Back Then, Ignorance Was De Rigueur

At the end of the 60’s and carrying into the 70’s there still seemed a deep-rooted sentiment: if it’s none of your business, then keep your nose out of it.  Which seemed to work fine for most people.  Of course every neighborhood had its busybody, just as it had its grouchy-keep-off-my-grass-senior-citizen, and bubble-gum-snapping-younger-than-her-bosom-suggests-daughter-of-a-longshoreman.  But by-and-large, if it didn’t directly involve you then you were commanded to stay-out-of-it.  And woe be the kids with clumsy feet: too inattentive or naive to jump when they spot trouble; or those nearest the melee when it explodes, or the small-fry-wanna-be whose taunts often ignite newly produced testosterone because they all will be hauled to the principal’s office for punishment followed by the famous litany of idiotic parental rhetoric: “. . .well, if he jumped off. . .;” “If I’ve told you once. . .;” and the classic “I  could see those <insert surname  here> boys were trouble. . .”   But the message was always the same: mind your own business.

Now, that’s not to say there was a lack of dinner-table rumor-mongering, my mother usually updating us on the goings-on of the neighborhood.  But, if the rumor was rated PG-13 and above, we were given the briefest synopsis, censored beyond recognition, devoid of any example of debauchery, infidelity, or any despicable acts whether or not the “I’m-not-naming-names-neighbor-three-doors-down” was perpetrator or victim.  My mother’s talent for omission was legendary, but her dinner-table-abridging offered very little by way of a storyline, but witnessing her agility at avoiding incriminating details while maintaining a conversational tone was so entertaining that my older brother wanted to call the Watergate crew and offer them her secret of how-to skirt the truth and avoid prison for perjury.  He said he tried but was told they don’t take messages for inmates.

But even spreading gossip was considered a breach of social convention and was practiced with the highest degree of discretion.  I overheard my mother talking on the phone about Mrs. Bowers and her recent loose-lipped huddle at Kroger’s with Mrs. Hanson about boys, booze, broads and a bathtub: to Mrs. Bowers chagrin the broad and bathtub belonged to Mrs. Hanson.  Right there in aisle 5-A Mrs. Hanson’s strong upper lip began to quiver and like a mudslide, her conviction simply gave-way taking her sand-bagged courage with it and Mrs. Hanson dropped to the floor as if someone had cut her marionette strings.

Back then the message was loud and clear: keep your mouth shut! 

And I suppose it was that exact 1960’s deflection of responsibility, respect for authority, and absolute ignorance of any activity which happened outside the euphemistic “four walls” of our family (and home) that created a vacuum of moral accountability.  This social ignorance was the fertile ground from which victims sprouted already marinated in the tenets of civic propriety: keep your mouth shut and mind your own business.  Now add a new genus of Catholic leadership: an indubitable, irrefutable and influential priest whose intentions, if questioned, are defended rigorously by the diocesan hierarchy.  These two social renunciations: bewilderment on the part of the parents and blindness on the part of the Catholic Church created the perfect playground for sexual predators that mocked piety and disgraced through indignity and malice, the Christian image of the protector of children.

We had a predatory priest back in Catholic grade school.  As a pedophile he’d developed quite a reputation and a skillful set of traps which left little, if any scars, except those which appeared years later.  He developed a certain degree of notoriety: A staggering example of the decades-long failure of the Church’s treatment (reflection and counseling) resulting in reassignment or perhaps the estimated number of casualties he produced (across generations in one family).  His ecclesiastic devotion was a stark contrast to his budding reputation as “overly affectionate” or “physical with boys beyond acceptable behavior” so the Arch Diocese of Milwaukee continued to pry his paws away from parishioners at one church (akin to “running him out of town”).

He was hurried over to a safe house for an overhaul: counseling, hand-slapping, celibate reminders, penitence, forgiveness, and then off to some R & R (restoration & repair), placed back into the deck, reshuffled, and dealt to an ignorant congregation of affable and duteous parents who’d bred reverent and obedient children.  Some devote parishioners believed that the affection of a doting priest was reserved for the innocent of the innocents, were venerated by God and anointed (via the local messenger, i.e. priest) with an extra helping of divinity.  I remember hearing that some devoted parents would volunteer their children’s time to vocational pursuits i.e. ironing vestments, vacuuming sacristies, opening the weekly offering envelopes, in order to maintain proximity to the priest should a divine message be received.  But back then, back in 1969, that’s how Catholics behaved because they were taught that a priest was called by God to act as emissary here on earth; and the most important (mysterious, and grossly misunderstood) tenet of a priest’s appointment was his unconditional vow of celibacy (the state of being unmarried and, therefore, sexually abstinent).

