street, turning tricks, one of whom runs a gym. Another becomes my first sugar daddy, keeping me fed, keeping me clothed, turning a blind eye to the fact that I’m all of 14 years old.

That spring I take the SAT, even though I’m a high school drop-out. 780 verbal, 750 math. I apply to Tulane and they don’t ask for a high school transcript. Full academic scholarship. My buds beg me to try out for football—the Green Wave hasn’t been having much luck lately—but I turn ‘em down.

“Bodybuilding for me this time,” I tell ‘em.

“This time?”

I shake my head and go back to the gym.

I graduate from Tulane at 18, a couple of weeks after winning my first pro bodybuilding contest. At 5’10½” tall and 275 pounds of solid muscle, I make Arnold and Franco and Zane, all a dozen years or more older than I am, look like weaklings.

I’m at Oz in the Men’s Room when he walks in. My jaw drops.

The 43rd president of the United States.

“Jeez,” he exclaims when he catches sight of me, “You are one damn big motherfucker.”

I don’t believe this, I tell myself. It’s New Orleans but this is Oz, fer Gawd’s sake, the most notorious gay bar in America.

While he does his business (little pecker, no surprise there), I put on a little show for him in front of the mirror, sticking out my fucking huge chest, squaring my giant shoulders, flaring my awesome lats.

He sidles up to me, washing his hands, saying, “Gee, you must workout, huh?”

I turn to him and give him a double bi. It’s 1976 and 24 inch biceps aren’t supposed to have been invented yet but I have ‘em.

He blanches, backs up against the wall. He rubs his nose, licks his lips, totally mesmerized. I lean my arm against the wall, looking him in the eye, or trying to (they dart nervously back and forth.)

“You want some blow?” he asks. “I’ve got some back at my room.”

I give him my winning smile (the one sugar daddy #2 paid for halfway through my sophomore year at Tulane.)

“You bet…”

We go back to the Fairmont and I fuck his brains out (I skip the blow.)

Gaetan Dugas, I think, did less harm than this man will do.

“Be good to Laura,” I tell him when I leave (he’s begging me to spend the night).

He freezes, like he’s been poleaxed.

“Laura who?”

Oh, that’s right, I tell myself. They won’t meet until next year.

“You’ll know soon enough,” I say over my shoulder as I head to the elevator.

No more hero.


I move to New York where I am a staff writer for the New York Times. My colleagues are amused, amazed, astounded, annoyed that I’m so young, so big, so built, so good at what they do.

My body, my age, and my byline give me unparalleled access to the City’s Upper Crust, especially the A-list gays. Truman Capote, weeping in his cosmo, tells me how it all went wrong. Tennessee Williams, drugged out of his mind, just slobbers on me. I fuck Elton’s brains out but he’s moaning “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie…” while he’s jizzing. I leave him a coupon for Baskin Robbins on my way out.

The threeway with Bette and Barry is fun (who’s the fag, who’s the hag?) but I’m at the bath house for another reason, a reason who shows up at 4 a.m.

“You’re so hot,” I tell him, leaning over him the same way I leaned over our future 43rd President.

“Moi?” he squeaks. Hey, he’s French-Canadian, he can say “moi” if he wants.

Two hours later he’s had six orgasms and I’m ready to go again.

“Non, non, non,” he murmurs, “c’est impossible!”

I cuddle him. I caress him. I own him.

Our commitment ceremony is covered by the Times, a first. He gives up his job as a flight attendant. He’s five years older than I am but I make 10 times as much money.

The diagnosis, Kaposi’s sarcoma, comes a year later, June 1979. Thanks to my work on the health sciences beat, I am able to arrange contacts with Robert Gallo at the National Cancer Institute and Luc Montagnier at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. In January Gaetan dies in my arms at his parents home in Quebec City.

My story, “My lover, my life, my disease,” appears two weeks later in TIME magazine, introducing AIDS to the general public, and winning me the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. In January 1981, while attending the swearing in ceremony for Ronald Reagan, I meet my old friend George.

