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excerpts from Michael Carnevale’s novel in-progress GOLDBERG


I’m often asked whether “dick lit” is a mocking response to “chick lit”? And while that may be true as a pure unadulterated marketing ploy to bring men back into the reading fiction fold, more than likely it’s the other way around, since basically “dick lit” has been around long before the idea of commitment to something other than himself became the albatross (holding civilization as-we-know-it together) that man had to come to grips with if he wanted to hold cavechick’s attention for any longer than it took to rub two rocks together. In fact, “dick lit” has been around since the first caveman’s curiosity stuck his dick into the equation when he rubbed those two rocks together around it until WANGO! He discovered, despite the pain (without gain), man cannot live by fire alone, and understood for all time how important it was for man to be able to get off by any means necessary. Which is the logo for this crude, rude, often ridiculous quest that drives everyman’s ludicrous every waking and slumbering moment, towards the existential drive for him to fill and refill the Holy and Unholy Grails of existence with momentary proof that KILROY IS HERE, as opposed to the much more noble creator’s banner stating KILROY WAS HERE. For was ain’t is, no matter what monuments or monstrosities man leaves behind. Or how much he would like to remember those long gone moments of good, bad or indifferent ecstasy that make up the raison d’étre of his piddling existence. So like it or not, “dick lit” is here to acknowledge the good, bad and ugly that goes with it, as it celebrates every young boy’s quest to get off for the first time, everyman’s quest to get off the next time, and every old man’s quest to get off one more time, before there is no time left to get off on. From Bukowski’s SIX INCHES, the all time classic masterpiece of the then still undubbed genre (now claiming accreditation as a low rent literary school), to Joe Maynard’s innocent jism flailing MISSIONARY POSITIONS, to the desperate brutality of Joey Amdahl’s LIFE OUTSIDE THE BOX, “dick lit” no longer has to worry about skulking through the utilitarian sewer of “no redeeming value”, since like it or not, “no redeeming value” (except the writing) is the recognized heart & soul of “dick lit”. MG / 8/25/06

“You must grieve for your severed foreskin, you know. Circumcision is mutilation. A mutilated penis is probably at the root of your anger.”

Goldberg offered this gentle guidance to me, bouncing steadily up and down. Springing off his personal rebounder, Goldberg was breathless. Beneath the spot lighting, an alabaster glaze of sweat shone luminous on his skin. The personal rebounder is a tiny trampoline designed for low-impact exercise. Goldberg was a devotee. He insisted that nothing relieved his stress better than an hour’s bounce off the rebounder. I tended to think of it as a space-saving hamster wheel, perfectly suited for the cramped urban life style.

I wasn’t in love with Goldberg, but I could watch him bounce forever, his ropey blond curls flying out from his head like ragged wings. Whenever I could, I migrated next door to watch his trampoline routine.

“Did you consent to your circumcision?”


“And so you felt powerless over the mutilation of your body. This is the crux of it.”

We had been discussing my anger.

The day before I had grabbed a cell phone from a woman’s hand on Fifth Avenue and hurled it into the street under the wheels of an oncoming bus. The woman, dawdling in front of me on stiletto heels, had been attempting to simultaneously walk and send a text message. She was managing neither. I was in a great hurry, and would have passed her, but the torrent of sidewalk traffic did not allow me to maneuver. My pent-up anger erupted in a flash. Overpowered by pedestrian road rage, I snatched the phone. The woman stood marooned on the sidewalk, open-mouthed and mute. Windmilling her arms in distress, she watched helplessly as I deftly skidded the cell phone under the wheels of an oncoming bus. It was a spontaneous assault, flawlessly executed. Charging abreast of her, I turned my head to signal a sick, satisfied smile. The action brought me enormous relief. A relief that proved temporary.

“Look, Schuyler, I’m not proud of my behavior yesterday. I have this terrible emotional hangover.”

I call him Schuyler to please him, even though I always think of him as Goldberg. The name Schuyler McAdam had been channeled to him in a dream, and he had received it as revelation. Jeffrey Goldberg legally changed his name to Schuyler McAdam. As a result, Schuyler was infinitely happier than Jeffrey. His parents, the Rabbi and Mrs. Goldberg, retired to Guadalajara and tormented by roving mariachi bands, remain baffled.

“You should consider taking up meditation. The daily practice of meditation will reduce stress and diffuse anger. “ Goldberg was also committed to transcendental meditation. “And I won’t bother to impress upon you again the unhealthful effects of the toxins, hormones, and chemical dyes in your diet. You’re still eating commercially processed meat.” Goldberg continued to bounce up and down, arms gracefully outstretched like a gymnast, blond dreadlocks flying.

“It’s true. I am a guiltless carnivore, with a special craving for liverwurst.”

Goldberg grimaced, showing uneven lower teeth. They were small and squared-off, the teeth of a dedicated herbivore.

“If you’re going to eat meat, you should at least buy free-range organic.”

I smiled, satisfied at having provoked the grimace. Goldberg shivered at the mention of processed meats. He would swoon at the sight of someone eating a street vendor hot dog, those chemical-orange delicacies sold by Muslim immigrants from distinctly unhygienic, umbrella-shaded carts.

“Organic is too expensive. I can’t afford it.”

“Then eat less of it. No one needs to consume as much meat as you do. Substitute beans and whole grains. If you ate less animal fat, you wouldn’t need to burn so many calories at the gym. Your cardio routines are too aggressive. And weight training can do permanent damage.”

“I thought we were talking about the root of my anger.”

“And so we were, my darling.” Goldberg was bouncing more intently. The sheen of sweat at the hairline beaded up, swelling to plump droplets that burst and ran in runnels past his temples. He was gearing up to broach a delicate topic, I could tell.

“I think you should come with me to my foreskin restoration support group on Tuesday night.” Goldberg traveled all the way out to Park Slope in Brooklyn every Tuesday. The group met at the Society for Ethical Culture.

