Short Stories 365/85

“Only Lost Boys are Found” by Steve Berman from Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers (Lethe Press, 2014).

This is the perfect finale for this collection because it encompasses all that precedes it. It’s sweet, a little scary, very trippy, and hopeful. It’s surprisingly funny, too, strewn with land mines of teenage sarcasm.

The world of the story unfolds as a series of closets as the out protagonist searches for his not-so-out neighbor/boyfriend. Sometimes the closet analogy works better than others, but overall it’s an interesting device. And like I said, this story gets trippy. Just as with the one that opened the collection, all the reader can do is hang on and see where it goes, safe in the knowledge that it will be somewhere interesting.

The kinship between this story and the It Gets Better Project is obvious. Not surprisingly, this piece was originally included in Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up (Bold Strokes Books, 2011), edited by the author. It’s written in second-person, which breaks the “fourth wall” (to steal a theatre reference) and blatantly pulls the reader into the narrative. It’s a fantastic choice. I love the idea of the author all but stepping off the page, pointing right at the queer kid reading the story (the intended audience for both books) and saying, “In case you somehow didn’t get it before now, I wrote this for you.”

I especially liked the exposition and dialogue right at the end. Very nice.

 

Short Stories 365/84

“Worse Than Alligators” by Steve Berman from Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers (Lethe Press, 2014).

Jameson’s little sister Madeline has invited six friends for a sleepover. His boyfriend Eddie is there, too, keeping him company and helping deal with the chaos. They’re good, responsible boys. In fact, Jameson’s biggest fear is that he’s too responsible and Eddie will eventually get bored with him.

The girls do the classic sleepover stuff: watch movies, read from a volume on the occult, and try to conjure the ghost of a murdered local girl to make her appear to them in the bathroom mirror. Jameson doesn’t fully realize what they’re up to until he and Eddie discover that they’ve snuck out of the house…

This is urban legend gold. I picture a girl reading this and being inspired to invite her friends over to re-create these timeless childhood moments. But this is more than just another creepy story; unlike previous stories, movies, and television shows of this ilk it reflects a world that includes gay kids. The fact that Jameson has a boyfriend isn’t central to the story unless it’s central to your story, and never seeing yourself in pop culture makes you feel less than. For that reason this entire collection is priceless. 

On the Anniversay of Freddie’s Death.

I’d been telling the story the same way for so long that I’d forgotten it wasn’t accurate.

My friend had just texted to say she was taking her daughter to see her first concert that night, and couldn’t help but think back to the concerts we went to as kids, the earliest of which were chaperoned by my mother.

The words “first concert” set me off; I was eager to once again entertain with my own first-concert tale. Surely you remember, I wrote back, thumbing every letter, building the text in complete sentences, telltale sign of the middle-aged, that the first time Billy Squier came through Chicago was as the opening act for Pat Benatar, and my mother said “You’re too young to go to a concert.” Six months later he came back with Queen, and she said “Let’s Go!”

I waited until the blinking cursor was replaced by the message that she was typing. Finally, the reply came.

I didn’t, actually. That’s great, she wrote. Concerts now are very different. Very corporate. No beer and pot.

I remembered that the performer they were going to see was the Disney-created Selena Gomez, star of some recent T.V. program aimed at the after-school set. How long ago had that show ended? I wondered. Was she still a shill, or was she now trying to break free, to redefine herself a la Britney and Christina and Lindsay Lohan?

That’s when it hit me that the Billy Squier/Queen show that kicked off a string of honest-to-god rock performances we attended over the four years of my high school career was not my first concert after all, as I’d been telling everyone for nearly thirty years. The first show – correction, shows – was actually a pair of concerts by The Osmonds, back-to-back annual appearances at the Illinois State Fair when I was eight and nine years old, respectively.

I was madly in love with Donny, who was an addendum to his brothers’ show and career, but the only one onstage as far as I was concerned. He was almost the baby of his family but a decade older than me. To my mind his brothers were ancient, practically my parents’ contemporaries, though in truth my parents were intellectuals who married late, became parents late. My mother was 32 when I was born, my father 37, common now but nearly unheard of back then. Borderline scandalous.

Well, it’s not exactly Deep Purple you’re going to see, I texted back, inwardly still grappling with the fact of having inadvertently re-written my own history.

I hadn’t exactly forgotten Donny’s shows, but over the years I’d relegated them to a different memory box than the one I’d labeled “concerts.”

