When I was a small child, I was prone to insomnia and fits of the night terrors. To get me to fall asleep, my mother and father would fasten me into our family’s 1971 Toyota Carina, throw in an eight-track cassette of Anne Murray’s Greatest Hits and drive up and down South Main Street in Houston, Texas, to look at the prostitutes. The blinking neon signs of the no-tell motels, the bling of streetwalkers working their finery, and the day-glo hues of their billowing lingerie were too much stimulation even for a toddler; I would finally shut my eyes and stop struggling against the seat belt while “Shadows in the Moonlight” and the South Main ho stroll played on. I nodded off to sleep not only with visions of sugar plum fairies, but also of leather-clad fairies, common harlots, desperate dope fiends, glamorous go-girls, and rowdy rent-boys all gyrating in my little head.

I arrived at Steve’s house early in the morning. Our plan was to hit the lake early, catch some fish, and get out before the wind gathered up and froze us out. On the drive we counted four cars sporting Jesus stickers on their bumpers.

No Jesus? No peace. Know Jesus. Know Peace.

He died for me…I’ll live for him.

Got Jesus?

Have a Nice Day with Jesus!

I was raised Catholic and the first chance I got to ditch Father Lopez, his unholy stink-eye, and his evil band of moody Sisters I did. I was in the 5th grade. After three years of fear sermons I’d seen and heard enough and told my parents that I quit. Even at that early age there was something about Christianity that didn’t jibe with me. I found it depressing. I found it negative. I found it cruel and unsettling. And the people that packed Our Lady of Guadalupe on Sunday mornings with their cut-out smiles and scripted greetings? I thought they were professional hypocrites and full of shit.

Despite my skepticism towards the credibility of his followers I liked Jesus and his message. As a kid I prayed to Him constantly. Prayed that my family lived peacefully. Prayed that my father would stop drinking. Prayed that I’d finally kiss Anna Hernandez.

“And Jesus maybe tomorrow you’ll allow me to kiss Anna. Just one kiss. You know how much I like her.”

That prayer never was answered.

In fact, a lot of them were never answered.

I told Steve about my Christian background. That I went to some old church in LA called Our Lady of Guadalupe. That I hated it and wanted out. That the people that attended the church judged and fucked people over for six days and on the seventh day they clutched their worry beads and mumbled like babies. I told him that over the years I’ve mellowed my feelings towards Christianity. That I tried not to think of their bloody history or their blatant hatred of all things non-Christian. I told him that religion rarely crossed my mind but when I think of Christianity these days I think of Jimmy Swaggart, the insular musings of Rick Warren. I told him I think of naughty Ted Haggard and Stephen Baldwin.

“Baldwin? Isn’t he an actor? The one who called his daughter a pig?”

“No, that’s another Baldwin. There’s like ten of them.”

Steve and I have a system when we go fishing. It’s very simple. He fishes and I sit on my ass looking for wildlife. When I grow bored of that I read. And when that runs its course I take a stab at writing some fiction that’s void of plot and structure—all that technical business I learned in the stuffy English rooms of UNLV. At that time I was putting together a collection of creature stories. Snakes. Insects. Dogs.

A giant hog named Benny that lives in Barstow and dreams of eating.

A rattlesnake that kills a bartender.

An aging flying squirrel that takes his last flight.

Two stinkbugs that get pissed on by a dog.

A donkey that shits money.

A scorpion that sings.

Steve is a master fisherman. Has all the gear. Has a beautiful boat loaded with gadgets and blip machines. He reads the water, knows all the tricks. On this day he’d catch five beautiful big-mouth bass. Gorgeous fish painted in greens and golds. This was our first fishing trip since my return from my spiritual retreat where I ditched my cell-phone, truck, the Internet, all that. I was to pay attention to my damaged heart and soul and not my addictive mind that wanders in bad places. So that’s what I did. I hunkered down and returned to the desert bright-eyed and clear. I returned to the desert a better man.

