Back in my days of youth, in the semi-rolling hills just below the mountains of the Angelus National Forest, at the ass in of Los Angeles, I lived a normal life. Typical all-American kid, doing typical things such as riding bikes, swimming at the public pool during the summer, walking up the street to the liquor store for candy, playing stickball in the streets and chasing girls.
These were days before my nuts dropped and the realization that girls would or could be something more struck my like a drunken elephant center at a Mexican circus.
In my advancing age I have had time for gentle reflection and those visions often turn to where it all went wrong.
One, when my balls drop and the mystique of women changed from simple curiosity to morbid fascination to rampant lust and utter misery.
Two, when writing poetry became more than a tool to gain the attraction to young women to a devise that developed into utter madness.
At some point I realized I wanted more from a relationship with a woman than a simple how do you do, been a nice day, okay then see you soon. Rather, I wanted something deep, intimate, emotional, fiery, explosion. In other words chronic masturbation had lost a degree of relevance. I wanted more.
I wanted to get laid.
Of course getting laid is somewhat akin to getting your first poem published. You have to have patience, you have to have perseverance, you have to have persistence, you have to have something of value, worth and note. Sadly, at 15, I had none of these, and it showed.
Somewhere mid-year of my sophomore year of high school I lost interest in academics and focus dialed in on that of the female form. In an English class a teacher turned me on to poetry and I took to writing it like hopped up testosterone junkie in an Adult Bookstore.
It fascinated me.
I wrote more bad poetry than I had acne on my face, and my face was a landmine, but I continued. One day, in that English class, the teacher demanded I read something for the class. There were giggles and comments about a overly tall, overly gawky, overly ugly teenage boy but I shut them out.
And I read.
After the laughter, I returned to my seat, buried in crimson flesh, the coursing anxiety burning like the first hit off a crack pipe in my skin, ears ringing, ears tearing, the horror of existence bitch slapping me into submission.
“I liked it.”
I heard the voice but did not immediately recognize it. Small, tinny, somewhat feminine. A girl! Horror turned to happiness as quickly as heroin melts in a silver spoon.
“Really,” I recall saying. “You liked that?”
When I finally screwed up the courage to look at her, the class had ended. Being notoriously shy I had not looked directly at the person sitting across from in the four months we had shared class together. I knew her name, the shape of her face and the color of her hair. Little else, but determination forced me to find it out.
I followed her.
Like a peeping tom or a stalker on meth, I followed her every footstep for several weeks. Each day I stuffed a new poem in her locker, sometimes two, sometimes ten. I found out her name, Mary Lou Rottencrotch (names have been changed), where she lived, her regular routines. She actually had been in two other classes with me but I never noticed as she sat in the front and I generally sat in the Principle’s office awaiting punishment for being insolent, angry, and absentminded.
Like a storm destroying a small village and drowning thousands, my life exploded and I thought of nothing more than Mary Lou Rottencrotch, and various parts of her body. My lust became absolute.
Six weeks to the day Mary Lou turned to me and smiled through perfect white teeth reflecting the incandescent rays of electric light. My heart lifted, I farted silently, and smiled back.
“Thank you for your poems.”
“You are quite welcome.”
“They are very good.”
I said the words without thinking. You. Are. Beautiful.
That day I walked her home, even though she lived four miles in the wrong direction from my house, even though she and I both could have taken the bus, even though I had detention, even though my father would ground me for not doing the right thing. And even though my father was married and his balls were tied up in my mother’s silk purse, I knew he would understand when I told him.
We got to her house. She invited me in. We stole beer from her father’s refrigerator in the garage. She took off her blouse and panties and offered my first glimpse of heaven.
At last, I thought, at sixteen (my birthday had passed), I will join the club, climb the ladder, take the next step.
I never made it.
After the bra came off, my mouth went dry. After the panties came off, my heart began to thrum in the back of my throat, after my clothes came off a tremor began in my hands and arms. And I vomited violently onto her pink and purple comforter.
I heard that Mary Lou Rottencrotch got pregnant from a jock on the varsity football team when she was a senior. She and I never spoke again.
Word got out relatively quick and this in a time before text messaging and camera phones. I became the joke of the school, completely isolated and leveled to the lowest class of scum. My only friend was Danny, who suffered from an odd mix of Tourettes Syndrome and mild autism.
My desires never lessened although opportunity turned to zilch. Word spread across the school district and my chances at other schools were nominal at best.
