What does it mean to be literate? That one’s pretty easy; it means you know how to read. What does it mean to be cultural? That one’s a little tougher; it means you know that in most situations, it’s unacceptable to put your cigarette out on a dachshund. And so what does it mean to be “culturally literate?” Many have posed this question (Harold Bloom, the Yale professor currently encased in acrylic and preserved for posterity does it a lot.), yet no one has truly come to terms with an accurate answer. My uncle Seamus once remarked that “cultural literacy is for homosexuals,” but he was urinating in a koi pond at the time, so who knows? I suggest we journey together to see if we can’t get to the core of this labyrinthine dilemma. Perhaps the most logical first step is learning how to read (I’ll wait for a few minutes)… Sweet. Our next step is to determine what exactly is “cultural.” Below are a few undeniably cultural items in the realm of architecture, literature and music. Let’s familiarize ourselves with these things, and then we can begin to get a handhold on what it means to be culturally literate.

The Eiffel Tower

Perhaps the most recognizable man-made structure in the world, The Eiffel Tower is a must-see for any culturally minded person. Completed in 1889 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the French Revolution(1), the Eiffel Tower serves as a constant reminder that not everything in Paris is covered in dog feces.

The tower stands well over 1,000 feet high, something I discovered after dropping a crêpe from the observation deck while utilizing the equation Yf = -1/2gt^2 + Vot+Yo. Nestled along the Seine and overlooking the Champ de Mars, the Eiffel Tower strictly prohibits oral sex in the elevators (although there was no noticeable sign or warning). Also, be sure to say “bonjour” to the one-eyed dwarf who roller skates atop the structure’s antenna, drinking his own blood and reciting Ozymandias(2).  As an added frustration, Le Jules Verne restaurant on the second floor offers food you can’t afford. I recommend the filet de turnbot au sautoir, écrevisses et champignons à la Riche, then running away.


Ulysses

A mammoth tome, written by James Joyce and published by Sylvia Beach in its entirety in 1928, Ulysses catalogues a day in the life of one Leopold Bloom. Often cited as the cornerstone of modernist literature, Ulysses takes its name from Homer’s Odysseus, as in The Odyssey, that book you were supposed to read sophomore year but ended up huffing oven cleaner in the school parking lot most of the time.

Written in Joyce’s inimitable stream-of-consciousness style, Ulysses is an integral part of any literary aesthete’s library. In addition, the book reminds us that even though the sisters at Strake Jesuit put saltpeter in our Cheerios to keep us from masturbating, there’s really no stopping the process, even if the guilt stays with you to this day. While nobody has ever read this book, its inclusion in your book collection will ensure at least a cursory dry-hump from the intoxicated Yale co-ed you met at the “Vampire Weekend” concert last month. Be sure to look out for the last sentence in which Molly Bloom probably has an orgasm or is in the throes of Crohn’s disease. Joyce was also blind, so we can forgive him for not making a whole lot of sense (there has been speculation that Joyce wrote much of Ulysses on the back of his cat, accounting for much of the confusion within the text). The poet Ezra Pound perhaps put it best when he remarked, “Ulysses is a treat for anyone trapped under ice.”

Jazz

Often cited as the only “true American art form,” jazz music is what happens when heroin happens. First popularized in the early 20th century, jazz incorporates West African musical traditions and European stuffiness, resulting in a cacophonous mishmash that makes one feel as if his or her genitals are creeping up and slowly eating his/her belly button. A vital part of America’s long history of misguided art forms, jazz is sure to spark furious debate among people who can’t admit they sing along to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in the car when nobody is looking.

Jazz is, at its core, an interpretive medium. Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and other maestros of the genre are venerated within certain musical circles much the same way the idea of a space/time continuum is venerated by physicists, even though, after a while, ruminations on the subject lead one back to the inevitable conclusion that nothing is understandable in this crazy world, especially Ugg boots. If you feel you have the mettle, give jazz a chance. When you’ve discovered it’s over your head and you’d honestly just rather sit there listening to Shakira, don’t feel bad. You can always count on her and her hips don’t lie.

I hope our maiden voyage into the unforgiving sea of cultural literacy has proved helpful. Keep in mind; this is a long journey, but a journey well-worth taking. For how are we to navigate our desires, our fears, and ourselves if we cannot navigate the world around us?

GPS is a good answer, yes

[1] More on the French Revolution can be found in Charles Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Although, it is a far better thing if you start reading at Part III, as I this is where the nudity really kicks into high gear.

[2] There is a place that sells absinthe next to the McDonald’s on the Rue Duban.

The windows around the front door look like aliens. I seem to be the only one who recognizes it, but it’s so obvious. They are tall, skinny aliens with arms that reach down to their knees. Their bug-eyed heads are elongated just like the aliens on TV, except that the top comes to a little point like a dollop of whipped cream. As a kid, I ran up the stairs feeling their noodle arms reaching out to grab me and pull me out of my world and into theirs. I always felt them just an inch behind me.

Standing in the laundry room, if I tapped unexpectedly on the metal surface of the washer or dryer, the noise might be startling, and suddenly I was thinking, “What if that’s the signal?” The signal for ghosts or aliens or whatever might be waiting in the ether for its moment, its chance to come abduct me or just to show itself, thereby ruining the reality on which I had an already tenuous grasp. I would do it again to disrupt the signal — rap on the washer once quickly, try to make the exact same noise — was it once for yes and two for no? I don’t remember. Do it again just in case. What if I have said something I don’t even understand in their alien language? Tap out a complicated rhythm to indicate a scratching out of what has inadvertently been written on the paper of time-space continuum. If all else fails, run out of the room and all is forgotten.

I experienced life in fast forward and slow motion at the same time, a contortion that threatened to tear the flimsy tape of continuity. It starts with the combination of silence and the ever-present humming in my ears. No one is speaking, no power is running, yet there is a subtle ringing in the upper reaches of my inner ear. Careful about tuning in to that. It’s not an imagined noise. It’s the sound of the ear existing. Catching air or whatever.

Listen too hard, and things get twisty. Internally, things are faster. Externally, I am surprised by the slow sound of my own voice. It comes out syrupy. I try to talk faster to catch up. I try and think slower. Things are out of sync.

I had dizzy spells for no reason. When I was still very young, they were fun. I would lay on the soft carpeted floor of my bedroom and let the experience envelop me. I didn’t have a word for it, yet. It had not occurred to me to ask if this is normal. The room shook. My heart raced. I just lay there and enjoy the natural high of overactive nerves.In high school, it would become a problem when I had to grip the sides of my desk to keep from falling out.

I have trouble wearing nail polish. I can’t keep it on. The minute there is a crack, I have to peel it all back. I chip it off, bite and scrape, leaving little flakes on my desk, clinging to my skirt, and stuck with sweat to my palms. I’m bent on deconstruction. When the nail polish is gone, I start on my cuticles. You would think I could outgrow this. You would think I’d eventually figure out there is nothing but blood under there, but I don’t. I keep digging. If not cuticles, then scabs or zits or dry skin — have you ever soaked your feet in a warm bath until you could just run your fingernails along your heel and come up with an inch long strip of skin? It’s not really skin anymore.

I learned my triggers, and then I felt funny about using this word, “triggers.” It’s got to be some kind of AA jargon, but I’ve never been in AA, so I must have picked it up from one of my friends who went to AA or NA, and I feel like a phony for using their lingo. I mean, they’re the ones with the real problems, right? Who am I? What right do I have to sit here and feel sorry for myself? But anyway, phony or not, I know my triggers: Alcohol, laziness, Sunday evenings, those things make it harder. Coffee, sex and exercise make it better.

I like to read about philosophies and religions that point us toward making peace with ourselves. I like Buddhism, but I don’t like to sit still for meditation. I don’t like to go to church or listen to preachers. I want a teacher, but I wouldn’t listen. I’m all I’ve got, then. But I do like the idea of oneness. I appreciate the fantasy of melting into a larger identity, not just for the delight of finally getting out of my skin but for the escape from being a person who must get dressed every day, and go to work, and pay bills, and be nice to people. Briefly, I can imagine that if I melt into the larger whole, I would be something much larger, much more magnificent than my little self with my little job and my chipped nail polish.

Sometimes I practice so-called magic, making creative use of salt water and a handful of herbs, knowing intellectually that it does nothing, and yet the ritual gives me comfort. I direct my unruly energy toward a cup of salt water on my desk and feel better about things without knowing why, exactly. The logic of the anxious is a bit more flexible. Solutions don’t need to make sense if the problems don’t make sense. I was sitting at my desk thinking the world was going to end, and a cup of saltwater made me feel better.

If I write down everything that makes me anxious, somehow, this makes it better, too. I apply words like a salve to this mysterious wound. I practice these home remedies until it stops hurting, and then I live like a normal person until it starts hurting again.

