Elsa, here are two more
forcing myself to carry on
Written by Rick Archer
- TIED TO A
don't think my tale of the Parking Lot Inferno will make
sense unless one accepts the power of Fear. Although
my Rejection Phobia is the clear villain of my saga, Fear is
not necessarily a bad thing. Fear protects us from
danger. We all understand that.
However, when Fear becomes over-protective to the point of
inhibiting normal behavior, it can be very difficult for the
fearful person to overcome their problem. Many fears,
or 'anxieties' if you prefer, are formed in childhood
when the child's mind is unable to comprehend what is going
on. These fears carry over into adulthood and make
people do crazy things. Take my friend Caroline
who nearly drowned as a child. For the rest of her life,
was so scared of a child's wading pool that she would walk
around it. Silly to her friends, but frightening to
The question I wrestled with was how to cure my own Phobia.
I had spent the second half
of my year at Colorado State looking for a solution. One of the
main conclusions of the 'Learned Helplessness'
study was that once those
dogs developed their fear of the buzzer and the subsequent shock, it was
nearly impossible to cure them of their fear.
So I asked Dr. Hilton about
it. "How does someone cure a Phobia?"
Dr. Hilton replied, "The
only way to cure a Phobia is to face one's fears directly."
"How many people
face their fears?"
Most people find it easier just to avoid the problem and
work around it."
It was one thing to avoid a
swimming pool or a bathtub, but another thing entirely to avoid women. At this point in my life, I
was facing ten solid years of failure with women. Every time I
tried again, it seemed like I got nowhere.
Every time things got too rough for me, I quit. Dr.
Hilton's words echoed in my mind... 'Most people find it easier just
to avoid the problem and work around it.'
I felt very frustrated by
that answer. If I ever intended to have the companionship of a
woman, I could not spend the rest of my life side-stepping my fear.
There had to be some way I could force myself to approach a pretty girl.
That conversation was six
months in the rearview mirror. Since then, I had made absolutely
no progress with women. Thanks to my failures with Debbie and
other women back at Colorado State and now Yolanda, I was on the verge
of avoiding women again. Desperate times call for desperate
measures and somehow this weird Courtesan book had
convinced me this dance class was the best way to climb out of this hole
I find myself in. Little did I suspect my first dance class would
test me to very depths of my being.
As the fog
in my mind from my first dance class cleared, something continued to nag at me. I
didn't care about the Gay Gauntlet anymore. Big deal. I
didn't care about David's insult anymore. He hurt my feelings, but
I was over it. I didn't even care about my lousy dancing. I
knew I was terrible, but now that I had set my mind to it, I figured I would get
there eventually. What bothered me the most were those River Oaks women. What
were those women doing in that class?
Ever since Connie's
girlfriends had laughed at me back at the college mixer, I was petrified
another woman would laugh at me when I danced. I had dealt with the problem by
avoiding dance ever since. Today several of those River Oaks women
had laughed at me. In fact,
those damn River Oaks women had pressed my button on
virtually every anxiety I possessed.
They made me feel ugly,
inappropriate, inferior and clumsy.
moment, I dreaded seeing
them again. However, since I
had survived once, I figured I would be ready for them the second time.
them a second time.' That thought fascinated me. When
Connie's girlfriends had laughed at me back in college, I quit dancing
for five years. This time I was ready to face my fears again.
Now after five years of walking around my own personal swimming pool, I
had faced a similar situation, but this time I was ready to try again.
What was the difference?
I knew the
answer. Connie and company had meant nothing to me. But the
River Oaks Seven symbolized nine long years of feeling inferior at St.
John's. To leave with these high and mighty women watching in
scorn as I turned tail and ran would be to admit those women were
superior to me.
was odd how well things worked out. After all, the hardest thing to do is
face one's fears directly. Ordinarily I would have run from those
women. Unfortunately... or fortunately depending on one's point of
view... today when those
River Oaks women laughed at me, I had been trapped.
Those seven women were standing between me and the door. To leave would mean
giving them the satisfaction of chasing me off, a triumph I was
unwilling to give them.
That is why I
believed my first dance class had 'Fate' written all over it.
Think about it. Most people would have quit once they discovered
how great the hurdle would be to acquire a relatively meaningless skill
such as dance. On the surface, a visit to a dance class should not
be any more complicated than taking a class on basket weaving, bridge,
or conversational Spanish. Ordinarily one would
not expect to walk into a basket weaving course and suddenly be
confronted with seven scornful demons straight out of one's tormented
past. Therefore this had not
been a normal dance class, but rather a Test, a trial by fire. For
whatever reason, the Universe had delivered a powerful gut punch to my
stomach to see whether I could take it or not. I won't say I aced
my test, but I did manage to get back up off the ground.
Over the years, I had developed a belief that some things happen to
me for a reason... whether I like it or not. I did not 'like'
what had happened to me one bit. On the other hand, that was
some very powerful medicine. In therapy, something like this is called
an 'Intervention' or a 'Confrontation'. To me, this class had all the earmarks
of a Cosmic Intervention. Please keep in mind this was conjecture on my part, but
that was how I perceived this experience. These women had been
placed in my way for a reason; I was sure of it.
thoughts returned to my therapist friend Dr. Hilton.
given that most people will do anything to avoid facing their fears, how
would you cure them if you were given complete control?"
Dr. Hilton had
a dark smile on his face.
could tie my patients to a tree and force them to confront their
fears against their will, I think I could cure a lot of people.
The fact that it is so easy to avoid one's fears is the main reason
no one ever gets any better. Since I cannot force a patient to
take a risk for their own good, I am forced to sit here and try to
persuade them instead.
Unfortunately, I usually don't get very far. When confronted
by a fear that can be avoided, it is human nature to take the easy
"Maybe I am
not being specific enough. How would you cure me if you had total
laughed. "Are you sure you want to know?"
easy. I would tie you to a tree and have one pretty girl after
another walk past you and yell 'Scarface, Scarface', then laugh at
you and maybe throw some dirt at you for good measure."
"Oh my God, I
would die if you did that to me!"
"Actually, no, you wouldn't. You would be in extreme pain for
a while, but you would eventually de-sensitize yourself to the
insults and get over it. Think about Jackie Robinson, the
first black baseball player. In his first year in the major
leagues, he was subjected to every racial insult known to man and he
never lashed out. Like Jackie Robinson, you would eventually
toughen up and be stronger for the experience."
dance class, Dr. Hilton's words felt prophetic.
rough treatment in my first dance class was akin to throwing Caroline into the
shallow end of the swimming pool against her will so she would see for herself that a five foot
woman could survive water that was three feet deep. No doubt
Caroline would scream bloody murder. I know this for a fact
because I wanted to scream bloody murder all morning long in class.
infantile part of my mind believed that having beautiful woman laugh at
me over my appearance, my scars, my dancing, and my social awkwardness
would kill me. So I had spent my life avoiding attractive women.
Today I had learned that no matter how mean these women were to me, I
The way I saw
it, the Universe had tied me to a tree in my first dance class and subjected
me to a jeering parade of scornful women. Not only had I lived, I
was stronger for the experience. Somewhere my
old friend Nietzsche had to be smiling. 'That
which doesn't kill you makes you stronger.'
So I asked the question
Who set me up? Who threw me in the swimming pool? I had never been
an overly-religious person. Although I believed in God, I
never went to church and I never prayed. In fact, I felt kind
of guilty at the moment. Earlier today I had more or less cursed
God for what seemed like my neverending cycle of bad luck. Now I
realized that this shock therapy was exactly what I had needed.
Maybe I owed God an apology. This Cosmic
Intervention had definitely snapped me out of my evil spell.
Indeed, the overall effect
of this day had been fairly miraculous. For the first time in ages, I had
stood my ground and shown some fight. Yes, those women had
intimidated me, but I had lived to fight another battle.
This is the
only way I can think of to explain why suddenly Dancing had become the
most important thing in my life. If I could learn to dance, maybe
I could cast this Rejection Phobia aside. I would use Dance to
slay my dragon.
THE MAGIC MIRROR
The moment I returned to my apartment, I stuck the 15 mirror
tiles on the wall. Now I
had a mirror 3 feet wide and 5 feet tall.
I turned on
the radio to KLOL, a rock
music station. It wasn't exactly 'Disco
music', but at least each song had a beat. Standing in front
of my makeshift mirror, I started to
practice what I had learned
earlier in the day.
over and over.
Now that the seven ladies weren't frowning
at my appearance
or my dancing, I could
finally relax a little.
As I calmed down, I
started to see where my mistake
Sure enough, the mirror helped immensely. I discovered
as long as I could watch my feet in the mirror, I
could let them move without having to stop every
five seconds. This is how I discovered my
fatal flaw... I
think too much!
I was too
analytical. By over-thinking my footwork, I was my own worst enemy.
My brain didn't trust my feet.
Mind you, I could play basketball all day long
without worrying about my feet, but when it came to
dancing, I was acutely self-conscious. My
brain would not let my feet move unless I could
watch carefully. Slowly but
surely, my brain eased up on the supervision. I began to
move my feet without stopping after each step.
Each night that week I practiced
dancing in the mirror.
I was so encouraged by my progress that I no
longer feared returning to David's dance class. I had a new
name for the mirror. It was now the 'Magic Mirror'.
I was thrilled
to see my missing St.
John's self-discipline and willpower had made a welcome comeback. I had faced
challenges at St. John's many times and succeeded.
In particular, I once made an 'A' in
Chemistry, a course for which I had no affinity
whatever. I did it through sheer will power,
forcing myself for an entire year to study material
for which I had no interest whatsoever. Now I
was pleased to note that same sense of discipline
had transferred to
Dance, yet another subject for which I had no
natural affinity. But I did have one advantage.
Unlike Chemistry, I deeply wanted to learn to dance.
my delight, I was excited
over my decision to stay the course with the Dance Project. I was
suddenly very proud of myself.
I practiced and practiced. Then I practiced
some more. I practiced the next night and then
the night after that.
I practiced every night that week. 15 minutes,
30 minutes, 60 minutes, it didn't matter just as long as I
practiced every night. I didn't understand why
it was so important, but this ritual was
something I had to do.
In the midst of a serious crisis, I firmly believed
that if I could learn to dance, I could somehow pull
myself out of this hole. Due to my sense that
this project was part of my Fate, I remember feeling very certain
I was headed in the right direction.
thought that God might be watching was a powerful
incentive to take 'Step Ball Change' a lot
more seriously than learning card tricks or
practiced my dancing at night, I also reflected. Due to the
presence of the River Oaks Seven, my mind returned constantly to high school. I kept thinking about those dance
parties at my classmate's palatial homes after each home football game.
Even though I didn't feel like I belonged, I had been so drawn to these dances.
Yes, I wanted to see the big homes where my classmates lived, but
most of all
I wanted to watch the dancing. Why? Why had those dances
been so important to me?
I knew the
answer to that. It was rooted in my deep sense
of inferiority. I never dated. I never
played sports due to my blind eye. I never
participated in plays or any extracurricular event.
I did not play golf with the boys. I did not
attend events at the local country club. I did
not go down to someone's beach house in Galveston
for the weekend. I spoke little to anyone
outside of class other than two or three friends who
were shy like me. And I certainly did not
participate in the school dances... but I wanted to.
