Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Wrote This?

From late 1996 to late 1997 I wrote two novels.  One was a fictional account of my experiences during my one summer of summer stock...doing Amish musicals.  The title of that became the title of this blog.  The other was a completely fictional novel, my fantasy on the deaths of two high school boys.  It came from the actual deaths of two best friend high school athletes who died in a one-car crash.  Matt and Seth was gay fiction.  The father of one of them was a fundamentalist preacher with ambitions to become one of the Big Boys of Televangelism.

I'd re-read The Oh, Pshaw! Follies a couple of times.  I like it, it works, it's long, it got lots of rejections.  And that's fine.  I think it would make a fun gay movie, but I doubt that'll happen.  I hadn't read Matt and Seth since I proofread the manuscript in 1997, 17 years ago.  I mentioned to my therapist that I recently re-read The Follies.  He suggested I find the other manuscript and read it.  After 17 years of hardly even thinking about it, I rummaged through my stacks and found it.  I started reading it and soon it was difficult to put down.  I was surprised.

Follies is mostly for fun.  M&S is drama.  I was surprised by how well I had drawn the characters, how much sense the plot made, but also how well I represented Matt's father, the Rev. Tony Reynolds.  I was 50 when I wrote it and casually knew two young men, and I drew the boys from them.  By that point, I had pretty much decided that hate-mongering, power-hungry fundamentalist preachers deserved no respect.  I'd been the recipient of "Christian love" and knew how they operated.  I had gone beyond having suspicions about them.  The Rev. Tony Reynolds was a conglomeration of every such preacher I knew of.

Follies was written straight through, beginning to end.  M&S was written the way movies are shot...this chapter and then a later chapter and then an earlier chapter and so on.  One of the things that surprised me when reading it 17 years later was how well it worked from a continuity standpoint.  I would not have guessed that it was not written top to bottom.  And aside from some quibbles about language, the one thing I think no one would believe now is that I waited until their senior year for them to have sex.  I mean, they met in 8th grade and became best friends in 9th and started questioning their feelings in 10th and 11th.  Then again, it wasn't written today, so in its own world, it worked.

In the 1980s, I was obsessed with piano rags.  I played them well and wrote a few.  I'm currently trying to put my arrangements and compositions into my PrintMusic computer program.  I wrote one called "'Rope' Rag," music for a production of the play, Rope.  When I played it back on the computer, I was stunned by how well written it was.  I put it in the computer shortly after I finished M&S.  And after listening to it, I couldn't help thinking, Who wrote this for you?

Obviously, my opinion of myself has not been all that great.  My partner is the writer in the relationship.  He liked rags but dismissed them, too.  Although I read a horror novel he wrote, he never read my novels.  I think he pigeonholed me as a copywriter and that was that.  I mean, can you really count copy writing as writing?  I frequently go to his readings.  He never listened to me when I was a radio guy and heard my TV announcing in passing while he waited for a show to start.  I never got an opinion from him on anything I wrote, music or prose.  That's a disappointment, of course, but that's the way it's worked out.

My writing abilities surprised me.  I was so convinced that I was just playing around with writing that, after reading the novels and listening to the rag, I wrote in my journal, "Who wrote this?  Who wrote this for you?"  Well, I did.  Maybe I was good for proofing and editing; maybe I was a creative person who could have done more.

Follies was rejected by agents both respectable and sleazy.  Matt and Seth never got beyond my partner's agent.  She felt it was too long for a young adult novel.  What I should do, she insisted, was to split the book into two novels...and the boys shouldn't die in the end.

At some point, I'd hope, we all get to realize that what we like to create is good.  It may or may not be salable, but maybe it shouldn't be created with that in mind.  I'd hope that all of us who like to create something enjoy the act of creation, discovery, the fact that we're happy with what we've done; it's as good as I can do, and that's pretty damned good.

In answer to my journal question, "I wrote this.  Get over it.  Better yet, enjoy it."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Gay Old Farts

Recently I attended my first meeting with other gay old farts at the region's LGBT Community Center and I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get there.  I knew some of the men and met other gay men my age.  The representative from the Community Center put in a plug for The History Project, recording older gay people talking about their lives.

I mentioned that from time to time critics bemoan that so many non-porn gay films deal with coming out.  Pity.  As each of us is a different human, as each of us lived in different parts of the world, our coming out stories are different and important and, as our lunch proved, sometimes still pretty emotional.  Admittedly, the current young generation is never particularly interested in their elders' stories, yet what we have to say could be pretty helpful.

The gathering was just fun, sitting at a table and everyone chiming in.  The connection among us was almost immediate.  Usually a wallflower, I was surprised and happy with how comfortable I felt and was pleased I could contribute.

The day's downer came when I talked to the Community Center's interns afterward and asked how they learned of, or if they'd ever been exposed to, gay history.  I knew the answer before I finished the question:  There is no organized way to hear gay history.  The young woman said she knew virtually nothing until she started her internship.  The young man said that what they know, what young gays know, they pick up along the way.  He said he felt fortunate because he has a gay uncle and they talk a lot.

I can understand not pursuing it on one's own.  I appreciate that.  When one is young, gay is friendship and sex.  How much history does one need to enjoy sex?  They have a lot they can take for granted, and that's a good thing.  But if you don't know where you came from, how can you appreciate what you have now?