Sometime in the middle of the day the Dr. Peppers got to me and I had to piss. Steve pulled us into a cove. After I was done I walked around lifting fallen tree limbs and rocks looking for lizards and whatnot. Then something caught my eye. It was a knotted sandwich bag that contained two stones and a folded piece of paper that had Bible passages typed on it. I picked it up and read the typed messages. I’d never seen anything like it. Whoever put it together wanted someone to find it. I was that person. I looked to see if anyone was around. Nothing. Nada. I raised my eyes to the sky. Just like I did when I was a kid. Blue skies running from the San Bernardino Mountains to Barstow.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name. John 1:12

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12

I showed it to Steve.

“Seems like Jesus is always around,” he said.

I sat on the shore, memories spinning up and over the mountains and sloping down into Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario. Here I was again. Back in California, my birth state. Here I was again twenty-five minutes from the desert where it all began. I came full circle. Jobs and girlfriends. Old songs and new ones yet to be named. Dog-eared books and divorce. Poems and rejection slips. From Jesus to Buddha. Sand and scorpions.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8

I came home and put the bag next to my Buddha and my jade Trickster. They make a good team and look beautiful on my desk. The Buddha and Trickster a gift from a beautiful friend with a big heart. The “Jesus bag” a gift from a stranger that I will keep forever. Everyday before I leave the house I smile their way and open the door with the best of intentions. It’s easier that way.

I was watching The Joy Behar Show and Ted Haggard’s wife, Gayle, was on there promoting her book, Why I Stayed. For those of you who don’t know, Ted Haggard was at one time the hugely successful evangelical pastor of the New Life Church, which boasted thousands of members.  Then a homosexual feller named Mike Jones came out and said that he and Ted used to check into hotels, do railers of tweak, and bang each other.

It was news heaven for the media.

A blessing if you will.

Everything that Ted built up over the years went to hell in a handbasket at record speed. In short, Haggard was yanked from the Jesus podium and promptly let go by the church shot-callers. As we know, Christianity doesn’t like anything gay. No gay thoughts. No pro-gay dialogue. And definitely no gay poking. Ted is a homosexual—or, at the very least, engaged in homosexual activities. So, the church elders dragged him to the curb like a trash can and even kicked him out of the state until the Gay Devil burning inside of him simmered down or split all together.

So his wife wrote a book about what went down.  Then she went on television, doing the publicity rounds.  She seemed like a nice women and blamed Ted’s gay ways on a sexual encounter he had as a child with a male relative. She said that studies show that homosexuality is created by conditioning and experience. So in essence, if your folks, friends, or billboards tell you enough times that you’re gay, then you’re probably going to turn out gay at some point in your life. Or, if you happen to mingle with people of the same sex enough times, one fine day you’ll wake up, look into the proverbial mirror, and realize that you are a full-blown homosexual.

Poof.

Presto.

Gay magic.

I don’t know about this. Now, I don’t have any data to support my claim, but I’ve always felt people were either born gay or straight. Some may be born with a little bit of both stirring up inside of them. This may be a generic answer to a very complex puzzle. Sure. I can see that. Still, in my experience, homosexuality has nothing to do with conditioning or experience; it just is what it is: some folks are attracted sexually to the same sex and others are not.  Period.

I was raised in a very liberal household. My folks were in their teens when I showed up. They saw the Beatles, Hendrix, Supertramp, Alice Cooper, and countless other happening acts in concert. We burned incense, danced long into the night, went to Dodger games, and backpacked Yosemite. I was raised in thick Let-It-Be smoke. The “gay issue” that so many people get riled up over wasn’t an issue at all.

It should go without saying, but homosexuals are human beings and should be treated accordingly. This country—with its archaic laws in regards to same sex marriage—is cruel, boneheaded, and anti-human.

Peace and love, right?

But why be so harmonious?

We’ll have none of that.

Lord no.

