Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fear

(Before Halloween, I'd hoped to finish that serial I was writing but the thing is... Jon Stewart ate my homework.)

In elementary school, there was a mural, just outside my classroom, of an enormous atom bomb explosion with the words "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" bursting out of the mushroom cloud, along with the smoke and the fire and the whatever-else comes out of an atom bomb. Each school day, teachers marched my classmates and me past this mural to lunch or gym or recess. Marched us back. Mushroom cloud. Fear itself.

I once asked a teacher what the mural was about. She told me, "It's about the future."

The mural terrified me because it wasn't the future as I understood it to be--it was the future of the past, with kids my age crawling under desks and Khrushchev banging his shoe on a UN table. All I saw was a terrible annihilation, some chipped paint of smoke and fire, and, when I asked, a summary of the picture: "It's about the future." No context, just "the future."

Elementary school is like that. If that mural was done today, it'd be like this: the Twin Towers, with the words 'Mission Accomplished' coming out of the smoke. Kid would ask, "But what does it mean," and teachers would answer, "It's the future."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Elena Callahan's Very Big Day Part Two

Part one here


Part 2: Sugar


“Mrs. Guzman!,” Elena called out. “Hello! Can I borrow some sugar?”

Elena faced down the tunnel of light, her left hand braced against the door jamb. She took a step forward.

“Mrs. Guzman?”

Elena hated the sound of her own voice. I wouldn’t answer me either, she thought.

And she was not answered. It was so quiet Elena could hear the pulse of her blood darting through her ears.

At the end of the Guzman’s hall, the sunlight through the living room window faded then intensified as clouds passed the sun. Elena stared at the window, framed by the walls of the hallway, framed by the dull ceiling and the varnished wood floor that glowed like hot coals when the sunlight hit it, or was as dark as dead coals when the sunlight disappeared.

She took another step forward, her left hand still on the door jamb. Her hip creaked. Her knee clicked. She reached forward with her right hand and pushed at the half-open door and her fingers slipped against the red paint, which smeared across the door’s surface.

Then: “Are you home?”

The sunlight slid away from the window. Elena’s blood began to dart through her ears more quickly--she thought of hummingbirds and mosquitoes, of cars passing by and--

Thump.

The sound took a moment to register. A ‘thump.’ Elena heard the sound as if it had been wrapped in gauze. The sound, the thump, a liquid but distinct sound, sensed more than heard.

She removed her left hand from the door jamb, took yet another step forward, pushed against the door. Slid her fingers along its surface. The red smear had been a defined slash but now it had tendrils reaching towards the light of the living room window as her fingers slipped through it.

Another thump. In her joints or in her ears?

Elena looked away from the window, which was now glowing white with sunlight. She stepped back, sliding her fingers along the same paths they had traced in the red smear on the door, and again took hold of the door jamb with her left hand.

She realized it was rude to ask for a cup of sugar without bringing an actual cup for the sugar. She imagined herself begging for a cup of sugar. She then imagined begging for a cup and sugar to fill it.

Rude.

She returned, with effort, to her own apartment, leaving red dots where her fingers touched the landing’s walls like a broken Morse code. She passed the stairs leading down to the fourth floor, relying on the wall to keep her steady, the obnoxious pattern of the stair landing’s carpet making her disoriented. Things were spinning. Things were thumping. Broken Morse code and tunnels of light.

Her robe rustled as she moved. Her house shoes shuffled as she stepped. Each joint--the hip, the knee, the ankle, wrist, elbow, shoulder--groaned.

Elena thought of her sugarless cup of coffee sitting on her kitchen counter, cooling in the terrible florescent light of the windowless room, and of how nice it would be to sit with that coffee, foul as it was, and lift her magnifying glass up to her nose and read for the thousandth time about Pip and Estella. She thought about her chair near the only window in her apartment, and the light spilling over her, spilling over the pages of her book. She thought of sitting. She thought of relaxing.

(Elena didn’t know Mrs. Guzman was just behind her, following the Morse code fingerprints and thinking to herself: God, I hate this woman’s voice. Something else Mrs. Guzman was thinking: I could rip that voice from her throat, and people would thank me.)

Elena put one hand against her own door jamb, one hand on the door knob, and opened her apartment door. She was again presented with a tunnel of sunlight from a living room window.

---

Cobble rushed along the Hudson Parkway, a grown man in bloody clothes on a 10-speed bike. Not cool.

He’d been in the Cloisters when his grandmother called. Going to the Cloisters had been his boyfriend’s idea: We’ll go to the Cloisters today, James had said. So Cobble went. Thought, ‘This place is like a tomb.’

Cobble and James hadn’t been dating a month. Cobble loved James already, which was surprising. Cobble loved James’s voice, loved James’s touch, loved the way James goaded him--constantly goaded him--to do touristy things. Broadway shows. The Met. Washington Square Park. A carriage ride--seriously!--through Central Park.

So Cobble was surprised when James was ripped apart in front of the Unicorn tapestries, trying to take a picture of him.

Cobble had been surprised to find himself running as fast as he could to the main hall of the Cloisters, up some stairs, ending up in a tower overlooking Manhattan. With tourists. With James in pieces.

He’d been surprised his cell phone still worked, even more surprised that his grandmother had called him. “Grandma, you’re alive,” he’d said. Might as well say, ‘Grandma, you’re still able to dial a phone.”

Cobble used a cord to lower himself out of the Cloisters museum, and was amazed even as he did it. Every time one hand released from the cord and came back beneath the other hand, causing his body to drop one more hand-length, Cobble thought ‘Holy christ, she’s still alive and I’ve got to get to her and I’m actually doing this,' and then the other hand released the cord, moved, grasped again. Beneath. Lower.

The cord was made up of several cords used to suspend things from the walls and ceilings of the Cloisters.

Most of the things the cord once supported were smashed against the floor or ripped from the walls. The cross of the Fuentiduena Chapel. The Unicorn tapestries. A belt from a pope’s ceremonial--

Hand under hand.

