Never give a young, budding homosexual an art class in pottery. There are just some forms of creative expression you do not give a child, especially with the restriction that it- whatever it is- cannot even resemble an ashtray. In the early, happy-go-smokey days of the 80's even the kids of non-smokers didn't know where to start.

Looking back, I always come to the same thought: What kind of asshole puts that kind of pressure on a kid? Ambiguity of that sort was especially dangerous for one who was trying to get along with the bizarre undercurrent of mixed sexual and social signals emerging in the prehistoric days of the early 80's. Giving a child a tug-o-war / restrictive-o-freedom with no useful purpose was an explosive formula. Imagine giving an arsonist a book of matches and a house and telling him, with no guidance, that the result couldn't even resemble a house- in any way.

Mr. Dody, the dickhead art teacher, encouraged us to be creative! He suggested ideas for small sculptured animals and coffee mugs or Christmas ornaments, picture frames, or chess pieces. Incense burners were discouraged as well as anything in the shape of wide, flat bowls. These passed before his upturned nose as unsatisfactory because they might possibly translate into ashtrays. Other things that were discouraged: anything that could be construed as bowl-like, shot glasses, anything that remotely resembled a penis and of course, Satanic symbols. He had his standards.

"For everything, there is a purpose" he said.

With those free-restrictions we realized that he removed the most valuable aspect from any pottery we could make - usefulness. We knew, going into the project that anything we made would end up in the trash heap, our grandmother's mantle, or used to scoop out pet food or cat litter. My class expressed a sudden sense of deep desperation, the kind that today is treated with several prescription drugs. What lay ahead - for each member of my class- was a hopeless endeavor. Each of us knew his or her "masterpiece" would be equivalent of a B- report card, not bad enough to warrant a beating but embarrassing enough to never see the light of day or hang from the refrigerator door.

These challenges are bad enough for your average 8th grader but once you throw the Gay Gene into an ambiguous middle-school art project you should just expect the result to be hidden under a couch for years to come. Somehow, even after this, my brief stint in gymnastics, acting in the theater, and then my true appreciation for the music of Duran Duran, my parents still thought that I would turn out straight.

I had a plan! I knew exactly what I would do! I had the vision! I had the purpose! and... no one stopped me!

My vision was of an elaborate candle holder. The base would be a large, triangular slab with clipped points and each flat tip bent gently upwards to crest just above the center of the base. I planned support beams to hold up the form and a ringed base that sat as a reservoir for the melting wax just inside the three pillars - in which one could place a wide pillar candle. This monstrosity took the full week to plan, design and complete. I let it dry and planned out the painting and glazing.

There were limited choices. Since my school had a small budget we were forced to choose simple primary colors and were not allowed to mix any color with our paint except for white - no mauve, no magenta, no subtle orange with peach highlights. Our choices were simply red, blue, yellow, green, white - those industrial primary colors that make everything look as if it belonged in a bad 1965 refrigerator ad.

But I had a plan, i had a vision.

...and I was determined to outshine everyone else - to make them hate me for my creative vision and genius. Oh, I knew that mine was the most creative, I knew mine was blessed with genius. I could see my brilliance reflected in the envious glances and glares towards my creation.  Their obvious jealousy of my ambitious design, my grand scale, my intricate engineering only confirmed that i was on the right track.  It became the largest and most ambitious piece in my class and I was determined to have it stand out even further.

So, I painted it the most bewildering shade of sky blue (I got to mix the blue and white all by myself!) and then finished it off by covering it with tiny, white polka-dots. It looked like an alien blue flower- one created by some demon with the intent of viciously devouring any bee or insect that might stray near it.  I let it dry and glazed it then took it to the kiln with great pomp and circumstances - "the young Michelangelo has completed his masterpiece".

I couldn't have been more proud.

Unfortunately it didn't just burn up.

Being 13, I didn't really understand the concept of shrinkage. When it shrank a little, one of the three support beams fell across and into the center, circular basin. In the firing process, that beam became irrevocably fused to the ring and the result kept the wide, center basin from accepting any thing larger than a tea candle- which could only sit cock-eyed in the obstructed center bowl.

Now complete, my masterpiece could be used for nothing.  I had created A Thing with No Recognizable Purpose.

It was beautiful!

When revealed to the students and parents at the open house, the following week, several guesses were made as to its purpose and eventually my art teacher wrote my original artistic intent on a card to sit beside my name and grade.

I got an A, of course but I'm not certain if I got it for creativity, originality or simply pity.

The open house was one of many that my parents never attended. They never really made a serious attempt to be involved in my schooling and for this I was sometimes grateful and sometimes a little bitter.

My mom, for example, came to school infrequently enough to make it easy for me to pass her off to my friends as an eccentric aunt who was only related by marriage. While she never truly learned to appreciate the weird contraptions that would clutter her closet, mantle, and space under her bed, she at least never made me throw them away myself.

My father was less tactful. The most common phrase my father ever said to me was: "What in the hell..." Usually followed closely by the words: "...have you done?", "...are you doing?", "...is that?", "...have you put in there?", "...did you do to it?" and "...have you done with the rest of it?"

He gave up on me after they enrolled me into speech therapy to get rid of the lisp. My dad would have been more interested in standing next to a flashing sign with the words "Flaming Homosexual" written neatly with neon red tubes than accept most of the perplexing things that I would fluff into reality.

They had learned their lesson over the years, so they made my sister accompany me to this one.  She didn't try to explain a damn thing about me - she didn't even know where to start.

As for the art exhibit: the other parents walked past my piece as if it was Gay incarnate: bright, cheery, loud, hideous, unrecognizable and absolutely alien to them. They avoided getting too close - as if they feared that somehow the tri-folded piece would open up like an alien pod and spray gay, polka-dot bullets at anyone foolish enough to step into its firing range.

I could hear my art teacher explaining to almost every confused parent his strict policy against ashtrays when they stood looking, bewildered, at the pieces their children had created. Granted, mine wasn't the only odd work of art... mine was just the BEST.

I gave it first to my dad, insisting he take it to work for his office. He made an effort to appreciate it by turning it over a few times in his hands and grunted. "Did you mean for it to look like this?" He passed off the fallen support pillar as shoddy workmanship and then asked incredulously if I had actually gotten an A or if I was lying. I showed him the card and the grade - he still didn't believe me. He informed me that it wasn't legal for him to burn candles in his office and that my mother would appreciate it... more.

So I presented it to my mother with the kind of pomp and flourish one would expect from a prince holding a glass slipper on a pillow. "Look what I made for you!" I left out the part where I gave it to my dad and his subsequent rejection. She was understandably confused and at first turned it upside down - thinking that somehow it was me who didn't know what it was."Why didn't you paint the top?"

I turned it back over and explained its purpose, as a candle holder but pointed out the fallen pillar and how it kept it from actually being used as a candle holder.

She was brave, I give her that, she tried...

The problem was that tea candles were lost in the size of it and wouldn't sit perfectly straight, votive candles simply melted into a puddle over the edge, thick pillar candles never fit within the base due to the diminished capacity (thanks to the fallen support beam) and tapered candles simply fell over because there was nothing to actually hold those.

...and she gave up.

I came home from school a week later and went to my mother's room so we could watch General Hospital together. I sat quietly in the waterbed as she got up to use the bathroom. I looked over and saw it on her nightstand. The inside ring of the candle holder, the space for the pillar candle, was filled with ashes and cigarette butts and the fallen beam supported a long, smoldering Benson & Hedges.

I beamed and sat back proudly on the pillow while the curl of smoke trailed delicately upwards through the three, hideous blue peaks.

For everything, there is a purpose.

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