Saturday, January 13, 2018

CRAZY EIGHTIES



In 1977 T.’s paternal grandfather had died, the adopted boy was surrendered back to institutional care, and the marriage was ended, with T. taking custody of the daughter.  His wife found a place in Taos.  This was how things stood when he took the UN job in San Francisco.  There were happy days staging little-girl birthday parties at the same time as exploring gay sexual behavior and peacefully watching sunsets from the roof of the building. 

The Eighties were packed with public events both outrageous and hopeful.  The space shuttle blew up but the Prince of Wales married.  The Berlin wall came down and Communist countries began to modernize but the use of chemical weapons against internal resented populations re-emerged and re-lit old wars in the Middle East.

When his daughter was in a residential high school, T. shuttled among New York City, Key West, and San Francisco.  His partner was a responsible and caring man called Alonzo.  When he took A. back on a swing to Michigan, his dying paternal grandmother smiled at the gentle partner with acceptance.  Even his homophobic father made no comment and accepted the two younger men’s help on his fishing boat, which was becoming almost too much for him to handle.  At that point the salmon were dwindling, which the old man blamed on the “Indians.”  The truth was more environmental.

By 1984 the partners were living in Key West where there was an active gay community.  T. had been writing all along and now had a series of stories in “The Weekly News,” the local gay newspaper.  He sent articles to dog fancy magazines, to parenting magazines, and — inevitably — to the men’s magazines, some of them explicitly porn and/or gay-centric.  He was less interested in clothes and gear.  His choice of venue had more to do with their payment policies than their subject matter.  A surprising number of magazines did not pay up front or at all.  Porn tended to pay on acceptance.  They needed to keep new content coming fast.

As always, he could find jobs with handicapped children's programs and even teaching Head Start teacher workshops.  By this time he had had much training, including how to handle big aggressive boys.  Very few men would take such jobs, esp. since the more profoundly afflicted were in diapers though adolescence and into adulthood.

For a while he worked in Manhattan as a bicycle messenger and got manuscripts to editors by going up the back stairs.  He was in excellent physical shape, as always, and a little older than the other messengers.  It was a time when outrageous, taboo-breaking things happened and then became accepted and even usual.  An example might be “Mineshaft”, a membership club for a certain kind of men with “kink”, where sex based on domination mixed with defiance of every rule of sanitation.  Like many of these associations, it was full of rules and signals, a thick culture to enjoy learning about in order to establish hierarchy within a closed community.  The Health Department finally closed it down.  T. wrote about it.

In these years he wrote what might be his best books.  “My Brother, My Lover” is located in San Francisco.  A sensational cover emphasized incest and a Russian knock-off publisher used that with a rewritten text to sell a ringer.  But the actual T.-written story was heart-breaking.  An inexperienced gay man has an intense affair but is abandoned by his lover.  Much of the metaphorical text comes from the gay use of “The Wizard of Oz” to signify such things as a happy promised green land with companions, somewhere over the rainbow, as opposed to “Kansas”, flat and arid normality in Middle America.  This may be the only book of his with an innnocently happy ending. 

“Anywhere, Anywhere” was based on a couple he met at a wheelchair basketball game.  Only one of the men was paraplegic but his partner was securely bonded to him and was the dependable caregiver, even giving the necessary high colonic enemas.  This book was adapted and directed by Michael Boyd for the stage in Manhattan.

“Genocide” was another anthology, though it can be read as a continuous novel because it is again about two brothers struggling to survive.  This time the reference is to the AIDS pandemic which many people began to believe the government deliberately created and spread to target gays, just as smallpox had eliminated indigenous people.  

The tales reached back into the nearly subconscious images of state fairs, maybe from his paternal grandfather and great aunts surviving the Depression by traveling with carnivals.  The ferris wheel recurs throughout his writing, this time as a butchering machine. American carnival imagery relates to centuries of European festivals of risk, reversal and disguise.  (An example is in the Spielberg film called “A.I.” which also refers to the “different” son, not gay but a robot.  “Gigolo Joe” chimes with T.’s writing about male prostitution.)

Struggling across the desert that T. had come to know well during sojourns in the SW, the brothers’ ordeal finally ends with finding a “tribe” of survivors, leathermen with a dominant chief.  Like many other people, even on other continents, the ideal utopia looked a lot like visions of pre-contact people of America.

The stories that are not on this theme address near-bionic symbiosis with machines that some men experience with powerful vehicles, in this case space ships, and now with computers.  Much of T’s life has been interaction with glass screen technology through digital photography and Photoshop-type CGI.  His life spans the ag world of his childhood into the industrial revolution, then into the beginnings of the high tech world.  Alongside that was the trajectory of the sexual revolution, from family as the economic focus to free-form hook-up lives that had previously been hidden.  Drugs exploded along with poverty, human trafficking — especially of children — and refugee waves across the continents and seas.  He was outraged by the damage and injustice.

Besides writing books, T. was working in publishing.  He had been selling stories to men’s magazines like MACH, Genesis, Advocate and Hustler.  Now he was beginning to edit.  Drummer magazine: Issues 117-121 were his work.  Jack Fritscher was at the center of a specialized and stabilizing community.

Then he was back in the New York City area, actually Connecticut, as the Chief Editor of Knights Bridge Publishing where he published such luminaries as Geoff Mains and Jack Fritscher.   Both writers met the AIDS pandemic thoughtfully.  Mains was a Ph.D. level biologist.  Fritscher was trained for the priesthood and had been a tenured professor of religion as well as an influential essayist.  T. valued and benefitted from both men’s work.

By now men were dying, emaciated and stunned.  T. "made more tuna fish casseroles than God" to take to the isolated and helpless, but it's not much of an exaggeration to say everyone died.



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