“Whoa, Schuyler, I can see where you’re going with this. Maybe I am curious about what goes on at your little group, but I can’t help feeling that foreskin restoration is strictly your issue. I live contentedly as a circumcised man. My anger must spring from resentments other than my mutilated penis.”

My comment froze the Goldberg in mid-air. He appeared mortally wounded. He did suffer acute foreskin separation anxiety, and he needed the support of others like him. I couldn’t help him with this. Goldberg spent twenty minutes each night pulling and stretching the bit of skin that remained at the base of his penis head. He religiously employed special exercises, routines used with success by members of his group. Results in my view were negligible, measured in millimeters. But at the foreskin restoration support group, even infinitesimal gains were wildly celebrated. Goldberg had thus far been disappointed, not achieving any appreciable lengthening of his rump foreskin. But he did claim to have experienced sensory signals from the phantom helmet, as an amputee suffers the ache that emanates from a lost limb. He viewed this as an encouraging development.

“I’m very sorry you’re not open to sitting in on one of our meetings. I think you would find it illuminating. Look, there’s bound to be a reservoir of suppressed rage as a result of a ritualized mutilation like circumcision. We make an effort to correct the damage done to our bodies. We empower ourselves. It heals us. And we resolve to forgive those responsible for our mutilation.”

“And was the Rabbi Goldberg grateful to be forgiven for his crime?” I was sliding into sarcasm, and I knew it. Bouncing Goldberg graciously ignored it.

“My father the Rabbi excused his action as duty. Circumcision is a covenant with God, and he acted on my behalf, as his father had done for him. As a Jew, I am bound by religious ritual. But my father the man was happy to be forgiven. He understands my feelings of powerlessness. I wanted to travel up to Boston, to personally forgive the old Moyle who cut me. But my father told me that he had died. Dead of a heart attack at the aquarium, standing in front of the shark tank. He had acquired the habit of visiting the aquarium to observe the sharks.”

Looking out the window at the rusted razor wire on the roof of the car dealership next door, I could feel the rage welling up again. Why would the sad old Moyle, dead of a heart attack while watching the sharks, get me angry as hell?

“Look, Schuyler, my life may not be what I want it to be. Maybe I have issues. Maybe I need help with anger management. But I can’t see how sitting around with a bunch of schlumps who compare notes on putz-pulling is a solution. Besides, there’s a surgical procedure, isn’t there?”

Now Goldberg was satisfied, having got me angry. He smiled his beatific smile, showing his bright white little hamster teeth. He stopped his bouncing, and stepped off the rebounder.

“Surgery is too invasive. After all, the original mutilation was surgical. We feel that the recommended stretching and pulling exercises are slowly effective. We also do not condone clamps, weights, or pulleys.”

Intimidated by the sudden visual image of lead weights tugging on clamps attached to Goldberg’s remnant foreskin, I retreated from the subject. My friend wiped the sweat from his face with a blinding white terrycloth towel. He then wound the towel around his head with a few deft movements to create an elaborate, tightly constructed turban, effortlessly impersonating an East Side spa creature. Glancing at the clock on the wall, he became animated and apologetic.

“I don’t mean to push you off, but Charles is coming over tonight, rather than tomorrow morning. I need to take a bath and sort the laundry before he gets here.”

Charles was Goldberg’s ex-boyfriend. Charles was overweight, bloated from the excessive use of soy sauce, according to Schuyler. He lived with his mother in New Jersey. He and Goldberg were no longer physically intimate. There were irreconcilable sexual differences, according to Schuyler.

Charles came over on Sundays. He came to do the laundry. Humping twenty pounds of dirty clothes over to the laundromat, he sat stoically through the spin cycle, reading half the Sunday Times, starting with the Week In Review. Goldberg lounged at home eating granola and reading his preferred half of the paper, beginning with the Arts and Leisure section. After his wash and fold therapy, Charles busied himself cleaning the apartment, scrubbing and sweeping and vacuuming. All week the dirty dishes piled up in the sink, awaiting Charles. All week the straw and food pellets scattered by Thumper, Goldberg’s pet rabbit, accumulated on the floor in every room. Charles would come and tidy it all. Charles would come and re-order the universe. With the cleaning accomplished, the faux hardwood floor gleaming and the ancient bathtub redeemed from soap scum, they would be off to see a foreign film downtown, followed by dinner at a Japanese vegetarian restaurant. It was a peculiar arrangement, but an arrangement that Goldberg had come to depend on.

Sometimes Charles came on Saturday, and they would catch an off-Broadway musical. Both Charles and Goldberg had a passion for musical theater. Later, Charles would spend the night with Thumper, sleeping abstemiously on a military surplus cot set up in the living room, ready to make an early start on the chores in the morning.

“Schuyler, don’t you think it’s strange that Charles comes over every weekend to clean your apartment and do your laundry? What the hell does he get out of it?”

“I don’t think it’s strange at all. Charles loves me. And cleaning satisfies his obsessive-compulsive nature. He says he finds it both relaxing and rewarding. It fulfills him in the most basic way. And since his equally obsessive-compulsive mother does not tolerate any encroachment upon her turf, he comes here.”

Put that way, I suppose theirs was the perfect Manhattan arrangement. I myself was content to live alone with my cats in a fur-lined apartment, awaiting inspiration to haul out the vacuum cleaner. Inspiration came infrequently.


How exactly may I describe a genital deformity? Do I take a clinical approach, mimicking the style of an autopsy report? Or do I go for the gusto, emphasize the spectacular, and target the squeamish with sensational prose, like a freak-show shill?

I think a calm recounting is best.

First I must imagine myself in a beige-toned hotel room in Midtown, a room suitable for the anonymous budget traveler. A room furnished with a pasteboard dresser and an indestructible nylon carpet. A room where you are free to do anything you want to do.

