Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Try

by Dennis Cooper

“Written in Mr. Cooper’s taut, chillingly ironic prose. . . Try is about a world under severe emotional repression–a fascistic world of pure sadistic power. . . . As improbable as it may seem, Dennis Cooper has written a love story, all the more poignant because it is so brutally crushed.” –The New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 208
  • Publication Date April 01, 1995
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3338-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 208
  • Publication Date May 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4772-2
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

Simultaneously deadpan and queasily raw, Try is the story of Ziggy, the adopted teenaged son of two sexually abusive fathers whose failed experiment at nuclear-family domesticity has left him stranded with one and increasingly present in the fantasies of the other.” He turns from both of these men to his uncle, who sells pornographic videos on the black market, and to his best friend, a junkie whose own vulnerability inspires in Ziggy a fierce and awkward devotion.

Terminally insecure and yet inured to sexual brutality, Ziggy questions his two fathers, his uncle, his drug dealer, his friends, and himself in an attempt to isolate and define the vagaries and boundaries of sexuality, attraction, and abuse, compiling their responses into a magazine that he calls I Apologize.

In prose that is taut, rhythmic, charged, chillingly precise, and beautifully controlled, Cooper examines his characters’ motivations not as the product of cultural coercion but as the emanations of something hungry and amoral and essentially human. Try explores “that buried need to go all the way and really possess someone,” that place where desire disintegrates into the irrational. He illuminates with utter clarity the need to claim the desirable, to possess wholly something that will fulfill the profound emptiness of the human soul.

With Try, Cooper has produced a novel even more complex than his previous books, dangerously innovative and with the startling familiarity of truth in its examination of love, obsession, devotion, and the depths of human need.

Tags Literary Gay

Praise

“Painfully poignant. . . . Beneath the queasy surface, no novelist empathizes more with the pathos of put-upon youth.””Spin

“Written in Mr. Cooper’s taut, chillingly ironic prose. . . Try is about a world under severe emotional repression”a fascistic world of pure sadistic power. . . . As improbable as it may seem, Dennis Cooper has written a love story, all the more poignant because it is so brutally crushed.””The New York Times Book Review

“There was a rumor that Cooper’s new book was going to be a “nice” one after the dark nightmare of Frisk, but Try is even more shocking.” It may also be his most perfectly structured and moving work.” It is finally time to admit that Cooper”whose work is constantly compared to Genet, Baudelaire, etc.”is like no other.””Paper

Try is a logical extension of what Cooper has been doing all along: trying to get under the skin, past the flesh, to figure out what’s really inside.””Out

“Written in authentic language that is both fervent and wary.

. . the novel turns away from Cooper’s customary obsession with sexual violence and reaches, however tentatively, for emotional resolution.””Details

Excerpt

Ziggy’s splayed in bed editing I Apologize, “A Magazine for the Sexually Abused.” Four or five copies have sold at this cool, mainly CD-cassette store where Calhoun, his best friend, works part-time. This’ll eventually be I Apologize No. 20. Last time Ziggy checked it was 1:37 A.M. At the moment he’s hunched over, filling up most of page eight with a self-portrait. Him scared. Not bad considering the nothing technique. Tick, tick, tick, tick . . . When Ziggy thinks his depiction’s okay, i.e., now, he moves the pencil to a different locale on the page, gradually clogging this straggly figure’s surroundings with words. Don’t panic get a grip you don’t have to sleep if you don’t want to. They’re twisting and winding all over the fucking place. Very . . . psychedelic? “Hm,” Weird how professional it looks. Last weekend, scribbling that sentence on a loose scrap of homework, he’d felt like “auditioning for a snuff film,” as Uncle Ken joked one time. ‘shit.” He owes that old psychotic a call. 1:59 A.M.

He pushes the part-finished zine aside, looking worriedly at a Polaroid he based the self-portrait on. It shows Ziggy shirtless, in cutoffs, head turned, eyeballing Calhoun before a bad thrift-store painting of Paris, face charged by a happy if slightly hysterical expression. Calhoun just looks . . . high, period. I’m handsome enough, Ziggy thinks. Definitely. Yeah, but . . . His body’s just sort of there. Neck down he could be, oh, sixty percent of the guys at his high school. Maybe he’d fuck himself if he was sure he was gay, but his taste in men is notoriously primitive, so . . . does that count? ‘shit, shit . . .” Ziggy squints at Calhoun for a second, then flicks the Polaroid at the small table next to his bed, where it joins a black pushbutton telephone, the colorful if empty cassette case for H’sker D”‘s New Day Rising LP, and a freshly rolled, unlighted joint. 2:04 A.M.
Across town, Calhoun sits in his fake-antique desk chair injecting a huge dose of heroin. Nearby, a laptop computer’s screen exudes this turquoisey glow, into which a paragraph of his novel-in-progress dissolves, or appears to. He unties his arm, blinks, and a subsequent rush, though it’s more like an ease–warm, slightly sensual, trancy–cross-fades the world around him into a vague, distant backdrop as well as it can, for a few minutes anyway. That would be the scariest sight in the world–gentle, brilliant Calhoun and his writing in deep hibernation–but no one else sees. And to him, heroin’s perfection or whatever. Calhoun’s friends couldn’t understand what he’s experiencing right now, although one, maybe two of the people he knows worry almost incessantly, even melodramatically at times, irritating him when they announce their concern, since, to his mind, that “concern” is self-serving and thoughtlessly aimed. Take Josie, Calhoun’s long-distance girlfriend, whom he keeps half-abreast of his goings-on. She, Ziggy are neurotic as shit about the subject of heroin. Still, they’re the people who “love” him. They say so at least, far too often in fact, for whatever that’s worth. Calhoun’s slightly inscrutable, even to those select few who detect how kind and gifted he is behind an initial remoteness. Whatever, folks. He just wants to feel bliss via heroin. If his friends feel like hanging around with him anyway, fine.
Across town, Ken, Ziggy’s overweight uncle, was sitting around making ultra–eye contact with Robin, a thirteen-year-old Heavy Metal fanatic.
“Nice place,” the kid said, eyeing the man’s stupid furniture and shit.
“Check it out,” answered Ken. He heaved-ho his huge body out of the faded green armchair.
Robin stood, followed the man around.
Room, room, room . . . room.

