Mark

My brother Mark had moved into a small house with a friend shortly after the house fire. He had just graduated high school and was cooking at a hotel restaurant. People thought the hotel was kind of fancy because it was on a piece of land that jutted out into the Columbia River. It was called Clover Island.

Some people still believed he had something to do with the house fire but nothing was ever proven.

Every time I went to the new house that he lived in, it smelled of thick pot smoke and thin beer. Mark was also becoming more interested in motorcycles at this time. I thought this combination of things added up to being a Hells Angel or something. Dad didn’t like me going over there because he probably knew what was going on.

One night though, I made up some kind of story and went over there to watch a KISS concert on HBO. There were other people there, most of them sitting on the floor as Mark and his roommate tried to figure out how to hook up the stereo speakers to the TV. About halfway through the concert, Gene Simmons began an ominous bass refrain between songs and then started spitting fake blood out of his mouth. But he wasn’t really spitting. It was more like he was just letting it gurgle out of his lips and down his chin. When he was done, he stuck his long tongue out and gave a devious look as the band started into “God of Thunder.” Everyone watching the concert totally loved this, except me. I thought it went too far and I was afraid I might have nightmares about the bloody face. Someone said it was a trick, that Gene kept a packet of goat’s blood in the back of his mouth until it was time to bite down on it. The person who explained this said it was easy to hide stuff in your mouth. He pulled at the corner of his mouth with a finger and showed us a wad of gum stuck to one of his stained wisdom teeth.

I always liked Paul Stanley, the star-eyed guitar player and singer, better than Gene. I liked the pucker of his lips, the androgynous superhero quality that he had. Plus he owned a certain cool quality the rest of the band lacked. He would never stoop to spewing blood.

Later on, when Peter Criss stepped out from behind the mammoth cluster of drums and sat at the edge of the stage to sweetly serenade the fans with their unlikely hit “Beth,” one of the floor sitters nodded at me and said something to Mark. “He’s cool,” Mark said. Then suddenly there was a joint being passed around.

Being “cool,” I wasn’t sure what was expected of me. I was maybe eleven or twelve and I hadn’t even puffed a cigarette yet. When the joint was offered to me I simply passed it on to the next person. By the end of the ballad, it was so small that someone had put a tiny clamp on the thing. I started to think that the whole getting stoned thing was looking pretty desperate.

Dad never found out that I went over there to watch the concert but he did give me a disappointed shake of the head a few months later when I got a t-shirt with a KISS picture ironed on it. We were out at Skipper’s for our Friday night fish dinner and he said, “Do you know what that means? It means Kids in Satan’s Service.”

Fried fish was the only food I liked with ketchup. I squirted the thick red goo into the little paper cups and thought about the bloody face as we waited for our dinner.

There are a couple of scenes in A Common Pornography where you have sexual encounters with men. Were these moments erotic to you at the time?

You use the word “encounters” like they were aliens. But those particular moments were not really erotic. I’ve had other experiences with guys that were much hotter.


So, are you bisexual?

As Kurt Cobain said, “Everyone is gay.” But I would say that I mostly identify as a queer straight.


When you were driving around naked at the beginning of the book, something that happened just a couple of years ago, were you aroused?

No, but I’ve driven around like that too.


If you were to drive around naked now, what song would you crank on the car stereo?

Something perverse like Beethoven.


Do you have any bumper stickers on your car?

I have an Obama/Biden sticker that was printed by our union at Powell’s (the ILWU—longshoreman, bitches!) and a big Cardinals emblem because they’re my favorite football team.


Do you read the reviews of your books?

I do, and they’re good for the most part. I’ve gotten a few bad reviews too though. They do hurt my feelings sometimes. I could easily go to Twitter or Facebook or wherever and talk about how much of a bitch so and so from the Boston News or Minnesota Herald is, but I restrain myself. I don’t want to cause negative drama or to look like a baby. We’re all professionals here, right?


What’s the worst thing that someone has said about A Common Pornography?

One blogger said it was “one of the three worst books of the year.” A pretty funny thing to say actually—I mean to come up with the number three! Hahaha. He has the rest of the year to find two worse books than mine. But really, it’s no big deal. I know that some people are just not the right person or reader for the book. I want everyone to like it, but that’s not going to happen. Still, if you don’t like the book, then something is wrong with you.


You have been part of the independent publishing scene for about twenty years, what are some of the other publishers you admire?

That’s kind of a stock question, isn’t it?


Let me rephrase it. Which small publishers would you marry, fuck, and kill?

I would marry Akashic because they’re adventurous and treat their people well. I would fuck Cleis because they put out a lot of dirty books and they’re probably good in bed. And I’d kill Publishing Genius Press because they’re from Baltimore and I heard it’s easy to get away with murder there. Plus I think Adam Robinson owes me ten bucks.


Has anyone from your past contacted you about your book?

A couple of people. It’s interesting to hear the reaction from old girlfriends especially. Erin, who was my first girlfriend that I lived with said, “I don’t remember doing some of those awful things, but they sound true.” Another girl that I mention very briefly in the book sent me a message and said she was glad that I didn’t use her real name—but she meant it in a nice way I think. And I hate to even talk about this but my first high school girlfriend tracked me down and sent me a typo-riddled Facebook message. She’s one of the few people I really have no interest in talking to. It made me a little sick to see her note. I’m a really positive and friendly person and I don’t believe in hating people, but I have to say that I kind of hate her still.


After working on a memoir, is it hard to get back into fiction?

I’ve found it extremely hard. I tried to start a novel last year, a few months before ACP came out, and I hit a roadblock after about 20 pages. I still like the idea of it though, so I hope to get back into that. In the meantime, I have written a couple of other nonfiction pieces. One of them was about dirty talk and then something about music memories. l I also have a pretty funny essay about my vasectomy operation but I haven’t sold it to anyone yet.


Is it true that you proposed to your girlfriend at the end of your Powell’s reading back in February?

A: Why, yes, that is true. And no, we did not recreate the moment when I read in other cities, although some people wanted us to. You can actually see an across the room view of the proposal on Youtube. We’re hoping to get hitched before the end of the year.