Monday, August 31, 2009

The Wonderful Whirlwind

My Dorm

The above photograph is of a dormitory building on the campus of Major University. It is where I live now.

Back in May, I signed up for the very-full Major University housing wait-list, fully expecting that I'd be granted a room because I'd added my name within minutes of the list opening. I began the summer at number 147, before those participating were divided by gender and a small group (only fifteen people) was offered slots.

At the beginning of August, I was number 67 on the list and still very hopeful about housing. Then, to my dismay, an unexpected influx of two hundred Freshmen turned everything on its head; first-year students receive priority in matters of housing, and I knew that my dreams of living on campus had been effectively dashed.

Five thousand students already reside here and new dormitory buildings are going up every year, but there still isn't enough room to meet the heavy demand for beds.

The prospect of being denied room left me so upset that I was still up at one-thirty one morning thinking about it. What was I to do? Was I to wait an entire school year, apply again, and then face almost certain denial? Would the next two years of my education, my last as an undergraduate, be squandered living at home?

As my readers know, I've recently begun my life as an openly-gay person, and campus offered the propsect of new new friends and new lovers, opportunities not available in my small rural town.

Unsure what else to do, I sat down and typed out a letter to my school's housing director at two in the morning.

It read:

Ms. Housing Director,

My name is BB and I am a student at Major University. I know that you're probably very busy, but I didn't know who else to write to concerning this issue.

I will be as of this Fall a fourth-year student, and plan to graduate as a fifth-year senior in 2011.

Last year, following two years on campus, I opted to commute from home. I love Major University and greatly enjoyed my time in residence, but my family simply could not afford to provide me with both tuition and room and board, and the money I made at my part-time job was not enough to cover the expenses.

As a junior, I worked throughout the school year and managed to save up some money, and was hoping to move back onto campus this semester. I signed up for the waiting list the day it opened in May, but as the beginning of the term has drawn nearer my being granted housing has appeared less and less likely.

I am now faced with a two-hour commute from the Western City area four days a week and the isolation from school social events that the distance of my drive includes.

Another issue is that of inclement weather; I live in a mountainous area, and during the 2009 Spring semester had to miss a significant amount of class time due to unsafe traveling conditions in my part of Southern State that did not affect the Goldlands area.

I love Major University with all my heart, and I fear that if I'm unable to secure housing on campus, I'll miss out on the rest of my college experience and not be able to enjoy all that this wonderful institution has to offer, including proximity to Marble City and with it vital internship opportunities for someone facing the job market in two years' time.

I know that there are many Major University students out there who want housing, but I'm sure there must be something I could do to make my selection more likely. Is there a way to apply early for next semester's housing? I can't imagine spending the next two years at Major University without actually getting to be at Major University.

If there's any way you could help me, or anything I could do to improve the probability of being granted housing, please let me know. I would be open to the possibility of working for the school on a volunteer basis or some other such arrangement in addition to paying the regular costs of room and board.

I'm well aware that the current semester is about to start, but hope that perhaps in the spring I might be able to be on campus again.

As I said, I'm open to options whereby I could provide some service for the school in return for consideration.

If the situation can't be helped, I understand, but I hope that my personal circumstances might be taken into account.

Thank you for your time.


The Director wrote me back urging me to inquire about no-show spaces after the first week of the semester and assuring me that wait-list students would continue to be housed throughout the Fall semester, but I didn't really think anything of it.

On Friday I went to school, paid my tuition, and even went so far as to pick up my commuter's parking permit.

At one o'clock on Saturday morning, I decided to check my e-mail one more time before going to bed. The new message in my in-box was simple and to the point:


We are able to offer you housing in _______ _______. It is a 4 bedroom single the cost per semester is ****. Please let me know immediately if you are or are not interested in this assignment.


Assignments Coordinator

The two-sentence reply I typed out while screaming like a little girl in spite of the late hour read only: "YES, YES, YES! I accept."

Then came the issue of payment.

I'd accepted as a consequence of my living on campus the fact that I would have to assume substantially more debt than I have done thus far. My parents paid for my Freshman and half of my Sophomore Years, and as a Junior I commuted, cutting my expenses in half. As a Senior, however, serious loans would be needed to finance my education.

The school had offered me an amount of money in federal Stafford loans that mostly covered this semester's costs, and aside from the anxiety I instinctively felt at the idea of using so much of someone else's money, I was mostly alright with it.

That is, until I got home from work on Saturday night and read the financial aid form that had come in the mail that day.

"Wait," I said to my mother. "They're not offering me this for the semester; they're offering me this for the year."

I felt hysteria rise in my chest as I realized the implications.

"This is half," I said, frantically reading over the document. "This is less than half!"

The United States, unique among industrialized countries, has allowed college expenses to spiral so ridiculously out of control that I, from a household with a six-figure income and attending a state school, could not afford a university education, housing excluded, without taking on loans.

The Stafford loans offered to most students, among the fairest on the market solely because the program is under the supervision of the federal government and not a private entity, are meager. I had no idea what to do.

I phoned my grandmother for advice, and together we ran over the calculations.

My grandmother could hear the tension in my voice, the quiet despair already building that the awful thought that, having at last been granted housing against high odds, I would have to relinquish it the next day.

"BB," she asked. "Do you want me to help you?"

I paused. In fact I did. That had been the object of the whole phone call. I felt guilty about going to her, though, petitioning her to fulfill a responsibility that should have fallen to my parents, not a grandparent. So instead I felt her out, seeing if she wanted to assist me. Evidently the idea was in her head.

"I mean..." I hesistated. "Not if you can't."

I really did harbor shame at turning to my grandmother in so sudden a moment of need, but who else was I going to go to? I called Anne, knowing even as I dialed the numbers how pointless it was to try and wring pennies from the penniless. When she replied, with total honesty, that she had nothing, I was left with one alternative.

"Alright, BB, don't get upset," she said. "I'm going to send you a check for $5,000.00."

"What?" I asked. I was surprised; I'd expected at most a thousand.

"Yes," she said. "I was saving it for some bills, but I have other money to back that up."

"Grand Ma, if you need it I don't want to take it," I said.

"BB," she replied. "If I could, I'd pay for all of your school. I offered to two years ago, remember?" I did. On the occasion, my father threatened to kick me out of the house if I agreed to the gift, deciding that it would somehow make more sense for me to plunge myself into debt than to accept my grandmother's generosity.

"I can't do what I wanted to then," she said. "When the stock market crashed I lost a lot of money, and I have to watch it now. But I will help you as much as I am able, and I promise you that you will be able to go to school."

"Thanks, Grand Ma," I said.

I was in disbelief. In one decision, my grandmother had lifted an emormous financial burden from my shoulders and given me the immeasurable gift of a life on campus. I would be able to attend university, would take out only as much in loans as I normally did, and would still have my savings intact. She knew all of this.

The financial worries out of the way, I turned my attention, or rather attempted not to turn my attention, to my roommates.

The one with whom I share a bathroom added me as a friend on Facebook, and I saw that he was a member of a fraternity. It made sense that his fraternity brothers would live in the room with him, given that we are all Seniors and have been here three years.

I have a history of terrible luck with roommates. My first ones Freshman Year were so awful, with their drinking, pranks, cruel jokes, and threats of fighting, that I had to transfer rooms in September. The ones after that were tolerable but barely spoke to me, to the point that they would meet their friends in our room prior to a social engagement and then leave in a large group without even acknowledging me. That is part of the reason why Freshman Year I had no friends.

My Sophomore roommate was easy enough to get along with, but he was somewhat creepy and had the tendency to stay up playing World of Warcraft until five o'clock every morning while I was trying to sleep.

I had every precedent to reinforce my fears.

My stomach flung itself into its own acid all of Sunday, but I refused to admit to it because I was trying my damndest to keep a positive attitude about the situation.

