Short Stories 365/146

“I Can Hear You Now” by John Morgan Wilson from Best Gay Stories 2009 by Lethe Press. Edited by Steve Berman. Originally published in Nine Hundred & Sixty-Nine: West Hollywood Stories.

I loved this story. If not for the fact that “Henry and Jim” is re-printed in this collection, I would say it’s my favorite story here. And since I already read and reviewed that story as part of Best Gay Romance 2013 (though it originally appeared in Best Gay Romance 2008), I do think of this as my favorite of this volume.

There’s a twist near the end of this tale that makes it difficult to discuss what actually happens during the course of it. Let me just say that the main character is in West Hollywood’s Boys Town, cell phone in hand, trying to work up the nerve to make a potentially life-altering telephone call to his much younger boyfriend. As he ruminates on his situation and debates whether or not to push the call button, he takes note of the people surrounding him, and the conclusions he reaches about them tell us volumes about him. We learn that the difference in age between he and his lover strikes terror in his heart, and that underneath his fear is a deep current of loneliness. It’s the thing keeping him from making the difficult call.

John Morgan Wilson is also the author of the Benjamin Justice crime series, which I haven’t read, but sounds amazing. Justice is described as the penultimate anti-hero, tortured, self-medicating, thrashing around in Hollywood’s dark underbelly.

If I can find it for download without resorting to patronizing Amazon, I’ll make the first one this week’s #FridayReads.

Short Stories 365/145

“At Home with James Herriot” by Raphael Kadushin from Best Gay Stories 2009 by Lethe Press. Edited by Steve Berman.

Like the last entry, this story originally appeared in in the anthology Big Trips: More Good Gay Travel Writing. In fact, the author of this piece was the editor of that collection.

I wouldn’t have thought there would be any fiction at all in an anthology related to travel writing, let alone two pieces (and possibly more). This one is a quietly humorous story about an expatriated American living in London, who is employed as an editorial assistant for a publisher specializing in memoirs. The memoirs that pour in daily are as bleak and beleaguered as the grey streets surrounding the office, and I love that they provide contrast to the main character’s situation. He classifies his own problems as “slapdash and prosaic” in comparison, unable to compete with “a city full of practiced bloodletters…smart enough to fill their pockets with stones before (going) for a swim.”  He terms his own problem as “just loneliness”.

We are told that it was in SoHo, in a club with mirrored walls where men glanced up “at their own reflected faces, waiting for an introduction”, that he met Marcus, an Englishman who says he is a travel writer. They begin a relationship, but Marcus is gone a lot, travelling. Meanwhile, London is slowly killing our hero, spraining his ankle, singeing off his hair, covering him in scabs from falls. He’s becoming one of the bleak and beleaguered. And then we learn that just before he set out for London his aged mother died, and we begin to understand why he’s there. Being in such bleak surroundings is cathartic. It makes his problems seem not so bad after all.

The relationship with Marcus and the way it turns out is unexpected and entertaining, but it’s his relationship with two other characters that I really enjoyed. He buys a pair of mice at a pet store. They were advertised as snake food, so his decision saved their lives. Mrs. Fishman and Tovuh have distinct personalities and a life of their own. They are my favorite thing about this story and also my least favorite, because of the odd decision the main character makes right at the end of the tale. Both times I read it I had to remind myself that this was just a story.

Short Stories 365/144

Aside

“Saint Andy” by Trebor Healey from Best Gay Stories 2009 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.

I’ve skipped the actual next story in the collection because, while described as “prose poetry” it is far more the latter than the former. My appreciation for poetry is limited and haphazard. I like Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s work (and heard him read at U of L!), Shakespeare, Charles Bukowski, Normandi Ellis, Aleister Crowley, Malcolm Schloss.

Trebor Healey is a poet, too, though I don’t know his poetry. Yet. Right now I love his prose for the beauty of its language. Go figure.

This story and the next one, actually, originally appeared in the anthology Big Trips: More Good Gay Travel Writing, which has some (other) impressive names in it and some fascinating-looking real-life travel accounts.

This entry, though, is fictional, an excerpt from the author’s novel A Horse Named Sorrow. Main character Seamus is on a cross-country bicycle trip, bearing the ashes of his recently-deceased lover Jimmy, who died of AIDS-related illnesses. He’s keeping a deathbed promise, taking Jimmy back to his home in Buffalo, New York, as well as atoning for having refused to assist him in speeding his demise. This installment is full of interesting characters and observations about what it feels like to exist outside the mainstream. It makes me want to read the larger work, just as the last story of the author’s that I reviewed here (Short Stories 365/58) made me want to read his latest novel, Faun.