To the ground. To his bike. To the Hudson Parkway. To his grandmother.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Elena Callahan's Very Big Day

This is a long post. Very long. Longer than a blog post should be. It's also part one of four.

Here's the plan: Attempting a Halloween story, because I love reading creepy things during October. Thought I'd try to write a creepy thing as well:


Part 1: Maxwell House

Elena lived in Inwood in a five-floor walkup overlooking Inwood Hill Park, and had been in the same apartment for fifty years. Because of bad knees and worse hips, she never went out anymore, and because she missed strolling through the park, she seldom took a sad glance out her lone window.

She spent her days reading, squinting through a magnifying glass like a private eye searching for clues in the blurry black squiggled lines of the pages of yellowed books--one of the benefits of a failing memory, she told her grandson Cobble, was that she could reread the same book over and over and have it be new to her each time. Cobble laughed at this. Cobble was a good grandson.

When he lived in Inwood just a few blocks away, Cobble had collected her groceries each week. Elena would call in her order to the C-Town (formerly a privately-owned grocery store owned for decades by the Haddrick family, recently sold to the C-Town chain), and a stock boy gathered her order in small plastic bags, and Cobble would bring them to her. She unpacked the items and placed them on the shelves and into the refrigerator and freezer herself--she was at least capable of maintaining her own kitchen, despite the sharpness of the pains in her joints as she stretched and stooped and extended.

Cobble moved some years ago. Downtown. Maybe the Village, she didn’t know. He called often, visited regularly. Before he moved, he’d arranged for one of the neighborhood kids to retrieve her groceries or drop off or pick up her laundry, and to check in with her every few days for any other errands she might need done. The neighborhood boy turned into a series of boys, each handing the job over to the next, from generation to generation. Inadvertently, assisting Elena Callahan became as much a part of a neighborhood boys' rite of passage as smoking a first cigarette in the caves of Inwood Hill Park.

One day in late March, Elena creaked her way into the kitchen. It was an interior room--no windows to let in the soft spring morning sunlight--so she turned on the overhead light. Harsh florescent made none the less harsh even though her eyes were growing worse by the day. Cobble had promised to take her to her eye doctor soon. In his car, thank goodness, not on his spindly bike. She feared for his life riding that thing around town the way he did, even if it was “environmentally responsible,” as he kept telling her.

She moved to one of her shelves and took down a can of Maxwell House, scooped a healthy helping of the ground black coffee into the coffee maker’s basket, filled the glass carafe with water from the faucet (the water was a deep, almost urine-colored yellow, but Elena didn’t see this), poured the water into the reservoir (her hands shaking, and Elena did see this), flicked the tiny black button.

The kitchen was neat. Some dust about, a few scattered crumbs of meals past, but to Elena’s eyes the kitchen was immaculate. The off-white tiled floor, stained in places with spilled tea, scuffed in places with the shoes of a succession of neighborhood helpers, appeared just as clean to Elena now as when it was installed two decades ago. If some of the tiles were coming up, Elena didn’t notice.

As her coffee brewed, Elena crossed the kitchen to where a canister of sugar sat next to the oven. She reached out with one of her bony, knotty hands, pulled the canister towards her across the counter, and plucked up the lid.

Empty.

She squinted into the mouth of the canister, then lifted it up to the light.

No, it wasn’t her eyes. The canister was definitely--

She looked up, struck by a thought. Returned the canister, then returned the lid, turned around slowly, and walked back across the kitchen to the harvest-yellow phone screwed into the wall next to the kitchen door. With some difficulty, she poked at a series of numbers, placed the receiver to her ear. Waited.

The sound of connection. And soon, a voice, muddled. Her hearing wasn’t what it used to be, either, but she didn’t realize it had gotten that bad.

“Cobble?” she said, too loudly. Elena’s voice had once been reassuring and kind, but age had robbed her even of that. Now, even when she tried to make it otherwise, her voice sounded like that of an evil crone, brittle and jagged. She heard her voice, and thought of a craggy mountain range. “Cobble? That you?”

She thought she heard breathing. She wasn’t sure. “Speak up!”

“Grandma?”

“Cobble?”

“Grandma, you’re...” and then his voice went out again, or else her hearing went out. Who the hell knew anymore.

“Listen, Cobble, the Carter kid hasn’t been by this week. I’m out of sugar.”

“What? Sugar?” Cobble sounded surprised. So was she, frankly. The Carter kid was as reliable as a Swiss clock.

“The Carter kid. He hasn’t been here. I called in my groceries two days ago. The things are probably sitting there rotting.”

“Rotting? Grandmother--I.” Silence. Breathing. She knew she heard breathing.

“Cobble, what is the matter with you? Are you failing to complete sentences, or am I going intermittently deaf?”

“I’ve got to come get you, Grandma. Christ. The Carter kid.” Cobble laughed, and his laugh sounded as jagged as Elena’s voice.

“No need to be angry with him, Cobble. He’s a good kid. Maybe he’s just sick.”

“You’re probably right. Christ--I’ve got to come get you.”

“And you’re supposed to take me to the eye doctor anyway. I’ll call them up and see if they’ve got something available, how’s that? No need to waste a trip on just getting my groceries. Might as well make a day out of it.”

“Grandma.” Silence again. Breathing again. Maybe it was the phone.

“I didn’t hear you,” Elena said, holding the phone from her head and shouting into it as hard as she could. “My phone is... I think I need a new one.”

“Stay. Stay where you are. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Okay. Good. Thank you, Cobble.”

“I love you, Grandma.”

“I love you too, dear.”

With some effort, she managed to get the phone back onto the cradle, her hands shaking. The more she tried to steady them, the worse they shook, so she’d given up concentrating on keeping them steady years ago. Best to just be patient and let them find their own way. Eventually, she hung up.

