A friend from Tennessee told me I should interview Audrey Braun. I had never heard of her though her name sounded vaguely familiar. A week later her book, A SMALL FORTUNE, and a stack of European tabloids (L’Espresso, Bild, Paris Match, and the Daily Mirror) showed up in a box at my door. I perused the magazines and in issue after issue, some of them dating back to 1983, were snapshots and fleeting mentions of Audrey Braun. There was Audrey Braun at a disco with Princess Stephanie of Monaco, Audrey Braun on the arm of weathered French rocker Johnny Hallyday, and then another photo later of Audrey Braun canoodling with Johnny Hallyday’s son, David. There were shots of her topless on a yacht floating in the Mediterranean with Keith Richards, Patti Hansen, and what looks to be Albert II of Monaco turning his back to the camera (the article was about Richards, the photo only named him and Hansen). There was even an article that linked Audrey Braun to Milan Kundera around the time The Unbearable Lightness of Being was being made into a movie. Our mutual friend says she was up for a part in the film but Kundera, who allegedly had “business” dealings with her father, thought she was “too young, too blond, and far too temperamental.” Additionally, our mutual friend claims that Daniel Day-Lewis (who starred in the movie) was overheard saying he wouldn’t work with Braun because her feet were grotesquely small.

After reading the tabloids, I opened the book. And indeed, this woman who doesn’t appear to have ever had a career (other than being the charming daughter of wealthy and very secretive Americans) is quite a talented writer. A SMALL FORTUNE is a sexy, mysterious romp with literary overtones. Erica Jong meets Harlan Coben on a sticky summer night.

I immediately sent Audrey Braun an email requesting that we do an interview over the phone. She sent me her number, but it turns out she rarely answers her phone. When I finally did get through to her (her almost-babyish voice reminds me of Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks), she said, “Can’t talk now, I’m in Target buying No. 7 Breast Cream.” And then she hung up. Seriously. The last person who hung up on me was Rita Gore in ninth grade who believed a false rumor that I had made out with her boyfriend, Denny Garcia, behind the dunes at Devereaux beach. I sent Audrey Braun an email with a single word: Target? She wrote back, “It’s the only place that carries No. 7. Breast cream. Buy some. Every woman should use it.” After dozens more attempts to get Audrey Braun on the phone, I gave up and sent her an email with 19 questions about her book, her life, her slightly famous parents, and her romances. Most of the questions came back blank, with no response (she refused to discuss any of the celebrities noted above). Next to the question of how old she was, Audrey Braun wrote, “N.A.” Not applicable?

I feel I should disclose that after my one sentence conversation with Audrey Braun I went to Target and bought some No. 7 Breast Cream. I’m now walking around with silky, creamy Audrey Braun breasts. Unfortunately, I still can’t figure out how to live the Audrey Braun life.

SIX (out of 19) QUESTIONS FOR AUDREY BRAUN

Q. Your first novel, A SMALL FORTUNE, is scintillating, thrilling, and full of intrigue. Oh, it’s sexy, too! Everything I’ve read about your life is equally thrilling. Is it true that your next book will be a memoir?

A. Have you read David Shield’s new book Reality Hunger? Don’t ask me to explain it. When I try I go mute. My head fills with rusty cogs when it comes to understanding the bigger question of “what is the REAL truth” and “how accurate is memory REALLY?” Then there’s emotional truth, which is just a smart lie that gets to the bigger truth inside ourselves. Right? I think that’s right. But to answer your question, some people think THIS book is a memoir. Ever since I read Reality Hunger I’m no longer comfortable questioning someone else’s reality. Does that answer your question?

Q. Someone I know who was at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference with you told me that for years you were the mistress of a married European royal. I tried to check this out with someone else who knows you and he claimed you were a mistress to a royal but not a European royal. Can you clarify this? Are you still involved with him?

A. Wait. Still involved with whom? The ‘someone else’ who claims to know me? Ha! Not after this I won’t be. You know, Jessica, it’s hard to talk about the Royal Days. I don’t blame you for asking. I just can’t go there without the powers that be going off like a Russian firing squad. However, I will say this: Borders move. One day you’re part of Europe sipping an espresso in the sun, the next day you’re living in the Eastern bloc, drinking water from a rubber hose.

