Inexhaustible Needs, Undefinable Aches
INEXHAUSTIBLE NEEDS, UNDEFINABLE ACHES
1. Mike's Ad
Attractive, intelligent male, 21, seeks young (16-20) goodlooking, masculine friend and companion with whom the process of living can become truth. Occupant, Box 27, Belle Harbor, N.Y. 11694
-- The East Village Other
July 25, 1969
2. Kevin's Journal
8/3/69: Mike called me and asked if I wanted to have lunch with him. We ate at the Lakewood Queen (no remarks, please!). We drove around for a while. We played an interesting game: put "under the sheets" after the title of any song. It really works. I like Mike. Do I love him? I don't think so.... Not yet, anyway. We discussed politics (he's still a Kennedy fan even after the accident), music (he has a Simon & Garfunkel obsession), everything but sex. Why am I so inhibited?
8/5/69: I called Mike. We were on the telephone all night. We rapped about machines and school and vices and religion. He says he's going to New Orleans this Sunday. He'll be gone for two weeks. This kind of depressed me.
8/7/69: Mike called me and asked me out to an early dinner. I was exhausted but I didn't want to miss the chance for company. We went to the deli. Our water, St. Louis Blugerman Shakespen, was a real nut -- a taxi-driver, producer, director, author, comedian, philosopher. We had a lot of fun and he gave us his business card. Mike and I drove around and talked about sex. He says he's been with a different person every night for the last two weeks. This kind of scared me. Mike says I'm more screwed up about sex than anyone he's ever met. He said when he gets back from New Orleans I should act out my fantasies with him. This really scared me.
* * *
11/8/69: I called Mike from the store, thinking about lunch. He sounded very hung over. "A typical Friday night," he called it. He told me to come by at three for coffee, but I declined, as I didn't feel like waiting in the city until then.
11/20/69: Mom let me take the car to school this morning. I passed Mike's family's house. His car was parked outside.
11/29/69: I met Carole from group at the college this morning. She feels I had courage to quit Dr. Milton. She asked if I ever see Mike, and I said only occasionally. Later I called him. He had company and promised to call later in the week. His cryptic replies can be rather infuriating.
12/4/69: Mike called after dinner and I hedged on a definite date for a visit. Now I'm sorry I did, but I do have a lot of schoolwork to get done.
3. Mike's Letters
2 January 1971
Dear Kevin --
Let me begin for thanking you for your Christmas greetings. I was surprised to hear from you after the long gap in communication.
This letter isn't meant to be a formal thank-you note. I started writing to you about four times and each time had second thoughts because I knew that I would say just what I'm going to say now, and it's not easy to write about without getting sloppy.
I seem to have a talent for frightening you. From the first phone conversation to our last meeting, I always felt your apprehension. And this always dismayed me because the only thing I really wanted was to be your friend. When you asked me not to call again, my first impulse was to think that your psychiatrist told you that association with people like myself would be detrimental. You know, of course, that I never tried to influence your sexual orientation, nor would I ever. If our conversation tended to be restricted to topics too personal, I apologize for whatever part I played in it. And I apologize again if this letter is too personal or too frightening.
It is impossible, rightly, to define the conditions of friendship -- the wandering and inexhaustible need to be of use, somehow to help. I wish that, if for no other reason than the fact that we are both human, you would rethink some of the things which motivated you to refuse my friendship, and be my friend again. I knew this would get sloppy.
Anyway, Kevin, my address remains the same, and if you ever feel motivated to write to me, please do not hesitate. My phone number, as you will remember from the last time we spoke, during the Second Punic War, is 793-9976.
Whatever you decide, I wish you every success in the new year and in the years to come.
* * *
9 January 1971
Dear Kevin --
There have been few things in my life that have made me so happy as your letter. For some time I had entertained the fear that we could no longer pursue any kind of mutually beneficial relationship together, but your letter has convinced me that I was wrong.
I am very, very honored that you consider me worthy of dedicating a book to. Whether it is ultimately published or not, you have left me with an abiding faith in the possibilities for our growth. I cannot thank you enough.
To the extent that your activities on campus involve you and give you a feeling of achievement, they interest me (contrary to what you thought). And I'm not as convinced as you are that nothing can develop between you and the girl who loves you. From time to time I have been very involved, spiritually and physically, with various females. Relax and enjoy the "infinite variety" of people around you.