“Here’s where I make porno videos.” It was a brightly lit room with a set. Outdated motel interior, it seemed. ‘maybe we’ll make one,” he added.
The kid snorted.
‘maybe . . . soon,” said the man. He reached out, squeezed the drooping seat of Robin’s tattered black jeans.
Un-fucking-believable-looking kid.
“No, let’s get really, really, really stoned first.” Robin laughed, very jittery. “You know . . . “cos . . .”
So they traipsed off to the couch.
Ken’s big blanched hand with two tiny blue UFOs jammed in the sweaty palm. “Take both,” he said.
The kid pried them out, filled his mouth, felt around in a pocket, and traded the man a cassette of his favorite band Slayer’s most recent LP.
Cover art: huge, rotting skull populated by demonic, half-human figures.
“Looks good,” Ken said, not really thinking that.
“Fuck, I worship them, man!” Robin brought a beer can to his mouth.
“To their health.” The man smirked. And he raised his own beer.
Both of them: “Glug, glug, glug . . .”
Safely inside the kid’s guts, pills began to dissolve, meaning Ken could relax, right? He idly studied the Slayer art.
“Put it on,” insisted Robin.

“What, this?” Ken asked. He held up the ugly cassette case.
Excited kid’s brown bordering on reflective black eyes.
“H-hello?” Nicole’s voice is sort of, uh, vague, ” la Calhoun’s, though, fingers crossed, it’s just drowsiness, and not . . . whatever . . . heroin?
“It’s me,” Ziggy says into the phone. “Ziggy McCauley. Uh, who always wears a jeans jacket?”
“Oh, hi-i-i.” She yawns, a lengthy, multipitched type. Even thinned to a wisp by the mechanism, the sound’s totally erotic.
“Hi.”
Yawning apparently burned off the cloud since her voice turns a touch . . . crisp. “Ziggy,” she says. “How are you?”
“I’m okay. Stoned. Uh, you?” He reaches down, wiggles his hardening cock.
“A bit hazy, naturally. Oh, listen, I was thinking about you today.”
‘really? Ha ha ha, sure.” Ziggy’s left foot starts spazzing out, a semiconscious bad habit that just makes him more overwrought, though it’s not as if he can adjust it.
She hums a little melody like she’s pissed off or embarrassed to continue. It, the melody, sounds vaguely familiar. Like from MTV, radio. Ziggy narrows it down to a category (rap), and a gender (female), but the tinier details elude him. Shit. ‘so, what’s your opinion of H’sker D”?” he interrupts hopefully.
Her song shorts out.
“”Cos I love them,” he adds.
‘mm. I’ve heard the name.”
Ziggy reaches over, pushes PLAY on his cassette deck. New Day Rising comes on. “Listen to this. Just for a second, okay?” He holds the receiver to one of the speakers. “Celebrated Summer” happens to be playing. . . . I summer where I winter, and no one is allowed there . . . After a minute he hauls the receiver back up to his mouth, yells, “This is so fucking great” then shoves it back into the song for twenty, twenty-five seconds. . . . Then the sun disintegrates behind a wall of clouds . . . “Isn’t that genius?” Ziggy asks. “No matter what Bob Mould’s singing it makes me cry! Not really, but . . . you know what I mean? I hate it that they broke up! Assholes! Not really!” He snickers off ‘microphone.”
“Interesting.”
Ziggy turns down the stereo. “They’re great.”
“I believe you. So what do you do on the days when you don’t come to school?”
“Hang out with weird people mostly.” Ziggy looks around the room. Crammed with furniture, crammed with books, papers, etc., it’s practically a cave it’s so craggy and dusty and horribly lit by his desk lamp. “Work on my magazine, uh–”
“Anybody I know?” There’s this new little twist in her voice Ziggy can’t quite identify other than to guess she’s even less out of it than before.
“No, uh-uh,” he says. “Well, maybe. You might know this guy Calhoun.” She doesn’t say anything. “He’s my best friend. Then there’s this other guy, Ken. He’s my uncle, uh . . . stepuncle? I mean, I’m adopted, right? So he’s my . . . one of my dads’ brother, uh . . . “Cos my parents are two gay men, right?”
‘really? That’s . . . unusual.” She clears her throat.
“I guess.” Ziggy’s cheeks have knotted painfully around his big nose the way they do when he’s nervous. “Anyway, uh . . . yeah, my uncle’s, like, totally psycho, but I happen to dig him. He teaches me stuff. Oh yeah, such as what, she asks? Ha ha ha. Well, about . . . uh, well . . .” A headache’s sort of eating his train of thought. “Well, okay . . . he’s into, uh . . . he’s got these kiddie porn videos. You know what those are? He makes them. That’s one thing . . . Uh, you still . . . okay?”
Nicole doesn’t say anything, but she’s obviously there “cos Ziggy can hear the inside of a house, meaning . . . how to describe it? A kind of textured silence, like that ‘music” his therapist plays in their background.
“Okay, assuming you’re listening, uh . . . Uncle Ken’s got all these videos of young boys and him having sex. Even sixteen’s too old. Like I’m completely over the hill now. But we’re friends “cos he’s into the idea of sexual abuse. Me too. I’m a victim, right? Anyway, that’s another long story. So, based on this, do you think I’m insane?”
