By the time I met Boss at 27 years old, I had consumed a huge amount of porn, taken more than my share of drugs, injected heroin, wallowed in the gutter, and had been welcomed into the dark world of sadomasochism. Even someone like that, though, can still jealously harbor a veneer of innocence on their soul. Many people feel that innocence is a good thing, adorable at least, but I always wanted to know things. I wanted to look at and meet the monsters, in the world, and in myself. It made the magnificence of the world that much more magnificent in contrast. More importantly, if God created everything in the human world, then He created the monsters too. For a reason. Monsters are more awful, if they are ignored.
I had a base impulse too, that made me want my innocence destroyed. The guys I was most sexually drawn to were all older men. Older men and young men seducing one another could inspire thousands of pages of literature, and may have. The circumstance has many dimensions. One of those is the archetype of the older man wanting to befoul the young man to destroy his innocence. There are perhaps as many meanings for the behavior as there are older men who like to do it. One possibility is that the older man wants to get revenge for his own loss of innocence at the hands of some other older man. We are not talking about pedophilia here. A young man can be an 18-to-29 year old. Looking at them from my perspective, at 54, anyone under 29 seems flat out like a child to me. It is perfectly legal to destroy the innocence of a 27-year-old, as Boss did.
Innocence is beautiful ignorance. It’s an unfallen state. It’s the mind of a pleasant book of children’s poetry, where everything is wonderful, and the monsters turn out to be bashful giants, with goofy grins on their faces. The innocent trusts, based on surface appearances. Things are as they seem at first glance; and above all, hearts are usually pure. Impure hearts baffle the mind.
Obviously, a young person’s innocence has to go; even the youth’s loving parents know this to be the case. Those same parents who cultivated gentle ignorance in their 6-year-old, really don’t want their 18-year-old to go out into the world thinking that every smile is warm. The world would exploit and run over such a young man or woman, without even thinking about it. Insight cultivates toughness.
At 17-years-old, I had discovered through indulging temptation that, far from drugs being dangerous ‘vices,’ they were actually overwhelming, spectacular, hallucinatory energy bombs for my brain and body. They opened worlds of intellectual, spiritual, and emotional glory, that made up for a sober world that now seemed bland and dull. What could go wrong? This essay isn’t about drugs; it’s about my innocence. But once I realized there was duplicity, that the true nature of those drugs had been concealed from me by the world, and ultimately, that the drugs themselves harbored hidden costs, at least the hangover, at most losing everything including one’s soul; I became a better, richer man through the knowing. The process of falling began.
The pretty lie we tell children around the age of twelve—that sex is a sacred act of love between two people who love each other and want to lovingly bond through gentle intimacy, after they’re already in love—requires no more than a few masturbation sessions, maybe a glimpse of Playboy, to become a major question mark. Something doesn’t add up. This delicious feeling, this rapacious hunger for body parts, doesn’t quite jibe with the romantic gibberish. What does it mean?
By 27, when I met Boss, I was a broadly experienced sex pig. The long road from my twelve year old coming out to myself, to 27, involved a gradual degrading of myths I held on to regarding sexuality. Most notably, however, that final domino still stood on end—some day you’ll fall in love and possibly become monogamous, if you can still be saved. The day Boss and I met, he took me to my first sex club. He pumped me full of drugs. All this was by my full, knowledgeable consent. We visited one another subsequently in an ecstatic explosion of sexuality.
Then I moved in to my new home, Boss’ digs became ours, and we sat down to talk soberly and seriously. Boss confirmed once and for all that monogamy was not in the cards. I felt two conflicting things. First, I felt relieved. It’s what I secretly wanted, and here it was confirmed for me by an authority. It was OK to want it. After all that shame and guilt, it turned out that the turbulence never actually mattered at all. I ended up getting what I sheepishly asked for. My semi-conscious mind had encouraged me to travel a road, of which I had just now reached the natural end. I was free. Freedom is an outcome of loss of innocence.
Secondly, however, I mourned the loss of the pretty vision. What happens to all that beautiful love? The rest of my life has been about that. But more importantly in that moment, what happens to the tender, innocent boy longing for the pure beloved? What happens to ‘gentle intimacy?’ Mostly, I didn’t really care, but of course, it did occur to me. It’s what happened next that made me wake up, like Young Goodman Brown, to the cesspool of filth that is the human world.
