elsa
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Elsa, here are two more chapters.

Chapter Thirteen: Rematch... forcing myself to carry on

Chapter Fourteen: Gloria... strange chapter

Enjoy!!

 

 

DESTINY


CHAPTER THIRTEEN:

REMATCH

Written by Rick Archer
 

 


SUBCHAPTER 57
- TIED TO A TREE

 

I don't think my tale of the Parking Lot Inferno will make much 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, Caroline was so scared of a child's wading pool that she would walk around it.  Silly to her friends, but frightening to Caroline. 

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?"

"Not many.  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. 

At the moment, I dreaded seeing them again.  However, since I had survived once, I figured I would be ready for them the second time.

'Ready for 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. 

It 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.

Now my thoughts returned to my therapist friend Dr. Hilton. 

"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.

"If I 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 way out."

"Maybe I am not being specific enough.  How would you cure me if you had total control?"

Dr. Hilton laughed.  "Are you sure you want to know?"

"Yes."

"That's 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."

Following my dance class, Dr. Hilton's words felt prophetic. 

My 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.

Some 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 would survive.

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.

 


SUBCHAPTER 58
- 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. 

Then 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.

I practiced 'step-together-step' 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 had been.

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.  To 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.  The thought that God might be watching was a powerful incentive to take 'Step Ball Change' a lot more seriously than learning card tricks or photography.

As I 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 classmates someday. 

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. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 59
-
REMATCH

 

One evening while I practiced in the Magic Mirror, I had to stop and laugh.  Good lord, could I possibly be any clumsier?  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 ironic sort 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. 

I was 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.  Now that 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 that.  There 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 a haircut

Then I 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 mind.  They had already judged the book by its cover.

I 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 surprise.  Last week the women had caught me off guard.  Their sneers had 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 much credit. 

I 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 David was 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.

David never 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 again.  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 someday, 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.

The 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 to women.  However, my 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.

 


SUBCHAPTER 60
- 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 daily basis.  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. 

I 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 involved.  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 firing line.  Fortunately, I never encountered a situation even remotely this serious.  I focused on allegations of child neglect, unfortunate 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 cuts.

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 job.  I 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 comes from 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 were. 

'There but for the Grace of God go I...

 


SUBCHAPTER 61
- 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 here.

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 lying on 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 underneath practically 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, missing books 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.

I 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 cheerful.  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 eyes.

"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." 

I 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 my skin.

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 Helen and made her cry, but that was hardly my style.  All I could do was appeal to her good side and 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 solution.

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 coffee cups.  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 four months in these visits.  My supervisor did not want me to stop monitoring this situation until there was noticeable improvement.

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. 

I 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. 

I 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.  I 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!"

I 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 this coming? 

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 brakes.  

I warned myself I could not let this happen again. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 62
- HUNGER

 

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. 

"Oh my goodness, my children 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.

We were 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.  Although I 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."

Helen was 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.

Thank 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. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 63
- THE HEART IS LONELY HUNTER

 

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 Vanessa.  More 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 she 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 heart-wrenching, 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 another depression.   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 decisions. 

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 who were 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. 

There was 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. 

Marian wasn't 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 should I?

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 was 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? 

I 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.

I 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 later on.  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 not?

Because every time I met one of these wounded women, 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. 

I decided I was a better person than that.  I had David to thank for that insight.

 


PART TWO: THE DANCE PROJECT

Chapter FOURTEEN: GLORIA

 

 

  TIMELINE
   1959-1968   St. John's
   1968-1972   Johns Hopkins
   1972-1973   Interlude, Arlene
   1973-1974   Colorado State
  1973: October   I meet Vanessa
  1973: November   Vanessa two-times me, Dr. Fujimoto criticizes me
   1973: December   Vanessa leaves for Portland, I receive a 'D' in Interviewing, Jean reveals the truth about Vanessa
   1974: January   I begin five months of therapy with Dr. Hilton
   1974: April   Debbie and the Cow Eyes, Learned Helplessness, I teach a Psychology class
   1974: May   Dismissed from Graduate School, return to Houston
   1974: June   Couch Catatonia
   1974: July   Yolanda, Lynn, Child Welfare job, new apartment, The Courtesan, Rock Bottom, Parking Lot Inferno
   1974: August   Magic Mirror: The Dance Project begins

 

DESTINY


CHAPTER FOURTEEN:

GLORIA

Written by Rick Archer
 

 


SUBCHAPTER 64
-
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, loneliness was 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.  Every night 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 sports. 

   

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 the afternoon.

Tuesday and 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 on it.

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 great deliberation.   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.  

 


SUBCHAPTER 65
- CURING MY PHOBIA

 

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 become 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 hostility, the Seven-Headed Hydra monster managed to get under my skin every time I saw them.

Those women 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.

Strangely 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 to be 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 ill-suited. 

Instead the 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. 

Now every 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 hopeless.

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 women. 

How do I cure my fear of rejection? 