The coffee was ready. But, set in her routine, she insisted on enjoying it with sugar (Cobble once pointed out perhaps the coffee and the sugar exacerbated her shaking, and she’d told him to mind his own damn business. “Few joys left to me, dear. They’re not going to take that away from me.”)

She considered walking down the hall to the Guzmans, ask to borrow a cup of sugar like people used to do in an emergency. But her joints were aching, so instead Elena decided to experiment. “Live life on the wild side,” she said to herself. She got a coffee cup down from a shelf, set it on the counter, and poured, filling the cup (spilling some on the counter). There was steam. Black liquid. Black splotches beside the cup.

The coffee didn’t smell like coffee. Each day for most of her adult life, she’d poured coffee into a cup--or a thermos, of course, back when Gordon was alive, for him to take off to work (Gordon hated coffee; each morning before work, Elena handed him a thermos of coffee, and Gordon, because he loved her, took it, then poured it out on the curb on his way to the train. Elena did not know this). Elena loved the smell of coffee--always Maxwell House, for decades, with its sharp earthy smell, slightly antiseptic, biting into her nostrils. This coffee, on this late March morning, smelled different. Not bad, really. Just different. More bitter. Less iron, more copper.

Perhaps it was the lack of sugar.

Elena stood at the counter. She brought the cup up to her mottled lips, blew across the surface of the coffee a few times, thin, weak exhalations of air meant to cool. Then she placed the cup to her lips, took a sip.

Recoiled. The taste was unclean. Dreadful in fact. Well, that proved it. She needed sugar.

Resigned to this, she set the cup down, turned once more, and carefully walked out of the kitchen. She was still in her robe which rustled faintly as she moved, and her house shoes which shuffled along against the linoleum of the kitchen floor, then against the varnished wood of her hallway floor. Using one hand to steady herself, she made slow progress down the dim hallway to the apartment door.

Once opened, the door revealed nothing unusual. There was the stair landing, lined on one side with five other doors, and a short-shag carpet with an obnoxious cheerful pattern. Sunlight flooded the landing from a large window over the stairs. There was a smear of red paint along the wall leading down to the forth floor--from time to time, the kids in the building fancied him or herself a vandal of sorts. Mindy, the sturdy building superintendent, usually was quick to paint over whatever genitals or crude words the kids scrawled on the walls, and was pretty good at working out which kid had done it so as to inform the parents, so Elena paid the red smear no mind.

The Guzmans lived in the apartment to the right of her own, 5D. With some difficulty, Elena stepped out of her apartment, turned, and moved along the wall to the Guzmans door. More red paint--the kid must’ve been busy last night!--was splashed on the pale white door. Which, Elena noted with some surprise, was half-way open.

From where she stood just outside the Guzman apartment, Elena could see the bright burst of sunlight rushing down the long hallway from the living room window (she couldn’t see that the window was broken out, a sharp glass tooth the only remains, a glass tooth jutting upwards from the base of the window. What she could see was the way the sunlight turned the shined wood floor to a welcoming yellow, and the eggshell walls a comforting beige).

“Mrs. Guzman!” Elena called out. “Hello! Can I borrow some sugar?”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Angels in America review: Part Two: Raving

Let's do a history lesson. Fun, right?

In 1994, I was a repeat-freshman at the University of Alabama. Sort of. I mean, I was enrolled there. I was registered for classes, some of which I attended. I had a dorm room--my dormmate was, no kidding, an epileptic Japanese exchange student who barely spoke English, and enjoyed watching video tapes sent to him from his parents.

Here's what my roommate watched: Japanese game shows. 'Family Ties' dubbed into Japanese. WWII documentaries. And every now and then he'd fall down on the ground, trembling and jitter-bugging, and I'd try to keep him from harming himself.

The thing about that is that I barely knew the guy. I couldn't really communicate with him, or he with me, and so we spent most of our time together in the dorm room playing charades with one another. He didn't know anything about me, and I didn't know anything about him, even though we'd seen each other naked, we'd heard each other farting, snoring. I'd seen him cry, once, when he came back from a mall in Tuscaloosa, and had apparently experienced a seizure while at the mall, and was embarrassed. He'd seen me cry, too, but I doubt he understood why I was crying. (I was crying because of Angels in America, but I'll get to that in a sec.)

And there I was sometimes, on the floor, touching him, using my hands to keep him still, pulling him to the center of the room away from furniture, cooing at him in hope of soothing him during his epileptic seizures, cooing in a language he didn't understand.

He once told me, "Don't get it. Your language, you have prepositions. My language, we don't. We don't walk through the park because it's obvious. Walk park. No through."

His name was Yu, so you can imagine how like an Abbot and Costello routine conversations with friends and family were whenever I'd discuss my dormlife. "Yu had another seizure," I'd say. "No, I didn't," Friend or Family would reply. "No, not you," I'd say. "Yu." First base.

At the U of Alabama, I spent most of my time reading. Still working thru the murky waters of sexuality, I read a lot of gay lit--I felt as if I were catching up, since I'd never really read queer literature before. When I moved into the dorm, I was reading Yukio Mishima's Confessions of a Mask. Yu saw the book, and commented on it. It was probably our first attempt at mutual communication.

"Mishima," he said, with a rough gesture towards the book.

"Right." I held the book up. I loved the book. I wanted to discuss it.

"Crazy," Yu said. I thought he meant it was crazy an American was reading a Japanese author.

"How do the Japanese think of him?" I asked (quick thing about Mishima, in case you don't know: great writer; also, he created his own army of ninjas, attempted to take over the Japanese government, and committed ritual suicide. He was also happily gay).

"Crazy," Yu said again. "Gay." Yu dangled his hand from his wrist and rolled his eyes.

"Seppuku, too, right?" I said. Seppuku, btw, is the name of the suicide ritual Mishima went thru. I mimed a sword-stab to my belly.

"Gay," Yu said. To emphasize his point, he dangled both hands from both wrists, rolled his eyes again, and stuck his tongue out.

