Tori 4 Tori
Selected excerpts from the book
People I've Met From the Internet,
forthcoming from Ricochet Editions
AOL chat room
summary of meeting:
found him outside school
met in person at least 5 times
Kenneth, a senior at my high school when I was a freshman, had hair-sprayed crispy, spiked hair, light brown skin, and a navy blue polo in his junior yearbook photo. Over the phone Kenneth played his favorite song, "Lost in Love" by the Nasty Boy Klick, a Spanglish R&B song popular on hip-hop stations across the Southwest. Kenneth told me “Fire It Up” by Busta Rhymes sampled the Knight Rider theme song. Kenneth couldn’t believe I had never heard of Knight Rider. Two months later I changed my screen name to “FireItUp6.” This was in the middle of a period of using Tori Amos song titles for my secret gay screen names. My straight friend Jerry later recalled in disbelief that I was the one who called her “Tori Anus” all the time. That was only a year before I got the poster of Tori nursing a piglet that my mother demanded I remove. For my straight friends I was “Vow15” and later “Vow16,” a gothy song by Garbage, plus my age. Jerry introduced me to Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson one afternoon after school at Jerry’s. Jerry thought she was my type, and for a while that became my explanation. A backlit band in greyish blues, oranges and purples play to sawing noises and grinds. Then, standing defiantly still to an almost danceable mid-tempo rhythm, a woman at the mic does not smile or make an innocently seductive face. You could call it a pissed look if only she cared. A large area around her eyes is black. She’s telling another girl that she’s a phony for trying to be liked, that everything she actually possessed she was wasting. What should the girl have done with what she had? Years later, when I came out to Jerry, he couldn’t believe how well he was duped the whole time, that all the signs had been in plain sight.
Kenneth was Navajo. Kenneth’s parents never married, though they were a couple for at least as long as he had been alive. Did his parents celebrate anniversaries? Eat dinner together? Live together? Kenneth told me they did, in an apartment complex near the Costco on Jefferson. Maybe Kenneth played the Nasty Boy Klick song to tell me he wanted to get lost in love with me. I didn’t know if this was a thing people did. All I knew was Shannon Cooke and I would play songs back and forth over the phone, holding cordless receivers to our boom boxes to have a conversation. We once used most of an evening and Jagged Little Pill to communicate that she had a crush on me. That was not long before I had to buy a second Jagged Little Pill because my first was so scratched. I got my first copy by exchanging The Fugees’ The Score because, I still remember, on the way home from the mall, I told my father it had a parental advisory sticker. “Should we return it?” my father asked. “I guess so,” 12 year-old me responded.
School was seven hours of half-awake hiding in a notebook drawing cats and a goth sneering drag queen-ish character, and then I came back to the computer. My parents interrupted to make me eat dinner and play piano. Otherwise, my mother watched The Nanny or my father watched the British Parliament on C-Span. At 11 PM my mother would burst in and yank the phone cord from the wall in a dramatic show of force. Some nights I would sneak back to the computer room and plug the phone cord back into the wall, but only after waiting until my parents had gone to sleep, in the interim listening to Tidal or Tigerlily or Eurythmics’ Greatest Hits—my first album purchase at age 11. When I played “Sweet Dreams” to my parents, they said the music was fake, because there were no actual instruments. This was a popular commentary on disco and synth music in that time. One time my mother paused the song. “Did she just say some of them want to abuse you? Abuse?” in a tone like the answer would determine whether the CD would be trash. ”No, amuse,” I said.
AOL chat room
summary of meeting:
drove around, jacked off in car, talked
met 99+ times
Quinn and I first bonded in the main chat of the AOL Albuquerque M4M room joking about the screen names of the older men like NMRimmer, ABQtop4u, BoiGemni and BiMarrdGy, whose screen names were always at the bottom of the chat list, meaning they had been in the chat room the longest, possibly for weeks or months. They mostly ignored my messages. Did they forget to log off? Sometimes they did respond, usually begrudgingly, and disappeared when the topic shifted away from sex.
It seemed as though the M4M room was the gay capital of Albuquerque for a time. A user “MPowerABQ” entered the room every night to advertise a new non-profit hangout place downtown for 18-29 gay men to learn about safe sex. The guys in the chat room discussed new music releases like they all somehow liked the same random things, including Tori when I still didn’t know her music, and every night for at least a week, Madonna’s “Frozen.” It was that summer, driving through Tennessee on a family road trip, that From the Choirgirl Hotel made so much sense. Tori wanted to know why screaming in cathedrals couldn’t be beautiful and why there had to be a sacrifice.