One day in grade six, Teacher asked us all to say aloud what we wanted to be when we grew up. “I’m going to be a doctor,” one boy announced as we all sat cross-legged in a circle. “I’m going to be a teacher!” a ponytailed girl called out with a raised hand. Another boy with red hair and freckles said he wanted to be a fire engine: a big, loud, red, fire engine. Teacher, a kind, grey-haired woman who always wore a blue, pleated skirt and held a piece of new, white chalk, corrected him by saying, “Don’t you mean you want to be a fireman?” “No,” the boy said, shaking his head. “I want to be a fire engine. A big, loud, red, fire engine.” Everyone laughed, but secretly I was scared that Teacher would ask me what I wanted to be. I was scared because I didn’t know what I wanted to be. There was no profession I could imagine myself becoming when I grew up. Would I even grow up? That was like imagining myself outside a forest when all around me it was dark and I was alone and really, if I’d been honest, although I already knew well enough not to be, all I wanted was to be at peace. Not a doctor or a priest or a football player—at peace.

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The impact of growing up “different,” more stereotypically feminine than masculine but unmistakably male, was dissonant, and divisive. I was, throughout my childhood, “at war” within: wanting to be like the other little boys, but knowing, or at least thinking, I was not. In what way I was different, I could never have articulated, but my “otherness” was isolating. While the “real boys” played sports, talked about guns, cars, and were generally aggressive, I was more interested in singing, drawing, painting, writing poetry, playing with dolls and baking with my mother in the kitchen. Crying came easy, I never understood cruelty, and was teased, both by my schoolmates and my two older brothers, for being “too sensitive.” Once, in grade six, I pretended to like guns so that the schoolboys would like me. It worked: For a week I was included in their fold. The sense of belonging, of finally being “normal,” filled me with joy. But it was only a matter of time before my true self shone through; and shone through it did: Like pentimento beneath the painting of myself, my “femininity” eventually surfaced, as did my dislike of sports, and I was once again excluded, banished, from all their activities.

There were other signs of my “differentness.” My older sister, once while we were watching television in the living room, noticed me sitting with my legs crossed at the knees and, in a frenzy, told me never to sit “like that.” Her look of horror made me panic. “You need to sit like a real boy,” she said. My body had deceived me; in a moment of forgetfulness, my inner self had again revealed itself in ways I didn’t like, or seem to be able to control. Long before I’d heard of words like “gay” or “homosexual,” all I knew was my internal compass of desire was directing itself toward boys, and not, as I’d been taught was normal, girls.

My own body could not be trusted; it was the enemy, and I questioned it repeatedly. Sometimes, during puberty, while lying naked in the bathtub after dinner, I prayed for God to make my penis into a vagina, and my flat chest into breasts. I’d stand and look at myself in the mirror, pushing my penis between my legs so that my body looked more like a body that was supposed to like boy-bodies. My prayers, however, went unanswered, and I remained out of synch, discordant to what was normal. I remained, to my bewilderment, a boy-body.

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A team of researchers, headed by Selcuk R. Sirin of Montclair State University (2004), have helped explain people’s negative reactions to male gender role transgressions. They found that “. . . men are punished more harshly than women for deviating from traditional gender role norms. This phenomenon, called male gender role rigidity, leads many boys and men to avoid developing or engaging in what society has prescribed to be feminine-typed gender role characteristics and stereotypically feminine behaviors . . . Other researchers have suggested that, for men, gender role rigidity might be a defense mechanism against experiencing anxiety associated with gender role violations” (“Differential Reaction to Men and Women’s Gender Role Transgression: Perceptions of Social Status, Sexual Orientation, and Value Dissimilarity,” The Journal of Men’s Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, Winter 2004, pp.129). This was certainly true for me. The anxiety that my own gender role violations might reveal the fact of my “differentness” is what, for years, kept me acting the part of a heterosexual—a “real man.”

Finally, at the age of 24, I came out to my parents as gay. “I am a homosexual,” I wrote in a letter that I left on their bed. The next day my mother, while we were alone at their house, told me that I wasn’t born gay, that I’d been “made into a pervert from some old man”—a reference to when I’d been sexually abused as a child, an event that we had never, in 15 years, discussed. In an instant I felt buried beneath the shame, and the heteronormativity, of her words.

In 1989, following a year of familial conflict, I left my hometown “to start over.” Soon alone, confused and depressed in an unfamiliar city, I sought treatment with Dr. Alfonzo, a psychiatrist referred to me by my then-general practitioner. “I feel like a crippled heterosexual,” I told him during my initial consultation. “How do I come to terms with who I am when who I am seems to cause so much pain and suffering to everyone I know?” Alfonzo explained the process of his treatment—a form of primal therapy—and I began therapy several weeks later.

During one of my early sessions, however, Alfonzo began presenting me with various causation theories, and said that he was sure I wasn’t gay because I didn’t have “any of the characteristics of a homosexual.” I asked him what he meant.

“Effeminacy, passivity, desperation to get a man, a drug addict, an alcoholic. You aren’t any of these things. The fact is, Peter, most gays learn their behavior. Therefore, it can be unlearned, though with great difficulty.” My greatest fear had always been that the sexual abuse had “created” my sexual orientation. Like my mother before him, I could not object.

Therapy intended to help me “feel better,” quickly morphed into treatment geared at changing my sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Not only did the practice, a form of reparative therapy, not work, it also resulted, three years into treatment, in my near fatal breakdown precipitated by prolonged, excessive overmedication—one of the many ways Alfonzo’s tried to “flip me over to the other side.” The medications, some used specifically to deaden my sex drive, made me feel numb, lifeless and passive. Any light that had remained alive in me was switched off: erections were eliminated, fantasy and arousal eradicated.

If Alfonzo, or psychiatry, became my oppressor, then I was like the written word and the eraser erasing itself. Yet despite both our efforts, and over five years of several concurrent psychotropics, I still clocked in at a six on Alfonzo’s revised “Kinsey scale” of one to seven: men, not women, remained the object of my affection. Finally, when it was clear my same-sex attraction could not be changed, Alfonzo attacked my gender: the ways in which I’d been masculinised or feminized. Hiking, construction work, ditch-digging: all were encouraged, as if in doing them I’d become a “real man.” His methods weren’t that uncommon. Clinical counselor Alice Christianson (2005) noted that in some reparative therapies, “. . . the solution is to more strongly identify with one’s gender. Men therefore should learn to change oil as part of their therapy, while women should get makeovers” (“A Re-emergence of Reparative Therapy,” Contemporary Sexuality, Vol. 39, No. 10, October 2005, pp.14).

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In 1974, The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders II; twenty years later, Jordan and Deluty (1995) found that 12.9% of therapists surveyed still believed that “. . . such a lifestyle [of the homosexual] is a ‘psychosexual disorder,’ and 5% claimed that it is a ‘personality disorder’” (“Clinical Interventions by Psychologists with Lesbians and Gay Men,” Journal of Clinical Psychology, 51, pp.451). Christianson (2005) found that “Some reparative therapists have diagnosed homosexuals as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and then attempted treatment of the homosexuality as a symptom of one of these disorders” (ibid, pp.13). More recently, Eubanks-Carter and Goldfried (2006) noted that “. . . individuals who are having difficulty coming out as gay or bisexual may be misdiagnosed with borderline personality disorder. . . [because the] problems that resembled borderline symptoms . . . were also consistent with a sexual identity crisis” (“The Impact of Client Sexual Orientation and Gender on Clinical Judgments and Diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder,” Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol. 62(6), pp.751).

In 1997, two years after leaving the therapy, I filed a five-page letter of complaint with British Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, detailing Alfonzo’s treatment of my homosexuality as a disease. His 500-page rejoinder, received by the College two years later, discredited my complaint by qualifying me as suffering from “borderline personality disorder.” In 2001 I sued him for medication malpractice, once again citing his treatment of my homosexuality. Prior to our Examination for Discovery, in late 2002, defence counsel’s “expert witness”—another psychiatrist—interviewed me in order to write an “expert opinion” about my psychiatric history. Once again I was diagnosed with “borderline personality disorder, in which disillusionment with caregivers could be a feature.” That I had also, throughout my therapy with Alfonzo, expressed “intense anger and negative views” about both my parents—that I had experienced distress at their lack of acceptance of my homosexuality—seemed to further reinforce his diagnosis. I couldn’t help but surmise, after reading his “expert opinion,” that virtually all men and women whose families had rejected them for being gay—or, for that matter, any other reason—and who’d then expressed “intense anger” towards and “negative views” about their parents, would also be labelled as suffering from some sort of personality disorder. Psychiatry, it seemed to me, had become the science of drawing maps, and not the exploration of the territories they signified.

