What is this?
Boys in Bed: A Recollection Of Almost Everything speaks to anyone who has ever felt desire, loneliness, and nostalgia. It is for anyone who wants to believe in the power of forgiveness.
Over the course of thirty-five chapters, I chronicle what it was like growing up gay in the 70s and 80s and maturing through the 90s and 2000s. The pieces are funny, dark, and poignant. They explore the unreliability of memory, the way personal stories are shaped by the strange alchemical mix of what happened to us, and how we choose to respond to our histories. The depths desire can take us in search of meaning.
Each piece is anchored on a sexual encounter with the boys and men I desired – both those who returned my affection and those that did not. These encounters unfold as the echoes of my life unravel around them. The family dysfunction at the center of my childhood. The sounds and style of New Wave music of the 80s and 90s. My life in theater and video games and traveling the world. The AIDS crisis. These poems weave together a drama of longing for others with a desire to be someone, to do something, to matter.
Complete at 43,888 words, Boys in Bed: A Recollection Of Almost Everything is not merely a book of writing for gay people. Although it is centered on my experiences growing into myself as a gay man, the book has a wide appeal. The pieces are quirky and hybrid, straddling the line between poetry and prose. They are polaroids between the folds of sheets and time. Me, the protagonist, on a New Wave journey, growing up gay, and searching for understanding of what it means to be alive and to have been alive in a moment in time.
Kurt Kramer - copyright 2022 I loved sleepovers. The chance to see inside someone else’s house. Their life behind the curtains. To get a feeling of their rules. The foods they kept in the cupboards. Who slept where. What TV shows they watched. How they talked to each other. When the house was nice. And the people were nice. And there were rules. I’d imagine I was invited to move in. I’d be adopted and live a normal life. Like a normal kid. With normal parents. Who loved me and told me I was great and gave me rules to follow. I had a friend who lived in the Woodlake Apartment Complex. It was a fancy-for-its-time set of buildings with faux-Tudor-exteriors. It had a common pool. It didn’t smell like garbage. His mother was from Japan and her English wasn’t great. When we got hungry from playing. She’d make us red Kool Aid with a sliced banana in it. Served in one of the McDonalds glasses she collected and lovingly cared for. It was sugary sweet. But also not just sugar. The banana slices were magical. Pink. Soaked in a syrupy kick that felt exotic. They had a texture that tasted like love. Every time I stayed the night. I waited patiently for the moment she’d offer the banana-sweetness. When it came, I’d savor every loving sip and chew and lick. When I had trouble falling asleep. His mother sat by my bed and rubbed my hands. She told me to think about nice things. To let the darkness be a place where nice things lived. Don’t think about the snakes and scorpions and alligators and adults who don’t make any sense. Because if I went to bed thinking of a snake, she said. The snake would be on my head in the morning. And then it would eat me alive. So I had to let it go. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. I didn’t like it when the sleepovers were at my house-of-the-moment. After the three-month stay in Michigan. After the elopement to an Army recruiter ended in us fleeing in the middle of the night. Crammed in the back of a Buick Regal. With everything we could fit. My mother crying. After that. We moved a lot. In with my father for a traumatic few months. He fed us a rabbit and told us it was chicken. My sister got stung by a scorpion while she was peeing in the downstairs bathroom. We moved into a two bedroom. Five of us. Then a house by the train tracks. A rental. Like all the others. Worn out carpet. The smell of a house that people smoke in. Mildew. At the bus stop. By that house. A girl who looked like Ronald McDonald bullied me. She ate Country Time Lemonade powder with her fingers. On the bus. She played with a knife. My sister came to the bus stop. Told her she’d kill her if she didn’t stop bullying me. So she stopped. Kids loved coming over to that house because we had no rules. We could eat anything. If we could find anything to eat. Stay up as late as we wanted. If there was a place to sleep. Smoke cigarettes in the woods at the end of the road. Ride our banana-seat bikes across the causeway to the beach. Having people over was work. Pretending to be cool. To act like everything was okay. To ignore the frayed edges of carpet and the smell of the refrigerator and the absolute absence of adults. It was a performance. And it was draining. Unless I had a magnificent tent made of bed sheets and blankets in my room. Then it was okay. If I had a bounded kingdom of sheets and blankets and lights that shrunk my room into an expansive hideaway. Then it was okay. Then a sleepover was a magical thing. Kurt was a sporty kid in my 4th grade class. Sporty, but also a little round. He came over to check out my tent. It was the biggest one I had ever made. I stapled together the sheets to make it sturdy. I cut holes in a few blankets to tie them together. It swallowed my entire bedroom. Inside there were blankets and pillows and a lamp with a scrap of fabric over it so it looked like the Moroccan tents we learned about in school. I had a bottle of Creme de Menthe in there. And my sister’s copy of the Joy of Sex, which my mother had taken from her, and which I had taken from my mother. We sat in the tent looking at the pictures. Drinking the sickly sweet, minty, liquor out of plastic cups. For dinner, I made Shit-on-a-Shingle: milky ground meat plopped on white bread toast. I added Lowry’s Season Salt to make it special. We were careful to keep our fingers from smudging the pages of the book. It was exceptionally white. After we ate, we loaded our dishes into the mustard yellow dishwasher, washed our hands, and climbed back into Morocco-in-Melbourne. It was hot, like it always is in Florida. We took our shirts off as we flipped through the pages. We read about handwork, premature ejaculation, dildos, and horseback. I had read through the book before, but for Kurt it was a revelation. New words. Evocative images. Shaded pencil drawings. Some of the adult jokes we had pretended to find funny made more sense. Kurt said, “I’m hot.” He took off his shorts. Looked at me. I did the same. “Let’s just be naked,” he said. “Like in the book.” “Okay.” As we underdressed, I noticed Kurt’s penis was growing and I laughed. He laughed too and then said, “You should lay on top of me.” “Won’t that make us gay?” “No. You have to do butt stuff to be gay.” “Oh. Okay.” I climbed on top of him. His erect penis flattened by mine, which was also growing. He kissed me. And I kissed him back. He thrust and wiggled. His penis rubbed against mine. I wasn’t sure what to do so I just lay there. Until he peed on me. I crawled off of him. Looked at the wet spots. It was strange. Thick. More white than yellow. With a funny smell. He was smiling. I pretended it was normal. “Why is your pee so thick?” I asked. “It’s jizz, dummy. Like in the book.” “Oh. Did it come out of you or me?” He laughed. And said, “Taste it.” “Taste what?” “My jizz!” “What?” “Yeah, taste it. It’s kind of good.” I stuck my right finger out and touched his belly, in a sticky spot that was covered in what looked like homemade paste made with flour and water. I put my finger into my mouth. He started laughing. “I was joking! Oh my god, I can’t believe you did that.” On Monday morning. At school. Kurt was with his sports friends out front. I went over to say hi. “Faggot. Look guys, it’s the faggot.” I didn’t even really hear. I mean. I heard. Of course. But I didn’t hear. I was in my tent. Building a new identity. Laughing at my own jokes. Practicing my latest performance. Normal Boy, Does Normal Things. I walked on. I never got to see inside his house. What the sleepover rules were there. How his parents talked to each other. What the snacks were. In high school, when he was the captain of the football team, I played Louie Louie in the stands with the marching band to encourage him to run faster. To work harder. To get the touchdown that mattered so much. When I dated the head cheerleader, she told me he wasn’t a good kisser. He’s a bartender at a country and western bar in Melbourne now.