This afternoon, when Powell helped me move into my dorm, I felt my heart sink.

A Coors Light welcome mat graced the tile before the front door, and empty beer bottles stood on the deserted kitchen counter.

"Can you believe this?" I asked. "They drank on the first night."

I spotted a National Geographic poster on a table, detailing the differences between the east coast of North America in 1491 and 1650.

"Now that gives me hope," I told my brother. "There's four of us here. If just one of them could be a dork..."

The place was at least spacious; we had access to a living room, a full kitchen, and our own bedrooms, and were placed just two to a bathroom. No shower slippers here.

Our Living Room

Our Kitchen

My Room

It is easily the nicest dorm I've ever lived in.

Powell and I got something to eat, and then he departed with a friend and I returned to my dorm, knowing full and well that there would likely be someone else there now that it was later.

There was. He was a little bit shorter than me, with a yellow and blue polo and a thick brown beard.

We introduced ourselves and started talking.

Within five minutes, my fears about our not getting along had evaporated. To begin with, when I walked in he was chatting with a friend who is among the most blatantly homosexual men I have ever encoutered. Camaraderie with one of that sort showed a tolerance and openness of mind rarely seen among fraternity brothers, at least on this campus, where the residual elements of society unwilling to accept those with differences and committed to preserving the withering reign of the white, the straight, the strong, and the beautiful are able to flourish in Greek houses.

"We are drinkers," he explained the bottles. "But we don't party a lot. We'll just chill out and drink pretty much every night, but it's rare that we actually throw a party. We'll do that probably once or twice a year."

"I'm a drinker, too," I said. "But I couldn't just have a beer or something. I'd get tipsy off of that. I'll have to keep it to weekends."

"Oh, a lightweight," he laughed.

"Yeah," I said. "You should have seen me at my twenty-first birthday party."

The only strike against him immediately followed this statement, when he asked, "Oh, so you are twenty-one?"

"Yes," I answered.

"Whew!" he wiped his forehead in a gesture of mock relief. "I was worried they gave us a Freshman."

As our discussion progressed, we found that he'd dated a girl I knew in high school and was actually good friends with several of my former classmates. The conversation turned to health care (don't ask me how), where Smart Roommate surprised me with the breadth and depth of his knowledge. I consider myself a studious political observer, but next to him I felt uninformed.

The other two, Heavy Drinker Roommate and Very Tall Roommate, were both courteous, friendly, and respectful. I couldn't believe my luck.

As I retired to the shower to wash off the day's sweat, I found myself praying the same thing over and over again.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," I repeated the mantra, knowing that if I said it a thousand times it wouldn't be enough.

The truth is, in recent days I've been the beneficiary of incredible good luck. Against extraordinary probabilities, and in the face of hundreds of others seeking the same thing, I was granted housing. When financial shortages placed that housing in jeopardy, a relative stepped in with an amazing gift to secure the situation. And when I was dropped into a dorm full of frat guys, they turned out, in a direct conflict with logic, to be the friendliest and most likeable frat guys I've ever met.

I have a lot to be grateful for.

I start classes tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Monster in the Closet

Dear Pie...

My six-year-old sister is of the opinion that our kitchen pantry is inhabited by an eight-foot-tall monster covered in red fur who emerges at night to steal our chocolate.

This creature has been aptly christened, "The Chocolate Monster."

Sometimes in the morning Pie will come downstairs, soberly inspect the candy dish on our kitchen island, and declare, "More chocolate is missing."

Yesterday afternoon she proposed an expedition into our pantry, the goals of which would be to find the Chocolate Monster's house, confront him about his thievery, and requisition our stolen property.

"So, BB, here's the plan," she told me with hunched shoulders during a strategy session over our dinner of chicken and rice. "You hold Thomas up on your shoulders, and then I'll get up on his, and then we can break in."

"Pie, that wouldn't work," I protested. "There's no door there. It only opens by magic, and he's the only one who can do it."

"I think you're wrong," she declared, rising from her seat to inspect our cereal and canned foods.

"Now, we'll just have to clear off these shelves..." I heard her muttering to herself.

"Pie, there's no door there," I repeated.

"Yes, there is!" she insisted. "I see it!"

"Well, come on, sit down and eat," I said.

She went on for a bit about how we could lure the Chocolate Monster our of hiding, and I told her that it wouldn't work.

"I've only seen him one time," I said. "It was late at night. I'd gone upstairs to check on you, and I heard a noise in the kitchen so I came down here to look. He was standing right in front of the table with a big bag full of chocolate, and as soon as he saw me he got a really scared look on his face and he opened the pantry door and jumped in. I ran right after him, and I saw a door in the ceiling close and disappear."

"Well, we should wait up for him late at night," she suggested.

"He knows if we're awake," I said. "He's kind of like Santa that way. Hey, maybe we could leave him some chocolates for Christmas."

Her eyes lit up.

"Do you think he'd leave us a present back?"

I felt a wonderful idea begin to form in my head.

"I don't know," I said. "Let's leave him a note and find out."

After cautioning her that the Chocolate Monster was so shy he might not even write back, we sat down to pen out a message to the mythical beast who has allegedly been robbing our house on a consistent basis for the better part of a year now.

In the letter, we asked the Chocolate Monster if he'd like to exchange gifts this Christmas. Pie added about four or five post-scripts, including "Can we come to your house?" and "How are you getting in here?"

I finished and laid the note down on the kitchen table.

"Hey?" she asked me, giggling with mischievous irony. "Do you think he'd leave us chocolate?"

"No, Crazy One," I said, laughing. "I don't think he will."

"Yeah, I know," she sighed with mirth. She was all but slapping her knee at her own joke.

This morning, a response from the Chocolate Monster, covered in peanut butter and a half-eaten chocolate chip cookie, appeared on our kitchen table.

It read:

"Dear Pie,

I would like to exchange gifts with you this Christmas. That would be fun. You can't come to my house, though. I am very shy of people, and when I see them I scream like a little girl. That's why I only come at night. I get in through a magic door that only opens for me. And no, I won't stop eating your chocolate. Sorry. It's just so yummy. Thanks for the cookie. Can't wait until Christmas.

Yours Sincerely,

The Chocolate Monster."

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Coming of Fall

Summer is coming to an end. You can see the signs of it everywhere.

This week, my mother told my sister that she must begin sleeping in her own bed again. On weekends and during vacations, Thomas and Pie prefer to sleep downstairs, where they spend late nights eating and playing on the pull-out couch in our basement living room before passing out with the television on at around one in the morning.

Now, in preparation for the coming term, our parents have decreed that Pie, who's about to start first grade, must adopt more conventional quarters and a more reasonable bedtime.

Thomas begins his first day of high school on August 26th, a Monday. I started the same journey on which he's about to embark on August 26, 2002, nearly seven years ago. It's incredible to me that it's been so long, and also that my little brother has now reached that stage of his life.

As of this Wednesday, Thomas will be what I was just three years ago: a high school student.

My own first day is one week from now, Monday, August 31st. If I had housing I'd be ecstatic. As it is, I'm mostly just apprehensive about housing, but eager to start my classes anyway.

The weather itself seems to be preparing.

Today I walked outside and was shocked to find that it was only 75°F. In this part of the country we're not used to such mild temperatures at so early a point in the year.

After a summer of scorching suns, of 90°F+ heat that was so intense it literally weighed on your head when you walked outside, the air today felt tepid, weak, like a watered-down drink. I keep looking for the substance in it and can't find it.

I hope this means an early Fall, an actual Fall, and a harsh winter, but I doubt it will actually happen.

I keep dreaming of blizzards and snowdrifts and hot cider in October, but I'm living in the wrong region for that. I suppose one day I'll just have to go all the way and move to the North, a region I know little about but am fascinated with nonetheless.