Right. Well. So, at U of AL, I didn't do much. I read, as I said--read a lot of queer lit, because I knew I needed to read a bit about where I'd come from. Really came from. Around this time, PBS aired the first 'Tales of the City' miniseries, so I watched that too. What I did not do was go to class, mostly because the first few classes I did attend were terrible and hostile, were not jibing with my, ah, self-exploration. Quick example: Western Civ 101. I asked a question about homosexuality in the Revolutionary Army (Western Civ, of course, began and ended in 1792), and the professor, a tweedy prep assistant with a balding pate and a smear of ink on his lip at all times as if he spent his time out of class making out with an ink well, replied, "Homosexuality in the Revolutionary Army might have happened, but I'm sure it was out of desperation. Like homosexuality in a prison."

Crazy, yu say.

Anyway, so I read. Skipped class. Spent my days--paid for by my parents, who would later be less than understanding about this--sitting by a lake, eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts, reading queer literature (also, Vonnegut and Barth, because why not, right?). One thing I read was Angels in America, Part One.


Changed my life. Simply put.

Being gay in AL is not a picnic. It's like being an epileptic at a mall in Tuscaloosa when you're unable to speak the native language: you feel self-conscious all the time, you want to communicate but can't, and there are times when you end up on the floor, doing inappropriate things, vibrating and beating at the ground.

For most of my life up until that point, I'd been convinced I was insane, and was resigned to my insanity. Seriously. Junior high, senior high, whatever, I was first convinced I was insane, then fought being insane, then decided, fuck it, I'll just be insane because it feels really nice when a guy I like likes me back. And because I like reading stories where guys like guys. And I like seeing movies where guys like guys. I'll be insane because it's nicer than when I'm sane.

Poison, for instance. Poison was a movie by Todd Haynes, featuring homoerotic this and homoerotic that, and when I saw it I couldn't stop thinking about it. Saw it in a room full of straight friends. The straight friends were into the 'art house movie' thing, but I was into the homoeroticism. There's a scene where a man in prison contemplates another man's body--the camera leers at the man's body, the man's scars, follows the curve of the man's back, the indention of the man's chest.

Tales of the City. I watched the miniseries on a small, crappy television in my dormroom with Yu sitting on his bed, muttering "Crazy" to himself. Laura Linney making herself at home in 1970s San Francisco, great, but there was a tender scene with two men and I'd never seen that before, I'd never been told my insanity was normal. Toxic yes--AIDS, Longtime Companion, death, hide--but never normal.

Angels in America. Bought it on January 13, 1994, read it over two days, then cried.

"Crazy," Yu said, offering me a tissue.

"Right," I replied, taking the tissue.

So that's the history I brought with me a few weeks back when I went to Signature Theatre to see a revival of Angels.

Angels in America is a sacred text. It is as dense as the Bhagavad Gita, as complex as the Torah. The scenes are like the verses of the New Testament. Each time a character speaks, I hear this: "You're not crazy."

Sitting in the dark, clasping my boyfriend's hand, this is the sad thing I thought: I'm a legitimate human being because there are people on the stage in front of me proving I exist.

True! When Louis--played by Zachary Quinto of 'Heroes' and Spock Trek fame--expressed his complicated love for his own partner, his fear of commitment and his need for penance, when he expressed his ambivalence for life and... well, when Louis questioned everything about himself but never, ever questions his love for men, when his homosexuality wasn't even Louis's main issue, I cry.

Prior! Prior Walter, played by Christian Borle, has AIDS, and at one point is on the floor shitting himself and begging Louis for help. And I see a normal man try to give him help, I see Yu on the floor having a seizure.

And this: when the Angel of Angels in America says, "Look up," I sat in the audience and wanted to look up, in the literal sense--I wanted to turn my face to the ceiling and see--what? Grace, hope, love.

In 1994, Angels in America was brilliant, was bold, was a beacon and a comfort. In 2010, it still is all of those things, but more. Not easy to explain without getting all weepy ("Crazy!" Yu might say, while thrusting Kleenex at me) but sitting in the audience of the revival, clutching--actually clutching!--Greg's hand, I remembered being my dumb, fragile self at the U of AL, and trying to come to terms with AIDS and parades in Greenwich and Harvey Milk and Yukio Mishima and E. M. Forster and God and men who love men, and history that isn't real history, and Revolutionary Armies that aren't so revolutionary. Sitting there with Greg, clutching his hand, watching Angels in America, I tried to work out how homosexuality came out of nowhere, how it had no real history.

Then I thought of Yu, weeping about his trip to the Tuscaloosa mall, and how he'd had a seizure.

I thought of Yu.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Angels in America review: Part One: Bitching

Saw the new production of Angels in America (maybe I mentioned it a few thousand times?) this week, at the Signature Theatre, which is a very small space placed so far to the left of Broadway it's nearly in the Hudson River.

Angels in America remains a remarkable work. It holds up well even though one of the central plot points centers around AZT, an antiretroviral drug that isn't as miraculous now as it was in 1985 (or even 1993, the year of the show's Broadway premiere). Angels has aged, certainly, but it's not a creaking gay relic the way, say, Boys in the Band is, or The Normal Heart (or Longtime Companion, or As/Is).

There are two parts to Angels in America. There's part one, 'Millennium Approaches,' which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993, and part two, 'Perestroika', which is considered the weaker part. 'Perestroika' is the weaker part, I think, because 'Perestroika' is more philosophical, less plot-driven. It's as if Louis, the play's most didactic character, edited it.

While I'm not gonna go into interpretation of Angels in America--many have, why add to the spilled ink?--there's one thing I want to mention, because it's one of my favorite things about the play(s): Harper Pitt's vision of the ozone layer.

