THE SECOND YEAR
more tales from the year of the tiger

An artist is a person who lives in the triangle which remains after the angle which we may call common sense has been removed from this four-cornered world.
Soseki

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if they were not pigeons, what were they
215-221
222-228
229-234
blackbird singing at the break of dawn
235-238
239-243

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215

Gregory wrote in the calendar book:

What could I possibly write that hasn't been said. Let's get that broom and hang a sign about its neck ... "use me".

He was referring to the secluded grove where those berry-dropping trees are doing their act early this year. What does it signify when trees produce seeds two or three weeks earlier than usual? Or were they late last year? Whichever, I suppose the editors of Ka Leo will be calling again for them to be chopped down, but Gregory agreed with my idea that they should just put a large broom down there and let those of us who use the place sweep the walks.

The berry dropping is just one more in what will undoubtedly be a continuing series of referring back to the Tales from last year. Not since the early Seventies have I been able to look back to the same day a year ago and see who I was, what I was doing and thinking. The contrast between Tale 001 and Tale 214 quite perfectly sums up the contrast between who I was on October 8, 1997 as compared to the same day in 1998. I know that as this second year progresses, the experience will become more meaningful once I began to write the Tales for myself, losing some of the self-consciousness that flavors those early ones.

As I told Gregory, I encourage everyone to keep a diary, privately or publicly (although publicly is, I think, a greater challenge and yields a more substantial personal harvest). I'm indebted to Egbert Switters for passing on the "never a day without a line" advice he himself had found from another.

In the Spring of '99, because of the bizarrely preserved India Notebooks, I can even see exactly what I had done and something of what I'd thought both one year and 27 years previously.

Strange thing is, I am sure I will find myself closer, more in tune with that far more distant Me. It is taking a lot longer to achieve change and evolution within the structure of familiar Western society, even as a bum on its outskirts, a flea on its butt, than it did jumping from being a London hippy to a penniless lost soul in the Himalayan foothills.

Keep a diary, write at least one line every day. Spend a year in the East. I can't think of any better advice to give a young man.

216

Oh sweet and lovely lady, be good ... oh lady, be good to me ...

She was and she wasn't during those last days of the First Year and the opening ones of the Second. The Event of the Week was, of course, the Anniversary. Considering what an extraordinary rarity it is, I suppose the award for Highlight of the Week should go to Kory K for joining me at the Garden and [gasp] buying me a beer. But no, even for me there are some things more important than free beer, so the Highlight award goes to the hour or so spent in conversation with Gregory on that Anniversary afternoon. No beer, he's stopped drinking for awhile. "Alcohol tarnishes the memory," he said, and he's concentrating on his studies and his seemingly sometimes rocky relationship with the young woman who shares his room and his bed. I didn't ask anything beyond "are you living together?" but was given a candid (from his view, of course) report on that friendship.

"What was it you called me," he asked. "Thaddeus?"

Close. Tadzio is a Polish variant of Thaddeus. I tried to explain briefly the basic premise of Mann's Death in Venice echoed in Pasolini's "Theorema" and, indeed, in the final section of Hesse's Magister Ludi. The Angel of Death. The young man who appears to an old man, inexplicably becomes the dominant theme in the elder's thinking, points the way or takes the hand and guides to the Final Egress. Not that I suspect Gregory has entered my life to play that role at just this time, although I could be wrong about that, but he is perfect, physically and intellectually, to play that mythic role someday, somewhere, for someone, and I can feel a little jealous, envious of the man who has him as that special messenger, if it be not I.

Gregory's French Canadian background gives him the flavor of the European intellectual, haute so. I've not met anyone since Egbert with such a dazzling command of language, concepts and logic, saturated with a subtle melancholy which his handsome young face and beautiful eyes, the memory of his slim naked body in the moonlight, contribute to, make mythic and occult. Aleister Crowley sent the message, "tell them I'm back." If I were seeking a young man who might be the continuation of that unique personality, it would be easy to stop my search with Gregory.

We talked of the banal and mundane, the events in the nation's capital. We agreed we'd respect Clinton if he'd been more forceful from the start. I go so far as to think he should have answered all questions about his private sex life with "it's none of your damned business" (which it isn't). What's contempt of court to a President of the United States? Too late. Gregory thinks they'll kick him out. I hope not. I don't like him but he's done a decent job of running the country no matter how silly his private life.

We talked about Gregory's private life, or rather he talked and I listened for the most part, only occasionally and gently asking for clarification or amplification. His intellectual ambitions are so energetic I am surprised he has the stamina to sustain a constant companionship, much less a sexual one, but he seems keenly aware of the problem and is searching for the right balance.

He spoke of Natsume Soseki's Three Cornered World and loaned me his copy. By the time I was midway though the first chapter I was deeply grateful. It's a subtle, intensely beautiful book, nourishment for the soul as much as the mind. That could also be said about conversations, really more dialogues, with Gregory.

Thaddeus. That's good. It was tempting to go back and change all references to him to that name, the more so since he is one of the few characters in this saga whose real name is being used. But there are already enough readers second-guessing me so I'll refrain from doing it myself.

The Three Jewels disappeared again but I didn't mind. They'll return, and the nights without their presence allow my nocturnal batteries to recharge without the distraction and demand they unwittingly present when there.

Dame Fortune was frugal all week with free beer and food and shopping carts, but there were the three delicious meals from the Krishna devotees, all sufficiently abundant to provide both dinner on the day received and leftovers for breakfast the next day.

Kory K proposed a gathering to celebrate the Anniversary. I told him most people were inclined to mourn, not celebrate, to disapprove rather than congratulate. He had no takers, even one sourpussed refusal from a woman without the style to remain silent. I've come to admire those people, mostly female, who strongly disapprove of my lifestyle, my audacity (if it may be called that) in writing candidly about it, perhaps even genuinely disliking me but having the panache to ignore my existence. Of course I admire even more those who support my right to live as I choose, whether they approve of it or not, and who read the Tales with varying degrees of regularity, some of them fully grasping the concept of the project and at least suspecting its real intent, the absurdity of it, the lifelong compulsion to create, to make a little mark, however banal and inconsequential, in the infinite Book of Mankind.

I'm printing out the Tales from the start, a section every three days or so, and I'm enjoying them. I'm happy I made the decision I did a year ago, pleased I decided to write about the consequences of that decision and grateful to those who have actively or passively supported it. The internal jukebox may have gotten stuck on "Send in the Clowns" for days, but it could aptly play "It Was a Very Good Year".

And I'd be cheating if I didn't admit, yes, that most recent exchange with the Sleeptalker was perhaps really the Highlight of the Week and one of the most treasured memories of the First Year.

Or was it when Soseki mentioned Turner, stretching my faith in synchronicity to its utmost limit?

217

The computer network controlling the University libraries was unavailable all weekend while they patched it to prepare for the New Millenium. Consequently only the few email and web terminals provided a link to the outside world and competition was fierce for them, not helped by ingracious MUD players who had to get their fix no matter how many people they inconvenienced. So I keyed in Tale 216 early Saturday afternoon, checked email and left campus for the remainder of the weekend.

The weather was especially beautiful on Sunday, a reminder of last year's mid-October heatwave. I had a full flask of mixed brew and when I got to my favorite beergarden there was an unopened can of Bud Light. There was also a large McDonald's bag sitting on a planter ledge. As is my habit, I picked it up to test the weight as a means of judging whether it was worth exploring further. Heavy! Little wonder ... inside were three cheeseburgers, two fish burgers and a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Some people certainly have money to throw away. So I was well provisioned for the day and even though sharing the bonanza with The Duchess, ate more beef than I'd eaten in one day in a very long time, possibly ever. That Double Quarter Pounder is quite a meal.

I took my coffee refill and heavier-than-usual backpack to the park. Reese and his buddy, Brown (short for Brown Sugar), were again asleep on the ground near my favorite morning picnic table. Reese had acquired a blue tarp and was cocooned in it but became partly uncovered every time he rolled over. They must have had a late night because they were asleep long after all the other park nomads were awake. I have been loaned a copy of Arthur C. Clarke's 3001 and had planned to devote Sunday to it, so began reading with the sleeping lads in my peripheral vision. Reese woke up, packed up his night gear and wandered off. Brown woke up after awhile but just sat there after folding his cover. By then the usual morning parade of nomads through the shower house had ended so I went over to have a shower and Brown followed me in. I guess he has joined the little pack of young nomads who seem to look on me as a "safe" shower companion. I can imagine them discussing it. "Don't worry about that old dude, he'll drool a bit but won't bother you." Quite so. There's a firm code of honor in place with that group, even to a control on the drooling. And Brown's cheerful "good morning" and almost dancing method of adjusting to the cold water, his sweet brown body, make him an especially welcome member of the club.

After the shower I walked down to the other end of the park in search of a quiet place to continue reading and the rest of the day was spent with that engrossing, most admirable book, taking occasional breaks to refill the tobacco supply at the mall. Shopping carts were scarce and as soon as I had enough for a small evening beer I gave that up, headed down to the hacienda where I finished the book and the delightful notes at the end of it before settling down to an early sleep.

On Friday evening I'd joined friends in Waikiki to see Frankenheimer's "Ronin". It's not the kind of film I'm usually interested in but it's always a pleasure to watch De Niro at work and he, like all the actors, did the best he could with such weak material. Bang, bang, car chase, repeat till finish. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the film, aside from that gruesome self-directed operation to remove a bullet from De Niro's torso, was the mystery of that metal box. What was in it? What could there be which would obsess the Irish Republicans and the Russians to the point of spending large sums of money, even killing, to gain possession of it, even though no one else seemed to care at all about it? Little wonder it was never explained.

After the brief visit to campus on Saturday, I joined Helen R at Kahala Mall to see "Antz". One could say "the new Woody Allen film" because it certainly was dominated by his voice and characteristic weltschmerz. A delightful film with some staggering, visually epic scenes which would have made Griffith and DeMille thoroughly envious. I'd expected to enjoy it and did, even more so than anticipated. Dreamworks Pictures seem poised to become the MGM of the 00's, the only studio whose films I want to see just on the basis of them originating from that source.

We went to Puck's Alley after the film for sushi, supplemented in my case by two bowls of quite yummy miso soup and a 24oz can of malt liquor. The proprietor, as usual, brought out some samples of my favorite "sushi", that oddball combination of Mexican refried beans, salsa and rice in its seaweed wrapping. My Arkansas granny would probably have said, "what the hell is this!".

The Snorer continues on his departure-by-eleven schedule, had left before I got there. To my displeasure, the Shroud had taken the bench behind mine, but I resisted the temptation to move to the bench usually now occupied by the late-arriving Hood. Later I wished I had, when I woke up and through the back slats of the bench in front of me saw that slim, so white chest revealed by a pulled-up tee shirt. The Sleeptalker! He had evidently arrived quietly and alone, settled on that bench in front of me. The view would have been better from the Hood's bench ... what a waste. But just as well. I was in a weak mood, feeling painfully in love with the Sleeptalker and too inclined to disregard the more noble intentions which must prevail in our special friendship. He opened his eyes, smiled at me, and closed them again. Okay, that's it, I told myself. That's all you're going to get and rest content with that. So I did. More or less.

In the Roseannadanna It's Always Something category, it seems there is a major curse on any effort I make to "responsibly" plan for the future. Perhaps Dame Fortune is a jealous bitch, wants me to remain dependent on her? A little melon fell from heaven, an Anniversary gift perhaps. I decided I would try, not for the first time, to ensure that great luxury of my life, the morning's senior coffees, by putting away enough money for the rest of October, pledging not to even think about tapping it for beer, to forget it was there in a plastic bag at the bottom of my backpack.

Not to be. My time in India left countless intellectual and spiritual legacies, lifelong in nature, but it also left a couple of less welcome physical ones. During the first stay, I acquired an unknown cyclic fever of which there are apparently numerous unidentified variants, happily not as severe as malaria or dengue. The initial bout with this probable viral lifeform was quite unpleasant but as it revisited year after year it became less troublesome, was often misidentified, I think, as a mild case of the flu. I'm inclined now to think that recent bout of utter weariness, that echo of the "yuppie flu", was in fact my old friend from the Himalayan foothills. Now its little cousin is back. It's a rash, physically similar to an ordinary heat rash which, luckily, my Texas genes probably spared me even though it was a plague to many Westerners in the staggering climate of Northern India. This rash, a New York dermatologist speculated, is viral, akin perhaps to the lifelong herpes simplex critter. It always appears somewhere in the region of the neck, most annoying in the days when a necktie was standard working wardrobe, perhaps even more annoying when it chooses the bottom edge of the chin as its place of manifestation (which it did on its last appearance). Well, it's back, in a tacky little mountain range across the shoulders just below the neck. It itches like hell first thing in the morning but otherwise is not greatly annoying, just a nuisance. But it also tends to spread if not confronted. After experiments with many remedies, Eastern and Western, the most successful weapon has been an expensive ointment containing a chemical called clotrimazole (aka Lotrimin). For years I had to have a prescription to get the stuff. Then it finally was made available over-the-counter as an "anti-fungal" cream. When I began this nomadic journey there was, as there has been for years, a little tube in my possession, but the container wasn't strong enough to endure life in a backpack and had to be discarded before it leaked its costly contents all over the place. New container carefully stored in a less-stressful position, rash under the third day attack, senior coffee fund exhausted.

Not quite midway through October. Okay babe, it's up to you from here on out.

218

Cainer's advice for Monday more or less was to tread water, so that's what I did, both in and out of the ocean, in my mind and with my body.

I went to campus and soon discovered that the "patched" computer system was not functioning correctly, at least so far as outside connections were concerned, but it did behave itself long enough to key in Tale 217. Then it stepped into a twilight zone where the main menu of the system would pop up over whatever else one was doing, pressing a key on that would resume the previous activity, but pressing a key there brought back the menu. I decided it must be a day meant for non-computerized activities so left campus and returned to the mall.

It was Discoverer's Day, the local variation of Columbus Day, and the mall was as crowded as it usually is only on weekends. The crowd did nothing to assist with the shopping cart business, however, and only two carts turned up all day. I was grateful for those since they guaranteed senior coffee on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, and equally grateful for the meal provided by the Krishna devotees even if it was much less generous than usual, included no bread and nothing to drink. The line of folks waiting for the free handout was at least twice as long as it usually has been and they were concerned they'd run out of food. I assume they did, because even though scheduled to stay around from 4:30-6, they were gone before five. It won't surprise me if they soon change their location since they attract so many well-off freeloading beachgoers at that spot.