Coincidentally, following in the footsteps of the removal of homosexuality from the DSM II, Gender Identity Disorder (GID) reared its disordered head in the American Psychiatric Association’s third edition of the DSM (1980). According to the current DSM IV (1994),

There are two components of Gender Identity Disorder . . . There must be evidence of a strong and persistent cross-gender identification . . . manifested [in boys] by a marked preoccupation with traditionally feminine activities. They may have a preference for dressing in girls’ or women’s clothes . . . Towels, aprons, and scarves are often used to represent long hair or skirts . . . They particularly enjoy playing house, drawing pictures of beautiful girls and princesses, and watching television or videos of their favorite female-type dolls, such as Barbie, are often their favorite toys, and girls are their preferred playmates. When playing “house,” these boys role-play female figures . . . They avoid rough-and-tumble play and competitive sports and have little interest in cars and trucks or other non-aggressive but stereotypical boy’s toys. They may express a wish to be a girl and assert that they will grow up to be a woman. They may insist on sitting to urinate and pretend not to have a penis by pushing it in between their legs. More rarely, boys with Gender Identity Disorder may state that they find their penis or testes disgusting, that they want to remove them, or that they have, or wish to have, a vagina (532-533).

The DSM IV goes on to describe GID in adults, which, it explains, most commonly manifests as a preoccupation “to live as a member of the other sex.” Considering my own cross-gender behavior as a child, and the fact that I developed into a gay man who’s accepting of the body he was assigned at birth—I have no desire “to live as a member of the other sex”—I can’t help but wonder if GID is the new euphemism for homosexual. Maybe the best way for psychiatry to diagnose and then treat the homosexual today is to diagnose and then treat the Gender Identity Disorder in children.

Kenneth J. Zucker, M.D., of Toronto’s Center for Addiction and Mental Health, and Robert L. Spitzer, M.D., of New York’s State Psychiatric Institute (2005), have argued against any type of “‘backdoor maneuver’ in replacing homosexuality” with GID, and yet they readily admit that some therapists continue to treat children with GID “in part, to prevent homosexuality” (“Was the Gender Identity Disorder of Childhood Diagnoses Introduced into DSM III as a Backdoor Maneuver to Replace Homosexuality? A Historical Note,” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Brunner-Routledge, 31, pp.36). The American Psychiatric Association, meanwhile, is set to release its fifth edition of the DSM in 2012, with Zucker and Ray Blanchard, M.D., a psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto, leading the committee for Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which was instrumental in having homosexuality removed from the DSM, has opposed their involvement with the committee, citing both as advocates for reparative therapies in gender-variant children.

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If I am a house with many rooms, all doors to each of those rooms open up into me, my gender and I: one person. In other words, were I, as the 10-year-old boy I once was, to walk into a psychiatrist’s office today, without a doubt I’d be diagnosed with GID. Almost all of its symptoms I displayed as a pre-pubescent child, and yet I’m convinced my “preoccupation with traditionally feminine activities” was nothing more than an early indicator of my homosexuality.

But maybe that’s the point.

As long as we live in a heteronormative culture that by its very nature, its “thought reform,” teaches children to see themselves as heterosexual and “gender-appropriate,” those children who are not—and there will always be children who are not—will continue to experience their bodies as discordant to who they’re told they should be. I could not, as a child, imagine myself a grown up because I could not envisage a life beyond the normative boundaries imposed on me as an atypical boy. In the binary world of gender-appropriate children, I didn’t exist.

They tell me you should write about what you know. I’ve always had a problem with that. I may know some things other people don’t, but in writing that down, what good does that do me? Not much. I already know it. I want to write about things I don’t know about. I want to learn things about what I don’t think, how people I don’t know don’t act and why. Perhaps I say this because I don’t know much. I know a lot of facts about arcane things, but I already know them and I already know that nobody, unless they are short of Trivial Pursuit cards, wants to hear that kind of bilge. However, I don’t know one thing that I think will serve me well in my writing career: I don’t know how to write.

So, I reckon I’m sitting at my computer in good stead now, not knowing how to write. When I learn how to do that, I can stop writing and go on to a more noble pursuit like filming my relatives in Bakersfield, California doing their best interpretations of pro wrestling, then selling the tapes on what they like to call, the inter-tubes. If the nobility of this is called into question, I defy you to tell me that my cousin Bert leaping off the roof of his house and slamming a metal chair on the top of my younger cousin Stanley’s head is not tantamount in artistry to a Nureyev –Fonteyn showcase ofProkofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

I haven’t been able to write for as long as I can remember. Alas, I’ve always wanted too, but it never comes out quite right. It seems like everybody writes better than I do. I’ve always wanted to write a book that I’d like to read, but I’m always reading books I’d like to read, so what’s the point? You toil for years over this book, like your child. You like it when you first start raising it, feel you’ve done a bang-up job. Then, the book hits adolescence, its voice starts to crack, it wants its independence, then a car, then none of your time even though you want to give it all of your time. And finally, it flings itself into its own world and blows all your time and patience by spending its time (and still your money) on the hustling whores of the Mexican border and Quaaludes. To this, I have only one response:

It is to enact a sort of vengeful Golden Rule and to take up the qualities of your prodigal, ingrate book. Besides, all the books I would have liked to have written were written by full-blown, abject lunatics. There’s Salinger, speaking in tongues and drinking his own urine, Hemingway and Toole, blowing their minds out, Plath and her oven. Did she pre-heat that? Then Ambrose Bierce, gone without a trace. Que te vayas bien!, old boy. Where is Pynchon? And Mailer, always retching at parties and occasionally stabbing his wife. What a ship of old fools! It’s a good thing I can’t write. I see myself flinging my own feces over the rooftops of Paris, confused over the relationship between vector calculus and intransitive verbs. I swear, once I learn how to write, I never will. And who has the time to learn? There are too many distractions. This is one thing I know: How not to write.

Well, I see your point. You think I’m going to start talking about how not to write.

“But, hey,” you’ll say. “He said he didn’t want to write about things he knew about.” Then you will fold your arms contentedly and relish in my howling error. Aha! I also wrote that I didn’t know how to write, so it was okay to do so. In essence, I have canceled out both of these grandiose proclamations, and at the end of this, it will be like nothing ever happened. Nature frowns at my vacuum and smokes her first cigarette of the day, like Bette Davis…like she couldn’t give one damn. And although I’ve missed an episode of The Real World: Alpha Centauri, its like I haven’t.

One way not to write is to get an STD test. I have spent hours, days not writing because of these. If you think of all the melancholic things that could occur to your genitalia during the three or four agonizing days of waiting for the results, you really can’t be expected to do anything. However, while your wondering if your dick will drop off like an unwieldy stalactite when you’re in line for the movies, or if your partner’s vagina will gradually creep up and eat her belly button, you can think ofall the wonderful places you’d travel if faced with some harrowing disease. I decided that I would go to the south of Spain and just write. I mean, really write this time.

Now, here’s a really sly trick. Do you know that apocryphal probability of a bunch of baboons at a bunch of typewriters, who, if given long enough would eventually type out the entire works ofShakespeare? It’s something that gives writers hope.


http://www.writers-free-reference.com/baboon-at-computer.jpg

It also hints at immortality, as all faulty logic, and writing, must. Here is what you must do. If you can type, you must unlearn how to do that. Maybe turn your keyboard upside down. Then using sequences of one, two, three, four and up to, say, nine letters, type randomly, not looking at the keyboard. Then, when you have finished a few hundred pages, spell check or put the Thesaurus to your piece. Often, you will find there is no suggestion for your word. Sometimes, you will find you have actually typed a word in the lexicon, and sometimes you will find that the spell check divined the subconscious word you hammered out on the keyboard. (Note: If you try this with common penmanship, you will find yourself either cheating or your neurons will become so confused at your attempts to confuse them that your head will turn into eggs Benedict.) “kdfyfrt,” I write. I then use my computer’s thesaurus and find that “juvenile behavior” is an equivalent to “kdfyfrt.” (Seriously, try it.)

And there, I have the beginnings of Catcher in the Rye, or Lord of the Flies. I am that baboon that will succeed. Eventually. And on a side note, if you are interested in poetry, I suggest you type out a few turgid lines in your native tongue, then find a translation website and in translation, you may very well be the next Goethe, Neruda, Rimbaud, or Horace, depending on the language you select. Perhaps you translate better than you are, like Garcia-Lorca.

I want to make clear that, although I don’t know of any other treatise on how not to write, I assume that there must be a few out there. Fine. We all know that everything has already been written before and that the crucial thing is to say it better, or at least, differently. It’s like the idea of Genghis Cohen, the noted Jewish barbarian who went marauding through China slapping everybody with gefilte fish. It turns out, there is a Genghis Cohen’s restaurant at Fairfax and Melrose in LA and is also a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel, The Crying of Lot 49. But I thought of this name, independently, as I thought of the subject of writing on not writing, so be it. I wonder if anybody has done anything with The Origin of Feces, though. I must fact check. Why am I so defensive about this? Because I realize that many people must have sundry techniques for not writing, but I have found the following quite adept at keeping me away from the keyboard. That said, these are only some micro-suggestions.