The penis was overlarge, long and thick as a kielbasa sausage. It was grossly deformed. The shaft had deeply cut corkscrewed ridges, resembling a roughly molded drill bit. The skin on the ridges was coarse and peeling, mottled red and violet, like flesh scalded and then healed. In the valleys between the ridges, the skin was smooth and pink, mimicking the old stretched scars of burn victims.

The meaty foreskin was slightly retracted, and a pearl of seminal fluid hung delicately, suspended from a most gossamer strand.

The blond German businessman sat on the bed in red lace panties, face uplifted, tongue cradled like a gravy boat, ready to receive the sacramental pearl.

It was just at this point in the proceedings that I made my escape, abruptly abandoning my friend Demian and his German visitor. An uncomfortable voyeur, I did not easily tolerate the sexual baroque. They barely noticed my departure. Outside the hotel, bathed in liquid neon color, the circus-goers thronged Eighth Avenue.

Demian photographs the sky. Twice a day, in the early morning and at dusk, he ventures out to create a photographic record of the sky. At sunrise, except in the worst weather, Demian may be found in the vicinity of the United Nations, shooting the pale trembling dawn as it breaks over the East River. In the evening he shoots the sunset from the bank of the Hudson, standing alone in the rosy light beneath a chemical tangerine sky, documenting the signs of their presence.

They are usually there. Especially on overcast days, cotton-sky days thick with cloud cover. On these days, they are his constant companions. Demian is an observer and photographer of UFOs. Drinking espresso at a lacquered tree-stump table in his kitchen, the walls in his railroad apartment plastered with Manhattan sky photographs, he explained to me the nature of his relationship with UFOs.

“For me, it is spiritual. The celestials have always been with us, watching us from their vantage point in the sky. They appear and disappear suddenly, via time-traveling wormholes. Earlier cultures may have had more direct contact with them. I think this is likely. But today, our celestials seem content to watch. Their direct intervention in our affairs is apparently rare. I would discount all the fantastic fantasies of abduction circulated by the UFO hysterics. But I would like to believe that they may yet save us from ourselves.”

Demian’s hawkish features telescoped with intent, his dark eyes lambent and glowing with Gnostic conviction. Erupting from the far corner of his left eye, a splotchy purple birthmark fanned out to tattoo his cheek, an intimation of other more private disorders. On the table a recent sky photo, shot from the promenade just north of the UN, featured the backlit outline of an enormous, sky-filling object. The object perfectly resembled a cloud, pregnant and black in the center, a nimbus of light coruscating out from the perimeter.

“That is not a cloud.”

Demian said this softly, with utter reverence.

“I think you are right. That is not a cloud. It’s far too huge to be a cloud. But isn’t it also too huge to be a UFO?”

“No. They come in all sizes. Sometimes you see the zippy little saucers familiar from the sci-fi comics. But more often they are huge. They fill up the sky, hiding in plain sight.”

When with Demian, I was willing to believe.

“What sort of creatures are they?”

“They are superior beings.”

“Divine beings? Or connected to the Divine?”

“Divine? No. But superior, yes.”

“And your partner? What does he think about your work?” I referred as casually as I could to Demian’s roommate. I had met him briefly only once, at the bar of the restaurant where I worked. I had the impression that their relationship was problematic.

“Nelson thinks I am obsessive-compulsive and delusional. I will admit to being obsessive-compulsive. But I am not delusional. You can see in my photographs the evidence of foreign objects in the skies of New York. I feel compelled to document these things. It is my compulsion to document that Nelson can’t abide, because it is the escort business that subsidizes it. He loves to say that he began dating a promising photographer, and ended married to a prostitute. That is his mantra. He chants it to anyone who will listen. Nelson is bitter. I can’t help that.”


Goldberg sat cross-legged and enthralled, his eyes riveted to the porthole of the diminutive washing machine. A soapy pair of jeans churned like interactive pop art behind the glass window. Cradling Thumper in his lap, my friend absently stroked his pet. The red-eyed creature lay docile, nostrils twitching slightly. Goldberg couldn’t abide the fact that dogs and cats ate meat. He therefore chose a vegetarian companion.

“Schuyler, that is the smallest washing machine I’ve ever seen. What’s the maximum capacity? A pair of jeans?”

Goldberg smiled his best angel beatnik smile.

“One kilogram. 2.2 pounds. Which is one pair of jeans, you’re exactly right. But that is lots of underwear. It uses very little water. It is very eco-friendly.”

“It may use very little water. And it may be eco-friendly. But if it only washes a pair of jeans, it’s damn near useless. And why is it pink for crissake? It looks like a Barbie appliance.”

“I bought it on Ebay. In the picture it appeared yellow. When I opened the box it was pink. I am proud to own a pink washing machine. I have discovered that sitting here watching the porthole of my pink washing machine is better than watching TV. I may further discover that I no longer need friends.”

“Alright, no need to get defensive. But will Charles be offended? You’re doing laundry during the week? He is very proprietary about your laundry.”

“That’s a legitimate question. Thank you for asking it without detectable irony. The truth is I often run out of clean socks and underwear. Or my favorite jeans are dirty when I want to wear them most. Now I can pop them into my tiny pink washing machine and watch them churn in living color. This makes me happy. I don’t think that Charles will begrudge me this small happiness. But to compensate him for the loss, I will change my bed sheets twice a week. I can’t do sheets in my little washer. It would burn out the motor. You see, my darling, there is a solution to every problem in a relationship.”

Goldberg was triumphant.

“You may be interested to know that Nelson does Demian’s laundry.”
Goldberg, I knew, was ferociously interested in Demian, although he’d never met him. “Nelson doesn’t do a scheduled laundry ritual, like Charles. He waits until the hamper overflows. He waits until there are piles of dirty clothes besieging the overflowing hamper. Then, according to Demian, Nelson initiates the next episode in the serial martyr play, which is much the same as the last episode. Laundry is yet another opportunity for drama. He complains. He cajoles. He whines for pity. He trundles off to the laundromat in tears, always armed with his volume of laundry poetry. Stefan George is a favorite. Demian says that he has trained himself to totally ignore the laundry drama.”