That smaller-than-usual late lunch came after a plate of spaghetti with clam sauce, though, so I didn't much mind, and later had my choice of three almost-full bowls of ramen. Dame Fortune was generous all day with food and tobacco, had even started the morning with a half flask of Chardonnay instead of beer, and put a cup of beer in my path at the park after the Krishna repast. She seems to have decided that was enough, though, and the late evening beergardens were empty, as were the early morning ones the next day.

I continued reading the Soseki book in the park. It's the kind of book which could be read in one long sitting, but has a subtle density which makes me pause every now and then to ponder what he's said, the word landscapes he creates, so it's slow going and a fine, fine journey.

The entire day was a slow journey, nothing of any special significance happened, no encounters worth noting, none of my favorite lads came home to the hacienda and it was left to the dreamworld to provide the real fun of the day with an absolutely whacko scenario about a young prince who couldn't quite get it together with his intended lady and I was brought in to provide advice and strategy. Me?! Naturally I fell in love with Prince Paul myself and showed him a few things about the pleasures of foreplay, even if the dream failed to include more basic activity. I'm sure I would have gotten to that stage of his education had the Hood not come in very late and made enough noise to wake me up. Pity about that.

218a

As I just said on Jay T's ..... errrrr .... rather strange mail-list, I freely admit to being prejudiced. In that case, it was a choice between interest in Jay's wet dreams versus anyone's menstruation (I told you it was rather strange), but ....

It occurred to me today, after being an unintentional, unwilling eavesdropper on a conversation, that I have been hanging around the UH-Manoa campus for a year now and I have NEVER overheard a conversation between two young female persons which was remotely interesting, although I've heard many between two young male persons which were quite the opposite.

I'm not sure what conclusion to reach from this observation aside from the obvious one of advising any young man I meet to avoid conversation with young women.

219

Canaveral at break of dawn?
Nope, uncertain weather conditions.

They stayed uncertain
But the Cherub and Gregory shined
Even together in the same spot
With my introduction.

[The caps and punctuation are for Jeff,
help him more with his creative writing class.]

I wonder how that prof will grade me?
secluded grove in manoa
Uh-huh, told Jeff to use those.

What the hell, the place is littered with berries
Again.

I'd give those so-called "poems" a DEE-MINUS
Unless I had gotten laid the night before
And was feeling benevolent.

Wave to the Man and the Ram.

219a

"Perhaps doing nothing is not so easy after all." Tale 007.

True words, my friend, true words.

I contemplated taking Tale 219 down, putting it in Limbo until at least the end of the semester, since it might ... slim, slim chance ... get the Cherub in trouble. But wait a minute, I'd have to take the entire secluded grove in manoa cycle down, too.

So, what happened was, I confess, sometime last year I found an undergrad's notebook, liked his attempts to write about that special place, so stole them for myself.

219b

Two Tadzio's. When the third arrives, I prepare myself for the Final Exit. "He had heard of a third and he asked about it." It was a bulbul in the sky, maybe even the one that shit on my head last week, ungrateful little bastid. Yes, reviewing the Tales I see the Sleeptalker has the honor to be dubbed "Tadzio" first, then Gregory. Like I said, when the third arrives, I'll bid you readers arrivaderci.

Even so, come quickly Tadzio 3. Trying to get to heaven before they close the door ...

Okay, okay, it's true. The Sleeptalker has me utterly enchanted. I'm mystified by how quickly he went from being brown to alabaster white but that's a minor mystery compared to the power he has over me, the dominating role he plays in my thoughts no matter how much time has passed since I last saw him. Maybe he really is my Tadzio?

The Cherub sat at my elbow in front of the amber terminal. He read quietly aloud to me from the printed secluded grove cycle. He especially likes "place of transformation pending".

Still pending.

219c

secluded grove in manoa
stain my slipper edge with your berry juice
let your aerobatic bulbul shit on my head
let your little ants bite me without reason
my love for you remains, my spot, my treasured
secluded grove in manoa

been to london, been to gay paree, even been waikiki
ain't looking for nobody in anyone's eyes
as the master could have sung
just a short walk away from you
secluded grove in manoa

born here, will die here, against my will
homeland ball of mother earth
what a sweetheart of a spot you gifted
with that special grove in manoa
where the dormouse whispered
and we listened

220

I was chatting with a friend in her office and she scolded me for not taking advantage of a two-for-one sale at a shoe store. I protested that I had less than a dollar and had no need for two pairs of shoes anyway. Water started to sprinkle on me, I looked up and saw there was a leak from the ceiling. There was a leak, all right, but it was from the sky, not an office ceiling, waking me just after four in the morning and ending the dreamed discussion of shoes.

Mondo had come home after another extended absence, greeted me warmly, asked for a smoke and explained he had been staying at a friend's house. Unfortunately he had brought the friend with him, a rather mousie Filipino lad, as well as another obvious tourist to the Land of Benches. That one was so much a tourist he had brought a pillow, complete with kiddie-patterned pillowcase, with him! The mousie one took the bench in front of me, the pillow dude one of the benches facing each other, and Mondo, alas, settled on the bench in front of Mousie where I couldn't even see him. Oh well, I was tired and just wanted to sleep.

But the two tourists were soon sitting up again and yakking quite loudly. Even worse, another one arrived whom they knew. Mondo sat up then, too, and had put a bandana on his head, looking very silly, like rehearsing for a Halloween role as Aunt Jemima. Mousie had cigarettes, making me wonder why Mondo hadn't just asked him for a smoke instead of me. All four of them moved to the facing benches and it looked like we were in for an extended slumber party session. So I left. It was a warm, dry night and I settled on an unsheltered bench in the little Kakaako park and slept well until the "leaking ceiling" woke me.

It had been a lazy, quietly reflective day after Wednesday with the Dormouse. The Cherub left for Kauai until Sunday and I was already missing him. Kory K emailed to say he had the long-anticipated first CD by John Feary so I went over for a preview. There's a delicious photograph of John on the inside cover but that's about the only thing in the package which relates to the John Feary I love. John joins Harold Kama and Guy Cruz in the club of wonderful young local musicians whose first recordings don't come even close to capturing the magic of their live performances.

The only thing I'd eaten all day on Wednesday was a packet of crackers the Cherub had given me, so I was more than pleased when a cheeseburger and fries turned up, even if Marriott's version of that All-American combo is pretty lame. Later at the mall there was a repeat of the McDonald's bag encounter, a chicken sandwich, a burger, and a double cheeseburger. Odd that two such abandoned bags should appear within a week.

I finished the Soseki book, still not knowing what he meant by the "three cornered world". If common sense forms a fourth corner for the non-artist world, what are the other three? No matter, the book provided a most beautiful interlude in another reality and a reminder of the ways a Proper Man can stylishly dance with Mother Nature. Like Hesse, Mann and Sartre, Soseki was fine company in the secluded grove.

But the Dormouse was even better.

221

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

The "tourist" with the pillow was Mondo's older brother. He's a "professional surfer" but has a regular job as well and lives at home with the parents. What's he doing sleeping on a bench, I wondered aloud. "He just likes to spend some time with me, and I won't go home," Mondo explained. Ouch, make me feel like a louse for grumbling, why don't you.

He'd spent the day with his brother and Rocky but they'd gone bar-hopping so Mondo was sitting in the hacienda on his own. Fortunately I'd saved three virgin Marboros for him. He said he doesn't like going to bars anymore but used to take his girlfriend to them a lot because she liked them.

As I've mentioned before, I've long had the feeling Mondo really wanted to talk to someone but none of the tactics I tried worked, I hadn't found the way to open the gate between us on that level, no matter how strong the bond has become on a nonverbal one. But the gate opened, the fence fell down, and for the next hour or more I listened to the story of his young life. It was given in a chronological and topical jumble but beautifully phrased in that gentle, soft voice of his and with an admirable lack of blame or recrimination.

He may have been speaking more in spirit than genetically when he termed himself "mostly Hawaiian". His mother is Japanese, both her parents having been born there. His father is the son of a Filipino man and a Hawaiian woman. In addition to his older brother, whose name he told me, he has twin sisters, both of them unwed mothers. Uncle Mondo.

He'd been with his girlfriend four years before he "went away", a euphemism for jail. He didn't say why he was in or for how long, but when he got out, the girlfriend didn't want to know him and had a little girl which he suspects is his. That topic he returned to several times. Rocky has a one-year-old child, but Mondo has never told Rocky he, too, might be a father. Only his older brother knows. He said again that he'd never told Rocky, almost as if he were slightly amazed he was telling me. He thought his brother could talk to the girlfriend and find out for sure if the child was his, and it seems to be one of his major concerns, possibly the only one since the rest of his life right now is centered on "doing nothing". He carries a tiny photo of the young woman loose in his pocket, took it out and showed it to me while telling about some of the differences between them which had made their relationship less than smooth much of the time.

He talked a lot about his time in high school which seemed to revolve around sports. His parents encouraged jujitsu and karate, approved less of the traditional American sports, and when he made Junior Varsity on the Aiea basketball team he didn't tell them, hid his jacket from them and kept it at a cousin's for when he needed it.

I wasn't too far off with the trust fund theory. He inherited two "rental apartments" and a house. They are managed by his father and under terms of the "contract", he won't gain control over them until he "straightens out his life" and gets a steady job, but he gets income from them monthly.

Although his relationship with his parents seems to have been fairly stormy throughout his school years, the final breaking point wasn't reached until they went on a mainland trip leaving him with a "no parties" restriction. Not only did he host a large party, they managed to burn down the garage during it, and he left home for good.

What does he want to do? "Nothing." How does he spend his days? Hanging out with Rocky or other friends (including the Sleeptalker), eating at IHS, sometimes playing the online game at the State Library. He hasn't been going to classes at the vocational school, but said he had to return to them next week.

Although the details of his jail time were missing, and I was careful with my questions, the narrative was interspersed with several stories about major escapades including horrendous sounding gang fights, happier tales of pakololo, and ominous ones of guns. He's a bona fide tough guy, all right, but such a sweet and gentle man. I could not love him more if he were my own little brother and if he were, I, too, would sleep on a bench to "spend some time with him".

222

The Snorer made so much noise getting ready to depart for his Saturday night job it woke me up. I first tried to just go back to sleep, then decided to have a smoke, sat up and looked at the bench behind me, right into the Sleeptalker's eyes. He opened his eyes wide with a shocked expression, no doubt a perfect mirrored caricature of my own. "Where did you come from!" I asked, and wouldn't have been in the least surprised if he'd answered "Hell". But he grinned and said "over there", pointing across the street. He asked if I had another smoke so I gave him one of the two virgin Kools I'd found and was saving for Mondo. At that point the person on the bench behind him sat up and asked the Sleeptalker for a drag. It was Mondo's brother. They were talking quietly and in such heavy pidgin I couldn't understand, but heard Mondo's and Rocky's names mentioned several times.

We all settled back down to sleep and the Sleeptalker opened his eyes a couple of times and caught me looking at him, just smiled and closed his eyes again. After awhile the rascal, eyes firmly closed, pulled up his tee shirt exposing his chest and slid his other hand down the front of his shorts. Whew, the moment, pleasurable as it was, got interrupted when Rossini-2 arrived and walked over to say something to the Sleeptalker who went to sit on the bench with him. My cue to get some sleep. I woke again a little after three and the Sleeptalker was back on the bench behind me, this time really asleep so I could enjoy some time just watching him. He is indeed a treasure.

Mondo had a bad cold the week before and that was one reason he hadn't been to the hacienda because he didn't want to give it to everyone. A noble sentiment, but it didn't work. Both the Sleeptalker and I have one. Sneeze, sniffle, snuffle, cough. I don't know anyone I'd rather sniffle through the night with more than the Sleeptalker.

I had spent the morning and early afternoon on campus, completed all the technical adjustments to the Tales and, for the first time in months, worked on the old Panther's Cave web site, revising some structural elements of it and beginning the task of checking links and eliminating those which had disappeared or correcting those which had changed address. Without cut-and-paste it is a slow task but I suppose it makes as much if not more sense than playing the Dark Mists game, although I did that, too, off and on.

When I returned to the mall there was a rapid succession of abandoned shopping carts and I soon needed only two more to finance a totally unexpected bottle of Hurricane. Those last two, though, were very slow to turn up and I was thoroughly bored with the game when they finally did, left without bothering to wait for one more to ensure Sunday morning's senior coffee, and took the Hurricane to the hacienda where I greatly enjoyed it and the hour of theatre music on NPR which was all songs about Broadway, the street. I almost felt homesick for Manhattan. That's the second time I've had that feeling recently and once more I reminded myself of my earnest vow never to set foot on that island again.

On Friday there had been a shorter line than usual for the Krishna truck and the plate was stacked with food. In addition to a large cup of fruit punch, they were also giving out little half-pint containers of milk. It was the first time I'd drunk milk in over a year and it was delicious, tasted even better than beer. The things we take for granted as a householder with a refrigerator ...

The beer supply on Friday had been sparse, but half a bottle of vodka turned up and mixed with Coke gave me something to sip on during the extraordinary time with Mondo that evening. Saturday morning's beer supply was again not abundant, making that Hurricane even more welcome. But on Sunday morning there was a bonanza. In the first beergarden was a plastic bag with four cans of Bud Light and a bottle of Heineken. Evidently testing my strength (and that of the backpack), Dame Fortune then put an almost full 40oz bottle of Bud in my path. The Heineken stayed tucked away for a nightcap, the Bud made for a delightful liquid morning on the beach.

The cold is one of those almost nonstop dribblers so I decided to forego campus on Sunday and stayed on the beach or in the park aside from expeditions to the mall for tobacco and to replenish my supply of napkin-hankerchiefs from McDonald's. Happily, a shopping cart turned up very early so there would be no need to repeat Sunday's coffee-via-cheat-mode. It was the only cart all day (although I did not actively hunt for them) until just before I was ready to leave for the hacienda when a second one appeared. Tuesday's senior coffee. I hope such long-term security doesn't inspire Dame Fortune to come up with another nuisance like the rash (which has surrendered this visit and gone back into dormant mode).

Figuring it would be good for the cold, I ate all the bowls of ramen I could find until the fourth or fifth one became available and I declined. Some sweet-and-sour pork and a large container of rice was more welcome after all those noodles and broth. Late afternoon an extraordinary bag was discovered on a bus stop bench, not deliberately abandoned, I'd guess. There were four miniature bottles of Absolut vodka, an unmarked cassette tape which turned out to be some pretty awful Japanese pop songs, and a plush ball with a smiley face on it. Cups of soda, still with ice, happily turned up for mixers and by sunset I was sniffling with a buzz after three vodkas, the fourth tucked away with the Heineken.