The easiest way to not write is to start drinking. You may have a splash of inspiration after a few cocktails and look to put this, the framework of your magnum opus on paper. This feeling will pass. I will occasionally belly up to the keyboard after doing the same at the bar and find that while I think I can write, I still can’t (Thankfully. I would hate to learn I did something better drunk than sober, aside from falling down.). Just don’t drink whiskey. The only two things whiskey makes you want to do is fight or write. Both of these will get you into trouble. In defense of writing, though, the simian ogre at the bar ready to knock your block off doesn’t have a “delete” key. Stick with red wine and read a good book until you fall asleep. Or call up some friends and tell them how much you love and miss them. If you have no friends, watch a city council meeting on the public access channel and ask yourself why you are such a drip. Drinking is an easy out, and one determined to really not write should have salted away a number of other options. I’ll make this hasty, as writing about not writing is proving to be almost as exhausting as just writing. There’s something I didn’t know.

There is one particular flood of menstruum that dissolves the spirit and when instituted will assuage all pains related to not writing. This is called internet gambling. This is the knockout drop in the drink that keeps me alive, as Endymion. Rolled up jacks over trips, down and up, down and up. It is that kind of blessed monotony that I think keeps most people alive. And for the antsy creative type, you can really make an art out of losing money, which, I should add, has been my summer job. Losing money at the online casino. This is not as lucrative as a typical summer job, but the hours are flexible and I don’t have to talk to anybody, save my own ravaged conscious. When does anybody make or lose money on writing? Never. Writing just is as I am. Nobody can prove either postulate and only the fool might try. I have just lost $200. Really, I just did that. I sell bonds like cracker jacks and switch them like shell games. I am such a disappointment. I feel that way. Thinking, I am Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all of them. Pick my story, I’ll try not to write it. Matt, the realist. Too much on about His wisdom, Son of Sirach and all that drivel. Boring. Then Mark, snot-slinging drunk and bitch of Luke, holds forth on the Sabbath and then hits the middle-of-the-road. Why not Luke, the pretty-boy, the best writer of the bunch who learned how to write and kept it short, ofsorts. And finally, John, who gives the words appeal. Writes the bestseller. The clincher. No, I am none of them. I have created no universe, I have moved no man, no woman. Damnit, I tried, though. That is all I have ever wanted to do. Like McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “I tried.” There is nothing more stifling than knowing what to write and not writing it. I suppose that’s the point, though, not writing.

Maybe I’ll can it. I’m getting awfully invested about thinking about not writing. Change the ring on your phone to Dance of the Valkyries, think of titles for new books, old books. If you have that liberal guilt, see how far you can jam your thumb up your ass, while convincing yourself you’re really not that gay. Ok, then how interesting can you be? If you can see 3-D, try a hand at vector calculus. Make a sloppy Spanish tortilla. Put your brother to bed, again. And again. He’s getting old now. Memorize something. Like ketchup: Tomato concentrate, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, onion powder, natural flavoring. I think I finally got it.

Enough. Writing, and not writing, is a brilliant ponzi scheme. You manufacture one word and the rest fall into rank. Any word engenders another, no matter how puerile, no matter how vacant. They will all, eventually, spill out in a brilliant splash of your own gore. But it is your gore. And you must believe it will withdraw from you some semblance of value. This is, of course, if you are able to write. I , of course, have a problem writing. I will sweat until my death in attempts to finish this odious trade. Until then, I can tell you only that one should never write about what one knows, one should never know what one truly feels, one should keep one’s thumb up one’s ass, constantly, in the hopes that one’s head will peer out from that unholy aperture long enough to realize that we must always try and hold our entrails, our souls out to ourselves long enough to realize that we can never, ever, learn to write. Jesus wept. I’m talking about me. But Godamnit, I try. I will try and take my TKO against the demiurge of words with grace, with nonchalance. With everything I have. I shall never write. I know that. That’s one thing I know. The thing I’ll never write about. Or not.

Christmas.

That’s the word I come back to. My brain, sometimes, gets quiet, but never silent. In the background, there is a restless rustling, the sound of my mental secretary, poor girl, who is always working. The frontal lobes are at rest, passive, eyes and ears like buckets, just receiving, while somewhere in the amygdalae, she is trying to get my attention. “What about… what about… what about?”

The only word that comes through is Christmas. I’m not even religious. It may be May or September. There are no gifts taunting from under the tree, no early bird sales, no Advent wreathes, just me and that word like comfort food that presents itself to me. Christmas — it repeats itself soothingly. The gentle crunch of the c-h-r like gravel under foot. Christmas, the i-s-t-m whisper like prayers on a December night. Christmas, with the m-a-s pronounced like “muss,” like a dirty face, scrubbed clean and nestled against a pillow, excitedly trying to sleep. Christmas, and my inner secretary stops to consider where this word came from and why, and for a moment, she puts down her stacks of paper, forgets about the stapler, stops struggling to straighten her ill-fitting business attire.

Christmas. Christmas. Christmas.

I’m sorry this piece is so short. I really should make more effort. But from the next office I can hear them,  in their meeting, making plans and saying, “Yes, just ask Mary. She’ll take care of it. Just ask Mary,” and my mental secretary, poor girl, is getting restless again, reaching for her pen and pad, preparing to take notes or at least look busy should someone come out of that meeting needing anything at all, even just needing some reassurance that work goes on here. It is her job to uphold the image that this is a place of business, that things get done, that orders get places and packages tracked. She makes reservations and cancels them. She makes mental notes to pay the bills but not too soon, never all at once, always just a few days before they come due. She has her list. She’s checking it twice. She is always nice.

Christmas. Christmas. Christmas.

When she hears them fall into another language she knows it’s a chance to catch a break. The meeting ends. A door closes. Someone take a personal call. My mental secretary scoops up something in her arms, from a distance it’s hard to make out. She pulls the bundle to her chest, a favorite stuffed animal, a cloth baby doll. She whispers to it, to her soft self:

Christmas. Christmas. Christmas.


Several weeks ago, while at my parents’ house, my mother started talking about her escape from the concentration camp in the former Yugoslavia, post World War II. Most of the stories my mother shared about the camp I’d heard before, many times before, and so it took me a minute before I realized what she’d said. This story was new.

I was 24 years old. It was 1989, and I had just moved from my hometown in Canada. I had come out to my Catholic family two years earlier, and since then our relationship had escalated from constant criticism to outright rejection. Isolated and confused, I sought professional help in the person of psychiatrist “Dr. Alfonzo.” In turmoil, I asked this doctor how I could best come to terms with my homosexuality as well as with the psychological effects of the sexual abuse I had endured as a child.

Alfonzo seemed to offer hope in a form of treatment based on Primal Therapy, the goal of which was to erase the mental imprints of my biological parents via intense, primal sessions, and then to replace these with the “healthy imprints” of surrogate parents.

Within the first few months, Alfonzo told me that I would never be happy as a homosexual, presented me with conflicting causation theories, and directed me to release my anger and to feel my pain in an effort to “unlearn the error” of my homosexuality. If I dared say that I really was gay, Alfonzo became enraged and threatened to throw me out of therapy. If I persisted in arguing with him, his loud, accented voice would overshadow my own. He would point his finger down at me in a menacing and condescending manner, cocking his head to one side. I would know enough to stop talking immediately—or else. No one had the last word when it came to Alfonzo. The end result was that my already low self-esteem plummeted.

Six months later, Alfonzo ordered me to move, along with four of his other patients, into a therapeutic house which he called The Styx. At his instruction, we built a makeshift 4’ x 6’ sound-insulated “screaming room” in the basement that we used for self-administered primal sessions. Alfonzo had us compose a written Charter, detailing his expectations about what foods we would eat (vegan), and what activities would not be tolerated (smoking, drinking, sex in the house). Nightly meditation was implemented. Members were discouraged from leaving the house during non-work hours except in the company of other members, and from having social contact with anyone outside the therapy. Visitors were forbidden, except for other patients sent by Alfonzo for three-week residential stays or “intensives.”

Alfonzo prescribed increasingly higher doses of medications, which he said were necessary if I was to benefit from his therapy. The medications included a combined or overlapping use of Rivotril, Surmontil, Elavil, Sinequan, and Anafranil. Weekly intra-muscular injections of Ketamine (a dissociative anesthetic, sometimes used in veterinary practice) soon followed. The drug was administered immediately prior to each re-parenting (“nurturing”) session, although he never received proper informed consent to administer this drug. Often he double-prescribed my monthly prescriptions, instructing me to bring the extra medication back to him for his personal use. Years later, I was to learn that he double-prescribed for many of his patients.