I tend to share your optimism about the coming year. There are many things we may share, and they can be limited by nothing less than our belief in the goodness of life.
The official City College exam week is 1/18-1/22. Perhaps we can get together shortly thereafter. I want, more than ever, to see you and talk to you and be with you again.
Again, thank you for thinking of me. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
4. Another Ad
Male, 28, lean, handsome, honest, good company, looking for a younger counterpart who is unafraid to love. Mike, Box 231, Chelsea Station, New York, New York 10011.
-- The Village Voice
September 16, 1976
5. Kevin's Letter
Dear Mike Cornell,
If you are not Mike Cornell, you needn't bother to read this letter. I am not replying to your ad per se. And if you are Mike Cornell, you will know that I cannot be replying to your ad because I do not fit your qualifications: for I am, have been, and probably always will be afraid of love.
I'm not sure you remember me. It was the summer of '69 when we knew each other, following another ad you placed. I answered it, and we saw each other a few times. Oh, I suppose you remember me, but last winter I stood next to you on the same step of an escalator at the Paramount movie theater at Columbus Circle after the movie Smile ended, and though you looked right at me, you obviously didn't know who I was. Probably I should have said something, but you were with another guy and a little boy and in the short tie I could not think of what to say.
You might be interested to know what has happened to me. (If you're not Mike Cornell, please don't bother reading this.) Actually, I picked up the Voice today during a boring faculty meeting and that's when I noticed your ad. I'm so sure it's you. Yes, I'm a stuffy old academician by now -- in other words, a part-time adjunct. But I love every minute of teaching. And I did finally become a writer. I've had stories published in lots of magazines nobody has ever heard of. I'm gaining, someone told me recently, "a small reputation," which is about right, given what little talent I have. By the way, one of my published stories was about you.
Personally, I've grown, I suppose -- although physically I'm still the same height I was in '69; perhaps I'm a little paunchier. Along the way I've picked up a doctorate, a few lovers, some wonderful friends and some very nice memories. I think I like my life. You may be gratified to learn that I'm not neurotic anymore (you always held that I never was).
I wish you good things, Mike, and I hope you find what you're looking for when you open up your post office box; obviously, this blast from the past isn't it. And if by chance you are not Mike Cornell, ignore this letter as the rantings of a superfluous man.
6. Mike's Letter
26 September 1976
Dear Kevin --
I'm sunned. Seven bloody years since we first communicated. I still have your first letter.
I am glad to hear you're doing so well in your field but disappointed that you didn't get very far from home.
Obviously I am not yet complete, as the Village Voice ad attests. But life has been gentle with me, and I am grateful for small pleasures and old friends.
I'd like to fill in some of the gaps since the summer of '69. Will you call? My phone is
793-9976; weekday evenings before 9 P.M. are best, pot luck other times with my answering service. I'd really like to talk with you.
Whatever prompted you to write a story about me?
I'm glad you took the million-to-one shot that the ad was mine. Please keep in touch.
P.S. I didn't know you were afraid of love. I thought you were afraid of me.
7. A Phone Conversation, Weeks Later
-- Hello, Kevin?
-- Yeah, who's this?
-- It's Mike, who else doesn't give his name? You sound out of breath.
-- Oh, it's nothing. Just sit-ups.
-- Sit-ups? What brought that on?
-- Oh, I just got into the mood, you know?
-- Not really. So: how'd the date go?
-- With that guy whose ad you answered.
-- It didn't. Remember, I only did it on your advice. I drove all the way out to Staten Island and I meet this guy at the parking lot of the Holiday Inn.
-- A romantic spot.
-- Very. When I first saw him.... I knew him right away because he had a white car with one green door....I knew it was a mistake. He probably didn't like the way I looked, either. But we were there and we had to go through the formalities.
-- Too bad.
-- Big deal. He had me follow him to his house, which was.... God, I had no idea Staten Island went that far out.... I mean, we must have driven miles, on dirt roads yet. And there were bats by his house. He introduced me to his mother and the dog jumped up and down on me. Or was it the other way around?
