Last nightI gave a reading at the Princeton Club. The event was held in an intimate loungeand about 25 people were in attendance. It was mostly a handsome older crowd,with a few younger Princeton alumni thrown in. After I read the opening twopages of my most recent novel, which, naturally, featured a scene with sexualcontent, I apologized for having uttered the word erection in such a hallowedestablishment, and in return I received polite laughter from the well-manneredaudience. I then continued reading for another 20 minutes or so, and when Iwas done I opened things up for questions. An elegantly dressed silver-hairedgentleman in the back of the room immediately and eagerly raised his hand. Icalled on him and his voice boomed out with great joy: "I don't reallyhave a question. I just want to say that you're a milestone! You're the firstopenly gay writer ever to give a reading at the Princeton Club. There shouldbe some kind of plaque. I'm honored to be here when you're here. I applaud you!" "Howdo you know he's gay?" asked a dignified, Brahminesque matron, who wassitting in the row in front of him, and who felt, and rightly so, that the manwas somewhat out of line.
"Yes,how do you know?" asked a bald, intelligent-looking man on the other sideof the room.
"Youcan't separate the writer from his work," said the silver-haired man. "Mr.Ames has obviously written from his experience." What experience he wasreferring to is unclear since I hadn't read a specific homosexual love scene.I did read a scene where my young protagonist puts on a brassiere, and thenthree scenes of dialogue dealing with Fitzgerald, the possible homosexualityof the Duke of Windsor and yes, the homosexual love affair between Danny Kayeand Laurence Olivier, but nothing that would clearly indicate that I was writingabout my homosexual experience.
"Idisagree," said the bald man to the silver-haired man. "For a writerthe imagination is key."
"I'mnot trying to start an argument," said silver-hair, rather aggressively,implying that he was quite capable of starting one. This was bad. I was causinga fight to break out at the Princeton Club. And I had a new lady friend in theaudience who had just heard me described as an openly gay man. I had to takecharge of the situation.
"I'mglad to be a milestone," I said loudly, commanding the attention back tomyself at the lectern. "But I should say, though, that my sexuality isa profound mystery, mostly to myself... But let me share with you a brief anecdote.A few months ago, I met with several people at a publishing house-editors, marketingpeople, that sort of thing. They were thinking of buying a book of mine, butwanted to check me out. One of the editors said to me, 'You have a very stronggay following. What do you think of that?' Now I don't know what the intentionof that question was, but I gave them my standard reply, which is: 'I seem tohave a great appeal to all sexualities, which is very good for sales.'"
The audienceonce again laughed and order was restored; if the man wanted to think I wasgay that was perfectly fine, and for the rest of the audience I had made a confusingenough statement for them to project whatever sexuality they wanted onto me.I then fielded simpler questions and comments, and afterward I sat at a littletable and signed books. Everyone was quite gracious and complimentary, but Iwas distracted by a conversation going on between silver-hair and the bald man,who said, "I still maintain that writers rely on imagination."
"Bullshit,"said silver-hair. "Writers write their life stories. Somebody said to EvelynWaugh's wife, 'Your husband has such imagination.' And she said, 'No, he's justa good editor.' Meaning that he left out the boring events of his life and wroteabout the interesting ones."
Silver-hairthen approached my little author's table. "I hope I haven't outed you,young man."
I smiledlimply. My lovely lady friend, who was still in her seat, glancing at TheNew Yorker to pass the time, cocked her head to listen, as did the dozenor so remaining attendees of the reading. "Don't worry," I said. "In,out, upside down, it's all the same to me." And what else could I do? Sayto him, "No, I'm not gay," and humiliate him in front of everyone?
"Well,you certainly made history here tonight," he said. "On top of everythingelse, no one before you has ever said erection at the Princeton Club."
"Noone's ever had an erection at the Princeton Club," piped in thebald man.
"That'snot true," said silver-hair rather mischievously, and I could only imaginewhat he's carried on in the locker room by the squash courts. Then he left,and I signed a few more books and my duty was done.
