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“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s “Banal and Profane” column comes to us from writer Conner Habib.
Conner Habib is a writer, porn star, and lecturer. His book, Remaking Sex, will be released from Disinformation late 2014. He lives in Los Angeles, where he eats pastries, reads about the occult, and doesn’t work on Sundays. Contact him on Twitter: @connerhabib.
The eternal question about parking tickets is whether or not the people that issue them are the biggest assholes on the planet, or if they’re just some poor dope happy to have a job. There’s no middle ground between anger and pity, either that meter maid (meter man? meter person?) gleefully placed the ticket or was scolding him/herself for needing to drive around in circles, punishing people.
Ofﬁcer GARCIA on Beat 493, from Agency 54 passes by my HOND (Color: GN), and slips a sliver of white and red paper against the glass. I ﬁnd it when I leave the gym, held by the wiper blade as it ﬂails in the wind: An irritating baby reaching to be close to someone else. Invisible laws, invisible codes of necessity. Because I was “IN VIOLATION OF SECTION LAMC 80.69C,” I owe $58.00. I don’t know what that section is. Did I agree to it? Either way, the citation “must be contested within 21 calendar days.” Also, there’s an address for written correspondence, in case I want to send them an old fashioned letter. But I’m warned, DO NOT SEND CASH. Someone at the ofﬁce could, presumably, steal cash. They don’t trust themselves, and I don’t trust them either. I was in the spot for just over the permitted hour (permitted by whom?); do they really expect me to believe they drove by at the exact right moment, observing my car resting just a teensy bit past its welcome? But it’s all on the ticket, which states: Time Marked 10:02 AM; Offence Time 11:09 AM. Why the mysteriously British spelling? They don’t want me to feel as if I’ve done anything offensive, maybe. The C in Offence civilizes the Offense. There there my good chap, just a polite transaction between two fellows; chin up and pay it and think of England.
SP 1HR PKG 8A TO 6P MRKED AT. 10:02 LR YEL CHK it reads. Agency 54, it reads. And, as ominously as tiny font can muster, WARNING: FAILURE TO PAY PARKING FINES MAYCAUSE SEIZURE OF VEHICLES. Vehicles? My vehicle? Seizure? The statement is followed by an empowering code, sent from Robotland – CVC 22651 (I); 22651.7.
A parking ticket in the morning always feels portentous. Is this going to be a “bad day?” or, since it’s Monday, a bad week? As if there were such a thing.
I eat good food, I hang out with friends. But a parking ticket is the ﬂash of a hex. There are forces I’d rather forget about monitoring my every move. Who knows what they’ll do next. I sit outside in the utterly pleasant Los Angeles weather; but still, I feel, “nothing’s going right.”
Okay. I owe you, whoever you are. I owe you money for whatever it was I did wrong.
PEOPLE ARE ANGRY ABOUT A CURRENT EVENT. There was a Twilight Zone episode where a man pays for a newspaper. He tosses a coin into a box and instead of spinning and then shuddering until it’s lying ﬂat on one face, the coin lands on its thin side and stays there. Suddenly, the man can hear everyone’s thoughts. Twitter radiates the pulse of the world; it’s an unconscious that is exact instead of jumbled. It’s exposed telepathy. We’re still learning how to deal with it; it seems to have appeared instantly. I’m on it every day, trying to ﬁlter the voices properly.
NO ONE WILL EVER FORGIVE YOU IF YOU FUCK UP EVEN ONCE, Twitter teaches us. There’s nothing forgiving about the unconscious; forgiveness is a wholly conscious act. Has anything bad ever happened to you in your life? TURN IT INTO A WORLD VIEW AND USE IT TO PUNISH OTHERS FOR FUCKING UP. EXPERIENCE MATTERS MORE THAN ANYTHING, AND THE EXPERIENCE THAT MATTERS MOST IS PAIN. In cases when both people are tweeting with pain, things get tricky–whose pain is more painful?
People who write for online magazines are arguing with other people who write for online magazines, and editors have a lot to say too.
Each sentence is an exercise in being absolutely correct or unquestionably funny or universally noble.
People encapsulate themselves and make quick work of their lives. Proﬁle headers fall into different archetypes.
-Statements of identity: “Happily married to (ﬁll in the blank). Proud mother of (ﬁll in the blank). Lover of coffee!”
-Don’t tread-on-me-God: “Just another human being trying to get through life without much to say.”
-I’m rude but prefer to think of it as brutal honesty: “I’m that bitch! Ready or not world, here I come. Building my empire!”