Q. An article in the Daily Mirror claims you didn’t find out that your father was in the CIA until after his death. How did this affect the way you viewed your childhood, the years in European boarding schools, etc.?

A. All men are enigmas. The minute you think you’ve got one figured out is right about the time you need to turn around and open up your math book and start studying the facts (a little something I picked up during my Lichtenstein school days). That about sums it up. Pardon the pun. Sorry. I can’t really discuss my father. Talk about a Russian firing squad! No. I’m kidding. Don’t print that. You’re deleting this, right?

Q. Okay, more rumors (there are so many of them!): Is it true that your grandmother was a Ziegfeld girl and your mother was a Rockette?

A. Wow. You’ve really done your homework. Let’s dance. David Bowie wrote that. Put on your red shoes and dance with me. Who do you think he was talking about? Mmm hmn. Yes.

Q. Let’s not ignore your fabulous book! Where did you find these characters? Is Celia based on someone you know?

A. Funny how things come full circle. She knows who she is and if at any time she wants to come forward and talk about her story, not to mention “Benicio’s”story it’s fine with me. I wish her well, I really do, and I don’t say this out of any kind of jealousy or grudge or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I just wish she’d stop forwarding all those youtube videos. How many times does someone need to see a cat flush a toilet? I don’t care if it’s a Persian one either.

Q. Anything you want to clear up about your international reputation—are you as uninhibited (I read about the naked fountain swimming in Cannes) as people say?

A. Two things: I have beautiful breasts.

We were at Leo’s Burgers. Alex Raffio stuffed his face. His mouth looked like Pacman with an Italian moustache right before he bit down. “Oh I have secrets,” he said with his mouth half full. He chewed on his burger like he knew what it was really like to be hungry.

“Whatever, Alex.” I said. “You’re always saying you have secrets.”

“Don’t believe me?”

A. was there too. She had big green eyes, dark skin, long light brown hair. She could talk a gorilla into being a tightrope walker. She was good. And he was lusting after her. We both were. He didn’t know it but I had the upper hand. I rescued her one day from the university library. He was her tutor and rattling on about loyalists, the American Revolution. That sort of thing. Long-windedness was his norm. The man had lungs. A book summary critique for him in the CSU graduate program was a 45-page treatise. She looked off in the distance. His moustache bristled. His stubby hands articulated as if he had been a pamphleteer or a loyalist preacher. I sat at the table and sparked a conversation. There was a sigh of relief. Next thing I knew A. was staying over every night.

Raffio took another bite of his burger. 

“Alex. If you have secrets, then you’re going to have to share,” A. said. “You can’t just tease us. If you’re going to do that then don’t say anything at all.” She wore dark lipstick and ate fried zucchini like each one was a little Raffio wiener. Bad girl. She knew what she was doing with those lips.

Raffio was shorter than me. And that’s shorter than five-and-a-half feet. I looked over at him. “You look like a bald Yosemite Sam when you keep secrets,” I said. He really did seem that way. He was stalky. An Italian bulldog. He had that angry look, like any second he would explode with guns a blazin’.

He didn’t care what I said. It was all about A. She had him at a happy moment. He was eating. He was sitting next to her. He’d told me he wanted to get laid by her. I didn’t tell him I already had. Maybe he had too come to think of it.

Her voice softened. “Come on. Who are we going to tell?”

His eyes shifted. His jaw tightened as he chewed harder.

It was 1995. I was still in my twenties. A. was barely twenty-one. We didn’t fit the mold of CIA moles. Yet he was worried as hell. Paranoid. It was beyond the kind of paranoia that you and I probably know. He probably thought the zucchini was bugged.

People had to use secret knocks at his apartment door to even get him to acknowledge there was a knock. My classmate Tony said that when he brought Raffio school documents, he had to slide them under his door. He would yell from inside: “Just slide the goddam thing!”

He thought people were after him. And not just any people. CIA. The ex-military sort. The kind who had people assassinated sort. The kind who ripped out hearts in jungle wars sort, and who funded jihadists and had ties to the biggest secrets ever in the history of U.S. secrets.