That fourth one, straight, with the Dutch beer chaser made for a fine nightcap and a most welcome one, considering the events of the late evening. Although I hadn't noticed them, the Sleeptalker and Rossini-2 were on the same bus with me headed for the hacienda. They had been in Waikiki and someone had bought them a shot of Jack Daniels. The Sleeptalker doesn't usually drink, so he was feeling even more jolly -- and more mischievous -- than usual, despite the sniffles. He took off his tee shirt and sat on the bench behind me, got out a tin of oysters but couldn't get Rossini-2's can opener to work so I dug mine out for him, declined the invitation to partake of the unusual late evening snack. I asked where he'd gotten it but he ignored the question. He doesn't like being asked direct questions sometimes and will often just pretend he hadn't heard it.

He was being even more delightfully flirtatious than usual, then decided he was still hungry so persuaded Rossini-2 to join him in "bumming a dollar" for a burger, asking me to look after his stuff while they were gone. As he jumped up, he leaned over my bench and said "give me a kiss", kissing the air about an inch from my lips. "You're bad," I said and swatted him on the butt as he bounced off laughing.

I looked at his State ID while he was gone, was very much surprised to see he had turned 24 in June. His surname suggests French genes somewhere in the past but he never talks about his life, and with his aversion to direct questions, there's no way to nudge him into it although I'd love to hear something of his history.

When they returned, Rossini-2 settled down to sleep, the Sleeptalker took off his shirt again, lay back on the bench and got out a book. Stephen King's Christine. I was half-dozing, occasionally opening my eyes to enjoy his beautiful body.

Just reading the words, it would be easy to misinterpret the moment. They were said with amused affection and a gentle, teasing tone.

"What are you staring at? See something you like? Me."

That "me" was especially wonderful, very straightforward, objective. Only a little grin of self-satisfaction which followed it gave away the secret that he wasn't at all displeased by the situation. I just looked into his eyes, smiled, and said nothing. There was no need to say yes.

223

Another month of the Tiger ...

I watched the Sleeptalker and Rossini-2 walk up the path, the Sleeptalker's bouncing gait as distinctive as Tomita-san's. I can spot either at some distance just by their unique way of walking. Rossini-2 disappeared behind the hedge, the Sleeptalker strolled on into the hacienda.

"Are you ready to make love tonight?" he asked. "Any time you're ready," I answered. He started to say something else but Rossini-2 walked in and the Sleeptalker put his finger to his lips in a "shhh" gesture, rolling his eyes toward Rossini-2. Okay, so it's our little secret.

A young man as beautiful and charming as the Sleeptalker must have ample experience in dealing with admirers of both sexes and his strategy in my case is fascinating. He could have continued to ignore it, as he did for so many months, or have just gone on responding with those tolerant smiles. But obviously he decided to make it open knowledge between us and a matter to be handled with jesting flirtation. It's a strategy which could backfire with some people, I think, but an amusing choice in my case.

I'm not exactly without experience myself, from both sides of the dance, and I'm keenly aware the burden is on me to play the game with him by letting him define the rules and, above all, not letting myself make too serious, too heavy a move in it. This role becames more difficult a task because these past few nights with him and their unprecedented exchanges convince me I could, in fact, end up "making love" to him. And I realized on Monday evening, with a feeling mixed with wry amusement and annoyance, that the Sleeptalker is one of those men in my life, rare despite all the loves and infatuations, I have a unique desire for. If I were a woman, I'd want to have his baby, even if I knew I'd never see him again after the mating. I was taken offguard by that realization and wasn't unhappy that circumstances caused me to relocate outside his immediate range.

He had looked over at the bench, two behind mine, where the Airport Refugee was already asleep. I guess he doesn't like sleeping next to him, so settled on the bench at my feet, Rossini-2 on the one in front of him. Rossini-1 arrived, took the bench behind the Sleeptalker. Prince Charming and the Two Wicked Stepsisters, I thought. Me as Cinderella? I think not. Looking down at the Sleeptalker, his wonderful hair was like a hat of blonde bear fur. I was dozing, thinking about him and what it would be like to "make love" to him, when there was a plop behind me. The Shroud had taken that bench. Bleugh. As soon as he had settled under his cover, I moved to an outside bench with no view of the interior, escaped for awhile by listening to the Dylan tape. "To make you feel my love" didn't help one bit, so I turned it off and slept awhile.

It was a clear night and the stars were beautiful, that belt of Orion in about the eight o'clock position when I woke just after one feeling rather cold from the steady breeze. It's time I started carrying around my winter cover, I guess. That's a bore, but on the other hand, it's much easier to cope with my thoughts about the Sleeptalker when he has his tee shirt on, so there's a blessing in that cool wind, too.

I moved back inside, took the bench in back of the Hood, leaving my original one empty. From there I had a slanting view of the Sleeptalker and could see both Rossini's, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, neither of whom seem to sleep for more than an hour without waking up, fiddling around a bit, and settling back down. Even worse, Rossini-2 frequently snores almost as loudly as the Snorer. Earplugs firmly in place, I fell asleep and dreamed of ... the Sleeptalker.

I woke up just after four and said to myself, "get a grip! put a lid on it!" I seem to remember reading that in the Tales not all that long ago.

223a

I walked through the parking lot in the evening composing an opera, singing the arias, ensembles and choruses quietly to myself. "All I want is a dollar", an aria for tenor with a male trio providing interspersed comment, led into a grand chorus, "So stupid, so very very stupid", with the tenor returning, intermingled at the end with a protesting reprise. It was quite good, I thought. Not up to Thomson and Stein, of course, but better than most Britten (an arrogant tease, pay no attention). I repeated it several times until satisfied with the polishing touches, then promptly forgot it. Another masterwork lost to posterity.

It had been, however, quite a stupid day. Walking through the predawn Kakaako streets, still pleasantly muddled by the memory of the Sleeptalker's face so close to mine, of that flat belly rising and falling, the slim white chest so in need of a gentle caress. He needs to be loved, he needs someone who will do their best to give him the pleasure of being sexually served, I was thinking, all the while trying to persuade myself someone else should have that honor. Those early morning walks are usually more unworldly, more contemplative, walking alone in the almost deserted, almost peacefully quiet streets enjoying the sky as light slowly begins to appear, rejoicing when treasure of one kind or another is waiting for discovery. No such romantic peace on the morning of that very, very stupid day.

Happily, I gave Viktor the quarter and a penny for my coffee, bid The Duchess good morning, and ignored the other nomads. There are perhaps half a dozen nomads I just don't like. No particular reason, I just don't like them. In such a large community I am lucky to dislike so few, unlucky they stay at the mall or park all the time, but exceedingly fortunate they do not, except for the Shroud, use the hacienda. And I'm glad that awful person who thinks he is Elvis, hair oozing black grease, horrible make-up on his face, doesn't appear at the mall in the early morning, bad enough he sits outside Foodland every evening.

I knew it was going to be a mostly off-campus day. The Governor and other bigwigs were scheduled to attend a "groundbreaking ceremony" for the new wing to Hamilton Library and there was to be an open house at the library afterwards, all folderol I intended to avoid. So I quickly keyed in the tale of the almost-kiss, applied for a "spot" and was told to re-apply in 24 hours, and left campus for the mall.

I had nothing particular to do, didn't feel like reading, so just sat around waiting to see if any shopping carts would materialize since the quarter, nickel and five pennies in my possession held no promise of better things. Now and then I strolled around gathering tobacco and eating bowls of ramen until I felt, cold or no cold, I could not face another, no matter how grateful I was not to be hungry.

There were still two hours to fill before the Krishna truck's arrival so I decided to have a shower and washed the Cherub-gifted tee shirt. A rather chubby young man came in, promptly got a hard-on which didn't in the least interest me, and began to lament his homeless state, saying his lover had kicked him out of the house. He had been good to the ungrateful wretch, had cooked for him, cleaned the house, done his laundry, etc. etc. Great stuff for a classic blues song. I commiserated, suggested maybe he had been too good, and made other sympathetic noises until I could make my escape.

The Krishna meal was, by their standards, rather dull, although I am certainly not meaning to complain. The vegetable curry was overladen with potatoes which should have been boiled longer. Many of the birds are suspicious of their yellow-tinged rice, some of them so stupid they don't even realize it is food. The canny little sparrows, of course, know better. The dessert, which the Krishna people call "halvah" but really isn't, was a tremendous success with the birds. Sorry about that, guys, I like it, too, so fight over the crumbs.

Bla, the nomad who reminds me of the Pahinui brother, was wheeling back a shopping cart when I returned to the mall. I growled a little bit. After all, the dude has an ATM card and uses it, does he have to pilfer the resources of the less fortunate? But I like him, he's a sexy man and I really want to shower with him, so I forgave him my lost quarter.

The Dowser must be on holiday. I was sitting by a payphone kiosk, an old Japanese gentleman came along and checked all of them. He found coins in the one facing me! No blame, entirely my fault, that one.

So stupid, so very very stupid. What a prelude to "are you ready to make love?"

224

Don't you know you fool, you never can win
Use your mentality, wake up to reality
But each time I do, just the thought of you
Makes me stop before I begin

'Cause I've got you under my skin ... perfectly appropriate choice from the internal jukebox on Wednesday morning, after an evening of making love to the Sleeptalker for hours. Making love in every sense except actually having sex. Alarm bells were ringing in my head as I walked through Kakaako under the dawn sky the morning after, later than usual since I hadn't gotten to sleep until after midnight. Alarm bells? Yes. Despite all the talk of handsome young men, of fatherly and brotherly love, of infatuations, this dance with the Sleeptalker is in another class altogether, one I've not experienced in a very long time.

Cold feet? Perhaps. The foundation is laid, the path is open to expand the bond well beyond a few evening hours of conversation, nights sleeping on benches side-by-side. Such rapid change, after all those months of more-or-less discreet adoration. Such a feast of physical contact, when only a short while ago rubbing my hand through his hair was so unique and special a treat. Many such moments on Tuesday evening, hand through that thick, beautiful hair, pats on the shoulder, the back, the belly, given and returned, a grinning memory of my foot being grabbed and squeezed with a little shake, just one of many returned caresses. "This was NOT what I expected," I was thinking.

Dancing, prancing, striking poses, a subtle bump-and-grind. "You're such a show-off," I told him with a smile. "Can't help it, I'm Portagee!" he said, as if that explained everything.

Portagee. I hadn't even considered it.

And I hadn't really considered what a major change in my life pursuing this dance could bring, mainly because I simply hadn't anticipated any of the recent developments in my friendship with the Sleeptalker.

Nor had I considered that he'd be sitting at the terminal next to me in Hamilton Library as I write this tale. But he is.

225

Sitting together on an outside bench at the hacienda under a starry midnight sky, the Sleeptalker read aloud for me one of his favorite passages from King's Christine. He reads carefully, clearly enunciating each word, adding vocal dramatics to dialogue, even jumping up to physically accent one part. He is a man of many voices, from that clear authoritative voice he speaks in when asleep to the pdigin, so heavy it is mostly incomprehensible to me, he uses with the Rossini's. The evening before, he had outlined the plot of Christine for me and in his enthusiasm had slipped into what may be his most "natural" voice, a charming accent with a dash of pidgin, fascinating to the ear.

He had spoken at length about The Seventh Circle, the multiplayer game he's so devoted to, and wrote the telnet address in my calendar book, increasing the value of that little book another notch for me. Only Mondo's hand is now missing from that souvenir. Most days, he said, he'd sleep until about six-thirty when the man at the hacienda claps his hands to wake everyone up. Then he goes to IHS for breakfast and a shower. I didn't ask if they are communal shower rooms, but the question certainly occurred to me. Then he goes to the State Library and often plays the game right through the day until closing, not even bothering to return to IHS for lunch or dinner. He was excited about the idea of Hamilton being open until eleven and on Sundays when the State Library is closed, and spoke of wanting to learn more about computers and especially the Web.

As Hesse's Joseph Knecht says, at the pinnacle of his career, "What I am seeking and what I need is a simple, natural task, a person who needs me." Dame Fortune, who has been so kind to me all my long life and especially so in this year of nomadic life, surpasses herself by sending me the Sleeptalker.

Now, those "complications"? Most especially the one of physically desiring his beautiful young body? Isn't it absurd, I asked myself, that he is more comfortable with this than you are, and I had to accept the truth in that. And the other complications? Surrendering some of my independence, physically as well as in mind, was a factor which weighed heavily in my thoughts walking through Kakaako on the morning after our long evening conversation. How far dare I go, how much of my life do I open to this young man, how much of my routine do I give him permission to re-arrange?

The physical desire is a relatively easy problem. It's entirely up to him. If he wants to give me the gift of his body, I'll accept most gratefully and do my utmost to give him sensual pleasure, but I can't plot and connive to arrange it and don't want it that way even if I succeeded. Those thoughts were much in my mind during our first time alone together, outside the hacienda.

The black-eyed Cherub had come over to the amber terminal to greet me, the first I'd seen him since his visit to Kauai. The black eye was not, as I first feared, the result of increased friction in the house he shares but derived from a drunken evening on Kauai when he and friends evidently annoyed some local boys at a bar and were jumped when leaving the place. Aside from the bruised eye and an apparently not-too-pleasant exchange with his parents over the incident, the Cherub seems to have weathered the storm with little damage. He brought me three pieces of cornbread he'd baked and gave me the money for a Hurricane but unfortunately couldn't join me in drinking it because of classes.

When he left, I went downhill to buy the beer and returned to the grove to enjoy it and his bread (sufficiently good that the crumbs caused a few fights among the zebra doves). Continuing to ponder the question of the Sleeptalker, I decided I was being absurd to think of it in terms of a romantic, sexual affair, even more absurd to concern myself with my so-called "independence". This is, after all, exactly what you have been wishing for, I reminded myself, and finally reached the decision to lower the drawbridge, call off the guards, and allow the young man free and open access.

So I left campus and went to the State Library to get him. It was delightful to watch him playing tutor to a little group of younger players, all intensely involved in The Seventh Circle, but he enthusiastically accepted my invitation to a tour of the University, with a stop for the free Krishna meal on the way. I got another bottle of Hurricane and we started our campus visit with it at Manoa Garden. I'd told him we needed to find two cups, but he said "we can share". Sipping from the same straw, sitting outside the Garden with that sweet man and his blonde-bear hair, died and gone to Heaven.

He had tried to get one of his game buddies to join us but the fellow didn't have a bus pass, a twist of fate which didn't displease me even though I felt at first very uncomfortable being alone with the Sleeptalker. He no doubt did as well but quickly adjusted to it, more quickly than I, and the beer helped soften the atmosphere. During the course of the afternoon and evening together, he dropped some of his bantering tactic of flirtation and permitted the evolution of the balance to shift to a more straightforward recognition between us of my love and desire for him, his affectionate and tolerating response to that and acceptance of my pleasure in physical contact with him, especially petting that wonderful hair.