Kentuckiana Pride 2014

2014 Pride parade_001
Last night was the Kentucky Pride Parade. Three hours before the event huge storms moved through the area, dumping a torrent of rain. Afterward it was overcast, threatening a repeat performance. As I headed downtown, equipped with a baseball cap, disposable rain poncho and umbrella, I wondered if other people would not show up because of the threat of rain, and I remembered the anti-KKK rally I attended here many years ago. It rained then, too, a steady downpour that lasted all through the event. The temperatures were frigid that day, and by the end of the rally I was soaked to the bone, shivering inside the McDonald’s at Broadway and Second, waiting for my ride to pick me up and certain that I was going to come down with pneumonia.

I did not.

Naturally, yesterday I wanted to park my car near the end of the parade route, conveniently the steps of the Kentucky Center for the Arts. I was running early (the parade wasn’t set to start until 8pm) so I circled the area, hoping for a metered space, then gave up and headed for a garage. The KCA garage was charging $7 for event parking, so I pulled in to the Muhammad Ali Center garage right across the street, because they only wanted $5. I figured everyone else would do the same, but when I got into the garage I found that there were only two other cars there. But I was early. I figured there would be plenty of other parade goers heading back the same way afterward. (Downtown garages are the scene of occasional attacks on women, a fact the city downplays but people who work downtown—as I did for 19 years—are warned about regularly.)

Walking through the garage in my black tee with big, bold lettering in white (FAIRNESS: No more. No less. ) and rainbow beads from Saints and Sinners 2013 was a little intimidating. I wondered what the two people working the Ali Center’s ticket booth thought of the Pride Parade.The nearest exit, though, turned out to be nowhere near the ticket booth.

As I expected there were no pedestrians and no cars on Sixth, which runs beside the KCA. As soon as I turned the corner, of course, there were tons of people awash in rainbow gear. I started walking the parade route in reverse, making my way to the meetup point for those of us walking with the Fairness Campaign, which I always do. If you read last year’s blog entry (aptly titled “Kentuckiana Pride Parade 2013”) you will know that this was not my first rodeo. What I didn’t share then was this photo of what actually was:
Old Pride Parade 002

Actually, I’m not totally sure that was my first Pride March. I seriously doubt that I brought a camera the first time. But it could be. Moxie, chutzpah, cajones, call it what you will, I got a pretty good dose of it. Still, that photo was taken a really, really long time ago.

For two blocks yesterday I was just another face in the rainbow clad throng. Then the crowd thinned, and thinned again. By Third Street I was alone. Crossing Main heading for Market, I was alone. For three or four blocks it was just me and the passing cars, before I caught up to some other parade goers who’d come from a different direction.

I’ll admit, for those few blocks I was nervous. What were the drivers thinking? Would they say something to me?  Do something? There could have been violence. It happened the other day at another Pride rally somewhere. I contemplated what it would be like to feel that way all the time. It would take a whole other level of moxie to survive that.

The check-in table for Fairness was not where it was last year. In fact, it wasn’t anywhere. I walked around the densely-packed parking lot where it was supposed to be; I walked over to the much larger parking lot next door where the parade goers were assembling and found the Fairness crew (easy to do because many were sporting the balloon backpacks Fairness has made their trademark for the parade). I asked a woman who looked like she knew such things, and was sent back over to the original parking lot.

Unsurprisingly, the check-in booth had not spontaneously materialized. It did occur to me that perhaps, because of the earlier downpour, they had chosen to set up inside the gay bar next door, so I followed the mixed-gender crowd shuffling in there. It was hard to see anything at all but I was reasonably sure that there was no Fairness table there, so I headed back out. On my way I asked the bouncer, who thought it was right outside, and was surprised when he looked out and saw that it was gone.

Outside, I asked another woman who looked like she was probably on top of things, and who was also wearing a balloon backpack, and she said they’d packed up early and headed over to the staging area. It wasn’t even half hour at that point. I headed back over.

Now, where do you choose to stand in a sea of squiggly balloons, when you don’t know anyone? I wandered around, hoping I’d see a familiar face. There wasn’t one that I saw but there was a light pole, and I decided that was a decent hangout. If nothing else, the balloon-wearing folk steered clear of it, and they are a bit hard to contend with. So I planted myself by the light pole and took out my phone to post an “I am here” notice to social media.