Alex Raffio. Certifiable. A student of history. Afraid of his own shadow. Nuts, right?

Right.

It was sometime around the Leo’s Burger conversation that Alex had started talking about his life. Just bits. Pieces really. All of it mysterious.

He made whopping claims. The sort that you shrugged, disbelieved and went back to your video game. Sonic the Hedgehog was way more believable than anything that spilled out of the pacmania chompchomp of Alex Raffio.

“I co-authored a book. I was on the ‘Today Show.’ I was in Vietnam. I was paramilitary. Do you know what cluster fuck means? We were dropped way behind enemy lines. We weren’t supposed to be there. Laos. Cambodia. Recon. Intelligence. Drugs. Torture. Assassination. And then the cluster fuck went down.”

Abandonment? Heart of darkness? Colonel Kurtz? You mean that Martin Sheen shit? Apocalypse fucking Now?

Nuts.

That was a typical Alex Raffio conversation when he spoke of his estranged past. “I wrote a goddam book,” he bristled. I swear steam came out his ears. Raffio was off his rocker.

I should note that Alex Raffio wasn’t his real name. He claimed it had been changed. He really claimed people were after him. CIA. Mercenaries. Maybe even the Libyans. You name it. In fact, I didn’t change his name for this story. If it’s not his real name, then why worry? Right?

Right.

Alex Raffio doesn’t exist.

Raffio kept talking about a Vietnam cluster fuck. THE Vietnam cluster fuck. He said the words so much that I had to start laughing. And why not? Alex was a bumbling sort of guy. How could I picture him as special forces with HALO parachutists (not the video game), but the high altitude, low flying ODA team paramilitary forces who parachuted into enemy territory during Vietnam with the likes of Sgt. Major Billy Waugh.

Waugh once expected a few NVA while he was far behind enemy lines. But there were more. He had to play dead after being severely injured as 4,000 Chinese troops descended on his ass. He lived to tell the tale. Google him and pray he doesn’t slit your throat just for looking up information.

You might as well give him a CIA tattoo. Because that’s what Waugh did after he retired in 1972. OK, after a short stint with the U.S. Post Office (Post Office, really? Why? How?) In the mid-1970s he got dumped into the Libya mess. The Soviets were tied to Libya. The U.S. wanted to fuck it all up. Arms deals. Possible death deals. Surveillance. Mostly under Edwin P. Wilson.

Here’s where it gets sticky.

Wilson set up front companies under the guidance of the CIA. You know, fake puppet companies for covert operations in Libya? That kind. He called his companies Consultants International and raked in the millions. He had been with the CIA since retiring from the Marines in 1956. But in 1971, Wilson jumped ship to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) to build his fake companies.

In fact, according to a page out of the “Toledo Blade” which you can google for yourself, our sticky-fingered spook, Wilson, was part of the Navy’s supersecret Task Force 157. And like I said, pocketing millions. What about the $70,000 for that Russian mine? He never bought it and lost the money. What about the $9-million socks that were ordered and paid for in full by the Iranians? He delivered 100,000 socks and kept the difference.

Sorry about that.

But there’s more bad news. Wilson sold $6 parts for $250. He made millions off the Libyans and Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi was not happy about it at all. The Libyans did use Wilson’s funds to train the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine under the leadership of Ahmed Jibril. He’s an ex-Syrian Army officer and suspected of being behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. According to some, that’s a conspiracy theory. Either way, the BBC said in 2002, accusations against Jibril were dropped by courts after Syria joined the alliance to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991. Interesting coincidence. The BBC also said Jibril launched the first suicide attacks in Israel in the 1970s. Three men blew themselves up near Kiryat Shmona. Eighteen people died.

Thanks Wilson.

The truth started coming out before Leo’s Burgers. Before THAT conversation. I was sitting in a meeting I shouldn’t have been sitting in. A professor—an ex-Air Force intelligence officer who spoke and wrote fluent Chinese, was talking to another history professor. I was in the room. By the looks thrown around, we had all thought Raffio was full of shit.