So I went to the parties anyway even though I spent
the entire evening hiding in the shadows.
Those dance parties were important to me because
they offered the only window I had into their
private lives. I wanted to see what I was
missing. I watched in envy as my classmates
had fun dancing to the sounds of the Beach Boys, the
Supremes, and Marvin Gaye. Gosh, I wanted so
much to join them! But I would not have known
where to start.
I did not even
know the most basic dance step, so I vowed that
someday I would take the time to catch up to them. Due to the
acne, my entire life to date had been one of constant
postponement. I kept putting off girls
till later in my life. In high school I
decided to wait for college to begin dating.
When dating in college failed, I decided to wait till after
college. Now graduate school was a colossal
failure as well. For ten years, I had been
putting off my long lost goal of catching up to my
It was the presence of these
River Oaks women that had reawakened my desire to become the social equal of my classmates.
However, I had the nagging feeling there was more.
Now my mind
brought the real truth to the fore. What I
really wanted was the confidence to date women who were just as pretty,
just as intelligent, and just as confident as the
young ladies at St. John's. That was my real
goal. Now thanks to some crazy cosmic quirk, 'Dancing'
was the only place I could think of to start.
I was certain that
Fate had placed those nasty women in my class. Symbolically,
they had become the representatives of 'St. John's
Superiority'. If I catch up to those women, I
could fulfill my
teenage vow that I would learn to dance someday. Right now, my deep-seated desire
to achieve equality was the
motivation I was tapping into. In a
mythic sense, the River Oaks women were the Roman
Empire... if I could match a Roman in battle, then I
was his equal.
evening while I
practiced in the Magic Mirror, I had
to stop and laugh. Good lord, could I possibly be any
Recalling the grace with which David moved, there was no
comparison. There would never be a more
self-conscious, awkward beginning dancer than me. No,
I wasn't mad at myself today, just amused in an
of way. It seemed like my entire life had been
an uphill struggle, so why should I expect this Dance
Project to be any different? Some guys used athletics
as their ticket to girls. Other used their looks,
their money, or their sense of humor. Me? I
was going to use 'Dance'. What was I thinking?
It was a Cosmic Absurdity that I had somehow committed my heart and soul into
pursuing a project for which I had zero natural ability.
I was well
aware that my decision did not make much sense on the surface. But
the events of the previous week had been so unbelievable, I
was now convinced that
learning to dance was my Path. Talent or no talent, I was
determined to stick with it. This deep sense of
commitment explains how a young man with no natural dance ability found
the motivation to improve.
encouraged by my early progress. I assumed my
overwhelming anxiety had played at least some part in my
poor performance last Saturday. Now that I had calmed
down, I did better.
For one thing, the more I danced in the mirror, the less my brain interfered. My
footwork was starting to become automatic. 'Step together step'
was conquered and I was getting the hang of 'step ball change' as well.
Although Disco Dave had tried to explain to me to keep my
heel up in back, it turned out that Gravity was a pretty
good teacher as well. If Gravity could teach me how to
walk, then learning to dance was just like learning to
walk. In a sense, that dance class was pure gold. Previously
I had tried to teach myself how to dance in the privacy of
my bedroom on more than one occasion, but had never gotten
anywhere. Now that Dave had given me a couple of basic
steps to practice, I finally had a starting point.
The more I moved, the more
Gravity showed my
body ways to improve my balance. Slowly I started to get the hang
of the steps David had shown me. The real key had been getting that
Magic Mirror. The feedback from the Magic Mirror made
all the difference. The Magic
Mirror was my new best friend.
All week long I was thrilled by the return of my St.
John's work ethic. I was never the smartest kid in
school, but I was certainly one of the hardest workers.
They say there is an advantage to having one's back against
the wall. While my classmates went about their day
confident that Daddy's money would pay for college, I knew
my only chance was to make the kind of grades that might
lead to a scholarship. That is how I developed a sense of self-discipline that made me study
even when I wasn't in the mood. Somehow during my
Colorado State downfall, I had lost this
edge. Now for the first time in ages, I was putting that work ethic to good use again.
I had turned my inherent self-discipline to dance, I made
progress despite my lack of ability. This Dance Project was
something I could succeed at if I put my mind to it; I was sure of
was hope for me after all. With
persistence, I would get there eventually.
Last week I had
been the ugly duckling in dance class. My appearance was
appalling. Sad to say, I knew the reason for that.
After Vanessa left me, my feelings of ugliness had been so
intense that I had stopped looking at myself in the mirror
just like I did back in high school after the acne.
Last week's dance class had forced me to look at myself for
the first time in ages. Filled with disgust, I could not bear to
go through that again. Consequently I had to do something about my
appearance. The first thing I did was get
came to grips with the fact that
I lived in
Texas, not Colorado. It was time to make some
changes. First I put away my beloved flannel shirts and
rediscovered my button-down Polo shirts. My
mountain boots went in the closet;
out came the long-neglected loafers. I even found a pair of slacks. I wasn't exactly a
sharp-dressed man, but I had made a vast improvement.
Now that my 'Preppie Look' had re-emerged, would any
of those women imagine that they had been laughing at a St.
John's graduate? Probably not.
No doubt my initial disguise would remain fixed in their
They had already judged the book by its cover.
looked at myself in the mirror. Holy smokes, I was so
clean-cut I could
barely recognize myself. Even the scars didn't bother
me as much as usual. I swear it was uncanny how the Magic Mirror had worked wonders for my confidence. My
whole attitude had changed.
As the coming Rematch loomed,
I imagined those women were in for a
Last week the women had
me off guard. Their sneers
reminded me far too much of my lonely times standing in the shadows
at those high school dance parties.
Now I couldn't wait to return.
I expected my time spent in the Magic Mirror would change everything. I was bound and determined to show those
awful women that they could not intimidate me.
I was going to conquer all my demons at once -
Vanessa, Fujimoto, snobs, inferiority, ugliness, and my fear of women
who made fun of my dancing.
So I went
back. The moment I walked in the building, my Metamorphosis was
apparent to everyone.
When the Gay Gauntlet stared at me, I stared
back. Hey, guys, remember me?
This time when I caught a glance, I smiled. Several men looked away, but a couple
of them smiled back. That was the end of that. Sorry,
guys, the Freak Show is over.
Now I reached
the classroom. I hesitated for a moment, took
a deep breath, then opened the door.
David was the
first to see me.
David did a
noticeable double-take when I came in. I could tell he was clearly
surprised by my reappearance. I suppose he had not expected I
would return. To his credit, Disco Dave smiled
warmly and made definite eye contact. If
anything, he looked a little sheepish. Obviously I had been
on his mind. Did he feel guilty? I certainly hoped so.
As for the River Oaks Seven,
predictably they sniffed in response. If they
noticed any change, they didn't show it. However
this time I was ready for their disdain. Like
Dr. Hilton had predicted, last week's ordeal had
desensitized me to their snobbery. Besides, now that my
friend Chip along with me, I
didn't care any more. With my sense of defiance fully
re-charged, today I had my game face.
Bring it on, ladies. Then I had a second thought.
Calling them 'ladies' was giving them far too
studied those women carefully all morning long. And
they studied me too. I caught their eyes in the mirror
all morning long. No doubt they were curious about my
sudden transformation. It was a real advantage standing in
the back. Nothing they did escaped my notice.
Whether I liked it or not, today's Rematch had taken on a
much larger dimension. No matter how bad I was at
dancing, thanks to those women, I had decided this class was
a dance to the death... so to speak. The women won the first
round, but mark my words, today would be different. I
didn't choose this fight, but it would be over my dead body
before I would back down from those snobs again. I had
spent my entire childhood feeling inferior to women
like the River Oaks Seven. This was no longer just a
dance class, this was class warfare. It was time to
show these women what I was made of.
Thanks to the Magic Mirror, I
had improved enough to hold my ground
this week. I certainly did not dominate, but I was
able to keep pace. And the women knew it. I
watched them study me in the mirror and exchange covert glances
during the class. There was no obvious contempt this
week. A strange idea crossed my mind... these women
were helping me. Now how weird was that?
As much as I disliked these women, I acknowledged they had
done me a real favor. Without them, last week I would
have walked away. It was their presence that convinced
me to accept last week's challenge despite tough odds.
I guess I was used to being the Underdog. I had
learned long ago that the anger I felt towards an enemy can
be used to make me work harder. By challenging me,
these women had brought out the best in me. I laughed.
What a difference a week could make.
David watched me like a hawk
all morning. In fact,
he couldn't take his eyes off me. Trust me, it had
nothing to do with my
new haircut. I think
fascinated by my dancing. Indeed, thanks
to a solid week of practice in my Magic Mirror at home, I had
noticeably improved. Step-ball-change was no longer an
issue. I think David was trying to
figure out how I had made so much progress in
such a short period of time.
said another unprofessional
word to me.
I suspect David knew he had done
something wrong. Perhaps I had taught him a lesson of
his own. My
first dance teacher turned out to be a tiny gay man half my
size who began our relationship by offending me. Not
exactly the Master-Student relationship I had
expected. That said, once I gave him a second chance,
David turned out to be just the teacher I needed.
Without those basic moves he taught me, I would not
have known what footwork to use as a foundation. I owe
David my gratitude for starting me on my path.
Following my second class, I hurried home
and began to practice
Disco Dave's new moves in the mirror.
As I practiced, my mind wandered back to high school
I had missed out on so much in
high school... football, basketball, parties and school dances. But most of all, I
had missed out on Dating. Ten years had passed and I still was
behind the Eight Ball.
Now I began
another week of dancing in the Magic Mirror. I prayed this
Dance Project would lead me out of my crippling
Rejection Phobia. Dancing was virtually my only
hope. Everything was riding on it. Over
the past week, 'Dancing' and
'Dating' had become permanently linked. Dancing would lead to Dating
I was sure of it. But first I had to learn to dance.
As I stared at myself in the
mirror, I was surprised to realize this
desire to learn to dance had been with me for a long time. This
was the time to do it. Right now. Right here. I was
24. A late start, yes, but I had my entire life ahead of me.
Hopefully the day would come when I could dance just like any
other normal human being. And then I would start dating again.
Metamorphosis had begun. I had not quite made
the transition from hippo to swan, but at least I
was headed in that direction.
At the time, I
had no inkling that Dance would become a career.
What I did know was all my concentration was focused
on learning to dance.
If I could learn to dance, then I
believed I would become attractive
Rejection Phobia was hard to shake. I was still deeply afraid a
girl my age would
laugh at me.
Having a woman laugh at me was my constant fear. I
wanted to impress women, not stumble around mechanically and give them
reason to ridicule me.
To deal with this fear, I had to become an excellent dancer. I would not settle for anything less.
- CHILD WELFARE
The dance floor was not the only place I was receiving
lessons. My new job investigating child neglect
allowed me to meet people who were down on their luck on a
For some reason, this period of my life seemed dominated by
lessons in failure.
It never ceased to amaze me how easily
humans could be trained to give up.
disliked my job at Child Welfare. Every day I would leave feeling like I never accomplished a
single thing. That said, the job helped me grow up.
For one thing, I gained a better perspective.
Remember that I was self-centered to a fault and obsessed
with my problems. This job taught me that no matter
how bad my problems were, there were countless people with
much bigger problems than my own.
