Last night I gave a reading at the Princeton Club. The event was held in an intimate lounge and 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 two pages of my most recent novel, which, naturally, featured a scene with sexual content, I apologized for having uttered the word erection in such a hallowed establishment, and in return I received polite laughter from the well-mannered audience. I then continued reading for another 20 minutes or so, and when I was done I opened things up for questions. An elegantly dressed silver-haired gentleman in the back of the room immediately and eagerly raised his hand. I called on him and his voice boomed out with great joy: “I don’t really have a question. I just want to say that you’re a milestone! You’re the first openly 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!”
“How do you know he’s gay?” asked a dignified, Brahminesque matron, who was sitting in the row in front of him, and who felt, and rightly so, that the man was somewhat out of line.
“Yes, how do you know?” asked a bald, intelligent-looking man on the other side of the room.
“You can’t separate the writer from his work,” said the silver-haired man. “Mr. Ames has obviously written from his experience.” What experience he was referring 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 then three scenes of dialogue dealing with Fitzgerald, the possible homosexuality of the Duke of Windsor and yes, the homosexual love affair between Danny Kaye and Laurence Olivier, but nothing that would clearly indicate that I was writing about my homosexual experience.
“I disagree,” said the bald man to the silver-haired man. “For a writer the imagination is key.”
“I’m not trying to start an argument,” said silver-hair, rather aggressively, implying that he was quite capable of starting one. This was bad. I was causing a fight to break out at the Princeton Club. And I had a new lady friend in the audience who had just heard me described as an openly gay man. I had to take charge of the situation.
“I’m glad to be a milestone,” I said loudly, commanding the attention back to myself at the lectern. “But I should say, though, that my sexuality is a 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, marketing people, that sort of thing. They were thinking of buying a book of mine, but wanted to check me out. One of the editors said to me, ‘You have a very strong gay following. What do you think of that?’ Now I don’t know what the intention of that question was, but I gave them my standard reply, which is: ‘I seem to have a great appeal to all sexualities, which is very good for sales.’”
The audience once again laughed and order was restored; if the man wanted to think I was gay that was perfectly fine, and for the rest of the audience I had made a confusing enough statement for them to project whatever sexuality they wanted onto me. I then fielded simpler questions and comments, and afterward I sat at a little table and signed books. Everyone was quite gracious and complimentary, but I was 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 Evelyn Waugh’s wife, ‘Your husband has such imagination.’ And she said, ‘No, he’s just a good editor.’ Meaning that he left out the boring events of his life and wrote about the interesting ones.”
Silver-hair then approached my little author’s table. “I hope I haven’t outed you, young man.”
I smiled limply. My lovely lady friend, who was still in her seat, glancing at The New Yorker to pass the time, cocked her head to listen, as did the dozen or 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? Say to 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 everything else, no one before you has ever said erection at the Princeton Club.”
“No one’s ever had an erection at the Princeton Club,” piped in the bald man.
“That’s not true,” said silver-hair rather mischievously, and I could only imagine what 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 lady friend and I left the Princeton Club and walked down 5th Ave. The sky was a deep, beautiful evening blue. My arm was around her. I thanked her for coming to the reading, and then said, “How did you feel hearing me described as ‘openly gay’?”
“I just felt that you handled it beautifully,” she said. “Good for you for not protesting… To me, you’re beyond labels.”
It was an endearing thing for her to say and I squeezed her tight. “Yes, it seems to be my mission in life,” I said, “to be the standard-bearer for a new, as of yet, unlabeled sexuality. I’ve come up with a playing card for sex and now I need to come up with a classification for those people who do not conveniently fall into the heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, transsexual or 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 once they’re between the sheets. And once there, they perform admirably. Right?” I squeezed her again.
“Yes,” she said, smiling at me sweetly.
We strolled all the way down 5th Ave. and went to her place. There we decided to try something neither of us had ever done. Ear coning. I had always thought it was called ear candling, but her package of wax candles designed to cleanse the ear came with a set of instructions entitled, “Ear Coning.”
So I’ve always wanted to ear cone. I like any process that cleans me out. I am all for fasting, colonics and nose-picking. A few months ago, I bought something called a 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 in since childhood. And, for me, it’s a dangerous habit, since I once caused a hemorrhage in my right nostril when I was 15, an incident recounted some time ago in NYPress, so I won’t bore the diligent reader with a retelling. But for the reader who missed that gripping episode, the Cliffs Notes version is that I had to be rushed to a hospital for an emergency cauterization of my nostril and was deeply ashamed to admit to the attending doctors and nurses that I had caused this life-threatening nosebleed (I had managed to puncture a 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 hands occupied.
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 her right side and I lit the 12-inch candle that was made from a thick, somewhat slow-burning, waxy paper, and which was hollow with openings at both ends. Once it was aflame, I placed the non-burning end of the candle in her left ear. The concept is that the smoke from the far end of the candle will draw the wax out of 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 smoking opium through your ear. I hear this crackling sound,” she said.
After the candle burned down two inches I removed it and cut off the ash and put it back in her ear. After another two inches burned off, I wanted to cut the ash, but she didn’t want me to remove the candle. “It feels too good,” she said.
“You better let me cut the ash,” I said. “I don’t want to set your bed on fire. People will think we were smoking in bed and we’re nonsmokers. This would be terrible for our reputations.”
She let me remove the candle; I clipped the ash and then put the candle back in. I let her use up another two inches of the candle and then doused it in the water—we needed 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 her earwax.
“It worked!” I proclaimed. With a chop stick I knocked her earwax out of the candle and into the bowl of water. I then coned her other ear and removed another globule of earwax. She then coned me. It was quite sensual and a lovely act of trust to allow someone to put a burning candle in your head. I too heard the crackling and felt a certain, calm peace as my earwax was sucked out of me. Like hers, mine was also caramel colored, which was nice that we had that in common. When it was all done, we both felt as if our hearing was greatly improved and we lay in her bed and she said to me, “Whisper something into my ear.”
“Sweet nothings, sweet nothings,” I said, and then I kissed and licked her ears and they had an interesting taste. “Smoked ear,” I said to her. “I love smoked foods.” She then kissed my ears and then I kissed her ears some more and so it went and what happened next I will leave to the reader’s open imagination.