“Raffio checks out. He did write a book,” the professor said.

Apparently, Raffio, along with Joseph C. Goulden, had co-written “The Death Merchant. The Rise and Fall of Edwin P. Wilson.”

In fact, Philip Taubman had written in a 1984 New York Times article titled, “Books of The Times; Intrigue at the C.I.A.” that Raffio had testified against another ex-CIA guy, Edwin P. Wilson. Notice, Taubman said “another CIA guy” indicating Raffio was CIA at one point.

As a result, the article states Raffio was presented with a new identity by the Justice Department.

Yes, that Raffio. The Leo’s Burgers Raffio. The Italian Pacman.

Wilson was convicted. He had taken millions in government monies and invested them in arms, explosives and military equipment that he had shipped to Libya.

How did they catch Wilson? He was tricked into flying to another country because, to no big surprise, he thought the Libyans were going to have him killed if he stayed in Libya.

No shit.

It’s unknown if Raffio was in on that. The rat that caught the mole.

And it doesn’t stop there. Wilson really had it coming when he tried to have Raffio, along with a host of others, killed while on trial for illegally selling arms to Libya. According to the New York Times, Wilson had plotted “unsuccessfully, to kill Federal prosecutors, his former associates and his former wife.” Wilson’s third conviction was for trying to kill Raffio and others.

So Raffio was right. He was paranoid for good reason. Wilson’s associates could still be lurking. Revenge killings weren’t unheard of in Libya or the good old U.S. of A.

You don’t have to go far to find other Raffio ties. The CIA cluster fuck in Libya actually trailed the Vietnam cluster fuck that took place behind enemy lines.

When Raffio spoke, he always spoke of Vietnam first. The look on his face made the Libyans look like child’s play. Cold War vs. the Vietnam War? You choose. Raffio was pompous and scared all at once. At least that was my interpretation. And why not be pompous? He lived to beat death at every corner. He kicked death in the nuts.

He said that U.S. paramilitary forces in Vietnam that fought the secret war all parachuted in together. He said they went into various countries.

One can only imagine the kind of people who could make up an American special forces unit in the geographical side and back alleys of Vietnam: smart, brave, cunning, genius, terrible. You know, the ones who crossed borders.

An Internet document from the Christic Institute in Malibu, Calif., links Raffio to Anthony Poshepny. Just a name right? Like Wilson, you’d have to read books upon books to really get who the kind of people were that Raffio had consorted with, and hid from.

Poshepny was special. He happened to be the man the “Apocalypse Now” character Colonel Kurtz may have been based on.

Poshepny, Raffio, Wilson, Waugh. All four names and just a few dozens of others turn up on a grid of secret U.S. war history of the 1960s and 1970s.

In this case, it was the CIA’s secret war in Laos.

Poshepny was born in 1924. He’d seen action on Iwo Jima where he was injured. In 1958 he helped try to overthrow the government of Indonesia. In 1959 he helped organized the escape of the Dalai Lama. During the Vietnam years, like the Marlon Brando character, he was the older guy, the CIA cowboy. The shitkicker of the jungle. As early as 1961, Poshepny worked alongside General Vang Pao. He even married the niece of a prominent Hmong leader.

In my brief exploration of Poshepny, his background becomes muddy, but then he gets back with the U.S. secret war, Wilson, and most likely, Raffio. This is the cluster fuck of the mid 1960s secret CIA drug trade in Laos and in the back-end war that explodes into the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

During these years the elder statesman of secret military operations was brutal to his enemies. One Internet source claims Poshepny later admitted to collecting enemy ears, dropping human heads from the air on enemies and sticking heads on spikes. He fought terror bloodily against North Vietnamese troops who sought to invade ethnic Hmong and Lao lands. He sought to empower villagers and tribesman as their leader, a god-like Kurtz if you will, who would rally a terrible jungle war of Medieval proportions.