What does it matter?.

It came to mind when I mentioned Armisted Maupin's The Days of Anna Madrigal and how well it rounded out the Tales of the City series.  The other old farts knew what I was talking about.  The Community Center's host said she remembered it as a TV series.  The interns looked blank.  And it just kind of hurt that they will probably never read any of the Tales and that so much of our literature vanishes.  The interns would never read anything on their own because they have so much they have to read for their courses.

What goes around comes around.  I didn't particularly like listening to my elders' stories, and god knows I didn't know any older gay people to hear their stories.  I remember reading a phrase in a newspaper column about "the great homosexual Thornton Wilder."  Somehow I heard about Charles Laughton and that Elsa Lanchester married him to protect him.  And then Barbara Gittings appeared on  The David Suskind Show and I was amazed to hear her stand up for herself and us.  Because I don't believe in coincidence, I think that important information I needed to know that I wasn't the only one was pointed out to me.

The current young have access to information unimaginable in my youth.  There are histories for them to read if they want to.  It is my fervent wish that they would read Tales of the City and other books about us or with us in them.  I wish that GSAs could serve as the occasional history class.  As important as peer gatherings are simply to get to know other young gay people, I wish the odd bit of history, of what went before, could be part of it.  Or watch non-porn gay/lesbian movies.

All of us gay old farts have stories to share.  I wish we could do that.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Garbage In/Garbage Out

His name may have been Bill or William or maybe neither, but he was Mr. Shirk and at least once a week he’d park his red Ford panel truck in front of the house, hit a bell with a metal object, get out of the truck, open the rear doors, and set up shop…a traveling butcher shop.  The dogs recognized the truck and were impossible to contain once they saw it.  Usually his first order of business was to hack off some bones, which cleverly got rid of the dogs, so they wouldn’t sniff around during his visit.

This is barely the era of air conditioning.  It would be a few years before air conditioning appeared in cars.  Refrigerated trucks?  Unheard of.  And more to the point, why?  Winter wasn’t a problem.  And somehow we didn’t catch horrible sicknesses from the mobile butcher shop’s meat in the summer.  He was our source for fresh ham, chicken, beef, Lebanon bologna, and other meaty delights.  He’d whip out a white cloth and swat the butcher’s block with it, pulled out the meat and the appropriate cutting device, and hack off however much carcass you wanted.  I loved it when Mother ordered hamburger.  Yes, I loved hamburgers, but I also loved to watch Mr. Shirk dive his (bare) hand into the hamburger container, squeeze his hand around some meat, and plop it on the hanging scale.  It looked so wonderfully squishy.

So, yes.  Mr. Shirk would drive to the house, hit the bell, get out, open the door, whack off some bone, wipe his hands on the white cloth that he used to clear crumbs off the block, touch and squeeze and cut the meat, plop it on the scales (which he also cleaned with the white towel), and wrap the meat in butcher paper, all with his bare hands, cleaned by his all-purpose towel.  He stopped at the house toward noon, so the temperature would be in the 70s in the summer.  However warm it was, the smell when he opened those doors is a fragrance I think of fondly and probably won’t ever inhale again.

If Mr. Shirk’s traveling butcher shop’s cleanliness might be considered iffy by today’s standards, Gap’s garbage collection would leave everyone aghast.  This pre-dates plastic trash bags and closed-in refuse trucks by a few decades.  The trash went from the garbage can to the dump (landfill? you jest, right?) via a truck with an open, hydraulic bed, what we commonly called “a dump truck.”  That is to say, open.  Utterly open.  Not even a tarp.  That was so the guy could toss the contents of the garbage cans over the side and into the rest of the haul.

Unlike Mr. Shirk, who would announce his arrival with a couple of clangs, the trash guys said goodbye by leaving the most ungodly smell.  Especially if some garbage juice spilled out of the back when the truck took off.  Especially in the summer.  Odiferous could well be the name of the Greek god of garbage.  His white robe would be spattered with indescribable stains and his body odor would be ferocious.  On the other hand, he’d be kind of swarthy with a farmer’s build and a stubble beard.  One should not use the term “Greek god” lightly.

Driving behind the garbage truck had its protocol…even say, perils.  Except for the very coldest days, it was not unlikely that garbage juice would leak from under the tailgate.  You learned very early on to keep your distance and get around the truck as soon as possible.  Being splashed by the toxic brew was a given if the truck started in an uphill position or pulled out from a stop sign.  The combination of pulling out from a stop sign that was on a grade made men dizzy, women weep inconsolably, and children of all ages barf their brains out. 

Naturally, driving behind the track was a zillion times worse in the summer.  Since this was pre-air conditioning, one drove around with windows down.  Rolling up the windows when the garbage truck came into view was futile.  The stench came in through the air vents, so the windows might as well stay down.  And Odiferous forbid garbage juice spilled onto the car.  The odor wafted in and out of the car until Thanksgiving.

The big clue the garbage truck was around, pre-scent, was a fairly pronounced trickle of dark gunk on the right side of the right lane.  Horse pee was down the center of the right lane.  Right side, garbage.  Forewarned is time to grab a clothespin.