You never know; maybe there are more opportunities for writers up there.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hair Update

It's that time again. Here's what my hair looked like back at the end of July:

My Hair

My Ponytail

Just yesterday, a neighborhood friend who hadn't been around in a while came to our house.

"Wow, BB," he remarked, looking at me through the open front door. "You haven't cut your hair yet?"

"No," I said.

"It's getting really long now," he said.

"Yeah," I responded.

He was right.

My Hair


My Ponytail

Unfortunately, the day after these more recent photos were taken, I had to do something that I don't enjoy very much: get a haircut.

When I first started growing my hair out in October of 2006, I went over a year, until November of 2007, without so much as a trim. It was eight months after that, until last August, that scissors again touched my hair, and by that time my dead ends were such that I had to take off four inches and I looked like this:

BB Gets a Haircut

It was then I decided that, though I loathed it, I would get trims every six months. I'd rather get a little bit cut twice a year than a ton cut off once a year. I'll wait until next month to post any hair pictures, though; the half-inch off is actually genuinely bugging me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To Be Proud of Who You Are

To Be Proud of Who You Are

It was easier than I thought it would be.

My brother Powell had been pestering me to get on with it for weeks, but in my nervousness I kept putting it off, waiting until the time was "right."

"BB, if he's the last one to know, it's gonna break his heart," Powell said to me.

"He is the last one to know," I replied. "I've told literally everyone else. I'll get to it, I promise."

"You should."

Last night, I waited until Beautiful Cousin had gone downstairs to do her homework before approaching my father, who was watching television in the living room. I can't even remember what movie was on now, because while it was playing I busied myself preparing and eating unnecessary amounts of food.

In about fifteen minutes I consumed an entire bag of popcorn and half a container of macaroni and cheese, which I brought with me to the couch when I sat down and said to my father, "Turn off the TV."

"Why?" he asked.

"Remember how I said earlier we needed to talk?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said, already becoming reticent. He probably thought I was about to bring up my tuition money.

"Well," I said. "We still need to do that."

"Okay," he said. "Give me a minute."

He continued to watch his program, while I got up and got something else to eat. When the television finally buzzed into silence, I sat down again, not sure what to say.

"So..." I began. "I love you."

He stared at me.

"And I hope that you love me...a lot."

"I do," he answered.

This was followed by about ten seconds of "um" and "ah" on my part before I looked up at him and said, "So, I'm gay."

I almost sounded like I was apologizing for it, not because I felt it was wrong, but because I wasn't sure how to broach such a topic with him.

He sighed.

"Your mother's been saying you wanted to talk to me about this for a while," he said. "What makes you think you're gay?"

"I just am," I said. "I just know."

He nodded.

"Are you okay with it?" I asked.

"BB, I just want for you to be happy," he said. "You're my son, and I'll always love you no matter what. I know that I can be an asshole sometimes, and I know that I'm crass, but when it comes to you, and Powell, and Thomas, and Pie, and your mother, I will always love you."

"Thanks," I said.

He paused.

"How do you know?" he asked.

"Dad, because I do," I replied. "I know what I feel inside. I know what attracts me."

"What you 'feel,'" he said. "How can you know what you feel? You've never really had a girlfriend."

"Dad, didn't you ever wonder why I never had a girlfriend?" I put forward. "In high school, I was like a saint. I never even tried to date. What teenage boy is like that? I never pursued anyone, because I knew deep down that if it ever came to having sex, that desire wouldn't be there."

"You don't have a desire to have sex with women?" I asked.

"No," I said.

"But you do have a desire to have sex with men?"

I cringed at the forwardness of the question, at the accusation it carried.

"You said you were okay with it!" I responded.

"BB, I am," he said. "But I just don't understand that. You can't expect me to get on the bandwagon right away. It's going to take time for me to get used to it. If this is what you've decided, I support you."

"Dad, I didn't really decide it," I said. "It was kind of decided for me. I didn't really have a choice. I've known ever since I was a little boy. I can remember being like seven years old, and having a crush on another kid. It's always been there."

"Why didn't you ever say anything?" he asked.

"Because," I said. "When I was younger, I was never really masculine, and sometimes you got upset with me for it."

Memories flashed through my head, the recollections of a boy who knew something was wrong.

"You're a boy," my father told me angrily one night when I was about seven years old. "If you look between your legs, you'll find a penis, not a vagina."

Another time when I was about eleven, I made a flamboyant gesture that struck him the wrong way.

"I wish you weren't such a faggot," he spat. I went to my room and cried for a long time that night.

I don't write these things down out of anger. I write them because they are the images that flickered behind my eyes in the moment I confessed my sexuality to him, because they are the images that I can't help but recall, because they sometimes come to me without my bidding them.

"Well, I was wrong to do that, BB," he said.

"And I remember the way that you and your friends would talk about gay people," I said.

The slurs of our working-class neighborhood in Native State returned to me, the casual way in which the residents disparaged "faggots," even if it was often behind their backs.

"I've learned a lot since then, BB," he said. "I understand a lot more."

"How could you not have known?" I asked plaintively.

He sighed again, leaning back against his pillows.

"I guess I always did," he said. "When you were little, you never wanted to play with Tonka trucks or anything like that. You always wanted to play with Barbies. You have no interest in sports."

He reflected, then added as an afterthought, "You have terrible taste in music" as if that were a dead giveaway of my homosexuality.

"I do not have terrible taste in music," I said, feeling the need to defend the Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson records that are piled to the ceiling in my bedroom. "I just like more modern artists."

"Mom and I actually had a counselor tell us that she thought you were gay when you were still a kid," he went on. "We were going in for family counseling, and she told us that we should prepare ourselves for you to be gay as an adult. I guess it was just a matter of knowing and not wanting to believe it."

"But you're alright?"

"Yes, BB," he said. "It's a little weird for me, but I want you to be happy, and if this is what makes you happy I support you."

"So, it'd be okay with you if I started dating someone?" I asked.

"Not really," he answered bluntly. "But I guess I'll just have to get used to it."

"Alright," I said. "So how much do you want to know? I don't want to tell you anything you're uncomfortable with. If I'm dating someone, do you want to know about it?"

"Yeah," he said. "I mean, I don't need to know all the details of your personal life, but whatever's important."

"Alright, Dad. I love you."

"I love you, too."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Last Night

Crazy Night

To fully understand the atmosphere in which this photo was taken, you should imagine Sacagawea standing behind me screaming, "It has to be faceless! It has to be faceless!"

Extremely Intoxicated

As I write this, I am, I shall confess, rather under the influence of intoxicating liquors. Or, rather, just alcohol. I've had vodka and lots and lots of beer.

Bisexual Boy, damn him and his pseudonym, wasn't even there, in spite of the fact that I picked out a cute tee-shirt and shorts, and that I practically got naked (down to my boxers) out on Sacagawea's front porch.

I'm proud of myself, for even in my state of advanced drunkeness, I still keep up the cloak of secrecy that hides mine and my friends' and family's identity. What if I were to just tell you who I am right now?

My name is BB, and I weigh 125lbs, and I just showed up at a party and drank way too much, and there were no gay guys, and the straight redneck guys called me a faggot. That made me sad and hurt my feelings. I can't help being gay.

Homophobia is a negative and destructive emotion, even for someone who can barely sit up straight, let alone be straight. When they called me a faggot, I gave them the finger and told them to fuck themselves. I'm gay and that's all there is to it and anyone who doesn't like it can go away and leave me alone.



Tonight I kissed some girls, even though I want to kiss some boys. Sometimes when you're at a party you do silly things.

I saw some breasts tonight, breasts that were shown to me in the full knowledge of my homosexuality. I have to go to bed very soon. It turns out I'm leaving for my grandmother's tomorrow, not Wednesday.

Oh gay people (specifically, gay, hot, skinny boys who are like me), where are you?