People tell lies about drugs and sex, because they want to protect folks from risk. It’s understood, that everyone is going to have to do their own risk analysis and try to successfully navigate the bacchanal. It’s called responsible adulthood. The breach of innocence involved, we secretly understand and accept. Most people don’t lose all that much innocence. They get wrapped up in monogamous love-bonds early, and they don’t fall that far from grace.
For better or worse, I did. But by the time Boss made clear that the handsome white knight wasn’t going to ride up on his white steed and whisk me away to a far off kingdom, that the world consisted of the sleazy, yellow light of New York City streets at night; I was well prepared. It wasn’t a big deal. The whole town had already burnt up, and all that happened was the final façade crashed to the ground, in the hazy, grimy light of morning.
The afternoon Boss finally broke my heart in two, light shined in the windows. The temperature was pleasant. We were chatting aimlessly, still toiling to get to know each other better. (We’re still doing that more than a quarter century later). I was asking questions about Boss’ life.
We were talking about creativity, what would become a major issue for us, and he told me about his career in pornography with the pen name, Jack Evans. He said he gradually moved on to other kinds of books. Then he said, “I subsequently published dozens of books.”
“You did?” I replied. “What were they?”
He said, “They were just contract books.”
Unaware of the profound change I was about to endure, I asked, “What’s a contract book?”
He said, “Well you go to an office somewhere in Midtown. You sit down at a desk in a cubicle in a room full of cubicles. And the ‘editor’ says, ‘OK, Mr. Ewing, we need 400 pages about a young female, 24–28 years old, in some colorful profession, like flight attendant or struggling actress. She’s swept off her feet by a young, up-and-coming man; and in this one, after some interesting difficulties, they end up getting married, happily ever after.’
The editor shuffles papers, ‘This one is $450.’
‘Can you have it for me in three weeks?’
‘Great. How’ve you been doing since last I saw you?’
‘OK. The summer weather is killing me.’
I say, ‘I know what you mean;’ we chit-chat for a few, and I take my leave. That’s how contract books work.”
I felt violated. If I hadn’t allowed myself to be violated so often in the past, I would have felt as if Boss had raped me. The feeling of being made filthy was visceral. Suddenly, gone was the poet toiling to reveal a sacred truth through the telling of a story, gone was the novelist with something important to say, who sincerely means every word. All those romance novels, action stories, and on and on, were written by people in their underwear pumping out words to pay the rent. OK, I still knew that some authors were honestly artists, but it had never occurred to me that any author was simply writing manipulative fiction designed to make a fast buck. I thought all artists meant it. I felt like Boss had slammed the side of my head with a giant cymbal.
Within days I found myself looking at advertisements in the subway and on the street. Someone designed these, I thought, they made art, often engaging art, not because they really believe in the product, but because it’s their job. They did it solely for the paycheck. Boss told me years later, that Bach wrote all his music for money, to feed an enormous family. Again, I was like Young Goodman Brown watching the witches dance in the forest.
This can’t be happening, I thought. It hurts. I felt as if I’d fallen in love with a man, really in love. He was beautiful, and handsome, and pure, and good; and then I discover one day that he prostitutes himself out to pay the rent. Horrible, lustful men touch my beloved, exploit him for $450 bucks a pop. This was the very last domino falling—even art is sullied by the world. Sincerity itself is a lie.
Years later, I told Boss that he’d been the one who destroyed my innocence once and for all. He was surprised. He had done it so casually, like a man ripping the last stubborn baby tooth from a toddler’s mouth. “Oops, all over, see, the pain is all over. In a flash.” The toddler still cries. But baby teeth make way for adult teeth. Adult teeth are resilient and useful and strong. Adulthood, beyond innocence, in a corrupt world, freely reformulates that world. There’s still a place for goodness, for God, in the mind of the cynic. Think how much more beautiful purity seems contrasted with the crassness of a venal humanity. Like an alloy (think steel), Boss’ and my free adulthood is made from goodness salvaged from our wasted innocence, then thoroughly blended with earth’s mundane realities. Artists gotta’ eat too. My lust is not a betrayal of my bond with my partner. We all think of everyone else as characters in a play about ourselves. It’s OK to be a fallen angel. The bittersweet bliss of the world rests on the foundation of the burnt up town of our innocence. And what a world it is.
July 11, 2021