Harper is the wife of a conservative Mormon lawyer, right. Her husband, Joe, is gay, and inattentive, and she consoles herself with Valium. The Valium gives her spectacular hallucinations. One of her first speeches is this:

When you look at the ozone layer, from outside, from a spaceship, it looks like a pale blue halo, a gentle, shimmering aureole encircling the atmosphere encircling the earth. Thirty miles above our heads, a thin layer of three-atom oxygen molecules, product of photosynthesis, which explains the fussy vegetable preference for visible light, its rejection of darker rays and emanations. Danger from without. It's a kind of gift, from God, the crowning touch to the creation of the world: guardian angels, hands linked, make a spherical net, a blue-green nesting orb, a shell of safety for life itself.

The speech continues on for a few more lines, right, but the prominent image is the net--the angels sent from heaven to protect us, the angels forming a net of ozone.

Here's Harper's last speech, after she's left her husband. She's sitting in a plane, 'chasing the moon across America':

When we hit thirty-five thousand feet, we'll have reached the tropopause. The great belt of calm air. As close as I'll ever come to the ozone.

I dreamed we were there. The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air, and attained the outer rim, the ozone, which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare as old cheesecloth, and that was frightening...

But I saw something only I could see, because of my astonishing ability to see such things.

Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles, and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules, of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them, and was repaired.

The contrast between these two speeches--God sending down angels vs. humanity sending them up--is a beautiful character journey for Harper. And a moving image when taken in context.

We learn in the play that God has left. On April 18, 1906, God gave up, went away, had a Deist moment of such finality that San Franciso was destroyed (San Fran, in case you haven't seen the play or the movie, is Heaven). When Harper, who I always imagine is escaping her terrible marriage for some peace of mind in San Francisco, says in her final speech, she sees the souls of the dead rising up from earth to form a protective net.

Those angels forming a net? They are from earth. They're not sent from Heaven. God did not send them--they're floating up like skydivers in reverse because they love us. They link arms and protect us from the bad rays of the sun because they have something in common with us, not because, as Harper says in her first speech, it's a 'gift from God.'

Angels don't understand humanity. They love us because they were told to love us, but they don't understand how to protect us because they're alien things, the true 'other.'

The revival of Angels in America isn't a good revival. It's a sloppy mess, with several great performances and a wonderful set.

The reason the new revival fails is because the actress playing Harper does not deliver. She doesn't understand her character. She plays up Harper's childishness, but fails to accept Harper's capacity for insight.

The reason the new revival fails is because Michael Greif, the director, does not seem to understand the 'gay' scenes are only part of the story of Angels in America. Harper's scenes are just as telling, just as important. She's the character establishing the the show's major thesis: Angels come from the earth, they aren't forced down onto it.

The angels rise up from earth, and chase moons; they aren't sent down from heaven to protect us. We can only protect ourselves.

Most everything about this production works. But Harper's role has been neglected, and so the show suffers.

And I'll of course go see it a few more times because it's still an amazing story. A great work beginning again.

Relationship stuff

So Saturday morning, dead asleep, I sat up in bed and told Greg some awful things.

I imagine the scene must've been very Exorcist-like, with my eyes rolled back into my head, perhaps my head spinning around on my brain-stem, and, after the words, some pea soup shooting out of my mouth.

Here's the thing: I don't remember saying anything at all. I don't recall anything other than deep, comfortable sleep. When I woke up Saturday, Greg was out--as he was supposed to be--so I went about my day, doing domestic things, taking the dog for a walk, looking forward to going with Greg to see the second part of Angels in America.

Right. So. Took the dog out, brought him home, realized we needed a few things from Rite-Aid, left the dog at home, went back out. Got what we needed. Came back home.

Greg, in the meantime, had also arrived home. He was sitting at his computer when I returned. Waffles danced around my feet.

"Hey," I said.

"Don't act all friendly to me," Greg shot back.

"What?"

"I was so happy when I got home and you weren't here."

I set the Rite-Aid bag down. "What'd I do?" I often ask this question. I am, admittedly, a terrible person constantly doing things that require a 'what'd I do?' follow-up.

"What you said," Greg replied. "Not what you did. What you said."

And what I'd said was pretty bad. Not as bad as the time, a few years back, that I'd sat up in bed and announced to Greg, "No wonder your father killed himself. He did it to escape you and your mother." Greg's father died in 2007, when a tree landed on him. It was a sudden and violent death. Why I declared it a suicide is beyond me.

This Saturday morning, tho--whatever I'd said to Greg had been weighing on him all day.

(Curtain time for Angels in America: 2.5 hours.)

"What did I say?" I asked, without a response. "Greg, really, I was probably dreaming." No response. "The only thing I remember is I was watching 'Married.... With Children' on the laptop. I closed the computer, set it down, and went to sleep."

"'Married... With Children'?"

"It's available on Netflix. It was the first episode. I was curious."

"Marc, you sat up in bed and... proclaimed things. You looked me right in the eye and... I can't do this, I don't want to do this right now. I'm tired, and I have to go to a three-hour show."

"Do you even want to go to the show?"

Greg, no longer at his computer but up and pacing: "Yes. Yes! I want to go to the.... I've seen the movie, I liked the first part on stage... I want to see it."

"What did I say?"

"You sat up in bed."

"And I said...?"

"The alarm went off. I got up. I mumbled something about not wanting to be awake this early. You looked right at me just like you're looking at me now, and you said... fuck it. I don't want to do this right now."

"What'd I say?"

(Curtain time for Angels in America: 2.3 hours.)

"Whatever I said," I said, "I'm sorry. I wasn't awake. Believe me, when I'm vicious, I remember. It was a dream." I'm not a fan of Mike Bribiglia for the hell of it. I identify. All my life, things seem to happen between going to sleep and waking up.

"You were right," Greg said. "You're always right."

Here's another thing: Greg is the most important thing in my life, and I'd rather he be right.

After a long, semi-heated discussion, Greg and I agreed we'd try for another night--we'd call the box office and relinquish our tickets, and go sometime later. The tickets were free, after all, a nice gift from a friend who'd worked on the set.