And that presumption, that priest’s were not sexual, was the perfect degree of insulation these priest’s and their superiors needed to stave off accusations of impropriety brought to the diocese.  And here’s the revelation:  No matter how impassioned, no matter how unthinkable the alleged violations seemed, no matter that these abominations were reruns from previous parishes, the victim, a child, with nothing to gain (and so much to lose) were often suspect!  First by the parents, then the parish leaders, then when facing the priest in his rectory, and then, if pursued, again face-off with highly respected and very suspicious diocesan officials and the priest (whose interest and adorations became manipulative, threatening, painful episodes and were so outrageous and impossible to prove, that the only logical and least damaging conclusion anyone with any sense could draw:  the child is  exaggerating, misconstruing, or unintentionally and without malice positioned themselves near the priest and misunderstood their physical contact as egregious.

And frankly I don’t know which buckled first: The highly improbable assertion that a child repeatedly seduced a religious official vowed to celibacy or the unquestionable devotion of generations to the Catholic Church (the age-old collapse of a faith in God and a faith in the Godliness of men ordained by Him).  But what it took to shift the burden of proof from the victim (child) to the perpetrator (priest) was a departure from isolation and silence to community and conversation.  When adults decided that blind allegiance to any organization purely based on what that organization tells you to believe is, in and of itself, questionable, was when the fortified walls of some of the world’s oldest and most revered organizations began to weaken.

It’s not what we’re told by leaders (whether religious, political, corporate) that has the capacity to tear this world apart.  It’s what we believe that we’re told.  It’s not the children’s fault that the Catholic Church protected and permitted decades of sexual abuse.  It’s the adult’s fault (whether or not your the priest or the parent or the pope).  It’s an adult’s responsibility to question authority each and every time it violates freedom!

There isn’t one person on this planet that stands above repute.  Except, that is, perhaps the children.

As a Playwright: Notes & Excerpt from “Afterward”

Initially my focus was poetry: Simile and Metaphor; juxtaposition; possessing the “ear” to hear.  That is, to identify words not only by their meaning, but also how they sound when blended with their kin folk in the paragraph.  Some call it style: I was taught that it was called my voice.

I attended the only university that accepted me.  Good fortune (cousins twice removed to Serendipity and Veracity (both of which I mention in a couple of different posts) eventually led me to the Chancellor’s office, Dr. Warren Carrier, a contemporary poet, and my mentor for three years.  Through Warren I met esteemed poets such as William Stafford, Richard Hugo, Madeline DeFrees and Robert Bly.  I asked Warren, upon completion of my first publishable poem, “Do I have my voice now?”  With a quiet chuckle he replied, “Voice?  You’ve just begun to whisper.”

When I tired of poetry’s whittling, I turned to a genre which permitted a certain degree of gluttony:  Playwriting.  Since then I’ve written over a dozen full-length plays.  The following excerpts come from my latest play, “Afterward.”

A little about “Afterward:” it’s based on the premise that everything happens because of something else. In this case Joe is uncertain whether he loves Rene enough in order to continue their relationship; and Jeffrey, having recently dissolved a male menage trois is seeking desperately for a new relationship. It’s a play of parallels: Joe’s uncertainty of his long term relationship and Jeffrey’s uncertainty of his freedom. Yet both men’s angst often cross paths when they articulate that what each of them has is indeed what the other is seeking. And therein lies the conflict. How does someone argue his point free of his own emotion; or rather, can someone advise a close friend to stay where they are if, indeed, that is where they wish to be? I haven’t been able to write its conclusion because I haven’t quite lived the conclusion. There are a few elements which I have yet to introduce: Joe’s testosterone therapy which has increased his sexuality, and in turn, has brought his desire for men to the forefront. How does he explain this uncovered desire to Rene who has known him only as heterosexual? One would think that it would be simple: tell her. But what if Joe has met someone with whom he wishes to bed? With low testosterone your sex drive decreases and, harshly put, Rene was enough for him. Now that the testosterone is normal his sexual appetite has increased unleashing desires which Joe is unused to communicating. And more recently my experience with depression will undoubtably wind its way into the action. Perhaps Joe is on the verge of collapse? And like me, the perfect storm is brewing. Perhaps I should re-title the play “Convergence”.

