John Chong is a lost soul. Having ultimately failed at the only thing he was ever good at, he sets off to unearth the long buried truth of his past. What he finds is strange and complicated. This story is his first stop on that long journey.
NOTICE: this story includes explicit language and description
Pissing at the Moon by Pieter the Younger Brueghel
Early Spring, Rainy Season, 2010
John Chong is 29 years old
There’s this painting in the lobby of Dolly’s Dilemma called “The Contest.” As a kid I thought it was a picture of this bunch of old dudes looking at the ocean. But one day, I was about 12, I realized that they aren’t just looking. They’re standing in a row jerking off to see who can produce the strongest ejaculate.
Dolly’s is a little like that painting. It’s got a bit of an identity problem. Sitting right here on the edge of Dhagston, Dolly’s is a drag-bar-slash-steakhouse, meaning it’s a family diner by day and full on drag-queen heaven by night.
The place is not even really named Dolly’s Dilemma. God knows why we call it that. 
I’m here to meet this old waiter named Paul. It turns out he knows my family. Supposedly he knew my father. I don’t know why, but whenever I hear someone’s got something to tell me about my dad, I can’t help but go see them. This guy says he used to be in Dolly’s stage show with my dad. And that my dad was this super fucking gorgeous drag queen.
I don’t remember that part.
But I do remember this place.
And in those days they were crazy, but I mean friendly as fuck too. God, I actually liked them. My Aunt Maureen and Roy, back when they were still together, were so down with these fuckers. Even now she still talks about Dolly’s as if she still hangs out here. But she probably hasn’t stepped foot in the place in like 10 years. 
I’m just looking at the old painting when this old dude comes out from behind the swinging door between the kitchen and the dining room. It’s gotta be Paul, the dude that knew my father.
He rushes over as soon as he sees me. Grabs me and starts yelling in my ear.
“John? Little John? Oh my God, Johnny Mark Chong! My sweet boy!”
“Hey, hey, hey,” I say, struggling against his surprisingly stern bear hug.
Then I give in.
What the fuck?
Who cares, right?
So, for a second, I let myself lean into him. My over-tight shoulders let go and I hug him back. Then my face kinda goes flush and I tear up. Why the fuck for, who knows.
“Paul,” I say. “Right? Paul?”
He lets go long enough for me to take a step back.
“Yes! Jesus, John,” he says. “Paul! Uncle Paul. Well, just Paul. You’re a grown man now. Jesus! You’ve grown! Like a tree! Like a big strong tree!”
“Well, not so strong.”
“Well, strong enough, right?”
He hugs me again. It’s like he can’t stop. I’m not really into it. I don’t mind affection. But neediness or sentimentality of whatever the fuck this is. It’s not my thing.
“So, what’re doing now?” he says. “You’re a preacher, right?”
“No, not any more. That didn’t work out.”
“Oh,” he says.
I definitely don’t want to get into that subject, how I went to Bible school to make peace with losing my dad and then left when I found out that the Bible says my dad’s burning in hell. So, I change the subject before he can dig into it.
“So, Paul, how are things at old Dolly’s?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Things are hard. Dolly’s not the same. These days, we’re just a bunch of old queens trying not to fall down on top of each other.”
“Please! Don’t be sorry. I’m happy. I do what I love. I have friends. And today, I get to see you. This is so great. God, I loved your dad.”
Paul hunches over, one hand against the wall the other on my shoulder. Struggling to keep his balance. But he keeps smiling. He keeps making eye contact. His eyes are like icy blue, like a fucking Alaskan Malamute. Staring at me like I’ve taken the shape and form of God himself.
“Matt was so good to me,” he says. “Better than Roy even, you know?”
Matt was my dad.
I don’t know if I mentioned that.
Roy is my Aunt Maureen’s ex-husband.
Pretty sure I did mention that.
Roy’s also my step-dad, which I know for sure I haven’t mentioned yet.
I know. It’s ridiculously confusing. There’s so much more. But I’ll spare you.
Paul’s still talking about my dad.
“Matt used to take me out with him, when I was just this little gay kid. He never treated me like a kid though. He always said, ‘you’re a man, Paul, the world just ain’t accepted that yet.’”
“Yeah, he said a lot of shit like that. A regular walking fortune cookie.”