Monday, August 10, 2009

This Week

There will not be much in the way of blogging this week. That seems to be the general theme of things lately, but as the summer winds up (a depressing reality) I find myself rather busy.

This evening I will be attending a small party at Sacagawea's house with seven or eight friends. Among them will be Bisexual Boy, whose presence has made me excited and nervous at the same time.

"Pocahontas thinks he'll probably want to hook up," I told Powell as we drove home from town today. "What if he wants to kiss and I'm bad at it?"

"You won't be," Powell answered.

"What if he wants to do more than kiss?" I asked.

"BB, you're twenty-one years old," he said in irritation.

"I already feel self-conscious about it!" I exclaimed. "I'm just worried that I won't have a clue what I'm doing!"

"Oh," he said. "I thought you meant you didn't want to do more than just kiss."

"Of course I do," I answered. "But that doesn't mean I'm not scared."

"At least you're not a prude," he said.

I'll be sure to let everyone know what happens.

On Tuesday I will be spending some time with Black Boy, an eighteen-year-old who leaves for a faraway college in the southern part of this state on Saturday. He's worried about what's to come, scared of facing the jarring experience of life on a new campus coupled with an unsupportive family back here.

His greatest fear is being alone, that once he arrives at school he'll be trapped in an environment where no one knows him but unable to turn towards home where no one cares.

On Wednesday, Thomas, Powell, and I leave for an extended trip to our grandmother's home in Native State, where we'll stay until next Monday. I'm rather excited about it.

I'll be sure to write again before our departure.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Quote

At the Track

Last night, Horse Girl insisted that I accompany her on a trip to some unknown location. The destination, she said, would be "a surprise" that I would enjoy very much. She loves that kind of thing, so I went along with it even though I wasn't really in the mood to go out that night.

I've learned the hard way that a life without friends is no life at all, and that being imposed upon by social obligations is much better than having the opposite problem. Given my previous circumstances, I'm usually pretty amenable to a night on the town, or a night at a mystery destination.

The surprise turned out to be a trip to Racetrack Casino, the first time I've ever been to such an establishment. She and I were joined by Long Hair Guy, Horse Girl's new boyfriend. I can't tell you how happy I am for that development.

Horse Girl, an accomplished equestrienne and horse breeder, is also a racing enthusiast, and as we sat there watching horses run around the track she explained to me the basic mechanics of betting on different contestants, pointing out the statistics for the oddly-named animals in a little pamphlet provided by the casino.

I really couldn't care less about horse racing, but I put the minimum of two dollars on one of them, which naturally lost.

"Wow, Horse Girl," I said, feigning outrage. "You just cost me two dollars. That's 120 cents!"

Horse Girl and Long Hair Guy stared at me.

"What?" I asked, befuddled.

"BB, think about what you just said," Horse Girl said slowly.

It took me a moment.

"Oh!" I exclaimed, smiling. "I meant 200 cents. There I go, getting my cents and my minutes mixed up again."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Days Gone and Days Coming

At Sacagawea's House

As August dawns and the warmest season reaches its twilight, the spirit of summer seems to have been imbued with new life, with a self-generated energy that seeks to pretend away the holiday's inevitable and approaching end even as it enters its peak.

Amidst the visible preparations for the start of the Fall have been interpersed all the trappings of summertime, pursued now with full confidence that the yellow sun, which has held high in our Southern skies since May, can never set.

The last week has been a delightful whirl of relaxed and lazy diversions, undertaken with the aim only of laughter, only of smiles.

Sacagawea, my close friend and ex-girlfriend, came over to my house on Monday, August 3rd, and together we wiled away the hours by driving out to Western City to get fast food (Checkers was my restaurant of choice), gliding about in my pool, sitting in the hot tub, jumping on the trampoline, eating obscene amounts of caramel and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, and, of course, talking sex.

"I have to tell you," I said to her as we drove in my car on the way out to Western City. "I'm a bit intimidated by the idea of taking it up the ass."

"Oh, don't worry," she said. "It's really not that bad. It's actually kind of fun."

"Well, yeah, that's what I'm hop--" I began. "Wait a minute."

I looked over at her in the passenger seat, my mouth open.

"Have you...?"

She just got a sly gleam in her eye and laughed, whereupon I laughed and exclaimed, "I can't believe it! With who?"

"Marine Guy..." she said shyly, referencing her boyfriend of fifteen months. "It's really kind of nice. Just make sure you use lube."

This conversation continued all the way to Checkers, then all the way home, and eventually the topic of Bisexual Boy came up.

"I just don't know about him," I said. "I feel like he's not really interested."

"I don't know," Sacagawea replied.

"I mean, Gay Boy told me I really shouldn't go after him," I said.

Gay Boy is Sacagawea's twenty-year-old gay friend, whom she introduced me to in the hopes that we would hit it off. While we enjoyed each other's company as friends, we did not develop any type of romantic interest in one another. Gay Boy dated Bisexual Boy briefly and has warned me against the hazards of involvement with him.

"He kept saying to me, 'He's going to leave you after a week and break your heart,'" I told Sacagawea. "And I thought, 'That's not going to happen. Not that he won't leave me, because he might, but it won't break my heart.'"

Sacagawea laughed and covered her mouth, but I could still see her wide, mirthful eyes.

"Does that sound really bad?" I asked, giggling myself. "I mean, don't get me wrong, Bisexual Boy is really nice and I wouldn't say no to dating him, but I'm not going into it with that aim. I'm not really looking for a relationship right now."

"No, that doesn't sound bad at all," Sacagawea said. "Trust me, if I were single I'd be doing the same thing. I'm with Marine Guy and I wouldn't cheat on him, but sometimes I see a guy and think, 'Wow, I'd really like to mess around with him, and that's it.'"

"Well, yeah, that's kind of what I want to do," I said. I looked over at her. Something had changed in her tone. She seemed more at ease.

"Wait a minute," I asked. "Did you think I wanted to date him?"

"Yeah," Sacagawea replied.

"I knew you and Pocahontas were being weird about Bisexual Boy," I said. "I felt like you always tried to avoid answering any of my questions about him."

"Yeah," Sacagawea said. "I'm really obvious when I'm trying not to give a straight answer."

Gay Boy's words from weeks ago flashed through my mind: "Even if Bisexual Boy did like you, Sacagawea and Pocahontas would probably lie to you about because they don't want to see you get hurt."

I laughed.

"Never you fear," I assured Sacagawea. "A relationship is not what I want."

"See, you and Gay Boy are different," Sacagawea said. "Gay Boy's problem was that he really liked Bisexual Boy, and he kind of got his heart broken. Even now, he can't stand to be around Bisexual Boy. I think you would be able to just hook up with people and enjoy it. After the first time, I think you're going to be like, 'Yay, this is fun. Let's do it again!'"

She did a spot-on imitation of my child-like enthusiasm and sunny smile that had me cackling with laughter as we approached Mountain Town.

"You know, you and I need to get good and drunk together," I said.

She looked confused so I clarified, "Not just us, obviously, but us and some other people."

Her face brightened with the sudden spark of a brilliant idea.

"My mother is going away to the beach this weekend," she said breathlessly.

Already I could feel a conspiracy brewing.

"For how long?" I asked.

"Friday through Tuesday," she said.

"Good, I won't have to take off of work then," I said. "How's Monday night?"

"Monday works," she affirmed.


Back at my house, Sacagawea remarked at how happy she was that I'd embarked "on the road to whoredom."

"Whenever one of my friends is talking to me about wanting to be a whore, I get so excited," she said. "I'm like, 'Yes, do it! Do it!' Then I don't have to feel like I'm the only one who's a freak."

"Well I really want to," I said. "I think I would enjoy oral sex very much, both giving and receiving. Wait--can you do both at the same time?"