“It’s like this…” I tell him. “You will move heaven and earth to get your daddy to make this his signature issue.”

He smirks.

“Or what?”

I raise an eyebrow.

“I tell all…”

He turns red.

“You wouldn’t…”

A week later George Herbert Walker Bush, Vice President of the United States, accepts the honorary chairmanship of the National AIDS Foundation.

“We will do everything possible to end this horrible plague,” President Reagan says at his press conference that evening.

I’m watching from my apartment in the West Village, a glass of champagne in my hand.

“You’ve done a good thing, Gaetan,” I say, raising my glass.

The door of my apartment bursts open, as I knew it would. His daddy wasthe head of the CIA, after all. There are three of them, heavily armed, all in black.

No more hero, I think to myself.

[RESET]

I’m half-awake but my eyes are closed, my boner throbbing, the sheets slightly sticky from a summer night’s Gulf Coast humidity, the soft breeze gently rattling the venetian blinds at the head of my narrow bed.

I grab my crotch and think of Farrah. The hair, the boobs, the hips, the tan…

I sit bolt upright.

What the fuck?!


Jeez, I think. Wasn’t expecting that!

I’m 14 and I’m straight.

I look at a woman, I hear a woman, I smell a woman, fer Chrissake, and it’s instant boner time.

Except that I remember being a gay man.

I remember being totally turned on by muscle.

I know what it’s like to have slept with, well, uh, a lot of guys!

Now?

I look at a guy and, nothing. I know which ones are handsome, I know which ones would have turned me on, and…

Zip

Zero

Nada

Zilch

Plus I remember what a gay man knows about women; for that matter, I remember what it’s like to be a gay man who’s been married to a woman!

I think to myself. This is gonna rock!


So, again, the weight bench, the contact lenses, braces too. I have more hair products than Christian Bale channeling Brett Easton Ellis. My skin regimen would make Lady Olay proud.

I don’t have pick-up lines. I have total self-confidence. And I like older women.

Not juniors and seniors.

Teachers.

Women teachers.

They have a hard time resisting the 14-year-old with the big jock bod, the perfect tan, the perfect hair, the perfect teeth, and the total (unassuming, not out there) self-confidence.

More so than any 14-year-old that’s ever lived, I know what I want, they know I know what I want, and I know what they want, which totally flips them out (and turns them on.)

It’s like that all through high school.

Captain of the football team, king of the homecoming court, the guy all the guys are jealous of, but, hey, it’s cool, I don’t compete on that score. If all the girls and most of the teachers and half of the guys swoon when I walk by, it’s not because I’m muscling in on Mike or Pat or Ray or Chris.

“You are one fucking cool dude,” they tell me, my fellow straight dudes, and then they talk and talk, and I listen. They’ve never been listened to, before, and they will remember me years later as the best friend they ever had.

On occasion, one of ‘em will offer to suck my dick, and I’ll say, “dude, thanks, that’s quite a compliment, but, I dunno, a guy’s mouth does absolutely nothing for me, ya know?”

They nod their heads and say, yeah, “I know, I just wonder sometimes what it’s all about,” and then I tell ‘em, “sucking is sucking, kissing is kissing, fucking is fucking, man,” and their eyes get big and the next time they start to call someone “cocksucker” or “fudgepacker” they stop and come up with something else to say.

Every once in a while one of them doesn’t want to take “no” for an answer and I have to say, “man, give it a rest, okay? You wouldn’t be the first that’s tried, it just doesn’t work for guys,” and he will turn bright red and stammer something and I’ll say, “dude, it’s okay, it doesn’t mean I don’t like you, that’s not gonna change. We’re buds, okay?” And a fagling learns that it’s okay to be friend with a straight boy.

There’s a downside, though.

She’s not interested in me.

“You think you’re all that and a bag of chips,” she tells me in Fratin 2½. I protest but it does no good.