And yes, he was terrible. According to Roger Warner in the book “Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America’s Clandestine War in Laos,” Poshepny said, “I used to collect ears … I had a big, green, reinforced cellophane bag as you walked up my steps … I still collected them, until … I saw this little Lao kid out there, he’s only about 12, and he had no ears. And I asked: ‘What the hell happened to this guy?’ Somebody said, ‘Tony, he heard you were paying for ears. His daddy cut his ears off…”’

After retiring in 1975, Poshepny lived in Thailand another fifteen years. He died in 2003.

Raffio took another gargantuan bite of his burger. He chewed. His eyes shifted around, landing on A. “Secrets huh?” he said.

She pouted.

“I was in the CIA.”

“You already told us that,” A. laughed.

“I had clearance. I could go anywhere.”

“What do you mean go anywhere?” I said.

“Anywhere.”

“Like where?”

“Secret places.”

“Whatever, Alex,” A. said, goading him for more.

He looked at her like she should pay up if he accepted the challenge. “Area 51. I’ve been there,” he said.

A. and I laughed. We were hysterical.

He was pissed. He could tell we didn’t believe shit.

He ate a handful of fries. His lips were greasy. “You don’t have to believe me. But I was there.”

“Why were you there?” A. said.

“I was passing through, alright? Jesus!”

“Lighten up, Alex. What did you see?” I said.

“I saw this metal. I got to touch it. It was tougher than steel. But I could move it around in my hands like it was some kind of foil. It wasn’t from here.”

“Spaceships?” A. said.

He got a look on his face like we were fucking morons.

“Spaceships? Did you see spaceships?” A. said.

“I saw things.”

“Right, Alex,” I said.

“I believe you,” A. said.

He took his last bite and started shoving fries in his mouth. The room smelled like salt and grease. His eyes shifted and A. smiled.

Since I was a lad I’ve admired beat literature and its developers. My young mind was taken with the romantic image of Kerouac roaming the interior of the body politic, a mad sweating virus on the loose in the highway vein of Amerika, Ginsberg holy maniac,chanting, praying, exorcising a generation ruined by madness, Burroughs and Gysin, pushing the envelope, rubbing out the word, and di Prima, conjuring, straddling the magick/dream line, throwing us bits of tasty metamorsels and sumptuous subconscious feasts from the other side.

There was something ominous about this year’s New Year celebrations in Sardinia. At the town’s Communist Club, a lavish dinner was being planned – but somehow we all knew things would go wrong. Not because the media was against us, not because of the Capitalists, but because there was a peasant uprising simmering.

Bottarga caviar had been bought by the kilo, scores of artichokes had been trucked in and were now being stripped of their spikes by zealous volunteers wearing padded rubber gloves. The seminar rooms, usually so empty and calming with the old framed prints of Che Guevara and Lenin on the cracked walls, the well-thumbed proletarian novels stacked in the shelves and the obligatory carafes of stale red wine, were suddenly impeded by lines of punch-drunk tables like intestines turning in on themselves. To commemorate the glorious foundation of their club, the town proletariat had decided to do a bit of fund-raising at the same time as they stuffed the people’s gullets. Dinner cost 40 euro per head, and there was a good deal of head-scratching about the political implications of this.

Communists aren’t rich, are they? Well, yes, in fact in Italy they often are. They are middle-class intellectuals, college lecturers, film producers, merchants, even landowners… with the odd trade unionist and a smattering of workers (let’s face it, workers don’t live in Europe any more, there aren’t any factories left). The CIA spent years in the the 1960s and 70s giving clandestine support to terrorist groups in Italy, mistakenly believing that the Italian Communist Party was a danger to Western democracy. All they managed to achieve were a few assassinations and a beefed-up Mafia in the south. The CIA should have sent a few agents to our party. They’d have gone home with a deeper awareness of Italian cuisine.

The Commissar of the Casa Del Popolo – the House of the People – took a sober view of the controversy. “I am raising money”, he said, “for a film projector so the town’s youth can come here and have a bit of culture…” Good point, thought some. Others could not so lightly let go of this enormity of the 40 euro entry ticket.

Only a few months ago while I was having my lunch, a friend turned up with a fish so big that he’d brought his brother along to carry it up to the terrace, where I was sitting. Did I want some, they wondered. When I said I did, they proceeded to carve it up, shedding such vast amounts of blood in the process that the drains coloured the street and we were attacked by a huge swarm of wasps. I had to hose the tiles down afterwards, the place was like an abattoir. 20 euro bought me enough fish to cook for ten. I still have some of it in the freezer, in fact.