Nicole’s mouth makes watery noises. Swish, swish, swish . . . “I guess I’m . . .” swish, swish . . . “worried about you. I’ve been hearing things . . . Not about your uncle . . . but that you’re . . . com . . . ple . . .” Her sentence disintegrates into a yawn.
“Complex! That’s good, yeah.”
“I’m . . . wait . . .” The yawn does its thing. “. . . I’m not judging you, Ziggy,” she adds, seemingly composed again.
“Oh, I know. That’s okay.” He’s sure now he really does like her. “I’m definitely weird, Nicole. My main dad–the one I still live with–has been beating me up, raping me since I was, uh . . . ten, and my other dad just wrote me this letter that was like . . . obviously sort of a, uh, love letter, and I guess . . . uh, I wrote one back, and now we’re gonna sleep together, which is probably this huge mistake. And . . . what else . . . ?” He pounds his forehead a few times. “But I really do like you. I do. I have for a while.” He blinks wildly at the cave.
“I . . . like you too.”
“What? That’s unbelievable!” Ziggy digs a hand into his longish brown hair. It used to be longer. “Can I . . . ? What about this weekend? I’ll come see you. I’ll hitchhike, I don’t care.” He rolls onto his side and starts pawing the black slice of air that separates his twin bed from the mashed-down shag rug.
“That’d be nice.”
“Great!” There’s so much dust under the bed it feels slippery. Like his hand’s sort of. . . not skiing exactly, but . . . what? ‘maybe I’ll actually show up at school in the morning and shock everyone.” He’s still scrounging through invisible books, magazines, videocassettes, papers, stiff towels, etc. “Or . . . I’ll call you, okay?” Nicole answers, “That’s cool,” or whatever. He’s too busy hunting down one . . . particular . . . porn magazine. When he finally finds, yanks Broad Strokes 7, his hand wears a tangle of dust balls so dense and entwined it’s like a glove, or . . . the ghost of a glove, at first glance anyway. Pretty. Blink, blink, blink . . . “Jesus.” Shaking his hand, he reduces the grayish white bundle to fiberettes. “Uh, Nicole? I’ve gotta . . . go. Bye.” Ziggy hangs up, snickers down at the magazine’s lounging, inexplicably savory cover girl. She could be Nicole’s sleazier sister, maybe. Same mousy hair, button nose, close-set eyes. And the coiled snake tattoo on her ass could potentially lurk beneath one of the loose-fitting dresses Nicole tends to wear. So Ziggy closes his eyes and imagines it’s postschool tomorrow, Nicole’s parents’ house, which suspiciously resembles Calhoun’s loft since that’s no sweat to conjure up. They’ve been talking and smoking pot. It’s cool. They’re in a bedroom that looks like Calhoun’s . . . oh fuck, and, uh, Calhoun’s in the bathroom or something, and . . . Ziggy settles back with the magazine. Flip, flip. No matter how many thousands of times he’s turned these same thirty pages, there’s always a detail or two he never noticed before. Such as how in, like, ten of the pictures, another porn magazine’s just visible on the woman’s night table. The miniature cover of . . . of . . . Ziggy squints . . . Horny Horsetrainers shows several androgynous, entangled adults wearing cowboy hats. “Nicole’s’ potbellied, bearded costar obviously needs this other porn to stay hard or something. Well, women are awfully nerve-racking, Ziggy thinks. Or maybe she needs porn. “Hm.” That makes more sense since her costar’s a slug, as far as Ziggy can figure. Anyway, “Nicole’s’ such a loser who gives a shit what she requires? “Cool.” All this time, Ziggy’s been fingering his humid, squashed asscrack. Once, maybe twice, he has brought those fingers up to his nose for a sniff. Weird, he thinks, sniffing again, how this spicy-gross asshole aroma’s so priceless to him, but every girl he’s fucked didn’t care less, or else they kept their remarks to themselves. Wait, on second thought, girls never bury their noses way in there like gay guys he’s fucked usually do. Maybe, Ziggy decides, I’ll ask Nicole to, like, spelunk there. Or maybe she’ll take that route on her own? The idea’s so amazing he flings Broad Strokes 7 away, squints at a bookcase, and pumps his cock, definitely ready to come. The book spines go unfocused like they’re on a movie screen, cross-fading into Nicole’s sort of Juliette Lewis–ish face, which Ziggy aims toward his splayed legs, beckons, beckons, then . . . slam-dunks so forcefully her cheeks ripple back to the hairline, bunching up around tiny, pink ears as if she’s . . . whatever, rocketing to Mars? Cool. Ziggy’s starting to spurt when he feels this . . . thing inside his chest, like a lodged rock. “The emotion bomb,” as his school therapist describes it. Sometimes as Ziggy has orgasms, the “bomb” goes off too, and the shambles that makes of his . . . soul, ugh, isn’t worth a momentary otherworldliness. So, forehead scrunched, he lets his dribbling cock loose and lies as still as he can. The “bomb” ticks frenetically under his rib cage. “No, please,” Ziggy sobs, slugs his chest. Now he shuts his eyes, picturing Calhoun, who’s the only human being he’s ever known who definitely gives a half-shit about him. “Cal . . . houn,” he chants very intently, until his friend’s big-nosed, dazed, Irish face blankets his thinking, immense as an IMAX screen. “Th-th-th-thanks,” he squeaks. No problem, Ziggy. Slug, slug. When the pain’s down a bit, Ziggy fades-out Calhoun, reaches over, grabs, lights, starts smoking the joint on his bedside, fascinatedly watching his sperm dry, his ballsac unfurl, against a faint, scruffy H’sker D” soundtrack. Sniffle. . . . 