Several guys were hanging around the light pole as well. One of them turned around, saw me, exclaimed, “Thank you for being here again!” and gave me a hug. It was Chris Hartman, the director of the Fairness Campaign. You could have knocked me over with a feather at that point. I mean, it’s true that back in October I did craft a broom for Fairness as a favor to a friend who is a pagan and wanted to present a gift to Fairness on behalf of LGBT pagans, and that broom now hangs in the Fairness office, something I know from having seen pictures of it on Facebook. And it’s also true that when last year’s march ended I was standing in the perfect spot when they announced they wanted to take a group picture, so I accidentally ended up in the forefront of the shot. I was also the only one wearing the old black and white Fairness tee, too, so I kind of stand out. It wasn’t planned, honestly. I had no idea they were even going to take a picture. I was standing there wondering how on earth I was going to find a friend who’d marched with Third Lutheran Church. But, still. I didn’t expect him to recognize me. Color me flabbergasted.

BTW, I still call it a march. It’s a holdover from the old March for Justice. I think it goes better with the only chant that ever sticks during these things: “What do we want? FAIRNESS! When do we want it? NOW!”

So Chris gave me a hug, and one of the other guys handed me a card on which several chants including the one mentioned above were listed. I looked at Chris and said “No kazoos this year?” because last year they handed out kazoos and tried to get everyone to learn a tune. Turned out people needed remedial kazoo operating lessons. Now, I can’t carry a tune to save my life, but I worked in Theatre for Young Audiences for nearly twenty years; I can operate a kazoo. Still, the kazoo plan was dropped about five minutes into the endeavor, and when I mentioned it Chris arched a brow and said “We’re not going to talk about the kazoo incident.” So it was good.

The march itself went by very fast, and I didn’t process much that was happening during it. I always get very caught up belting out the message, so much so that I was getting hoarse by the end. I will say that “LGBT, we demand equality!” and “Racism, sexism, we say no! Ho-mo-pho-bia’s got to go!” were getting more traction by the end. At first no one seemed comfortable enough speaking those ones to really get behind them. The one that was basically “Yes we can!” in Spanish was a complete wash.

There was a really good crowd of onlookers around the Connection nightclub complex again, just like last year, but this time there wasn’t as much of a dearth of spectators between there and Main Street. There also seemed to be a lot more families in attendance. There were lots of older people and little kids cheering from the sidelines, which was really nice. And of course, I got emotional passing by Actors Theatre and the Humana building further down Main (not the iconic one at Sixth and Main), because my grandfather worked as an architect on that structure, which was originally the headquarters of Belknap Hardware.

All too soon we were at the steps of the KCA, assembling for the picture. I purposefully moved toward the back of the damned crowd, and was standing minding my own business when one of the megaphone-wielders came over and stood right beside me. I haven’t seen this year’s photo, but no doubt I am smack dab in the center of it, again in my old-school Fairness tee. Not my intention if it’s so.

Just like last year, that classic Fairness tee got several appreciative shout-outs from people. It’s the reason why it was with a little misgiving that today at the Pride Festival I plunked down a $20 donation to Fairness and picked out one of the tees with the new logo. Purple, of course. I’m not saying I’ll wear that one in next year’s march, mind you. Why mess with success?

After the parade people made their way en mass to The Belvedere, a public space overlooking the Ohio River. Lemming like, I followed, curious to see what was going on, despite my trepidation about being alone when I headed back to my car, and whether I would still be the only one parked in the Ali Center garage. As it turned out, about half of the booths up on the Belvedere were partially set-up and manned, with representatives of the various organizations passing out swag. I walked around looking for Third Lutheran Church, to say hi to the friends of my friend (who was out of town on business this year).

I didn’t find them, and got nervous about walking back to my car, so I left. At the entrance to the event there was a scaremongering preacher with a bullhorn trying to get a rise out of the crowd. I’d seen maybe six different churches represented in the parade; I decided I was not going to go over and try to engage this guy. There’s a purported Polish proverb going around Facebook right now that sort of summed up my feelings: Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

There was hardly anyone left on Main, and still no one at all on Sixth. Worse, the two attendants were gone from the Ali Center garage. There was no one in sight anywhere and the sky was just beginning to go to dusk. I thought about what I would do if I was confronted by someone, and those thoughts took a decidedly homophobic cast. I thought about taking off my beads. It seemed another good analogy, the fact that I can take off my beads, change my shirt, and melt back into hetero-normative anonymity. I left my beads on.

A car entered the garage as I reached the stairs. The windows were tinted. I have no idea what the driver looked like, or how many people were in the car. I’d parked my car right by the bottom of the staircase, so I hurried down it. Right before I turned the corner I heard two voices, male, and from the cadence of them in all likelihood not interested in harassing me. The fact that they turned out to look like they were no strangers to the gym was also a huge relief. I made a beeline for my car and got out of there. For the record there were only about six cars in the garage when I left. What’s up with that?