So now you see the conundrum of the 40 euro ticket…

As we approached the big day, the Communists were ecstatic about their commercial success. They had sold almost 70 tickets. The trouble was, they had not considered the problem of supply and demand.

A couple of Communists went down to Oristano to buy a shed-load of baby goats, which were duly slaughtered. The day before the party, we were treated to a dish of goat heart, lungs, stomach, kidney and thyroid glands. Fried with onion and garlic. It was actually quite delicious, and I suppose ideologically it was also a good thing to eat the stuff no one else wanted.

Preparations were well under way, and the menu seemed unbeatable. A few old girls up in the hills had made stacks of ravioli stuffed with prawns and wild mushrooms. The roast baby goat would follow, then carpaccio of artichoke with dried slivers of bottarga caviar, followed by sheep’s cheese, smoked and air-dried ham, the finest olives and salads. Finally desert – to be honest I can’t even remember what the desert was. All washed down with good-quality Nepente and Malvasia wines. It sounded good, but whether you’re a Communist or a Fascist you still like to eat, and eat plentifully.

Twelve hours before kick-off the Communists were starting to bite their fingernails, as one of the things they had not thought about was their primitive kitchen with a few weak gas burners and a single cold-water tap. It was hard to admit it, but some further investment was required there.

On the big night, floods of guests started pouring in from about eight o’clock. They were damned hungry, they’d paid their dough and now they wanted a decent feed. The smell of roast goat lingered in the corridors. The tables were filling up fast. Plates startled trickling in, but mysteriously as soon as they were put down they were picked clean, as if marauding foxes had taken over the place.

The kitchen was working at full capacity, blood-curdling yells in there as if the chefs were being water-boarded, but there was no way of satisfying the hunger of the people, all of whom had paid their darned forty euro, mind you, and now wanted some value for money. Wine was unlimited, but in Italy one does not drink wine in quantity, not unless it is accompanied by delicious morsels. Before we knew it, arguments were breaking out, heated debates could be heard resounding under Lenin’s severe frown and clenched fist. We were on the third course and there was still a lot of hunger going round. Bread riots seemed imminent.

Suddenly the door opened and there was a general silence. The town’s one tramp had decided to pay a visit, knowing a sure bet when he saw one. He stood there grinning through his blue-cheese-stinking beard, until a Communist got up and fetched him a chair. The tramp dug into his food with gusto, his toothless gums chomping and swallowing lumps of goat whole. His neighbours, wincing slightly, spoke fondly to the tramp, a patriot and citizen who’d seen the harder side of life.

It’s probably fair to say that tramp was one of the few diners that evening who only had praise for the organisers. As soon as we’d cried out our hearty cheers for the New Year, there was a stampede to get the hell out of there. Not being Italian, I sat down and drank a lot of wine. Then, after vomiting a few times in the street outside – this, incidentally, is out of character for me, I can usually eat and drink to my heart’s content – went home to pick up my electric guitar and amplifier.

There weren’t so many people left by the time I came back. Twenty or thirty, maybe. I tuned up, cranked up the volume and sang an old Memphis song. “The Bourgeois Blues”. Written by a black man, in another time.

“Me and my wife/ We been all over town/ Everywhere we go people put us down/ It’s a bourgeois town…”

And then I wandered home in the rain, thinking to myself that in the end, politics is just a word. Prejudice, that’s the problem. And greed.







Emery and Me

By Peter Gajdics

Memoir

When I was thirty-three years old I interviewed several gay men as part of a sex research project being conducted through the AIDS Organization where I’d started working as a “Public Sex Environment Outreach Worker.” Most of the men met me at my downtown office. First names were all I knew. I asked them a series of questions about their life, their sexuality, their coming out process, then let them talk. Some went on for hours. An opportunity to tell their story, to be heard, was all that many of the men needed. ,I listened to them as I’d always wanted, when I was a teenager, someone to listen to me.