The agency was divided into two sections - child abuse and
child neglect. The child abuse unit handled the worse
cases. I learned one grim reality early on...
ultimately there was little a caseworker could do to protect
the child. Texas Law was weighted in favor of parental
rights. A caseworker could not remove a child for
their protection just on the
threat alone... there had to be an actual incident first.
In other words, a parent had to seriously hurt their
child before the social worker had the right to remove the child for
its own safety.
Although I understood the logic behind this approach, it
occasionally led to tragedy. There were a few occasions when a
child either died or was permanently injured for the
rest of their life. Although this did not happen very
often, it was a tough pill to swallow for the caseworker
In my opinion, a child abuse caseworker was bound to get
their heart broken sooner or later.
There was a celebrated case in Houston where a psychotic
woman drowned all five of her children. Child Welfare
was on alert about this woman, but the caseworker was prevented from
intervening because the mother had not yet hurt the children.
Imagine how the caseworker felt when she learned all five
children were dead on her watch. Of course the caseworker felt
guilty, but what was she supposed to do? It wasn't
like the caseworker could move into the home and watch the children
24/7. I might add her husband was a good father who
lived in constant fear something like this might
happen... and with good reason. But what could he do? On the fateful day,
the mother waited till he went to work.
This was a no-win situation if there ever was
one. Both the father and the caseworker were helpless
to prevent this tragedy. I felt deeply for the
caseworker. Not only were her hands were tied by Texas law, the
worst part was being condemned by the media. After the newspapers wrote sanctimonious articles about social
worker neglect, the citizens were outraged. However I knew better. The
beleaguered social worker
never had a chance. She got a raw deal because society
wanted a scapegoat.
I understood that could just as easily have been me on the
Fortunately, I never encountered a situation even remotely
this serious. I focused on allegations of child neglect,
situations such as malnutrition,
head lice, emotional abuse, school absenteeism, poor
supervision and poor
living conditions. Although these problems were rough
on the child, they were never life-threatening. As opposed to breaking bones,
these were parents who injured through a thousand small
Another dark reality was the foster home situation.
The fantasy is that loving people opened their homes to care
for endangered children. While it is true that some
foster parents were very special, other homes were maintained
by people who did it for the money. The children under
their care were often more miserable in their foster home than they
were back with their abusive parent. This
was painful for me to accept. No matter how bad their
natural home was, most kids would rather go back home and be with
their lousy parents than
stay in a foster home.
When I started this job, I thought I was having a tough
life. Guess again. No matter how desperate I
felt, I met countless people with far greater problems than
my own. Seeing this helped me snap out of my tendency to feel sorry for myself
all the time.
However, I was always frustrated because I rarely accomplished
anything tangible. I tried to help, but the
neglectful parents I worked with had great difficulty
following through with any suggestion I made. Same old
story... it was easier to avoid doing
anything than take chances.
The apathy I faced was alarming. Not only did these
people blame the world for their problems, they avoided taking steps that would improve
their own lives or their children's lives. I cannot begin
to say how exasperated I was. Let's say their child
had head lice. I would make an appointment to take the
child to a clinic for treatment. The child would not
be at the home when I got there. Some pathetic excuse
was sure to follow. Or I would make an appointment for
a mother to get food stamps and she wouldn't show up. I
would call her up and learn her ride had fallen through.
So I would offer to pick her up myself only to ring the
doorbell and find no one home. This self-destructive
behavior made no sense. It was shocking the
lengths people would go in order to avoid facing their fears.
When this happened, I thought back to Dr. Hilton and
wondered if there was some way to tie them to a tree and
offer shock therapy.
My client's problems made me ashamed of myself because I was
guilty of the same thing. I was so afraid of women
that I would avoid them for months on end after the
slightest rejection. Then I would complain miserably
about my acute loneliness. But did I do anything about
it? Hell no. It was easier to complain and avoid
the source of my anxiety than it was to face my fears.
So imagine how I felt when I saw my clients doing the same
thing. I wasn't any better than they were, so what
business did I have investigating them?
I felt so futile in this
met some people who had enough fight left in them to try to
improve their lives, but they were few and far
between. The majority
had given up trying to
improve their situation. I could not help but
think of the Learned Helplessness experiment
time and again. These were people who would rather give up
than take a chance.
Fear is so crippling.
The fear of failing dominated their decisions.
One of the hardest things in life is to force yourself to do
constructive things you don't want to do. Like make that doctor's
appointment to check out a nagging pain. Or make that call to
a teacher to find out why your child is failing
math. Or make yourself go to the hospital to see a dying friend.
There are so many things we don't want to
face. Successful people make themselves do things they
don't want to do for their own good.
People who fail do just the opposite. They procrastinate, make excuses and avoid
taking positive steps. I became convinced that the
surest road to failure is the unwillingness to ever take a
chance. It was very disheartening to watch.
One would think that observing these sobering
situations would make me a little braver about taking chances in
my own life. Guess again. I wasn't much better
than the people I tried to help. Here is a good example... I didn't like this Child
Welfare job at all. So
why not look for a better job? That's a good question.
I knew almost immediately that this was a dead end job.
There was absolutely no such thing as the satisfaction that
a job well done. On the other hand, it
was not a particularly demanding job. This was a
period of my life when I was drifting aimlessly. Rather than face the anxiety of
looking for a job that might actually challenge me a little, it was
easier to just go through the motions at work, then go home
and feel sorry for myself.
I worked in a comfortable office, the job paid well enough,
I had nice co-workers, and
I had no trouble forgetting my job at the end of the day.
Best of all was the lack of direct supervision. Since
my job involved driving my car around the city to make home
visits, I was on my own for much of the time. I liked
having the freedom to come and go from the office
as I pleased. I also liked seeing a different side of
life. Although my job
wasn't satisfying, the people I met were interesting.
Back at St. John's, I was given a window to study people of
privilege. Now I was learning a lot about
people who weren't given many advantages.
This was the perfect job for a drifter. I didn't see this job as a career, but then I didn't have a
career, did I?
If anything, this job gave me more time to think about my
problems. Hmm. Just what I needed. As I
said, I was only marginally healthier than the woebegone people I
supervised. They didn't take any chances, but then neither did
I. I often wondered if the people I
investigated ever suspected I was struggling just like they
'There but for the Grace of God go I...'
- CLOSE CALL
Helen, 38, was the mother of
four children. Helen taught me a lesson I would never
forget. She was reported to Child Welfare by a
neighbor concerning the squalid condition of her home.
When I visited, the first thing I noticed was that the
lawn needed mowing and there was trash all over her yard.
This house stuck out like a sore thumb because it was pig
sty amidst a comfortable middle class neighborhood.
Just one look at the un-mowed front yard covered with trash was enough to know there was something wrong
Helen met me at the door and permitted me to enter. When
I went inside, I gasped. I
had never seen such a messy house in my life.
The dishes were dirty and piled high upon one another.
There was moldy bread nearby and discarded food on the
counters. There was a huge pile of dirty clothes.
The trash cans were overflowing and there was more trash
the floor. Nothing was put away... toys were
everywhere, clothes were everywhere, children's books were
everywhere, junk was everywhere.
Piles of newspapers and magazines made the wood floor
invisible. The books and newspapers gave me pause.
This said to me that at least someone in this family
had the ability to read.
So how could someone with an education live like this?
The bed linens were
filthy and needed changing. The floors were dirty and
the bookcases covered with dust. Under the
furniture was an assortment of dirt, hair, trash, cobwebs, lost toys,
and dead bugs. The entire house was in shambles.
By every standard of middle class housekeeping, this was the filthiest,
trashiest, most cluttered house I had ever seen in my life.
Something had to be done. It wasn't fair to the
children to be living in these conditions.
As I talked to Helen, the kids came home from school.
I immediately noticed they had gone to
school dirty. Their hair was greasy. They
smelled. These kids needed a bath in the worst way.
Then I noticed that Helen smelled too. Good grief.
noticed something else. All four children were going to
school and all four children hugged their mother immediately
when they came home. Furthermore, the children were
Despite these miserable living conditions, the kids didn't
seem to mind. I was perplexed. Helen was a
complete mystery to me. She had obvious mothering
skills, but she also kept the filthiest home I had ever seen
in my life.
Well, the children were obviously in no danger, so this was
not an emergency situation. Heck, if dirty kids
automatically died from dirt, then I would have never made it past
the age of five. But the house had to be
cleaned. Helen said she understood. I said I
would be back next week to check on her. Helen promised to pick things
up in the meantime.
The following week, there was no change. The dirty
dishes were still stacked practically to the ceiling.
I noticed the cupboards were empty. That was because there were no clean dishes left in the house. Out of curiosity, I asked Helen what kind of plates the
children ate off. She reported that sometimes they
would wash the top layer of dishes for the evening meal,
then put them back on the pile.
Other times they would eat off napkins. I rolled my
"C'mon now, Helen. You promised you would clean this
place up and I don't see any progress at all."
"I know, Mr.
Archer, I am so sorry. I'll do better. I'll get
right to work on it."
winced when she called me 'Mr. Archer'. Since I was 24 and Helen was
38, I felt a little sheepish calling Helen by her
last name or expecting her to address me as 'Mr. Archer'.
I preferred to be equals. That was a rookie mistake.
I should have kept more distance, but I was more comfortable
letting her call me 'Rick'.
"Helen, please call me Rick. I
am not a formal person. But we've got to do something
here. Your kids deserve better."
As I fussed at her,
Helen hung her head in shame.
She promised to take action, but I
was skeptical. Sure enough, on my next visit, still no
progress. The place was so bad it defied description.
There was so much clutter that there were
actually narrow paths where the wood floor was barely
visible. In other words, I could trace the routes
the family used to travel because they had to kick
newspapers, toys and dirty clothes aside to walk through.
One room had so much stuff stacked up that the narrow pathway felt
like walking through a small canyon.
Although this mess was unbelievable, the funny thing is I liked Helen. There was not a mean
bone in her body. She was just very helpless and
passive. Her task had grown too enormous
to tackle and she didn't even know where to start.
Same old story yet again... on a day-to-day basis, it was easier just
to ignore the problem.
Like the dogs in the Learned Helplessness
experiment, Helen had given up all hope of lifting a finger.
She did the barest daily minimum of work necessary to get by.
She fed her children and that was about it. In the
process, they were learning to fend for themselves.
This hurt me because I recalled my mother treating me in a
similar way. Now we know why this situation affected
me so deeply. If I could help this woman, I would be
symbolically helping my own mother get back on her feet.
This was my second rookie mistake... I let Helen get under
Three months passed and there was no discernible progress.
The thing to understand is there were no legal consequences to
Helen's neglect. No one was going to take her kids
away and I did not have the heart to bluff about it like
some case workers did. Yes, I could have threatened
made her cry, but that was hardly my style. All I could do was appeal to her good
persuade her to take action.
Trying to find some way to light a fire under this woman, I
tried developing a rapport with Helen. So I became
Helen's friend. Maybe if I got to know her, maybe we
could figure out some course of action, some sort of
Helen and I would sit at the
kitchen table and talk. One day Helen had coffee
waiting for me because I had phoned ahead. I had hoped
my warning would result in extensive cleaning, but I had to
settle for one corner of the
kitchen table. I gathered Helen had cleared this spot in advance to make room for our
I grinned and teased her. "Gee, a whole corner,
Helen. Wow! Maybe I should call ahead more often."