-Ubiquitous claim/assertion of authority: “Writer for Hufﬁngton Post and/or editor of some online publication.”
-Gay porn nexus: “Porn star/personal trainer/DJ/escort/rentboy ad/amazon wishlist.” “You’re an ignorant asshole,” someone tweets to me. “Click on this link to read this article, because it is everything,” a bunch of other people write.
Then every once in awhile, vulnerability will come through. Instead of anger: sadness. Instead of certainty: wonder. The kindness of strangers, reaching to say hello and to know each other. Like an animal haltingly approaching a pool of water to drink. They ﬂirt and send selﬁes. They support each other. They say how grateful they are. Then they retreat.
At the end of the episode, the man rushes back to the newspaper vendor and knocks the coin over. Hearing everyone else is just too much. But we can’t knock the coin over. The horizontal gravity of rest is a thing of the past. The world stands on its side. It looks like it will fall, but impossibly, it doesn’t.
Baxter fucks me and goes to rinse off. I’m lying naked on my stomach. I don’t clean up, I can fall asleep with someone all over me, knotting up the hair on my belly. I’m hanging off the edge off the bed staring at the torn condom wrapper on the wooden ﬂoor.
When used properly latex condoms are intended to prevent pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and many other sexually transmitted infections, though they cannot eliminate risk. CAUTION: This product contains rubber latex which may cause allergic reactions. Before using, please see directions for use.
The condom has a weird inner reality. You have to develop your will to reach for one. Think one intentional thought —put on a condom–during the hurried current of sex, and you can save your own life. That’s what real thinking – the thought we think because we want to think it– does; it compels the future. To access the “intended to prevent…” you have to intend prevention yourself.
Baxter’s dick is huge, and I apologized for not having any Magnums. “Just normal human-sized ones,” I said. Before I reached for the condom, he’d already stuck his dick in me for a minute, then we stopped and realized, better to be safe. I used to freak the fuck out about moments like that, when I opened myself up to the tiniest possibility of infection. But the truth is, nothing can “eliminate risk.” With condoms, we’re protecting ourselves, but that mostly takes the form of mediating our anxieties. I don’t want to worry about this experience, I want to look back and think about how great it was; that’s health.
The Books under My Bed
By the time I get into bed, I fall asleep quickly, so I can’t read much more than a few pages. There’s always a small stack of books tucked just under my bed (on one side, books, on the other, condoms). These books get the short shrift or the most honorable attention, depending on your perspective. I make small advances in them, a few pages at a time. Not reading them so much as looking at them. Sometimes I’ll fall asleep and wake up next to one on my pillow, my hand still holding it, caring for it. These books, though they’re a rotating cast, are like a small family. I keep the relationship going, even if we don’t have much time to talk. Right now, there are three of them.
–Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. A book that appears made to read before bed. A travel guide to unreal places in short and bursting detail. “In Maurilia,” one chapter begins, “the traveler is invited to visit the city and, at the same time, to examine some old postcards that show it as it used to be: the same identical square with a hen in the place of the bus station, a bandstand in the place of the overpass, two young ladies with white parasols in the place of the munitions factory.”
The hypnogogic state as you pass from being awake into the backwards world of dreaming. Your bedroom replaced with somewhere new. The lawfulness of the world goes to sleep, and in the meantime, you wake up. You and Not You.
-Rudolf Steiner Enters My Life by Dr. Friedrich Rittelmeyer. A little blue hardcover I found at a small spiritual bookstore in Pasadena. Rittelmeyer, a theologian – meets late 19th/early 20th century philosopher, scientist, and spiritual thinker Rudolf Steiner. The book is old and unknown, feels small and warm. There’s an inscription written by the people who purchased it long ago on the ﬁrst pages: “To dear Dolph & Pearl with loving thoughts at Christmas time Adele & August 1942.”
At the ending edge of a war, someone bought this book and gave it to a friend. In brown paper tied with twine, I imagine. Whatever was happening in a frantic and scary world, this book would give comfort. I understand why someone would give this book; it’s an act of love: The theologian who must rework all his ideas when a more commanding, more loving person appears in the religious scenery. At night, I think of Rittelmeyer, turning over his concepts, becoming lonely with their new complexity, heartened by his friendship with Steiner. It’s so gentle that I feel as if someone is whispering words of appreciation to me.