59 times the pain I could never be with you . . . Tick, tick, tick . . . With one hand Ziggy fingers the eggy white blobs hardening up on his belly, almost calm and/or stoned out enough to successfully snag the telephone with his other.
When Ziggy called, I was at the Macintosh, Walkman cranked, so the phone machine answered. As a rock journalist, I’m often up late, speed-reviewing some concert from earlier that evening. And it wasn’t until my break several minutes later that I noticed the message light blinking.
Perhaps a little background is in order. Ahem. I met Brice McCauley, unemployed hunk, at an Echo & the Bunnymen concert some sixteen years earlier. We fucked, got along, and wound up leasing a town house together–our stab at heterosexual-style bliss. We adopted Ziggy, a hyperactive, hard-to-place two-year-old, as part of this experiment. But I found the situation intolerable ere long, and moved to New York, at which point Ziggy was still a frantic, irritating toddler.
After ten years of zero contact, I ran into my older, more beautiful son at a Nomeansno concert on one of my frequent business trips west, and, ever since, we’d been slowly reinventing our dad-son relationship, mostly via letter and phone, with the occasional, briefish visitation as my travel schedule allowed.
Recently Ziggy had written requesting information on my sex life, as he was attempting to sort out his own, and I, being something of a blabbermouth, spelled out my predilection for teens, even going so far as to specify the act–rimming–which particularly obsessed me re: them. Almost instantaneously Ziggy wrote back, claiming his actual interest in asking had been a snowballing love, of a sexual/romantic sort, for yours truly, and could we make love, fuck, etc., at my convenience of course?
I was shocked, but it wasn’t as if I hadn’t fantasized similarly over the most recent years, since Ziggy’s physical charms combined with our familial closeness–plus our lack of actual blood ties–had made the boy queasily attractive. So I wrote back, detailing my ennui at Ziggy’s confession, then ultimately accepting his offer, and adding a multipart footnote, namely that he move to New York, live with me, accept the new post of “lover,” keep mum re: our past, thereby legitimizing our love in such a way as to avoid explanations that would inevitably be awkward, even among chums. And I had been waiting anxiously for a reply since a week ago Tuesday.
I immediately phoned Ziggy back. The boy sounded stoned–his natural state, when around me at least–though less stoned than he’d seemed just a few weeks before, thanks, it appears, to the interventions of some sort of post-Freudian, psychoanalytical counselor type at his school. After querying Ziggy about his recent activities, rather too perfunctorily no doubt, I took a deep, noiseless breath and refreshed his memory re: my most recent missive’s proposal. Ziggy agreed to the plan in a sweetly put stock phrase or two, then all but begged me to fly out and see him. So I checked my appointment book–Ziggy said Brice would be away for the weekend–and agreed to arrive the next morning, stay a day or two, fully expecting that we’d consummate our relationship and set into motion his transference East.
Throughout this conversation, Ziggy mumbled agreeably in stops and starts–rushed, inarticulate, vague, loosely poetic–a ‘music” I cherish in all teens, particularly, in this case, emitted by such an impeccable face, which I could even then picture–sleepy-eyed, cute, crowned with filthy brown hair, big lips moving a little too rapidly at the opposite extreme of the continent.
Slayer’s latest LP crushed and splintered Ken’s living-room air.
Robin head-banged mechanically, long hair whipping around.
Ken was stroking the kid’s ribby back through his untucked T-shirt.
They were perched on the couch by this point.
“Isn’t this great?” Robin asked in the space between songs. He flopped back.
“Yeah,” Ken said.
Then the man made his face say, Stop stalling.
Another song cranked up and shut the kid’s eyes.
“Yeah, yeah,” Ken yelled, sensing wariness. “It’s great!”
The man’s hand, elevated on fingertip, walked down the chest of the kid’s T-shirt.
Robin’s T-shirt was black with the word Slayer printed in red and gold gothic-style letters. Ken tugged it up past the naval. An innie. White skin. Really hard not to bury one’s lips in it.
“Hey,” the kid said, batted Ken’s hand away. He laughed.