To her credit, Helen blushed. Helen knew right from
wrong, she just couldn't make herself do the work.
So I got in the habit of calling ahead. The next time
I called, not only was I rewarded with
morning coffee, my teasing managed to get the entire table
cleaned. I figured with ten years of patience, we
might actually get somewhere.
One day as I drank my coffee,
I noticed Helen was dressed better. Were those clean
clothes? And Helen's odor was gone. Was it my
imagination or was Helen was taking better care of her
appearance? Noticing her hair was still damp, I wondered if she had deliberately cleaned
up in anticipation of my visit. It certainly seemed
that way. Maybe this rapport was having a positive
effect. I certainly hoped so. I had invested
months in these visits. My supervisor did not want me
to stop monitoring this situation until there was noticeable
The next time I came by surprise. Oh well, no
coffee. Plus the kitchen table was totally cluttered.
The jungle was reclaiming the house again and Helen
was noticeably embarrassed. She said
that maybe we
should go sit on the couch instead.
I had not anticipated the
couch was so small. Helen and I ended up
sitting uncomfortably close to each other. However, I
noticed Helen seemed at ease here so I decided not
to move back to the table. This was
the day that Helen opened up to me. Helen told
me the whole story about her husband who left her for some
other woman and how depressed she had become. During
the first few months of her depression, she stopped doing housework.
Once she got too far behind, it was too depressing to think about the enormity of the project ahead of her.
found myself feeling a lot of sympathy for her. Helen
was not a bad person. She was an unhappy person who
was down on her luck. I could certainly relate to that.
Now that I realized Helen had been abandoned about the same
time as Vanessa had left me, I felt awkward that she was the
client and I was her caseworker. Truth be told, I
wasn't really much better off emotionally than she was.
The only real difference was that no one depended on me.
Therefore no one cared that I was walking wounded.
Helen, on the other hand, had four children depending on
her. That meant the house had to be cleaned up.
wondered how Helen would manage if she could get a fresh start.
It occurred to me that if I gave her a hand with the
cleanup, maybe she could turn over a new leaf. As
I did my thinking,
Helen continued to ramble on.
Hmm. Now it crossed my mind that Helen probably didn't
have many friends. She obviously needed someone to talk to.
guess Helen had begun to trust me. Helen
usually frowned all the time, but today she was smiling.
Sitting this close, I took a long look at Helen and tried to
imagine the woman she had been before her husband had left.
Thanks to my surprise visit, Helen's hair had returned to
its Bride of Frankenstein condition. Oh, this poor
bedraggled woman. What was I going to do about her?
Now that she was smiling, I noticed that underneath Helen's unruly
mop of hair, she was pretty. Or at least she could be
pretty. I imagined Helen would be attractive
again if she would just try a
little. A funny image of Eliza Doolittle from My
Fair Lady crossed my mind.
"Now you see,
Professor Higgins, I'm
right pretty when I ain't dirty! I washed me face and
hands before you come, that I did!"
realized the more I liked Helen, the better-looking she got.
Uh oh. I suddenly got very anxious. For the
first time, I realized I had a thing for her. And I
had just realized Helen had a thing for me too. Helen
was so close, she was within reaching distance.
Clearly my sudden interest
had not happened by accident; she was sending an unspoken
signal. There was a magnetism operating here
that was going to get me into serious trouble. My
heart was pounding and my loins were stirring. Totally
alone and separated by two feet at the most, there
wasn't much stopping us. What would Christopher
suggest? 'Take her for her own good...'
Yeah, well, this was not a dating situation, so
Christopher's rules were inappropriate here.
I swallowed hard and quickly got up. Thank goodness, that broke the
spell. I was scared because I didn't see this coming.
Like a flash flood, lust had taken over before I knew
it was even a possibility. If Helen had touched me, it would have
been all over. This had been a very close call.
To disguise my
lust, I hurriedly put my professional face back on.
Pretending like nothing had happened, I asked Helen
if she was opposed to having a woman come to the house and
help her clean up. I assured her the agency would pay.
Helen smiled and said that would be wonderful.
And with that, I made a hasty exit. On my way back to
Houston, I was incredulous at what had just happened. I could not help
but wonder what had taken place back there. Due to my
inexperience on the job, I had let myself get too close to
this woman. This was a lonely woman with many needs
and I was currently the only adult male giving her any
attention. How stupid of me! Why didn't I see
What shocked me was how much her need for me turned me on. I
had never had this happen before. Knowing there was
absolutely nothing she would have done to stop me was a powerful
aphrodisiac. The intensity of my desire was
so strong that it actually scared me. I knew right
from wrong, but I had been so
turned on that I was just barely able to put on the
I warned myself I could not let this happen again.
Two weeks passed. I coordinated a home visit with a woman
named Roberta who specialized in big cleanups. I
met Roberta at Helen's house early in the morning just after
the kids left for school. Watching Roberta go to work,
I decided to pitch in as well. I put myself in charge
of picking up trash throughout the house and taking it outside.
I actually got a kick out of it. I couldn't help but laugh at the mountain of trash bags on
the street. Gee, what would the neighbors think?
More than likely they would be relieved. Maybe it was
a sign that this down-on-her-luck woman was getting her life back on track.
Helen got inspired and
started washing the dishes. I told her I was proud of
her and she blushed. Roberta concentrated on
the vacuum cleaner and the washing machine. Around
noon, the three of us tackled the final project together.
Helen designated the rarely used room with the canyon in it as the 'Clutter Room'.
Now we moved every loose item into that room, then shut the
door. Voila! With three people
doing the work, by 1:30 pm the place looked vastly
improved. Helen was tickled pink.
will think they came home to the wrong house!"
Roberta was pleased too. "Good job!" she told Helen.
And with that, Roberta left. I was ready to follow
Roberta out, but Helen asked if I wanted some coffee.
She pointed to a fresh pot she had made in her new clean
kitchen. Then she
pointed to the kitchen table that was completely clear. Helen was smiling from head to toe. My gut warned me
this might not be a good idea, but I
was sure I could maintain control as long we stayed in the
kitchen. Besides, Helen had just turned a major corner and wanted to
celebrate. I decided that if I was careful, I could
stay for a cup of coffee.
Helen began by saying how grateful she was for my help.
This was the best she had felt in ages. Helen let down
her guard and talked some more about her husband who ran out on her.
He sent her money, but refused to visit the kids. She couldn't believe he would turn his back on his children.
Now Helen began to cry.
"Oh god, Rick, I feel so alone. I have those children
to take care of and I know I don't do a very good job. I
think I must be the worst mother in the world. I feel
so helpless sometimes."
Helen covered her face in her
hands and cried very hard. What a lonely, abandoned
woman she was. I wished she wasn't crying
because I had started to melt inside. I felt her
loneliness and pain completely, especially since I had seen
my own mother break down like this on several occasions. Helen finally stopped crying. She looked up and
brushed her hair aside. Then Helen looked at me and
smiled. She said softly, "You know, Rick, you are the
only friend I have in the world right now."
Helen gave me a look that bordered on hero worship.
That look pierced my defenses. The woman was so vulnerable and so in need of comfort. When she reached over and touched my hand, her touch was so electric
that I was on fire. Oh, no, here
we go again!! Her hunger for affection was
irresistible. And what about my own hunger? It
was a toss-up to guess who needed who more.
There was some serious chemistry operating here. Here
was a woman who clearly admired me. Plus I had genuine
affection for Helen as well. I began to tremble as
my self-control melted away. The temptation to
cross the table and kiss her was overwhelming.
alone. No one would ever have to know. Helen was
old enough to know what she was getting
into. I wanted her; she wanted me. What was
stopping us? There was absolutely holding me
back but my conscience.
As I looked at Helen,
her hunger was unbearable. I knew damn well I would have the
hottest sex of my life... it was the heat of the moment and
I was burning. Helen's face was flush with
excitement when she saw me rise from my chair. Just then, my inner voice screamed 'No!' I stopped
just in the nick of time. I changed direction and
raced to the screen door on the other side of the kitchen.
was out of control, I was convinced that this could not happen.
"Helen, we need to talk. You know I like you a lot.
And right now I am tempted to cross a forbidden line. I
don't think this is a very good idea. I think we would
both end up getting hurt. Right now, you don't need
that, so I think I should go."
devastated, but she nodded weakly. Helen closed her eyes
to hide her disappointment. And with
that, I bolted out the screen door for fear I would change
my mind. I was so full of desire that I was desperate
to turn around.
goodness Helen was too helpless to
protest. One snap of her fingers and I would have
turned back. As it was, I barely avoided making
one of the worst mistakes of my life.
- THE HEART IS
So what stopped me from moving on Helen?
There was no way a Romance could happen.
This moment had 'one night stand' written all over it.
Or perhaps 'afternoon' would be more accurate. Yes, I liked Helen, but a romance
was out of the question. Helen and I came from
two completely different worlds. Helen was 14
years older and lived an hour away. She was a
middle-aged mother with four children... not the
recipe for a fairy tale romance with a drifter like
me. At this stage of my life, I was so self-centered
and immature I could barely take care of myself. I
certainly wasn't ready to play father to four children or
boyfriend to a woman nearly old enough to be my mother.
So after a sensational roll in the hay, I would definitely close the
case and disappear. I
worried over how Helen would handle the consequences. Once Helen realized I was gone for good, her loneliness would surely be even
worse. I would be the guy who dumped her just
like her husband did. Helen would feel used and
bitter... a feeling I was quite familiar with thanks to
than likely, she would return to her listless ways.
The trash would start to pile up again and so
would the dishes. So would the problems.
I couldn't let myself do this. Helen was my friend and
deserved better from me. Helen had
spent several months pouring out her soul which made her vulnerable. To take advantage would be seriously exploitive.
There was no doubt in my mind that I did the right thing by leaving.
What bothered me was how our mutual loneliness was so
powerful that it nearly overwhelmed my better judgment.
Familiar with legends of therapists sleeping with their
patients, previously I had considered this behavior
unethical and repugnant. But now that it had nearly
happened to me, I wasn't nearly as judgmental anymore.
One month later I visited Helen
without warning. By surprising her, I wanted to see first-hand what had taken place
in my absence. I was impressed. I wouldn't say
the house was spick and span, but Helen had maintained an acceptable level of order.
While I praised her I also made sure to keep my distance.
We both knew what had almost happened, but kept our
thoughts to ourselves. Helen smiled and said how grateful
she was for my help. Leaving on this high note, I was able to
close the case.
On the way home, I recalled that I wanted to hug her in the
worst way, but didn't dare let myself get close. I
also noticed that Helen had not offered me any
coffee. I smiled. Women have
the most interesting non-verbal ways of letting men know
when the invitation is no longer in effect.
I reminded myself that turning Helen down on Clean-Up Day was
definitely the right move.
Although leaving Helen as she was crying there in kitchen was
now that my sense of reason had returned, I was grateful I
had pulled away. If I had stayed, no doubt the
consequences would have sent Helen spiraling back into
Yes, having a Code of Honor makes life more difficult, but it
also makes for a better world.