“I’m not interested in fast boys, thanks very much.”

And I can’t deny I’m fast, having slept with, well, a lot of our classmates by that time.

Not in this lifetime, I tell myself.

But we know how that goes, don’t we?

As I’ve done a thousand times before in the (how many?) times I’ve lived these years before, I think again:

Why? Why me? What purpose is this serving?

When is it going to stop?


Some of this has been just too weird, I think.

I mean, really, I know I could have been more athletic as a kid and I’m pretty sure I could have been a pretty good amateur bodybuilder.

But captain of the football team?

Athletic scholarship to University of Michigan?

To play football?

Get real!

And yet here I am, in this freshman dance class, not the only guy, but definitely the only straight guy, and the first football player in Michigan history to take modern dance.

You know why, right?

She doesn’t think much of me but my plan works. She’s not expecting the big time jock to be a po’mo intellectual, derisively critiquing Bergman and Woody Allen at the same time. It doesn’t hurt that I know all of the dialogue from De Duve by heart.

“Phallikon seem bowl?” I ask, when I finally get her naked, and she nearly wets herself laughing.

Afterwards, I say, “listen to me now,” and time stops.

I lay it out before her, New York and the Breakfast Club and Sean and Carlos and Lolo and Sex and Andrew Lloyd Weber and Guy.

She’s forgotten to breathe.

“You’ll have all that,” I tell her, “but do you want it? Or would you rather…”

I whisper in her ear, what might be instead of what might have been, and she cums, just from me telling her.

It’s a done deal.

We move in together, much to Tony’s chagrin, but he keeps paying her bills, especially when he realizes what the alternative is.

I never touch another woman but I don’t ask her to reciprocate.

“Choose wisely,” I tell her, “there’s a lot riding on it.”

I keep playing football, Heisman trophy.

We graduate summa cum laude (I double major in political science and Arabic), we go to Harvard Law, we’re the IT couple. She edits the Law Review, I help get Mike Dukakis elected Governor of Massachusetts.

We marry on Cape Cod and head back to Michigan (God I hate that place), the prestigious law firm for me, Department of Consumer Affairs for her. The money roles in, the media love her just as much in Liz Claiborne and pearls, no bustier required. The first baby shows up 10 months later.

In 1988, Jim Blanchard doesn’t know what hit him. It doesn’t hurt that she wins 90% of the vote among Detroit’s huge Arab American population, thanks to endless door-to-dooring on my part. At 30 she’s the youngest governor in the United States, displacing Bill Clinton, who in the future will always think twice about trying to grope a pregnant woman.

In 1992, pregnant with our third, she wins re-election, despite the crappy economy. She carries Michigan for Bill, I carry water for Hillary on the (doomed, doomed, doomed) health care task force.

In 1996 she runs for the Senate and it’s her coattails, not Bill’s, that carry Michigan for the ticket. My reward: # 2 at DoJ with Big Janet.

We ride out Monicagate and impeachment, walking an incredibly fine line, supporting the President while disdaining his behavior, blasting his opponents without rationalizing Bill’s zipper problem.

We’re early supporters of Al, we’re from a swing state, we’re pro-choice Catholics with four kids, it was a no brainer. McCain and that non-entity he chose for a running-mate, the Governor of Florida (aka “Baby Boy Bush”) didn’t stand a chance.

January 20, 2001 I’m standing behind her when Chief Justice Rehnquist, that fucking sour puss, intones:

“Do you, Madonna Louise Ciccone, solemnly swear to uphold the office of Vice-President of the United States?”

Six months later, to the day, I stand in front of Lady Justice and announce the capture of Osama bin Laden, implicated in the attacks on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen and the World Trade Center in New York.

“Terror is the tactic of small men with no regard for human life. It flies in the face of all that is human and all that is holy, whatever one’s faith. Let us live our faiths by embracing the rule of law, not the tactics of small men.”

