The brave Cinematheque boys enrolled in a drug trial for HIV drugs. One had an allergic reaction and went into shock, stopped breathing. They used the paddles to "resurrect" him. Then they rounded up ALL the boys and slapped them into bed with tubes everywhere to monitor their breathing (some were breathing raggedly), heart beats (ditto), pee, poop, spit, and semen. They know some of these boys are gay hustlers but gave them heterosexual porn for jerking off. When the boyz began to make trouble, the medicos drugged them into oblivion. The boys are outraged and claim they won't stand for any more of it. Some wept. They were all terrified. Barrus is going room to room. When it gets to him, he writes poems.
Sometimes Sitting in This Death Room -- Tim Barrus
sometimes i think they're dead
so soundly asleep their stomachs
rippled at home in the darkness
as delicate as hearts are stabbed
with spring as the plastic tubes
are pushed into the urethras
i watch their eyes go wild knuckles
go white whose hinges have come
undone and i am impotent
to change the way it goes
balancing sleep for
the dead and the rest of us
whores poured down the dark
wheat not yet harvested and
probably never will be more than
merely poised terribly ruined
just above the shimmering depth
swans glide across even as they
wear it like badge.
There are people out there who claim that the Cinematheque boyz are invented by Barrus. Every time there is a terrifying crisis: a suicide attempt, anaphylactic shock from meds, a runaway, I swear to myself that if he’s torturing me with made up stuff like this I’ll go over to Paris and personally strangle him, because a thousand miles away with a life that is totally irrelevant and unrelated to these boyz, I’m suffering, too. I can’t sleep and my blood pressure goes up and I eat too much and I hold the cats so tightly that they squeak in protest. Then when the boyz make it through -- and they usually do -- I feel GREAT! I’m released, restored, so grateful!
Then I think Barrus has invented a new art form: real-life. It’s like the stage except that it comes through blogs or maybe videos if you’re rich enough to have broadband. (I’m not.) Clearly it has to be shaped, edited, given details and themes -- and all that happens, but is it happening through one old hippie gay guy from San Francisco or through a couple dozen discards from a society that doesn’t know what riches they have put aside? I would submit that I know quite a bit about adolescent boys and this stuff is coming through the boys, a mixture of manure and moonbeams, boys so self-conscious that they will not pee in a cup in front of a woman and yet not self-aware enough to notice that they have headlice. (Which Barrus treated with a buzz cut in a paisley pattern even after the medical folks had killed the bugs.) Anyway, part of the reason for the buzz and part of the explanation for the unawareness has become obvious: drugs. Withdrawal is now imposed and vomiting is not good with long hair in the way. It was only one boy who had “broken protocol” this way.
Some of these boys will not survive. Neither will some of the young soldiers the countries send out to fight. These boys are also fighting, not just for their own lives but also for each other and for other future lives as the struggle goes on to cure their HIV, to comfort their inconsolably raging behavior, to capture their ideas in art. The art sells. It’s a new kind of hustling, one society pretends to like better than sex. Getting to know them, their art, their defiance and impatience with any restraits, can break your heart. So be it.
The boyz themselves are doing this voluntarily. Maybe someone is writing checks, maybe some social services have assigned them, but the truth is that they don’t have to be there unless they want to. They all occasionally rise up and jump a bus or an airplane to where they shouldn’t be; they all know how to finance themselves in underworld ways. They could disappear into the shadows of Paris instead of being shut up with so many tubes going into them that, as Kilian put it, he feels as though he’s being readied for execution. Sure, they know this might save their lives, but maybe after a while it’s a temptation to just surrender to death. Get into the boat, cross the black river. Among the swans.
What holds them is Barrus, full of tricks and calculation, determined to MAKE them survive, giving them tenderness and discipline as needed, the way fathers are supposed to. Sure, he feeds them and buys them new shoes when their feet grow by an inch every night as they sleep, but that’s not what keeps them there. They become enraged, they try to seduce him, they NEVER threaten or hurt his dog. They are bonded, attached, in a more than biological way -- deeper than psychology, deeper than DNA, as deep as -- well, I hate to say spiritual, but that’s about the only word that works.
The way they hurt him is that they die. They can’t help it. It’s the reason he took them on in the first place. He knew they might die. But some of them won’t. Some don’t have HIV anyway. They just have attitudes. Not all of them are gay, just nonconforming. Black swans, unexpected, going somewhere new.
The thing about living people as art forms is that they are so very unpredictable, so very rewarding, so likely to wrench your guts out with empathy for their predicaments. I suppose it’s about love. I suppose it might even be Christian, but don’t tell them for God’s sake. Don’t make them self-conscious unless you HAVE to make them pee in a cup. For their own good.
And if all these people are invented, fictional, a “hoax,” don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.