The man raised the shirt past dime nipples.
‘man.” Robin laughed.
The kid’s stomach bunched up, which looked great.
Robin was Slayer’s head-banging disciple again, lips moving roughly along with the lyrics, which talked about Satan, damnation, human sacrifice, etc.
Dark pink eyelids penciled once above the lashes with liner then brushed very lightly above and below with a cobalt blue powder that looked prostitutey, not fierce, assuming that’s what the kid had intended.
Slayer: Body that rest before me, with every dying breath . . .
A quarter inch maybe of licorice black roots in Robin’s long, yellow, frazzly hair.
Skin that never saw daylight or wouldn’t let daylight soak in.
‘so I have this idea,” said Ken.
Robin snorted. Something . . . the tension made head banging tough, so he quit and flopped back in the cushions again.
“The video,” Ken added. He was gathering hand-fuls of Robin’s black jeans, which he yanked to get a look at the hips, butt, thighs. Feeble little things.
Robin’s too-made-up eyes looked a third scared and two-thirds too confident.
“You don’t mind, right?” Ken asked, yanked.
Glancing away with a slight smile . . . “Barry told me about you,” said Robin.
“About the payment too?” Ken yanked.

The kid nodded, then something in Slayer took over his eyes, lips, and he mouthed the line Stained glass windows black.
Tick, tick, tick . . .
Robin head-banged awhile.
“Barry’s gorgeous,” Ken said, just to say something.
When the heroin filters into Calhoun’s bones or wherever, he reaches out, almost too gracefully, thanks to the high, and picks up a videocassette on his TV, which, like most things in the room, is an arm’s length away from the desk where he does his shot several times daily. The tape’s a homemade porno Ziggy lent him last night. Ziggy wants Calhoun’s “brilliant” opinion. So he inserts the cassette in his crap VCR, lighting a Marlboro Light. No credits, obviously. Dead white smoke seeps from Calhoun’s open mouth, drifting into his contracted eyes, blink, blink, which are in their unkempt, vaguely coming-down phase. There’s a ton going on in them. Rubbing his nose with the back of one hand, he sits up, blinks himself to attention. Okay. There’s Ziggy suddenly, for sure, as a kid, naked, flat on his back on a bed somewhere, masturbating a teensy dick. Calhoun cringes and grins at the same time. Tick, tick, tick . . . Hours of someone he’ll eventually know having lopsided sex with obese Uncle What’s-his-name. No sound. To Calhoun, the video’s little more than this ludicrous joke for a while. Then he either gets bored or outraged, he can’t decide. Fatso endlessly does shit to Ziggy. It’s hard to watch, being so foreign. Plus it has no momentum, at least to an outsider. And then there’s the issue of Ziggy right there in the thick, looking off into space or sometimes at the lens with an early version of that please-love-me squint Calhoun knows very well and deflects all the time. “Jesus, man.” Calhoun gives a little poke to his crotch, which is as gushy and lifeless as ever. Then, reassured, he spaces out on, oh nothing . . . the TV. The porno dissolves into Calhoun’s low opinion of the conventional world. “Phew.” People are viruses, he thinks. Blink, blink. Now he can manage a wan smile. Click. Ziggy’s video rewinds in the distance. Jesus, heroin helps keep things so . . .
Ziggy looks carefully at the pale blue his stomach, hips, and widespread legs suggest under the top sheet. Then he pinches a bit of the sheet between thumb and forefinger, yanking same to the side. “Presto,” he whispers. A skinny beige body, six chest hairs, extremely faint tan line, cock and balls symmetrical in a reddish brown bush. If I was absolutely gay, he thinks, or a woman, ha ha, I’d fuck this body. Okay, well, not fuck in the latter case because that’s impossible, but . . . what? Hold, kiss, blow, uh . . . Oh, shit. Ziggy cringes. I just, like, agreed to fucking move to New York with Roger! Shit, shit, shit . . . He jumps out of bed, rummages through a desk drawer until he finds the envelope from his less scary dad. He hops back in bed and pulls the sheet up to his waist, letter out, already reading. My Dear Ziggy, The sky is a malted milk gray out . . . Blah, blah, blah . . . blah, blah . . . Here. “This part,” Ziggy thinks aloud, gripping the pages. First Roger’s supposedly more than a little embarrassed to detail my mildly pedophilic interests to you, a young person yourself blah, blah, blah . . . Then, let’s see . . . Teenaged boys are my weakness, particularly the slim, depressed, cute, intelligent, haunted ones who feel askew in some way from their peers. My interest seems to reinforce these boys’ secret if fragile belief in themselves . . . Spooked, Ziggy lets the letter drop on his chest. It folds up into this . . . “Hm.” Well, it looks like a drainpipe. Collapsed. Starting nowhere, leading nowhere. Actually, it reminds him even more of those cardboard box lean-tos some homeless adults have built under the freeway off ramp near their place. Ziggy stares off, imagining himself all curled up in a gross-smelling ball inside one of them. Why aren’t there homeless dollhouses? he wonders. Blink, blink . . . Someone could get megarich manufacturing and selling them. Maybe Calhoun and him. He can see it. But the excitement, like, wilts once he grabs and reopens the letter. This part. . . his eyes narrow, focus a bit. . . because you’re probably wondering what my exact tastes entail. Ahem. First of all, understand that my heightened, nitpicky perceptions of popular music extend to human beings. Thus I choose friends selectively, and bed partners even more selectively still. To me teenaged boys of the sort I have indicated are an example of human beings at their most fiercely alive, most . . . evolved, let me say. Ziggy’s crotch feels like it’s falling asleep, bzzz . . . Bad sign, bad sign. As for what I like to do with them, rimming’s the technical term for it. “Eating ass’ is a lowlier synonym. Do you know that many, many gay men are more interested in asses than they are in big cocks, despite all the hype to the contrary? ‘sometimes, yeah,” Ziggy whispers. I love to spend quality time with a beautiful teenaged boy’s ass, massaging, mapping, recording its factual data, putting my tongue in the hole (this is a common gay sex act), finger fucking it (ditto), and so forth. Don’t think for a moment that this brand of sex has any relationship at all to the ‘sex” Brice imposes on you. It’s far more like worship, if anything. Then the letter apologizes for being so crass for about half a page. Ziggy skims. He’s already picturing that ass stuff. Tossing