In private, he disclosed intimate details of his life to me, including facts about his own breakdown from which he claimed never to have fully recovered. Styx members were referred to as “family.” We were required to spend time with him at house meetings and during visits to his private home. We were given chores—to cook his meals, to clean his office and home, to care for his pets (one of which, a dog, he’d had us drug and steal from a nearby farm), to help him write his autobiography, and to renovate his retirement home on a remote island (where he said we’d all one day live communally). If any of us had “a feeling” about any of our many duties, Alfonzo told us to “work it in private,” and not in front of patients who weren’t “part of the family.”

Over the next two years, Alfonzo systematically denigrated my homosexuality, characterizing it as learned behavior and comparing it to a drug addiction. He told me that I needed to carry my “cross” with dignity (remain celibate), and not act on my “insanity.” In deep primal sessions, howling and beating a mattress in Alfonzo’s office, I began to accept—or, at least, not contradict—the doctor’s beliefs that I had self-identified as gay because of poor parental role modeling, the childhood sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of a stranger in a public washroom, and the consequent years I spent “acting out” of that abuse by training my body to respond only to men.

As my primal sessions deepened, Alfonzo prescribed ever higher doses of medications, and I became increasingly unable to function. By late 1992, the side effects I suffered included short-term memory loss, breathing difficulties, blurred vision, dry mouth, constipation, urinary retention, involuntary twitching, excessive sweating, weight gain of almost forty pounds, and visual hallucinations. Generally, I felt numb and “spaced out” all the time.

In 1993, I suffered a breakdown, brought on largely by extreme medication toxicity. Alfonzo added an anti-psychotic to my regime of daily medications and placed me on medical disability. He prescribed yet more medication to deaden my sex drive, saying that I would never be able to “flip to the other side” as long as I was obsessing about “the gay side.” In the most bizarre form of treatment yet, he ordered me to bottle my feces and sniff them whenever I was attracted to a man, in order to help remind me “where homosexual men stick their penis.” When none of that worked, the doctor threatened to hook my genitals up to electrodes. “Without my help,” he told me once, “you’ll probably just get AIDS and die.”

In 1994, Alfonzo placed me on what he described as a short therapeutic holiday, during which time my primal sessions were reduced and the medication dosages lowered. Consequently, as the fog of the medications waned, my sexual desires intensified. Despite five years of so-called therapy, I was still attracted to men. I began to spend longer hours away from the Styx, struggling to accept my homosexuality, all the while becoming ever angrier over what I’d been doing in an effort to kill that part of myself.

In early 1995, Alfonzo told all of us at the Styx that unless we corrected our life patterns by practicing more “tough love” on one another outside of our workroom, none of us would make it in the world “out there,” nor would we ever be allowed to live with him in his new home. We took his advice to heart. No longer did we work out our feelings in the basement; instead, we brought our primal rage upstairs into our living room, our kitchen and our bedrooms. We became like caged primates, and the house structure quickly disintegrated. Finally, in late 1995 we agreed to disband.

I returned for prescriptions regularly during the next year. During each of these visits, the doctor continued to make derogatory comments about gays. I said nothing, feeling numb inside when he spoke.

By the time I visited Alfonzo in mid-1996, I realized how many years I’d lost in a futile effort to change. I dreaded returning to his office, but knew that I had to be weaned off the medications. My best defense seemed to be to say as little about my life as possible, get my prescription, and leave. During our last visit, he told me he was concerned for all his former “children,” but in particular for me, since I had stepped back out into the world “with all those homosexuals.” His words sent a jolt through my body, as if I was hearing the hatred in his voice for the very first time.

“I’m one of those homosexuals,” I snapped back at him. “And nothing’s going to change that fact. I can’t hide from the world my whole life, and homosexuals are as much a part of the world as anyone.” I continued to look him in the eyes, not backing down. He said nothing; then, a moment later, turned back to his desk, wrote another prescription and made an appointment for the following month. I never kept it.

I spent much of the next two years in solitude, feeling shell-shocked, weaning myself off all the medications while struggling with memories of Alfonzo and “the family.” Despite the doctor’s ongoing attempts to revert my sexuality to its “base heterosexuality,” there had been no heterosexual in me waiting to emerge. The truth was, I felt more like a shell that had had its innards scooped out.

Gradually, I thawed out and deprogrammed from the therapy. The panic attacks I’d suffered through for years soon dissipated, despite Alfonzo’s constant warnings that they would necessitate a lifetime of medication. In other friendships and in work relationships, I was accepted as a gay man and this assisted in challenging my own homophobia. I continued to fluctuate between feelings of outrage over what had occurred and a great deal of loyalty toward Alfonzo. With the assistance of a new, healthier, counselor, I not only dealt with issues relating to my childhood sexual abuse, but also with Alfonzo’s systematic attempts to erase my gay identity.

In May 1997, I mailed a five-page letter of complaint to one of Canada’s colleges of physicians and surgeons. Essentially, the complaint stated that the doctor ran a cult in which I was excessively overmedicated, forced into providing free labor, subjected to his homophobic dogma, and treated in an effort to “cure” me of my homosexuality. Alfonzo was given fourteen days to respond. Seven months later the college received his 500-page rejoinder, in which he denied all inappropriate conduct. The college consulted an independent psychiatrist, who advised them that Alfonzo’s behavior was considered “acceptable within the framework of his therapeutic model.”

Following a twenty month investigation, Alfonzo was directed to attend a conduct review before the college’s Ethical Standards & Conduct Review Committee. Comprised of four senior physicians and two public representatives, the Ethical Conduct Review, I was told, was intended to be educational and remedial, and to provide advice, guidance, and criticism as warranted to the physician to avoid the recurrence of similar complaints at the college.

I was there for the review in March 1999. Alfonzo was asked first about his attitude toward homosexuality. He spoke at length, saying that he had no particular attitude: that twenty percent of his clientele were homosexual; that he did not know the causation of homosexuality because nothing was known; that he was aware of theories such as the way in which childhood damage can cause a person to be gay, but that he did not regard homosexuality as an illness, because homosexuality itself was no longer in the DSM. “How could I treat someone for a disease that no longer exists?” he asked.

The chair spent several minutes reviewing the Canadian Medical Association’s view on homosexuality. She said that homosexual orientation was considered neither a mental illness nor moral depravity. “In fact, homosexual orientation has been found to be in place very early in the life cycle,” she continued, “possibly even before birth; and research strongly suggests that efforts to repair homosexuals are nothing more than social prejudice and could result in severe psychological damage inflicted onto the individual.”

Alfonzo was asked about the power difference between therapist and patient—the “slave and daddy role” within his therapy. He was reminded that his patients underwent regression, were therefore extremely vulnerable to suggestion, and could be easily damaged. He was asked about using abusive language on his patients; whether he kept his beliefs to himself; the fact that patients may have witnessed his own Ketamine-enhanced therapy, where he told us he was Christ, that he had been crucified in a past life and that this was the world’s last chance to hear his message.

One by one Alfonzo denied each of the allegations. He pretended to be particularly horrified at the idea that patients may have witnessed his own therapy. When asked why I would say that this had occurred if it had not, the doctor replied that I had the ability to blend fact and fiction and vice versa, which was characteristic of my sort of personality disorder. “For a patient to witness his therapist’s own treatment would not be therapeutic,” he said. “It would break all the rules. It would be traumatic for the patient, not to mention unethical and a violation of trust.”

Alfonzo was asked whether he was doing research with the Ketamine, and whether he’d had any peer review. He said that research in psychiatry was not the same as in other branches of medical science—a statement the chair quickly rebuked—and that he conducted “continuous research” on his patients, who in turn gave him feedback on their therapy. He was asked about his use of Ketamine and the general use of anesthesia. Alfonzo told them that he utilized very small doses of Ketamine in order to avoid the hallucinogenic effects, and that it had also been used thirty years ago in Russia to enhance psychotherapeutic processes. When asked why he did not use Benzodiazepines, Alfonzo said that he did not wish to use a medication with a sedating property; that he did not wish to “dampen the feelings and emotions” of his patients. Considering that I had been well beyond sedated for the majority of our time together, this comment, in particular, left me dumbstruck.

The chair noted that at one point I was prescribed up to 550 mg of Elavil every day, in addition to other medications, and that such dosages would normally be restricted to the most severe patients in hospitals or institutions. Alfonzo said that there were very few outpatients who required such high dosages, but that they were needed for me because I was “quite mentally ill.” There was a suspended moment where I looked at each committee member, and each of them looked back at me. I had worn my best suit that day, was freshly shaven, and my eyes, I knew, had the clarity and sparkle of a very sane human being.

“Are you trying to tell us, Dr. Alfonzo,” the chair responded, her inflection rising dramatically, “that this young man sitting before us here today, that this man is a very, very, very damaged human being who required 550 mg of medication per day just to function?”

