What I’d like to do now is take the opportunity. To say what I couldn’t even think that Wednesday evening in Jeske’s class, 1985. The scariest thing about myself. If I were to have spoken it out loud.
I was impotent.
By that time of my life, my thirty-seventh year – heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, top or bottom, threesomes, orgies with men and women, with a whip in my hand or chained to the radiator, whatever way two or more people can get together sexually. Drunk or stoned or otherwise fucked up. Hell, even when it was just me alone stone cold sober.
I couldn’t get it up.
Kaput. Nada. Rien. Kabisa. Zip.
Fucking limp dick.
Erectile dysfunction, man.
The shame of it.
Ursula Crohn’s invitation was a written invitation. She and some other of Jeske’s students were gathering together on a Friday night to read their work to one another. I remember holding the invitation in the bright glare of the fluorescent hallway of 211 East Fifth Street. My steel gray apartment door #1A just past the open aluminum mailbox door. Ursula’s handwriting lilted left on blue and yellow swirled stationery with a matching envelope and a stamp of Martin Luther King. I’ve always wondered at people who have stationery and envelopes and unusual stamps and a handy fountain pen and the address altogether so they can quickly jot off personal notes. It takes me an hour just to find my glasses. Forget the stamp. To coordinate all that shit and then to have it match, like the letter itself is an invention of art, is truly a marvel to me.
The reason why I remember the letter, though, was not because of its bread-and-butter quality but for something else: I wasn’t used to being invited to the party. I was easily ten to fifteen years older than the other students at Columbia. Plus, besides being older, I was an odd duck. Always been an odd duck. Above the toilet in my mother’s bathroom is a blue and white ceramic mother duck with three blue and white little ducks swimming behind. They’re all swimming with their beaks lined up with their mother’s in a straight line – then there’s the odd duck, the black duck with his bill tipped down.
Plus, unlike my fellow students, I had a job. Actually two jobs. As a waiter at Café Un Deux Trois four nights a week. And then my super job. I started out with one building, then after I graduated Columbia there was four. So I didn’t do a lot of social gatherings. Especially literary ones. Especially after I quit the restaurant business and was just the super. Make that janitor. More than anything, though, what was impressive about Ursula Crohn’s letter was that it was Ursula Crohn inviting me. She was another one of Jeske’s favorites.
I had to drink a lot first, Baileys and some kind of cheap brandy. Smoked a doobie. Then I put this big-ass Hoss Cartwright cowboy hat on and these black high platform shoes spray-painted with green glitter from the late Seventies – articles of clothing I’d only wear to a costume party. But for some damn reason wore that night. My black Peterbilt muscle-guy zippered jacket.
Ursula’s address was on Maiden Lane or one of those tiny hard to find streets in the financial district. I set off walking from East Fifth Street, already late. I brought the bottle with me. Clomping through those narrow streets that wind through all those monoliths of money. It was raining. I remember because I didn’t have an umbrella, but I had the hat. My feet hurt. Finally when I found the address there was a lot of fuss with the intercom and pushing the right button and yelling at a wall in a dark brick doorway. Then the formidable elevator, a freight elevator, all the sides open, just that cross hatch between you and the elevator shaft, the red numbers of the floor going by slow on the back wall. On floor one thousand or something like that, Ursula opened the gates to an industrial loft apartment like you see in Hollywood movies that starving artists live in with a one-eighty view of the city that takes up half the floor.
If my friends could see me now.
TOM SPANBAUER grew up on a farm twelve miles outside Pocatello, Idaho. He attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School and Highland High School. In 1969, he received his BA in English Literature from Idaho State University. Tom served two years in the Peace Corps in Kenya, East Africa. He returned to Idaho until 1978, when he decided he needed to get out of that state. He moved to New Hampshire, then Vermont, then Key West, Florida. In 1988, Tom studied at Columbia University while waiting tables at Café Un Deux Trois and Odeon and being a super of five buildings on East Fifth Street. In 1988, he received his MFA from Columbia in Fiction. In 1991, Tom settled in Portland, Oregon where he teaches Dangerous Writing in the basement of his house. Forty (more or less forty—he’s lost count) of his students have published novels and/or memoirs. His novels include Faraway Places, The Man Who Fell In Love With The Moon, In The City Of Shy Hunters, Now Is The Hour and his latest I Loved You More.