(The set, btw, is fantastic. It works like a puzzle, this set, and compliments the text. The set is a dichotomy--two essential pieces, stage left and stage right, spinning around to accommodate, say, the Pitts' living room, or Roy Cohn's hospital room, or an office in the court house.)

I called the box office to reschedule. It was closed.

"Then we'll go," Greg said. He started to gather his shoes. Waffles attacked his face.

"You aren't in the mood."

"I'm tired. Three hours is a long show."

"We'll go another night. Tickets are cheap."

"Jon got us the tickets and it'll look bad if we don't take them." (Fun fact about comp tickets: if someone gives them to you, you get on a shit-list if you fail to use them.) "Go. I'll be fine." Waffles still attacking his face, shoes set aside.

"I don't want to leave you alone."

"I'm fine," Greg said.

"What did I say?" I asked.

"Go."

So I went.

I ended up going to see the second part of Angels in America alone, which turns out to be a worse idea than sitting up in the early morning and announcing, "Your father killed himself to escape you and your mother."

I got our two comp'd tickets, gave one away to someone hoping to see the show--a young woman reading, no kidding, The Executioner's Song. Before curtain, she sat down and pried open a hardback edition of The Executioner's Song, read til the lights dimmed, and then during the two intermissions she'd whip that book out and continue reading. When, on stage, Prior says to Louis, "I love you, but you can't come back," I wished it were Greg sitting next to me. I missed Greg. And I missed my copy of The Executioner's Song, which is in a box in AL, rotting.

And then I came home, after the young woman in Greg's seat and I gave a standing O to the cast.

When I came home, the final lines of the play were still with me: "And I bless you. More life. The great work begins."

Even though I wanted to, I didn't ask Greg what I'd said--I just kissed him. He kissed me. Waffles danced at my feet. "You okay?" I asked.

"Better."

I hope the next time I sit up in bed and make a declaration, Greg has sense enough to slap me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The fear of what comes after the doing

Tony Kushner's Angels in America, part one. Second act. Scene 6. The year 1986. Reagan's second term. Republicans Approach.

Martin: It's a revolution in Washington, Joe. We have a new agenda and finally a real leader. They got back the Senate, but we have the courts. By the nineties, the Supreme Court will be block-solid Republican appointees, and the Federal bench--Republican judges like land mines, everywhere, everywhere they turn. Affirmative action? Take it to court. Boom! Land mine. And we get our way on just about everything: abortion, defense, Central America, family values, a life investment climate. We have the White House locked til the year 2000. And beyond. A permanent fix on the Oval Office? It's possible. By '92 we'll get the Senate back, and in ten years the South is going to give us the House. It's really the end of Liberalism. The end of New Deal Socialism. The end of ipso facto secular humanism. The dawning of a genuinely American political personality. Modeled on Ronald Wilson Reagan.

In the '80s, Republicans were convinced Reagan was enough to destroy Liberalism. Unmake the New Deal. Break the Great Society, create a new society of... I don't know. Reagan's shining city on the hill wasn't gonna clean itself--it'd need some peons to wash that sucker down enough to make it gleam, so who Conservatives thought would make it shine, in 1986, is beyond me.

I'd discovered masturbation in 1986. Why would I care?

Paul Harris's "Republicans fear long exile in the wilderness." Article from The Guardian. The Year 2008. British journalist in Texas.

If current polling holds true, the [Republican] party may be reduced to its core support in the solid red heartland that runs through Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia and other southern and western states. That would trigger a profound crisis for a party that just three years ago was basking in the afterglow of a convincing presidential win and dreaming of creating a 'permanent majority'.

Now that same Republican party could face a prolonged period in the political wilderness, working out how to appeal to an American public that seems prepared to send a pro-choice, black senator from Chicago to the White House and reject a conservative Republican war hero.

By 2008, I was comfortable enough with masturbation--and occasional sex!--to pay attention/come up for air and observe politics. The shining city on the hill, seems to me, is Brigadoon, available only once in a while.

Angels in America, part one. First act. Scene 8.

Louis: Jews don't have any clear contextual guide to the afterlife; even that it exists. I don't think much about it. I see it as a perpetual rainy Thursday afternoon in March. Dead leaves.

And this, my own view of America, sans angels:

There's a diner. Except it isn't a diner, because there are no servers coming to your table, taking your order then plopping it down in front of you. You're sitting at a booth beside a window, and outside the window it's raining, overcast, cloudy. You can't see more than a few feet--the parking lot, parked cars, grey clouds.

There are no servers asking you for your order because all the food available is set on a conveyor belt which passes your booth. To one side, rainy Thursday. To the other, manna.

The conveyor belt comes out of the kitchen loaded with plate after plate of meat, tofu, starch, vegetable, liquid. All you have to do is sit long enough, and what you want will pass you, and you can grab for it, or let it go. Or you can stare out the window and hope there's enough of a break in the clouds to allow you a glimpse of what's beyond the rain, the parking lot, the clouds.

In the kitchen, where the conveyor belt not only begins but ends, there are a lot of disappointed cooks--they hope someone took their starch or veggie or meat off the belt, and are annoyed when their dish comes back to them. So they send the same dish out again, take a break. The cooks go for a smoke, maybe, or watch TV while their dishes go round and round on the conveyor belt.

And in the booths, there are a lot of disappointed patrons--they wanted something else to come past them on the conveyor belt. Or else they get bored, stare out the window, and wait for the clouds to break.

The food crawls on, the machinery of the conveyor belt sliding it from the kitchen then along the stretch of booths then back into the kitchen. Missed chances.

And the clouds are iron, and the rain is soft, and the parking lot is waiting to be filled.

Brigadoon. Seriously. This shit is going on and on. There is no permanent majority. The food keeps passing the booths, and people are either looking out at the rainy Thursday, or at the conveyor belt thinking maybe the next vegetable, or meat, or starch will be more appealing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Words of inspiration

Right, so today is National Coming Out Day, which means there are a lot of very interesting dinner conversations going on right about now. Or not. Who knows if Coming Out Day empowers anyone to come out?