the letter away, he sidelines the sheet, grabs his knees, folds himself up, card table–style, simultaneously doing a semi–back flip, such that his ass leaves the mattress and sort of flies open. Now he strains his green eyes in that basic direction. But bodies are too crude or sneaky or something. So he settles back, feeling around as intricately in his asscrack as possible, as if the few hairs and puckered hole were an insignia or braille. And if they were braille, they’d probably say, “Bye,” he thinks, ha ha ha ha. Ziggy shuts his eyes, daydreaming, fingering, but every time he forms a picture of Roger’s pale, big-featured face smashed to dreck in his crack, that reasonably sexy portrait starts mutating . . . or, uh, shape-shifting. Like it’s been infected, or . . . as if its eyes are eyeholes and Brice is spying on him or . . . what? ‘shit . . . shit, shit . . .” Ziggy slugs his mattress with both fists. “I hate you,” he says, meaning Brice, and maybe Roger a little. Squeak, squeak. Ziggy stands, fumes for a second, then plows into his cramped, cluttered bedroom, tearing precious H’sker D” posters right off the walls, chucking books, sketch pads, papers, cassettes every which way. He topples a chest of drawers, hopping onto its thin plywood back. One foot crashes through, plunging practically up to the knee in a tangle of lukewarm underwear and stray socks. That feels . . . sad for some reason. “Fuck!” Crash. His other foot stomps through the wood, and is immersed in some T-shirts, handkerchiefs, etc. They swim around that calf and ankle like . . . jellyfish or whatever. “Oh, no,” he says, noticing the first dim, dim pulse of an idiotic emotion bomb. Dropping into a crouch, he bear-hugs his thighs, wedges a chunk of his face into the narrow formed by his knobbed, parallel knees, and breathes as asthmatically as possible, trying to sober himself on the lemony stench of his unshowered crotch. Sometimes that works. ‘shit.” He tries berating himself incoherently. But the blubbering’s already started. ‘shi-i-i-it . . .” Ziggy’s lost in the scarily complex if amateurish feedback of his feelings. ‘shi-i-i-it.” Crunch. The bedroom door flies open, smacking a wall. Brice, nude, red hair gone volcanic, face a purple and bellowing splat, sort of careens at him. Ziggy’s greasy brown hair is yanked hard in two spots, and he levitates–rips, actually–straight up and out of the dresser. ‘stop!” The jagged wood’s cutting his ankles to shit, he can tell. ‘dad, please.” Ziggy’s dragged away, pinned against one wall, pushpins gouging his back. Blurry Brice knees him once, twice in the groin, lets his hair go, steps out of the way. Ziggy can’t breathe, gags, gasps, hits the rug, his legs practically vibrating. He crawls, gently cupping his balls, helped along by some kicks that smash his flesh into the crags of his skeleton. The seventh kick lands him across the dresser. Using one arm, he hugs the piece of furniture. The other arm, hand swing around his back, trying to cover his blunt little asscrack. Kick. “I’ve seen your can before,” Brice yells, kicks Ziggy’s hand. It snaps so loudly that something’s probably broken inside. Now there’s a relative silence apart from Ziggy’s sobbing, obviously, not to mention the H’sker D” album, thank God. Then Brice snorts and says, “Well, you’re the one who has to live in it,” which Ziggy initially thinks means his body. But Brice probably meant, like, what’s left of his bedroom. Slam. Ziggy’s alone again. . . . All these crazy mixed-up lies floating all around, making these assumptions brings me down . . . He can’t seem to move. ‘shit.” Down the hall, another door slams. What if I’m paralyzed? he thinks. Concentrating, he manages to move a thigh, calf very slightly. Phew. The H’sker D” tape’s reached his favorite song, “I Apologize,” a raucous, fierce, kind of confused, pretty rant against the way the world works that’s so appropriate to his current situation it’s almost hilarious. That’s why he borrowed the name for his magazine. But every H’sker D” song is relevant to Ziggy’s life every second. That’s why they mean tons to him now. Along with Calhoun, probably Nicole, maybe Roger, but nobody else . . . well, apart from Annie, who’s so generous with her drug supply. Then there’s Uncle Ken, ugh, whom he really should phone. ‘shit.” Raising up, twisting his body around, Ziggy grimaces through the room’s ruins at a way tilted digital clock. 3:17 A.M.
Click.
“Ken,” announces a whiny male voice, followed by the sound of air whistling in and out of lungs buried underneath at least two hundred eighty pounds of skin, fat, bones. His uncle’s definitely more frightening on the phone. In person, obesity suits him somehow. Or Ziggy’s used to it. Weird.
“It’s me,” Ziggy says, sniffling. “Brice just beat me up. Can I . . . come over?” He cringes hopefully.
“We-e-ell,” Ken answers, voice all wavery, rocked by . . . alcohol? Duh. “I’ve . . . let me catch my breath . . . got this kid over here. And we’re . . . you know. So you can come, hang out, crash. But you may see some shit that’ll haunt you a little.”
Before replying, Ziggy listens to the music blasting distortedly in Ken’s background. It’s sinister, but dumb. “That sounds interesting, Uncle Ken,” he says. “But I’m probably too freaked tonight.”
‘so what else is new.”
“Yeah, right.” Ziggy snickers. Then he remembers how Uncle Ken stared at Calhoun the time they stopped by together, and his fingertips start to pulse rapidly. He crosses a couple. ‘so, who’s the kid? Do I know him or her?”
“According to Robin here, he’s the world’s biggest Slayer fan. Hear music? That’s Slayer. Ever heard of them? What else . . . He’s about, oh . . . twelve, thirteen. You know those Glam Heavy Metal types? Dyed blond hair, headband, a little eyeshadow, lipstick?”
“God, I hate those kinds of guys.” Ziggy’s smeary eyes narrow and flit to the garbage-strewn floor, specifically a shred of Bob Mould’s honest, middle-aged-before-its-time face.
“Yeah, it’s great,” Ken whines, to the boy in his . . . living room, probably. “I’ll be off in a second, okay? Well, if you hate them, Ziggy,” he adds, lowering his voice. “You should pop by.”
“Tomorrow maybe.” Ziggy’s picked up the poster scrap. “After school. Will the kid still be there?” Looking into Bob Mould’s enlarged, tinted eye, the situation kind of dissolves into a general okayness.
“Yeah, yeah . . . Look, he’s getting antsy. Gotta go. No, sit there, Robin. Sit back down.”
Click.
The kid tried to stand, but the strange combination of beer and sleeping pills wouldn’t let him. So, flop, he fell back on the couch.
“What’s the problem?” Ken asked.