"Yes, that's called 69."

"That sounds so awesome."


On Tuesday, August 4th, I hung out most of the day at Sacagawea's house, where I alternated between teasing Sacagawea's mother and being teased by Bisexual Boy.

Bisexual Boy mock-lambasted me the entire afternoon, lamenting my weight (or lack thereof), my abject gayness--"I don't know how anyone was surprised," he declared at one point--, my lack of male companionship, and how neatly I fit into the newly-out stereotype.

"Of course you don't want to be in a relationship," he said. "You're just a horny little gay boy."

At times, it was like he was just toying with me.

"I don't like skinny boys," he proclaimed as we sat in the living room.

Sacagawea and Pocahontas cracked up, with Sacagawea asking, "What?"

"So," I said, eyeing his tiny waist. "You hate yourself?"

"Yes," he asserted. "I hate my body type."

After he left, Sacagawea, Pocahontas, and I discussed the party attendees and the prospects of my being involved with Bisexual Boy, which Pocahontas, like her sister, seemed much more keen discuss once she'd learned that I was not seeking a commitment.

"I think he might be interested," Pocahontas said. "And if you were both drunk, definitely. Oh, my gosh! What if we played Truth or Dare, and I was like, 'I dare Bisexual Boy to make out with BB!'"

"Oh, please don't do that," I said. "I don't want either of us to be forced into it. If he wants to, then I want to, but I don't want to if he doesn't."

"Fair enough," Pocahontas said. "But if you've both been drinking..."

"I'm worried about that, though," I said. "I'm going to get drunk before everyone else. I can't handle alcohol to save my life."

"Please," Pocahontas said. "He's a lightweight, too. You won't be alone."

When the conversation about Monday was over, our attention turned to more important things, like making fun of Sacagawea's mother for her recent acquisition of a kitten, Cammy, whom she insists she will give away to another family yet on whom she continues to dote.

Cammy the Cat

Awesome Mom found Cammy wandering around in the backyard and brought her inside, where before long she'd set up a room and purchased food and bowls, all while swearing that the situation was temporary.

"I wonder if someone left her here," Marine Guy pondered aloud.

"Or maybe someone didn't want her, so they brought her down here," Awesome Mom said, reiterating Marine Guy's statement.

Last night, I saw Awesome Mom for the first time since she rescued the tiny kitten.

"So, BB, do you want a new cat?" she asked.

"I'd love one," I said. "But my mom would never let me have one."


"We already have Heidi, and it would be more work around the house," I said. I stepped into the kitchen to pet Cammy, who was resting in Awesome Mom's arms. "I think it's adorable the way you're still acting like she's going to leave."

Sacagawea and Pocahontas laughed from the next room, but Awesome Mom smiled and said, "She is leaving, as soon as I can find someone to take her."

"Are you leaving, Cammy?" I asked the cat, stroking her as I made demonic, high-pitched baby noises. "Aw, Cammy, you're so cute. I think you're going to like living here."

More cackling from the living room, and a threat from Awesome Mom to kick me in the shins.

"So, Awesome Mom," I pondered. "Do you think someone left her here, or do you think someone didn't want her, so they brought her down here?"

That one brought on an uncontrollable fit of the giggles from everyone but Awesome Mom.

When Awesome Mom complained that the kitten sometimes scratches her, I asked, "So when are you getting her declawed?"

She fixed me with a withering stare, and I added, "You know, for the future owners."

In another bit of news, Beautiful Cousin moved into our house last Saturday, August 1st.

Beautiful Cousin's Room

Pie's spacious playroom has been converted into the new high school graduate's bedroom. Our cousin will be attending a university about half an hour away from our home, and living with us will make her commute much easier.

I'm glad to have her with us; Beautiful Cousin is a hard-working eighteen-year-old whose abilities and industriousness have not been well served by poor, substance-abusing parents who have never made enough money to move out of the trailer that they live in in Hick State.

I showed her down to the basement, a bit apologetic that her quarters would have to be so improvised, but she seemed more than thankful.

Beautiful Cousin

"This is the first time I'll have lived in an actual house," she said. "And the first time I'll have had my own room."

I'm proud of my parents for doing what they can to help her.

Powell and I have tried introducing her around to our groups of friends, seeing as she doesn't know many people here. I've invited her, with Sacagawea's permission, to the party on Monday. Given that she and Sacagawea work in the same grocery store, the occasion will serve doubly as an opportunity for Beautiful Cousin to get acquainted with her new community and become friendly with a co-worker.

Powell has told me I should let her know about my being gay before the party, so she isn't particularly surprised if something happens.

That's what's been going on here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Thoughts on Empire

I recently picked up a book entitled The Rise and Fall of the British Empire by a historian named Lawrence James, and I must say that, despite the author's tendency to jump around and inefficiently demarcate the boundaries of conflicts (in one page he'll refer to several wars and describe all of them as "the war"), I have found this tome about one of history's greatest empires to be enjoyable.

What surprised me most was the precariousness with which the British held their vast realm together; at its territorial peak in 1930 the Empire held a quarter of the world's land area and a quarter of its population, yet throughout its history it was threatened at various turns by the designs of France, Russia, and Germany. Often, the security of the Empire's future was won by the quick actions of bold commanders who made split-second decisions to salvage situations that could easily have turned the tide against London.

In addition to showing me some things I would not have known about what I once considered an invincible monolith, the story of Britain's imperial rise and decline reminded me, at points uncannily, of something I had experienced in my own life.

Many of you will remember this post, in which I recounted how, faced with true tyranny, I authored at the age of thirteen a constitution that my brothers and I, along with several other children, signed and adhered to. I also mentioned, vaguely, a provision in the document that allowed for the admission of "states" to this Constitutional Union, and that seven were eventually brought in. What I did not mention is what happened next, chiefly because, while the Constitution and its effect on our family is something I am still deeply proud of, the fate of those states was far less honorable.

"How crazy is it that all of that happened?" I put forward to Powell recently.

"Yeah," my brother said. "You know you can never tell anyone about that, right?"

"Of course," I said, not adding, "I'll just broadcast it anonymously over the Internet to people who don't know who we really are."

Technically, I'm violating a bond by making this blog post. After the Constitutional Union, a new tenet was added to the oath sworn by incoming citizens: existence of our creation could never be revealed to any adult or outsider under any circumstances.

In short, the admission of states (what we actually called provinces) of children to a constitutional alliance under the auspices of defending civil liberties resulted in the formation of an expansionist and highly aggressive nation peopled and run by boys and girls who ranged in age from roughly ten to fifteen.

While the Constitution remained what it had always been intended to be in our household, beyond our family the project took on a nature whose values were diametrically opposed to those espoused at its inception.

The first province admitted was Renaldi, which was governed by my cousins Perfect and Innocent in Country Music State. At that point, the reason for a people's integration into our union was a sincere desire to defend children's rights, and both of my cousins heard with excitement the entire Constitution before agreeing wholeheartedly to uphold it.

Their parents, liberal and nurturing, made the existence of such a document superfluous in their family, but it also made the girls natural supporters of the system.

The next province admitted was Nicholia, whose "governor" actually signed the Constitution. Originally, it was all about that document. When the third and fourth provinces, Angela (under Beautiful Cousin) and Cristalia (under Blonde Cousin) were created, both girls read and affixed their signatures to the code that we regarded with near sacredness. The Constitution was the whole point.

Something was brewing in the air, though, something whose roots were far from democratic.

What my brothers and I did, unintentionally, was to mark off entire neighborhoods and tell twelve-year-olds that they were in charge of running them.

Children's nature is idealized by adults who have been grown so long they forget what it was like to be small.

"Children have to learn to hate," is the constant mantra.

This is not true. Children, if anything, represent all the extremes of the human condition, all the virtues and vices of adulthood with none of the social restraints imposed on us as we get older. Remember Lord of the Flies? It could happen. That's another piece of literature that took me back to this experience.