Quinn had a deep voice on the phone and a way of responding that let you know he was agreeing with you because he really did and not only because he wanted to. The first two times Quinn and I met, he picked me up at the street corner and we jerked off in a parking lot in his car. Quinn, pale white with a goatee, tucked in black shirt and combat boots, could have been military personnel. Quinn was homeschooled until he got his GED after he brought a gun to his high school and was expelled. Quinn also once told me in confidence that he woke up from a night terror holding a loaded gun to his head. Quinn and I had in common that we were both arrested and sent to the D Home—the juvenile detention center—in Albuquerque. Quinn used to steal computers.
My parents and I went once a week to family counselor Gerry Swanson, who often sent one or two of us back to the waiting room so we wouldn’t talk over each other. One time, alone in the waiting room, I found a photo of Shirley Manson in a magazine, so I ripped it out. When my parents returned, refreshed to see me, smiles quickly turned to frowns. They said I vandalized Mr. Swanson’s magazine and demanded I give him back the ripped page. I couldn’t abandon Shirley Manson’s eyeliner or leave any part of my bedroom walls blank. If it wasn’t her face, I didn’t feel like I had any face at all. Instead, I ran out of the building and walked several unfamiliar blocks through Downtown Albuquerque. From a gas station payphone I dialed 1-800-COLLECT and the number to Quinn’s parents’ house—I still have it memorized. Quinn picked me up—probably our fourth meeting in person—and drove us back toward the mountain to my house. My parents were already there waiting for us. They had beers with Quinn while I sat in the other room on the computer.
Quinn and I would re-watch the Eurythmics music video collection on VHS so many times I had a kind of memorized commentary I’d rehash to any new viewers, like “look at her pointy bra,” or “who would wear a leopard print coat at the zoo?” The day I got that VHS was the same day my mother and I got in a car accident, and she died. Watching all twenty-one Eurythmics music videos was the last thing we did together. My mother hardly said anything through those two hours. I never got to tell her I liked boys, but I sometimes wonder if watching Annie Lennox in a giant white wig screaming “I need a man” over and over, that she finally knew.
Newport Beach, CA
summary of meeting:
sucked each other off to good music
got naked, oral
Daniel and I became friends on Xanga.com, a LiveJournal-like blogging site, but Xanga was better because non-users could leave a comment. And because Max Villarreal, my boyfriend of three years, was already on Xanga. I found new people on Xanga by joining groups around shared interests, like “SoCal Gays” or “Gay Goth Boys” or “Tori Amos.”
About a month before I met him, Daniel would give “eProps” to my blog entries, including one I titled “one of the worst days of the year so far.” It was the day I found out Max would be spending the summer in South Africa. Max commented that he hoped I could at least be a little happy for him.
Daniel was the first guy I met under the new rules of my relationship with Max. Max and I had an exchange—either over the phone or instant message, I can’t remember—that gave me the impression that our relationship would be open, and we could have sex with others, while he was in South Africa for the summer.
A few months before that, Max and I had an argument about the word "culture." I said that Max should travel domestically more because American culture as a whole would be interesting to investigate. Max responded that he was now seeing how America was really many cultures beneath a hegemonic structure. Max said I was thinking about culture more philosophically, and he more anthropologically—his major. Max felt he was missing out on the rest of the world. I used a definition of culture from the OED to argue that many cultures can exist within one culture. “The dictionary doesn't mean anything!” Max retorted. Then, Max said I have a tendency to come up with blanket answers to complicated questions, that it kept me from investigating them further. Later, I wanted to tell Max he was right, that my real goal was to persuade him to be near me, that I should have just said I would miss him, that I admired his brain and that I would cry when he was gone. And I did, all summer.
Looking back at my defensiveness of America’s worthiness of Max’s exploration, I wondered if I was also defending Tori Amos' concept album Scarlet's Walk. A turning point in Tori’s career, the album was themed around a character named Scarlet who travels through every state in post-9/11 America as she also journeys through modern womanhood. Furthermore, I wondered how many times his dislike for this album—or any song by Tori, or by the band Rasputina, for that matter—fueled unnecessary arguments on my part. Later-me also wanted to tell then-me that Max’s opinion of Tori and Rasputina was never going to change.
Driving down the 5 at midnight, what once seemed like a daytrip now was a half-hour drive. My father, who visited Los Angeles in the 1940s before freeways were built, said it took an entire day to get across LA. Daniel, who was much cuter in person, played obscure Eurodance songs, and I asked for the titles. Daniel’s bedroom was an empty carpeted room with a bed. We lay in it, talked and fooled around. Daniel said he was versatile. A year after that, in a blog entry, I said I wanted to go to Death Valley on the hottest day of the year. Daniel commented that he would be willing to pick me up and drive us there. A few years after that, Daniel’s name would show up on Spotify in the far right column, and I would click on the song and it would always be good.