Aristotle, the father of drama wrote about three unities: Time, Place and Action. He argued that a well made play should embrace these three unities. Time means all action takes place in real time: If the action starts at 8:00 pm and the action lasts 90 minutes, then the play should end at 9:30 pm; Place means all action occurs at the same location; Action means all characters involved in the play are seen on-stage. I don’t need to tell you that abiding by these three unities is no easy task. Action is the easiest to draft; Place is a bit more difficult; but Time! That is by far the most difficult. No ones life is so dramatic that you’d want to watch it, non-stop for 90 minutes. Except some good porn, I suppose. So the inherent problem with “Afterward” is that it MUST be overwritten in order to edit down to 90 minutes of solid drama. The beauty of Aristotle’s unities is that the life of the play lies squarely in the hand of the playwright. It is my responsibility to build, breakdown, build, breakdown, build, crescendo and conclude the most horrific or funny 90 minutes of the characters life. Which again, is no small feat.

JOE

I love Rene. I really, truly do. I love being with her. Touching her. I enjoy her smell. I enjoy her taste. It just seems as though it’s all become expected. Like you expect the door to open when you turn the handle. Like you expect
the light to go on when you throw the switch. It’s all become. . .routine. It’s become a routine. Expected. Except she’s not expecting. Not much anymore. I try all the same old tricks: stroking the inside of her arms, the lingering,
trailing kiss down her neck, the old, common jokes; rubbing her feet, drawing her bath; meeting her for lunch; glasses of wine in the garden; jewelry. We sit and too much time passes between us, too much silence.

JEFF

Silence is comfortable.

JOE

Is that what life becomes? Silent and comfortable? Silent and comfortable aren’t passionate. I remember years ago. . .maybe not even that long ago. . .when fights flared up between us like brush fires. . .hot, screaming, saying things we’d regret. . .painful, hurtful things. . .emotional jabs and punches. . .and then we’d lock each other up like exhausted boxers and throw sexual upper-cuts that landed us both on the floor. . .and all there was was brutality. . .clothes became obstacles, then torn, ripped. . .and we were coupling like animals and the same jabs and punches were thrown lower, thighs pushed open, panting and sweating and screaming. . .until we. . .together. . .at the same time…like trapeze artists flying through the air reaching, grabbing, clutching. . .and freshly embarrassed laughter tripped from our mouths and we both felt madly, deliciously, one, even though by then we had disengaged and fell next to each other and quiet washed over us like a crisp cotton sheet. That quiet was different than this silence. That quiet was a respite, an earned pause. This silence is deafening. This silence is stifling, full of humidity. The silence I hear now is the result of twenty years of conversation. As though we’ve heard it all before. As though we’ve already read this page, this chapter, this novel. Almost as though, predictably, we know how this will end. How can we know the ending? How can a love affair like ours have a predictable denouement? How in the world did we get here? Here has always been where I’ve always wanted to go, but now that I’m there I keep wondering. . .

JEFF

Wondering what’s over there? I can tell you what’s over there. I’m over there. Over there is lonely. You try to shore up the desperation you feel by humping strangers. . .ten different men in a week. . .but there’s no union. There’s the gaze, the dance, the drinks, the touch and rub and grope and zip and grind and suck and come. And it’s all madly, deliciously sexual. But there’s no investment. There’s no pain. There’s longing, but not the longing for what once was. There’s no memory. There’s not even hope. It’s started and ended in ten brief minutes and you’re now more of a stranger than when you walked in the door of the bar because you gave something so familiar to someone so unfamiliar.

JOE

So what’s a guy to do? How come once we get to where we thought we wanted to go the place looks strikingly different than the brochure? Where’s everything we’ve always been dreaming about? Where’s the cottage and the lake and the loons and the pine trees and the two-person row boat and the big fluffy bed and the sunset? How come I don’t see that? Christ, I love Rene. And isn’t love enough?

JEFF

Maybe you’ve gone away. Have you thought about that? Maybe you’ve gone away. It doesn’t sound to me like Rene has gone anywhere. It sounds to me like you have. Have you? Have you, Joe? Have you gone away?