Two months later I stand on a balcony of a hotel with a splendid view of Jerusalem’s Dome on the Rock. Because of the work I have done behind the scenes, the President has asked me to be present with him for the signing of the comprehensive peace accord to be signed the next day by Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat.

It’s September 11, 2001, and I wince as a new sun rises above the dome.

[RESET]

I’m half-awake but my eyes are closed, my boner throbbing, the sheets slightly sticky from a summer night’s Gulf Coast humidity, the soft breeze gently rattling the venetian blinds at the head of my narrow bed.

That was fucking harsh, I think.


That was fucking harsh.

Indeed, and the residue lasts a long time.

Again with the weight bench, the contact lenses, the braces, the haircut, but this time it’s just s.o.p., no joy.

People start using words like “somber” and “determined” and “somehow sad.” I skip the sports, skip most anything that involves hanging out with other people.

I’m still pleasant enough. I’m still quick with an answer or an observation in class but not the kind that cracks people up. Just the opposite, in fact; my observations tend to make people think, if they’re capable of thinking at all (for many of my classmates my comments fly right over their heads.)

They don’t hang out with me, no matter how handsome and buff and articulate I’ve become.

“It’s like he’s radioactive or something,” I overhear one teacher telling another.

If only she knew, I think.

“He’s weird,” says the other.

My only real passion is muscle. I put in the hours doing the weights, doing the cardio, eating big, lifting big, sleeping big. The coaches all beg me to do sports, they don’t care what, football, baseball, wrestling, you name.

“Powerlifting?” I ask.

Their eyes glaze over. I think they’d be more receptive to bodybuilding. They don’t know what powerlifting is, actually.

I graduate from high school at 225 pounds of solid muscle, 19-inch arms to go along with my 19-inch neck, and take the academic scholarship to a small college in southern California. That’s where I meet Mark, a blue-eyed computer geek with a scraggly mustache and an already receding hairline.

He’s an inch or so taller than I am but 150 pounds max. We have a couple of classes together, then I see him in the weight room.

My lip quivers in a smirk.

Yep, I think to myself, I thought you were that Mark.

In some other life Mark is a middle-aged muscle daddy, an unrequited lust object for the last 15 years of my first life. Here he’s watching me work out as if his life depends on it, the lust for muscle coming off him like steam off of hot asphalt after a summer’s downpour.

“Hey,” I say, and he gulps, swear to God.

I teach him about muscle, I teach him about sex, and I remember what it’s like to love someone, love life.

By the time we graduate we’re the two biggest guys on campus, although I still outweigh him by 30-40 pounds.

We move to the Bay Area, he starts working for that Big IT Firm and I think, “what the heck, let’s give it a try,” and start competing in the bodybuilding arena. Everyone knows I’m gay, that Mark and I go home together after the gym, after the show, but we’re not out there, don’t need to be.

I win my pro card when I’m 25, my first Olympia when I’m 28.

Two years later Mark’s younger sister delivers twins, a boy and a girl with names that give me pause, considerable pause.

In 1990 I win my 5th Olympia and a week later Mary and Henry are killed in a plane crash on their way home to Sacramento. The twins are with Mark’s parents, who are older, not so healthy, and distraught.

We adopt them, with no particular quibbles from Henry’s family, and I come out.

“I won’t raise my children pretending to be someone other than who I really am,” I tell the bodybuilding press.

My career, naturally, is over.

I write a book, I start a magazine. I may be out of the closet and out of the competition but I’m not out of the game.

I make appearances on the gay lecture circuit, sometimes Mark and the kids come along with me (great way to get a free vacation!)

In 1992 I’m an honorary marshal at Atlanta’s Gay Pride celebration and…

What the fuck was I thinking?

He’s there with Emory’s Rainbow Student Association, just exactly as I remembered him. He’s delighted to meet me, compliments me on having let my fur grow out, totally obviously in lust.

We go back to Colony Square and I let him fuck my brains out. I’m the first man he’s ever fucked, I’m two inches taller than he is, 12 years older than he is, and at 270 pounds of topnotch muscle I weigh literally twice as much.