I was wrong, I think, about his attitude toward direct questions. He lives in his own thoughts, most of them centered on the game, and just doesn't hear sometimes. Often he looks as if he's been awakened and answers a question several minutes after it has been asked. He went to Campbell High, has lived on the streets since he was 17, once worked in a Taco Bell in Moiliili. Small, but in his case major, additions to the Sleeptalker File.

He remained totally engrossed in the game, sitting at the terminal next to me where I finished off Tale 224, most of which had been written earlier, and joined him in the game several times. It's a decent MUD, better than Dark Mists, but like all MUDs in the SMAUG genre, severely primitive compared to Bartle's MUD2. I cannot understand why, after all these years, someone hasn't written a more sophisticated parser for the SMAUG framework. There are technical deficiencies via UH compared to direct access from the State Library, probably to do with terminal emulation setup, but this may be a blessing in disguise for me since the Sleeptalker is more apt to use Hamilton only when the State Library is closed. I wasn't sure I had the strength to live with him on a 24-hour basis.

We stayed at Hamilton until just before closing, then walked down the hill to get a bus to the hacienda. It was a full house. After reading from Stephen King for me and talking more about the game, the Sleeptalker decided he'd have to sleep on the floor inside because it was too cool for just a tee shirt outside. He had asked me earlier to explain the so-called "same sex marriage" vote, had evidently been pondering what I'd said because he out-of-the-blue said he hoped the NO vote won.

I teased, asking him if he had a candidate in mind if gay marriage became legal and when he grinned and said no, I said, "I'd ask you to marry me." He said he'd accept. Gasp. The last time I proposed marriage was 26 years ago and she, thank the gods, declined.

I patted his head one more time and said, "you're a sweetheart."

"You're a sweetheart, too," he answered, and went in to sleep on the floor.

226

When I got to the hacienda on Thursday night, after having stayed on campus much later than usual, the Sleeptalker and his game-friend I'll call HighLevel were smoking a foul-smelling cigar and talking about, what else, The Seventh Circle. The Sleeptalker said they had intended to go to campus after the State Library but didn't manage to get it together. I had talked with him several times during the day in the game, getting myself something of a reputation in there already since he's a hotheaded renegade, the kind of player who reminds me of my youngest nephew whose temper got him into lots of trouble in MUD2. "He's a friend of yours?" another player asked me. "He's not like that in real life," I explained.

In real life, for all his street smarts, I begin to suspect the Sleeptalker is quite naive about sex. His flirting is often clearly a mischievous calculated dance but sometimes, I think, a less conscious effort both to please and to enjoy the attention and admiration it gets him. It's far more innocent, I think, than it first appears. After HighLevel left, he and I talked awhile longer about the game, then he got up to settle on the bench behind me. Standing only inches from my face, he made elaborate adjustments down the front of his pants. "You want some help with that?" I teased. "I'm not gay, you know," he said. "I didn't think so," I replied, "what difference does that make?" I loved the slightly bewildered look on his face, could almost see the wheels churning away. He is indeed a sweetheart.

Meanwhile, life goes on, within and without you. When the Dormouse whispered last week, as is my habit I consulted the I Ching, received flight plan approval with the admonition not to repeat the exercise for seven days. So I ignored the Dormouse on Sunday and dutifully waited out the recommended week before listening to him again. The first time was totally without preconceived agenda. This time I intended to explore two major investigations: my relationship with the Sleeptalker and my addiction to tobacco. The first study went very well indeed and I feel far more relaxed and confident about the friendship and especially my role in it than I did even as recently as writing the last Tale. The deeper link to tobacco remained elusive, as it has done in most such attempts in the past. It is my feeling that if I can understand WHY I am so addicted to it, from an inner view, not from medical or scientific literature and speculation, I can gain control over it. The time was not ripe.

I lay back on a bench in the secluded grove and enjoyed the sky for an hour or more, went to see if Tomita-san was at the Garden. He wasn't, nor was Gregory in the area. I was sorry Tomita-san wasn't there, especially, because he lost his long-held supremacy on my little list this week (to the Sleeptalker, of course) and I wondered what it would be like to spend time with him now that he's not number one. Silly thoughts, but I've never denied having an abundance of such things, and perhaps never more so than when in the Dormouse's company.

The way to a man's heart is through his MUD, so I went to Hamilton and played the game for awhile, reaching level four, and messed around with my web pages, wrote a few things which will be misinterpreted as usual. Thanks to some fortuitous shopping carts, I had enough money for one Hurricane, started downhill at one point to buy it, then decided to save it for the hacienda (and to share with the Sleeptalker), and went back to the grove to enjoy the late afternoon just watching what went on around me there.

Back, then, to the game which I could play knowing the Sleeptalker was no longer in, since the State Library had closed. Since he hadn't said he was planning on a visit to campus, I didn't expect him (and was glad he hadn't told me he originally thought of being there), and spent some time mapping the main city of The Seventh Circle. HighLevel told me later there was a map available, but mapping has always been one of my pleasures in these games and drawing your own helps greatly in learning your way around. I think he thought me quite eccentric, but he ain't seen nothing yet. These youngsters do seem to have a difficult time understanding us old dudes know something about MUDs, too.

The night before, when the Sleeptalker and I had arrived so late at the hacienda, Mondo was asleep already, his first visit in some days. The Sleeptalker tried to rouse him, without success. Around three, by Orion time, I sat up to put a second tee shirt on since it was quite cool, and Mondo happened to sit up at the same time, gestured to ask if I had a smoke, then came out to sit with me while smoking it. He was wearing a fine new polo shirt, looked even more handsome than usual. Even though he is actually younger than the Sleeptalker, he's more mature and, in his own different way, certainly as wonderful a companion. I was sorry he was again missing the following night.

After the Sleeptalker's puzzled, pondering reaction to my "what difference does that make", he lay face down on the bench behind me and seemed to rapidly fall asleep, even without his usual rocking routine. I thought I'd take no chances, don't want to overload the lad, so got out the radio, turned on country music, and didn't even look in his direction until just before settling down to sleep myself. Of course he isn't gay. Thank fate for that, what a disaster it would be to fall in love with a 24-year-old gay boy.

In this case, I think it's going to be just fine. The Dormouse told me so.

227

In recent years, the day after a treasured visit with the Dormouse has always been a quiet, contemplative time. In the early days there was often a fit of Steppenwolfish banging on the closed door. Let me back in, let me back in! I remember it well.

Recently on campus, I had fled the Manoa drizzle, left the grove and sought a more sheltered spot. A young Japanese couple were rehearsing that wonderful Lerner and Loewe song. He was utterly hopeless, totally off-pitch, sharp flat whatever, just awful. I've never heard a more touching rendition of the song. Maurice Chevalier and Hermoine Gingold didn't come even close.

I remember it well.

And well, it finally happened. I spent my LAST CENT on beer. Yes, I had found exactly $2.07. I bought a Hurricane and had the hacienda to myself for an hour to enjoy it. Then a newcomer, Pathos, arrived and for the first time we exchanged little waves. Ye gods, I have NO money, I thought. Not one red cent. Now where the hell does that expression come from, has to be American.

I settled back to listen to country music, dozed off, then felt someone patting my chest, opened my eyes to see the grinning Sleeptalker bending over me, Mondo just behind him. There was an immediate, happy sense of relief because I'd wondered if I had pushed the Sleeptalker too far the previous evening since he'd been so silent in the game, not even responding when I'd congratulated him on making level nine with one of his low-lifes (his highest character is level 25). He explained that he'd been "silenced" at the time, as often happens for his intemperate foul mouth, so hadn't been able to respond. The two of them sat down on the bench behind me, I gave Mondo one of the virgin smokes I'd found and gave the Sleeptalker a long short, which he told me a few days ago are also referred to as "snipes". I doubt he noticed my partiality but Mondo did and gave me one of his best smiles.

As entranced and intrigued as I am with the Sleeptalker, Mondo has a very special place in my heart, and I haven't forgotten that offer of his last cigarette. He really is looking exceptionally handsome right now. I still want to see him naked, but I don't want to have sex with him. The Sleeptalker is another story.

I showed them the progress I'd made with my maps of the game and Mondo grasped most clearly what I was up to. Pondering the map of one particular area, the Sleeptalker confessed he had learned something from it he hadn't known, but his philosophy, if it may be called that, of MUD playing is almost directly opposite mine. Mondo and I are much closer in our approach to it. My long experience with MUD2, especially as a top level player, gives me ample ability to understand the Sleeptalker's approach and I look forward to going up against him in his way eventually (with a character he doesn't know is me). After an hour or so of game chat, Mondo settled on the bench in front of me, the Sleeptalker behind.

Now I lay me down to sleep, flanked by my two favorite angels.

When I woke a little after four, Mondo was sitting up awake but lay back down as I was packing up to go. I'd saved two more virgin smokes for him, handed them to him and waved farewell. He silently mouthed "thank you" and sent me off into the new day with another of his best smiles.

Just across the street I found a penny. Empty pockets no more. Dame Fortune was revving up. The beer flask was already full when an almost untouched 40oz bottle of MGD turned up. As soon as I found an empty plastic bottle, I sat on a bus stop bench to transfer the beer to the less heavy container. The dowser tingled. I looked around, saw no coins, checked the pay phone near the bench and there were four dimes in it. At the last beergarden was yet another 40oz bottle of MGD, and when I got to the mall a shopping cart was waiting.

Just to put the icing on the cake, there was a new nomad in the park, a local Filipino, I'd guess, in his late 20s or early 30s. He is sitting at the table next to mine as I write, after we showered together. Just what I needed, another handsome young man with a fine body, a beautiful shade of brown.

227a

My backpack still heavy with its generous supply of beer, I arrived on campus shortly after the library opened at nine, rather perfunctorily scanned the email collection and glanced at a few of the small collection of newsgroups I follow, ignoring the others. Getting back to the game was my top priority, but some of the email supporting the (yet again) unpopular position I'd taken in the Hawaiian music group both amused and annoyed me. So many people agreeing privately with the ideas I was trying to express, but not willing to say so publicly. And those speaking publicly were, as usual, sprinkling their posts with snide personal attacks and doing their utmost to distort and twist what I'd said. Certainly not for the first time, I muttered to myself asking why I bother to participate in the Hawaii-related newsgroups at all, so dominated by homophobic morons and egomaniacs, wannabe wits who must sit at their keyboards in orgasmic glee as they chortle over their self-supposed brilliant repartee.

It called for a beer and a smoke break before returning to the more sensible option for online activity, the Seventh Circle. The Sleeptalker was delightfully sassy and outrageous to me with his renegade Thief persona, slapping me around and pissing on my shoes (which the game text suggested was a favor I should return at the earliest opportunity). Since I chose to play in the non-killer class while I learn the basics of the game and its geography, the naughty Thief's slaps cost me nothing. For all the dramatics, he can't actually touch me, as he knows. Ah, my time will come, I thought. I'm going to whip your ass good one day soon, never mind pissing on your shoes. Then he quit and returned with his female magician and cast beneficial spells on me. Sweetheart. HighLevel logged on and showered me with protective spells but my poor Reting, still a mere Level 6 Ranger, had a difficult time of it and made little progress.

I was enjoying myself greatly, though, but when the Cherub arrived, I put the game aside. Online fantasy life once so dominated my thinking, as it does now for the Sleeptalker, that "real life" decidedly took a back seat. No more. MUD, like heaven, can wait. So I spent the late afternoon and all evening with the Cherub, sitting on the front steps of his shared house, drinking beer, eating beef stew he'd made, talking of Stein, Eliot, Ginsberg and, of course, Bukowski. He read some of Ginsberg's "Howl" aloud and I was shocked to realize I misquoted him in a Tale. I was even more shocked to realize what an awful poem it is, begged him to stop and spare me any further disillusionment.

He read me some more Bukowski, including one wonderfully direct and plain poetic description of a working man arriving in his room, stripping to his shorts and laying back to enjoy a can of beer. That's one of the best things I've encountered from Bukowski, but I admit his American super-macho persona has always deterred me from paying much attention to his work.

The Cherub told me his creative writing professor had rejected the secluded grove in manoa cycle because they didn't have his "character". Perceptive teacher. A reader asked if I'd been serious about stealing them from the Cherub! I would have thought the inclusion in that multi-part Tale of a new entry in the grove series would have made the joke clear. The reader thought such antics deter people from taking me seriously and supposed I actually care whether they do or not. An incorrect supposition.

The Cherub put up with my pats and squeezes, as usual. He isn't physically desireable for me in the way the Sleeptalker is, he's just so damned lovable. After a few beers I feel like ripping off his clothes and hugging him, laying beside him cuddling him like a treasured stuffed animal, not intent or even much concerned about what's in his crotch.

For class, he had to watch a film about the Jesuits and their missionary efforts among the American Indians, but it was late so I decided not to stay and watch it with him, walked over to the Cloisters where there was a full house, so yielded to the desire of wanting to see the Sleeptalker and went to the hacienda.

He was already asleep, woke up briefly to chuckle over his antics with me in the game and promised to do it every time we ran into each other there. Mondo was sitting up awake on the bench in front of the Sleeptalker, in one of his very self-absorbed moods so we just exchanged smiles and I took the bench behind the Sleeptalker, walking back over to give Mondo two cigarettes from three the Cherub had told me to put away for Mondo, then went to sleep looking at that wonderful little line of hair which runs from the Sleeptalker's navel down to the exposed waistband of his white briefs.

227b

During one of the visits to Rainbow Books with the Cherub on Saturday, I spotted an abandoned copy of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge. Maybe Rainbow wasn't interested enough to buy it but I was delighted to once again own it and spent Sunday morning in the park reading. Thirty years ago it was one of my favorite books and it is easy to see why.

Although the Sleeptalker had said he planned to go to UH on Sunday afternoon, I'd agreed to meet friends for a film and dinner so didn't go to campus at all. We first drove out to the Pearl Harbor area to see "Pleasantville". I thought it a rather sweet little fantasy with a few nicely mythic touches. Although the temptation exists to compare it with the far more ambitious "Truman Story", and apparently one critic did, that doesn't seem quite fair to me. "Pleasantville" certainly could have been more ambitious, the potential was there, but the writer didn't take that path. After the drive back to town, we had dinner of fried chicken, salad and a yummy paella complete with a big chunk of lobster, the first time I'd enjoyed that creature of the sea in a very long time, washed down with dark Asahi beer.

