EVERYTHING BUT NOT QUITE

Aldrin Valdez, "Sometimes (after Henry Darger)" 2013-14, digital collage
Aldrin Valdez, “Sometimes (after Henry Darger)” 2013-14, digital collage

 

Buses & Elocution

Out here in Nassau County, Long Island most of the people that take public transportation are people of color, workers earning low wages, and immigrants on their way to work or to school. When he was a teenager, BoyBoy aspired to be white, but if you had asked him then, he’d have had no idea what you were talking about. Instead say Hollister and say blond. Say not wanting to smell like the fish his sister just cooked before he went to school. Stress the soft TH sounds instead of the hard T, F not P: First, myTHology, THree, PHoenix, Four, Full, Faggot, teeTH, Five. Even Filipino, which he is. ConFused, too. He hated taking the bus.

 

Roosevelt Field: Take-Offs, Aspirations, & Clearance Sales

The ride to Roosevelt Field Mall from Long Beach is over an hour long with a stop at the Hempstead Transit Center. The mall is built on a former airfield named after Quentin Roosevelt, the pilot son of President Theodore Roosevelt, who trained there before heading off to Europe. Quentin died in France in 1918 after being shot down in combat during what would later be billed as the First World War. Nearly a decade later another pilot, the aviator Charles Lindbergh, the sky-eyed son of an immigrant, took off from Roosevelt Field for a nonstop flight across the Atlantic to Paris. The hero’s glory he garnered for that marvel of aviation would be marred a few years later by the ransom kidnapping of his toddler son that ended with the child’s death. In the 1950s Roosevelt Field became a shopping center, following the speedy construction of the first Levittown, just a few minutes’ drive from the mall—a same-and-sane, future-perfect village of mass-produced homes, the model suburbia. It was the capitalist dream-come-true of Levitt & Sons, a real estate firm and family that thrived during the Great Depression and in times of pestilence and war. There was a dearth of housing for America’s returned soldiers and their burgeoning families, so Levitt & Sons answered with Levittown, Long Island, which was followed by the manufacturing of several other Levittowns across the country, including one in Puerto Rico.

 

All-American Jock Sesame Chicken

It’s Saturday and the cologne from the Hollister store in this corner of the mall is stiflingly sweet, so pungent it sticks to your skin. There are tiki lights, bamboo patches, palm trees, and wall-sized images of setting suns on the beaches of Hawaii or maybe it’s California or Long Island. BoyBoy leaves for the food court, across from Hollister, on the other side of the overhang, having bought a collared polo shirt that he will be too insecure to wear with the collars popped because he is ashamed and in denial of wanting to look like the white boys who lived near his school, a rich neighborhood with geometrically tailored bushes lining the driveways of each home.

The food court has an oblong isle at the center made up of various fast-food joints squeezed next to each other in compartments, each radiating a line of people who have decided this afternoon to eat pizza, sesame chicken with rice, Wendy’s fries, or an Auntie Anne’s soft pretzel with a jumbo-sized iced-tea. BoyBoy has chosen sesame chicken with rice and a can of coke. There is too much oil and sugar and now he is gassy and suppressing it. He is bloated, but he smells sweet and blond, like surfboards and shell necklaces and lifeguards and frothy waves. The beach this summer of 2002 is a wet dream of a track & field friend wading into the ocean after a run wearing only white boxer briefs.

 

Just Looking

Oh Teddy, what are you doing! BoyBoy feigns bro-disapproval, refusing to enter the water. But look at him. He’ll remember himself in this moment years from now, his anatomy all fucked up. He’ll remember feeling that his gut was in his throat, his heart a beating dick inseparable from his polyester running shorts. His breath was a secret and he was holding it.

Don’t look then, Teddy says. It is Teddy’s senior year. He will go on to college to run cross country and major in English. He is currently dating Tiffany, the superstar of the girls’ lacrosse team who’ll be captain in the spring. They will have an amicable break-up right before graduation but not until after prom.

BoyBoy will remember himself as having smiled through those five minutes as Teddy went in and came out of the ocean, little streams of saltwater running down his pale peach abdomen to the curlicues of dark hair above his boxer briefs. His boxer briefs sticking to his body and showing everything, but not quite.

Oh how you love that, squealed the smiling memory. How you love seeing what you want, but not having it. That pull, that tug. The ebb of water and the pounding in your chest and gut and neck and shoulders and that bundle of nerves and blood vessels between your legs that you have no idea what to do with, but sure-as-rosaries you believe that all your worth depends on its size. BoyBoy had wished Teddy was like him, like—he couldn’t even say it, but he wished Teddy was that word.

 

Maalaala Mo Kaya

It was a smiling, terrified memory and it lived scattered and uneven in BoyBoy’s brown body. It would not begin to emerge until the following year, the year before college where he will be reminded that he is different and everything is complicated, and then the memory will sink harder and deeper, to return to his surface consciousness only in his late twenties. It will be a difficult process and the coming-to will be painful. All those words he’d forgotten returning to him, some he will realize had always been there at the tip of his tongue: “maalaala,” “bulalakaw,” “damdamin,” “sarili” and so on. A litany of words made flesh, he will think. And because of that he will be reminded of Catholicism’s insistence on the body of Christ. He will feel an odd closeness to a religion he had renounced as a teenager—during a time that could have woken him up and made him critically angry. But back then he couldn’t quite connect the events of September 2001, and the subsequent war waged in the name of democracy, to his own circumstances. Long ago in 1899 a version of those war-hawk words echoed from Washington’s pews as President McKinley & Co. charismatically reminded the nation that the people of the Philippines did not know how to govern themselves and so America “must educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.” George Bush’s words on television, interrupting BoyBoy’s favorite sci-fi/fantasy show in 2003, Miracles starring Skeet Ulrich, could have reminded him, but in a silent language deep in him, something automatic said: you’re Filipino, you do not speak out. He’d renounced Catholicism, but it had long ago dug a church in his mind and in the minds of his ancestors, an intergenerational trauma that he was ill-equipped to see and name, even as his body screamed it all along.

But much later, he will speak out—or he’ll try, at least. Other words will come, often with his growing awareness of a history from which he had been terribly alienated and with that realization will come shame because he will feel deeply that he was supposed to know all along. A friend, who—because he is black and HIV-positive—had long ago realized that you are never safe and people can be cruel, will ask him, “Where does your oppression come from?”

 

‘Sup Bro

It was 2013 and Teddy did not mind Grindr’s design change. He thought it was nice. His old profile’s “About” section commandingly declared that he was “masc and neg – u be too.” He was rather proud of being forward. He’d never thought about it really until a guy responded to his come-on of “hey hung here u looking?” with a “wow you’re so forward,” which Teddy took to be an invitation for him to send two dick pics and a nude mirror pic with the flash on that he thought cleverly obscured his face. Now with this new Grindr, there was an option for users to pick a “Tribe”; he chose “clean cut,” but he thought he was also “discreet” and “otter” and “jock.” His current “About” section expounded: “rice enthusiast ;) neg 12/20/12 only safe here, no fats, no fems plz just a preference, uncut +++ move to the front of the line lol.”

 

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