–Concise Catholic Dictionary compiled by Robert C. Broderick, who dedicated it to his mother and father. A dedicated dictionary strikes me as a funny thing. The book is mass market size and the pages, green at the edge, are falling out. On the cover are a dalmatic, humeral veil, triptych, monstrance, and an aspersory; and you can ﬁnd out what any or all of those are inside. I practice a sort of dream bibliomancy with this book. I’m not superstitious or Catholic, but I like the game of listening to the book, of seeing what will appear in my dream. Open randomly, read. Sometimes it’s still nonsensical, like, “Quarter tenses, n.; L.A name formerly applied to the Ember days. (Obs.)” What? So I look up “Ember days” and ﬁnd that they’re fasting, abstinent days. Maybe I go to bed without jerking off. Or maybe I try to will a feeling of piety into my thoughts to see what will happen. Often, nothing does. Then again, sometimes there’s a swath of feeling when I wake; a memory of a ceremonial robe or a glowing cross.
Literary Magazine Reading
Halfway through the ﬁrst of ﬁve readers, I sit on the ﬂoor. I’m hearing him but not really listening; I’m looking at the thin stripes of color ﬁlling the shelves, or looking at my feet or the card rack. The author’s ﬂat voice settles on the counters and ﬂoor. The problem with readings is that so many authors have no idea how to read aloud. It’s their own work, you’d think they’d want to embolden it with life.
The next reader’s story is well-put together and touching, but her tone is all wrong. She reads as if she’s ordering something from a fast food drive through. At what is no doubt a breathless moment on the page, she simply drawls through. “Toby was ﬂoating in the pool,” she reads. “He’d drowned. There was no saving him.” And can you super-size it? She’s a good enough writer that she should have remained silent.
The night goes on, and I’m blotting out the sounds from the podium by looking at the books whose voices I want to invent on my own. One pleasure of reading to yourself is that when you scan the words, you receive new people who speak in new timbres. But even as the author guides you, the character’s voices are created from your own cloth. They’re in your mind, but new to you. You can get a giddy feeling, like a dog surprised to see its own wagging tail. If an author tries to retain this openness when he/she reads aloud to others, it fails. The story must be read in such a way as to create interest. The audience will often have trouble staying focused, and there’s no ink to review passed-by words in. The reader must constantly correct the listener’s posture.
The ﬁnal writer, the writer I came to see, is gay. I know he’s going to have everyone at a disadvantage and perform his story perfectly. The performance of surviving as an outsider is a much remarked-on second nature for so many gay men. Reading a story is a snap. Everyone sits with their spines in straight lines as he breathes in air and carves it into his story. He’s a far better writer than the others, but he could have been a worse one and still had an effect. The violence in the story feels violent; the desperation, desperate. Words love hanging on his tongue, ﬂourishing and gesturing as they twirl past the lips. Gay men invented language, I think.
Mall bathroom. In pen and marker, some illegible stuff on the stall walls, one dumb joke, a poorly constructed name in cursive by an unambitious tagger, and toward the bottom of the partition, COUGH FOR BJ. Presumably, whoever wrote it comes here often enough for the inscription to yield multiple uses. He wrote it, then walked into the stall next door, then waited for someone to cough. Cough or tap your foot or wait at the urinal til someone’s interested; I’m familiar with all of it. There’s a code for fucking in places like this. This time, I’m just here to pee, but if I thought someone were interested, I might linger.
Think about the guys, the majority of straight guys, that have no clue that every public men’s room in the country has hosted gay sex at one point or another.
A straight guy shufﬂes into a stall, minding his own business, and there’s this message from nowhere waiting for him. What’s the straight guy thinking when he sees it? Fucking faggots, maybe. The fear that gay people are taking over. On every TV show, a gay character. In the news, gay gay gay. The Olympics. Bullying. Suicides. Marriage. Whatever. Gay guys everywhere, it’s inescapable. Even in the bathroom. Or I’m not into guys, but I really could use a blowjob. I imagine there must be a feeling of temptation for some of them; it’s so much harder for them to get laid and here’s a blowjob on offer. Although would they know how to go about it? You either let the blowjob-er into your stall or you slide the bottom half of your body under the partition. Both are tricky. Someone might walk in and see two sets of feet in one stall (solution: stand on the edge of the toilet so your feet aren’t visible while the other guy sits and blows you), or someone might see you kneeling with your pants down (solution: be alert enough that when you hear the door open, you stand up).I’m not sure a straight guy would think of either. It’s not that I think straight guys are dumb or anything like that, I just think there’s a gay determination that leads to inventiveness. Blowjob? I’ll ﬁnd a way.
Probably the guy doesn’t think either of those things, though. Instead he thinks something that wavers, innocently or knowingly, between the two: Oh God, what if I accidentally cough?