While my rather grubby wardrobe tumbled in the washer/drier, we watched a fascinating documentary on the restoration of Cukor's "My Fair Lady" and then I finally saw "The Full Monty". Some of those thick North Country accents were as hard to decipher as the Hacienda Lads' heavier pidgin, but it's a delightful film, as I'd heard, and ended a most enjoyable day in "normal" society.

Armed with two chilled cans of that dark brew, I went off to the hacienda where the Sleeptalker was sprawled shirtless and in white jeans on one bench, Mondo two benches in front of him leaving one vacant between them for me. My flanking angels, my most treasured arrangement. The Sleeptalker was in a very bouncy mood, flirtation in high gear, and bubbling over with talk of the game and his afternoon on campus, all of which became even more animated as he drank the beer. Mondo more quietly added comments occasionally. I am greatly enjoying the secondary game of Seventh Circle, surprising the Sleeptalker with information he hasn't bothered to discover despite his veteran status, and he was again impressed with my mapmaking progress, asked me to keep an eye out for a couple of places he'd stumbled into but couldn't find again. Mondo settled down to sleep, but the Sleeptalker stayed in high gear for an hour, frequently rearranging his sprawl and the area down the front of his pants, jumping up now and then to illustrate a point with one of his little dances.

He was still chortling over the encounter when he pissed on my shoes, said it always "freaked" him to run into me in the game and promised next time to "whip it out" and shower me with white liquid. I let the outrageous little flirt get away with his teasing but could certainly think of better uses for that Fountain of Youth.

228

Requiem for a blonde bear. The Sleeptalker, who sits beside me at Hamilton Library early on a Tuesday morning as I type, got a haircut on Monday.

229

I was greatly surprised, a little after eight on Tuesday morning in Hamilton Library, to feel someone pat me on the head, look up and see the Sleeptalker standing there. The State Library is open late on Tuesdays so I hadn't expected to see him until the evening. It's still something of a shock to look at him with only the memory of that blonde bear fur cap. He had gone to visit his mother in Waianae on Monday, had started to trim his hair but ended up cutting it all off. Been there, done that.

So, after leaving his company at five that morning, there we were back together for another fifteen hour online session. This Friday may be the first time I am actually relieved rather than annoyed when the five o'clock closing arrives at the library. Not that I'm unhappy at all to have so much time with the Sleeptalker, just the opposite, but I do get a bit frazzled coping with his abundant energy and enthusiasm, the sometimes difficult task of communicating with him.

The day called to mind the image of a mother bird out foraging for her favorite youngster. Every now and then I'd leave the Sleeptalker and go snipe hunting, managed to find a generous lunch of leftover ribs and rice for him, and quite thoroughly enjoyed the games, both on and off the computer.

Each day another little brick seems to get laid in the foundation of our friendship, especially the delicate part supporting our roles as desirer and object of desire, roles which for both of us, no doubt, grow steadily more comfortable. He's still a little shocked, I think, by my open expressions of affection, told me on Monday that he isn't "cute", after I'd said he was cute enough to get away with his almost-shaved head, and he added that one man shouldn't be thinking another man was cute, anyway. My cue for another gentle lesson in the facts of life.

229a

If the Sleeptalker's early arrival on Tuesday was a surprise, it was nothing compared to arriving at the library on Wednesday and finding him already there energetically pursuing his many careers in the Seventh Circle. There is no limit on the number of characters one can create and play and, as HighLevel said later, the Sleeptalker has so many it is difficult to keep track of them. So we settled into a repeat performance of Tuesday as I alternated between life in the game, still mostly occupied with exploration and mapping, then taking breaks to hunt down supplies for the two of us.

We took a brief break from the game to enjoy the last Hurricane funds permitted and I realized with a smile that I'm drinking less than I have in a long time simply because of sharing it with the Sleeptalker. No matter, sharing one beer with the man you love is more intoxicating than drinking three on your own, especially when sharing it by sipping from the same straw.

He's wonderfully unconventional about such things. The prior evening we had found a large burger and shared it by passing it back and forth for bites. The romantic, faintly erotic undertones to such shared moments are far more delicious than any food could be. But on the reverse side of the coin, like my nephew, the Sleeptalker is very self-conscious about life on campus. My nephew felt so strongly about it he would rarely agree to visiting the campus. The Sleeptalker was constantly grumbling about what he thought were students staring at him. I reminded him that he is, after all, quite cute and so it wasn't particularly unusual for young ladies to be giving him the admiring eye and also pointed out that no one knew whether he was a student or not. More to the point, I tried to persuade him that it just doesn't matter.

After the break I helped him sort out getting a Hotmail address since he needs an email address to permanently register his characters in Seventh Circle, and I set up a web page for him with links to the game and to Hotmail. He was delighted to discover the fun of playing the game in its color-text form via the web PC's and was lost to the world for awhile.

Later in the afternoon we played side-by-side, in "real life" and in the game, and had our first disagreement, too minor to be called a quarrel, when I overrode his orders in the game and did what I thought best, thus staying alive. After a cooling-off time apart, I told him there was no way I intended to fight with him offline about what went on in the game. He was in a high pout, but his bouncing good humor soon returned and we made an agreement not to get drawn into such traps again. It won't hold, he takes the game too seriously and hardly makes any separation between on and offline life, so I was grateful for the lesson and shall take care to avoid the trap from my side. On the other hand, if I'm going to live the life of Reting the Ranger, I have to do it my way, so the demonstration of independence was no bad thing. I might willingly play the slave of the Sleeptalker in real life, but not in the Land of the Seventh Circle.

Isn't life absurd sometimes?

230

I got the Sleeptalker rather drunk on Friday, not with the intention of getting into his pants but into his mind. He told me God existed before anything and that first he created the angels. The angels are very strong, a point he returned to several times, but after God created the earth some of the angels rebelled, took on "human skin" and left heaven to dwell on earth, lusting for female humans. Like their fallen angelic fathers, the offspring of those unions were without virtue and were destroyed in the Flood that spared only Noah and his family. The Sleeptalker is amazed that there should have been only one man in the world worthy of being saved, amazement I can easily share.

A reader told me in the morning, "you fall in love at the drop of a hat." Yes, I can understand how one could get that impression from the Tales or my chatter, how easy it can be for another to mistake infatuation for love. It's easy for me to do so as well, sometimes. But the Sleeptalker came on stage in Tale 165. That hat took a very long time to drop.

Sitting with him in the secluded grove, he remarked that I am an alcoholic, which I couldn't deny, and later asked, as if seeking final confirmation, "you're gay, aren't you?" "Yes, I'm an old gay alcoholic," I admitted. He doesn't seem to see it as quite the pathetic human condition I do myself.

We talked about Mondo and agreed he's a really sweet guy, but the Sleeptalker was a bit scornful of Mondo spending all his money on "games, clothes and shoes". He greatly surprised me by saying one of the regulars at the hacienda had asked to "suck his dick". I never considered that fellow was so inclined. The Sleeptalker had refused. I told him I'd like to as well and he just grinned, left the invitation on the table. I wished my tape player had a speaker, with Debussy in the slot. Afternoon of a faun, indeed.

After a Hurricane and our long chat in the grove, I took him to Mos Burger and got two 99-cent specials for him, then went to the Garden, introduced him to Bryant the Bartender who asked for his ID before handing over two Buds. The beer and the burgers consumed, the Sleeptalker was eager to get back to the game, so I walked to the library with him but left after a brief stop in the game and went back downhill for another Hurricane. I needed a little time in the grove alone to think about our conversation and to ponder our strange friendship. I don't know why I'm so captivated by him or why it took so long for it to happen. I thought that if I could fall out of love with him I'd do it, but I didn't convince myself. It has been a long time since I've experienced as much pleasure doing things for someone.

When I returned to the library, HighLevel was there playing and the three of us stayed until closing, then went again to the Garden. HighLevel used to be a server at Scott's, when Bryant was a bartender there. Such a small town, this is. We stayed for the first set of a rather raucous band called Fat Mattress, then I decided I'd had enough. Enough beer, enough game chat, enough hugging and patting the Sleeptalker, enough of everything. I went off alone to sleep at the Cloisters.

230a

secluded grove in manoa
sunny warm halloween morning
a jug of beer and me myself and ego
while he sits most likely at a terminal nearby

twelve hours and some minutes away from him
time to think, to ponder the mystery
of human emotion, affection, love

love for a dove, love for trees and sunlight
love for a man, a strange wonderful young man
with slim body, flat belly, brown brown eyes

your eyes are green, he said, looking deep
and yours are brown, like jewels, was my reply
as we sat together sucking beer through a straw
in the magic spot, the little grove in manoa

230b

My speculation was in error. The Sleeptalker was not sitting at a terminal nearby. Mondo was. I fell in love with the wrong one.

HighLevel and Mondo asked me where the Sleeptalker was. No idea. Mondo didn't stay in the game for long and as soon as I (finally) made Level 10 I went out to join him on a bench. He likes to "just sit and watch", he said. After awhile I asked him if he'd like a beer and got a strong affirmative so walked downhill for a Hurricane. John Feary was in line in front of me, first time I'd seen him in months. The epitome of sweetheart. When I got back to the library, Mondo said the Sleeptalker had arrived. I went in to say hello to him and could see he was in a very strange mood. Okay, remember cats. Back out to sit with Mondo and enjoy the beer and his gentle company.

He asked me to go to dinner at IHS with him. It was more than an hour before serving time but he was ready to leave so we got the bus downtown. Then, in the final premature November madness, I took him to Indigo for a few beers, and sat wishing I could afford to do these things less rarely than the first few days of the month. He finally told me he'd gone to jail for stealing a car, did almost three years which seems excessive. It wasn't bad inside, he said. He'd almost been sorry to get out. I understood exactly what he meant.

Sitting in that little bar with so delightful a young man was such a pleasure it depressed me. When we left, HighLevel and the Sleeptalker were just getting off a bus from campus, a dash of synchronicity I might have found surprising in a less bizarre life. We walked together over to IHS.

I've rarely encountered a more grim and sordid place. It's truly awful and so was the food. I'd rather starve to death than eat there every days as the lads do.

The Sleeptalker wanted to go to Waikiki but I said, no, I'm just going to get a beer and head for the hacienda. Mondo said he'd go with my plan, too. I guess that pushed the Sleeptalker into an even stranger mood because he snapped at me for "staring" at him as we were walking through Chinatown. Heaven knows there are ample occasions for him to complain on that score but that wasn't one of them. I just looked at him with a "what the fuck" expression and walked off in a different direction. Mondo caught up with me, said the Sleeptalker gets like that sometimes and would probably start crying next. "I hate it when he cries," Mondo said. I'm very sure I would, too. "It's okay," I said, "I like him very much and can put up with the shit." "Me, too," Mondo replied. It was as if we were the Sleeptalker's older brothers, affectionately indulgent. Mondo's own older brother got arrested last week, is inside. I think I hope Mondo doesn't do something to join him. It would make an already tempting option even more so.

I bought two Hurricanes and we sat at a table outside Restaurant Row, drinking the beer and watching. Yes, I like to just sit and watch as well, even more so when in such fine company. Mondo is the most "enlightened" man I've ever met. I fell in love with the wrong one.

And that one soon came along, with HighLevel, and joined us, having decided not to go to Waikiki after all. When the beer was finished I said I was off to the bench and left. I woke up around three. The Sleeptalker was on the bench in front of me, Mondo behind. My flanking angels. I love them both dearly but the lust has got to go.

It must go and I shall somehow banish it. There are ample outlets for that abhorrent sentiment. The strong blonde haole hunk I showered with on Halloween morning. To say he is well hung is an understatement, I've never seen a white man with such a long thick bludgeon between his legs. It fascinated, almost frightened, but I think he is used to it being an object of astonishment and washed it a little to vigorously to give me half a hint of what it could become. The Little One, quite the opposite in equipment, in the shower on All Saints Day cheerfully accepting my desire but still not ready to cross the line. The gorgeous dark brown man with muscled arms, sitting near me in the park as I write. Ample outlets, more than ample. I shall not permit lust for that slim body, those brown brown eyes, I will not let it continue. Somehow I'll get rid of it.

I said Maugham's The Razor's Edge was one of the favorite books of my youth. It remains so after the delicious re-encounter with it. I suspect Maugham is a little "out of fashion" right now, Evelyn Waugh, too, perhaps. Such charming style is probably not fully at home in this decadent end of a millenium but shall always have a special place in my cluttered mind.

By far the champ of my youth, though, was Lawrence Durrell's The Black Book and before I squandered all my monetary resources, I went to Rainbow and bought it. I'm glad I lived long enough to meet Mondo and the Sleeptalker, and to read one more time, or more, that extraordinary, sassy book. Again and again it makes me laugh aloud and I feel slightly incredulous that I was able, as a stupid teenager, to so appreciate it. There may be hope for me yet.

231

Black Sunday of All Saints. A fine kettle of fish this is, I told myself, trying to get up the nerve to jump off a tall building. A reader told me, "you always find someone to blame things on." Do I give that impression? I don't think it's true. It's my own fault, it's always my own fault. If I'd been kiled by the speeding car which missed me by inches on Sunday morning, it would have been my fault. I wasn't paying attention, I was engrossed in thoughts of the Sleeptalker. But that, too, was my fault. He does not ask to dominate my thinking. And the driver ignoring a red light was engrossed in his thoughts, probably of another desired body. Walking through life in an unconscious haze of lust.

He walked into the library a little after noon, was slightly formal and distant. We took smoke breaks separately until mid-afternoon and a beer break. I told him not to worry about my desire for his body, it's my problem, not his. He offered me his hand and said, "friends", and we shook on it. As if a pact had been signed, he returned to his delightful flirtation mode. From a meaner soul it would be cockteasing. From him it is an expression of affection. No, I'm not fooling myself on that point, I'm sure of it. So the thing to do is bask in the warmth of what he is willing to give and wait for the intense desire for more than that to ebb. It's certainly at high tide now as the Fool Moon approaches. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly ...

The Cherub came into the library, asked how I'd done with money since he'd last seen me. Spent it all, I said, or almost, but had enough for more beer. The three of us walked downhill to get it, returned to Krauss Hall and plugged in the boombox the Cherub was carrying. The Sleeptalker put on some junk radio station and I fled to the grove alone to enjoy my beer, having left one bottle with them. Let the straight boys hang together, let me out of here. Moon and stars and secluded groves. Remember what is really important, if anything is. And you might as well stop thinking about killing yourself, I told me. When you were thirty you had the balls to try, now you can't even stop smoking, how can you get brave enough to deliberately stop living?

I walked down to the Cloisters without returning to the library, without seeing him again. The Cherub stopped by on his way home. I was too drunk to remember what we said to each other. He's a sweetheart. They both are. And it wasn't anyone's fault but mine that it was so black a Sunday of All Saints.