Robin slurred.
“What?” Ken repeated, standing over the kid.
On second hearing, the kid said, “Who was that?”
‘my nephew,” Ken answered, kneeling down by the couch. “The boy’s insane.” Ken grabbed the waistband of Robin’s jeans, yanking them and the underwear all the way off.
“Insane.” The kid giggled. He jerked his hips around wildly.
“Ziggy’s a closeted homo,” said Ken, soaking in Robin’s finery.
Then the kid sat head-banging a bit, not that well, he could tell, but . . .
“Get up for a second,” the man said.
Robin tried to stand, fell backwards. Again. Forget it. So the man helped him down to the rug, where he knelt, teetering, long blond hairs glued to his cute, sweaty face.
Ken unfolded the couch bed, then watched the kid teeter awhile.
“Heave ho,” announced the man, clutching a thin wrist.
Robin landed face down on the bed and sort of squirmed while Ken French-kissed his not-that-clean buttcrack. Sometimes he sang along with Tom Araya, Slayer’s vocalist, who was yelling about how Christianity’s a lie and Satanism’s perfection.
“Let’s make that video,” Ken said. He could taste Robin’s shit kind of generally. “Up, up,” he added, and slapped the flushed butt.

Robin tottered into another room.
Light.
“Wow.” The kid gasped, hid his eyes. ‘man, that’s intense.” He could see a camera. The motel-looking bed. Ken way off to the left, naked, fat. “But . . . I don’t know,” he added.
“All right, three hundred dollars.”
“Creep,” Robin whispered.
Slayer, lyrics and all, barreled right through the walls, luckily for Robin.
Gripping that thin wrist again, Ken whipped the gyrating kid at the “bed.” Robin stumbled there, fell on it.
Ken stood looking down at the crooked, white butt. Sweet, he thought. Its perfection made Robin-nobody a magnet. How?
“I’m gonna fuck you,” said Ken.
“But,” Robin slurred. And his butt tensed. He was thinking of AIDS, which he didn’t know that much about.
“Then we’ll rest.”
Shutting his eyes, Robin silently asked Tom Araya of Slayer to help him relax.
Slayer: Restrained insane games suffer the children condemned . . .
The kid’s butthole gulped down Ken’s cock, wiping both of them out.
‘stop!”
The kid was worried how stupid his screaming would look in the video.