For a moment every person in the room had turned and looked at me, and I, in turn, had looked at them. It was as if the entire moment was happening in slow motion: the chair’s question; the members’ glances at me; all of us waiting for Alfonzo’s response. Then Alfonzo turned to me as I turned to him, and we all turned back to the chair as he responded to her.

“Yes,” he replied. Some of the members shook their heads in what appeared to be bewilderment. I caught the eye of one Committee member, a doctor herself. She winked at me. “He looks great now,” Alfonzo added as an afterthought. “Obviously my therapy worked.”

The chair asked Alfonzo if he denied all of my allegations. The members seemed amazed when he said he did. “Dr. Alfonzo,” the chair asked, “tell me, please, what could possibly motivate any person to invent, and then spend years of their life pursuing a complaint of such magnitude, unless at least some part of it was true?”

“I currently have 65 patients,” the doctor responded. “None of them are complaining. Most of my referrals are self-referrals that have come to me from other patients.”

“Dr. Alfonzo,” the chair stressed, “complainants come to the college without any thought of gain for themselves but out of concern for the physician’s behavior: even one complaint is cause for concern.” She told Alfonzo that his was an unorthodox form of therapy. “It has never been properly investigated,” she advised, “and leaves much to be desired at the scientific level. The fact that an experimental program of this type of therapy was run almost thirty years ago in Russia is not sufficient, nor is the Committee even interested in such research. Scientific knowledge must be continuously evaluated and re-evaluated in order for advances to be made. Furthermore, we are concerned that you are isolated from the psychiatric community in that you’ve had no conversations with other psychiatrists in the previous two years. We are particularly concerned about your future group work with patients, and your individual therapy; your use of Ketamine.”

One Committee member spoke up and added that he was not at all comfortable with Alfonzo’s style of practice; that he personally found it very distressing. “Tell me, Dr. Alfonzo,” he said, “when exactly do you plan on retiring?”

“In ten years or so,” the doctor replied.

The conduct review concluded two hours after it had begun when the chair told Alfonzo that the college would arrange for his practice to be reviewed by two “independent psychiatrists.” Five months later I received a copy of that review. It amounted to a slap on the wrist, and concluded that Alfonzo was “clearly trying his best with a difficult patient mix,” and that he was “well intentioned and approached his work with diligence.” At no time was he asked to alter his practice.

I file a medical malpractice suit against the doctor in 1999, four years after I left the Styx. Particulars of the doctor’s claimed negligence included that he failed to act in accordance with general and approved practices in the field of psychiatry; prescribed psychiatric medication (Ketamine) no longer in use in medical practice; prescribed medication in inappropriate dosages; double-prescribed medication for his own personal use; failed to explain or warn his patients of the side effects of prescribed medication; treated homosexuality as an illness or disease; allowed the plaintiff to care for his pets, provide editorial services for his book, domestic services for himself and his other patients, landscaping services and household renovations to his personal property—all without remuneration; intentionally inflicted mental suffering upon the plaintiff contrary to his duty not to inflict harm; and committed battery by injecting the plaintiff with the drug Ketamine without his knowledge or informed consent.

In their response to my statement, defense denied every allegation of fact contained in my claim. The court scheduled a four-week trial. Months later, two independent psychiatrists (one hired by my lawyer, the other by defense) interviewed me for over twenty hours. In December 2001, I attended the defense’s Examination of Discovery, where I was asked about everything from my childhood sexual abuse to my active sexual history, my coming out process, and my deteriorating relationship with my family—all of which, I was well aware, had nothing to do with the facts of my claim. When asked about my “visiting bars frequented by male homosexuals,” suddenly it struck me just how homophobic the context of the suit truly was: would anyone ever be asked if they visited bars “frequented by female heterosexuals”?

Defense spent several hours having me review numerous consent forms—all signed by me, although I had no memory of having signed any of them. I explained that this must have been due to the excessive amount of medication I was taking, and that most days I could hardly remember what I’d eaten for lunch, let alone the details of a contract. I had also trusted Alfonzo like a father: I would have signed anything he put in front of me.

I was shown multiple self-rated progress reports, all written while I was under Alfonzo’s care, and asked if I was truthful in the many positive comments I made with respect to the therapy, and, if not, why. I answered: “I was lying to myself about who I was. Based on that, I could not have been truthful in a lot of aspects of my life. … I also wasn’t honest about how scared I was of the doctor. I never mentioned the way he screamed at me, how humiliated I felt when he told me I was ‘crazy’ for saying that I was gay, that I was ‘insane’ for desiring to have an intimate relationship with a man.”

For over six hours, I answered every one of defense’s questions, and with each passing minute I felt myself being opened up and ground down: I felt exposed and exhausted, had trouble focusing, remembering, understanding what could possibly have motivated me to stay with this doctor, to have said that he was helping me, that I felt safe with him, that I was better off with his therapy. I wanted to say that I did not understand or remember any of it; that I was drugged and regressed and that self-hatred can make a sane person do and say just about anything: that I cannot be held entirely responsible for the internalized homophobia that was now being used against me. But most importantly, that none of that meant that Alfonzo had not been unconscionable in his treatment of me—that he had not been abusive and unethical. When defense asked what harm or ill effects the doctor had caused, I felt as if I were being asked to articulate how my rapist had damaged me—what ill effects had been caused by being raped. I tried to tell them something of the emotional harm his therapy caused, but after so many years and all that had happened, my words felt stilted, inadequate, pointless.

The first half of 2002 was spent waiting for the phone to ring. In July, my lawyer, Mackenzie called me down to his office. I had hardly sat down when he announced that there was no incentive for his firm to take my case to trial: we would have to settle out of court. I was in shock—considering that Mackenzie had told me, when I first sought his firm’s advice, that medical malpractice suits are rarely settled out of court.

With respect to my case creating legal precedent, Mackenzie explained that the Canadian Medical Protective Association—the mutual defense organization responsible for providing indemnification to all licensed doctors in the country—sent out details of all malpractice suits to all their members, including causes of action and information about settlements, excluding amounts. In that way, he assured me, physicians would be dissuaded from practicing similar types of therapy in the future. Based on everything Mackenzie told me, especially that my case’s outcome would be documented in one of the Association’s bulletins, I agreed to settle. After months of offers and rejections, in December 2002, I received a settlement of $30,000.

Thirteen months later, in January 2004, I called Mackenzie to ask for more information on any bulletin distributed by the Association that might have detailed my case’s outcome. Mackenzie would not take my call but relayed through his secretary that if the Association chose not to document my case, there was nothing he could do about it “after the fact.” On top of that, ever since my first complaint against Dr. Alfonzo in 1999, I had been reading through every bulletin from the college of physicians and surgeons—bulletins sent out to every medical practitioner in the province containing decisions of complaints brought before the same Committee that reviewed my complaint. The details of my complaint to the college were never outlined, not once.

So I am left to wonder, who other than me has learned from my experience? What has changed? How many more men and women will have to suffer the manipulation of their sexuality because of someone else’s intolerance combined with faulty science? The American Psychiatric Association may have ceased classifying homosexuality as a mental illness over thirty years ago, but this has not stopped some of its practitioners from treating it as one. My hope now is that one day soon there will be laws prohibiting this kind of “therapy,” and that those who do practice it, unlike Dr. Alfonzo, will be held accountable for their actions.


I have a long history of becoming far too invested in my prime time TV shows. For a period, I went around telling friends and associates in various states of legal trouble that “a writ of mandamus must be issued” or that “these things usually sort themselves out in voir dire,” along with other bits of unsolicited, erroneous legal advice mined from “Law & Order” episodes. I employed, usually to little effect, modern forensic techniques learned on “CSI: Las Vegas” to create a time-line for those moments spurred on by my late-night roistering. I know I went to Taco Bell late-night because there are beans on my face this morning. But wait. Perhaps I am confusing correlation with causation. I’ll need more grant money to close the book on that case. But this is different. I’ve got a big problem now. The folks over at FOX have really done it to me this time.

“House, M.D.,” which usually airs at 8/7c, is a show that features the brilliant and ornery infectious disease specialist Dr. Gregory House, his three minions, Drs. Chase, Foreman and Cameron, along with Dr. Cuddy, the Dean of Medicine at Princeton Plainsboro and oncology specialist extraordinaire, Dr. Wilson. The show follows Dr. House and his colleagues through the Byzantine world of medicine, “where the villain is a medical malady and the hero is an irreverent, controversial doctor who trusts no one, least of all his patients,” at least according to a FOX network statement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WELL WHAT?

For me and my girlfriend Allison, this show has become an overwhelming presence, not just in our quotidian routine, but in the bedroom. Initially, my reaction to House, M.D. was a predictable one. I am a failed pre-med student, and even before the advent of Dr. House and his crew, I often resorted to offering ill-advised medical advice to those in need, falling back on my elementary training in medicine along with reruns of “ER.”

“Where does it hurt?”

“It’s my stomach. I think it might have been the fajitas.”

