Friday, February 22, 2013

Two Oddities

1.  Walking home from the bus stop Wednesday afternoon, I happened to look up to see a couple of buzzards/vultures circling overhead.  This isn't completely odd, but vultures tend not to glide in groups of more than two; here were four surveying the same space.  No, make that six.  Wait...there are ten.  That's when I got a little spooked.  It's not like that we circling directly over me, but a dozen turkey buzzards circling nearby isn't something you don't see on daily basis.  The houses in my neighborhood are three-story jobs, so the birds were easy to see.  I counted twenty before they spiraled upward and took off to the northwest.

2.  A man I assume is homeless is always folding his bedding when I arrive at the transfer station in downtown Harrisburg.  He seems nice enough -- I don't get hostile or weird vibes from him.  He sleeps in an alcove of the M&T Bank building.  I stand there to get out of the wind or precipitation and to read until the Number 39 appears.  I am surprised but pleased that neither the bank nor the cops have made an effort to move him along.  His bed starts with a covering of free tabloids on the granite, and then innumerable blankets.  He wears several layers of clothing and a hooded, insulated winter coat.  Some people scowl or look accusingly or hurry by him.  (I've noticed that a few look at me about the same way.)  He may be used to it or doesn't care what they think.  Occasionally someone will walk up to him and offer him money, coffee, a sandwich.  He very graciously refuses it.  The people look at him as if he's crazy.  He's not crazy.  I have the feeling he's actually pretty smart.

Yesterday morning he was busily cleaning up his site, folding his blankets, and a man walked up to him and insisted that he take some money.  The offerer would not take "no" for an answer and thrust some money into the bed guy's pocket and walked away.  The man who was quietly cleaning up his bedding area before he was interrupted walked over to me and offered me $5.  I tried to match the graciousness I'd heard from him.  At first he was insistent, but I told him, "I'm OK for today.  Keep it."  He looked at me and smiled and returned to his work.

I know I can appear to be down and out.  Once in the summer as I sat on a bench at the transfer center, which seems to be where those down on their luck congregate, a woman who clearly volunteered for some agency walked up to me and asked if I'd like a sandwich and a coke.  On the other hand, I've also been hit up for money; I tend not to have any, certainly none on me.  But I'd never been offered $5 by a street person.

Today we smiled "good morning."  We'll talk if and when he wants to.  He may not want to.  That's OK too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Stop the 2-by-4

Several days ago, somebody contacted me on Facebook and asked me to sponsor her in a walk to raise money for suicide prevention.  I declined.  Not just because Jack and I haven’t one lead sou until a week from today when the Social Security check shows up.  Rather, when I read it, I had the same feeling I get when Tony Perkins of the Family “Research” Council asks me to contribute lots of bucks to help him fight against something I believe in.  That’s as close as I can describe it, anyway. 

As I recall, the woman who solicited me had a brother or some other close relative who committed suicide and the organization for whom she’ll be walking is one of her big causes.  It sounds like an organization that exists so the guilty feeling feels better.  And that’s fine.  For her.  I’m still of the opinion that if I want to commit suicide, I should be allowed to, and I resent anybody feeling the need to get in my way.  She is of the “suicide is selfish” bent, as if the person’s life is hers to control.  I feel she is the selfish one.  My partner says he considers suicide but doesn’t try it because of what it’d do to me.  That’s sweet.  I do appreciate it, and losing him “before his time” would be difficult to deal with.  Still, it’s his own personal his-only life. 

And it is my personal mine-only life.  Whether I die now of a heart attack or suicide, I’m still dead.  (In the case of the heart attack, that could probably also be construed as somewhat self-inflicted.)  Why are people better able to cope with a death that just happens to a person than with a death that person causes by himself?  That person is dead regardless.