The Heart is a
Lonely Hunter. We all need to be touched and we
need attention. Sad to say, there are times
when we go far too long without the human warmth
that is vital to our spirit. Hungry to be held
and longing to feel special, that hunger makes us
desperate enough to take chances. Although
hunger seems to add fuel to
the sex drive, it also leads to really bad
As a footnote
to this story, Helen was
not the only woman I would ever meet who
had been knocked down. Helen was merely the
first of many. During the 32 years that I ran my
dance studio, the studio was always full of women
recently out of a relationship. Yes, there
were also men in the same situation, but the women were the ones I dealt
with. Not many, but some of these women were
in almost as much pain as Helen had been.
usually one situation a year where I would meet a woman who
reminded me of
Helen's vulnerability. These women were not only ripe for the kill,
this time I had no one to answer to but myself. For the sake of explanation,
I will share the story of a woman named Marian.
One night I had
just finished teaching a group dance lesson. As my students
filed out, Marian lingered around. Once Marian
was sure we were the last two people in the
building, she said there was some move in tonight's
dance class that confused her. Noticing that Marian and I were
alone, I wondered what was running through
Marian's mind. The moment I saw I saw
that wounded look on Marian's face, I had my answer.
Someone or something had knocked Marian down. Spousal
abuse? Lost her job? Cheating boyfriend? Death
in the family? Or perhaps she was a dance
widow whose husband no longer paid attention to her.
really sure what kind of person I was or what she was getting herself into, so she started slowly by
asking me to help with her footwork. I fixed whatever was wrong and said something nice to
cheer her up. By being patient and gentle,
Marian cheered up a little and smiled for the first
time. Pleased that I had given her some
encouragement, Marian softened and let down her
guard. I realized I had passed
a test. Marian had chosen me to cure her
loneliness, but first needed to be reassured I had a
decent streak in me.
Now her questioning look
was replaced by a hungry look. By
the strength of Marian's reaction, I realized she was
dying for affection. Why not seize the
opportunity? I was no longer bound by ethical
prohibitions. Heck, I was a dance teacher, not
the most reputable of professions.
If anything, there was an assumption that all dance
teachers were notorious Casanovas. No one expects life
guards, bartenders, and hair dressers to behave, so why
At this point, I suggested to Marian that we sit down and have a talk.
As I expected, it didn't take much to get Marian to open up about the guy who had done her wrong.
If there was one thing women like Helen and Marian had in common, every one of these wounded doves had been badly hurt
by some guy. All I had to do was listen.
As it turned
out, Marian's husband didn't know she existed. Marian
had started taking lessons just so she didn't have to be
alone all the time. We talked for about half an hour. I
sympathetic and Marian began to melt just like Helen once did.
As Marian wiped some tears away, I could see she was
relieved just to tell someone what was bothering her.
Once Marian was stronger, I walked her to the car.
Marian was a
little baffled by my decision, but I also think she
appreciated my hesitance. She went on to take lessons for a year.
During this time, she got a divorce and used the studio to
transition to her new life as a single.
More than likely, Marian was willing to sleep with me.
So why did I pass on Marian? I
knew full well that with Marian's
defenses down, my kindness would have a powerful effect. It is amazing
how effective 'kindness' can be when it comes
to unlocking a woman's heart. Men should try it some
time. I could see that Marian's
loneliness made her vulnerable in much the same way
as Helen had been. Life had thrown Marian a curve
ball and things weren't going very well. Marian was
hurting so much she would gladly trade sex in return for a little human
warmth. Whatever it takes to get through the night.
However, I did
not act on this opportunity or other opportunities that were
similar. Not with the
vulnerable ones like Marian... or Helen for that matter.
In Helen's case, I regretted not taking Helen up on her
offer for a long time. I don't think words can even describe how badly
I wanted her. All I had to do was
hit it once and break away clean. Isn't that how the
Courtesan book suggested doing it?
recalled rising from my kitchen chair with every intention of ripping
Helen's clothes off. But then something stopped me. At the
exact moment I
was about to touch Helen, the memory of Disco Dave asking me
how large my penis was flashed across my mind.
froze on the spot. That vision had stopped me cold.
Instantly the immortal words of Christopher followed...
Find them, fool them, fuck them, and forget them...
certainly the most succinct phrase since Caesar's classic
Veni, Vidi, Vici.
I was instantly
sick in my stomach. I had invested six months
in getting Helen to trust me. Did I want Helen
to remember me as a friend who tried to help her get
back on her feet or did I want Helen to remember me
as the asshole who had his way with her and never
returned? When I looked at it that way, my
choice was clear.
There's an old
saying... 'Hit 'em when they're down.' I thought of how David had
ruthlessly sized me up and sensed how hungry I was for
affection. Why not exploit the situation? David figured if I had one semi-gay bone in
my body, maybe I was too weak or too confused to resist his offer.
I was a sitting duck that day,
a near-helpless creature with a badly-broken wing. Quite frankly, if I had not
had that recent experience with Drag Queen Lynn to help me
realize what David was up to, maybe I would have
fallen for his suggestion to go to his apartment out of ignorance. Given
my impaired judgment, who knows how I would have reacted
once inside his home?
Maybe I would have done something stupid as an
experiment. What would have
happened to me afterwards?
Considering how screwed up I was at the time,
perhaps my life would have spiraled even further out of
control than it already was.
Helen was a
sitting duck just like me. Loneliness does
strange things to people. It persuades them to
agree to situations they might regret
With Helen, with Marian, and with a handful of other women
who came later, I stuck to my Code of
Honor. I refused to
take advantage of these women. Never. Not once. And do you want to know why
Because every time I met one of these wounded
I always thought of what David had done to me and
how much it had hurt at the time. David damaged my faith
in mankind at a time when I needed encouragement in
the worst way possible.
decided I was a better person than that. I had
David to thank for that insight.
PART TWO: THE DANCE PROJECT
I meet Vanessa
Vanessa two-times me, Dr. Fujimoto criticizes me
Vanessa leaves for Portland, I receive a 'D' in Interviewing, Jean
reveals the truth about Vanessa
I begin five months of therapy with Dr. Hilton
Debbie and the Cow Eyes, Learned Helplessness, I teach a
Dismissed from Graduate School, return to Houston
Yolanda, Lynn, Child Welfare job, new apartment, The
Courtesan, Rock Bottom, Parking Lot Inferno
Magic Mirror: The Dance Project begins
Written by Rick Archer
THE NIGHTLY RITUAL
As September rolled around, I had put three months between Colorado
State and me. I was
alive, but I wasn't happy.
I still did not have a single friend.
My co-workers were all married, so we didn't have much in common. Living by myself,
a real problem.
I realized I was going to have to
make a friend sooner or later.
I went to a
dance club one night
just to have a look around.
My mediocre dancing in Disco Dave's
class made me painfully aware that I had no business getting out on
the dance floor. So I stayed in the shadows. Gee, just
like old times! Thanks to my rejection phobia, there was no way
to find the courage
to ask a lady to dance. However, my time
was not wasted. It helped to watch the women smile
and laugh out on the dance floor. One of these days, that
would be me out there dancing with them.
Based on my struggles in David's class, I accepted that my dance
project was going to be a long-term venture. That meant Dancing wasn't
going to help fight my loneliness in the short term. So I
turned to basketball. Ever since the acne years in high school,
basketball had been my best solution for pent-up
aggression. Lately I had added volleyball as well.
Alternating between volleyball and basketball, I could play one
sport or the other six days out of seven. And so I did.
Sports remained my only source of self-esteem. At least I was good at something.
after work I would head over to
the Jewish Community Center.
I never took a night off. This was my entire social life. Because the Clarks, my adopted family, lived next
door to the JCC, I
bought a membership there. Practically every
night I would
stop by the Clark house to pay my respects and get a
hug, then head over to the JCC for
My week consisted of basketball
on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Although Saturday
morning was reserved for dance class, I would find a pick-up
basketball game at the JCC later in
Thursday was pick-up volleyball. On Sunday
morning I played in the JCC
volleyball league. Due
to my height, I was a spiker. Pounding the volleyball was
exactly the kind of
cathartic experience I needed. I loved to
crush that ball. Vanessa's face was typically
There was one obvious problem
with playing sports every night. This was
hardly any way to meet girls. I didn't need to
read The Courtesan to figure that much out. I told myself
to wait. I had to improve my dancing quite a bit before I was
ready to make my move on the dance floor.
So I forced myself to be patient. If college had
taught me anything, it was the value of delayed
gratification. I was going about my Dance Project with
My nightly dance practice in the mirror remained the key piece in
the road to recovering my feelings of attractiveness.
I developed a
nightly ritual. First came the
Clarks. Then came sports.
Then came my late night date with the
Magic Mirror. While I practiced, I fantasized about the day
when I would
feel good enough
to ask a lady to
dance. In my dreams, she would
smile and say yes, of course. We would go out on the
floor and I would bust a move. Her eyes would
grow wide when she discovered what a great dancer I was.
She would fall instantly in love with me
and we would live happily ever after.
Only one problem - I would
eventually return from my fantasy and the
loneliness would come floating back in. Chip, my
aggressive side, was impatient. Chip wanted me
to start my search for a
girlfriend now. Phobia would remind me I wasn't ready yet.
Phobia played dirty. Anytime Chip gained
traction, Phobia would whisper 'Vanessa' in
my ear and I would recoil in terror. Phobia
used my fear of another betrayal to hold me back.
Until I could learn how to protect myself from
deception and hurt, I would much safer avoiding women.
- CURING MY
I returned to
Disco Dave's class every Saturday without fail.
Thanks to my dead end job, my lack of friends, and
my fear of rejection, right now my Dance Project had
the main event in my life. I continued to
obsess over the presence of River Oaks Seven in my
dance class. It never ceased to amaze me how
effortlessly those seven beautiful woman upset me.
The moment we made eye contact, my blood began to
boil. Watching them move fluidly to the music
irritated me. Why could they dance and I
couldn't? But that wasn't what bothered me the
most. Watching them laugh and joke as
if I wasn't there made it clear how utterly
unimportant I was. Faced with their unceasing
Seven-Headed Hydra monster managed to
get under my skin every time I saw them.
felt like this class belonged to them and made it
clear they did not appreciate having me crash their
party. I could tell these women were just as
determined to run me off as I was to stay. One
of us had to go; that was clear to everybody.
Although not one word was ever spoken, both sides
knew we were locked in a fierce custody battle for
possession of the dance class.
Each week was
more of the same. No one new ever appeared to
disrupt our power struggle. Caught in the middle, David
understood that he could not show any respect to me
or speak to me in class. Without these women,
he wouldn't have a class. So he did not dare
offend them. We always kept the
same formation. David was in front. The
seven women danced side by side in a row right
behind him. I went to the back corner. I
liked being in back. I knew my presence upset
these women, especially with their backs turned.
I think the women had begun to realize I hated their
guts. I also think my intensity unnerved them. Fearing Sasquatch might go berserk at
any moment, I caught the women using the mirror to
check on me constantly.
enough, I had developed a begrudging respect for
my opponents. Every time I saw them, I could
not help but marvel at their determination to run me
off. From their perspective, these seven
imperious women had gotten their way their entire
lives. Why should things be any different in
this dance class? By focusing their hostility on me and
making the climate unpleasant, they expected I would eventually
get discouraged and quit. Sure they upset me, but
not to extent they hoped for. What they did
not know was that I had nine years of practice
dealing with snobs back at St. John's. These women had no idea I
had developed at least some immunity to their meanness.