My ladyfriend and I left the Princeton Club and walked down 5th Ave. The sky was adeep, beautiful evening blue. My arm was around her. I thanked her for comingto the reading, and then said, "How did you feel hearing me described as'openly gay'?"
"Ijust felt that you handled it beautifully," she said. "Good for youfor not protesting... To me, you're beyond labels."
It was anendearing thing for her to say and I squeezed her tight. "Yes, it seemsto be my mission in life," I said, "to be the standard-bearer fora new, as of yet, unlabeled sexuality. I've come up with a playing card forsex and now I need to come up with a classification for those people who donot conveniently fall into the heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, transsexualor bisexual category. You'd think that would be enough, but obviously it's not.This new category is like the most powerful political party-the undecideds...I am the titular leader of the undecideds of sexuality...who only decide oncethey're between the sheets. And once there, they perform admirably. Right?"I squeezed her again.
"Yes,"she said, smiling at me sweetly.
We strolledall the way down 5th Ave. and went to her place. There we decided to try somethingneither of us had ever done. Ear coning. I had always thought it was calledear candling, but her package of wax candles designed to cleanse the ear camewith a set of instructions entitled, "Ear Coning."
So I'vealways wanted to ear cone. I like any process that cleans me out. I am all forfasting, colonics and nose-picking. A few months ago, I bought something calleda neti pot that allows one to transfer salt water from one nostril to the next,which helps to clear the sinuses. I did it for a week or so and then lost interest,and reverted back to frequent nose-picking, a nervous habit I've indulged insince childhood. And, for me, it's a dangerous habit, since I once caused ahemorrhage in my right nostril when I was 15, an incident recounted some timeago in NYPress, so I won't bore the diligent reader with a retelling.But for the reader who missed that gripping episode, the Cliffs Notesversion is that I had to be rushed to a hospital for an emergency cauterizationof my nostril and was deeply ashamed to admit to the attending doctors and nursesthat I had caused this life-threatening nosebleed (I had managed to puncturea vessel with my fingernail) by vigorous nose-picking while watching television.And yet still to this day, I pick. It's like smoking. You know you should quit,but you can't. And like smoking it has to do with the hands. Keeping the handsoccupied.
Anyway,my lady friend and I got into bed with our ear candles and a bowl of water.After carefully reading the instructions, I coned her first. She lay on herright side and I lit the 12-inch candle that was made from a thick, somewhatslow-burning, waxy paper, and which was hollow with openings at both ends. Onceit was aflame, I placed the non-burning end of the candle in her left ear. Theconcept is that the smoke from the far end of the candle will draw the wax outof the ear canal. As the candle burned down, she was visibly moved and pleased.There was a look of wonderment and delight on her face. "This is like smokingopium through your ear. I hear this crackling sound," she said.
After thecandle burned down two inches I removed it and cut off the ash and put it backin her ear. After another two inches burned off, I wanted to cut the ash, butshe didn't want me to remove the candle. "It feels too good," shesaid.
"Youbetter let me cut the ash," I said. "I don't want to set your bedon fire. People will think we were smoking in bed and we're nonsmokers. Thiswould be terrible for our reputations."
She letme remove the candle; I clipped the ash and then put the candle back in. I lether use up another two inches of the candle and then doused it in the water-weneeded to save the second half for her other ear. After having put out the flame,I looked inside the hollow candle and saw this caramel-covered globule of herearwax.
"Itworked!" I proclaimed. With a chop stick I knocked her earwax out of thecandle and into the bowl of water. I then coned her other ear and removed anotherglobule of earwax. She then coned me. It was quite sensual and a lovely actof trust to allow someone to put a burning candle in your head. I too heardthe crackling and felt a certain, calm peace as my earwax was sucked out ofme. Like hers, mine was also caramel colored, which was nice that we had thatin common. When it was all done, we both felt as if our hearing was greatlyimproved and we lay in her bed and she said to me, "Whisper something intomy ear."
"Sweetnothings, sweet nothings," I said, and then I kissed and licked her earsand they had an interesting taste. "Smoked ear," I said to her. "Ilove smoked foods." She then kissed my ears and then I kissed her earssome more and so it went and what happened next I will leave to the reader'sopen imagination.