I’ve been thinking of talking to Therapist Jim about this, but I’m afraid he’ll call for the orderlies to drag me to the ER and have me committed so I can be re-programmed.  That’s the problem, of course.  He’s required to do life saving measures when he thinks I’ll do harm to myself and all I really want to do is try to talk about it, to try to understand the big deal.  And if I can’t talk to my therapist about that, to whom can I talk?  If, in fact, I’m reading The System correctly, The System is fairly well fucked up.  Would I be re-programmed so I’d feel better or so others would feel better?  Need I ask?

There’s an old expression about the nice thing about constantly being hit over the head by a 2-by-4 is that it feels so good when it stops.  I’d like it to stop.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Binge Reader

Until last summer, I was a binge reader.  I'd go for long periods of time and not read anything except stuff on the internet and the paper.  Then I'd go for a month or 6 weeks and read everything I could get my hands on.  That would satisfy something and I'd go back to not reading.

I liked reading when I was considerably younger, but I think I lost that enjoyment when I went to college.  I, like every student, had to read so much that I must have come to the point of wanting never to read anything ever again.  Then something would whet my curiosity and I'd binge read.

That was my pattern for many decades, until last August.  It felt like the start of any book binge, but then came September, October, and now it's February and I'm still reading like mad.  When I leave the house, I make sure my current book is in my bag.  When I get back, I make sure I take the book with me upstairs so I can read some more before sleeping.  (Truth be known, some of the books have brought on sleep.)  And if I finish a book and don't have the next book in hand, I panic.

I'm old school:  I don't have a reading gizmo and don't feel the need for one.  I like the feel of a book.  I like the act of turning a page.

What started the binge was a recommendation to read Cronkite.  We'd got into a discussion about him and the other person in the conversation suggested the new biography.  The same author wrote The Great Deluge, which he couldn't recommend highly enough, since he lived in Baton Rouge and was there for Katrina.  Cronkite turned out to be my kind of biography:  clearly, the author respected his subject but needed to take the warts-and-all approach.  The Great Deluge blew me away, not unlike Katrina did to most of the Gulf Coast.  I couldn't believe how angrier I got as I read it.  The twig was never my favorite president, but this was incredibly damning.  Infuriating.  It was by no means go-to-sleep reading.

I polished them off in a month and the urge to read had not been sated.  I thought about revisiting some books I'd read long ago to see what I thought of them now.  James Barr's Quatrefoil was maybe the first gay novel I'd ever read.  I'd forgotten most of it and I liked as things came back to me.  This started me down a gay literature path which has, by twists and turns and in fits and starts, pretty much dictated itself.  I was surprised how much gay literature our library system has, whether novels, biographies, non-fiction books, plays and poetry.  I'm working my way through the catalog.

For the most part, it hasn't been disappointing.  Idiot America, Mississippi Sissy, Victory and At Least in the City Someone Could Hear Me Scream come to mind immediately.  I re-read The Berlin Diaries, followed immediately by Christopher and His Kind...a fascinating tandem.

Naturally, I haven't kept a list.  I have, however, maintained an interest in reading and in primarily gay literature.  Right now I'm reading Alan Clarke's Rory's Boys, which should be turned into a Masterpiece Theatre series.  Next up will be A Perfect Waiter and I think then it's time to return to San Francisco and at least some of the Tales of the City.

I'm gay and I've spent many decades ignoring what's in print.  I read the newspapers and magazines and perused the porn, but it seems now it's time for me to catch up on books-in-print.  Suggestions invited.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Psycho" virgin

It’s sad no one can ever see Psycho for the first time.  Even those who actually do see it for the first time have been told to watch out for the shower scene.  They’ll think the music is an imitation of other slasher movies.  They’ll dislike that it’s in black and white.

My mother and I loved movies.  Even before I started going to school, she’d take me with her shopping and cap the day with a movie.  I knew enough to be quiet in the dark.  Once, when I was bored and fidgeting in church, she reprimanded me.  After church she said, “You can sit through Gone with the Wind but you can’t sit still through church?”  Yeah, well, mom.