Goldberg was of course fascinated.

“So they are pairing Symbolist poetry with cruelty. That is so delightfully German. Demian is cruel, you know.”

“Perhaps cruel to be kind. He would like Nelson to accept reality.”

“You mean he would like Nelson to accept his reality. Demian draws the parameters. And Nelson most certainly does indulge in a laundry ritual, even if it is hysterical rather than methodical.”

“Yes, of course it is ritualized, just not regularly scheduled.”

Goldberg assumed a pensive expression. Thumper looked up expectantly, coarse rodent lashes the color of sun-bleached wheat. A rabbit sits in the lap of the avatar.

“I have always thought that gay men ought not mimic traditional heterosexual couplings. The aggressive, superior male divinely ordained to dominate the submissive, dependent female. I loathe patriarchy as an organizing principle. I believe we should strive for balance and equality in our relationships. And I think we should strive for sexual equality as well. Because we gay men can do this.”

Goldberg turned his head away from the pop-art porthole with its museum view of churning jeans. He leveled his gaze on me. The eyes were the palest of grays, whitewashed and hazy as a late summer sky. He expected a reply.

“Queer men usually identify as top or bottom. According to whim and circumstance, of course. Who is to say that the bottom is not equal to the top?”

“The White Heterosexual Male Patriarchy, my dear. That’s who says the bottom is not equal to the top.” Goldberg said this wearily, as if voicing a long established truth accepted by everyone. “As long as gay men continue to parody the sexual roles sanctioned by the Patriarchy, we will not be able to free ourselves from internalized homophobia.”

“Something tells me that you have discovered a glorious new sexual pathway for the enlightened gay man.” I tried to keep a lid on the irony, but it seeped right through.

Goldberg ignored it.

“Well, yes, as a matter of fact. Have you heard of the frottage movement? I’ve been talking to people on the net. I find it attractive.”

“What, frottage as in the subliminal homo-erotic crotch rubbing practiced by high school wrestlers? A willful return to innocence?”

“Subliminal? Never. Rather an eyes-wide-open-eroticism. And why shouldn’t gay men attempt a willful and heroic return to innocence? We experienced a profound isolation, a spiritual disconnect, as a result of bathhouse and backroom sex. Frottage sex offers irresistible political advantages. There is no top or bottom. Partners are equal. There is no penetration. The gradations inherent in the act of sodomy no longer matter. Consensual or forced, pleasurable or painful, the bathwater is thrown out with the baby. We liberate ourselves from the slavish emulation of heterosexual, gender-specific role models. And frottage is safe. The virus does not spread. Frottage is a return to the sensual. We can stop using condoms. Skin to skin. Penis to penis.”

“I take it you are a convert.”

“I am considering it.”

“You never liked anal sex.” Goldberg pondered this statement, brushing back the coiled rope of hair that had fallen forward across the lenses of his glasses.

“That is true.”

“So why would you need a sexual ideology to say no to sodomy?”

“I don’t I need the ideology of frottage to say no to cocksucking.” Now Goldberg was grinning broadly.

“And I am impervious to sexual ideology of any stripe. I am an inveterate butt-fucker.”

“You are a reprobate. That is why I love you.”


Goldberg sits at a modular workstation, deep in the bowels of the Citicorp tower. He keeps a photograph of the building exterior on his desk. He looks at this photo many times during the day. He does this so as to remember where he is while engaged in the daily drudgery of data entry. The Citicorp tower is a skyscraper on stilts, with a slanted and truncated lid, a jack-in-the-box ready to pop. It is sheathed in aluminum, an upright financial hypodermic with its needle snapped off, poised to shower the heavens with lucre. Goldberg would rather work somewhere with a view of the Citicorp tower, instead of in it. From here, in his cubicle work pod, the view is constant and unchanging.

Across the charcoal-carpeted corridor he spies the ageless Mary DiAngelo from Queens. Mary sits in her identical work pod with its rectangular Plexiglas window. The window permits an oven-slot view of Mary. Diligent Mary DiAngelo hasn’t missed a day’s work since her father’s funeral in 1985. Every work day she is there, scrunching up her pallid dumpling face the better to red the numbers on her computer screen, her glasses perched low on her nose, the glasses secured by the golden drugstore chains that loop down below her ears like bridle reins. Her thinning hair has been dyed the same mahogany red for thirty years. The hair is now so sparse that on some days, if the humidity levels are just right, it appears to float as a loosely woven net a quarter inch above her scalp. Mary exhibits liver spot discolorations on her skin, and occasionally these spots are partially obscured by a chalky white face powder. The powder masks all defects, and bestows a desirable Elizabethan pallor. But today the liver spots were shockingly evident, and Goldberg couldn’t be sure that they weren’t expanding, like dark seas slowly engulfing her visage.

Mary retrieves a shoebox reliquary from a desk drawer. From inside the Box she pulls out a plastic Virgin Mary, about seven inches tall. The Virgin is sheltered in her very own white plastic niche, the edges artfully scalloped and trimmed in gold. The statue itself is blue and white, the colors smudged and running together. The half-shelled Virgin stands upon a simulated rock pile, over which crawls a lurid green serpent. The serpent is caught and pinned, and it writhes beneath Mary’s righteous foot. Goldberg wasn’t sure of the significance of the snake. Goldberg was unsure of the significance of Catholic imagery in general, although of course he found it colorful. Mary DiAngelo had acquired her plastic Virgin souvenir at her favorite pilgrimage destination, the Shrine of Fatima in Portugal. A fervent adherent of the Marian cult, Mary DiAngelo had visited other sights where the Virgin had made an appearance, in France, Mexico, and Croatia. But she had traveled to Fatima three times, each time in a swoon among the crowd of half a million believers in the great plaza before the basilica on the anniversary of the last apparition of the Virgin on October 13th.