The province of Renaldi had not been established a month when a young girl there by the name of Rachel broke away from my cousin's jurisdiction. Perfect, a genuinely sweet person and one of the few leaders within our union who lived up to its original ideals, had been speaking to the girl and some friends about what the Constitution represented and how wonderful it would be to stand for something so right.

Rachel couldn't have cared less about the Constitution but loved the idea of the infrasructure, and she ran with it. A week later she was calling herself "queen," and within a fortnight had massed a group of children to her side and led an attack on those who subscribed to my cousin's beliefs.

This took us completely by surprise, as we'd never intended the alliance to stand in opposition to anything but child abuse, but it was human nature at play. Within the alliance, the three governors besides Perfect were beginning to discover and become infatuated with the fact that they could exert authority over others. The attack on Renaldi forced my bewildered cousin to establish a military of her own and fight a fight she'd never wished to, while the realities of the conflict made empire necessary across our alliance.

The governors renamed themselves kings and queens, and the person at the head of the alliance, formerly just the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Union, became a Czar.

Because I had written the Constitution, I was the first of four individuals who would hold that title. I believed wholeheartedly in the Constitution, but found myself caught up in events.

At the height of the Renaldi catastrophe, when the province was actually occupied and my cousins terrorized by their rivals, there was widespread hysteria that a group of teenagers nine hundred miles away were somehow going to impose upon us a minors' version of the totalitarianism we'd signed the Constitution to avoid. The only answer was to make more provinces, territories that would counterbalance the Country Music State rebels.

This led to the admission of Atricia, our fifth province and the first in my new community of Beautiful Town. Before the events in Renaldi, creating any provinces in Beautiful Town had seemed excessive; our family abided by the Constitution, and that was all that mattered. We could spread the word in our area. Atricia's creation said something bad about where we were going.

When its first king, Lacrosse Boy, was crowned, he became the first provincial ruler to not sign the Constitution. It was unspoken acknowledgement of a fact that had been true for months: the Constitution wasn't the point anymore. Liberating children wasn't the point anymore. It was the opposite.

We started with the best of intentions, but between November of 2001 and January of 2002, the Constitutional Union underwent a metamorphosis that left it an imperial power. It was even renamed in April, becoming the Imperial Empire of Aria.

When, later that winter, the provinces of Andrea and Tylendaria were also admitted, neither incoming king signed or even mentioned the Constitution. It came to be seen, if anything, as a minor detail that no longer applied, at least not in our interactions with other children.

When Lacrosse Boy and I were in high school and past our days in that affair, we once discussed the bizareness of walking through former Imperial provinces with classmates who had no idea what had gone on there.

I looked at him as we sat sipping juice in my kitchen, one sixteen-year-old former head of state appraising another, and asked, "Did you ever tell anyone?"

He laughed.

"No way," he answered.

Lacrosse Boy was a popular athlete in our high school whose reputation would have been hurt far more than mine by the revelation of all we'd done. He was one of my successors, serving as our nation's third czar after a long reign as the king of Atricia.

"I mean," he began with a meaningful gaze. "Would you ever tell anyone?"

"No," I snorted. "I mean, some of the things we did..."

Years later, Powell, who served as Aria's final ruler, summed up the experience aptly: "It was just constant fighting. All the time."

Following the episode in Renaldi, and our extraordinarily-unlikely victory over a far larger rival that threatened our existence when our union was months old, leaders within the ruling aristocracy became determined that no rival league would ever menace our security again.

They, and I, attempted to ensure this by creating a heavily-stratified society in which power was dictated from the top, with the highest rung occupied by the Czar and his immediate circle and the lowest occupied by those children who in everything but name were slaves.

The construction of forts and the carrying-out of everyday tasks was performed by a segment of our population that had no say in the matter, children who didn't necessarily belong to an individual so much as they belonged to any aristocrat who happened to require their assistance at the time.

Later, chiefly after my reign had ended, I caught a lot of criticism for something that really wasn't my fault. The boys and girls charged with running a new empire had many grand ideas, and they certainly weren't going to do the physical work of bringing them into concrete existence.

Some provinces were wholly dependent on this institution; in Cristalia, nine-tenths of the population was enslaved.

Still, I could have put my foot down. Among all of us, there was only one person who did: Perfect. She told me in no uncertain terms that she would disband her province before a single Renaldian became a slave. She was alone in her convictions, and bound children became integral to the building of Aria's tangible institutions.

One of our more impressive projects was what we called our Capitol, located in a construction site behind our neighborhood.

It started as a two-story mound of dirt that was transformed in the course of several weeks.

A bowl was dug into its top to allow people to sit in it and be concealed from others on the ground, grates were attached to the slopes to serve as look-out posts, and a group of huge stones, dragged from a nearby field, was embedded into the side of the structure to make an actual staircase. All of this was done using involuntary labor. I even visited the site to speak with the Atrician noble, a friend of Lacrosse Boy's, who was supervising the project.

At the time, I just thought it was all very cool. I was thirteen to fifteen years old, and I'll admit, it was fun. Creating provinces, establishing colonies, and conquering anyone who stood in our way, was fun. In that, I could empathize with the British imperialists who went out with such joy to claim Africa and subdue the peoples of India. It wasn't until I got older that the first tinges of guilt, and the realization of the project's anthropological value, started to hit me.

If being the head of a sovereign country in eighth grade sounds like it would have been a blast, you should know that there was a lot to handle.

Between Andrea declaring its independence every other week, Atricia reminding the rest of the country that it mattered more than everyone else, Tylendaria regularly notifying our government that it was bankrupt, Angela sending us reports saying that it lacked the manpower for basic defense, Renaldi questioning the morality of every decision the Crown made, Cristalia petitioning me to legalize the immolation of slaves (that last one is a joke), and Nicholia calling to say that, oops--it got invaded again, running Aria was very stressful.

By the time I left, I was glad to be going.

Among the provinces, Atricia had the most going for it in terms of population, industry (you'd be surprised at the kinds of weapons that middle-schoolers with limited budgets can come up with), and military power, and for those exact same reasons was the biggest pain in mine and everyone else's rear ends.

Atricia was the province we needed, and it knew it. Its people, among them my best friend, would periodically remind us that Aria's ship would be sunk if the province ever left. They were especially mocking towards the people of Andrea.

Andrea, located immediately next to Atricia, was the second most populous province in Aria and also the second to be created in Beautiful Town.

This status led to a meanspirited but funny joke that Atricians would repeat until the end of imperial history: "It was made second for a reason."

The Andreans were, to be frank, excitable people. Their king, who happened to be my neighbor, believed that Andrea deserved status as an independent country, and its people were constantly agitating for separation from the empire. Now, you have to understand my predicament: my house was surrounded by Andrean territory. The king of Andrea lived next door. There was no way that I, as the sovereign of one state, was going to permit the creation of a potential rival within striking distance of my front porch.

Andrea seceded three times and was on the verge many times more, and in each instance the Atricians, led by Lacrosse Boy, came to the rescue. Popular will was such that I couldn't sack the Andrean king, which made interactions between us more awkward than you would ever believe.

Our parents were actually good friends and hung out a lot, which meant that we saw each other often, even in the midst of civil conflicts. As crazy as this is going to sound, we just adjusted to an incredibly-weird set of circumstances, managing to be cordial even when our allies were waging frequently-violent campaigns against one another.

At the center of this, though, was a very real passion and a visceral pride: the Andreans wanted to go it alone because they thought they were worthy of that, because they thought that they were an outstanding people. They were easily provoked to rebellion.

This combustibility was not helped by the fact that the Atricians found their neighbor's proclivity for secession to be openly hilarious.