232

I made good progress on Monday escaping from the monthly post-check slump and talking myself into a more sensible, or at least less hysterical, state of mind about the Sleeptalker. He was missing all morning, then turned up in Seventh Circle in the early afternoon, playing from the State Library. He said he needed to talk, so we hung out in a secluded grove, virtual one this time, and he went on at length about some guy who kept pestering and attacking him. But you're playing a killer and a smart-ass one, at that, I reminded him. What to expect? He really does have a weird perspective on the game and that may be one of the saving graces for our friendship.

I had asked some friends on a local mail-list to suggest strategies for "falling out of love". One recommendation was to concentrate on all the things I don't like about him. As another writer commented, this is the stage where everything seems quite charming, even his post-cold constant spitting or his bizarre habit of chewing on the skin around his fingernails and after each bite smelling his fingers. I did the chewing skin routine in my teens, too, it's checking out the aroma each time that's bizarre.

Even his little post-game-session tantrums have a certain charm. But in the game, it is different, and if anything can weaken his Prince Charming image for me, the way he acts in there might do it. Ironic that the main thing which keeps us together for so many hours of the day and night should also hold a key to getting more control over it.

I left the game and went down to eat from the Hare Krishna truck. They served a rather dull (and odd) combination of vegetable curry with corkscrew pasta, no rice, but there was some of their fine wheat bread and, unusually, a bucketful of both purple and green grapes which provided an amusing barometer of how greedy some people are.

When I returned to campus, the Sleeptalker was there and, of course, in the game. He suggested we team up. I had just made Level 11 so was willing to take it easy and follow him around for a bit, then got bored with his idea of "teamwork" which was essentially doing nothing but what he wanted to do, even worse stand around waiting while he yakked with other players, especially high-lifes whom he toadies to in the game and rants about offline. So I waited until he'd made Level 13 and went off on my own.

Later he scolded me, was quite cross I hadn't been more patient, I might have "gone up two more levels". I told him to remember that everyone has their own way of most enjoying these games and my way was very different from his, I preferred to explore and really get to know the geography, was in no hurry to rapidly climb the ladder of levels. He thinks I'm crazy, of course, but has to admit he finds my maps useful even if my way of playing is so unlike his. He agreed to remember that, though, and we went off happily to the hacienda for another night of him on the bench in front of me, Mondo on the one behind, and that Fool Moon mocking us foolish mortals.

233

The Cherub had suggested I meet him at Border's Ward on Election Day morning and since the libraries were all closed for the day, I agreed. One of his big projects, both personally and for school, is putting together a "publication" from scratch, and he thought I might help with advice although his hopes were founded more on finding something like "Starting a Literary Magazine for Dummies". Since I've had a little direct experience with such ventures, I did try to share with him some suggestions (which didn't include the How-To book section). Oh well, youth never understands how colossally arrogant it can be. I certainly didn't, so have no right whatever to suggest, or hope, we've evolved that much in two generations.

But the Prankster in me got even. After early morning in the park, a little sexual interlude with a pleasant sandy-haired haole fellow, and reading Durrell while my beer-soaked (from leakage, not direct spillage) tee shirt dried after it was washed, I walked over to Border's and perused the shelves. In honor of the Cherub, I sat for awhile with a collection of Bukowski, The Last Night of Earth Poems, from 1992. There are some gems there, especially a touching tribute to Huxley's wonderful Point Counter Point. Then I looked around, spotted a newly published collection of poetry by a young man named Beau Sia, Asian-American I'd guess from the attention-getting photograph on the cover. Reading it, I smiled, grinned broadly, was tempted to laugh aloud in the discreet silence of Border's. There was nothing to do but be wicked and call the Cherub's attention to it. Bingo! Got him good. It helps that young Mister Sia mentions "charles bukowsky" [sic] in a little prose endpage. "In lowercase!" huffed the Cherub. I suggested Mister Sia is a major new poet, an opinion I hold quite seriously despite the obvious youthful coyness of his work at the moment. Poor Cherub.

Well, he couldn't find the magic bullet he was looking for anent his proposed publication so said we should go to Barnes & Noble at Kahala Mall. I loathe that temple of suburbia but the promise of a free beer (his kindly way of scoring a return hit) worked, of course, so off we went to America. Aside from the occasional aloha shirt, Kahala Mall could exist anywhere in the USA. Even if I had been George Washington, I'd still hate the place.

Barnes & Noble there, my first visit, has an even more faux English Gentlemen's Club atmosphere than Border's, enough to make any truly civilized man puke at the banal commercial charade. But I was completely delighted to see how much of Gertrude Stein's work is back in print, and about time. There may be hope for American Civilization. When I mentioned my pleasure, the Cherub sniffed that poor Gertrude was "neurotic". Oh dear. I couldn't let myself score on that one, let it pass. B&N didn't have Sia's book. Shame on them.

It did, however, seem to have satisfied the Cherub's search, although I've no idea what volume did it, so we took the bus "back to civilization" (my phrase) and he disembarked in Manoa. I went on to Ala Moana to curse (gently as I could) Filipino cleaning ladies who snatched one free meal after another from me at the Food Court, got that free beer the Cherub had provided and enjoyed it in the park while working on my maps of the Seventh Circle.

And no, I decided not to vote at all. An old-fashioned protest. Register, just don't do it. Fuck 'em, as the Sleeptalker would say.

234

I surprised myself with my Phoenix act, rising from the ashes of All Saints, although there was no way to go from the bleakest moments of that dark Sunday but out or up. Up in this case meant surrendering the adolescent heart pangs and the tougher pout over not getting my way. Pre-adolescent, that nonsense. So I kept on lecturing myself and enough of me listened to break free.

I was feeling a little weary after the hours of mindgames with the Cherub, the visit to suburbia, the losing battles with food-destroying cleaning ladies. So I pulled out the free Big Mac voucher I'd stashed for just such a moment, filled my stomach with that, raided my dwindling coin collection to buy a Hurricane and headed to the hacienda. Mondo was there alone, happy with his usual first-of-the-month pack of cigarettes which he shared. Then Rossini-2 arrived with another like clone. These "Rossini" men are so much from the same mold I really have trouble telling them apart or getting any fix on their individual personalities. Mondo sent them off to buy him a burger and a twelve-pack of beer. I had the feeling he was returning my hospitality. Like spirits, we are, no matter how utterly unlike outwardly.

He started to hand me a beer, asked, "Shall I pop it for you?" Sure, I said, and he broke the can in half with one hand, showering us all with cold Budweiser. The Election Night party was underway.

The radio was tuned to a station mirroring a tv channel reporting on the results of the day's voting and I listened in occasionally for an update. My companions were only interested in Ben's victory, all unanimous in their scorn for Lingle. Mondo listened with me once in awhile, sharing the earplugs. I'd never considered Walkman earplugs as a seduction device but the length of the cords does demand a quite pleasant physical closeness. Again I thought, you fell in love with the wrong one. No matter, I'm very happy to love Mondo, not be in love with him.

The Snorer arrived, declined a beer and said he'd just come for a quick nap because he had to leave for his night job. One of the fellows told him he works too hard. "I have to," he said, "I have very expensive habits." I was not unhappy no one asked for details.

After several cans of beer, Mondo settled down to sleep and I did likewise, leaving the other two on beer disposal duty. Just after midnight I felt that familiar pat on my chest. The Sleeptalker had arrived with HighLevel and a game player I hadn't met before. They had another twelve-pack case of beer. I joined them for one but was by then sufficiently lubricated and even more sleepy so I wandered over to a bench I'd noticed the night before outside a State government building and had a quiet few hours of sleep on my own.

The beergardens were surprisingly empty on Wednesday morning but did yield a pack of cigarettes and the front section of the morning newspaper, giving me the dubious pleasure of wading through the details of election aftermath with my senior coffee. I was feeling a little foggy from the hacienda beer party but was happy to realize the fire really had gone out or had at least been lowered to a simmer, the Romance of the Year was successfully tamed. The Sleeptalker played from the State Library until late afternoon when he arrived on campus bringing reinforcement for the reduced flame in the form of chewing tobacco.

To each their own nasty habits, but that one really is gross. His post-cold spitting was increased to a constant pace, well beyond anything remotely charming. For the first time, I enjoyed his company more inside the library than out of it. By completely exhausting my supply of coins, I could have gone for a Hurricane but decided against it, mainly because I didn't want to share with a spitting 'baccy chewer, no matter how cute he might be.

My cautious approach to Seventh Circle begins to pay off with more comfortable increases in level despite a few major setbacks brought on by continued exploration of unknown territory. The game design is such that it is possible to rise at least to Level 15 or 20 simply by being patient and going over and over known easy locations, but that's too tedious for me. The Sleeptalker again grumbled slightly but then I found an item he had been searching for, so once again it was time to be appreciated and to give directions.

The personal game with the Sleeptalker is more fun than the computer one but these multi-player online games do provide a unique form of escapism. They are not as mindless as the equally addictive disk games nor as solitary. On Thursday, when the Sleeptalker didn't travel to campus at all, the game provided a welcome means of escaping the strangeness of not being with him. It couldn't completely offset the slight depression, the nostalgia for the "good old days" when the Three Jewels were just three fascinating young men who happened to sleep on benches near me, their names and stories unknown. No way back to that, just the lesson learned that it's much more fun with the lust burner on low simmer. Growing old does have advantages and one of them is the ability to get out of what the English call sticky wickets with greater ease. Run, pussycat, run. Stay well away from that spot.

Gloomy gray sky much of the days, frequent drizzle. The security guard at the library again forgot his lighter. Again I rescued him with a gifted book of matches, listened to his autobiography, the chapter on dressing for work in the morning, remembering his badge, his nameplate, all the emblems of his position in society. Feeling that nudge we all know as we set out from our private space into the world, that hint of having forgotten something. A few drops fell from the sky on us. "The rainy season has come," he said.

Somerset Maugham and Sadie and a scratchy gramophone under dripping eaves. The rainy season. And a young lad of Asian genes in flowered shorts and a rose polo shirt walks by my table as I write, looking to see if I noticed him. Yes, you're a sweetheart. Is there anything I can do for you? A thousand deja vu moments on the campus at UH-Manoa.

The Sleeptalker arrived in the late afternoon. Having, I'd guess, pondered our situation he wanted to clarify his position, to make certain I understood he wanted to be friends, in the game and out of it, but that did not include stepping together into that bizarre world of sex. It's okay, dear boy, I left that neighborhood already, or so ran the assurance I tried to express, realizing while doing so I had to put it more gently than I'd convinced myself because, no doubt about it, the young man enjoys being admired however much his moral conditioning rebels against yielding to that admiration. A delicate dance, minuet with a tobacco-juice spitting marionette of fate.

The biggest challenge of dealing with some young men in their late teens and early twenties is their child-like lack of one kind of self-consciousness and their abundant sense of another kind. So unsure of themselves despite the bravado, it's really most touching. We stayed until closing time, waited together for the bus, entered the hacienda quietly and slept some benches apart, no night of flanking angels. Or demons, as the case may be.

After a brief chat with the Cherub on Thursday morning when he brought me three cigarettes and updated me on his publication research, the day was spent alone, mostly in the Seventh Circle. The Sleeptalker appeared only briefly in the game, probably because there had been technical problems with the State Library system all day and the gang of MUDders down there didn't have access to some of the "back streets" available at UH which were faster than the "main road". There had been only a flask's worth of beer in the gardens that morning, so I took a break at lunch with that and Durrell and my thoughts about this strange time.

If they were not pigeons, what were they?

235

The Sleeptalker game and the Seventh Circle game entered a new phase on Friday. I reached Level 20 in Seventh Circle, the point at which high-lifes evidently start to take notice and, because of a sharp increase in abilities and skills, lower levels begin to more actively seek help and advice. The latter, along with exploration, is the basic foundation of my pleasure with these games. Exploration is finite. No matter how large the game world it eventually is fully mapped. Interaction with other players is ever-changing, infinite, whether the political dances with higher levels or the more shepherd-like role with new or less knowledgable folks. For the Sleeptalker my arrival at that stage is a multi-faceted swirl of reactions, amusing but somewhat treacherous to dance with. His highest level character is Level 27, so there is the shock of realizing I might actually climb higher than him and, worse, without his direct assistance. If that were my goal, I think it wouldn't be all that difficult, especially since he spreads his time and energy over so many characters and, perhaps more importantly, he has not endeared himself to many players who might otherwise be more helpful. He complains bitterly because high-lifes often ignore his pleas for "aid", an appeal which can be made in certain dire circumstances when that aid can avoid death and the subsequent setback in points. Not surprisingly, the less often one resorts to such pleas, the more likely one is to be given the aid. This simple fact of MUD life escapes the Sleeptalker who has frequently chided me for failing to appeal, saving it for really critical times.

But even more than the competitive note, the Sleeptalker now fervently wants me as a "partner". After I'd made Level 19, he left the State Library and arrived on campus, all bubbling over with getting me to Level 20 where I'd really be helpful. He arrived just at a moment when one of those carefully saved appeals for aid rescued me from a major setback and I crossed over to Level 20, without his assistance. He beamed.

The rest of the day, until he finally collapsed in sleep on the bench behind me, was spent listening to his grand plans for "our" future and he heatedly told me I was "stupid" whenever I suggested I wouldn't play the way he sometimes advised. "If he's stupid," asked Mondo, "how did he get to 20 so fast?" High five to friend Mondo.

And with rather touching irony, that old monster Jealousy enters the scenario. Why was I wasting my time with a mere Level 8 Ranger, he demanded. Because, I explained, he's a new player, a Ranger like myself, and most importantly, he asked me very nicely for advice. The Sleeptalker grumbled that I'd never "level" wandering around helping that dude and I once again for the x-hundredth time reminded him that a rapid climb was not my reason for playing. More grumbling.

Mondo had been listening without saying much, finally just smiled a goodnight and settled down to sleep, and I was quite happy when the Sleeptalker finally did as well. When the library closed, I had suggested that he go to IHS for dinner as usual, said I was going to Ala Moana for snipe hunting and to see if I could find enough shopping carts to score a beer. Mondo would give me some money, he told me. I wasn't going to ask him, I said, being "stupid" again.

So he tagged along to Ala Moana with me, very rapidly got bored with my hunting routine there and disappeared without a word. Such a strange lad. I didn't mind, and was happy he'd seen enough to understand how it is I can have enough cigarette butts to supply him and Mondo. The absurdity of spending time on a hunt the Sleeptalker is too lazy and impatient to pursue and that Mondo could, if he chose, afford not to, does not escape me.