My mind 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 them.  Nothing 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 effortlessly.

But when the dog heard the buzzer and felt the shock, the same dog gave up on the spot.  Seligman was bewildered. 

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 buzz buzz.  The dogs simply collapsed and whimpered when the buzzer sounded and the shock began.

Seligman was 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 way.

Seligman's 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 was active. 

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. 

I was absolutely terrified of asking a girl to dance.  Just like Connie who avoided the swimming pool, I would avoid the dance floor.

 


SUBCHAPTER 66
-
THE DILEMMA

 

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 lofty throne.  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 attractive. 

I 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 time.  I decided the 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 with Dancing:

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 practice?  


I had the same dilemma with Dating. 

I needed more experience with women before I started Dating. 

How do I get experience with women without Dating? 

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!'

Phobia spoke 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 a 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 and I could see the work was paying off.  However, 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 myself 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 rejection was 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. 

I concluded that someone needed to drag me kicking and screaming over my barrier.  Fat chance of that, right?  Ten years and counting... 

 


SUBCHAPTER 67
-
THE TROPHY

 

It was now October 1974.  After spending 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 where meeting 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. 

But no, instead I had moved into a gay apartment project.  I had inadvertently moved into the only part of town where meeting single 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 I 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. 

These men 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 enough.  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 first?

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 talk. 

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. 

Who would get me first??  How would they overcome my resistance??  I just rolled my eyes.  These guys were all talk, no action.  I knew they were bragging and showing off for each other.  Not 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 interested. 

It is 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 choosers. 

These guys were a little weird sometimes, but I got used to their ways.   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 ball.  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."

Fortunately 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?'

I 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 three 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.

There were insults... "I generally never forget a face, but in your case I will make an exception."

There were pickup lines... "Gee, you look like a Boy Scout.  You want to practice tying knots on me?"

There were pickup lines... "Quick, kiss me and blow air into my mouth.  You just took my breath away."

There were less than subtle hints... "I was going to tell you a joke about my dick, but it's too long."

There were 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.

"Hey, Rick, 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. 

"Is that the best line you can think of, Jim?  I bet your own hands wouldn't fall for that line..."

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 getting tonight.

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 everything. 

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 Colorado State.

However, our 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 couldn't 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 one's fears.

 


SUBCHAPTER 68
-
STRIP TEASE

 

One day 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 work.  He glanced inside and saw my pool table.  Chandler stopped to stare.  "Is that what I think it is, Rick??"

"Yes, that is a pool table.  You are welcome to have a look."

"Oh my, it is so beautiful.  Such an interesting choice of furniture."  Chandler smiled innocently enough and left.

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 who 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 left. 

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 royalty. 

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 table, I 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 big chest?"

The oddest 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?"

"Oh 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 reputations."

"You 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 dreams."

 

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.

"Oh my God, it's the statue of David in the flesh!"

"Don't stop there, Rick, Michelangelo surely had you in mind!"

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.   I 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 gym shorts.

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 rulers out!"

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 smiled back.

The entire time, the men were hooting and hollering.  They definitely appreciated my grand gesture. 

"Rick, you 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, guys, you have to hand me back my shorts.  And while you're at it, hand me that towel over there.  If I am to be your Prince, then treat me as one." 

Sure enough, 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.

 


SUBCHAPTER 69
-
GLORIA

 

After ten 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 nervous. 

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?"   

Sensing a challenge in her voice, I wanted to offer to some sort of 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 with me?

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 live here?"

"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 your name?"

"Rick."

"Well, Rick, 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. 

Shortly after 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 some company."

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. 

"Yes, please 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?"

"Actually, 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?"

"To be honest, I wonder about myself sometimes.  I think I'm straight, but these guys are trying their best to convince me otherwise."

"Well, in that case, maybe it's a good thing I came along when I did."

I smiled.  A good thing indeed.  I pulled Gloria to me.  God, it was good to have a woman in my arms again.

 


PART TWO: THE DANCE PROJECT

Chapter FIFTEEN:  MARK

 

  TIMELINE
   1959-1968   St. John's
   1968-1972   Johns Hopkins
   1972-1973   Interlude, Arlene
   1973-1974   Colorado State
  1973: October   I meet Vanessa
  1973: November   Vanessa two-times me, Dr. Fujimoto criticizes me
   1973: December   Vanessa leaves for Portland, I receive a 'D' in Interviewing, Jean reveals the truth about Vanessa
   1974: January   I begin five months of therapy with Dr. Hilton
   1974: April   Debbie and the Cow Eyes, Learned Helplessness, I teach a Psychology class
   1974: May   Dismissed from Graduate School, return to Houston
   1974: June   Couch Catatonia
   1974: July   Yolanda, Lynn, Child Welfare job, new apartment, Courtesan, Rock Bottom, Parking Lot Inferno
   1974: August   Magic Mirror: The Dance Project begins
   1974: September   Dilemma, Trophy
   1974: October   Gloria

 

 

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