Whenever his name came up – brief career resurgences in each of the decades that followed his initial popularity – I was always grateful, and more than a little amazed, to have been as spoiled as I was. Two family vacations were spent three hundred miles from home at the State Fair so that I could swoon over a Mormon boy in a white bell-bottomed pantsuit. To give you an idea of how out of character this was, nine of our summer vacations after that were spent up in Ontario, Canada, always first at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and then on to Toronto (save one year where after Stratford we visited Quebec and Montreal and then drove down the eastern seaboard to Boston and New York); another was spent in Washington, D.C.; and two were spent in L.A.

This is why I think I put Donny in the “early crush” category and not in “concerts”: the same year we first travelled downstate to see The Osmonds another personality was hitting the airwaves, an actor by the name of Michael Kearns. He was playing a part, though no one knew it at the time, portraying a hustler-turned-writer promoting his memoir The Happy Hustler. In reality the volume was fiction penned by a friend of his, Thom Racina, and was meant to capitalize on the success of Xaviera Hollander’s The Happy Hooker.

Michael was making the rounds of the same talk shows Donny was, the guest of Tom Snyder and Chicago’s own Phil Donahue. This was before VCRs; my mother taped (or “time-shifted” in the parlance of the day) the soundtracks of Donny’s appearances on cassette and played them for me when I got home from school.

Spoiled rotten to the core.

It’s all mixed up in my mind now, because I got it secondhand and also filtered through my mother’s uber-dramatic lens, plus I was a kid with my own dramas to focus on, but apparently when the story broke that the whole Happy Hustler business was made up and in reality Michael was just an actor, there was a desire to know who he was and why he did it. He explained he was an actor, classically trained at The Goodman School in Chicago.

My mother was also a graduate of the Goodman. She penned a letter to Michael in which she explained that she’d been wondering who he reminded her of, and she’d just figured it out. You remind me, she wrote, of me.

She didn’t expect a reply but got one, in which he urged her to write again. She discounted it as a publicist-generated nicety and put it aside.

I’m fuzzy on exactly what happened next, how long it took for the friendship to progress. At some point she finally did write again, and he replied a second time, something to the effect of “I asked you to write back before. Why didn’t you listen?” Thus began a friendship of many years, to which I, despite my age, was privy. She read me her letters to him before she sent them, and his replies. Eventually they started talking on the phone, and many times she’d tell me that she was expecting a call, or was about to call him, so naturally I would hover just beyond the kitchen doorway, attempting to decipher from her responses what he was saying. Afterward, listening to her accounting of the call, I’d try to spot details that didn’t mesh with what I’d just heard, but there were never discrepancies as far as I could tell. She wasn’t one to pull punches and I was going to hear the next round of letters anyway, wasn’t I?

Michael had a rough go of things in those years. Deceiving the public turned out to be not a great way to advance a budding career, and being the first out Hollywood actor was a worse one. And of course there was too much booze and too many drugs and sex everywhere with which one could become distracted.

My mother was a good counselor. During high school and even afterward, when I was away at college and then starting my career, my friends would call the house to talk to her because she was smart, and fearless, and never sugar-coated anything. Michael would call and my mother would give him her honest opinion of whatever he described, work he was thinking of taking or someone with whom he’d gotten involved. They talked about acting, about the teachers they’d had at Goodman, and what they’d learned from them. Before The Happy Hustler he’d been just starting to break in to Hollywood. He’d been on The Waltons, and years later he would make further inroads, landing parts on Cheers and in Body Double and on and on and on. In between was a sine wave, some serious downs but also some notable ups, like being cast in a production of Jean Genet’s The Maids, and starting to write autobiographical plays. We took our first family vacation to L.A. to attend his one-man show The Truth is Bad Enough. Those things, he and my mother agreed, were ones to really be proud of. They weren’t just work; they were Art.

I think I re-wrote what was my “first concert” in the catalog of my memory because the Billy Squier/Queen show was a first concert, of sorts. It was the first following the end of my childlike innocence, marked by my mother becoming friends with Michael and deciding to tell me the truth about his situation. Because of that, a teenaged teen idol doing covers of pop songs from the 1950s and 1960s, singing about the pain of unrequited feelings (“They call it Puppy Love”) just didn’t have the gravitas needed to be the first-ever concert. That experience got downgraded as not real, a remnant from a time of Santa Claus and dollhouses. But pining away for someone who not only didn’t return your feelings but could ruin your entire life by exposing your truth (“There are many ways that you can hurt a man, and bring him to the ground; you can beat him, you can cheat him, you can treat him bad, and leave him when he’s down”) performed by a band whose name was a cheeky double-entendre and was fronted by a man who switched gender pronouns verse-to-verse and steadfastly refused to talk about his personal life, despite the fact that everyone felt they already knew his secret(s)? That concert had the requisite pathos to be the first (real) one I ever saw.