A lot of this rivalry actually was pretty funny, but at the time it so inflamed the political situation that I couldn't see the humor.

During a heated argument among friends, an Andrean acquaintance of mine spat at an Atrician, "Nobody even likes you."

The Atrician, without missing a beat, replied, "If by nobody you mean Andrea, then yeah, you're totally right."

Another time, an Andrean introducing a new citizen to our circle informed them quite casually that "everyone hates Atricia."

"How can everyone hate Atricia?" one of the other boys came back. "Half the country lives there."

I don't know what the exact numbers were, and it wasn't half, but a clear plurality lived in Atricia. It was our California and New York rolled into one.

The Andrea/Atricia border actually ran along my property line, so that my front windows faced Andrea and my back ones faced Atricia. The proximity of our most powerful province to the place where I slept was a reassurance when the Andreans were acting up and an ominous threat when the Atricians threatened to flex their muscle.

The Andreans just never caught a break. Whenever there was a civil disturbance, troops from, inevitably, Atricia, came in to quell it.

A match between the Atrician and Andrean basketball teams in 2002 became something of an obsession for both provinces, to the point that I legitimately worried how we would hide the scale of the event from the adults.

When the Atrician team won, their players sailed onto the outdoor court screaming, "It was made second for a reason!"

The Andreans, enraged, huffed away, followed by cries of, "Wah, wah, I'm gonna go make my own country!"

Andrea, joking aside, really was made second, and I know because I was there when it was made. In fact, I made it.

At the time, imperial decree counted for a lot more than it did later on, and I could swing the creation of a new province just because I felt like it. So, over the objections of Atricia's king, I took a huge chunk of his eastern land and gave it to my neighbor. At a more advanced point in our history, the seizure of Atrician land against the will of the Atrician monarch for use by another province would have been a practical impossibility.

When that time arrived and I was handling regular insurrections from Andrea, Lacrosse Boy teased me mercilessly for my earlier decision.

"I told you," he said. "I told you even back then that it was a bad idea. I told you I didn't want you to do it, but you did."

"I know," I said.

"What were my exact words?"

"'You're letting them walk all over you.'"

The elite within and outside tended to socialize often, meaning that the leaders of our and other countries came from a small group of children whose members were mostly interconnected in one way or another. At times, this made the objective formulation of policy difficult to achieve.

One such occasion came in the spring of 2002, when I found myself grappling with a sudden uprising in Atricia. A boy from that province had found some large hills in the frontier zone, and, alleging that they were outside of Atricia, claimed them as is own. Government policy on this was clear; any territory uncovered by Imperial citizens belonged to the state. The boy in question rallied several radicals to his side and declared independence rather than surrender the hills.

Lacrosse Boy called me to let me know what was going on, and that very night we had massed forces at the border, ready to enter the frontier in a campaign of encirclement.

What I didn't count on was that my brother Powell, then king of Tylendaria, was a close friend of the instigator. When he learned who we were targeting, he threatened to turn his provincial army against me. Andrea, always eager for an opportunity to undermine Imperial power, put its lot in with my brother. Lacrosse Boy was furious and ready to restore order by force, but I backed down.

That night, I was steaming.

"You're such an asshole," I fumed at Powell. "You're such an asshole."

"No, BB, you're an asshole," was the response. "How could you do that to him?"

"He stole our land!" was my answer. "And committed treason."

The worst part of it was being unable to tell on him; what could I possibly have said to my parents? There was no one to appeal to, so I just stewed in my anger.

The result of this event was the formation of a new neighbor, Gorgan, that would eventually become an ally.

In addition to ties of friendship that linked many rulers, there were ties of blood; three of my cousins were provincial rulers. Visits from relatives thus became grand social occasions, and in the early summer of 2002 a state function was held in honor of Blonde Cousin and Beautiful Cousin, both queens, when they stayed at the same time.

We toured first through Atricia and then Andrea, greeted by throngs of civilians and the Andrean and Atrician delegations, who made small talk with my cousins as we processed towards the Capitol. This process, and, by extension, national unity, was helped along by the fact that an Atrician noble had a huge crush on the Queen of Cristalia and everyone else had trouble keeping their eyes off the Queen of Angela, who even at that age was strikingly pretty.

"Wow," Beautiful Cousin said. "At home, the empire isn't that big, but here you can really see it."

"I love coming here," Blonde Cousin gushed. "We get treated like princesses."

A highlight of the day came when, just before our group reached the Andrean border, a slave wielding a letter opener leapt from the crowd and dashed toward Beautiful Cousin.

I seriously doubt that this child intended to do anything other than scare us, but before he'd gotten ten feet he was tackled to the ground by about six different boys who were each twice his size. Beautiful Cousin was unnerved by this incident, and to compensate was able to witness first-hand an Imperial trial when the perpetrator was dragged to the Imperial Chain (our court) and sentenced to confinement.

As much fun as domestic politics was, a serious international crisis would surface every month or so to really spice things up.

In the spring of 2002, the king of Andrea asked me to meet with him.

"What's up?" I asked when I got to his house.

"We found another country," he said.

"What?" I asked. Whenever another nation was located it was regarded as a defense issue, likely because we'd been nearly subjugated by a foreign power early in our history and had subsequently spent our time doing the same thing to everyone else. "Is it a threat?"

"We can't tell," the king said.

"Well, where is it?" I inquired, hoping it would at least be a safe distance away.

"Yeah..." the king began. "It might technically be inside of Andrea."

"Super," I responded.

More than a year later, in the late summer of 2003, a den of anti-monarchists, a true democracy, was discovered on Tylendaria's western border. This huge settlement, larger than even Atricia, was located in a lower-income neighborhood and shared many links with Imperial slaves.

By this time our empire was well past its peak, and in the era of Aria's decline, when Imperial forces could not sufficiently defend the country's borders, the radicals made regular raids into our territory. These were mostly random incursions designed to startle the daylights out of Imperial citizens, a practice in which the radicals delighted, but one of the intrusions came within a block of me. I was not on the throne at this point and was instead serving as an adviser to Lacrosse Boy, who'd been crowned emperor earlier that year, but I was still recognized and the bandits crowed when they saw just who they were terrorizing.

There had been a time when the discovery of a large group of filthy democrats on our very borders would have been a godsend, an excuse to wage war and take someone over, but the truth is we weren't the power we used to be, and in late 2003 Aria was in no position to wage a large-scale conflict.

When a group of nobles, fed up with the radicals' escapades, went across the border after them, their convoy was promptly attacked.

"Who was involved?" Lacrosse Boy asked when informed of the event, hoping he could play it off as a misunderstanding.

"Second Twin."

Lacrosse Boy swore. Second Twin's brother was Atricia's new king.

"I know we can't really afford anything right now," the boy delivering the report continued. "But--" here he actually laughed--"can you imagine what it would look like?"

The two most traumatic events in our history were the invasion of Renaldi at the Empire's founding and the convulsions that our country experienced in the summer of 2002.

Under the severe strains of a world war that pushed our power to its farthest limits, tension on the home front intensified dramatically. Imperial slavery, never morally justifiable, was increasingly hard to defend from a practical perspective, and as the burdens on the slaves grew heavier than ever, leaders with various reasons to oppose the Crown emerged and rallied the downtrodden to them.

Beginning in late May, a mass slave uprising forced the governments of Andrea and Atricia to wage a battle for internal control. Fat Boy, originally an Atrician citizen, was briefly made the king of an eighth province, Kensington. The rest of the aristocracy never approved of him, and following the outbreak of our Second World War the Senate voted to enslave Kensington and its monarch.

In the face of this ultimate rejection, Fat Boy turned against the elite he'd once sought to join. The war effort flagged as the internal situation became more serious. On July 2, 2002, after two months of increasingly-bitter battles agaist former slaves and their allies, the Atrician government lost effective control of its territory to the rebellion.