“Well, it meant a lot to us. Me and all the other weirdos. He had so many weird friends, you know?”
“I sorta remember that,” I say.
“Your dad, people loved him. You know why? Because he was always comfortable in his own skin. And ‘cause of that, he never judged nobody else. Never. Not us queers or addicts or gangsters, whatever. He was a regular freaking Jesus.”
“Yeah, ‘the mark of a gentleman,’ right?”
“This thing he used to say: the mark of a gentleman is to live and let live. The trick is, you gotta do both.”
“That was a good one,” he says. “So sweet.”
Paul straightens himself up against the counter. I think I can hear his back crack a couple times. Dude is obviously in bad shape.
There aren’t really any customers in the place. Just one table with three middle-aged women drinking old fashioneds. Paul nods at them. They wave him over. He waves back but shakes his head no, pointing at me.
“Your dad was a lady killer too. Man, always had girls hanging all over him. I don’t know how your mom put up with it, God bless her soul. But he stayed loyal though, I’ll tell you that. Seriously. Your dad was loyal to a fault, as you know. I mean, in the end, you know, that’s sort of what killed him.”
“What do you mean?”
“Shoot, you know? I mean, no one wants to blame anyone anymore, but back then, your dad was working this job with Roy. Someone messed up the specs on the window alarms. Armed patrol showed up, those folks got hurt, I mean, no one died. But your dad and Roy, they put some people in the hospital that night. Your dad took the fall for that. But, it was Roy that messed up those codes.”
This was all news to me. All I ever heard about my dad was what a criminal mastermind he was. Never that he royally fucked up some job. And who the fuck even knows what kinda job Paul’s talking about. Stealing shit, fucking smuggling shit, or God forbid, something worse.
“After Matt got out, he was trying to walk the straight and narrow but he had a real hard time getting work. He had to leave Dhagston, which was brutal for you and your mom. Your mom couldn’t stand it. But Matt had to make money. He wasn’t gonna make a living dancing here! So he went off to California. People out there are more apt to forgive, or maybe they just didn’t ask. But he got work at Boeing, which was good work. He was on the 747 project. He was so proud of that plane. He said ‘this is it, Paul. This plane is gonna be THE plane for the next hundred years.’ Shoot, and he was right. You and your mom were ready to join him out there, but then, you know, the accident happened, and well shoot. Sorry for bringing that up, John, not like you asked to hear about all this. I’ll stop.”
“It’s okay Paul, really. What happened?”
“We don’t really know, you know. I mean, it’s all pieced together. But Roy was in Chicago, O’Hare Airport. Working maintenance for American. Well, you know that part, right?”
“Not really,” I say. “Roy never talked about it.”
“You know he lives back out on the Landing now, though, right? He got a place over by the Old Starlight Book and Culture Club. He’s like a regular beatnick poet now. Spends his days drinking and then writes about it, like Charles Bugokowski.”
I start to correct him, but leave it alone. Nobody likes a know-it-all.
“Yeah,” is all I say.
“Well, Roy,” he says. “Really though, you sure you want to hear this? It’s about your folks?”
“Are you looking for permission, man?”
“Well, I guess so. But, I mean, sometimes we say things and it changes people’s lives.”
“You don’t need my permission, Paul. If it’s something you want to say, then you should say it. For your own sake. Let me worry about me.”
“Okay, well, Roy was always in love with your mom. He couldn’t help it. He’d tried to keep his distance, but it always stuck.”
This all isn’t news to me.
“So after your dad passed, you know, he left Maureen to be with your mom. Which doesn’t matter in the end though! Because you’re Matt’s son. You got Matt’s heart and goodness, you know, his generosity and you’re not lazy. So, you’re Matt’s kid, no matter what.”
“I don’t know about that,” I say. How this guy thinks he knows what kinda heart I have is beyond me.
“But Roy,” Paul says. “He always felt like he was the one that raised you. That he was your real father.”
I guess I looked pretty annoyed at this point. Paul grabs me and holds me again. I’m starting to be okay with it. The hugging I mean, not this bullshit story.
“So,” he says. “That’s Roy’s story. That’s why, he says, he gave you guys all that money when you were growing up. And why he put you through seminary. And why he writes. You know he started writing, right?”
“No,” I say. “I never knew that.”