Goldberg waits for Mary to pray.

Mary DiAngelo sets her plastic statue on a small shelf in the corner of her cubicle, transforming her workstation into an instant grotto dedicated to the Holy Virgin. She removes her seriously black orthopedic wrist brace, like a supplicant at Lourdes throwing off their prosthesis. Mary suffers from carpal-tunnel syndrome as well as from blooming liver spots. She retrieves a rosary from her desk, closes her eyes and fingers the beads, moving her lips in silent incantation.

Goldberg knows he has twenty minutes before Mary completes the rosary. He has twenty beautiful minutes to meditate in solitude without threat of intrusion. Mary DiAngelo holds a duplicate key to the supply closet that Goldberg has discreetly optioned for his daily retreat. That is why Goldberg coordinates the scheduling of spiritual practice on the twenty-eighth floor at Citicorp.

He removes the orthopedic wrist brace from his arm. Goldberg, too, suffers from chronic carpal tunnel syndrome. His wrist brace is controversial, the buzz of the cubicles at coffee break. It is baby-blue leatherette decorated with stainless steel studs. The studs are decoratively arranged to spell L-O-V-E. He purchased this item from a Hindu vendor on St. Mark’s Place, the polyglot street market downtown.

Goldberg flips on the fluorescent light in the supply closet. Under the withering white light, he scans the shelves that have been obsessively stocked and ordered by Mary DiAngelo. There is a feeling here of order and calm, along with the faint, acrid odor of cockroach droppings. Cockroaches breed in a variety of paper products. They are the pestilence of Mary’s supply closet, against which she constantly wages Holy War.

Goldberg quickly disrobes. It is always airless and hot in the closet. Stripped down to his white Fruit-of-the-Loom jockey shorts, he kills the overhead light and assumes the lotus position on the cool tile floor. Legs crossed, arms held aloft, palms turned gracefully upward, Goldberg focuses on his breathing.

In a moment, he is gone, his mind as empty as an open-aired tower room, miles above worldly strife. So adept at Siddhi meditative practice, Goldberg can achieve a supernormal perceptual state in about a minute flat. He flies up and out of the concrete canyons of the city and comes to rest on a pinnacle of light, his senses imperceptibly wafted by a gorgeous perfume, Goldberg doesn’t hear the key turning in the lock. He is not blinded by the stark, slightly delayed fluorescent light that transforms the supply closet back to a dense and structured reality. He does yet see. He becomes slowly aware that the gorgeous perfume has retreated, replaced by the unmistakable scent of cockroach. And he feels himself falling, propelled by gravity down into tangible atmosphere. Only then is he conscious that someone is screaming.

Mary DiAngelo is screaming, clutching with one fist the devotional scapular that hangs at her throat. The other hand extends outward and points to the shirtless, longhaired infidel who hovers in his underwear six inches above the floor of the supply closet, caught in mid-hop, a stupid grin spread across his rapturous face.

Goldberg opens his eyes. He sees that Mary’s liver spots have disappeared. They have been lifted from her skin by some miraculous force, leaving her complexion as smooth and as white as a dead incorruptible saint.

“Were you surprised that I make money selling my deformed dick to perverts from around the world?” Demian spoke in a neutral tone, finally broaching the subject that had stood like a stranger between us since that night in the beige-toned hotel room. We were looking at blowup proofs. The enlargements were from a series of sky photos taken recently at sunrise near the UN, shot from the Esplanade along the East River. He looked up at me in his expectant way.

“Well, I knew that you worked an escort gig. But you never did give me your website address. Now I know why.” I paused to hear what Demian might share without being interrogated.

He lowered his gaze back to the photos on the table, potentially historic photos that may or may not document the presence of UFO’s in the skies above the East River. And then continued. “It’s always awkward, choosing the moment. When I saw you on Eighth Avenue and invited you up to the room, I imagined that I might tell you when we got upstairs. But Klaus, my client from Hamburg, arrived a bit early. I decided to just let it rip and let the chips fall. I do that sometimes. I rebel. I get defiant and reckless. I want to get it over with. I am sorry and would like to apologize for my behavior.”

I reached out for his quite beautiful arm, sinewy and golden-skinned, delicately feathered with a boyish down. I let my fingers rest there, just above the heavily boned wrist. “I am happy to be your friend.”

Demian stiffened. Then he swallowed and raised his eyelids. He nodded his head. It was over. The omnipresent hurdle had been cleared yet again. Demian understood that he had sailed over without any effort at all, because I had removed the bar. He seemed ready to go forward, but I needed to know one thing. “May I ask you a question?”

He hesitated, and then gestured his assent.

“Did you ever investigate corrective surgical procedures?”

“Oh sure. A few times seriously. But there were risks. And then I discovered that I was in possession of a rare commodity that I could supply to those with exquisite taste. I began to make a lot of money. And it’s so much easier than wedding photography. Now I can afford to mount my own gallery exhibitions.” He waved his arm over the photo blowups on the table. Suddenly, a pensive expression came down over his face. It came down fast, working his features like putty.

“At school they used to call me The Beast. Now, in the trade, I’m known as Pig Dick.” Looking up at each other, we simultaneously broke out into smiles. I began to laugh, a belly laugh that shook me from the gut.

“And which name do you prefer?”

Before he could answer, I heard a key turning the lock in the door behind me. We sat in the kitchen at a table opposite the entrance to the apartment. I turned around to see a young guy in his early thirties enter the room, keys cupped in a large square hand. He was short and compact, built like a furniture mover, with broad shoulders and thickly muscled arms. His chest was pumped, and the vintage Astroland T-shirt was stretched taut across his pectorals. He looked surprised to see us sitting there. Demian made the introduction.

“Nick, this is Austin. He comes here to feed the birds.”