I received a summons to Atricia that I thought came from Lacrosse Boy, but in fact he'd been deposed and I was being lured into a trap. When I crossed the Atrician border, I was arrested and brought before the Senate, which, led by Fat Boy, voted unanimously to dethrone me.

I was returned to Andrea, where Short Boy, their king, was waiting for me.

Catching sight of my escort, he asked frantically, "What happened?"

I was dazed at how quickly the situation had deteriorated, but I managed a coherent explanation of the events in the Senate. He looked like he'd been electrocuted. He sat down, hard, his eyes wide.

"Aria crashed," he muttered. "Man, Aria crashed."

"Isn't this what you wanted?" I asked bitterly.

He looked at me, and anger flashed in his eyes.

"No," he said. "I never wanted this."

Several moments passed in silence.

"Atricia is gone," he said, almost as if to make himself believe it. Then the king of Andrea wept.

The people of Andrea were not stupid and during this time were perfectly aware something was going on. A crowd of them had formed near the Imperial Chain, and he decided that he should go out to address his people.

The atmosphere as we departed his home was more somber than I can effectively convey. The young boy and his small escort walked wordlessly toward the Imperial Chain, from which we could hear a dull roar of conversation that grew louder as we neared.

Dozens of Andreans were surrounding the traditional symbols of Imperial power, many of them in states of advanced agitation, screeching unanswered questions into phones and at each other, trying to discern what had been happening.

The crowd, deprived of any official news out of Atricia, was riding upon a steady stream of hysterical conversation, fueled by rumor and hearsay. The dominant opinion seemed to be that one or more cities in Atricia had gone over to the enemy, while others held that the Atricians, led by Lacrosse Boy, were rallying a massive force to convene at the Imperial Chain and crush the rebellion.

When the children caught sight of Short Boy, their frenzied talking grew in intensity, then slowly subsided as the monarch climbed atop the Imperial Chain to address his subjects.

They were looking up at him with expectant eyes, worried, scared, angry, militant. Some seemed ready to take up arms with the Atricians and do whatever was necessary to impose sovereignty the way their nation always had before.

There was so much contained within their gazes, so many hopes, so much fierce pride mingled in with the fear.

Short Boy spoke.

"The King of Atricia has been overthrown," he said.

The mass of people gasped as one. Atricia, and its extremely popular king, well-liked even in Andrea, had stood as the guardian of Imperial power nearly since the Empire's founding. In crisis after crisis, Atricia, powerhouse of Aria, had stepped forth to redeem the country and assert its might. I think that some of them never for a moment believed that its defeat was possible.

A girl in the front of the crowd had clasped her hands to her mouth.

Several people, without thinking about it, were shaking their heads from side to side.

Short Boy looked out at his people, a people who in that moment were beginning to realize the weight of an insurmountable burden.

"It's up to us now," he said quietly.

Nobody could doubt what he meant.

Andrea was the only thing holding the Empire together, and unless it fought, Aria would perish. As I surveyed the people around me, I had no doubt that the boys and girls of the Second Province would prove brave beyond measure. I also had no doubt that they would lose.

Short Boy looked at me.

"I'm with you," he murmured.

He held my hand in the air and declared, "THIS, is our Czar."

A roar of furious support went up into the air.

Then he turned and left.

The cluster of Andreans standing there exploded into conversation the moment he was done. Cell phones were whipped out and boys and girls, many of them in tears, made frantic calls to friends in an effort to figure out what was happening. I just stood in the midst of this babble, ignoring the questions that people shouted at me, and headed home myself.

The Andrean provincial army mobilized, expecting an invasion within a week. The flood of public support for this effort took me by complete surprise; for the first time in our history, I was in no position to exert power over Andrea, and the long-awaited path to independence had been blown wide open. Yet in that moment, when the province's objectives were in sight, it rallied to the Crown to fight a war its king had to know he couldn't win.

Everyone else did; with the loss of Atricia international opinion held Aria's days numbered, and before the day was even out most of our colonies had declared independence. I made a very difficult call to Perfect Cousin that night, informing her of the situation and freeing her from a dying empire.

The universal reaction to the Fall of Atricia was one of disbelief and dismay.

My task was to inform the provincial leaders of the calamity. Among the harder calls I made that day was to Blonde Cousin, Queen of Cristalia, who had for a time dated an Atrician noble.

"Oh, no," she said, her voice breaking with emotion. I could practically see the tears pouring down her cheeks. "How?"

The people of Andrea, for all their traditional rivalry with their beleaguered neighbor, became rabidly pro-Atrician when the First Province was overcome. For all the valiant efforts they made to come to their brothers' aid, though, the situation was hopeless.

The next day, on July 3, 2002, a rebel force crossed the Andrean border after a futile effort by the Andreans to stop them. Throughout the next two days, Andrean armies suffered spectacular defeats across the province, slowly losing control of the territory. Before long, the rebels had occupied the Imperial Valley and reports offering glimpses of apocalypse started to pour in.

A friend found me later that day with news.

"It's the Imperial Chain," he said breathlessly.

"It's captured?" I asked.

"It's on fire," he answered.

The Fall of Andrea took place on July 4, 2002.

The Empire was over.

And what did I learn? What was the point? The bigges thing I figured out was that there was no point, that humankind's propensity for domination and thirst for power was never quenched.

That's it.

Weird But Flattering

Sometimes things that unnerve you a little bit also provide a lift for your self-esteem.

Today while I was working my customary eleven-hour Saturday shift at Western City Movie Theater, two men who looked to be in their mid to late forties walked into the lobby and approached my lectern with their tickets. The men had thin builds that bespoke an uncommon health consciousness and a dress and manner that indicated a comfortable life. They were also obviously gay.

As they prepared to hand me their tickets, one of them started blatantly hitting on me in open view of his boyfriend.

"Wait a minute," he said, reaching his hands out so that they rested on my collar bones. This startled me very much, until I realized he was straightening my bow-tie.

Unaccustomed as I am to strangers placing their hands on my neck, I froze, and by the time I'd thought to do or say anything he was done.

"That was driving me crazy," he said.

His companion seemed to have no problem with this.

A little flustered, I directed them to their theater.

About half an hour, the man who'd come onto me emerged to get some popcorn, and on his way to the concessions stand stopped and peeked over my shoulder.

"What're you reading?" he asked.

He caught sight of the cover: The Rise and Fall of the British Empire.

"Cool," he noted.

As he returned from purchasing his food, he asked with a smile, "Why do you look like you'd be easy to pick on?"

"Oh, I don't know," I laughed nervously and looked away.

"Want some popcorn?" he asked, extending the bag in my direction. "Yum yum."

"No thanks," I said.

He went back into his movie.

I really did not know what to make of any of this. First of all, to be clear, I would never even consider doing anything with someone so much older than me, but I have to admit that, in a dry spell during which it seems like all the gay guys are either non-existent or uninterested, any attention is good attention.

As I told Sacagawea a while back: "Even if I'd never get with you in a million years, I still want you to look."

What upset me the most about the situation was my reaction to it, which is the same as the reaction I always have when hit on: I become flustered, quiet, nervous, and bashful. I will sometimes blush and get this scared look in my eyes that seems to advertise my helplessness.

I hate this, because it so perfectly matches my physical appearances and only enhances the perception of me as being an innocent little boy.

"You know who would like you?" a friend of mine once asked.

"Who?" I laughed.

"A priest," she answered.

"Shut. Up."

I would love to be the confident one, the one who winds everyone else around his fingers. By all rights I should be able to drive a middle aged man crazy, and yet somehow I got all shaken up. And I wasn't even attracted to him. He just wasn't repulsive.

I think that after I've had my first this will go away, because I won't be so intimidated by the very idea of sex. As it is, I'm confused, horny, lonely, and unsure what I'm capable of.