In fact, they actually believed they were going to
win this power struggle. This thought amused
me. These soft, pampered women were going up
against an angry barbarian. Sooner or later,
the Gates of Rome would fall.
No, they were
not going to win. I had failed my challenge
with Fujimoto. I had failed my challenge with
Vanessa. I would never allow myself to fail my
latest test. To me, this dance class continued
overshadowed by some of strange mystical element. I was
absolutely convinced these women were put here
deliberately by the Universe to toughen me up.
And it was working. Already I was
seeing the rewards. My dancing was improving
and I noticed that each week
their power over me diminished slightly.
Here is what I
found amazing. I now recognized that under
normal circumstances I would have quit this class.
I was barely able to talk myself into showing up for
the first class to begin with. Once I
discovered how pathetic my dancing was, I doubt
seriously I would have returned the following week.
More likely, I would have concluded there was no
point in taking up a hobby for which I was so
Universe paired me with the River Oaks Seven, the
most powerful nemesis anyone could have
possibly conjured up. These women had 'Mortal
Enemy' written all over them. They say the
Western doesn't start till the Bad Guy shows up.
Well, the moment I saw these women, things got interesting. The anger I
felt towards them was Richter Scale intense.
So I stayed.
Saturday morning became a meditation of sorts. All morning long, I was forced to face my
biggest fear - attractive women who reject me - and my related fear of
women who laugh at my dancing. One day I finally understood why
these women upset me so much. It wasn't their bad manners.
No, the real reason I hated them is that they reminded me of my
Helplessness during high school.
The River Oaks
Seven were the grown-up versions of the high school
girls I had yearned to be accepted by. These
women made me realize with every fiber of my soul
how much I had wanted to be accepted as an equal by my
peers at St. John's. My blind eye had kept me out of sports
and my acne had turned me into an outcast.
That was then, this was now. This was my
Rematch, my second chance. I had to prove to
these women I was their equal.
One morning the
reason why I was obsessed with these women became
crystal clear. Although they were much older
than me, these women were still very attractive.
Well-dressed, polished and poised, their confidence
radiated throughout the room. I suddenly
understood that these women were older versions of
the girls who had ignored me back at St. John's.
No wonder I disliked them so much. They
reminded me of how helpless and inferior I had felt
around my beautiful female classmates.
For nine long years, I stared daily at the beautiful,
intelligent, and confident young ladies of St. John's. Due to my scars, my low social standing, and my lack of confidence,
these girls were unattainable, out of my league. I can safely say
this attitude was not my imagination. Due to
class differences, I had the stacked the cards
against me to begin with, and then acne removed what little
remaining chance I had. In a very
dramatic sense, this was the 'Learned
Helplessness' stage of my life. During High School Hell, I
learned that no matter what I did, these girls were
out of my reach.
Now, in a very
weird way, I was in Stage Two of my own personal 'Learned
Helplessness' experiment. As we recall, Stage Two placed the
dogs in a two-sided box. All the dogs had to
do to escape the electrified box was jump, something
dogs ordinarily do reflexively. Instead, these
dogs had been trained to give up immediately when
they heard the buzzer. Although one in three
dogs did manage to escape, two out of three dogs gave up on the spot
despite a sure-fire escape route. Like the
elephant bound by a flimsy chain, their minds told them not
to bother struggling. After all, it was
With a frown, I
understood that I too had been trained to give up
back at St. John's.
However, unlike the dogs, I had a mind. Right
now I was actively
searching for a way out of my own mental trap. The healthy part of my mind knew I was reasonably
attractive and that I had every right to pursue
pretty girls my own age. But the healthy part
was counter-balanced by ten years of failure with
How do I cure my fear of rejection?
riveted on the final
feature of that 'Learned Helplessness'
experiment. After Martin
Seligman had ruined his dogs, he wanted to see if
there was some way to cure
worked. Coaxing, using food as a lure,
whistling. Nope. Didn't work. Time
to try something else.
Seligman put the dog in the box without the shock
and told the dog to jump. The dog jumped
But when the dog heard the buzzer and felt the
shock, the same dog gave up on the spot. Seligman was
Now Seligman tried lifting the dog over the barrier
once the shock began to show the dog what to do. Then he put the dog back in the
box on his own. To Seligman's consternation, the dog gave up
again when it heard the buzzer.
Despite having been shown how to escape the trap,
for some reason the buzzer remained all powerful. Buzz
The dogs simply
collapsed and whimpered when the buzzer sounded and
the shock began.
exasperated. How could he train these dogs to start
trying again? Someone suggested tying a rope
around the body of the dog ahead of time, then try dragging the dog across
the barrier when the buzzer/shock phase began.
To Seligman's delight, this worked. He did not
cure all the dogs, but he cured some of them of this
conclusion was the only way to cure the dog's fear
was to drag the animal kicking and screaming over
the barrier while the buzzer was in effect.
I traced a
connection to Dr. Hilton's 'tied to a tree'
theory. Seligman's cure only worked while the
dog was in its Fear Stage. The dog had to
learn how to escape while the buzzer and the shock
Now it dawned on me...
this dance class was a very good start, but it was
not enough. The only way to truly conquer my
fear was to ask a stranger to dance. In
addition, the stranger had to be pretty just like
the St. John's girls. The very thought of it
made me shudder.
absolutely terrified of asking a girl to dance.
Just like Connie who avoided the swimming pool, I
would avoid the dance floor.
The Courtesan had a section which
explained a concept known as Territory.
Put a rock star on
his stage and watch the girls scream. Put the same rock
star on a beach where no one knows who he is and watch
the girls ignore the pale, skinny kid who passes by in
search of some much-needed shade from the sun.
Put a lifeguard at
the swimming pool and watch the girls congregate at his
Put the lifeguard on the karaoke stand and watch the
girls cover their ears.
Put the skier on
the slopes and watch the girls mob him by the fireplace
in the lodge. Put the skier on a surfboard and see
him risk drowning.
Every man needs to
identify his Territory, the place where he shines.
A man is always impressive on his Territory, but fades
when he leaves the limelight. The Piano Man is a
nobody without his piano, the basketball player is a
dumb jock off the court. The place to meet women
is any venue where a man looks his best doing what he is
doing. His confidence and ability will make him very
thought this idea made complete sense. But it didn't
work for me. The place I looked
the best was on the basketball court. However, since no
woman would ever see me there, that spot was a waste of
dance floor was my best hope.
The fact that I was working on a skill I could use to meet
women someday made me feel I was headed in the right
direction. The Magic Mirror would surely come through
for me. Unfortunately, I had one problem I
could never find an answer to.
I called it
The Dilemma. Here is how The Dilemma worked
Due to my fear of rejection, I did not want to
risk getting out on the dance floor until I
was already a good dancer.
How could I become a good
dancer without getting out on a dance floor to
I had the
same dilemma with Dating.
I needed more
experience with women before I started Dating.
get experience with women without
I simply cannot risk getting hurt again.
Obviously The Dilemma was an offshoot
of my Rejection Phobia.
I did not have an
answer for either problem.
I did not want to start dating
again until I understood women better. But how
was I going to get experience with women if I was
too afraid to date them? And how would I
ever get a date if I was afraid to approach
attractive women I didn't know?
I did not know
how to overcome my faint heart.
My Rejection Phobia was just too intense. I
could not think of a gradual way to ask a girl to
dance or a gradual way to ask a girl out on a date. You either ask
them out for a date or you don't. You either
ask them to dance or you don't. There was no
middle ground, no sticking a toe in the water to
test the temperature.
I either jumped in the water or stayed on the
sidelines. As I have said repeatedly, it was easier
not to approach a woman at all than to risk the anxiety involved.
Noting the scorn I drew from the River Oaks women,
my dancing wasn't ready yet. I could not bear the thought of getting shot down, so I stayed on the sidelines.
I spent my entire September unable
to figure out a solution to my Dilemma.
Meanwhile I had that sinking feeling. Chip
yelled at me. 'Rick, you have spent ten
years avoiding women and now you are starting to do
the same thing. When will this ever end?
You have to do something!'
up. 'Rick, don't listen to Chip. You are certain to get
hurt again. Listen to me instead. You are improving at
dancing. All you have to do is be patient. You are not
mediocre dancer any more. Look at all the progress you've made.
Unfortunately, you are no more than
average at best. You need to keep
practicing until you are so good no woman would dream of refusing you.'
And so the
argument went back and forth. The argument left me too paralyzed
to take action. In the meantime I just kept getting lonelier.
I refused to
face the anxiety involved with approaching a pretty girl and trying
to talk to her. I decided the
best thing to do was to keep practicing in the mirror, go to dance class
and hope for the best. In other words, I would postpone
facing my fears just like I always did.
One day late
in September, Disco
Dave was nice enough to ask me to wait outside
for him. After the women had gone, he found me. He wanted to
tell me how much I
had improved, but did not dare do so in front
of the River Oaks Seven.
I appreciated the compliment. I also agreed with him. I had been practicing
my dancing in the Magic Mirror every night for two solid months
could see the work was paying off.
I still had yet to dance in
public thanks to my Dilemma.
The thought of
getting out on the floor and have some pretty woman frown at me
or laugh at my clumsy moves still left me paralyzed with doubt.
As always, I was overly sensitive
towards a woman's low opinion of me.
One night I skipped the Magic Mirror Ritual. Instead I went
to a dance club on my way
home from volleyball. There at the Second Office Club
on Bissonnet and Weslayan, I saw
men who were average dancers no better than
get out on the floor and
dance all night long.
I was sure I could move as well as they could. However, they could
ask girls to dance and I couldn't. Cursing my cowardice, I
remained glued to my seat. My fear of getting shot down or having
a woman laugh at my dancing again was just too powerful.
Phobia kept insisting I
had to improve my dancing some more.
Chip said my dancing would improve a lot faster
if I got out on the floor. But I couldn't make myself do it. My fear of
so crippling that I could not find a way to ask a woman to dance. It was easier just to go home and
feel sorry for myself. Consequently I was
stuck with no solution in sight.
that someone needed to drag me kicking and screaming over my barrier.
Fat chance of that, right?
Ten years and counting...
It was now October 1974.
all of June on Couch Catatonia following my CSU
dismissal, in July I had decided to get on my
life. I was hired on the spot when I applied for
my Child Welfare job. The main office was located at the corner
of Garrett and Branard in the Montrose area.
By coincidence, I had lived on Branard Street during my
1972-1973 Interlude year. Recalling the good
times I had spent there with Arlene, I decided to
drive past my old garage apartment. On the
way, I spotted a small apartment project with a 'for
rent' sign'. Ten minutes later I had
my new home. One week after that, I ended up in
the arms of a drag queen.
Now I was in
for another surprise. It took a while for it
to sink in, but eventually I realized this
apartment project was 90% gay. Flabbergasted,
I did my best to wrap
my mind around this new reality. My dance
teacher was gay. A large portion of the
Welfare Department was gay. My neighborhood was gay. And now
I realized my apartment
project was gay.
My entire world had turned Gay.