-- Well, we sat in his office for a while. He has this soundproof room in the basement with a real blackboard and a steel desk and I sat in a black reclining chair. It was like being in an accountant's office, for Christ sakes. Especially with all those accounting books.
-- So you were disappointed? I'm really sorry.
-- No, it wasn't that bad. I learned a lot about the balance of payments and the GNP and I got some great tips on handling my tax returns. He said I should be careful to keep records of all the money I spend on paper, xerox, postage.... for my writing.
-- Yeah, it's a write-off, sure. Of course you don't make any money from it yet.
-- That's true.
-- So. now are you going to listen to me and place your own ad?
-- I don't think so, Mike.
-- Why not?
-- For Christ sakes, Mike, what's wrong with meeting people the normal way, through work or through friends or on the streets?
-- You met me through an ad.
-- You're the only one.
-- I just don't think you should let one bad experience sour you. You see, if you place the ad, then you've got your choice of dozens of people.
-- I can't afford it.
-- Look, I'll lend you the money.
-- Neither a borrower or a lender be, that's what I always say.
-- That's very original, Kev.
-- All the really important people in my life I met by accident. My first girlfriend I met when we ran for student government together. I met Ronna through my first girlfriend. I met Ted in someone's hospital room. I don't know. For some reason you seem to think I' this waif who needs your assistance. Michael, I am not eighteen years old.
-- But you're unhappy.
-- I'm not unhappy.
-- Come on, you're not seeing anyone right now. You're not involved in a relationship.
-- Because I want it that way, obviously. Listen, do you want to hear how I spent today? I went to a movie uptown by myself, I took myself out to a nice lunch, I walked around....and I liked being alone. And it's not that "protest too much" stuff, either.
-- I don't believe you.
-- So don't believe me. Look, I'm a writer, I need to cultivate solitude. My moments alone are very important to me. But it's also nice to have a warm body next to you, I know that. Only not all the time.
-- But you don't have one ever.
-- Listen: I am not some neurotic kid anymore. I operate on the principle of, if I want something, I go after it. You said you were glad I'm not neurotic.
-- I still remember that letter you wrote answering my ad. It started off: "I am an eighteen-year-old neurotic." I still have it, you know.
-- You know, Mike....oh, I shouldn't tell you this.
-- Come on.
-- No, it'll only make you mad.
-- No, I want to hear it.
-- Well...okay....You know, three weeks ago, after I left your apartment...I sort of felt, well, relieved, that we'd...that we didn't get involved really heavily.
-- See, you are mad.
-- No. Listen, I'm not going to come through the receiver and murder you with an axe. There are twenty miles of telephone cables between us. I swear to you. How come you feel that way?
-- It's just that...I don't know....I was so impressionable then. And I might've taken on your personality. Look, I was a tabula rasa then, I was phobic, I was scared shitless, and not just of sex.
-- I know that. That summer I saw something very fine in you. You reminded me of me, and that's why I was so crazy about you.
-- What? I never knew you were "crazy about me." That's weird. You were so experienced, so worldly, you frightened me.
-- But, Kevin, I wasn't. I was one step, maybe half a step, ahead of you.
-- I know that now. But I didn't then. You wanted me to be your protege. I almost think you still do. But you were doing...or would have done, exactly what my parents did, overprotect me. I'm glad I found my own way, with sex, with everything.
-- I asked you to have sex with me twice, and as I hoped you would, you refused. I knew you weren't ready.
-- But you were having sex with a different person every night.
-- Sure, that's what I told you. Do you know, Kevin, I'm twenty-eight years old and I can count the people I've had sex with on the fingers of my two hands.
-- Then you lied. Why did you do that?
-- I thought it was the best way to handle you. If I had come on not so experienced myself, it would have just confused you. You needed someone strong then.
-- No. Oh, God, don't you see? If I had known you were only a little less confused and more experienced than me, then....I don't know. All this time I thought I was just a diversion. I didn't know you were "crazy about me." I thought I was a diversion.
-- A diversion? Why would I spend time with you then?
-- You were being a social worker, I guess. You felt sorry for me.
-- It's more than that, Kevin. You reflected me. Oh, God....
-- Still, I don't have any regrets. You gave me a lot.
-- But I didn't know that until three weeks ago.
