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Love in a Hopeless Place

Anthony Paull

It’s a whirlwind, growing up. I can’t get the hang of it. I’m on tour with a new book but I don’t know how I got here. I say aloud, I have to earn my stripes. But am I ready for scars too? At my first venue, a smoky gay bar, my face is on a poster above a dirty toilet and nobody knows who I am. I read from a kindle but they’d rather see me disrobe. Pointing to the stripper pole a few patrons cackle. I try to be polite but I lose it, telling the crowd to download the book on its butthole. That way, they can get a super hot STD too. "Think of it as a free bonus," I sing. "Herpes! It’s the gift that keeps giving!"

Following my performance, my assistant says that mentioning herpes might be a weak selling technique. Also, I need to stop telling gay men that it hurts taking it up the butt. Apparently, they don’t want me to ruin what awaits them at the end of the night. "Focus on the book," he says. "Just read. You don’t want to insult them."

"But they’re not listening!" I cry. "And I have a week of this? I don’t know if I can do it."

On the drive to Ft. Lauderdale I’m convinced that I’m a closeted masochist. The pain gets me off. Why else would I agree to go on a bar tour with a young adult book? "Because gay people need to hear it," my assistant insists. "Your book reminds people about what it means to love." He casts me an assuring wink. "Besides, your friends will be at the next stop."

Yes, I forgot. My friends are waiting to support me. Yes! Well except for Juan who decides to break up with his boyfriend an hour before I arrive. His pickup truck is packed with boxes when we meet. "Sorry. I can’t stay," he says. Sweat falls along his tan forehead. "I’m headed to Miami to party."

"You’re kidding. You just ended a three year relationship and you’re going to party?"

"It’s what I do," he says, matter-of-factly. Upset, I take his phone from him to call his boyfriend. He huffs as his boyfriend answers the phone.

"Can you two NOT do this the one night I’m in town?" I ask.

"Do whaaaaaat?" his boyfriend replies. His lavender voice soothes my ear as if nothing’s wrong.

"Please," I beg. "Just stop the drama and get over here so Juan will stay for the reading."

He sighs, hesitating. "Fine. I’ll get my purse."

"WHAT? He’s coming???" Juan yells, as I hang up the phone. Immediately, he’s in need of a drink. So we find a bar next to the coffee shop where I’m reading and the owner gives us free shots in celebration of my new book. I shouldn’t be drinking but I am. I’m on my fifth shot when I find myself counseling Juan on how to work on the issue with his boyfriend. Listen to what he has to say. He loves you. Fighting is normal. Enjoy it. I have a heap of advice but I can’t heed my own words.

The question is what am I fighting for?

I don’t know what I’m doing here. True, I put myself on this tour but I had an idea that someone would pay attention. Now, it’s wearing on me. The laughing, the heckling, the snarky statements flying at me each time I pull out my kindle - I soak up every wound as the crowd wonders aloud about why I’m reading to them. I have something to say. Yes, that why I’m here. Because I’m not happy with the status quo, the hiding, and the men who think they’re ’less’ gay because they’re masculine. I’m over the obsessive gays, the ones fighting for the mirror at the gym. There’s more to being gay than sex and the latest hot guy on Grindr. I like to think that. But when I was young, I couldn’t find a book that agreed. I had no training wheels. It was zero to one hundred before I hit 30. Does that make me emotionally stunted? Is that why I can’t understand how it’s acceptable to send a nude pic to a stranger but be afraid to say a public hello? Why are you scared of? Why am I equally afraid? Where is Juan? Why did he leave before the reading? Where are the rest of my friends? For me, it doesn’t add up, feeling so alone. I suppose that’s why I write...because nothing’s adding up. It’s just the mic and me, just one voice talking about love. You can laugh, yes. But I’m Anthony Paull and I can talk over it.

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