We shared taste in movies, including Hitchcock’s movies.  We’d seen Vertigo and North by Northwest in the theater and Alfred Hitchcock Presents every week.  We’d seen Suspicion, Spellbound, Rebecca and on many others on TV.  We were well-versed in his movies, enjoyed him very much, and saw the preview.  Thus, we anxiously awaited the coming of Psycho to Lancaster.  

Movie publicity was different in 1960.  Reviews came out after the movie opened, not on opening day.  Even Time refrained from pre-opening reviews, which meant you waited until Monday or Tuesday to read about what opened the weekend before.  The Lancaster papers didn’t review movies.  In other words, aside from the preview, we didn’t know anything about Psycho when we entered the Capitol Theater on North Queen Street in Lancaster.

I was 13 in the summer of 1960.  Both Mother and I were actually quite excited to be among the first in Lancaster to see this latest Hitchcock movie.  The Capitol had a very long lobby which was full.  People leaving from the previous show looked stunned; some were laughing, but mostly they were in a trance.  As we entered the inner lobby, we were told the best remaining seats were in the balcony, so up we went.

After the usual pre-feature items, the black and white Paramount logo came up and it was time to settle in.  The music sounded odd and the opening credits felt nervous.  In the first scene, I could feel Mother become uncomfortable when Janet Leigh was in her bra and slip; I, on the other hand, was happy to see a shirtless John Gavin.

We thought it was fun that Hitch appeared early in the movie and we recognized his daughter as Marion’s co-worker.  Marion took the money and ran, so this was going to be about theft.  The scene with the cop waking her in the car and showing up at the used car lot cemented that idea.  I waited for her to meet up with Sam (especially if he was shirt-free again) and see what they’d do with the money.

Anthony Perkins seemed kind of weird and the stuffed birds gave me goose bumps.   The house on the hill behind the motel looked pretty spooky and Norman's mom sounded strange, so there might be some haunted house stuff.  I remember feeling uncomfortable when Norman spied on Marion in her room.  Dwelling on Marion taking a shower was maybe more than we needed to see, although the shot of the water coming out of the showerhead was pretty cool.  Then Mother Bates stepped into the bathroom and everything turned on its head. 

I don’t remember whether I screamed; I remember being scared and confused.  Nothing prepared me for that murder.  There were no slasher movies as such.  Although I went to horror movies with my friends, that was humans against monsters or ghouls.  When someone was stabbed in the movies, it was once in the gut, a little over-acting, no blood, fall down.  Suddenly, the star of the movie was naked in a motel shower being stabbed by Mother Bates with sounds of the knife and music I’d never heard before, and blood flowing down the drain.  And then the star was dead.  The entire experience was incredibly unsettling.  Nothing – nothing – set it up.   

The next shock took a little longer to register:  I found I was kind of rooting for Norman.  I wanted to tell him about the newspaper with the money and was surprisingly relieved when Norman took the paper and tossed it into the trunk with everything else.  And when the car paused sinking in the quicksand, I sympathized.

It truly became just a sit-back-and-let-it-happen movie after that sequence.  I knew I wasn’t going to second-guess Hitchcock.  And the pictures:  the overhead shot when Mother Bates rushed out of the bedroom and attacked Arbogast; following Lila around the house; jumping when she saw her reflection; the hands; freezing when she saw the body outline.

By the time Lila found Mother Bates in the fruit cellar, I was so into the movie I played right into it.  The unwigging of Mother/Norman did me in.  But Hitch still wasn’t done:  The dissolve from Mother Bates/Norman’s face to a skull was as memorable as anything.

Mother and I left stunned.  I didn't look at the people standing in line for the next showing.  I don’t know that Mother and I talked much on the way home.  Later in the year, the family took a trip to Florida and I found it incredibly difficult to take a shower in some of the motels we stayed in.