JOE

I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe I have. Maybe. Maybe I should just masturbate more. Maybe that’s what I should do. Masturbate more. And don’t dare reduce this to the whole mid-life crisis thing. I’m past the mid-life crisis thing. My mid-life crisis is parked in the garage: Midnight blue, six cylinder six-speed, satellite radio equipped convertible. It turns heads. I smile on its behalf. That’s done.

Well, It’s Hard To Say

I have been remiss in posting as of late.  Life (as it did two years ago) became a stubborn child this past week; pouty; immobile until Thursday, when it threw one hell-of-a-tantrum causing wave after wave of disappointment.

Well actually this Life I’m referring to is someone else’s Life.  You might be asking yourself, “Now what-on-earth could T.M. be doing with someone else’s Life?”

I admit that our Lives were manufactured by the same tailor and seamstress, but I didn’t cavalierly grab any old Life from the rack as I dashed out the door only to realize my gaffe as I witnessed my animated hands deliver a precise punchline causing an eruption of laughter from the small, yet long-standing cadre of pals gathered near my bar stool.  Uh-Oh, I thought as I threw back a shot of Jaegermeister, I must’ve grabbed someone else’s life today with immediate regret.  I knew how ill-fitting this Life was, especially while sitting at a bar; what’s the chaser for Jaegermeister?  Pickled ham hocks!

No, it wasn’t like that.  It was more like Edward VIII turning to George VI and saying, “Your bloody stammer will not preclude my abdication!  It’s my bloody crown and I’ll do with it as I please!  When it’s yours, feel free to do as you please.”

So, what does the Gentlemen’s Guide to Etiquette say about “abdicating your Life?”

Blame Edna St. Vincent Millay

We’ve all had one.  Just one.  The One.  Not the one that got away.  And not the one that married your best friend.  And please. . .certainly not your first one.  This One is The One.  

You know which one is The One.  The One’s the one that heard your protestations yet felt your searing stare, your eyes glued to the sight, intent as though you were watching the final inning of a no-hitter, your mind recording in high-definition inch by baring inch of torso; the molting of cotton and denim; your appetite overflows the banks of friendship as The One, the object and the consort silently affirms your theft of privacy.  That’s The One:  A compatriot in what would become your benchmark of shame and crowning expression of tortuous affection.  The One was the only one to encourage betrayal of character as bond to be free of moral constraints and fuel your burgeoning obsession. 

The One for me was Steve.

We opened  the door  to the room in  the Super 8 Motel in  Davenport,  Iowa where tomorrow Steve and I would compete for first place in the National Forensic’s Tournament.   Both of us were nervous of course, but unlike Steve who was nervous about the tournament  I was as nervous as a newlywed when I spotted the king size bed hovering in the middle of the room like the Hindenburg.

“Well, here we are,” Steve said as he put his duffel bag on the floor and flopped on the bed.  I stood there aghast and slowly placed my coveted Tod’s Weekender on the stainless steel motel valet and stiffly sat on the edge of the bed.

” … at last …” I added, slowly turning to see him stretched out like a newly caught salmon, his bright colored belly slightly exposed under his polo.

“At last?”, he asked.

Realizing my blunder I quickly stood up and attempted to turn the conversation.  “You nervous?”

“Nervous?    What’s  there  to  be  nervous  about?    We’re  the  best  in  the  state  and tomorrow we’re going to be best in the nation.”

“You’re right,” I added weakly, fighting my desire to look at him on the bed.

“Are you?” he asked.

“Am I what?” I asked retreating into the small, secure confines of the bathroom.

“Nervous,” he called from the bed.

“Why would I be nervous when I’ve got a partner like you?”  I asked.

Steve appeared in the doorway looking at me in the mirror,  “Because you’re acting nervous,” he said walking up behind me, looking at me in the mirror, both my hands white knuckled on the faux marble vanity, the inches of warm air between us igniting and scalding my flanks. He looked directly into my eyes and I prayed that he couldn’t  see either my knees that had begun to buckle or the erection that had risen in my jeans.