“Yeah. His poems are almost all about you. He’s got this book he wrote for you, he called it A WORD TO LIVE BY.  It’s terrible, because Roy’s a terrible writer, but it doesn’t matter. He wrote that for you.”
I don’t even notice that Paul’s holding my hands, both of them in both of his.
“You okay, kid?” he says.
“Yeah, I’m good,” I say.
I’m smiling but tearing up again. And my skin feels cold, even my hands in old Paul’s warm pudgy mitts. It’s like sour wires crawling lengthwise across my arms. Stupid. I’m not gonna fucking cry over this.
“Hey, man, I gotta run,” I say, handing him my business card from Hesperian.  “But let’s keep in touch okay. I mean, this is too rare, you and me.”
“Yeah,” he says. “But you just got here.”
“No, seriously, let’s pick this up later,” I say, stopping to put my hand on his chest, patting his sternum in genuine respect.
“You get it, right?” I say.
I assume he gets it.
I’ve had enough for now.
But before I go, I don’t know why, I have to ask him about the picture.
“Hey, what’s the deal with that picture?”
“What, ‘The Contest’?”
We both turn to face the painting.
The men in the picture are very old. The have their backs to us. They seem to shoot their loads one after the other or maybe it’s all at once, masturbating and ejaculating into the foamy sea. They cum a lot. There’s an ocean of the stuff.
There’s something in there about growing old. About getting it up for one last hurrah.
“Yeah,” I say. “The fucking contest. Is that for real? They really trying to see who can shoot their loads the farthest?”
Paul laughs, happy.
“No, kid. No. The contest isn’t about that. They aren’t contesting against each other. They’re contesting against fate.”
I’m already leaving at this point. I look back at old Paul. He nods at me like he’s just shared with me the smartest fucking shit any old dude ever said to a younger guy.
But I don’t know if I understand it.
In the parking lot, I’m out of smokes. I know there’s some Golden King menthols in my glove box. They aren’t mine. I hate menthols.  I go to get them and it turns out the pack is empty anyway.
And I start crying again, then I start laughing.
I get in the car and head out to the Landing, to the Old Starlight Book and Culture Club.
 The establishment known as Dolly’s Dilemma is legally ran under the moniker of “Delmonico’s Steak House.” Delmonico’s owns a non-transferable liquor license. When Jerry Delonte bought the restaurant, he attempted to legally change its name to Dolly’s Dilemma but quickly found that if he were to do so, he would need to apply for a new liquor license. The process of which he would not be guaranteed approval. Incidentally, this situation created Dolly’s dual personality, which serendipitously reflects the many layers of Dolly’s “Dilemma.”
 “Dinner Hour” at Dolly’s Dilemma is 4:30 to 8:00. This is widely understood as family time, and the restaurant functions strictly as a steakhouse. No dancing. No stage show. Just slightly overcooked sirloins and Coca Colas and lots of hugs and lots of kisses. John was never comfortable with the constant physical affection of Dolly’s staff and patrons, begrudgingly offering a handshake in response to offers to embrace. More often than not, the wait staff would hug him anyway, which only further annoyed the poor boy.
 Roy’s book was self-published a few years ago, in 2003. No one, not even his friends and family have read it all the way through. It was an epic mish-mash of Isaac Asimov, Amy Tan and the Chronicles of Narnia. But his ex-wife, Maureen Chong, once said something kind and accurate about Roy’s book. Her words were, “Roy, this was hella ambitious.”
 HTS is the Hesperian Theological Seminary, the Bible college where John received his Masters in Divinity. Though he has left the pastorate, he maintains a day job at the seminary as an Old Testament research assistant. It is an exceedingly laborious and low paying job.
 John was once a regular menthol smoker, preferring their minty aftertaste to regular cigarettes. However, in 1999, the “fiberglass” rumor was widely circulated, convincing many menthol smokers that their cigarettes had an elevated lung cancer risk. This rumor was untrue. In actuality, scientific studies have shown a significantly lower rate of lung cancer among menthol smokers. Of course, the lowest rate of lung cancer remains among non-smokers.
 This story takes place in the same community where “eleven-17”, “Sweet Like Caramel” and “One Good Memory” take place. John Mark Chong is the same John in “Sweet Like Caramel”. Maureen Chong (John’s paternal aunt) is the protagonist is “eleven-17” and a minor character in “One Good Memory.”