I think I have
already established beyond a shadow of a doubt that
I was stupid about a lot of things back
in those days. I was a young man whose biggest problem was meeting
women. My fear of rejection
was so great that I was unable to go to bars and
strike up a conversation with women I didn't know.
Furthermore, I had not found a venue
single women was effortless.
Would my life
have been different if I had moved into an apartment project populated with single women?
One would assume by the
laws of random encounter, I would have had countless
opportunities to bump into my next
girlfriend. The clubhouse, the laundry room,
the mailbox, the swimming pool, the girl next door,
the sand volleyball court, Saturday Night Beer
Bust parties by the pool... the list goes on.
For crying out loud, even
someone as hopeless as me would have found a way to
speak to a woman!! And even if I failed,
some woman would have taken the initiative.
After all, now that I had cut my hair, I actually
looked pretty good.
By the way,
these were the Seventies. Right now there was a
Sexual Revolution going on out there. Had I moved into one of
the many Houston apartment projects teeming with
single women, I suppose my issues with women would
have taken a much different life track.
instead I had
moved into a gay apartment project. I
had inadvertently moved into the only part of town where meeting
women was virtually impossible. Therefore, meeting women continued to be my biggest issue.
I was so
preoccupied with my problems, I never spoke to
anyone I did not know. That explains why it took
me two months to figure out that
was the only heterosexual male in the entire
complex. As it turned out, the center
of all social activity revolved around the swimming
pool area in the middle of our courtyard. In
order to get from the parking lot to any apartment,
one would have to pass by the swimming pool.
I would guess there were two dozen gay
men living in the various apartments. On any
given evening, several of them would get together by the poolside to drink and socialize.
ignored me for the first month. They were
content just to eye me. No doubt my perpetual
frown played a role. However, one day
someone said hello and I said hello back. Now
that they realized I did not bite, these men got a
little friendlier. From that point on, every day after work I was greeted by
the gay men at the swimming pool.
I would be greeted again when I left for
basketball or volleyball. Then I would be greeted again when I
returned home around 10 pm. No
matter what time
I came home, there was invariably a greeting
committee. Sometimes it might just be two men,
other times as many as ten. There was always
someone out there and they always had a word for me.
I was a real
mystery to these guys at first. From what I
later gathered, there was
intense curiosity about me. They
began to invite me to join them, but I would
politely refuse and keep moving. Then one
Friday I decided to accept their offer. Friday
was the only night of the week when nothing was
going on at the JCC, so I had nothing to do.
Figuring I was going to have to deal with these men
sooner or later, tonight was as good a night as any.
This took place in late August. Over a beer, I
answered their questions and listened to their
jokes. I soon realized these men were good-natured and
gentle. Unlike those monsters who had molested
me in swimming pools back when I was a child, these men seemed harmless
It didn't take long for me to make friends
with them. In fact, I began to enjoy their
company because they were fun to be around.
It took me a
while to catch on to why they were so unusually
friendly, but I eventually figured it out. And what was
the secret of my popularity? I had been named
'The Trophy'. Who would get me into bed
Once I told them I was
straight, that blew their mind. A straight gay
in this place? Unbelievable. I suppose
that put some kind of bull's eye on my back because I became
irresistible. They could not wait
to see who would bag me first. I kid you not.
Gay men in the Seventies had to be the horniest
creatures on earth. Sex was all they ever
seemed to talk about.
I was a
rock star to these men. Please forgive my
immodesty, but they couldn't get enough of me.
To them, I was the most interesting man in the
world. The thought of scoring with the
only straight guy in the complex was a topic of
neverending fascination to these guys. From
what I gathered, even when I wasn't around, my name
came up frequently. I was their prime target.
One night over
perhaps a few martinis too many, one of the men
explained my Trophy status to me. He thought
it was funny, but I just rolled my eyes. Good
grief. At that point, I had two choices. I could
either tell them to go fuck themselves or I could
play along and let them have their fun. Amused
by the attention, I decided it was easier to be a
good sport about it. And
that's how I became the reigning sex symbol with the
Branard Street swimming pool crowd. From this
point on, these guys bugged me endlessly with sex
As the men talked incessantly
about sex, one night the topic was guessing who
would be the winner of the competition. This
took place with me actually sitting there. I
was incredulous at how bold they were. I guess
they just wanted to see how I would react.
would get me first?? How would they overcome
I just rolled my eyes. These guys were all
talk, no action. I knew they
were bragging and showing off for each
one man ever actually propositioned me. Not once.
Oh sure, I got offers all the time, but the offers always
came out in the open here by the pool with other men
watching. It was
sport to these guys. I think
they sensed I had an immunity
to their charms. They were right... I wasn't
embarrassing to admit the truth, but the reason I
hung around was that I enjoyed being the center of
attention. Considering how low my self-esteem
was, this was the first hint of popularity I had
ever experienced. Granted I would have
preferred receiving this kind of flattery from a
coterie of pretty girls, but beggars can't be
were a little weird sometimes, but I got used to
It helped that I was the
youngest guy there. That made teasing me even easier. It was an amusing time because they treated me like
some sort of debutante or the belle of the
They propositioned me practically
every time I walked by, but always in a joking way. A group would be sitting at
the pool having a beer in the evening. I would walk past them in
my basketball shorts and they would whistle in appreciation. Such
long legs! Such big, broad shoulders! Such a stud!
I would always
reply in some manner. I found sarcasm worked
the best. "Not tonight, boys, I have to go
lift weights so you will desire me more."
these gay guys were light-hearted about their neverending
disappointment. Whatever they said, it always
made me laugh. I began to linger a little
longer and soak up the adulation. That turned out
to be a pretty good move. Eventually they
accepted me as a friend in addition to being their
Beauty Queen. Now I began to learn
something about a world that I previously knew
nothing about. One thing that fascinated me
was their fondness for talking about sex. I
learned more about talking dirty in September than
all my previous 24 years combined.
Suggesting I jump in the pool
naked was usually a major part of the greeting
ritual. 'Oh, Rick,' they would say,
'You are so
irresistible and you have such an athletic body. Why not strip
down for us and jump in the pool? Didn't you want to cool off?
Why not give us all the thrill of a lifetime?'
would just laugh. I said that
if I was short and fat, they would simply change their pitch.
The men would grin and begin to protest. Not true! Fortunately,
since I was a good sport about the flirting, we all got along fine.
I never felt threatened. Besides, I enjoyed the compliments, but
don't tell anyone.
I appreciated the flirting
for a very unusual reason. If I listened to these
guys long enough, maybe I could learn how to talk to
women. Seriously, these gay guys were
pros at flirting. Since I was receptive to any coaching I
could get, there were times I would pull up a chair
and just listen. Gay banter was pretty
incredible. It was catty, bitchy, nasty, and
funny all at the same time. Thanks to my
sheltered life, I had never heard people talk this
way before. I just grinned. I couldn't get
enough of it.
Teasing, sarcasm, sexual innuendos, and good
natured put-downs dominated the conversation.
And bragging too. Lots of bragging about
countless conquests and their giant penises.
A guy named
Fred told me a joke. "Three big cowboys
were drinking in a bar. They laid their dicks on the
bar to see which one had the longest. A gay
guy walked in and did a double-take. 'Oh gosh, Bud Lite, bartender, and
I will definitely take the buffet!!'"
So much sex talk. Constantly!
I swear I heard someone proposition someone every
minutes. Some would suggest jokingly that so and so should
stop talking about it and just make a move for a
change. Let's go to the bedroom and continue this
line of conversation in private. To
my surprise, every now and then two men would get up
from their seats and do just that. I guess all
that sex talk got them worked up. Maybe that
was the idea all along.
insults... "I generally never forget a
face, but in your case I will make an exception."
pickup lines... "Gee, you look like a Boy Scout.
You want to practice tying knots on me?"
pickup lines... "Quick, kiss me and blow air into my mouth.
You just took my breath away."
less than subtle hints... "I was going to tell you a joke about my
dick, but it's too long."
putdowns... "Jack be nimble, jack be quick,
you promised a candlestick, but all I got was a toothpick."
It took me a
while, but I started to warm up. I turned into a giant tease. Always
careful not to cross the line, sometimes I
flirted, sometimes I provoked. It was all part
of the Game. One day I figured out what I was
missing was the art of the put-down. They say
flattery will get you anywhere with women, but not
these guys. They wanted to be insulted.
They wanted to be told how hopeless they were, that
not in a million years would I ever consider letting
them touch me. These guys were so twisted that
they were practically begging for me to
put them in their place. Unfortunately, I had
no experience with this type of humor. You
know me, Mr. Nice Guy, always be polite, always show
respect. Deliberately saying mean things, even
in jest, was out of character for me.
However, I was
starting to catch on. Gay men
prized comebacks, especially if they were
spontaneous and not some canned answer out of a joke
book. Some of those guys had the sharpest wit. They could come up with
some real zingers. Unfortunately, I
didn't think I was
witty enough to think of a good comeback on the spot. So I
made one up and waited my chance. I didn't
have long to wait. Sure enough, one evening as I passed the
committee sitting by the pool, a guy
named Jim spoke up.
you big stud, where ya goin'? Why not come
up to my bedroom and discover your true nature?"
I stopped to
acknowledge my admirer. Jim was perfect... he
was always begging for put-downs. So I
grinned and raised both palms for everyone to see.
that the best line you can think of, Jim? I bet your own hands wouldn't fall for that
Then I placed
two fingers inside the other hand to simulate
masturbation. "... and that's too bad
because that's the only sex you'll be
I knew I was
taking a chance, so I remembered
to smile as I told it. Thank goodness it was
taken in the spirit in which it was given. That was my favorite
moment because every guy there cracked up, even Jim. It
was part of the Game to see the Trophy remain elusive. To be honest, I think they would
have been disappointed if I had ever given in.
I think everyone
would prefer to talk about the
hunt than the conquest. Think about
it... only one person gets to talk about the
conquest. To give in would have ruined
I heard a
rumor that some gay men can't stand effeminate men.
They prefer viral, masculine men. Perhaps that
was part of my attraction. Not that I was
viral, but compared to these guys I guess I was. Thanks to
playing sports six days a week, I was a very powerful young man.
Now thanks to all their encouragement, I was
developing a mouth to match my body. Once I found my
stride and gave free rein to my sarcastic nature, their
appreciation grew. I swear these men
were a much-needed tonic for me. Fujimoto had
made me doubt myself and turned
me into a eunuch. These men made me feel
attractive again and helped me become more outgoing.
Pretty soon I was exchanging barbs just like
everyone else and laughing in the process.
Say what you
will about my strange walk on the wild side, these
men were bringing me out of my shell and I
appreciated them for it no end. I believe these
men got a kick out of the fact that I was
making an effort to fit in. Every time they
teased me, I teased them right back. Back and
forth. I came to realize this
clever repartee was as natural to me as breathing.
I liked the gay style of humor. It was fun and it
kept me on my toes. Best of all, they helped
me become 'me' again. Good riddance to
flirtatious exchanges did make me wonder. Why could I trade
jokes and insults with these crazy men and yet be so totally terrified
around women? It just didn't make sense. If I could talk
this freely around women, my loneliness problem would be solved. I knew I had a personality
hidden in there somewhere, but I just didn't have the courage to
use it around women. For that matter, I
even get close enough to try. Phobia is irrational.
