Short Stories 365/338

“The Woman in the Window” by Jameson Currier from The Haunted Heart and Other Tales, Chelsea Station Editions 2014. Originally published by Lethe Press, 2009.

Well, this is startling. I read this story as part of Wilde Stories 2008 and because of that was so certain I’d already reviewed it, I skipped it when I was crafting my plan for the end of this project. It was only when I went to look up what the number assigned to it was, in order to note it here (what was to be a review of the second story in this anthology), that I realized my error.

Unless I find another such error exactly opposite in nature to this one, I will have one too many reviews. Now, the last story is a stand-alone, so I guess I could just make it the first post to follow the project, but I had my heart set on having that story be its official end. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Even more troubling, in searching for the non-existent, already-written review of this story I realized I have not reviewed a single edition of the Wilde Stories series, even though I own and have read every one from 2008 to 2012. How did that happen? I mean, it’s true that sometimes I’ve had to skip a collection because I just could not wrap my mind around how to review a story contained in its pages. That was the case with Best Gay Stories 2011. I liked all the stories in it, and  was especially fond of “Diana Comet and the Lovesick Cowboy” by Sandra McDonald, “Tell Me What You Love and I’ll Tell You What You Are” by Steve Berman, and “July 2002”* by this author, but another story eluded me, at least as far as how I would write a review of it. Was that also the case with Wilde Stories 2008? Scanning the ToC, I don’t recall any such difficulties, but it’s possible.

In his introduction to this collection the author says he made a conscious effort to “incorporate contemporary gay issues within the format of a traditional ghost story”, a laudable goal because, as he goes on to say, it’s important for gay readers to see honest depictions of their lives in pop culture. That’s a sentiment I wholeheartedly support. #WeNeedDiverseBooks, as the Twitterverse says. Every bit as much, though, I appreciated his candor regarding his writing process – the revelation that some stories came tumbling out fully formed once all the puzzle pieces were in place in his mind, while others had to be painstakingly unearthed from multiple drafts over a course of years.

Like readers, writers need to feel they are not alone.

The main character of this story, Tom, travels a lot and has collected snow globes as souvenirs for quite some time. He’s passed his love for them on to his son, Justin, and to a lesser extent his daughter, Claire. I’m not sure how I should refer to Allan. Is he Tom’s husband? Partner? Significant other? The line that introduces him, “By the time Allan and I set up house together” doesn’t provide the answer and there are no indications following that, but you get the idea. This is a family.

They’re also suburbanites. The parents have white collar jobs, the kids are in elementary school. Their problems are ones to which most anyone could relate, mainly work anxieties and the fear of not being a good enough parent, or of repeating your own parents’ mistakes. Despite those fears, Tom and Allan are doing a nice job of parenting. This is a family that eats dinner together. After the kids are sent off to bed the adults watch a little television and then turn in for the night themselves. That solid footing in the mundane is what makes this story deliciously creepy. Home is supposed to be safe space, sacred ground, and there’s nothing more frightening than being unable to protect the people you hold most dear.

The latest snow globe Tom brought back for Justin has some unusual properties. The snow keeps swirling even when no one has recently disturbed it, and shadowy figures appear in an upper window of the replica three-story Victorian home inside. Tom finds excuses for all of it, refusing to give in to the idea that supernatural forces are at work. Even after he hears odd sounds during the night, and Justin and Allan begin having nightmares, and Claire suddenly starts talking to imaginary friends, he refuses to let fear take control.

The creepiness factor steadily ratchets up, and it’s always contrasted by entirely relatable elements. Just as promised, though, this isn’t simply a scary tale. As events unfold a deeper, social justice-inspired theme emerges: This is how it is for us; here’s how it was for people before us; and our deepest fear is that we will be dragged backward into that hell. I appreciated that aspect a great deal.

*I was able to review “July 2002” as part of Best Gay Romance 2013. See Short Stories 365/22.

Kentuckiana Pride 2014

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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.

 

Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia May 17th-24th and giveaway!

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Two chances to win!

Welcome to the Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia! If you were not aware, May 17th is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The blog hop is intended to raise awareness about this important issue. To encourage people to visit all the blogs, each participating blog is giving away a prize(s) during the event. This site will be giving away one copy each of Best Gay Romance 2014 and Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, both by Cleis Press and edited by R.D. Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert. To be entered to win all you have to do is follow this blog by May 24th. (Special thanks to Cleis Press for providing the books for this important cause.)

Though things in the U.S. are slowly improving, there are still many injustices being leveled against LGBTQ persons here, as well as in other countries. In the past gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals have been murdered; imprisoned; have suffered job and housing discrimination; have seen their emotional unions go unrecognized; have been denied the right to raise their own children or to adopt; have been kept from acquiring health insurance coverage through their beloved’s employer; have been kept from their loved one’s deathbed (even, sometimes, when they held POA); and have had their property taken from them after their partner’s death because they were not allowed to marry.