I felt an instantaneous and unhealthy attraction, an attraction dangerous enough to carry me out and pull me under. I knew all about the riptide undertows of animal attraction. Rather than venture into the surf, only to struggle and swallow seawater, I had discovered that it was possible to remain on shore. It was a facile trick, this exercise of free will. Once you got the hang of it. Most people never do.

Austin extended his hand. I clasped it tightly and felt its clammy warmth and the calloused skin that results from physical labor. As he withdrew from the handshake I saw the telltale corrosive blisters on his fingertips, the proprietary branding from an incandescent crack pipe.

Demian said nothing to Austin, who lumbered off in saggy jeans toward the front of the apartment, where he slid open an ancient door that featured a gorgeously hued stained glass panel. The old brass wheels screeched in protest as they were dragged along a warped and rusted track. I caught a glimpse of a large sunlit room beyond. Before Austin pulled back the door behind him, I saw a velvet upholstered Victorian fainting couch angled in front of two large objects shaped suspiciously like birdcages. The cages sat atop tall antique bronze pedestals. Both were covered, draped in funereal black cloth shrouds.

Demian waited for the doors to close before he spoke.

“I hate that low-life bastard. And I’m not real comfortable with the fact that he has keys. But he takes care of the damn parakeets when Nelson’s away.”

“Why can’t you take care of the parakeets?”

“Because I have bird phobia. They give me the creeps. That’s why Nelson bought the stupid things of course. They prevent me from entering his room. He hides in there for hours cooing to the horrid little creatures, touching them and spreading germs. He’ll kill us both with avian flu.”

“How long has this guy Austin had keys?”
“About a year. Nelson’s been seeing him at least that long. Austin’s a bad influence. He’s a washed-up porn star with a drinking problem. Off-season he works maintenance out at Coney. He repairs the Cyclone roller coaster, if you can imagine such a ridiculous job. In the summer he whores out at Fire Island. Nelson’s behavior has been erratic lately. I think Austin’s been feeding him drugs.”

“Why don’t you talk to Nelson about it?”

“Talk to Nelson? Nelson doesn’t talk. Nelson’s been depressed for years. He’s happy to have me support him while he lives out roller coaster dramas with his sexually dysfunctional alcoholic boyfriend. He stays in his room all day, cooing to those filthy birds and watching Oprah.”

The door screeched open again, sounding like a bus being sideswiped by a garbage truck. Austin emerged. He pulled the door closed and ambled up to us.

“The parakeet chicks died. The looked like tiny vultures, all beak and skin, with a little gray fluff stuck to them.”

Demian jumped. “Jesus, I didn’t know the beasts had reproduced. Just the thought of it is monstrous.”

“Don’t worry. I took care of it.” Austin held up a little plastic garbage bag.

“I suppose Nelson will be heartbroken. And is he still up in Boston with his family? I thought he was due home yesterday.”

“I guess he’s still there. He hasn’t called me.” Austin appeared a little nervous. You could tell his relations with Demian were strained. “I gotta go. I just came by to feed the birds.” He shot me a glance to let me know that he was available. And then he let himself out.

“Thank God he’s gone.” Demian permitted himself a smile. “I will try not to have nightmares about dead little parakeet vultures. But now, my friend, are you ready for our feature presentation?”

“Yes.” I was ready. I was with Demian, and ready to believe all over again.

We retreated to the bed-box, a sort of modified loft built into a tiny room open to a central hallway. Small rooms opening to a central passageway are a common feature in so-called railroad apartments in New York. Demian had installed a platform three feet off the floor in this room, utilizing the entire space. Beneath the platform were two large captain’s drawers that reached from wall to wall. The result was a very roomy bed-box, fitted with a custom-made futon encased in a bright yellow raw silk cover ordered from Japan. With the compartment walls and ceiling upholstered in purple and gold brocade, and enormous pasha-style striped pillows thrown into the corners, the overall effect was over-the-top Venetian Geisha. We climbed up into the bed-box, and stretched out, facing the flat screen monitor positioned on the far wall.

“What you are about to see is film shot by a friend of mine on 9/11. She happened to be downtown that day, shooting stock footage for a documentary on Wall Street and Trinity Church, the God and Mammon problem. Lots of people had videocams that day, but Karen was carrying her 35mm film camera. Film can record images that will not show up on video. Karen came out of City Hall Park onto Broadway at about ten, just minutes after the South Tower collapse. She headed east on Vesey Street, turned on her camera, and let it run.”

Demian popped a DVD into the drawer, picked up the remote, and pressed ‘play’.

And there it all was, as if it were yesterday. The panicked, smoke-smudged crowd fleeing the toxic fog that had obliterated the sun, the tonnage of useless financial confetti raining gently down to earth, the frantic gestures of the paramedics barking orders in dumb-show, loading the wounded onto ambulance vans caked with a lifeless gray lunar dust. The camera panned upward, and the still-burning North Tower came into view. Tracking up the side of the building, there suddenly appeared through the smoke two brilliant points of light.

Demian quickly hit the pause button. “There. You see that, don’t you?”


“Now watch closely.” Deftly manipulating the remote pause button, Demian proceeded frame by frame. The effect simulated the viewing of film through a moviola device. The two bright discs arced upward, jumping at least ten stories per frame before they cleared the building and disappeared behind a screen of smoke. At twenty four frames per second, they were moving very fast.

Demian hit the ‘stop’ button. “Do you want to see it again?”


He selected ‘rewind’ on the remote without looking, and it began again. The bright disks reappeared from nowhere, ascending along the side of the burning tower in three staccato leaps before vanishing into the black column of smoke. The column of smoke billowed furiously out away from the building, wafting south toward the harbor through a perfectly cloudless sky.

“Jesus, Demian, what the hell were they doing there?”

“They were there harvesting souls.”

“Yes,” I said. “I believe they were.”


“Schuyler, why do vegetarian dishes always have such preposterous names? I mean, really, ‘Shredded Heaven’ doesn’t sound like something you would eat. It sounds like a documentary on Tibet”.