He’s so happy, so delighted, and I let him know how much I’m enjoying it. How great it is for him to be who he is, for me to be who I am, how much fun it is to play with a little guy (5’8½” tall, 135 pounds sopping wet) since Mark, not unreasonably, only gets into other big guys.

“He wouldn’t like me?”

I snort.

“Oh, he’d like you all right. You’re as cute as a bug in a rug and you know it. The two of you would have a blast—everywhere but in bed. Little guys don’t make his weenie tingle, so unless you’re willing to pack on about 60-70 pounds that’s not on the radar.”

God, I think to myself, how much longer can I do this?

The sun comes up and he takes himself home.

I cry and cry and cry, sobbing in the hotel room, silently in the lobby, in the cab, on the plane.

“You look like death warmed over,” Mark says when I get home. “What the hell’s the matter?”

I tell him about it.

“You’re leaving me?” he asks.

At that I have to laugh.

“God, no,” I answer, wrapping my arms around him. “It’s just…”

He looks at me.

“Just what…?”

I sigh.

How to tell him that I’ve met my one true love? The one who died at 30? That I’m on my what, 5th or 6th reiteration, and that it seems horribly, horribly unfair?

“It’s okay,” I tell him. “I just saw something of myself in him, something that burns brighter in him than it ever will in me.”

Mark takes my hand.

“How could it?”

By that time the magazine is practically running itself and for the most part I stay home with the kids, writing the monthly editorial, making the occasional appearance, scheduling my gym time for when the kids are in school.

It’s a good life and it rolls on and on. The kids are incredibly fun, incredibly engaging, oh, so ready to live, so eager to bounce back from whatever hurts come their way. In our part of California they’re not the only kids with a couple of gaydads “but nobody else has two muscledaddies,” they say in unison, and we try not to laugh out loud.

On the 4th of July, 2001, we’re just back from a week in Maui, the kids are in the pool, Mark is grilling burgers and veggies, I’m standing on the sidelines, surveying our domain. I’m 43 years old.

Richard

I hear a voice, his voice.

I look around, knowing I must be imagining things.

Richard, again, this time louder, this time clearer.

I realize the voice is inside my head.

It’s time

My brain explodes.

[RE

No

fucking

way

SET]

I’m half-awake but my eyes are closed, my boner throbbing, the sheets slightly sticky from a summer night’s Gulf Coast humidity, the soft breeze gently rattling the venetian blinds at the head of my narrow bed.

I sit bolt upright.

“I demand to speak to the One in Charge!” I bellow.


“I demand to speak to the One in Charge!” I bellow.

[RESET?]

Oh, crap, I think, I really detest gameshows.

Yet it’s entirely obvious I’m on a game show set, minus anything as useful as a video camera or a microphone or even lights.

“And, now, ladies and gentleman, our next contestant…”

I frown. That voice sounds amazingly familiar for anyone who has watched as much Roddenberry-inspired SF as I have.

The host swings in front of me, seated in a snazzy little contraption that allows him to move up, down and sideways.

“I’m your host, John de Lancie, and…”

I burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” he asks, never missing a beat.

“A Star Trek Voyager episode? Puhleeze! Your next line will be ‘we wanted to create a comfortable setting for you.’”

“We wanted to create a comfortable…hey, cut that out!”

I roll my eyes.

“So what’s the deal, John? Is it time to review my life—or should I say, ‘my lives?’”

He gives me a thumbs up.

“Roll the film, Life # 1.”

The wife, the kids, the coming out, the adorable husband who dies too young, the wonderful guy who helps me pick up the pieces and makes me laugh every day.

The stolen election, Crawford’s Missing Idiot, the Twin Towers, Evil Lord Cheney, Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, peak oil, petrostate autocracy.

“Yeah, yeah,” I mutter, “been there, done that.”

The screen goes blank.

“Life # 2.”