And let’s not forget that the man I was madly in love with at that concert had – at that point, anyway – used nothing but genderless pronouns in his songwriting, a fact that was not lost on me for a nanosecond. I thought Billy Squier was hot and, rightly or wrongly, I also believed he could never return that feeling. And that was okay.

That’s my story and, this time, I’m sticking to it. As for Michael’s story, if you want to know more, he released an autobiography last year called (what else?) The Truth Is Bad Enough: Whatever Became of The Happy Hustler?   

Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press)

A story of mine will be published in the upcoming anthology Best Gay Romance 2014 by Cleis Press. I couldn’t be more thrilled. The other contributors are stellar writers. I am a fan of many of them, and surely a fan-to-be of the rest. No release date yet, but here is the list of the pieces that will be included in the volume:

Introduction • Timothy J. Lambert

Strange Propositions • Eric Gober

My Adventure with Tom Sawyer • Jameson Currier

True In My Fashion • Paul Brownsey

Sight • Jordan Taylor

Falling • James Booth

Thanksgiving • Shawn Anniston

The Invincible Theatre • Felice Picano

Carver Comes Home • Rob Byrnes

Spill Your Troubles On Me, Love • Georgina Li

Quality Time • Lewis DeSimone

Brooding Intervals • Kevin Langson

Dandelions • Tony Calvert

Shep: A Dog • Alex Jeffers

There’s No Question It’s Love • N.S. Beranek

Save the Last Dance for Me • David Puterbaugh

Afterword • R.D. Cochrane

Kentuckiana Pride Parade 2013

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It’s the morning after the Kentuckiana Pride Parade and, as usual, I am left pondering a Zen koan:

If a tree falls in the forest but no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound?

We have four local television stations. The one with the hour-long telecast that comes on at 10pm gave last night’s parade thirty seconds of dour-faced airtime in which they related the facts – there was a parade downtown, it had a theme (United in Love), some people showed up.

The second station, with only a thirty minute broadcast, gave it fifteen smiling seconds.

I believe the third didn’t cover it at all. I can only watch so many stations at once. I know there was nothing in the three hours of re-broadcast news they aired this morning, because I DVR’d and scanned through all three hours.

I’m not sure if the last did, but I’m betting against it because while they do have coverage of it on their website it’s static coverage, not video. It’s essentially a short newspaper article capped by a color photo.  It is, however, the most flattering coverage of all the major news outlets, noting that thousands, not hundreds, of people were in attendance, and quoting several of the participants.

In an odd twist, the Courier-Journal newspaper has video coverage on their site. It’s actually a really nice representation of what the parade/march was like, but the clip is edited to end with an image of the only float I’m aware of with that classic Pride feature: cage dancers. Because of the editing, that’s the image you see when you click to read the headline, and if you don’t play the video, that’s the only image you get outside of the more generic one back out on the main page. Interesting. They also ran the headline, Hundreds turn out for Kentuckiana Pride Parade. Hmm.

This sort of one note, scant coverage – don’t blink or you’ll miss it – always frustrates me. When I first started marching the event took place on Saturday morning. Downtown Louisville was a ghost town on weekends back then, and pretty much still is, especially in the mornings. There were a hundred, maybe a couple hundred, participants and no one to view the thing. So we would march down empty streets, shouting, then have a festival in Central Park, and at night none of the stations would cover it.

Though this isn’t my first rodeo or even my fifth, it is the first year in quite some time that I have marched. First, events in my own life got in the way. I’d been going strong, never missing a year, and then came the year we were set to move into our new house on the weekend of Pride. Let’s just say my proposal that I spend the majority of one of the days marching for social justice instead of schlepping boxes on and off a U-Haul did not go over well.

We did manage to get up to Chicago for Pride that year, though that turned out to be a mixed blessing. We stood on the sidewalk outside the 7-Eleven watching as the firefighters and police and floats by major companies went by, and it actually made me more depressed about the marches back home. Compared to Chicago, Louisville’s Pride seemed to be happening in a vacuum. Sure, we marched, but we were alone.