We were celebrating Schuyler’s triumphant return from Tucson, eating downtown at his favorite vegan restaurant, ‘Caravanserai’. He gave me his don’t-be-critical look.

“I think the names are sweet. They reflect the vegan devotion to dharma.”

“I also have a problem with the name of the restaurant. The menu at a typical caravanserai on the old Silk Road would feature meat and dairy. You know, some nice fatty roast mutton with a flagon of fermented sheep’s milk to wash it down.”

Goldberg smiled. He wasn’t in the mood to argue.

“I will do some research on that. In the meantime, shall we be festive and order a bottle of sparkling apple juice?”

He gestured to the skinny blond server he had greeted upon our arrival. She scurried over to the table, displaying surprising energy given her frail appearance. I guessed her to be hyper-caffeinated, a Starbucks habitué. Pale as a laboratory mouse and probably malnourished, she was a student at Julliard. Her name, apparently, was Shell. Naturally, she came from California.

I surveyed the room. Great swathes of Indian cotton fabric hung loosely from the ceiling, artfully backlit, creating a tent-like effect. The printed fabric was precisely the sort used to cover street-rescued mattresses and sofas in the East Village, during my youth. Upon such ruined furniture, draped with cheap Indian cotton, I had served my sexual apprenticeship.

A young white sitar-player with a braided goatee mounted the small, elevated platform at the end of the room that served as a stage. He laconically tuned his instrument, adjusting the movable frets. Goldberg had mentioned the stage here was available for amateur performers of all sorts.

“I am very glad that you brought me here, Schuyler. I feel very comfortable, safely cocooned against time. What do you recommend from the menu?”

The caffeine powered Shell glided by bearing plates piled with what appeared to be architectural models rather than food. Elaborate, brightly colored constructions arose from the plates, waffled and honeycombed, irregularly sculptured. Goldberg followed my gaze and quashed my interest in the fabrications resting on the oversized plates.

“Avoid those structural fantasies. They are pure presentation. Most of the textured soy dishes are built from the ground up like little Guggenheim museums. They don’t even remotely resemble the chicken or beef they claim to mimic. They are pretty much tasteless. I would suggest the Vegetable Curry Supreme.”

“You would think that in the thirty years since vegetarians dropped out of politics that they would have managed to come up with a credible textured soy meat substitute. What have they been doing?”

“Very funny. Forget about meat substitutes. Eat your tofu. Eat your veggies. Be happy.” And it was obvious that Goldberg was happy. He was radiant, skin aglow from the desert sun, the stress lines erased from his face, his hair streaked blond like a Kennedy. He had definitely gotten laid.

“ I must say you look wonderful, Schuyler. Tell me about Tucson.”

Goldberg’s face split in an enormous grin. “Tucson was wonderful, but I didn’t spend too much time in town. We went into the city twice, to shop, eat fabulous Mexican food, and go to a western queer bar. My friend Roy’s place was twenty minutes north, out toward the Coronado National Forest. I fell in love with the landscape. The desert there is really very colorful, especially in the evening twilight. The surrounding mountains go from blue to purple at dusk. Roy lives with his mother and three dogs in a big ranch house with a pool and a cactus garden.”

“Jesus, Schuyler. Another guy who lives with his mother? What is it with your boyfriends and their mothers?”

“Oh, Roy’s mother is nothing like Charles’ mother. She told me to call her Ma right off. She smokes pot, reads the Tarot, and supports the queer frottage movement. She’s a biker Ma, the first woman in Tucson to have pierced her labia. I persuaded her to try grilling vegetarian tamales. They were a hit. She wants me to move to Arizona and live with them.”

“So it was just you and Pierced Labia Ma and her loyal Leather Frottage Boy, lolling together by the pool in the desert sun?”

“No, a bunch of his friends hung out with us at the pool, or they all went off to ride their dirt bikes in the mountains. I stayed at the house with Ma, playing with the dogs and wrapping up the vegetarian tamales.”

“God, Schuyler. Here I sit, living my dull little life in dull little Manhattan, and I forget how truly strange the country is out there. So you spent a week with an entire posse of leather frottage boys and their den mother in the desert, smoking weed and eating vegetarian tamales. And how did you get along with Roy?”

“Well, I liked him. He’s a pacifist, a libertarian, and a lacto-vegetarian. He reads Burroughs and Genet. But I wasn’t all that attracted to him, he’s long and lean and missing a few teeth, although I think I could commit myself to frottage. Roy likes me a lot and he’s invited me back next month. I will probably go, to at least give Roy a second look. Besides, I really want to be stoned and naked in the desert again, under the empty blue sky. It was a profoundly spiritual experience. It was godless. Or rather, the god space was vacant.”

“May I ask what are Roy’s feelings about your efforts toward foreskin restoration? Does he have an opinion, one way or the other?”

Goldberg brightened immediately.

“Oh, he’s convinced me to abandon my attempts at restoration. He believes that acceptance is the key to my happiness. Besides, it’s generally agreed that a circumcised dick is better equipped for frottage. It’s less sensitive, more suited to pressure and friction, and less prone to premature orgasm. Roy helped me to realize that I had been given what I needed all along.”

“Schuyler, I am truly impressed. I think you have made excellent progress. I must confess, I had always considered your foreskin restoration support group a bit deluded. You are right. Acceptance is the key. I propose a toast to your long-severed foreskin, and your healthy new acceptance of its’ loss. Cheers.”


Yes, Goldberg was happy.

Our Vegetable Curry Supreme arrived at the table, as conveyed by Shell, the anemic, espresso-fueled Californian with porcelain-veneered teeth entirely too large for her sad eating-disorder smile. The food was delicious, the veggies crisp, the brown basmati rice nutty with a perfect chew, and the soymilk curry sauce light, creamy, and flavorful.