“So I’m a little nervous,” I snapped “and you standing this close to me doesn’t  help.” I wanted to be able to easily assault his closeness as some latent homosexual thing, some calling his hand when it came to his masculinity, some assertion that he was coming on to me.  But I had already played that trump card on some ranger look-out station on a wooded rise called Belmont Mound.  I blubbered my homosexuality between shared swallows of apple schnapps, my conviction growing with the depletin liqueur.    He too, was drinking,  but  he kept his composure, acknowledging my confessions with tart, little babbles; all the while I wished he too, would expose his wrist and in some tribal custom, bind our lives. But instead I slept in the cool comfort of the toilet.

Then I made the mistake of looking back at the bed.  “The bed bothers you, doesn’t it?” he asked, almost sounding interested.

“No, you idiot, it isn’t the bed that bothers me” I said moving quickly away from him back into the room, “It’s not the bed …” I paused, wondering if I should be the bleeding heart (and what good would it do me) again, would he tire of the whining, “but it’s me,” not that it really was me. It was more him.  I had no trouble with me. It was him.  Him and his damned morals, not even morals but tastes, not even tastes but attractions,  not even attractions but fickleness! “It’s me, Steve. Me! Me and you. Here. Tonight. The bed … the tub.”

“The tub?” he asked.

“I’ll sleep in the tub.”

“You’re fucking crazy! What do you think you’ll do?  Rape me in my sleep?  Christ, you’re a guy that’s  able to control himself, aren’t  you?   If you think you’ll have a problem, take care of it before you get into bed!”

Was I an idiot or what?   What did he know?  What did he care?  Christ, it wasn’t my lust that I was worried about.  It was my heart! What did he think?  It was then, at that moment when a little divine intervention would’ve helped; an angel to come down and tell me that my reality was not reality. That what I really thought was going on wasn’t really going on, except as a private screening for my own enjoyment.  That what WAS true was that there were two best friends vying for national recognition that needed to share a bed in a motel room. So what was the big deal?

 

After dinner we wandered through  the halls of the motel to our room.  Upon opening the door  Steve threw  his jacket on the bed and  went into the  bathroom.    I walked to my bag, opened it and pulled out my sweatshirt and gym shorts.  As I was beginning to undress I heard the toilet flush, the faucet run and finally the door open.   Steve stood in the doorway, backlit by the ceiling light, his silver buckle dangling  like a fishing lure, his shirt open, untucked, hanging off his shoulders like draperies.  I of course, should’ve already been in bed, chiffon negligee spread  out before me like a tablecloth, a dozen  pillows plumped  and puffed surrounding me in satined down.  But instead I stood before him in my white Hanes underwear and Dago T.

“Going to bed so soon?”, he asked.

“I like to read a little before I fall asleep,” I replied, as I pulled off the Dago T and pulled on my sweatshirt.

“You go there?” he asked. “Go where?”

“To Colorado,” he finished, standing across from me, tugging his heavy socked feet out of his still tied, dirty Nike sneakers.   He stood there, determined to shed his sneakers, tongue sticking out of the comer  of his mouth, body slightly contorted, peeling the tightened shoe off his foot.

“It might help if you untied them,” I said as I folded my clothes and placed them on the valet next to my Weekender.

“I’m too lazy,” he shot back over his now naked shoulder.

I looked up from my bag and saw him standing across the blue polyester comforter,  his  tanned  back  separated  by  a  deep  crevice  which opened  like  a  well-read hardcover, rising to parallel muscles which flowed into his ribs; his shoulders ascended by cords of muscle to his throat; his upper arms taut like a bow; and rising from the waistband of his jeans was a banded collar of cream followed by a blood red cotton stripe.  I stood transfixed.

“Mind if I watch a little TV?” he asked over his shoulder. “Not at all, as long as you keep the volume low,” I answered quietly.

I turned my back on him and with one swift, practiced motion pulled my Hanes off and sat down on the bed, pinning  my erection firmly between my thighs.   I reached for my gym shorts and in a moment threw my legs in the air, levitated myself, pulled the gym shorts on, yanked back the covers, thrust my legs in, and pulled the crisp cotton sheets to my waist.  After arranging myself, the pillows, and the book I was reading I heard the television snap on.

What I noticed first were his feet pointed towards my head.   They were solid, heavy feet; thick, cracked, blemished soles; wide, weathered toes.  These feet obviously walked many miles free. They were clearly the feet of the naturalist, someone that enjoyed the pain I often associated with running around barefoot. These were the feet which may have traversed hot coals. These feet had taken him somewhere.

