Bobby carries a unique sense of self that functions independently of the rest of me.
His job was to figure out how to survive into adulthood.
To survive, Bobby had to hide his intellect.
He adopted a thick geechie accent.
He was tough and not afraid of his Mother.
His goal was to get away from her and his first strategy was to force a psychiatrist to commit him.
He decided that he would use the systems lies about “queers” to his advantage.
But he wasn’t prepared for how the ‘system’ treated ‘queers’ in
“One day I found a book called, “By Reason of Insanity.
It was all about this guy who goes crazy and kills his wife.
He is sent to the loony bin so he can go sane and stand trial for murder.
Most of the book was about the people he meets in the hospital.
Some of the people scream and see things that ain’t there.
But the hospital also had food and schools.
I thought hell, check it out!
I got Grandma to convince Momma to take me to see a shrink.
I said I had a “Three Faces of Eve” thing goin’ on, an at that time, I thought I was telling a lie.
Grandma called Momma right away an Momma jumped.
The psychiatrist Momma took me to was scrawny.
He looked like Mr. Spock from “Star Trek”: “Is there anything you’d like to tell me about yourself, bobby.”
“Yeh–I think I’m queer.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Well–” I looked up at him and blushed, “I think about boys when I-you know.”
And that got me sent up.
The shrink told Momma that I needed to go to the state hospital for “observation.”
I got all excited since that seemed almost as good as going to New York.
The hospital had a place for kids.
It was a tall red brick building with locks on every door.
When Momma an’ me got there, Momma suddenly got very polite, and she gave me permission to smoke.
When the doctor came to meet us, she acted all scared, like she was talking to Grandma.
“Ya’all treat my baby good!” she cried.
Then she called me darling, and left.
This hospital was nothing like the one in my book.
It was all shiny inside and Muzac played all day long through little loudspeakers in the ceiling.
Everyone looked numb.
I made friends with this other queer who was a year older than me.
He was a rich kid who went on and on about how he hoped the doctors could turn him straight.
Here I was, fifteen and already out.
I thought this kid was crazy and said so!
“Listen!” I said, “That ain’t never gonna happen. So get over it!”
Well he hauled off and slapped me!
Then he got so upset about slapping me he started to cry.
A nurse came over to give him some pills.
She gave me an evil look.
Like I had picked up that boy’s hand and slapped myself!
I thought she’d like me better if she had to give me some pills, so I asked for some.
“Why do you think you need medication, Bobby?”
“I think I’m seein’ people that ain’t really there.”
“Be sure you tell that to your doctor.”
“Tell me a little something about your childhood.” the doctor said.
“Well it ain’t over yet!” I said.
“True enough.” he smiled. “Why do you think you’re here?”
“I guess ’cause I’m queer.” I answered. “Howcum you ain’t got no people screamin’ around here?”
He smiled again. “Do you feel like screaming?”
That shrink really thought I was crazy.
Now I knew I wasn’t, but I reminded myself that for these folks, queer was the same thing.
When Momma came to visit she always put on the good behavior that she wore for Grandma.
I said, “Momma! These people gonna do some kinda shock treatment on me!”
“They’ll do what they can to make you better.” she said. “I hope you’re smokin’ like I said you could.”
I was in deep water for screwing that rich kid.
A month passed.
“Whut if yew had relations with a man an’ caught the clap in yore mouth?” The social worker asked me one day, like I already had it.
“You can get that from eatin’ pussy!” I said, “Why don’t you people calm down an’ let me go home?”
That rich kid told me all about the therapy the doctors was doing on him.
“First, they strap you inna chair with your weenie hanging out. Then they put glue on it and stick wires to it. Then they show you pictures of hot dudes an’ shock the piss outta you if you so much as sigh!”
Now, Momma had to understand how bad that was!
“Lissen up!” I said at her next visit. “These shrinks is gonna “lectrocute me!”
“They say they only use a lil’ “lectricity, darlin’.”
“And how would you like it if every time you sat onna barstool some one zapped you off?”
Momma got that dark look she always got when she wanted to hit me.
“Have a little respect for your Momma!” She said in a tight but polite tone of voice.
“Do you want Bobby to be a hama-sect-ual?” The shrink asked Momma at the treatment meeting.
“He was always a tad girlish, but I have always maintained that it is important for men to be men.
“Let em fry my dick off, ” I said, “see what kind of man I’ll be then!”
“The shrink ignored me.
“I think that Bobby can be cured. These deviant behaviors are not set until adulthood.”
“But I don’t wanna get cured!” I said. “I ain’t got nothin’ to cure!
I glared at Momma.
She sat there like the best little girl in the world.
Then I knew what I had to do.
“Momma! You let this fool shock me an’ I’ll call Grandma and tell her all about you. Every. Thing.”
She looked down and twisted her wedding ring.
Then she looked up at the doctor with such wide, innocent looking brown eyes:
“I do want what’s best for Bobby. But it’s such a big decision! I think I should consult with his Father first.”
(c) Rob Goldstein 1985-2018
My best friend Kit was a bit of a twit before he got sick, but
he was brilliant and passionate about gay liberation.
Our friendship was based on mutual geekiness.
Kit tinkered with a Mac or a Tandy while I wrote poetry and
listened to Pattie Smith through my headphones.
It was the third year of the AIDS epidemic.
Kit opened his backpack and pulled out a small computer.
It looked like a large calculator.
Kit said that HIV had not infected all gay men.
He suspected that HIV was sexually transmitted, but at that
time no one was certain.
We both knew many men who had died and even more who were sick.
Kit wanted to know what they had in common.
He questioned a small sampling of men and now he questioned me.
I hate needles.
They smell like dirty feet.
I don’t drink.
Then Kit asked me about sex.
Most of it’s icky, I replied.
Kit turned the computer around and showed me a bell curve.
It peaked in the late 1980s and declined in the 1990’s.
Kit said that what looked like new infections were actually
old ones that had advanced to end stage AIDS.
He explained that the virus had already infected most of the men in our age group who were going to die and that as they died the cases in our age group would drop.
Kit said that I would live and he would die.
Two years later Kit was diagnosed with AIDS and two years after that he died.
Kit took his own life when AIDS took his eyesight.
He had survived three bouts of Pneumocystis.
His skin was covered with Kaposi’s lesions and the lesions invaded his internal organs.
The last time I saw Kit I took his hand and told him that I was
going to miss him.
He replied that he loved me so much he’d haunt me.
We laughed together one last time and said goodbye.
Kit had introduced me to Billie Holiday.
He said that she sang from her soul.
This song is for Kit:
New drugs and quicker testing have reduced some of the worst
symptoms of HIV, but the gay contingent of My Generation is
still dying in droves.
I check out a bar called ‘The Transfer’ and watch a bored
stoner fan dance to old disco and move on to a bar called
The ‘Badlands’ is almost empty.
I order a beer and take a seat by the pool table to watch a
group of boys play.
They play badly and grin when they see me watching: the
handsome butch daddy with a mustache, a queen who can
play a mean game of pool.
I smile and raise my beer as an elderly drunk stumbles out
of the toilet and staggers toward the pool table.
He waves to the boys and plops himself in the seat next
“Drinkin a beer eh? Wannanother beer?” His breath stinks
of tobacco and stale beer.
I politely decline and the guy blows up; he wags his finger at
me and snaps loudly:
“Take a good look at me, Miss Thing! This is you in ten years!”
I find it noteworthy that he assumes I will still be alive.
(c) Rob Goldstein 1992-2018