I really wanted a beer but there was so much competition for the carts it was soon clear there was no chance of getting one, so when I'd collected tobacco I gave up the hunt. I'd found enough food earlier so didn't mind missing dinner and headed to the hacienda where the Sleeptalker was eagerly awaiting the chance to resume his strange courtship of Reting the Ranger and scolding of stupid Albert the Panther, finally getting my beer in a dream bar where Harold Kama and John Feary were playing weird, subtle jazz.

As Mickey and Sylvia sang, love is strange. So is life.

235a

On Saturday morning the Sleeptalker had once again gotten to campus before me and was working away at extending the lead between his most active player and mine. His Level 27 player, his highest, remains "silenced" as punishment for what must have been extraordinarily bad behavior considering what people get away with in the game. Reting the Ranger had been in something of a mess when I'd quit on Friday so it took awhile to sort all that out. Then to please the Sleeptalker I agreed to join him in what I suspected was an overly ambitious expedition. So it was. In no time we both were dead with a considerable loss of points. Poor fellow. It didn't much matter to me since it had the advantage of putting the damper on his ambitious schemes, at least temporarily, and I was able to return to my own quiet way to reach Level 21. As is my usual habit, I then returned to exploration and mapping, discovered a delightful area on a mountaintop with a temple to the major Greek gods, a place the Sleeptalker had only heard about and never visited.

He is letting his beard and moustache grow longer than I've seen them before. Combined with the cropped hair it makes him utterly unlike the faun-like lad he was when I first saw him. He played even more intently to recover his losses from the ill-fated adventure and widened his lead by reaching Level 24, with only one brief tantrum in the game and few breaks.

I left him there at four-thirty and joined friends to see the re-edited version of Orson Welles' dark masterwork, "Touch of Evil", an admirable if regrettably belated attempt to restore the film to Welles' original intent. As always, my favorite moments were when Marlene Dietrich was on the screen.

When I got to the hacienda, the Sleeptalker was sprawled on a bench behind my usual one which Rossini-2 had taken. Mondo was sitting outside smoking, so I joined him to drink the beer I'd been given. He declined the offer to share, said he'd had enough already, but the Sleeptalker soon got up and joined in, as did Rossini-2 who went into high jabber about Seventh Circle. He has a Level 40-something character but like the lads seems to have gotten there without really learning much about the geography or finer details of that alternate reality and has been stuck for a long time trying to continue his climb. I thought again my label of "Rossini" was most apt. Boring recitative.

Whether also bored or for some other reason, Mondo suddenly got up and moved to a bench further away without saying a word. Not just like cats, these lads, but slightly weird, very moody and unpredictable cats. The others ignored him so I followed their lead and Mondo soon went in to sleep on an inside bench. The Sleeptalker and Rossini-2 then decided to "go walking" and I moved to an inside bench as distant from them all as possible and went to sleep. If it weren't for the advantage of the morning beergarden hunts, I think I'd spend more time sleeping elsewhere.

On the other hand, life at the hacienda has its little rewards aside from proximity to the beergardens. In Seventh Circle, when resting you see "Reting is sprawled on the ground", a phrase which came to mind on Sunday morning when I woke and looked over at the Sleeptalker. Sprawled, indeed, in his white Levi's with that forbidden fruit in ready mode. Cue up the jukebox, you can look but you cannot touch. And look, too, only in those wee hours, the only time he's certain to really be asleep.

The beergarden angel was so miserly all week and even the usual post-Saturday-night harvest was meagre, but a pint's worth of Mickey's Ice was a nice touch, as was the juicy orange found just after arriving on campus.

Before going there, though, I decided it was time for a change in routine so after enjoying my coffee refill in the park while working on my map collection, I went to Waikiki. A walk through the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center provided two boxes of shorts. Waiting for the bus to campus, a trio of really down-and-out nomads amused me and the tourists with their efforts to get a free bus ride. Driver after driver refused their request for freebie transfers. I had to agree with my fellow nomads, it did seem a bit nasty to stick so firmly to the "rules". They tried to get the money for fare out of a group of German tourists who took the clever route of pretending not to speak English, then finally got lucky with a bus driver who let them on his bus, never mind a transfer. I hope Dame Fortune rewards him for his kindness, and that the wives of all the drivers who refused have "headaches" at bedtime.

236

red shoes, yellow socks, navy blue shorts
wannabe punk girlfriend at his side
fall in love too easily, fall in love too fast
in the secluded grove of manoa

sunshine like a fireplace beaming on my arms
through that gap in the foliage
footwarmer, too, that blazing sky ball
is it winter yet? hurry up, please, it's time

thomas stearne and hermann
poor hermann, insulted by a cherub
drunken, snivelling, grasping for effect
and a bully dove chases off his rivals

soft plush flesh waiting for caresses
feel this, he said, and it was felt
the other firmness stays forbidden
sacred snake in the bush of eden
young men, young men, why do you taunt me
have you no mercy, no pity for the ancients
hurry up please, it's time, as the man said
a time to live, a time to love, a time to die

the place of frozen rivers, fallen leaves, bully doves
the morning sunshine of november tanning
as the dove walks brushing my foot with softness
smile into the velvet of that flesh

naheen! wacht auf! kapu!
languages of a thousand dreams
echoes of a million lives
and kory k walked in

237

A fine romance, with no kisses ...

The Sleeptalker is an incorrigible flirt. Sitting on a bench outside Hamilton together, under the stars, drinking beer, holding hands. The latter, I hasten to add, due to a mock "wrestling match", that sine qua non macho excuse to get physical. He teased, said I could see it but not touch. I told him I already had a good idea from one night of flowered shorts, omitting mention of white Levi's because I like to see him in them, wouldn't want to discourage it.

He had arrived on campus shortly after I did, played so vigorously (and well) that he made it to Level 30, his highest ever. One of the senior players told me I'm a good influence on the Sleeptalker. I do what I can, I said, but don't expect a complete reform, temper tantrums are inevitable. He chuckled. Reting the Ranger slogged quietly along, died once to a gang of dwarf guards, but eventually climbed to Level 23, upped to 24 on Tuesday morning.

The game is amusing but the breaks, of course, were more so. He told me I should meet his brother, he's the really good-looking one of the family. Time and time again he'd had to answer the phone, speak to some young lady he much admired, only to hear her ask to speak to his brother. I told him he's enough for me, stroked his little beard. He protested but didn't really mean it. Although difficult and enigmatic at times, he's also very transparent. He has obviously been thinking about letting me have his body, it was clear from his slightly drunken conversation. He even dreamed about it. Considering the time I've spent in fantasies of him, I could only smile at the notion he was doing the same. A fine romance, indeed. But I am in love with the lad, happy to have reached a greater level of control over it, certainly still very much smitten.

I told him at three-thirty we had to leave if we were going to eat Krishna food. He ignored me, intent on his playing, so I said I was off to the bus stop. I'd had very little to eat for two days, had to either go to the truck or to IHS. Standing in line for the food, the Sleeptalker walked up and poked me in the ribs. It wasn't a very good meal but I ate it all, he ate less than half of his. They must not have gotten any donations of rice lately because it was again just a bland vegetable curry, no rice, not even pasta. I am not, you understand, complaining. It was filling and I was very hungry.

An angel sent some McD's gift certificates, the Angel of the Leftovers weighed in with macaroni+cheese, chili, microwavable popcorn and other goodies which I collected in the evening. I am a fortunate man to have such fine friends.

And I have a job. I'll be working two nights a week (Friday and Sunday) assembling sushi. If I had tried to imagine a highly unlikely job for myself, no way I could have topped that. Whether it will last beyond the first night (Sunday) is anyone's guess, but if it will let me buy a beer or three for the man I love, it's worth a try.

If he were a little smarter, a little more wicked, we'd be living together in an apartment, Pentium connected to the Internet, him sitting there all day in the game while I sat in an office to pay for it. I guess I'm lucky.

237a

Kory K met the Sleeptalker. Aside from them both having been born here in the islands and their fascination with The Cunt (as Durrell rhapsodizes in The Black Book), they have little in common. But they had no problem at all agreeing that I am crazy.

238

Resist not evil. Biblical advice echoed in the I Ching. Not that I consider sexual desire evil; a major nuisance but not in itself evil. Resisting it, though, backfired. Not just the Sleeptalker was desirable but every young man between 18 and 25, or at least ninety percent of them. What the hell is going on, I asked myself.

Feet shrouded in white cotton entombed in canvas coffins. After more than a year of wearing only slippers it makes for extreme consciousness of feet. For those not familiar with the ways of the islands, "slippers" are what I always thought of as "shower shoes" before coming to Hawaii. Rubber soles, thonged, walking around barefoot except for bottom protection. I'd already decided not to endure another barefoot winter but advanced the timing a bit since bare feet also didn't seem a very good idea for kitchen work. Shoes and socks, a job. Where did I go wrong? Probably by falling in love.

Two stormy days with the Sleeptalker. It's just impossible to keep the game separate from so-called real life with him. We have nothing to talk about except my lust for his body (a subject he brings up, not I) or the game, and talk of the game inevitably brings us to a point of heated disagreement. Tuesday evening I got so annoyed I walked off and left him at the bus stop, slept at the cloisters. On Wednesday we sat together at the beach drinking a beer and again he got so silly about it I left him and went to sit by myself for awhile. When I got to the hacienda he was already there, sitting on an outside bench with Mondo and Rossini-2. Mondo moved inside, leaving a bench vacant between us. The Sleeptalker strolled in, sat there, asked if I wanted some of the bento he'd been given. I said no thanks, I'm not hungry. Don't even talk to me, he said, and stormed out. He and Rossini-2 left, didn't return. Bizarre.

Perhaps it's his method of sidestepping the question of sex, or the method for both of us. Whatever, relief is to arrive in the shape of a friend coming for a visit from Kauai. That should keep the Sleeptalker busy for awhile and I welcome the intermission.

Veterans Day. The nation shows its gratitude by closing the libraries and leaving us no net access. Thanks a lot, guys. Someone remind me not to join the army in my next life. Better yet, remind me not to have another one.

239

The expected "intermission" didn't happen. Even on the afternoon of his friend's arrival, the Sleeptalker showed up on campus with him. I might have guessed the friend was also a Seventh Circle player. It may be that's the only way they know each other. When the library closed, the Sleeptalker asked me if I had money for a beer. I said no, I hadn't expected to see him so had bought my last Hurricane at lunchtime. As we were walking to the bus stop, I said I was going to check some ashtrays. They continued on and when I got to the stop, no sign of them. Hmmmm, I thought to myself, you can bet if I'd had two dollars for a Hurricane, they'd have stuck around. But the Sleeptalker isn't himself mercenary like that, no doubt just wanted to entertain or impress the visitor and I was sorry I hadn't been able to oblige, decided to spend a quiet night at the Cloisters on my own.

Friday morning the Sleeptalker appeared in Seventh Circle early, playing from the State Library. He had again grumbled at me on Thursday about my playing style, suggesting I just didn't know how to "level" quickly. So I woke up thinking, all right, you little sweetie, Panther's gonna show you some fireworks. By the end of the day I was three levels ahead of him. It was one of the most boring days I've ever spent in a multiplayer online game. I turned off all the enjoyable but distracting chat channels, ignored everyone, and just slammed away again and again in areas I knew yielded the highest reward for the least risk. He told me later he hadn't been paying attention and was shocked when he noticed I had caught up with him at Level 36, left the State Library and rushed to campus. I ignored him, continued my blitzkrieg and plugged on to Level 39 while he was stuck at 36. Poor fellow, how mean of me. He asked for it.

I had told him I was meeting a friend later, planned to stay on campus after the library closed at five, so it would have made more sense for him to have played at the State Library all day. I was glad he didn't, though, because the two and a half hours with him that evening was the most pleasurable time we've spent together thus far. He had a joint which he offered to share so I took the unprecedented step of asking Bryant the Bartender for two dollars, promising to return it to the tip bucket after the weekend. The Sleeptalker and I then sat with the glow of that divine herb and a bottle of Hurricane and he put on a charming, touching show for me while the rain fell steadily around our sheltered spot. He sang, he danced, demonstrated martial arts moves, talked strangely and obscurely of the continuing thoughts he is having about sex between two men. If I had not already been in love with him, I would certainly have fallen that evening. Except for one moment, though, when he'd finally sat down quietly to enjoy a cigarette, I kept my own struggle with desire under control. Then I lost myself in a reverie over his wonderful feet and he caught me at it, was very pleased. An incorrigible flirt, indeed.

It was a totally delightful interlude but I wasn't sorry it had to end. Experience has taught me to expect some compensating mechanism to click in eventually, that strange need he has to step back and deny moments of tenderness and sweetness. Saved by the clock, I walked with him to the bus stop, told him I'd probably stay at the Cloisters, and went off by myself in the happy glow of that special time with him.

Helen R and I went to the annual student Opera Workshop evening which had been such a pleasure the year before. Although this year's was not quite up to that benchmark, it nonetheless had some very entertaining moments. One of my favorites was a larger-than-usual ensemble doing "Grant Street" from "Flower Drum Song" which featured an attempt at classic Broadway dance routines. One of the dancers was cute as a bug in a rug and I could have watched him dance all night. Four excerpts from the new musical "Titanic" made me want to hear the entire score, but poor Mozart! A scene from "Cosi" sung in English, recitative spoken, piano as an orchestra. Yikes.

Helen was looking quite glamorous in full length black gown, wasted on the yobs at Magoo's after the concert. But we had a yummy "potpourri" pizza featuring sections of various toppings including one utterly non-Italian option of Canadian bacon and pineapple. A pitcher of Budweiser was a welcome washer-down and I was sorry the Sleeptalker wasn't there to enjoy it with us. I must, though, resist all temptations toward Pygmalion, a sentiment reinforced on Saturday evening when I joined friends for a chicken dinner followed by watching that bizarre Otto Preminger classic, "Laura". A more stylishly demented twist on Pygmalion surely doesn't exist.

Could I try to murder the Sleeptalker to prevent anyone else from having him? Doubtful, but maybe if it was another man. I'd be very pleased if both he and Mondo found young ladies interested in them, though. They are spending those special years of the early twenties without love, romance, sex. Is that sad or are they lucky? I'm not sure.

In his scramble to catch up with me, the Sleeptalker had gotten his Level 36 player into an awful mess. It would have taken him hours to get out of it on his own, so when he arrived on campus Saturday morning, I suggested we team up and I'd help him out of the bind. Even with my help, it took almost an hour and then he pulled a really dumb move on me which, to give him due credit of sorts, was one of the most amazing moments I've ever spent in one of these games. If I didn't know him personally, I'd never speak to his character again. One problem, of course, is that my continued help would not only take him up levels, but I'd be climbing as well and he wants, at all costs, to catch up. So what he did in effect was reward my help with a smart-assed move which cost me about an hour's delay, especially since I took part of it as a break to recover from my amazed surprise. I decided not to say a word about it to him and he was careful to avoid the subject, too, but clearly felt guilty about it. Such a strange fellow, I say again, and think it even more often.