50 years later, when I know Psycho will be on TV, I cancel other plans so I can watch.  I will haul out the DVD just to savor it again.  I have no doubt that it is one of the most perfect movies ever.  I can be grateful about being one of the first to have seen it, but I am also sad that no one now can see it the way I experienced it in the balcony of the Capitol Theater on North Queen Street in downtown Lancaster.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ghosts? But of course!

A friend and his husband recently bought an old house "with a past."  This is part of an email I sent him:

Trust you aren't being plagued by house ghosts.   As I recall, you said something about foul deeds having been done there.  If the ghost likes you, it’ll just show up from time to time to remind you it’s around.  

I grew up with two ghosts:  a poltergeist in the basement and a far more sinister presence in the living room.  The poltergeist loved moving things around.  Mother would blame the re-placed items on me and kept asking me to stop; I’d tell her I didn't do it and suggested a ghost was responsible.  When I went away to college and things were still being moved, our suspicions were confirmed.  

The upstairs ghost made itself known by a really cold air.  We always had dogs, and the dogs would growl, the fur on their backs would rise whenever it came around.  I never saw it, but I felt that air, saw the dogs, and knew something was going on.  I wasn't scared, but I gave it respect.

One day after the parents moved to their new house, the mom of the family that moved into the farmhouse ran into my mother at the store.  After some hemming and hawing, she asked mother if she ever noticed anything odd in the house.  “Like what?”  The new resident talked about things that were moved in the basement and a chill in the living room.  My mother took great delight telling me that.

Many years later, they moved out of the house and another family moved in.  My sister wanted to show her kids and grand kids what the farmhouse looked like inside and asked the new family if they could visit.  On the way out, the lady of the house asked my sister if they could talk sometime.  It turns out that the poltergeist was now breaking things.  In the living room there were gas chandeliers that were wired for electricity.  She said that several times those chandeliers swung violently and most recently one smashed against the ceiling.  My sister saw the bare bulbs where frosted glass had been.  There was a corner cupboard…its doors were opened while people were in the room.  Dishes seemed to have been pushed out of one of the kitchen cupboards.  Apparently, the spirits liked us, tolerated the first new owners and did not much care for the newbies.  

My father and brother never mentioned anything about either spirit.  My sister was never quite sure if mother and I were pulling her leg until she talked to the new owner.  Mother and I – and a couple of dogs – knew.  On the other hand, none of us ever willingly opened the door to a closet under the basement stairs.  It was one of those things we never spoke of until later in life, and I thought it was funny that we all avoided it.  It was just too creepy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rocky Springs Park

In an earlier post I mentioned the carousel at Rocky Springs Park near Lancaster, PA.  I said that it was an old park even in the '50s when my family went there nearly every Saturday night.

The place held an enchantment for me.  The parking lot was on the top of a hill.  The parallel front line for parking were rails from the railroad.  The first building you saw was the dance hall, which always had country dances, from square dances to two-steps to reels to whatever else there might be.  When we entered the park in late afternoon, the music was recorded; by the time we left, a live band played.  It wasn't my favorite music, but it was clear folks enjoyed themselves.

The park had lots of trees and lots of earth.  The path from the parking lot to the park itself was the only paved part of the hill.  I recall picnic pavilions -- they probably had cement floors -- and glider swings that most definitely were secured to the ground, especially since some of us assumed they were there to see how fast you could go back and forth.

The park started at the halfway point of the hill.  Water from the springs was available through drinking fountains in a small building with no walls.  As far as I know, the water was of those things you never gave a thought to.  A Ferris wheel turned there as well, and it turned the way I liked:  up on the back and down on the front, so you had the feeling of being pushed out from ride when you cleared the top.