-- Don't you see, Mike, for me, our relationship, the little it was, that was a very intense relationship. As intense as I could have handled at that point. Did you know I quit my first shrink because of you, because of what you said? I lied to him and told him I was sleeping with you.
-- Psychiatrists are used to being lied to.
-- Over the summer I even wrote him a letter about you.
-- Why the hell didn't you tell me these things?
-- Oh, I don't know, I thought I'd be making a fool of myself. You had all those other people, I thought....But you didn't.
-- But I tried to be what you needed, an activist.
-- All right. Let's forget it. Anyway, you don't have to play father figure to me now.
-- I'm only trying to be your friend. I know you've had all these failed affairs....
-- Who said they failed?
-- They ended, didn't they?
-- What does one thing have to do with the other? Oh, Mike, it doesn't have to be forever to be a success.
-- I want forever.
-- Good luck.
-- Some time shouldn't it be forever?
-- I don't know. It isn't easy, homosexual or heterosexual.
-- Four months. That's the average of a homosexual relationship.
-- I'm sure with heterosexuals it's less than it used to be, too. Look at the divorce rate. But that doesn't negate past relationships. Everyone I've loved...and I've been in love two, three, maybe three-and-a-half times...
-- Me, too.
-- You're kidding. No, you're not. But, look at it, my last girlfriend, she's in another state, she doesn't write me. When she called me the night before she went away to grad school -- we broke up two years ago -- I told her how I wished her good things and I said, "Have a good life." And she said, "No, don't say that, we'll be seeing each other. I'll write, I'll see you at Christmas." I knew that wasn't going to happen.
-- But, Kevin, she wanted to believe it. She needed to at that moment.
-- Exactly. And I still love her a lot. And my first girlfriend. And I'll love you forever, too.
-- But the pain.
-- Oh, fuck the pain. So what? The pain was worth it. I'd do it over again, knowing I'd go through the pain. What does length of time matter? I don't care about the length...
-- That's not what I heard.
-- Yeah, right. Look, Mike, you know me well enough to know I'm not exactly a one-night stand person. Yet sometimes one night can last you a year, especially if you play your cards right.
-- Emotionally, too. Look, I was at a party the other night. A woman in her late fifties got very drunk and started telling me all these very intimate things. Her husband left her three years ago. But two weeks before he did, he came back into the house after leaving for work one morning, just said, "I love you" and then left for work again. And he was already screwing the other woman. But this woman said to me, "It was all worth it for that one moment."
-- She's an asshole. Or she was drunk. Eventually you get so tired of the pain. Look, I'm in a relationship now, Kev, with this sixteen-year-old boy I told you about. Danny. It's delightful, it's the most fantastic....But how long can it last? I can't ask him to give up his youth for me and I know it, and I've got to protect myself, that's why I placed the last ad.
-- You've been hurt?
-- So have I, Mike. So has everybody. So what do we do? We go home, feed the cats, take a Librium or smoke a joint, take a hot bath, watch some TV. If you hear of a better answer, call me.
-- I'll wire you.
-- If I do, I'll call you first. Maybe second. You'll be in my top five.
-- But the itch, Kevin. I know you feel it too. The itch that no one can scratch.
-- You're telling me, I finally got chicken pox last year.
-- And you finally find the one person who can scratch it and what happens? It ends. And then it itches so much worse.
-- I took baths with this stuff called Aveeno, that seemed to help. But no, you don't get over that. I'm not sure I want to. I like itching.
-- I'm getting older. I'm going to be thirty. I've got lines under my eyes and....
-- You fags. I want to get old and look distinguished. I want all these wrinkles like Lillian Hellman. Or Auden. Have you ever seen that picture of his face? I'm sick of being twenty-five and being mistaken for a teenager.
-- You'll feel differently, Kevin.
-- Maybe. But I think I'm going to make one hell of an old man. At least I'll be a better old man than I was a teenager.
-- You can't do anything about the past now.
-- No. Maybe. There's a crack in my ceiling I just noticed.
-- Well, in my building I have people who take care of that, but I can't help you.
-- Look, Kevin, I've got to get off. I've got to feed my cats, take Librium and a bath and watch television.
-- Okay, Mike. Take care. I'll be speaking to you.
-- Take care, Mike.
Copyright © 2001 Richard Grayson