I gave up.
But I didn’t give up on writing and poetry and masturbation.
Three years ago I found a box filled with poetry from high school. As you can imagine, most of it is rubbish. After the Mary Lou Rottencrotch experience, I wrote nothing but heart broken, sex addled words that made little sense, held no style and would make the most forgiving critic, my mother, cringe.
For twenty years I wrote no poetry, save the occasional Christmas ditty. But it echoes. I wrote everything else from short to long fiction and things in between, but poetry left me as if I had violently vomited on her bedspread while naked and preparing for intercourse.
She is more forgiving that Mary Lou.
So I began the long journey, honing a style, writing more and more and more every day. Recently divorced from a forgiving woman that understood my sexual insecurity, I dated more.
More poetry. More dates.
I finally submitted some things for an on-line journal. I had learned patience, perseverance, and persistence, all things mandatory for presenting anything for publication. Even more important I had learned rejection. I had gone from Vomit Boy to Rejected Poet, but at least I was getting laid more or less regular.
After being rejected 175 times from 93 on-line and print zines, I finally got acceptance. It’s not like the old days when you get a note in the mail or, perhaps, a contributors copy with your piece printed inside. No, it’s an email.
I had grown timid when seeing those emails pop up, with the subject line, “From XXX Press.” This one said yes!
My heart raced, my blood boiled, I called my mom.
I called Mary Lou.
Over the years Mary Lou had gone from town slut to politician to respected business owner. She ran a five-outlet coffeeshop chain, specializing in home baked goods, teddy bears, greeting cards, and coffee.
By coincidence I bumped into her sometime after my divorce. She didn’t recognize me. Still awkward, still ugly, but relatively acne free and somewhat more confident in my approach, we developed a friendship. Nothing more than that. Pink and purple comforters still make me queasy.
I shared with her my designs on being a poet, being a teacher, getting published, getting book out and she always encouraged me. My poetic voice had changed so much she didn’t recognize it when I shared some of my stuff with her.
Over the next year I became widely published. Over two hundred items all across the scope of journal. I published two books on my own and another press picked up one. I became a publisher and started a magazine. I got my degree and became a teacher.
Getting published is not easy. You have to understand the style the zine carries that you are submitting. You have to follow the guidelines. You have to be good. And you have to keep pushing. Always pushing.
I’ve always said that if you are a serious writer than you should submit your work for publication. Doesn’t matter which zine takes you, doesn’t matter how big or little they are, doesn’t matter if they pay you or not; just submit for publication.
As an editor for a magazine I read hundreds of poems for each issue. Some are great, a few are good, but most suck. Doesn’t mean that writer should give up, dig a hole and hide away. No, it means keep pushing, keep growing, keep challenging. If you are serious, it will happen. Persistence, Perseverance, Patience are all key. Along with spell check, formatting and following submission guidelines.
A few weeks ago I reading for the usual small crowd at the back of a fairly anonymous bookstore. The usual suspects, old ladies, friends, and bored onlookers, listened to me rant and rave and scream and extol my little words.
In the back sat Mary Lou Rottencrotch, a slight smile on her face, nodding with each big phrase, laughing in the right places.
At the end of the thing as I stuffed cubed cheese and stall crackers into my mouth, she walked up to me.
“I liked it.”
“Really, you liked that?”
“I remember you, Jack Henry, from Anaheim Hills High School.”
She explained something about an old year book she found digging through crap in the garage, how it hit her, how she found a little box filled with my poems.
Instead of walking home, we drove. I followed her back to her comfortable suburban tract home. Her husband had died some years back and both kids were away at college.
We drank beer from the refrigerator in the garage. We talked. I read her a poem, the first one that had been accepted for publication.
She led me by the hand up the stairs to her bedroom, took off her blouse and pants, sitting at the edge of the bed in her pink and purple panties. As she unsnapped my pants and shuttled down the fly, I noticed her bedspread. Pink and purple.
My mouth went dry, my hands began to tremor, violence lifted from the center of my stomach.
She quickly pulled me from the room, stripped to nothing and fucked me for three hours in the guest room. There were tans, and chocolates, and different shades of brown, but no pink or purple.
In the years I hadn’t seen Mary Lou she had been subject to many fantasies in my head. Often during adult relations with other women, I thought of her. It always helped.
Today I am a poet and Mary Lou is still a friend, but when you put your heart to it, things generally pay off.