“Hmm, it sounds like your liver is shutting down. We need to start lactulose, 30 cc’s per NG and a get a stool and urine sample to see if there’s any blood in there.”

“It’s just a stomach ache.”

“Stat!”

“Tyler, we’re at a Chili’s. What’s the matter with you?”

“Fine. It’s your life. Do you want the Mudslide Pie to go?”

But “House, M.D.” is a completely different kind of monster. Instead of breakneck emergency room procedures, House and his team are consistently faced with medical mysteries and procedures that would throw the common ER doctor for a loop. Just the other day House had to treat a man with electro-shock therapy for male menopause to wipe out his memory because the man was also sick with love for his brother’s fiancée and the only way to get him better was to fry his brain and erase the memories to keep heart attacks brought on by his brother’s fiancée’s presence away. Not the run of the mill motorcycle vs. pedestrian so common on other medical dramas.

After Allison and I decided this was a worthwhile show and one worth purchasing on DVD, things took a turn for the worse. Innocuous medical issues became intense projects, as I would eschew the common diagnosis for a more bewildering prognosis.

“You wouldn’t believe it, Tyler. Everybody at work is sick. I think the flu is going around. Maybe I’ll take tomorrow off.”

“I see. Has anybody in your office been to Africa in the last six months to a year?”

“Why? I think Amy might have gone to Miami last summer with her husband, but I don’t think anybody went to Africa.”

“So you’re not sure?”

“Well no, not totally.”

“Look, after we put your office in quarentine, I’m going to need to check Beta 2 protein levels and do a lumbar puncture on all the employees. I’m leaning toward cowpox, but it could be amyloidosis or lymphoma. However, if the biopsy and abdominal CT scan are negative for cancers, I’m going to need to check for scurvy and African horse sickness along with hypergonadism. You all may also have a mild case of Addison’s disease.”

“Did you say ‘hypergonadism?’”

“Yes, of course. Why?”

“How do you explain a case of hypergonadism in an office full of women?”

“Exactly.”

And unlike her distaste for my other forays into pseudo, prime-time science, Allison was oddly tolerant and even encouraged my maverick House M.D.-induced diagnostic career. In fact, it now occurs to me that her long string of coughs, sneezes, yawns, ticks and alleged night sweats over the past year was a ruse to get closer to Dr. House and his colleagues.

“Babe, my head hurts. Do you think it’s anything,” she’ll say, prompting me to list a litany of ailments. Dr. House is never one to rule out any scenario and neither was I. Of course, my database of disease increased with every “House, M.D.” episode: Bwamba fever, Potato leaf roll virus, Mafucci syndrome, adrenal hypoplasia, Touraine-Solente-Golé syndrome, cat-scratch fever, oral-facial-digital syndrome types I-IV, you name it.

“Maybe it’s nothing. Why don’t you come in to the bedroom with me?” In the bedroom, Allison was nice to me and these niceties continued for quite a while. I hadn’t noticed the correlation, however, between our horizontal antics and their proximity in time to our viewing of “House, M.D.” I don’t believe men have the capability to reflect accurately on why or how they are treated nicely; we accept the situation with an awe and wonderment reserved for the contemplation of Machu Picchuor the Edelbrock intake or Buffalo wings. Once again, I confused correlation with causation, assuming my vast knowledge of pathology was the catalyst behind our new and improved love life. Alas, it was not my knowledge of medicinal arcana that provoked Allison’s amorous behavior; it was Gregory House, M.D.

As season one moved to season two, Allison’s and my fanaticism for the show grew. After the first season, you have a good sense of the characters—their motivations, a look into their skeleton-packed closets—and you begin to relate to them. Gregory House M.D. suffers from some kind of untreatable condition that led to necrosis in his quadricep, causing the brilliant doctor significant discomfort. I have a few ideas about what could be ailing House, but my humility prevents me from divulging these notions to strangers. Ok, I don’t really have a concrete idea about what could be wrong with Dr. House, but neither does he, which is why we both flirt with a Vicodin addiction. Dr. House needs a few handfuls a day to cope with the agonizing pain brought on by his condition and the stupidity of the hospital administration and his patients, while I, on the other hand, require a few handfuls to offer “moral support” to House and because my friend Brent has some left over from when he had his wisdom teeth removed. As for what’s ailing Dr. House, I’ll put it this way: Fulminating osteomyelitis is still on the list. But then again, so are a thyroid hormone plasma membrane transport defect and scabies. As you see, my enthusiasm for the show increased with every episode. Allison, however, began to “present” symptoms of a similar, yet more corporeal fanaticism.

Around the middle of season two, Allison, who is not much for idol worship, proposed we buy a poster of House, M.D. and his team on E-bay. During college and far too long after, I inflicted upon my roommates posters featuring green space aliens that glowed eerily under a black light, that Bob Marley poster that everybody has where he is smoking a joint the size of the Hindenburg, and the requisite poster of Anna Nicole Smith before she ballooned and fell into a quaalude/chicken fried steak-induced torpor. I thought I could manage another juvenile poster; time and maturity relegating them all (aside from the alien poster) to a dumpster at the behest of some style-conscious former love. We looked online and saw a House, M.D. poster signed by all the doctors, so for Christmas, I endeavored to purchase on eBay this one-of-a-kind item for Allison.

A 24 x 36 poster signed by Dr. Gregory House, M.D. and his staff (including Dr. Cuddy and Dr. Wilson) hovering over what looks like an exam table, the eminent doctors backlit by a surgical lamp, was available on eBay for $100. I went to work and during a lull, logged on to the site to put in my bid on the poster. I bid $150 and went back to work, confident that in two days, nine hours, and seventeen minutes the item would be mine. I checked on my offer a day later only to find I had been outbid by house_lover22. This devotee had pushed the bid up to $200. Fazed, but still possessing a little of the fight that has kept my alien poster up all these years (although I was told I’d have to lose the black light as it was, according to a former girlfriend, “the drippiest, crispy, weed-smoking patchouli bong resin relic I’ve ever seen”) I went whole hog in for $220. Only the best for my gal! But the next day, as I went to check my bid, house_lover22 dropped a $260 bomb on me. War. Without flinching, I offered $275 for the poster, certain that this would scare off the little House, M.D. tourist. Then, 45 minutes later, I had been outbid again, sure enough, by house_lover22. Three-hundred god damned dollars. I was done. He wins. I left the bidding arena feeling like a victim of acute cadmium poisoning.

I arrived home from my office and found Allison all worked up into a tizzy.

“I got it! I got it! That House poster we were looking at. Some fucker tried to snatch it up, but I hung around and got it.”

“Do we even have three-hundred dollars?”

“How’d you know it was…oh shit. Gift of the Magi. Sort of.”

The poster arrived and Allison hung it above our bed, where a mirror used to be. This is when I first came to suspect that Allison’s love of House, M.D. had taken a distinctly different shape than my own. Now, don’t get me wrong: I have a massive crush on Drs. Cuddy and Cameron and a bit of a man-crush on Dr. Chase. Obviously, Gregory House M.D., is included in this list, but my attraction to him is less physical—I’d like him to stay and chat over scotch and then maybe something happens. . . . But Allison, it now became clear, had only a selfish interest in my prognosticating. My diagnoses were mere vehicles on which she could ride away from the “real world” and into the arms of the wildly attractive knot of doctors at Princeton-Plainsboro.

I caught Allison engaged in House M.D. chat rooms, vigorously smashing away at the keyboard to harass other members of the otherwise innocuous chat room and reinforce the notion that these brilliant doctors were misunderstood by the cretinoid masses here at the Forum: http://forums.fox.com/foxhouse/.

“You dumb sons of bitches. Dr. Chase is merely trying to live up to his father’s wild, unattainable expectations. Of course he’s going to be wound tight, you sanctimonious fucks.”

Eventually these rants found Allison banned from a number of “House, M.D.” chat rooms and left to stew in the thought that there existed people out in the world who would disparage perhaps the finest team of doctors ever to be assembled. Speaking of the real world, I began to feel my first pang of jealousy, as our love life, at least in the bedroom, had become a decidedly canine diversion. Now, I love to watch House, M.D. on Tuesdays at 8/7c, but I don’t need to see the staff above my bed, examining my every move, judging me, diagnosing me.

“Hey, Dr. Foreman. The patient looks odd and manic. Do you think it could be Japanese encephalitis?”

“Well, Chase. I don’t know. Certainly neurological. Maybe metachromatic leukodystrophy. Dr. Cameron, any thoughts?”

“Yeah. Is that all he’s got? Jesus. Poor bastard.”

I remained tolerant of our signed House, M.D. poster because I am no fool and I know a good thing when I’ve got it. But, I really felt I had to establish myself as a plausible substitute for Dr. House and his colleagues. I met with my friend Ben at a sushi restaurant over Camparis to try and orchestrate a plan. We spent the afternoon sipping our Italian aperitifs and pinching at spider rolls, my confidence rising with the alcohol and Ben’s completely misguided advice.