Anyway, not gonna bore you with my own coming out story--it was rather anti-climatic, not so much a grand finale as a grand finally, really.

Someone asked me how it felt to come out just after I'd done so. I didn't know how to answer the question. The person clearly was looking for words of inspiration, clearly wanted to hear I "felt like a great weight had been lifted," that "the world seemed fresh and new and full of possibilities," that I for the first time "felt like a complete human being." My answer was less than inspiring.

Here was my answer: "Great. Now I'm going home to fuck my boyfriend."

I was cribbing from a line in the movie Clue, where Michael McKean--who as Mr. Green appears to be homosexual until the end--catches the murderer and says with a smirk, "Now I'm going home to sleep with my wife."

I thought my response was funny. The person who asked me the question, however, turned bright red and quickly walked away.

So much for my ability to inspire others.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Across, Around, About the Universe


At one point, on my back on AstroTurf, head resting on my bag, I looked away from the movie screen to glance at the sky. Not many stars up there, even though it was a clear night--very dark, yes, but the city lights overpower the stars (which is probably a contributing factor to the whole 'New York is the center of the Universe' feeling most New Yorkers have: when you can't actually see the Universe, you must conclude you are the Universe). A few airplanes here and there crawled across the dark sky like insects.

And there was a breeze. The temperature had dropped since I arrived a few hours ago. I was shivering. My bare feet were cold.

Here's where I was: Rumsey Playfield on the East Side of Central Park, on the ground in front of the VIP section, close to the fat monolithic inflatable movie screen. Behind me were a few thousand people sitting on blankets or in bleachers or folding chairs. On the screen was a forthcoming PBS American Masters documentary about John Lennon's final decade, which he spent in NYC with, of course, Yoko Ono.

Except there was a period of time spent in L.A., away from Yoko. Turns out, when Nixon won a second term, Lennon lost his shit, fucked another woman at a party he and Yoko were attending (a wake more than a party, really), and Yoko told Lennon to leave. L.A. destroyed Lennon, according to the documentary. He drank vodka by the gallon each day, did some various drugs, had mixed results with recording music.

This only helps bolster my theory that L.A. is a place where artists go to have their soul extracted and integrity compromised.

The documentary, LennoNYC, rummaged around in Lennon's post-Beatles life. The extended battle he waged to remain in New York even as Nixon pushed for his deportation (for years, Lennon was on notice that he had to leave the country within 30 days). The love affair with Yoko, the love affair with New York. The growth of his artistry. His semi-retirement to be a father. The recording of Double Fantasy. His murder. His relationship with his former band-mates. His legacy. All there, on an inflatable screen which billowed slightly in the stiff breeze, making the projected image into a undulating soft dream.

Lou Reed, by the way, introduced the movie. Before the show, Reed, limping, moving with an almost audible creak, spindly-spidered his way onto a platform in front of the screen and read a statement from Yoko Ono (Yoko was in Iceland, giving out the annual Lennon prizes or something, to four political activists). Reed read Yoko's statement the way a grizzled 20-year old high school senior might read a book report on Catcher in the Rye, then added at the end: "Clearly I didn't write this. These are Yoko's sentiments." Then he added his own sentiment (I'm paraphrasing): "John wrote 'Mother' and 'Jealous Guy,' and for that alone he's a true artist and genius writer. Just for those two songs. Those two songs were produced by Phil Spector. Now one is dead, and one is convicted of murder. Make of that what you will. Thank you." And then he spindly-spidered his way off the platform.

Behind him, on the screen, these words: Imagine Peace. Below that, much smaller: Love Yoko.

I wasn't sure if those last two words were a request, a demand, or an extension of love from Yoko.

Thirty years on, the only people who love Yoko are, after all, New Yorkers. Even I have come to tolerate her.

Most of the documentary was about Yoko's calming influence on John Lennon, and about his adoration of this city. I share the adoration of the city. I was moved several times, nearly to tears, which is why I glanced up from time to time to stare at the invisible Universe and the insect-like airplane lights crawling around up there. Every now and then, I'd stop listening to the documentary, and focus on the ambient sounds around me, the sounds of the physical city rather than the illusory images being projected on the fake movie screen.

Wind in the trees of Central Park. Rumsey Field is surrounded by old trees, still fat with the last of the season's leaves, and the wind moved through the leaves, stirring them around, rubbing them against one another like music rubbing dancers at a club against one another.

Distant traffic. The thing about Central Park is that it is quiet. But it is a quiet of degrees: one can still hear, faintly, the horns honking and the people shouting at one another and the machine hum of people moving from one end of the island to the other.

The crowd behind me. People had been turned away, so great was Lennon's continued ability to draw a crowd. In fact, I'd only just made it into the Field--directly behind me, the line had been turned away. Thousands of people singing along to the brief musical interludes of the film, laughing at Lennon's wiseass wisecracks, applauding wildly at a few points, murmuring lazily at one statement or another.

And then, the lights came up, and the crowd walked away.

I followed along, shivering. The most logical path out of the park happened to be through Strawberry Fields, but I didn't realize it until I was plunging into severe darkness, dense bushes and close-grown trees. I didn't realize where I was or how it was possible to be in total darkness in the middle of New York City, on the edge of Central Park's West Side.

Candlelight was flickering against the trees, and there was a warm glow, and I suddenly realized where I was. Hundreds of people in the darkness, their skin laced with candlelight: a memorial of candles and flowers was set up on a small hill. Beyond that, around the Imagine memorial, people were gathered. They were singing 'Watching the Wheels' in a sweet, choral kind of way.

Yup. I cried. It's not hard to make me cry. I have my mother's disposition--sometimes, most times, life just seems too beautiful to not cry, and too sad to resist.

As the crowd moved on to another song--'Instant Karma'--I moved on to the street. Not from design but necessity, I walked across Central Park West, past the Dakota and past the spot where John Lennon had been gunned down like some sort of gangster.