Ironically, the very mindset that Ted fostered and peddled to thousands of people turned on him and turned his life upside down.

Anyhow, this got me thinking: when did I know I was straight? The 1st grade. Sure, I didn’t know what gay or straight meant at the time, but what I did know was that Miss Metheny was a stone cold fox and that I wanted to do things with her. What those things entailed, I hadn’t a clue. But it was something inside of me. A calling. A burning feeling in my gut. A feeling that would become very familiar to me and would follow me through the years and land me in some very, uh, curious positions.

I would find myself gazing at poor Miss Metheny. Her beautiful sea-blue eyes and pretty hands. Her nice clothes and silky blond hair. She smelled good and had a soft voice that said nice pleasant things. I wanted to marry her. Mrs. Metheny Romero. She’d marry a fantastic kickball player, a voracious reader, a builder of mud volcanoes, and a pretty darn good guitar player in the making who would not only grow up to learn how to play Beatles jams, but be able to switch musical gears, fire up the amp, and rip Iron Maiden and Sabbath cuts note for note. Oh, yes, Miss Metheny! How about that, toots! Yeah!

I didn’t feel this way about Mr. Lopez, who taught in the room next door. In fact, I thought his large head and hairy hands were downright ugly. The things he said were harsh-sounding and void of melody. He dressed horribly and smelled like a trash heap in comparison to the edible scent that whipped around Miss Metheny’s beautiful head. He did nothing for my eyes or my thoughts. That fire in my gut that Miss Metheny sparked was replaced by sour milk.

It was set in stone. I was straight. All day. All week. Forever. So, I guess, Gayle Haggard is right: that early experience with Miss Metheny sealed it for me. No dudes. In those early years, they were only good for football games, riding bikes, and stealing their father’s Playboy magazines.

“Oh, my god. That’s ugly.”

“It’s a girl weenie.”

“My brother calls it a cooter.”

“My cousin says it’s a pussy.”

“Oh! My mom calls our cat Pussy Willow! Sick!”

The next year Mrs. Jordan came my way. She wasn’t as pretty as Miss Metheny, but she also had a soft voice and pretty eyes. She smelled good, too. Not the spicy aroma that moved off of Miss Metheny, but like flowers. An acre full of fresh blooming flowers.

Then Anna came along. She had long hair, soft Chicana-brown eyes, and full red lips.

Then Rhonda. She was funny and sprinkled with freckles.

Then Julie.

Then Janna.

Later on, Soft Damn Kisses showed at my door.

Then Too Much Drama stopped by to terrorize me.

Then I Fuckin’ Love You Baby snatched my hand and showed me her feathered bed that overlooked the ocean.

So on and so forth.

As the years went by, men would assume a different role and would become very beneficial to the cause. We ditched football for pool. Ditched the bikes for cars. Ditched the magazines for the real thing. Brothers in arms. Bar dogs. They’re names changed from Eric to Dickhead, James to Jerk-off. We gathered in insatiable packs. We coiled and whispered like tree vipers. Played in rock bands. We got drunk, said lame shit, and woke up in strange, perfumed beds.

Sorry, Pastor Ted.

Sorry, Larry Craig.

I don’t snort lines and my stance isn’t wide.

These days I find myself single again. It’s a trip. I’ve been out of the hustle for over ten years and don’t know quite what to do. Do I pull the same contrived crap I did when I was twenty-five? Hang out with some of the old gang that have found themselves wearing the same shoes as me? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think I’ll sit this one out for a bit. Relax and run in the early desert morning. Meditate and munch on my Fiber One bars. Maybe, this time around I’ll lower the amp a tad and play some soft blues in a dark bar that serves colorful martinis. Pick up my trusty acoustic guitar and strum Carly Simon tunes. Perhaps I’ll hop in my truck, take a long drive up the coast, and keep some notes on what comes my way, see what the day brings.

Yeah, that sounds good.

Real good.

Thank you, Miss Metheny.

You stone cold fox.