“You should fucking apply to medical school, man.”

“What do you mean? I already tanked in pre-med and any relevant medical knowledge I’ve ever had is shaky at best, Ben.”

“Why are you so hard on yourself?”

“I’m not trying to be hard on myself, I’m trying to be honest with myself, Ben.”

“Oh, sorry. I guess I couldn’t tell the difference. I’m also on mushrooms.”

Everyone needs the friend who will actually ingest all the ridiculous psychedelic chemicals used for the occupational vision quest. I would never have conceived of applying to medical school in my current state—fragile, insecure and possibly suffering from delusions of grandeur or angina pectoris. But Ben planted this seed, and after tracking him down in the bathroom where he was organizing a bowl of edamame to resemble Che Guevara, I patted him on the back, stuck him with the bar tab and went to the half-price book store to purchase a guide to taking the MCAT.

Allison supported my decision to apply to medical school, but her behavior turned from one of trepidation toward to outright disgust. After delaying my attack on the MCAT a half dozen times for various reasons (“Who’s to say I don’t have cadmium poisoning?) I discovered medical school and even the medical profession at large, involved more than the rote memorization of obscure diseases and dosage amounts. There’s also quite a bit of mathematics and chemistry, two subjects which I would characterize as my weak suits. I sat on the couch going through MCAT flashcards featuring calculus and covalent bonds most evenings except for Tuesdays 8/7c, when House, M.D. would take me to a loftier position, in particular, the head of diagnostic medicine at Princeton Plainsboro hospital. Allison would sit transfixed, her tongue probing the air as if to catch some renegade particle escaped from the sweet breath of Dr. House through the phosphorous and the ray tubes of the television and onto her pursed and eager lips. The only time she ever strayed from her seat was when she would have to throw the cat against the wall for stepping on the remote control. Wednesday through Monday, however, I worked like mad toward being accepted to, “you know what? Fuck it,” I said, “Princeton Medical School.” Alas, Allison’s feelings of disgust at my obvious lack of aptitude for the sciences came to head one afternoon when she barked,

“How can you not know the difference between aromatic and alicyclic compounds or even less an atom and a god damned molecule? Baboons know that shit! I’m going on-line. You’re a mess.” I was, though. I was terrible. I began to copy test answers from the previous owner of this study guide’s practice tests. No doubt this whiz was already chief of cardiac medicine somewhere fancy. I allowed myself to be swept up in the idea that I had, like Allison and Dr. House’s molecules (atoms?), somehow become intertwined with this book’s previous owner. Another practice test. Another near-perfect performance. Allison came to trust in my capabilities, noting, “Maybe it’s just weird. Maybe you just sound like an idiot when you’re talking.” But I knew better and as the date of my MCAT came upon me, I was seized with fear. I was a fraud. All that legal jargon, all that ridiculous recitation of House’s diagnoses, not mine…puerile, stupid, show-offy, greasy kid stuff. What was I thinking? “Law & Order” never had me applying to law school; I saw “A Brief History of Time” and I didn’t go rushing off for a doctorate in space physics; “The Karate Kid” did see me enroll in karate lessons, but only for one day, as I wore my gi out in public sporting the never-menacing beginner’s white belt, and was quickly set upon by local hoods who locked me in a Port-o-Potty for 45 minutes. What the hell was this? Who did I think I was? I’m not a doctor, I’m a guy who makes a watermelon helmet at the end of a barbecue when I’m half-crocked on Carlo Rossi burgundy. I aimed to come clean to Allison and to myself, but I just couldn’t bear it. Not to mention, season three of House was coming to a close and a general malaise took over the apartment. Allison lost all interest in my imminent medical career and sex, I became overrun with guilt, monotonously going over practice MCATs executed to near-perfection by their previous taker, and even the cat seemed downtrodden, occasionally throwing herself against the wall in a touching display of nostalgia and abject boredom.

The day of the MCAT came and I lumbered off to take the exam in a nearby high school at eight in the morning as Allison dozed away.

“Good luck, doctor,” she italicized hopefully, unconvincingly.

“Thanks.”

When I arrived at the high school, I had to negotiate my way from the parking lot, through a gang fight (Why do gangs get up so early? Seems counter-intuitive.) and past a number of methamphetamine dealers to arrive at the auditorium, a trek that caused me a fair amount of unease. But unlike other major tests in my life, I wasn’t nervous for this one. I didn’t have those paralyzing butterflies or nausea present during my SAT or those other tests that determine whether you’ll be in the class that’s learning long math or the one where there are two kids locked in a cage and another kid rubbing his own feces all over the sack lunches. I was calm. There was a kind of Bach fugue/walking through honey-and-gauze calm that came over me. I was going to get through this. I was going to go in there and try my best and maybe, just maybe I’d pull it out this one time. The onetime cosmic forces all line up in your favor and there is no man, no superstructure, no howling stampede in this blasted world who can stop you! I thought this for a few more moments then decided that that kind of shit only happens on ESPN Classic and went to a bar instead.

I felt awful, not so much for skipping my MCAT as for deceiving myself and Allison the whole time I was allegedly “studying” for this test. Delusional parisitosis, or “Morgellon’s disease” could be a possible cause of my delusional medical aspirations. But then, so could leprosy.

The bar was an old Irish place called “The Blarney Stone.” The Blarney Stone, like the fourteen other Irish bars I’ve been to called The Blarney Stone, opened early—some loophole they must take advantage of by offering an Irish “breakfast” (in most cases a lukewarm hot dog, lukewarmer beans and $2 wells). I sat at the bar and lit a cigarette, taking in the faint smell of excelsior for just long enough to consider that jejune notion you talk about in college after too much marijuana where we are all cosmic guinea pigs, just spinning around that proverbial wheel in the proverbial unknown with credit card debt, acne vulgaris, goiters, elephantitis, jaundice, rush hour traffic and the like in some silly celestial aquarium filled with…

“Yeah, I’ll have a Guinness and one of those weenies.”And after a few Guinness, a quantity of scotch and plenty of lukewarm weenies, I was thrown out of the bar for telling the bartender he looked like he might have thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura and to maybe hurry up with another one of those weenies.

I arrived home around noon to find Allison sitting on the couch with the MCAT book in her hand. I kissed her awkwardly and then paced around the apartment like I often do when I am drunk and hiding something.

“Look,” I said. “I’m going to have to come clean here. I didn’t take the MCAT. I just want…”

“I know, babe. I know you didn’t—unless they started serving scotch for breakfast over at the high school.”

“I think the PTA is considering it.”

“You got a letter from Princeton. It doesn’t look like an application.” I opened the letter, my clumsy, drunken hands fumbling over the envelope. I strained to read the letter, holding it closer, then further away from my face. I was finally able to make it out:

Dear Mr. Smith,

We appreciate your interest in Princeton University. Unfortunately, we offer no graduate program in medicine, nor do we have a medical school.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

____________

Princeton University

The Graduate School

Clio Hall, Princeton, NJ, 08544

 

 

 

 

And so it goes…

I gave the letter to Allison who, naturally, roared with laughter. I sank onto the couch, drunk and embarrassed, intermittently hiccuping blasts of fetid weenie about the living room.

“So why didn’t you take it?” she asked. “You paid good money.”

“It would have been a disaster. They would have had to check the machine to verify a score could dip so low.”

“Well, I’m proud of you, Tyler.”

“For what?”

“Doing something.”

“Thanks. See anything interesting in the study guide?

“No,” she smiled. “I’m just going over my old practice tests.”

“What tests?”

“My MCAT practice tests. I should get my scores in a week or two.”

“What the fuck do you mean your scores? I think I’m on mushrooms. I have to lie down.”

With my dipsomania subsided and a solid nap under my belt, I went to Allison to clarify what I thought she’d been babbling about earlier.

“Yeah, you just let it sit there for weeks. I thought I’d take a crack at it.

“So you took the MCAT?”

“Yeah. I think I nailed it.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“Nope.”

“That’s so ninja.”

“I know.”

“House, M.D. style!

“I know!”

Now that season five of House, M.D. is nigh, our lives have become decidedly different. Allison pores over medical school applications while I go about my routine, making sandwiches and catching smidgens of “Boston Legal,” something to pass the time until “House, M.D.” arrives. We still have the “House, M.D.” poster up in the bedroom, but it doesn’t seem like such the centerpiece anymore. Allison still manages a few tirades on rogue internet chat rooms about “House, M.D.,” but she’s focusing on a big life move. Soon, Allison will be telling me I’ve got gonadal dysgenesis and I’m actually going to have to do something about it. She’ll be surrounded by people who speak this language, people who actually understand it. And where does that leave me? I don’t know. I’m nervous. But, as I’ve always firmly believed, these things do usually sort themselves out in voir dire.