Here's the thing: The reason John Lennon loved New York was because he was able to walk about us mere mortals with very little intrusion. Privacy respected. In the center of the Universe, there are no stars. Certainly, he was admired, and certainly he was recognized, but for the most part he was allowed to live his life and be, whatever, normal or average or anonymous.

And he died because of the sense of security and anonymity this little island extended to him.

But ah well.

His love affair with New York was, in the end, as destructive/productive as his love affair with Yoko Ono. And walking past the Dakota, I understood.

This city can be awful. But then you have moments like this: you go to Central Park to see a PBS documentary, thinking you'll be one of a few people to care, and then barely make it in because of the turn-out. Then you walk away from the documentary, and end up in Strawberry Fields. And then you wander away, having sung a few songs with complete strangers, and end up in Dakota.

Then you take a cab home, go into your overpriced New York apartment, and find a very happy dog desperate for attention, seeing in you the entirety of his Universe.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Puttin' on the Gay



Ladies and gentlemen, please. There's no need to fear.

True. Yes, true. I am a gay man! But you needn't place your handkerchiefs over your mouths, over your noses! There's no need to raise your canes, and please--I beg you--stop waving your hats at me as if I were a fly!

I am just like you!

(If you're feeling faint, an usher will help you out, so stop clamoring about like fish in a net.)

Thank you.

Now.

Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you today on my own two feet, even though there is a chair beside me--so I could sit before you if I wanted to, but standing seems more appropriate. Though the chair does look comfortable. I don't know if you can tell from your own seats, but this chair here to my right is cushiony, with soft gold fabric, and would swallow me up if I were to sit in it--rather than speak, I'd probably drift into somnolence. So inviting, that chair.

However. I stand--please, madame, stop waving your crucifix at me. It's distracting--I stand before you, a gay man in average clothes, to say this: Stop it.

Stop acting as if homosexuality is an abomination. It isn't. Homosexuality--please!--homosexuality is no more an abomination than the Bronte sisters are great writers. Certainly, some people like the Brontes, but you'd be hard-pressed to find unanimity in appreciation of their talents, so it's best to just leave well enough alone, accept that some people actually like to read them, and move on. Personally, I don't get it. But then, perhaps I'm not supposed to.

And stop this: teaching your children to hate other children. Life, as you may or may not know, is hard enough without other lifeforms tormenting you. It's true. One lifeform might delight in the Bronte sisters' work, or in comfortable chairs, and another lifeform might think top hats and crucifix necklaces are the best thing since sliced bread. There's no reason for the latter to disapprove of the former, and there's no reason that the latter should attempt to annihilate the former.

(Madame, if you don't put that baseball bat down, I will be forced to compel you to leave the room.)

Tolerance is the only way we can get through life. I'm sorry if it offends you, but the only way to go from one minute to the next is to tolerate one another, or else to seek refuge in the nearest cave and hope society goes away before we die (and as a side note, I'll mention this: Society isn't going away. We're stuck with it).

You came here tonight for answers, and I agreed to speak because I have questions. So, I'll open the floor up (Madame, stop that. Spitting, I assure you, is not acceptable behavior).

Q: Why are you doing this?

Sorry? I couldn't hear you. Speak up, miss.

Q: Why are you doing this? This... speech. What's the point?

For some years now, I've been out, and happily prancing about like a giraffe in a zoo. I haven't been exposed to predators, I haven't been exposed to violence, and I have only a vague memory of what it was like in my youth before I was brought to the protection of the zoo. To be obvious, I've spent too much time sitting in the comfortable chair, rather than standing up.

Q: Isn't gay sex gross?

No. Next?

Q: How dare you.

That wasn't a question.

Q: It wasn't meant to be. I'm not on 'Jeopardy'. How dare you judge us. If we are uncomfortable with your life choice, how dare you make us feel bad about it.

Sir, to be blunt: how dare you. Society is full of people worthy of disapproval--to disapprove of homosexuals is to disapprove of love. If you want to disapprove of love, go ahead. I apologize for any bad feelings you might have because of it.

Q: I think my husband is gay.

Is he here tonight?

Q: No. The Met is doing Wagner's Ring cycle starting tonight, so he went there.

Maybe he just likes opera. Or Nazis. Just because your husband likes things you don't like doesn't mean he's gay. Please tell your children.

Q: You keep mentioning children. You a pedophile?

No. I just think it's awful that children are killing themselves because adults haven't been taught to... Because adults continue to encourage the care and maintenance of assholes. If there's one thing homosexual men know, it's how to treat an asshole.

Q: But a good beating might help keep the child from growing up a sissy.

Have you ever watched soccer? Seriously, did you watch the World Cup? The term 'sissy' was never mentioned in all the coverage and no one would accuse those men of being sissies, but there they were, faking injuries and throwing themselves to the ground when they got lightly bumped by opponents. Seems to me it's a braver thing to be gay than to wallow around on the ground during a soccer match.

Q: Isn't gay sex gross?

That's already been asked and answered. Again: No. No more gross than hetero sex--and a lot more fun.

Q: God says you are evil.

God says a lot of things are evil. He created us, though, and perhaps needs a new hobby.

Q: Aren't gay kids better off dead?

Only if you continue to act as if they are better off. If you're happy to ignore other lifeforms, then yes, gay kids are better off dead and I'll just take a seat right here in this comfortable chair with its soft gold fabric. But, you know--and thank you finally madame for sitting down--we all have to go through a lot of awful events, we all have terrible experiences, and we all want to love and be loved. To imply that one person would be better off dead is to imply we all would be better off dead. Why? Because if we were all subject to the approval of society, we'd all fail to pass muster.

Q: Why do you hate the Bronte sisters?

I don't hate them. I just find their novels... I find their novels all over.

Thank you. I'm going to sit now. You're welcome to go about your lives, or sit with me for a while.

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