High school hero, chance meeting with a Presidential candidate, a whispered revelation of things to come, a .38 special in the Super Dome.

No embassy hostages, no Reagan Revolution, an even hastier end to the Soviet Union, a radical nationalist successor to Gorbachev, the assassination of President Mondale, the coup against President Ferraro, nuclear fireballs over Moscow and Washington.

My mouth gapes.

“Uh…”

“Life # 3, in that case.”

The murdered high school heart throb, High Society, Cruising meets American Psycho, the end of Patient Zero, my own private episode of “Meet Ted Bundy,” a knife in the back.

HIV takes a different path, “New Heartache in Africa” is the headline of Time’s January 1980 cover story.

Within two years the disease is endemic in the African population, the developed world panics, locking down travel into and out of the continent, the Chinese claiming the disease is a Western fabrication to oppress the world’s people of color.

It doesn’t matter. Airborne HIV is identified in the UK in 1985, the carrier a pale, skinny Goth boy from Hull. Economies shatter, trade and travel cease, mass starvation rears its head again in China, the Soviet Union, Africa, even parts of Latin America.

The televangelists and the racists have a field day but even in America, the people rally, refusing to bow before famine and pestilence, fighting the good fight. CO2 emissions are down, there’s no hole in the Ozone layer, the Emergency Corps is churning out health care assistants like there’s no tomorrow.

“Maybe there isn’t…” I mutter.

De Lancie cocks an eyebrow at me.

“Are you ready for Life # 4?”

Gimme a break…


“Let’s make it snappy,” I tell him. “I’m getting tired of this.”

His next words chill my soul…

“And yet we’ve barely started.”

The lights dim, the images rush across the screen:

The confrontation with my father, life on the streets, adolescent prodigy, the confrontation with the Cokehead Who Would Be King, Patient Zero dying in my arms, a Pulitzer at 21, an early, vigorous response to HIV, three blue-eyed ninjas in a West Village apartment.

The Cokehead’s daddy chaired the National AIDS Foundation but the junior senator from Tennessee made combating HIV his signature legislative agenda. In February 1989 President Gore, a month after taking office as our youngest chief executive ever, announces The Cure. “Together we can do anything and together we shall,” he tells the joint session of Congress, which uses The Cure as a springboard for passing the nation’s first universal health care legislation.

Gore and his vice-president, Ann Richards of Texas, prove to be an unbeatable combination, tag-teaming domestic and foreign policy issues with such finesse that the GOP is reduced to fielding unelectable candidates totally beholden to right-wing evangelicals.

In 1997 President Richards bestows the National Science Medal to the inventor of the Personal Fusion Reactor, the PFR, popularly known as the “Puffer.” The price oil plummets to $3 per barrel, prompting the collapse of Petrostate economies and the rise of violent extremist groups dedicated to restoration of the status quo.

On September 11, 2001, President Richards is assassinated by a deranged bankrupt oilman, former Congressman Dick Cheney of Wyoming, when Cheney crashes his G5 personal jet into the White House.

Vice-President Hillary Rodham Clinton is sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States aboard the Virgin Queen, Richard Branson’s first orbital resort. “Terror is a tactic of small-minded men,” the new president intones, floating before the hastily rigged presidential podium in VQ’s Grand Ballroom. “We shall never surrender to it.”

“Damn,” I say. “Where are…?”

“The flying cars? You’ll have to wait another 10 years for that.”

In the meantime…

“Roll Life # 5…”

Football, Michigan, a dance class that changes everything, as if being straight weren’t change enough. Law school, politics, political upsets, the Twin Towers still stand, Jerusalem is reduced to slag.

The new President is every bit a showman in this life as she was in that other one, leading the nation as it grieves her predecessor, all the while consoling her four young daughters, mourning their lost father, her lost husband.

Moral authority is not squandered, terrorists are brought to justice, a new international security framework rises from the ashes, a profound rethinking of the fossil fuel dependency that allowed such a thing to come to pass.