“This looks great,” Ken said, fucking. He peered at the camera.
Tick, tick, tick . . .
The kid’s dull, red butt getting slopped with some runny come. Splat, splat . . . splat.
Then the man sucked the kid’s miniature cock till it shot a white drop at the roof of his mouth.
Ken stuck out his tongue, showing the camera his prize.
Tick, tick, tick . . .
After Robin came, he looked insanely at Ken.
When the telephone rings, Ziggy swipes it. The receiver’s all . . . greasy. “Hello,” he says, basically normal again, though he does have to swallow some wobbly snot right away.
“What’s up?” asks Calhoun’s deep, vibrant voice.
“Wow, Calhoun! You’re awake. It’s . . . late, right?”
“I guess.” Calhoun chuckles.
“I’m just working on my magazine. What’s going on with you?” Ziggy plops down on the sagging corner of his bed.
“Well, um . . . did my shot. Thinking a little. Not much. Oh, I watched that videotape.”
“Yeah?” Ziggy waits, but there’s just the warm, indefinable silence that radiates out of Calhoun between every sentence. It’s always a drag not to be right there talking in person, but, Calhoun being Calhoun, meaning private, especially of late, Ziggy can’t quite respond how he’d wish, and say something like “I really miss you.” So . . . “And?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” Calhoun answers, and laughs. “Why exactly did you want me to see it?”
“For your take,” says Ziggy. “”Cos I’m trying to figure out what I should think about it, and you’re the person I most love and trust and all that. So . . . yeah, just your opinion.” He immediately realizes he shouldn’t have said the word love, and sort of snuggles the receiver into his ear, cheek, listening for subtle stuff.
“Hm. Well, you were into it, right? At the time?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s complicated. I was lonely, blah, blah, blah, you know? And my uncle’s interesting in a way. You met him.”
“Yup,” says Calhoun. ‘didn’t much like the guy.” He laughs. “Tries too hard. Or he did with me.”
“That’s “cos he’s, like, attracted to you.”
“Yeah, well . . .” Calhoun breathes out, annoyed probably. “Whatever you want to do. But I thought the video was disgusting.”
“Okay,” Ziggy says, reassured. “I mean, I knew it was disgusting, but now I’m . . . sure. Thanks.” There’s a brief stretch of silence between them, which feels harsh to Ziggy, but, seeing as how Calhoun’s much less talkative since he got into heroin, maybe it’s just a kind of newfangled, natural space in the friendship. ‘so, uh . . . was it weird watching the video while on, like, heroin?”

“I don’t know the difference anymore,” says Calhoun. “You really should try shooting up sometime.”
“Yeah.” That seems to induce another uninterpre-table silence.
“No, forget I said that.” Calhoun chuckles. “What do you want me to say? The video bugged me. And I’m not gay, so I can’t really form an opinion. I . . . I wish bullshit like that didn’t happen, I guess.”
‘me too,” Ziggy says. ‘definitely.” He snorts kind of weakly. “Anyway, fuck it, uh . . . When do I get to hang out with you next?”
‘mm . . . I guess tomorrow’s okay, if you want. But call before you come, in case I’m writing.”
“Cool. Hey, yeah, how’s your novel?”
“Oh . . . it’s stalled, but . . . I’ve got some . . . mm, ideas.”
“Well. . .” Shit. Ziggy clenches his jaw to keep from wondering aloud if Calhoun wouldn’t write more without heroin. “I’ll . . . call you, like, in the late morning?” he squeaks.
“Fine.” Calhoun clears his throat. ‘see ya.”
“Yeah, uh–”
Click.
Calhoun’s mouth’s hanging open. His thoughts, emotions, etc., are so indistinct it’s like . . . what? . . . that they’ve splintered to . . . atoms somewhere in his overtaxed brain or . . . whatever. Every idea’s uncooperative, mush. That’s the point. Affection does this to him. And Ziggy’s so beyond affectionate it’s bewildering. Calhoun’s only long-term reference point when it comes to emotion is Wendy, his mother, who tells him she loves him all the time, eyes haywire with alcoholic exuberance, though nothing much else that transpires between them is as simple as that supposedly ultimate sentiment. She’s a total neurotic, which may make her love a lot spookier than Ziggy’s, and, well, more understandable. Because of his screwed-up upbringing, Calhoun thinks human love is an outmoded concept. It does not compute, as they say, though he’s learned to use “love” in his fiction when needed. That’s different. If love’s ever an issue outside art, like now via Ziggy, or sometimes with Josie, part of him gravitates to that supposed love very conventionally, and part of him’s sort of appalled but can’t exactly control the first part, except in terms of the way he responds, words-wise. He has theories galore about how well the world seems to function when one maintains distance from all other people. At some point in the past he’d been weak–a confused adolescent, obedient to parents and lazily Christian. Later, having read a little Nietzsche in school, he decided, among other things, that the world was preprogrammed by Satan or God or whoever, and, semibelieving this theory, as he continues to do on occasion, human beings are viruses. Thus, nothing matters. Self-absorption’s the rule, if one follows that logic. But, at the same time, being stuck in the stupid real world, he can’t help but realize he’s an asshole for not just announcing, “I love you too, Ziggy.” Because that’s the truth, he supposes. Certainly he’s grateful. Plus there’s a great chance his gratitude constitutes love in itself. Didn’t he read that somewhere? Calhoun looks at the phone, even reaches his hand out to call Ziggy back, but, seconds later, the logic behind that idea just . . . dissipates? And he zones out, mouth open, eyes glassy, hands splayed in his lap. Looks bad, but it feels unbelievable. Tick, tick, tick . . .