Shortly after this there was a power struggle among some of the groups here and the march was moved to Friday evening. The rallying point changed, too; it became a bar not a public space. Looking back, I think it was a misperception
on my part, but I felt uninvited. I wasn’t the only one. The friend I would always meet up with at the event and march with took it the same way. Because of it, I began simply attending the festival on the Belvedere on Saturdays. I’ve been pleased to see the attendance at that grow, and the expansion of the number and type of organizations represented, but I felt very distanced from it.

This year, everything’s different. I just got back from the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New   Orleans. A story I wrote was just published in their annual anthology. I read a selection from my work at the book launch party and got a lot of nice feedback. I made many new friends, got re-acquainted with an old one, and felt extremely welcome throughout.

And then, last week on Facebook, a call went out from the Fairness Campaign: We need people to walk with us.  So I put on my Fairness tee and I marched. One of the first things I noticed was that the chant has changed. Now in between “What do we want? (Fairness!)” and “When do we want it? (Now!)” there is “Where do we want it? (Kentucky!)” I’m not sure I like that change. First of all, it’s the Kentuckiana Pride Parade. Yelling “Kentucky!” omits Indiana. Secondly, I don’t know about you, but I’m over the whole statewide thing. At my job I screen people for Medicaid eligibility (yes, I really am a socialist*) and periodically we are reminded that it doesn’t matter if according to their state two persons are legally married, we go by federal rules and on a federal level, those people aren’t married.

Lastly, I miss the other slogan we used to chant: “We’re here. We’re queer. Get over it. Get used to it.” I liked that. A lot. It worked for me. But then again, I’m a Sagittarius, and we’re not known for our tact. I’m also from Chicago, which means you get a double-whammy of bluntness.  Have a problem with that? Get over it. Get used to it.

Here’s the thing: If you don’t go to the parade, you don’t experience the parade, because if the media cover it at all, they barely cover it. Fifteen seconds. Thirty seconds. So I was thrilled to see so many people, and so many organizations, marching. Ford; UPS; Humana; Third Lutheran Church; Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church; the Geek Squad; the IAW; the ACLU and many, many more. And spectators, too, especially as we got closer to Main Street. The area around the Connection nightclub complex was packed, of course, but the sidewalks on other stretches were also filled, lots of middle-of-America types clapping and cheering, waving and smiling, or else with their cellphones out, snapping away or making videos. I hear there were one or two groups of protestors along the way. I never saw them.

Last night and this morning I started to get upset because of the sparsity of traditional media coverage. It seemed the same old, same old. We marched, but who knows that we did? Then I realized – the world has changed. Every one of the people along the route and in the parade was busy uploading images to their Facebook wall, or their blog, or their Pinterest account, where it will be seen and shared by all of their friends. That’s more coverage than any news outlet could ever provide, and more important coverage, too, because it comes with a human face. It says “I support this issue because it affects me and/or people I care about.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Harvey Milk was right. If everybody can be made to realize that they know people being discriminated against, things will change. Social media is the key.

A tree fell in a forest, but it wasn’t alone. Thousands of people were there, and they uploaded the video to YouTube, so that millions of people could hear the sound.

*That’s a joke. I see nothing inconsistent with being a member of a democratic country and wanting all citizens to succeed, but apparently some people do.

 

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

So NBA reporter Chris Broussard questions whether Jason Collins can be a Christian because he is gay. About this, Mr. Broussard said on Monday, “Personally, I don’t believe you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle … if you are openly living that type of lifestyle, then the bible says… that’s a sin. If you are openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals … I believe that is walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ …. I would not categorize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the bible would categorize him as a Christian.” [Credit: http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-Sports/2013/04/29/ESPN-Reporter-Questions-If-Collins-Can-Be-Gay-And-Christian.%5D

That’s really interesting to me, because I have very similar feelings about Mr. Broussard’s type of “Christian”. Personally, I don’t believe a person can live a homophobic lifestyle, open or otherwise, and be a Christian, any more than I believe that racists or misogynists or those who discriminate against people with physical and mental differences are Christians. Anyone who makes it a point to discriminate against another group of people, often even to the point of seeking to make that discrimination law – that person, in my opinion, is no Christian. Anyone who is unconcerned when told that their condemnation of a group of people has led to those people being made to live as second class citizens (or worse), or resulted in the murder of some in that group, or caused members of it to be repeatedly physically threatened or disowned by their families and society, or to lead lives of deception out of fear, or to take their own lives in despair, that unconcerned person, I believe, not only is no Christian, but is in fact doing the work of the devil, “walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ”. I would not categorize that person as a Christian; I would call that person evil.