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tearing the rag off the bush again
DISPATCHES FROM THE FACEBOOK FRONTLINE: The story of Jeff Spikhersbrokken and the right Arthur Gray PDF E-mail
Professor Hawking himself has heard me do that joke on stage and he tells me I'm a very funny man. 


Last year, my manager got me two consecutive writing gigs with people who jerked me around and tried to steal from me.  After the second one, I went to my manager and said, "Where are you getting these people?"

He said, "From my friend Jeff."

"Your friend Jeff?"
 He said, "Yeah.  Jeff.  Jeff Spikhersbrokken."

 A few weeks later my manager got me a meeting and I said, "Tell me  this didn?t come through Jeff Spikhersbrokken."

He said, "Who?"

I said, "Jeff Spikhersbrokken . . .?"

He had no idea who I was talking about.

I said, "Last month you told me those two awful gigs came through your friend Jeff."

He said, "Oh!  Jeff Morris!"

I was baffled.  "Why did you tell me, 'Jeff Spikhersbrokken?' "

He spoke to me very slowly and clearly then, as though I was a none-too-bright child.  "Because it is,? he explained.  ?Jeff picks people very badly.  Jeff's picker's broken."

 This got me thinking a bit about the people I have chosen over the years to bring into my life.

Recently, through  FaceBook, I found Katinka Neuhoff, whom I had known at Sarah Lawrence in the early eighties.  We exchanged some funny, friendly e-mails.  She asked why we hadn't been closer in college.  I had to confess the awful truth.  I had been deeply intimidated by her for two reasons.

Firstly, we were in Grace Paley's creative writing class together and Katinka was a far better writer than I.  She once came into class with a story she'd written about a paralyzed woman who gets her first handicapped accessible apartment.  She turns on all the lights and opens up all the taps because she can.  Then she sits alone in her well-lit living room, listening to the water run.  Anyone who can give me an image so vivid that it hangs with me for twenty-odd years is a better writer than I will ever believe myself to be.  So she was intimidating on that level.

Also, Katinka has Cerebral Palsy and walks with aluminum forearm crutches and I have an irrational, deep-seated, fetishistic attraction to disabled women.  While her disability is not the one that most gets to me, it?s enough to make me tongue tied and nervous.  I hit ?send? on my confession and waited, expecting never to hear from her again.

Instead of vanishing entirely from my universe, Katinka sent me the current draft of a wonderful play she's written about disabled people and those who are attracted to them.  We bonded.  We continued to chat online.  I told her that she has the most onomatopoetic name in history.

 She told me that I once shouted this to her across the lawn in college.  She confessed that she uses the joke as an opening line when she speaks publicly.  She starts by saying, "I'm Katinka.  My name sounds like me walking."  Then she demonstrates, walking across the stage. katinka, katinka, katinka.  It gets a really big, uncomfortable laugh.

I was thrilled to have given her a joke that gets a laugh, a line that had hung with her for twenty-odd years.  More, though, I was thrilled that I'd had the courage to do that joke so long ago.  I thought I?d become that gutsy much more recently, when I started talking about being in England for the Cambridge University Production of The Pirates of Penzance starring Professor Stephen Hawking as the Pirate King.  The singing wasn't great, but the choreography was innovative.

 (Allow me to say, parenthetically, that some people are uncomfortable about that joke; I think that's ridiculous.  Professor Hawking himself has heard me do that joke on stage and he tells me I'm a very funny man.  Although, in fairness, it's impossible to tell when he's being sarcastic.)

I got a FaceBook friend request from a woman I dated shortly before I met my wife.  I fell madly in love with this woman in Utah.  She had no feet and one arm, but she could dance and I loved to watch her cut bagels.  Every time we passed one of those boutique window displays with the half-constructed mannequins she pointed and said, "Look!  Clothes for me!"  I found an old love letter from her with a photo folded into it.  I read the funny, literate letter and saw how beautiful she really was and knew at last that I wasn't just confused by the wonder of her asymmetry.

In college, the first woman I ever really loved had a cleft palate.  She was a director and a song writer with wit and a strange, self-deprecating sort of self-confidence.  She took amazing chances in her theatrical work and forced me as a performer to explore things that I never would have had the guts to play with had I been left to my own devices.  I hadn't seen her for twenty years when she visited L.A. We met up at a coffee house.  When I saw her with her scarred lip and her bent nose, I thought, "She's a bizarre looking human."  Then, after about two minutes, she said something so funny that I passed latte foam through my nose and when I looked up, weeping with laughter, she was just Vosburgh again and she was beautiful.  Just . . .  beautiful.

Then I got a FaceBook message from Arthur Gray that said, "Dylan Brody!  I always wondered what ever happened to you after high school!"

I sent back a message that said, "Hey, Arthur.  Great to hear from you.  This may sound like an odd question, but is it possible that you're the only person I ever blew?"

He responded.  "The only one?  You did it so well.  I remember it fondly." Which is a stupid thing to say, because any man who was ever blown in high school remembers it fondly.

I said, "Yes.  The only one.  I'm relieved to find out that you are not a figment of my imagination.  A few years ago, I got an e-mail from an Arthur Gray who said we'd met at a poker game.  I asked him this question and never heard from him again. Then last year, I ran into a guy from high school  and he mentioned an Arthur Cole, so I thought I'd gotten the name wrong.  I emailed Arthur Cole the question and he said no, he's straight, married and has kids, but he is involved in musical theater in New York.  So I submitted my musical to him.  Since I think of myself as a happily married, heterosexual man, I had started to wonder what it would mean if my imagination was creating such figments?"

Arthur sent a message, that he has always been blessed -- or cursed -- with the ability to get straight men to do things they would not ordinarily do.  He suggested that his rugby shirt and short shorts had gotten to me.

I assured him it was not a function of wardrobe.  I told him that blowing him in high school was just me trying to be more like my father.  My father is gay, but claims to be bisexual to spare my mother's feelings.  "They live together in Boston, I told Arthur, at the intersection of Latency and Denial."

 Almost instantly, Arthur typed back, "OMG!  There's a great Turkish restaurant on that block!"

I sat in my office, laughing aloud at my computer screen, at the wit of a man I knew so intimately, so briefly, so long ago.  I took a sweet, simple satisfaction in it.  Arthur.  Katinka.  Vosburgh.  All of them. . .

There's something warmly gratifying in the knowledge that, for all my strange choices, perverse fetishes and congenitally malformed fantasies, my picker has never been broken.
 
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