We sat apart on the bus downtown, he got off without a word or gesture and I went on to dinner. Although all the other regulars were at the hacienda later, the Sleeptalker was absent. Mondo was standing outside smoking when I got there, congratulated me on making Level 39 so had obviously seen the Sleeptalker, but I've noticed Mondo is most reluctant to talk about him so didn't bring up his name, chatted awhile about the game and then went in to take the front bench in a row with Mondo behind me. He radiates a calm, peaceful aura and it was a pleasure sleeping within it. For all the dances with the Sleeptalker and my deep affection and desire for him, the fact remains there has never been anyone I've loved more than Mondo.

240

a young man said "oh rad" shocking me into a giggle
died and gone to hell on a morning of the rainy season
tropical rain, how romantic, NOT as they would say
days, days, endless nights of unceasing water from heaven
remember it well, hermoine, remember it well

wet, so wet, so unceasingly wet the day of reward
enjoy the profit from selling the time, from wages
listen to young men chattering, wonder why they sit so near
charming faces, enticing bodies, conversation beyond banality

died and gone to hell, surrounded by handsome demons
what deed in distant life accorded me this moment
an upheaval of banality, of youth infatuated with itself
it's my world now, dear boy, my world my life

240a

Sitting in the morning sunshine, so rare in recent days as the weather gods take "rainy season" very seriously. A beautiful Sunday morning, showered and shaved, feet relishing freedom from enclosure. The Snorer walked over, sat at the table and offered me breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and rice. We shared and he talked, a natural motormouth. He waxed nostalgic for the good old days at the hacienda when, as he saw it, Rocky kept the boys "in line". My views of the subject I kept to myself since it seems to me Rocky was more the creator of the Social Horror Club than its tamer. "He escaped them," said the Snorer, bringing to mind an image of Rocky as Pied Piper, leading all the young nomad lads to one place and then vanishing.

The Sleeptalker didn't arrive on campus until mid-afternoon by which time I'd reached Level 40 in Seventh Circle. I greeted him in the game but left him alone outside of it until leaving when I told him I'd be off work at ten and if he wanted to hang around after the library closed we could have some beer together. I didn't expect him to and wasn't surprised that he didn't. He's too impatient to sit alone for an hour.

Some minutes of that first evening on the job were the longest chunks of time, subjectively, I've known in years, dragging on so slowly the clock on the wall seemed to take an eternity to click down the next arc of the circle. Long, long waits with nothing to do once the initial batch of sushi had been put on the conveyor belt, then happily more fleeting minutes when customers arrived and there was a scramble to get more plates out. Orders to send five of them jumped to "send ten" or twenty. "Twenty?" I asked incredulously, not always certain I was correctly hearing the Boss's Japanese-flavored English. Twenty. Wrap, wrap, wrap. Each little ribbon of seaweed costs seven cents. I only broke one out of about three hundred wraps. In the middle of a rush I wished the old lady who works only until 7:30 was still around. It wasn't easy graduating from just wrapping to actually putting in the filler. I forgot the chopped onion leaves on the spicy tuna dishes I sent, had to grab them back as the belt returned them to add the garnish. In between assembling sushi, washing the little plates as they came back empty. Easy dishwashing, it's not food that makes much of a mess on the plate. The Boss had originally said I'd work till ten but then explained it could be anytime from nine onwards depending on the presence of customers. By 9:15 the place was empty, all dishes washed, so he sent me off to buy beer and we had a couple of them before he paid me (the lowest hourly wage since I worked in Woolworth's as a stock boy, age 15), and I was a free man again.

Rewarding myself with a pack of cheap cigarettes and a beer, I walked wearily to the Cloisters and fell asleep immediately after finishing the beer.

The weather was vile all day on Monday, strong wind and torrential downpours between almost constant drizzle. During one of the rare dry moments I made a dash to the Garden to repay Bryant and thank him again for his kindness, went downhill for a beer and found a sheltered spot to enjoy it with The Black Book. Yes, I'm reading it very slowly. It's an intensely rich piece of writing, digestible only in small portions. Now and then I get affectionately annoyed with Durrell ... such a horny author! ... but his incomparable style and command of the language, of poetic phrasing, incredible imagery all combine to more than offset the passages where it's easy to imagine him jerking off at his typewriter. When Burroughs could write entire books like that, who can complain about Durrell?

The Sleeptalker arrived in the early afternoon, didn't say anything in or out of the game for some time, then said publicly, "Reting, look who's in the game". I checked the list, no one I knew by character name aside from him, so asked if there was someone I knew. He just went "hahaha". Our total communication on that soggy Monday. My guess is he was referring to Mondo, but I can't remember the names of his characters, don't really want to know them. I rather wish I didn't know the Sleeptalker's, but too late.

I reached Level 43, he made it to 39. I decided to push on to 50, the high life level where "Avatar" is added to your title, rejecting a thought of creating another character and letting Reting the Ranger rest until the Sleeptalker catches up. I know he's feeling really twisted about it, but like I said, he asked for it.

I left around nine without saying anything to him, went for another beer and to the Cloisters, luckily making it between downpours.

I haven't written about the Gypsy Boy although I've been seeing him for months. He and his cat make the Cloisters their home. Yes, he has a cat, a handsome ginger fellow. At first I felt sorry for the cat. The Gypsy has a bicycle with a wire basket which is the cat's home on wheels, but at the Cloisters the cat, leashed with a long string, is free to explore, chase bugs, and because the Gypsy sleeps on the floor, the cat is able to stretch out, cuddled close to his friend and master. No, no reason to feel sorry for the cat at all. Envy, perhaps.

241

Don't know why, there's no sun up in the sky, stormy weather ...

Since my man and I ain't together? No, we're together, at least in a fantasyland, most of the time (although even there, often with stormy weather). My concerns earlier in the month over how much of my independent life I was willing to surrender to him were legitimate ones and I suspect the conclusion I reached was in error. So I decided to make one of my major projects this week the attempt to regain control over my life and put greater distance between me and the Hacienda Boys.

I stayed at the Cloisters on Monday night. Tuesday morning the Sleeptalker arrived on campus with Rossini-2 in tow. He told me he doesn't like Rossini-2 but he can't stand being on his own, would rather hang out with someone he doesn't like than be stuck with just his own company. Rossini-2 was as big a boor in the game as he is in reality, started ordering me around and nagged when I refused to kowtow. Around noon, the Sleeptalker walked over and asked me if I had any smokes, was ranting loudly about the problems he was having in the game. Since I couldn't get him to lower his voice, I logged off and went outside with him. Rossini-2 came out as well. I said I was going snipe hunting and left them, went to Sinclair Library to play and didn't see either of them for the rest of the day.

Helen R and I went to see "Wizard of Oz" on Tuesday evening. The books are forever on my list of favorites and the film has the unchallenged number one spot in my heart. It was a great joy to see it on a large screen with a fine sound system. If I'd tried to come up with things which would make the latter part of my life more special, I couldn't have done better than a Dylan concert at UH and "Oz" on a big screen. What's left? Maybe better to leave it to Dame Fortune ...

I stayed at the hacienda, had found enough shopping carts to buy a Hurricane. Helen had been amused by the fact that I spent most of my first wages on food. Aside from three $2 bottles of beer and a pack of cheap cigarettes, it all went on food. It was such a luxury to just walk into the cafe across from Hamilton Library and buy lunch, dinner, even indulge in 88-cent cups of morning coffee. Not for the first time I thought, ah, if only you survive until Social Security, life will be like this every day and you won't even have to assemble sushi for it.

Mondo was at the hacienda, walked over to greet me, drank half the beer and smoked half of my box of shorts, then went back to his bench by Rossini. I tried to convince myself I had enjoyed his company, even for that brief time, enough to justify sharing the bounty from that boring hunt for carts and cigarette butts. I really tried.

The Sleeptalker didn't show up. He recently had a clash with the man who opens the place in the morning, had responded with his usual "fuck you" when the man appeared and told everyone it was time to wake up. The last time I saw the Sleeptalker there, he started talking about it and the Big Local Dude said the man had talked to him about it, the BLD had said sorry, he wasn't responsible for the people who slept there, but told the Sleeptalker he should chill out. Look at him, he said, referring to me. He's been staying here longer than any of you, never makes trouble, keeps his area clean and is out of here long before the wake-up man appears. It wasn't very helpful, I fear, holding me up as example to the Sleeptalker. Apparently he had another clash with the man on a recent night when I hadn't been there, so may have decided to take up residence elsewhere, not entirely by choice.

That was my only night at the hacienda, the others have been spent quietly at the cloisters. Once the money was gone, I caught the bus to the mall each morning for senior coffee, a shave and a wash, then back on the bus to campus, a routine I wouldn't follow if there were a convenient place near the cloisters for senior coffee, especially since I made a most welcome discovery on campus this week. There is one men's room with hot water! Ah, the luxury. Since the unceasing drizzle and downpours have made showers in the park very inconvenient, it's especially fine of Dame Fortune to have guided my steps to that little-used place of hot running water.

On Wednesday the Sleeptalker had thrown one tantrum after another in the game, one of them so unpleasant I took a break so as not to hear any more of it. Then he asked me to get him a piece of armor. Getting it involves locating and killing a dragon. It's a bit of a wimp as dragons go but resides in a random area which can't be mapped. You just have to keep plugging away in a general southwesterly direction until you stumble into his underwater cave. The Sleeptalker is too impatient for such endeavors. So I went to get it for him and, like the last time, my reward was a repeat of his smart-assed move intended to cause me delay. What he didn't know was that it's no longer a matter of necessity, just luxury, since I have the powers now to achieve the same thing. But I was thoroughly pissed off with him, told him not to expect me to fetch things for him again. He flew into a rage, I walked off, again going to Sinclair to play, and I haven't spoken to him since.

Wednesday was an alcohol-free day and by midday on Thursday I was walking around with the thought of beer foremost in my mind. Tomita-san didn't appear at the Garden and Bryant said he hadn't been there for several weeks, so my best chance at a free beer was gone. I told myself to just forget about it, be content knowing I'd have a bottle of Hurricane after Friday evening in the kitchen. After a round of ashtrays in the late afternoon which, as every day this week, involved several long waits under shelter for downpours to shift to drizzle, I went back to the library and Flash was there.

Maybe Flash isn't the right nickname for him, in fact I am sure it isn't and will change it when I can come up with a better one. He's an incredibly sexy young black man, a regular at the Garden and one I've missed a lot. He said he and some friends were going to the usual Thursday evening karaoke evening there and that I should join them. Broke, I told him, no can do, maybe next week. He spoke the magic words, "I'll buy you a beer, come on over."

What a delightful evening, despite the karaoke. Flash is so damned sexy and handsome, he has young ladies falling over him constantly, at one point was slightly dismayed because three of his favorites were there at the same time, all the while giving the eye to one he doesn't (yet) know. One of his friends was also a handsome hunk and I was happily at the end of the table between him and Flash, their young ladies on the other side of them. The friend bought me a second jug of beer. Died and gone to heaven.

I returned briefly to the library. The Sleeptalker started giving me a hard time in the game, I made some sharp replies and he quit. Such a brat, that lad. But I was right, his behavior in the game seriously tarnishes his Prince Charming image, even if he has shaved and looks once again more like the sweet young man I first fell in love with.

I played for awhile after he left, but in the 40-level range the game requires a great deal of patience (explaining why the Sleeptalker is still stuck, now nine levels below me) and when slightly buzzed from two large beers, I'm not much better than he is at playing it safe, so I quit and waited for the downpour to stop outside before walking to the cloisters and curling up on my little bench, the Gypsy Boy and his ginger cat nearby. Life, and the rain, goes on, within and without you ...

241a

Reting the Avatar. Reting Rimpoche would no doubt smile if he were still around to know of it.

242

Unless you really know me, and I don't think anyone (including myself) really does, you can't appreciate the pleasure it was to achieve the title of Reting the Avatar in Seventh Circle.

Reting Rimpoche got a raw deal from the Tibetan Buddhists, so far as I can determine. He discovered the present Dalai Lama. That gentleman, we are told, once asked Reting if he'd ever doubted his choice. Reting said no. I'm not so sure.

Reting Rimpoche died in a Lhasa prison, despite the Dalai Lama's orders that he be well looked after. Was he murdered or did he commit suicide? The Tibetan Buddhist community, including the Dalai Lama, won't tell us. Humbug. They've strayed as far from Gautama as the "Christian" churches have strayed from Jesus.

"Organized religion" sucks. It sucks so huge it's beyond comprehension.

There is no "religion" on this planet worth respect any more and so what to do? Listen to Voltaire perhaps? I think I'll buy a copy of Candide again. All's for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

243

Despite, or maybe partly because of, a much longer sleep than usual, I felt utterly exhausted, depressed and drained on Tuesday morning, was very happy the sun was shining. I left campus fairly early on Monday evening, walked downhill and told the Boss I just couldn't do that job any more. The original offer had been the evening shifts on Friday and Sunday. Maybe if it had stayed that way, I might have stuck it out awhile longer, but another employee quit and he asked me to work all weekend as well, lunch and dinner shifts. Saturday was just awful, I've never worked so hard for so little money and for such a difficult man. When customers arrived, he'd get almost hysterical. When no one was there, he'd walk around picking up the plates off the belt, constantly complaining there was either too much or too little stuffing on those wretched pieces of sushi. I'll never eat the crap again, no way no how.

At one point he picked up a magic marker and started to write my schedule on a board. Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon, Tue ... whooooaaaa, wait one minute. Not working every night. He practically begged me to do Wednesday nights, so I agreed. Then as I was getting ready to leave the Sunday lunch shift, I said he'd see him later and he said, oh no, you're just working lunch on Sundays. Say what? I went to buy a Hurricane, realized he had actually shortchanged me on the meagre wages for that shift, went to the secluded grove and glowered. All evening and for most of Monday I couldn't think of much besides that wretched job and how stupid I was to be working for beer and cigarettes.

And I couldn't eat. Unlike the initial experience of spending most of the earnings on food, the more extended time in that kitchen just put me completely off food. I had hotcakes with my senior coffee each morning but that was all I ate for three days, stayed fairly drunk throughout the weekend in order to get through those hours of rice, seaweed and fish.

Finally I decided I just wasn't going to do it anymore.