“The brass finials from the bedposts had been superheated, and then inserted into the victim’s rectum. “ The nice-looking detective announced these horrific details in an even tone, even though I could read his disgust from the taut pull on the lips as he pronounced the words. “There are lots of nerve endings in the anus, and the pain for Nelson would have been excruciating. “

Now I remembered the gloom and foreboding I felt while walking to work. Blaming my anxiety on a change in the weather, I had kicked along West 51st Street without an umbrella, fighting gusting winds and a cold, driving rain. Diseased honey locust trees lined the street, malevolent with their wet black bark and swollen, malignant pods hanging low over the sidewalk. At the restaurant I brooded. I set up the bar, spooning lemon peel spirals and cutting them up into martini-sized twists, while the rain beat steadily on the window facing Ninth Avenue. The telephone rang, shrill and insistent, provoking a panic in my chest. It was Demian. He sobbed uncontrollably. Hysterical and inconsolable, the indecipherable words came out choked, sounding like an engine flooded by bad fuel. I didn’t understand him at all until the very end. Before abruptly disconnecting, Demian did manage to gurgle out two coherent sentences. “Everything was stupid”, and “It’s my fault he’s dead.”

I tried calling him back, but his line remained busy for two hours. The wind-driven rain beat against the window, running down in rivulets, little torrents, and now my only customer for a café macchiato was the nice-looking detective from the NYPD Gay Crimes Unit.

“You haven’t seen this guy Austin in the neighborhood? You haven’t seen him at all since last Thursday at Demian’s apartment?” My detective had honest, healthy-looking skin and sky-colored blue eyes. He was from Idaho. He believed in his mission, you could tell. He’d told me a little about himself. A Mormon apostate, he’d married his partner in Massachusetts, when out-of-state residents still could. He heroically battled homophobia in the rank and file NYPD.

I wanted to trust him, but of course I couldn’t. Not entirely. He was still a cop. “No, I haven’t seen him. Demian said the guy worked on the Cyclone roller coaster out at Coney. Off-season repair work.”

“Yeah, we checked that out. The guy hasn’t shown up. He’s AWOL. There’s a warrant out for him”

“Where did Demian find the body? He wouldn’t go into Nelson’s room because of the birds.”

“He discovered the body in the large captain’s drawer underneath his platform bed. The killer had hid it there, along with drug paraphernalia, a ball-gag, and the leather straps used to bind Nelson. Also we found the acetylene torch used to heat the finials. It was all pretty gruesome. No one should ever have to find anything like that. Your friend Demian is a basket case.”

I found myself remembering last Thursday, sitting with Demian in the upholstered bed-box, watching two dazzling discs of light arc up the sides of the burning North Tower and disappear into the billowing column of smoke. Beneath us, stuffed into a drawer, Nelson’s body lie inert, rubber-dead cold.

“Do you think that Austin intended to retrieve Nelson’s body on Thursday, to dispose of it somewhere? I got the impression that he was surprised to discover people there in the apartment. “

“Yes, actually, we’re working on that theory. Because just after his visit to the apartment, he returned home to the Village, packed a bag, and told his roommate he was going to Rhode Island for a few days. Austin has a father in Rhode Island, but he never went there. His father hasn’t heard from him in months.” The detective savored the last of his coffee, sucking the dissolved sugar syrup from the demitasse cup. He hadn’t learned that in Idaho.

My nice-looking Mormon detective gave me his card, told me I could call him anytime, especially if I thought of any detail that might be relevant to the investigation. I didn’t offer any information about Demian or Demian’s business, or his relationship with Nelson. I figured those questions would inevitably come later.

The remainder of that long stormy afternoon I tried calling Demian every fifteen minutes. The line remained busy, probably off the hook. And I decided upon the use of a temporary coping mechanism. Call it denial. Torture and murder, at least for the moment, weren’t real. They were Japanese comic book.


An enormous burgeoning cloud mass moved swiftly overhead, the clouds leaded with moisture, black on the belly. The river, molten pewter and swollen with rain, undulated gently. The river trembled along with the earth, a movement I could not detect with my body, but a movement that I could see. The earth never stood still.

“Are they there? Is that cloud a cloud, or is it too big to be a cloud?”

Goldberg mocked me gently.

“ I am not ready to believe again. Knowing that Demian shredded all his photos and prints and destroyed all his negatives represents a shift, a crisis of faith. I don’t know if a cloud is a cloud.”

Goldberg smiled.

“You needed Demian to believe. He was your shaman. He led you to the
path, the way toward the numinous clouds. And now the shaman has gone back to Buffalo.”

Goldberg raised his camera, and began snapping shots of a squirrel resting on its haunches, intently gnawing an acorn. Goldberg had taken up photography. But whereas Demian aimed his camera at the sky, Goldberg trained his aim upon the earth, and on all things earthbound. He photographed the squirrels and the pigeons that inhabit the park, because he claimed they were smiling. He photographed the geese on the river in the morning, shrouded in the mist that rose up steaming off the water. He even photographed the rats as they raced to their squeeze-holes, because they, too, smiled for the camera. The rats were happy, according to Goldberg.

Goldberg let his camera fall to the strap, and it rested on his chest. He took both my hands in his. “Nick, I have a proposal for you. I want you to come with me next week to Tucson. This entire episode with Demian and Nelson has really affected you. You need to get away. I’ve spoken to my friends about it, and you are more than welcome to join me. Roy and his mother think it’s a wonderful idea and are anxious to meet you.”

I didn’t need to consider it. I didn’t hesitate. I knew I needed to get away to an empty sky. Away from camouflage clouds and chemical trails and watchful superior beings. Away from dysfunction, deformity, and disorder. Away from torture and murder, if only for a little while.

“Schuyler, I do need to get away. I will come with you to Arizona.”

Goldberg embraced me.
“I will bring my camera, and take pictures of you in the desert, under the empty cloudless sky. And you will be smiling.”