At the Olympics in Beijing, the President and her daughters ogle Michael Phelps, receive rapturous applause wherever they go, endure endless fetes on the part of the grateful Chinese government.

For once, in a very long time, all is right with the world.

And yet, I think.

“It’s not over yet,” De Lancie reminds me.

The hard part is still ahead of me.


“You know,” I say, “I really don’t want to see any more…”

De Lancie raises a quizzical eyebrow.

“Are you sure?”

I nod.

“Totally…”

The scene dissolves, the gameshow set replaced by a Parisian sidewalk cafe (not that I’d know, never having been to Paris, but that looks a lot like the Eiffel Tower over there so I guess I’ll go with the flow…)

“What’s this all about?” I ask, sipping my latte.

Morgan Freeman leans back in his chair.

“Well, what do you think it’s about?”

I list the options:

(1) I’m in a coma in Buffalo, having finally done in by my habitual sweet tooth, and it’s all a dream;

(2) Lord Buddha has come up with a novel variation with respect to the transmigration of souls and I’m in Bardo;

(3) Coyote the Trickster has decided to play havoc with my somewhat over-the-top wish-fulfillment tendencies;

(4) Well, who the hell knows, that’s why I’m asking!

“Besides, Morgan Freeman?”

“You prefer Woody Allen?” the nebbishy guy in the big black glasses asks.

“I was thinking more along the lines of Margaret Cho,” I snap back.

Ellen puts Her sneakered-feet on one of the spare chairs and feeds baguette to les pigeons, alas.

“Acceptable compromise,” I allow. “Congratulations on the nuptials, by the way, I wasn’t keeping track.”

She sips espresso, then clears her throat.

“Um, well, it’s like this. More # 2 than the others, although technically speaking I’m not, uh, ya know, Lord Buddha, and this isn’t actually, like, Bardo.”

And you’re NOT actually Ellen and you can dispense with the verbal tics, I think.

“Oh, well, if you insist,” She replies, answering my thought.

“The thing is, Richard, you are—or were—a young soul.”

I look at her expectantly.

“Yes? And? Something I didn’t know already?”

She frowns, sighs, shrugs. How the hell does Portia deal with this?

“I heard that!”

I spread my hands, whatcha want me to say?

“There are too many of them,” She continues. “Young souls, that is. The population has grown too quickly in the past century. The number of people living NOW exceeds the total population of humanity that existed previously.”

I roll my eyes.

“Yet another example of overshoot, you mean?”

She nods.

“Exactly. It’s upsetting the balance.”

I drum my fingers on the table. She has a point.

“And what about me?”

To give Her credit, She reddens noticeably.

“Think of it as an experiment. Take a young soul and give that being several opportunities to live his or her life. How would she do it differently? Can we make an Old Soul out of a Young Soul?”

I give her the fisheye.

“You’re trying to speed up production and I get to be the guinea pig? Oh, thanks a lot!”

She snorts her espresso.

“Well, really, Richard, it’s not like…”

I glare.

“Put me back in my body, dammit, put me back now.”

She looks guilty.

“Well, uh, like—and, no, I’m not acting, these are my verbal tics—which one?”

I roll my eyes.

“It doesn’t matter,” I tell Her, “and you know it. Even if we have more than one live to live, even if every possible life is a life that can and will exist, no one should have to experience the same life over and over again.”

She looks down at the baguette crumbs.

“But isn’t transcendence…?”

I snort.

“You know better than that. No shortcuts. Besides, we’re supposed to be aiming for integration, yes? I’ll wait my turn. Put me back where I belong.”

She sits up straight, straightens Her lapels.

“If you’re really sure…”

So very sure, I think.

[RESET]


Richard

All the voices, actually, everyone I’ve ever known, everyone I’ve ever loved.

Richard, wake up

I feel the soft, cool sheets, the light breeze and the reassuring sound of an oscillating fan.

“You gave us quite a scare there…”


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