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So that, in a nutshell, is my Kentuckiana Pride Parade 2014 experience. It turns out that Third Lutheran’s Stephen Renner, one of the persons I was looking for up on the Belvedere, was stationed beside the fire-and-brimstone preacher providing counterpoint to his arguments. Good for him.

I’m happy to report that local news station WDRB, which has an hour-long broadcast and last year gave the parade what I termed “30 secs of dour-faced airtime in which they reported the facts”, this year had a whopping 1 minute and 45 seconds of enthusiastic coverage. WHAS, though, still gave it barely a mention. After 25 seconds about the locally-headquartered Presbyterian Church’s decision to begin allowing same-sex marriages, and the news that Louisville mayor Greg Fischer joined Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, there was this five second long mention of the parade: “Kentucky’s Pride month festivities began with a parade in downtown Louisville.” To be fair they also did a web-only piece about the Fairness Campaign interns constructing the balloon backpacks. What I said last year about the whole issue of media coverage, though, still stands. Most of the spectators had cameras out. Photos and footage of the event started going out via the net immediately, and every one of those connections comes with a face attached. A personal endorsement, if you will. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in marketing terms, isn’t that gold? Like last year, it makes me think of Harvey Milk encouraging people to come out, and that reminds me that the other day I was at the post office, mailing a copy of Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press) to the lucky blog reader who won it as the Hop Against Homophobia giveaway, and I asked if they had any Harvey Milk stamps. The teller said, “Yes, we do. They’ve been very popular.” He opened the drawer and took the sheet right off the top.

It gives me hope.

 

Short Stories 365/143

“Daphne and Fifi” by John Stahle from Best Gay Stories 2009 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.

I really enjoyed this story, which apparently won the Pushcart Prize, and I was saddened to learn that the author died shortly after it was re-printed in this collection.

First of all, I love the names Daphne and Fifi. I also love the internet. Thanks to its magic it’s possible to unearth that Daphne-Fifi is the name of a cyclone originally thought to be two distinct weather events that came in quick succession back in 1982. Pretty damned clever to nab that factoid and use it here.

The fictional Daphne and Fifi are cyclonic (“fascinating in the manner of auto crashes”), and while they could be said to be part of the same weather system, I don’t think they are meant to be understood as one person. Still, they do whirl through the narrator’s life and stir things up. Then again, this isn’t Kansas. He’s in a gay resort town; it’s all part of the fun.

It starts with the narrator running into an ex on the beach, before we are introduced to the titular characters. The bit with the ex seems not to serve any real purpose, which is odd, and a little while later a section begins “I lean on the railing of an Oceanside deck in the Pines, remembering my last visit to this house 25 years ago.” Now, in the main body of the tale he is clearly a young man, as are Daphne and Fifi. It seems to me there must be a larger story framing this one, which we get only a glimpse of here. The volume where this story originally appeared, I Was Like, apparently contains several stories and essays and photographs, too. I am curious to know if the rest of the stories complete the picture.       

That being said, it’s a minor distraction. The story events featuring the main character’s exploits with Daphne and Fifi—one truly vapid, trading on his looks to float through life, the other merely feigning vacuousness—are so entertaining that it doesn’t actually matter whether or not this is a slice of something larger. It’s definitely worth reading just as it is.  

Short Stories 365/142

“The Chelsea Rose” by Jameson Currier from Best Gay Stories 2009 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.

The previous piece felt like fiction but is said to be mostly autobiographical. This one feels like memoir but is apparently fiction loosely based on the author’s experiences, an amalgamation of many real people, places and events. It certainly reads as authentic. In fact, convinced that it really was memoir, I almost skipped reviewing it, because I envision this short story project as being about short fiction. It didn’t help matters any that the narrator’s name is Jim.

Also as with the last piece, Jim is looking back at his life from a vantage point of many years. Where that story examined the narrator’s teenage years, this one deals with events from what is now referred to as the “new adult” period of the main character’s life, aka his twenties.

It was the nineteen seventies, and he was living in Chelsea, which hadn’t yet become a gay mecca. A resident in The Chelsea Rose apartment complex, his life became entwined with the lives of several other tenants: Frank, Paul, Keith and, to a lesser extent, Matt. We’re shown how events unfolded over the course of a decade, and the point at which everything twisted, helix-like, to end up the reverse of how it all began.

The author has four collections of short stories. I think at least one will have to be featured here as part of this project.