How much sense does it make for a grown woman to
fear a little wading pool just because she nearly drowned
as a child? That is how I behaved. I avoided women because I was
sure I would end up getting hurt again. I
needed to get tougher, but how would I get tougher if I
was too afraid to even try? That is the nature
of phobia. No one ever gets better because it
is easier to avoid
the problem than deal with anxiety and confront
in early October I had
some bad luck. A older man named Chandler passed by my
apartment just as I opened the door to leave for
He glanced inside and saw my pool table. Chandler
stopped to stare. "Is that
what I think it is, Rick??"
is a pool table. You are welcome to have a look."
"Oh my, it
so beautiful. Such an interesting choice of
furniture." Chandler smiled innocently enough
I should have
known better. That night after basketball,
there were a dozen men by the pool. This was
the largest group I had ever seen, so I suppose I
should have been suspicious. Nevertheless, as
always, I stopped by to chat and pass inspection.
Big mistake. I should have kept walking.
That was the night I learned that allusions to
shooting pool are a popular metaphor for sexual
activity in the gay world. I had opened the
door to a new and much more pointed line of teasing.
"Oh Rick, we
hear you have a pool table in your living room.
That is so exciting! Can we come over and
watch you play? Are you any good with your cue
stick? You can shoot at my corner pocket any
time you want. Or better yet, will you
put some English on my balls?"
Clever comments seemed to be coming from every direction.
Then someone called me 'The Big Ball Buster'. I
didn't like that one. This was a reference to someone
teases but not pleases. I
could see they were taking their gloves
off and testing me.
"Sorry, guys, you have me all worked up. I think
I will go and stroke my pool stick for a while."
ha ha ha. Feeling outnumbered, I
Fortunately, the teasing soon resumed being good-natured,
but I continued to hear pool table references. Every
night my arrival ratcheted up the excitement because now
they could use their newest pool table lines on me.
Oh gee, wasn't I lucky? The pool table
incident seemed to elevate my Trophy status to a new level.
I guess the pool table stoked their fantasies. Who knows? All I know is from that
point on, whenever I came home, I was met with an
appreciation generally reserved for visiting
It was all so ironic. My new-found popularity left me shaking my head. Damn
that pool table anyway. If they only knew the truth.
I was so bad at shooting pool I couldn't even beat a girl.
Maybe I should let Yolanda come talk to them and reassure
them I wasn't nearly the man they thought I was. Damn
Yolanda anyway. I had not
had a date since she worked me over three months ago.
Strangely enough, the ongoing
pool table banter set the
stage for one of the most unusual moments of my life.
About two weeks after Chandler noticed my pool
came home from a night of volleyball all hot and sweaty.
Thanks to daylight savings time, there still some
twilight left. As usual, a big group was
gathered round the pool. It was a very
pleasant evening. The gang saw
me coming and raised their glasses to me. I
nodded appreciatively. Let the flirting begin.
"Oh Rick, what a shame, there are no
chairs. Why not sit on my lap? If you whisper something
in my ear, I might even grant you a wish!"
"Oh Rick, you've had such a
heavy workout. You are all sweaty. Why don't
you take off that nasty tee-shirt and show us your
feeling came over me. I had heard that women
in New Orleans love to flash their breasts at Mardi
Gras. Right now, the only flattery I was
receiving was coming from these crazy
gay men. I suddenly
understood why women enter wet tee-shirt contests...
if you got it, flaunt it. A funny idea popped
into my head. Oh hell, why not?
So I made a suggestion. "You guys call me a
tease all the time and I am getting a little tired
of it. If I take off my shirt, are you
going to behave better from now on?"
my God, Rick, absolutely!
We will be the best behaved boyfriends you ever had.
If you take off your tee-shirt, we promise
we will never tease you again!"
"How can I
trust you? You all have such terrible
have the body of a Greek God. Let
us worship you. If you strip
down for us, Rick, we will treat you as the Adonis of our
So with that I
turned my back, took off my shirt, then turned back
around and smiled. Good grief, big
mistake. They went nuts, absolutely nuts. Now I couldn't
shut them up.
my God, it's the statue of David in the flesh!"
stop there, Rick, Michelangelo surely had you in
I don't know
what came over me. These guys were
completely full of shit, but I guess flattery does get
you somewhere. I stood at the swimming pool
where they all could see me.
slowly took off one shoe. Then the other.
Next came my socks.
I laughed because the men were absolutely
mesmerized. I only wished I had more clothing
to tease them with. Now all I had left were my
As I stood there with my
hands on my hips in defiance, they began to clap and cheer.
The applause was deafening.
Now came the
pleas and demands to continue. "Oh,
Rick, don't stop there!
You have us all worked up. You have to finish
us off with your naked glory. We all have our
I drew the line at
removing my gym
shorts. But the cheering and jeering didn't
stop. They were egging me on.
Something inside me snapped. Ordinarily I am
extremely modest about my body. But not
tonight. I decided to stop now would be the
wrong move. It was getting pretty dark, so I
threw caution to the winds. I jumped in
the water and removed my gym shorts, then threw them
on a chair. When the
men saw what I was doing, they erupted with laughter
and clapping. To wolf whistles and cat calls, I
did my best Esther Williams impersonation and began
to swim around the pool. In the gloom of the 9
pm summer evening, I doubt seriously they could see much,
but I didn't really care one way or the other.
All I can say is that I was in a very odd mood.
The men went
absolutely nuts. I mean it, they went
absolutely nuts. They thought this was the funniest thing
in ages. Their Trophy had stripped naked
before their very eyes. My cool factor went
off the charts.
As I swam
around in the pool, I had no idea what had
come over me. This was highly out of character.
I had never done anything like this in my life.
Yeah, I had gone streaking one night back at Colorado State
at 2 am, but big deal. How much courage
does it take to run naked with no one looking?
However, there was something about the way they
dared me to strip that made me want to show I
wasn't afraid of them. If they wanted to look,
let them look. After all, my equipment was no
different than theirs.
As I dog paddled around
the pool to wild applause, at the far end of the
pool I caught the smell of cigarette smoke. As
I looked up, to my
surprise, I realized there was a woman sitting at a
table. In the darkness, I had not previously
noticed her. She was an older Hispanic woman
sitting by herself having a glass of wine. I had never
seen this woman before. I assumed she
had been watching the hoopla, so I was immediately
embarrassed, especially when I saw the strange
wide-eyed expression on her face. On the next lap, I
noticed she was still staring at me intently.
This time I smiled and waved at her. She
time, the men were
hooting and hollering. They definitely
appreciated my grand gesture.
have such a beautiful body! Come sit with us
so we can admire your glory."
I was ready to
get out, but
someone had removed my gym shorts from the
pool's edge. I assumed they were hoping I might just climb out bare
naked without it. No way. Not with these
sex fiends. So I grabbed onto the edge of the pool
and spoke up. "Okay,
have to hand me back my shorts. And while
you're at it, hand me that towel over there. If I am to be
Prince, then treat me as one."
one of the men threw me the towel along with an
offer to help me dry off. I politely declined.
While I was in the water, I pulled my shorts back
on. I got out of the pool and wrapped the towel around my
shorts. Then I
pulled up a seat and prepared to face the music. Instantly a beer appeared in
my hand followed by an appreciative salute to my boldness.
Everyone raised a glass. "To our Prince!"
It was fun having them make
such a big fuss over me.
I had taken a pretty big risk, but it had paid off.
Yeah, I might be a tease, but at least I had a sense of
humor about it. My stunt had actually turned out better
than I expected.
Maybe I should take chances more often.
minutes of silliness,
the fuss began to die down. At this point,
the Hispanic woman walked over to me as I sat in
the chair. It was dark now, but she looked
pretty good. Too good. My Phobia kicked
in and I was immediately
Standing before me, she introduced herself. "Hello, my
name is Gloria. That was quite a show you put
on. Do you do that every night?"
challenge in her voice, I wanted to offer to some
smart ass retort, but not a word came out.
I was startled at my silence. It defied
understanding... this woman had just given me
an opening, but I
couldn't say a word! What was wrong
Based on her
smirk, this woman was curious about me. I had stripped naked for
these men because I couldn't care less what they
thought, but now I couldn't respond to a woman
who had seemingly just made the first move. It made no sense
why I was so tongue-tied around women. I didn't
know how to respond, so I stuttered, "Uh, hi, do you
"Yes, I am up
in Apartment 16." Gloria pointed directly to her
apartment on the second floor just in case I was too
stupid to count. "And what is
that's interesting. That's also the name of my son.
He's your age. Well, Rick, I
guess I will see you around. In case you have
your clothes on and I don't
recognize you, be sure to say hello." Gloria touched me lightly
on my hand, smiled faintly and left.
I could not
take my eyes off Gloria as she climbed the steps.
Watching her move those hips, I felt that stirring
sensation. Gloria moved well. Too well. I took a deep breath.
Gloria left, I went to my apartment. As I showered,
I thought about Gloria in Apartment 16 upstairs.
I had the distinct impression her touch had been an
invitation. With all those men milling about,
it had been very discrete. However, to me, the
touch had been electric. Gloria was twice my age
and I felt intimidated. Did I dare??
The moment I dried off, I decided to act on that hunch.
My heart was in my throat. This was the boldest move I
had ever made towards a woman. I would die if I
guessed wrong. I would throw myself off the
balcony and die young. It was 10:30 pm. I opened
the door to look around. After checking
to make sure there were no men around the
pool to spy on me, I went
upstairs and knocked softly on
Gloria's door. My heart was thumping so hard I
thought I was going to have a heart attack.
Gloria opened the door.
"Hi, Gloria, I wondered if you would be interested in
To my dismay,
Gloria didn't say a word. She just stood there sizing me up with a poker face. Oh my God,
please tell me I didn't guess wrong.
10 seconds passed. Those were the longest 10
seconds of my life. Did I misread her signals?
What was she thinking? I was almost certain she was
going to shoot me down, so I was full of panic. What is
it about women who can drive me up a wall?
Without warning, Gloria broke into a grin.
She opened the door wider and I
nearly died with relief.
come in. May I pour you a
glass of wine?"
Later as we
talked in bed, I asked Gloria a question. "How
did you know I was straight?"
I had no idea. But I liked your stunt.
You made me laugh. I figured if you were straight, you
would find your way up here. And if you
weren't straight, what did I have to lose?"
honest, I wonder about myself sometimes. I
think I'm straight, but these guys are trying their
best to convince me otherwise."
that case, maybe it's a good thing I came along
when I did."
I smiled. A good thing
I pulled Gloria to me. God, it was good to have a
woman in my arms again.
PART TWO: THE DANCE PROJECT
I meet Vanessa
Vanessa two-times me, Dr. Fujimoto criticizes me
Vanessa leaves for Portland, I receive a 'D' in Interviewing, Jean
reveals the truth about Vanessa
I begin five months of therapy with Dr. Hilton
Debbie and the Cow Eyes, Learned Helplessness, I teach a
Dismissed from Graduate School, return to Houston
Yolanda, Lynn, Child Welfare job, new apartment, Courtesan, Rock Bottom,
Parking Lot Inferno
Magic Mirror: The Dance Project begins