One mid-50’s man asked that I interview him in his home. Emery lived on the main floor of an old, three-story walk-up near the outskirts of the city. The long, dimly lit corridor inside his building smelled of cigarettes and fried food. I knocked on Emery’s door and when he opened it, the first thing I noticed were his eyes, their kind, youthful glint that seemed to contrast against his lined face, like cracks in the earth of his age-toned skin. He smiled and invited me into his sparsely furnished room, the room of his life, with a single bed pushed up against one wall, and a mini fridge and hot plate on a blue laminate counter against the other. Next to his bed were a stack of yellow egg cartons upon which were several paperbacks, a framed black and white photograph, and a nightlight. We took a seat at a small foldout table in front of the window where we began our conversation almost immediately.

In 1960, when Emery was twenty-five years old, the Canadian Public Service “purged” him from his job for being a “practicing homosexual.” Soon after, his parents sent him to Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute, the Psychiatric Department of the Royal Victoria Hospital, which had been at the forefront in Canadian psychiatric education and research. Emery spoke openly about his involvement with the Institute, and about its Director, Dr. Ewen Cameron, a former head of the Word Psychiatric Association, who had been awarded funds from a CIA front-organization to conduct brainwashing experiments on innocent civilians, both Canadian and American.

“Can I ask you a question?” Emery said, interrupting his own story.

“Of course.”

“You’re gay, right?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re okay with that? With who you are?”

“Now I am, yes.”

“You’re lucky.”

“How so?”

“Growing up in a different time and place the way you have. Back then we were all considered mentally ill. Cameron thought he knew how the human mind was wired and what he needed to do to fix it. He hooked us up to electrodes, gave us drugs like LSD or sleeping pills. Massive electroconvulsive shock treatments, sensory isolation, insulin-induced comas that lasted months on end.”

“Why? What was he trying to do?”

“Wipe our brains clean of all thought, and identity, including what he thought was our neurosis. Break us down so that he could build us back up again, his own way. Imprint a new, healthy identity on top of our blank minds. Depatterning: that’s what he called it. Most of what happened to me personally I only read about years later, when I finally got a hold of my hospital file. I have no real memory of any of it. I don’t know if you can imagine what it’s like to have gaps in your life. Years, literally stolen from you.”

I wanted to tell him that I did know what it’s like, but I listened as he continued.

“For months we were confined to the Institute’s ‘sleep rooms,’ not just homosexuals but married woman, straight men, all of us wearing headphones and listening to taped messages, endless taped messages, sometimes sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. Everyone’s tape was different, depending on what your problem was. I thought I was a homosexual: that was my illness. Cameron’s goal was to erase my brain of all association with homosexuality, and replace it with my innate heterosexuality. So his theory went. We became like children. Grown men and women: incontinent, with no past life. By the time they released me in 1962, I was a shadow of my former self. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t process information, or make decisions. My memory of the 50’s and early 60’s, well, of my life–it was gone. Wiped clean, like a chalkboard. Everything, I had to reconstruct everything, my entire personal history, from pictures or slides, from stories people told me, or from letters that I wrote or received from family and friends. Everything about my former self was a mystery. Erased. Except for my homosexuality. I was still attracted to men.”

So reflective of my life was Emery’s description of his that it took all my effort not to sink back into my past. Nine years earlier I’d started therapy with psychiatrist, Dr. Alfonzo, after my family rejected me for being gay. Within months, Alfonzo presented me with conflicting causation theories, including that an incident of childhood sexual abuse had “created” my attraction for men. Believing that my homosexuality was based in anger and driven by pain, Alfonzo said that by releasing my anger and by feeling my pain, I could undo the knot of what he termed the error of my misguided way of thinking: the erroneous belief that I was homosexual. To facilitate treatment, various antidepressants, sedatives and an anti-psychotic, even though I’d never been psychotic, were prescribed. Doses increased rapidly. So too did the medications’ side effects: dry mouth, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, involuntary twitching, constipation, urinary retention, weight gain of over forty pounds. Weekly injections of Ketamine hydrochloride, an animal anesthetic, soon followed, which were administered before reparenting sessions with a surrogate mother who, according to Alfonzo, would imprint a new, “healthy” identity onto my child self.