Just beyond that was the center of the park.  There stood a brick house, probably the office, although I couldn't imagine a better place to live.  To the right, the walkway with games of chance, the amusements pavilion, and some food stands ended with a roller rink open all year and boasted a rather good pipe organ, although mostly pop records were played.  The amusements pavilion:  imagine the sound of zillions of pinball machines clanging, zapping, thumping, and binging all at the same time, and almost all of them played by greasers and hoods and other dangerous, fascinating, attractive young men.  (So David, how did you know you were "different"?)  It also had several moving picture machines...put in a penny and a light would go on and you'd crank the crank and watch cards with pictures flip by.  As I say, the park was marvelously old even in the '50s.

To the right of the house was one of my all-time favorite rides, even now.  The Cuddle-Up consisted of round cars that rode four circles.  When it got up to speed, the cars spun by themselves or you could make them spin even faster by working a center wheel.

Most exciting of all was what lay before you, an assault on the senses, the park proper.  Laughing Lena was a huge doll that rocked back and forth in ceaseless laughter.  She was in an alcove over Laff in the Dark, the ride-through fun house.  There really was something scary about her, even more scary than the displays inside.  But she was part of the atmosphere, and the first thing I remember hearing.

Then was the most wonderful combination of sounds ever:  the sound of the roller coaster hurtling downhill and clanking up the next and the Wurlitzer 185 band organ in the grand carousel.  I'd forgotten how much I loved that sound until I visited Knoebel's.  On one side of an open area is the reconstructed coaster Phoenix and on the other is a Wurlitzer band organ...not a 185, but enchanting (and deafening) nonetheless.  Pure heaven. I was not allowed on the Wildcat for several years, so I tended to run to the carousel to listen to the music.  Everything about it was magical.  Painted horses, of course, as well as an ostrich, a lion, a giraffe, a rooster, and lord knows what else chased each other.  Bright lights sped by both within the carousel and on the top, where odd pictures were painted.  The building itself seemed primarily window with wood support.

One of my rites of passage was riding the Wildcat.  Nothing -- nothing -- adequately prepared me for it.  I watched as much of it as I could and thrilled to the sounds, but you don't get G forces and air time by watching.  My father rode with me.  The brakes were released and gravity took you downhill into a tunnel that actually had little hills and angles that threw you side to side.  I've never ridden another coaster like it -- all the other tunnels are just dark and kind of a waste of time.  The tunnel ended with a sharp, banked left turn and the clanking of the chain began.  The top of the lift hill was a curve.  I remember seeing Lancaster from there and not being at all afraid...kind of impressed with the view, actually.  I turned front in time to watch us plummet what seemed like thousands of feet toward the earth.  We then rocketed into space via the next hill.

Rumors were that people rose out of their seats at the top of that second hill, flew out into space, impaled on tree branches or killed on earth impact.  And keep in mind that this was before seat belts, before the lap bar locked into place, before any safety precautions whatsoever, save for the sign "Do Not Stand."

At the top of that second hill, I literally flew up out of my seat.  I hung onto the bar, but it was wrapped so thickly with some kind of tape that I couldn't get my hands around it.  I clamped an elbow on it and, with my other arm, clung to that elbow.  The speed threw me to the side as we rounded the top and then we plummeted again.  This time we went back to the first hill, perhaps two thirds as high.  Scared shitless, I was also hooked on roller coasters forever.  By the time we returned to the station, I was screaming with delight.  No doubt this embarrassed my father (we never rode it together again); it was neither the first nor last time that happened.

Target shooting, ball pitching, and other Kewpie doll games lined the path to the Conestoga Creek.  There, The Whip clanked along its metal oval.  It gave a bit of a centrifugal thrill on each corner, but having ridden it once in an evening, I didn't feel the need to return to it.  Sometimes there would be a boat ride on the Conestoga, but that area led to the big Test of Strength tower, which I don't think any of my family ever bothered with.  Beyond that, and starting the path uphill, was the train.  The train was like most others, except the ride seemed to last at least 15 minutes and was the perfect respite from the excitement of the evening so far.  It trundled out into a cow pasture, sometimes complete with cows, circled and returned.