Homophobia and transphobia have fueled these injustices. It’s time to take a stand. Speak out. End Homophobia and transphobia.

Please take the time to read two of my earliest posts here, “Nine” and “Who could ask for anything more?” for more of my views on this subject. Then follow the link below to check out other blogs participating in the hop and read what they have to say about this issue. Be sure to read the guidelines on how to enter to win the other giveaways, and of course, tell your friends to check out the hop as well.

http://hopagainsthomophobia.blogspot.com

Short Stories 365/107

“Subtle Poison” by Lucas J. W. Johnson from Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up (Bold Strokes Books, 2011).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the first story in the project to feature a transgendered protagonist? This anthology is the most diverse one featured so far. Go back to number 102 and read forward to see for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Why is this is such a difficult concept for some people? A person is who they feel they are, period. I have a friend from back in the day whose outward appearance didn’t match the person she was inside. And by “back in the day” I mean when we were part of a group that lived by the motto “invoke often” and words like, oh, “skyclad”. It still wasn’t that difficult. Listening and hearing – are they really that much of an imposition?

Alex comes out as a boy to his friends at the start of this story. School is a scary place for all of them, but for Alex, whose parents are fundamentalist Christians, there’s no semblance of refuge anywhere. I’ve noticed with this collection that the story worlds are getting darker as we go, moving from total acceptance; to sometimes tense interactions; to name calling; to the threat of physical violence; and now to actually experiencing that violence, and more. I’ll let you find out for yourself where else the story goes. I will say there’s one more element to this piece that we haven’t seen up until now: substance abuse. Alex, the narrator, and their friends get drunk before school and re-fuel while there every day, desperate to escape whatever way they can.

One last thing. There’s a device that makes the ending of the story work. Coming from a quirky family, I didn’t bat an eye at it. Therefore I did not foresee how it would impact the outcome of the tale, and I was fully immersed by the conclusion and moved by it. Which is exactly how it should be.

Short Stories 365/104

“Gutterball” by Danielle Pignataro from Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up (Bold Strokes Books, 2011).

If you’re keeping score at home this is the ninth story in the project to feature a female protagonist. Four of those were written by Steve Berman and this one is from a book he edited.

And now back to our game.

I have never before read a story about a protagonist who bowls, much less a teenaged female protagonist who does, but I have to say, I really enjoyed the experience. I bowled for a couple of years during late elementary school, as part of a YMCA class that developed into a sort of stand-alone league. The same kids kept signing back up, and it became just sort of a (Once a week? Twice a week? I don’t even know anymore) thing.

Anyway, I’ve always felt like the odd man out, so I could relate when the protagonist found herself under attack by a member of a rival bowling team. The other girl decides to make an issue of the fact that our heroine is a lesbian, and makes just enough of a scene to (she hopes) embarrass and rattle the main character without landing herself in hot water with adults. The thing she doesn’t count on, though, is that the girl she has attacked is going to a.) stand up to her, and b.) take the high road in how she does it. Oh, and the attacker also doesn’t figure that all of the main character’s team members and their families and friends are also going to stand up to her and with the girl she’s trying to crush, but they do. Five days ago when I saw the pictures of the University of Massachusetts students who flooded the campus in support of basketball player Derrick Gordon, in response to the arrival of members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who, in their infinite hatred, had come to protest his very being, I immediately thought of this story. The ratio was about the same, too: twenty good guys for every villain. Hooray for life imitating art!   

I would put this book in the hands of every tween and teen in the nation if I could, because of the powerful message it contains about the importance of acceptance—of self, and of others—and also because it will make short story fans out of all who read it.

Short Stories 365/93

“De Anima” by Joel Derfner from Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2009).

“Totally original.” That’s the note I jotted down in my Kindle the first time I read this, and it’s true. You have never, ever read a story like this. It’s funny, touching, educational, and metafictive.

What would you do if the man you loved suddenly caved to pressure from his relatives and signed on to be brainwashed by a bunch of folks hell-bent on convincing him he couldn’t possibly love you? Noah opts for passive-aggressive tactics, and when those fail, denial. He watches episode upon episode of “The Golden Girls”, “Designing Women”, and “Law n’ Order: SVU”. He eats an ice cream flavor he hates. Finally, he decides to knit a replica of the human brain. The last affords the author the opportunity to write fantastic passages like this:

The amygdala seemed like a natural place to take out my own aggression—It’s not like I’m a moron, the metaphor was staring me right in the face—and….I yanked the yarn so hard…I ended up with an amygdala the size of a grape.

or:

The occipital lobe is a large structure in the back of the head that deals with vision…I was knitting with a chenille yarn, which was irksome because it has no give and take, but it was shiny so I kept with it.

and finally:

…I realized I was sitting on the angular gyrus (understanding of metaphor)…

See? Hysterical. And, of course, it allows Noah to come to terms with what is happening with Bill, and how he feels about it, and figure out what he’s going to do to actually deal with it.

This story feels like the start of a novel. I’d definitely read more chapters if there were any.

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.