 

The television rumbled in the background like some kind of geographical  expose as I continued the panorama of his lower body. Just above his feet were ankles which supported dense calves. If his feet were tundra when it came to hair, his calves and thighs were tropical rain forests.   Calves, now in repose, lay like sandbags.   The backs of his knees, the spring­ loaded cantilevers, the source of his power sit quietly.  His hamstring, a long, drawn, weighty mound of muscle sleeps like an eel amidst the concave back of the quadriceps.  I turned my attention to the television.

“Anything on?” I asked. “Nothing. How’s the book?”

“Can’t seem to keep my mind on it.”

“Well, I think I’m going to turn in.  It’s going to be a long day tomorrow.  Better get as much sleep as I can,” he said as he swung himself around on the bed and I stole a lingering look at him.

“Mind if I yank the blankets out from the end of the bed?  I can’t  sleep when there’s something holding my feet down.”  He tore the sheets from the end of the bed.  “Oh yeah,” he said struggling, “I toss and turn a lot.  If I end up on you, just push me back to my side.”

“Won’t you wake up,” I asked.

“Naw, nothing wakes me up.  Once I’m out, I’m out.  Once when I was a kid and one of the old silos blew up right outside my window.  Woke up the whole town.  Mom had to come in and get me when the fire department got there.  I can sleep through anything!”

When he was finished he sank back into his pillows. I attempted to concentrate on my  Anne Sexton anthology.  I was about to dive headfirst into the story when I quickly turned my head to see him laying on his side looking at me. “May I help you?” I asked.

“Nothing. Just watching you,” he quietly replied.

“Is there something wrong?”

“No,” he said defensively, “can’t someone just watch you?” he finished as he turned his back to me.

I attempted to read, then closed the book and placed it on my lap. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m a little tense, that’s all.  Don’t pay any attention to me.”  I put the book on the nightstand, reached over and turned out the light casting the room in complete darkness and sank back into the bed.  As slowly as dawn, slivers of light grew in the room where we couldn’t shut out the world.

Nothing happened  that night of any monumental  occasion.   All the ingredients were present; one bed, a hotel room, he and I, his body, my body, his sexuality, my sexuality but something was missing. I don’t know now if it was his lack of participation, or if I was waiting for him to make the first move, or if I was so certain that my attraction for him was wrong and his  distraction  of  me  was  correct.   But something,  some  idea,  some  moral  uprightness prohibited me from breaching the boundaries of our relationship.

Steve certainly gave me all the clues and  hints  that  he wanted something  to happen,  that  he wanted  me to press him farther,  beyond his words of denial, pushing  him to make a decision when  his body was screaming  for attention.  Had it been any different, had my subconscious been alerted to the remote possibility that he encouraged my affections, it would have triggered an internal alarm clock and roused me from my sleep at a most opportune  moment when  Steve was between hither and nigh; when he wasn’t certain what, if any of the stimulus and response was dream or reality, that in that deep and calm pool of slumber, his body could react one way while his mind  kept itself tucked  warmly away.   l guess all this conversation  occurred  in  my sleep between my desire and my morality, and on this particular occasion, morality (ahem) rose victorious.

What Do You Get When You Cross A Desert Box Turtle and Jack Russell Terrier?

I’m afraid that my spouse will leave me one day.

Not because of anything I did or said, but rather, because of the things I didn’t do.

My bipolar disorder is treated by amphetamines.  And when they begin weaken I find myself incredibly tired; painfully tired.  This fatigue is called the cliff.

My spouse has the energy of a Jack Russell Terrier and wants to play and play and play.  Problem is, I’m sullen, I’m racing on amphetamines, I crash at turn three.  And he keeps up the frenetic pace: movies, plays, parties, happy hours, garden walks.

Like now.  I’m so tired I could cry, but he’s invited me out for a movie.

How often can I say “no thanks, I’m so tired,” before he finds another Jack Russell to play fetch?

It’s not that I don’t want to see a movie or play, attend a dinner party or picnic at Ravinia, stroll through the Botanic Gardens or Morton Arboretum, I simply don’t have the energy.

I’ve tried to fake it, fallen asleep during concerts and movies; so fatigued that I don’t even stand up at intermission; mind-numbing sleepiness causing me to forget names of close friends or our destination.

How many respectful declines will he hear from me before he invites a surrogate, my body-double, my understudy, my replacement?