Beside it was the world's best Bumper Cars ride.  I think I was always allowed to ride it, accompanied by my mother, who was maybe the most aggressive rider they'd ever known.  She taught me well, however, because when I finally was allowed to ride it by myself, I became something of a terror and we'd love to bump each other and gang up on other riders.  

The airplane ride's planes were bi-planes.  It was a circular ride, of course, and the start was signaled by the start of the propeller.  Wind blew over your face and the plane actually did a slight nose-up.  Then the rotation began.  You could fly it a little, but the fun part was flying through the trees, cut out just enough so the planes could get through.  The ride ended with the cutting of the propeller and the planes falling back against the station.

As we walked up the hill, you could hear the Wurlitzer again and see the carousel spinning away.

Rocky Springs was small and perfect.  When an attempt was made to revive the park, they erected a Mouse rather than repair the roller coaster.  As a Mouse, it was all right; as a Wildcat substitute, there was no comparison.  I understand the carousel is safely stored in an undisclosed location.  The park site itself is now a gated community.

There's no going back, of course.  There never is.  Yet I can still ride the Wildcat, swirl madly on the Cuddle-Up, gallop on the horses, hear the Wurlitzer 185.  And it is perfect.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bugs Buddy

Mention to a straight person that Bugs Bunny was gay and you tend to get a blank stare:  either the person is too young to know the Warner Bros. star (why aren't those cartoons broadcast?) or s/he never considered the possibility.

Recently, I read "Tinker Belles and Evil Queens," a treatise on coded gayness in Disney cartoons and movies.  The case was made and I agree with some of it, but I think subtext of Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies is a lot less hidden and a lot more fun.

Bugs Bunny is never above giving his adversary a quick kiss to confuse Elmer or Daffy or Yosemite Sam.  And the characters are more ticked that Bugs escaped than by being kissed.  Bugs is never forced into drag.  He always looks fabulous and never has any qualms about it.  There were a couple of times he was surprised in the shower and screamed, creating a very red faced reaction by the perp.

I liked Bugs.  I admired him.  He was something of a hero.  Bullies could not get the best of him.  He always had a reaction, and sometimes that was a quick change into women's clothes.  Whether Carmen Miranda or Mae West or a bobby-soxer or a manicurist, it was always funny and appropriate.  The manicurist, for example, filing the claws of a clearly confused monster and making conversation ("I bet monsters live such in-ter-estin' lives").

The other characters were put in drag, but it felt like they were put in drag to further the plot.  With Bugs, it was in his DNA.

Other characters had traces of the gay, too.  What was Tweety Bird's story?  Daffy's s was so sibilent that spit splattered at the very use of it ("You're deth-ssss-picable.")  And dear, dear Elmer Fudd.  Sylvester?  Porky Pig?  Foghorn Leghorn?  Yosemite Sam?  Well, one should tolerate straights.  Road Runner and Wyle E. Coyote?  Auslander critters unrelated to the others.

Next to Bugs, though, I think Mac and Tosh were about as gay as anyone could wish.  Even when I was a kid I prefered them to Disney's Chip and Dale.  Mac and Tosh were developed about the same time as C&D, and not as competition.  Mac and Tosh got my kiddy gaydar going.  The way they talked, what they said, and obviously living together always perked me up.

YouTube reminded me of a wonderful scene from the TV series Soap.  Jody, Mary's gay son, is talking to his aunt Jessica.  Jessica insists there were no gay people when she was young.  Jody corrects her by naming famous gay men in history, including Plato.  "Plato?" asks a shocked Jessica.  "You mean Mickey Mouse's dog was gay?"  "Yes," replies Jody," and Goofy was his lover."

Maybe, but I never thought there was any question about my buddy Bugs.  I felt a kinship, as much as one can feel a kinship to a cartoon character.  A tome needed to be written to explore some gay underpinnings in Disney's films.  To me, just watching Warner cartoons was spending 6 minutes with friends, no questions asked.