As the author of “Mostly Dead Things”, Kristen Arnett, puts it, there is something so charming about a writer who can take a story about a guy pretending to be Catholic to snag a hot gay man and imbue it not only with humour but with despair and hope in the crosshairs.
Funny writer, Peter Kispert’s, “In the Palm of his Hand” is asking us to examine the many facades we live behind. What does it mean to be queer? To be Catholic? To show friendship? Love? How well do we know other people? How little do we know ourselves?
He sets us down in the life of a man who very much presents as someone who is willing to behave any way necessary to fit the mold he has created for himself. The man he wants to love is religious, so he wears a borrowed golden cross.
His job at Charm Magazine (in which he waits for a promotion, to be “Charmed”) is full of transactional relationships meant to move him from one level to the next, something he feels he deserves more than the other people working around him because he knows how to act in order to seem most worthy. His relationship with his roommate, another gay man who sits at the apartment “gayming” the hours away, is perfunctory and non-existent except for the monthly handling of a rent check.
Even his friendship with Maggie, who has moved away after college, runs a very specific, necessary gamut: she is who he used to be, he decides. He is taking over the trajectory of her failed ambitions. We are watching a man pull the strings of his own life. An attempt at puppet mastery that fails, repeatedly.
Control. It’s a nice dream.
It is in these moments of subtle unbecoming that Kispert shows his true skill as a writer. We view the other characters through the eyes of a man who can’t really see them because he is incapable of seeing himself.
When others behave in ways that move outside the realm of what he deems worthy of respect, they become “embarrassing.” As the story unfolds and the view of his world expands, the idea of respectability warps. Can a person be respectable if they can’t even respect themselves?
Read “In the Palm of His Hand” by Peter Kispert below:
The first thing I have to confess is that pretending to have a relationship with the church (The Church?) came easily to me, in a way that at the time did not feel like a sin.
“A relationship with God, you mean. You’re not praying to a building.”
My friend Maggie had been out of Fordham for four months and found, back in her Vermont hometown, a need to reaffirm, at every turn, her hundred thousand dollars of intelligence and acquired wisdom. The phone crackled with static, her bad reception up there in the woods. I imagined her in the middle of a brown leaf pile, neck high, and stifled a laugh at the image. She continued disapprovingly, “It’s worth asking: Is this ethical?”
“You mean moral,” I said.
“No,” she said, aghast with the special irritation at having been corrected by someone who graduated from a state school.
“I mean ethical.”
“I guess I’m not worried about that,” I said. She didn’t reply immediately. I could tell I was upsetting her more but pressed anyway. “Didn’t you do kind of the same thing? Saying you played tennis for Bryan?”
“That actually could have been true. I have the body for it. Plus, I can pick that up anytime.”
“And I can’t just start going to church?”
“Again,” she insisted, “it’s about going to God. And for your first relationship?”
“Plenty of people who go to church don’t believe in God.”
“Ugh,” she said. “You sound like Bill.”
Bill was a contrarian who Maggie had dated and complained about through her sophomore year, a Columbia guy with long black hair he modeled on weekends who pushed back on everything she said, and who once infuriatingly “iced” her on a fire escape during a party. A shame memory for us both. She’d called me right after, and I’d been too drunk myself to be of any help. She still hadn’t gotten over him, I knew, and I felt awful that she still couldn’t see a fact so clearly before us both, obvious even at the time: Bill never really liked her. She was trying to become him now, though I’d never tell her that. You sound like Bill, I wanted to fire back.
“Sorry,” I conceded instead. Throwing the conversation in the trash, I said pointlessly, “What are your plans for the day?”
She ignored the question, the phone making a crinkling, fading-out noise that suggested the fraying of our friendship with each of these less and less frequent calls.
“Why are you even doing this? Is a guy worth all this energy?” She strung up those words, put extra spaces between them for emphasis: All. This. Energy.
It was something I would have said to her, might already even have. I had the urge to get off the phone, which seemed to come at me from out of the blue but in truth had been lurking all along. I touched my chest where I imagined the metal Jesus resting, proving my devotion.
“Maggie, you just have to understand. He’s like—he’s so, so hot. He has one of those fucking butt chins.”
“So you said you were Catholic?”
“Christian,” I corrected, not totally sure of the difference. “Leaves me options, right?”
“Is this worth eternal damnation?” she said. I laughed.
We were two different people now, and scheduling the conversation felt like a display of my loneliness, a feeling the city often made me think I might finally be getting rid of. The past few months, I had started to know that Maggie hated that we had switched places, and now it was my turn in the city, and despite what we’d both believed would happen, I was the one making it. And in fashion. It felt like a gift that I had to succeed at all costs. Not because I wanted to pull for a September issue or boss around an assistant, but because it created distance between who people thought I used to be; it made them know they were wrong.
“Probably I’m already damned,” I said. “Is avoiding that even an option for me at this point?”
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