I was born on the banks of the Amazon River and raised by a Kaiapo wet-nurse while my mother conducted medical research and taught the Kaiapo children how to play the violin. After growing up with my fellow rain forest natives and a long bout of malaria, I went on to get my degree in rocket science at the University of Uganda (U of U). To this day, I have not gotten a rocket off the ground. Presently, I’m trying to raise money to return to the Amazon to show gratitude to my surrogate mother, whom I’ve not seen in all these years. She had always wanted a car hood to use as an awning over the door to her hut. I finally found one, on a 1973 Cadillac, in a wrecking yard on a two-lane highway just south of Knoxville, Tennessee. Today, I take great satisfaction in spending time with my wife, in writing, and in telling lies.
My earliest memories, at least those that are still fairly clear, are of those initial stages of puberty, when a boy begins to notice things about himself that are changing, when all of a sudden he realizes there’s more to his body than a place to put Band-Aids. I noticed these same things about the other boys in the village, as we ran and played and wrestled together and threw sticks at the monkeys. Hmm, I thought . . . what had been a nondescript and easy-to-ignore anomaly had become the center of attention. The other boys my age had these odd shaped, rather impractical danglings between their legs, too, whereas the girls did not! Somewhere in the back of my youthful mind, I knew this curious centerpiece must be used for more than taking aim in a peeing contest. Seems young boys have a way of figuring these things out, especially when one of the girls sits him down and gives him a lecture on the birds and bees. (Why they always seem so far ahead of us, I haven’t determined). Still, there were questions.
Why, for instance, when another boy approaches, now that hair has mysteriously appeared under his arms and down his legs, is one’s attention so magnetically drawn to that part of his body? (Except for the occasional loincloth, most of us were usually naked.) Why, concerning the workings of my own mind, all this curiosity? Why this urge to look, to ponder, to compare? And most importantly, why, beyond my curiosity about the other boys, this sudden preoccupation with my own body, especially at night when no one was looking?
As I proceeded into my teenage years, I began to notice the subtle things about the other boys, things I liked, things I wanted to be part of, the camaraderie and mischief. It felt good to be one of the boys. I wanted to throw a spear as far as they could, laugh at the same things, tell lies about deflowering virgins (by then I knew what that meant, sort of). But along with this endeavor to be like the others, I wrestled with secrets I wasn’t about to confess, let alone try to act on or initiate. So like the other boys, when we all slept out under the stars, I satisfied my adolescent fantasies by participating in . . . well, if you’re a man you probably remember what those games were called. Sad commentary when you’d rather be involved in some serious exploring.
Then there was Kalo: bronze hairless body, fleshy round butt, strong legs and a smile that emptied my head of all other thought. What about him, and why did I spend so much time looking at him? I watched him fish, sharpen poison darts, flirt with girls, and I especially enjoyed watching him climb a tree. Something was telling me there were more possibilities and I sensed it had everything to do with our bodies; along with the fact that it seemed there could be something really special about having a close friendship with another boy, which included certain understandings and sharing secrets no one else would ever know. So during all those years of puberty and adolescence I developed a private perception of what must be a natural and quite wonderful kind of male bonding.
However, before I boarded that boat to Uganda, I had noticed something else that was common in the village: that remarkable union between a man and a woman, that closeness, that mutual trust. At night, I would sit not far from the cook fire and watch the couples interact with each other as the evening wound down. The innuendos and knowing glances were obvious. I would watch fathers proudly pick up their children and bounce them on their knee. During the night, long after the couples had disappeared into their huts, I would listen to the intriguing noises that wafted in the dark. All of that, I decided, was for me.
After a stint flying transport planes for the Somalian Air Force, I ended up in the States, where it became a series of events with young women and romance; all of the wonderful and miserable experiences a young man finds himself involved in while trying to figure out his direction in life. I started my career and immersed myself in the senseless routines of one that thinks he will live forever. Somewhere in there, I started an auto parts manufacturing company. Here was a quagmire that lasted fourteen years, another lesson in life. It was during the Carter years—you may remember Jimmy Carter, and his Misery Index. In case you don’t, the Misery Index was the sum total of inflation, unemployment and interest rates. Now this was a real witches’ brew for someone trying to grow a business, or should I say trying to survive in the business world. Along with the countless government agencies that manufacturers have to contend with, which is akin to being up to your ‘you know what’ in alligators, I learned I wasn’t cut out for it. Looking back, maybe I should have instead moved into a trailer down by the river and started writing my novels. Trust me, there are circumstances that make poverty awfully appealing.
One day a mutual friend arranged a blind dinner date. Skeptical as I was, I’m
here today to testify on behalf of love at first sight. She was a tall blond. I wouldn’t include what transpired over the next six months in a novel because no one would believe it. Here, all the familiar terms are appropriate: soul mate, best friend, confidant, lover. I knew almost from the first minute that I wanted to grow old with this woman. You’ve heard of thick and thin—this lady has stayed with me through it all. Probably our most notable adventure was the time we sold everything and went west to New Mexico to open a small restaurant. Neither one of us knew the first thing about it. Not to be discouraged, we rented a location in a small resort town and set about building the tables and scrounging up the equipment we thought we’d need; then opened what became a vastly popular eatery. After a few years, this delightful woman went along with my expansion idea, which led to relocating in a larger town. Big mistake, for a number of reasons. But that’s neither here nor there. We had a beautiful stucco home that overlooked the Rio Grande Valley and Rocky Mountains, and we enjoyed the finest climate in the world in one of our most beautiful states, and it all came to a sudden end. She lovingly trekked back to Texas with me, where we started over again. Today, being the first to read my novels (usually those miserable first drafts), my wife is my biggest fan.
Where does all of this leave those early discoveries concerning special kinships between two men? Am I tempted by things that, during the general course of my day-to-day life, remain unsaid? Do I take notice of a pair of tight-fitting masculine jeans, or the pattern of hair on a forearm, or a sweat dampened t-shirt on a runner? Am I swayed by a pair of broad shoulders and narrow hips, or the day old stubble across a strong jaw, or all of the other nuances that comprise a male? I think on some level most men are. So you decide. As for myself . . . well, at some point we all have to choose the road we travel. We can’t have it all, can we?
Parts of this biography were written in the form of a metaphor to depict my early life. Actually, I grew up in Wisconsin.Pin It