than the Mouth
Sometimes, on a "contact high" from
the other guests at a party, I can still turn on the wit and the
funny stories. Now, though, I can tell when it's appropriate to
play the entertainer.
I was drinking, I was what could be called a "mouth on wheels."
I would hold court at the Café
Flore in San Francisco in the late seventies, where I was, by all
accounts, very entertaining. I did impressions, told funny stories
(often at other people's expense). The man I see now as the King
(or should I say Queen!) of the Café was a frightened, lonely person,
trying to deflect attention from his disability and small stature
by being fabulously witty and brilliantor so I thought.
I kept people always around me,
but not too close, lest they should see the pain I felt inside.
It was pain I was medicating with booze on a daily basis, often
alone in a dingy bar in the Castro, far from the café.
These days I talk a lot less.
My goal is to write more than I speak, a tall order for a chatterbox
like me. Thanks to being sober for many years, and practicing intensive
meditation for several, I have calmed down a lot, slowed down, and
am able to rein in my compulsive showing off. I am no longer a "rolling
During my drinking years my poems
were clever and abstract. I never talked about my feelings. I cringe
now when I remember speaking of other disabled poets who wrote honestly
about themselves as writing "sentimental, self-pitying crap." These
days I speak more about myself with my pen than with my mouth and
I use my resume to get jobs rather than to impress friends and acquaintances.
However, I occasionally find myself
slipping back into my old Queen of the Café routine. Recently I
went on two dates with two different guys. The first guy was a professional
musician. Because I felt intimidated by his impressive array of
degrees and talents, I slipped back into the rolling resume act
without really noticing. I realized afterwards that I had overwhelmed
him with a torrent of wordsall about me! Not surprisingly,
he expressed no desire to see me again.
The second date was with a meteorologist
(yes, a weatherman). Because he was not a fellowimplicitly
rival artist I didn't feel as intimidated by him as I had
been by date number one. I asked the weatherman questions about
his career and he asked me questions about mine. I did not lapse
into cruel (if accurate) impressions of some of today's well-known
poets, as I had with the musician.
This second date was a mutual
exchange. I had a better time. The weatherman did, too. In fact,
he asked me out again, thus validating my new policy of self-restraint.
Sometimes, on a "contact high"
from the other guests at a party, I can still turn on the wit and
the funny stories. Now, though, I can tell when it's appropriate
to play the entertainer.
I used to be a character who wrote
very little. Now I am less of a character who writes a lot more.
I try to put my complete and adequate gay self into my work. In
public I no longer try to be the guy you won't mind is disabled
because "he's such a card, isn't he?"
I have learned from the overwhelmingly
positive response to my new poems and the recently published chapters
of this book that I am respected more as a writer because I speak
from the heart. Not only that, I find that my friends love the real
me; they don't stick around just because I'm clever and witty, an
entertainer about whom they know nothing else. Now we take turns
at being the entertainer. "Tell me another, willya?"
©Chris Hewitt 2000
HEWITT's poems and translations have appeared in The New Yorker,
American Poetry Review, The Advocate, and The James White
Review. He has has 'brittle bone disease," osteogenesis imperfecta,
and has gotten around in a wheelchair since he was nine.