When it became clear, after four years of therapy, that my attraction for men wasn’t diminishing, Alfonzo ordered me to bottle and to sniff my feces whenever I saw a man I found attractive. Then he threatened to hook my genitals up to electrodes in order to “retain” my penis, and added a fourth tricyclic antidepressant to my regime of now over 600 milligrams of daily medications. Any light that had remained alive in me was switched off, as if the fire in the furnace of my body were being extinguished by medication: erections were eliminated, fantasy and arousal, eradicated.

Another two years of so-called therapy would elapse before I’d stand naked in front of my bedroom mirror, staring at a sad and pale reflection of my former self–at my body, bloated from years of overmedication, and into my thirty year old eyes: dark and sunken and unhappy. There would never be a heterosexual in me waiting to emerge; instead, I became more like a shell that had had its innards scooped out.

Thirty years separated Emery’s experiences from mine, but the similarities between what he went through with Cameron, and what I had with Alfonzo, were shocking. The psychiatric community may have ceased classifying homosexuality as an illness in 1973, but beneath the banner of gay liberation and political progressiveness, as I had learned all too well, beat the hearts of some of its practitioners that still treated it like one.

Emery walked to his egg carton bookshelf, picked up a picture of a young man with greased black hair, sea-blue eyes and a dimpled smile.

“His name was Jim,” he said, displaying the framed photograph with pride. “Such a handsome man, don’t you think? His parents sent him to the Institute. To help cure him. By the time he left he was physically and mentally impaired. Like a vegetable. They killed him, but left him alive. Two years later he killed himself.”

Emery dusted the frame with his shirtsleeve and replaced it back on the egg cartons. “There’s more than one way to murder a fag,” he said. “Cameron was an architect for genocide.”

Question after question raced through me. I wanted to ask Emery about his road to recovery, whether he’d ever found love, or forgiveness, somehow reconciled himself with his past. I wanted him to tell me what I could not figure out for myself. But before I knew it our interview was over and Emery, visibly shaken, was ushering me out his front door.

I was scheduled to hand out condoms in the park that night–the “public sex environment outreach” part of my job. It was also the part of my job I liked the least, that seemed the least productive. At least it would have been for me, had someone handed me a condom through all the years, as a teenager, that I’d had sex in parks. Not to mention all the sex I’d had in cars, and public toilets, bathhouses, parkades. Condoms, I knew, would not have saved me from my self, my use of sex to fill a void, the hole inside my heart that became, with every passing year after the year I was sexually abused as a child, like a crater in my soul. But part of our funding at the AIDS Organization depended on the number of condoms distributed, so I distributed as many condoms, as many “safe sex packets,” as possible. At least the men liked the flavored lube.

The park seemed busier than usual. Nighttime brought with it the need for sex, the need for something, and everywhere I looked, once my eyes adjusted, shadows of men, like hunters, roamed back and forth between trees. My routine had always been to wait until a man approached me along the trail, then to tell him that I wasn’t there to “play,” but as an outreach worker–would he like to talk instead? That night, however, all I thought about was Emery, the years he’d lost to ignorance, to hatred, years that he would never get back. His words “There’s more than one way to murder a fag” echoed through me as outside, all around I heard the sounds of ravaged, hungry souls, breeding in the dark. The memory of Alfonzo was with me too, as was the knowledge that whatever he did to me I did to myself. Six years of trying to change myself had taught me that I could not change, and yet I’d tried. And tried. Like stabbing myself, I’d tried to kill that part of me, and in the process, almost killed myself. I had been both the written word and the eraser erasing itself. If Alfonzo was a monster, then when I met him there were monstrous demons inside of me just waiting to emerge. I was Pandora’s box.

I left the forest before distributing my quota of condoms. Back home, alone, naked and in bed, Emery’s phrase “an architect for genocide” haunted me to sleep. And before I opened my eyes the next morning, not yet awake but not still asleep, balanced liminally in between, for a moment I thought I heard someone next to me in bed crying, sobbing.

I awoke to realize it was me.