Go West

Good morning, Thursday; just today and tomorrow before we slide into another delightful three day weekend. Memorial Day! Huzzah! I am always about another day off from the day job–which I completely understand that it sounds like I don’t like my day job, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I just enjoy not having to go to work more than I enjoy going to work; I’m not sure how everyone else comes down on that category, but I’d be more than willing to bet that most people prefer their days off to their days on.

I could be wrong, but I rather doubt it.

Anyway, here I am at the crack of dawn swilling down coffee and trying to get more awake and alert. I am looking at a long day of screening at both buildings (Marine in the morning, Elysian Fields in the afternoon) and right now it seems like its about a million years staring into my face. But I will persevere, and deal with the heavy traffic on the way home just after five. Tomorrow is the Friday of a long weekend, which is absolutely lovely, and my ink cartridge was delivered yesterday so I can pick it up on my way into the office tomorrow and actually start printing shit I need to print again this weekend. Yesterday was a relatively good day, despite being tired–that tired lasted again, like the day before, pretty much all day–but I managed to get my errands accomplished after work and got some organizing and straightening done in the kitchen/office area; always a plus. Paul was a little late getting home last night, but we watched an episode of The Great and then I started streaming The Story of Soaps, an ABC show about the history of the soaps–just to see if it was any good–and it was quite enjoyable; I’ll look forward to watching the rest of it this evening. I watched soaps from the time I was a kid–our babysitter in the summer watched General Hospital, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows, which is how I got started watching them, and over the years I remained pretty (fairly) loyal to General Hospital and One Life to Live. The summer we moved to Kansas, until we got cable we only got the CBS affiliate from Kansas City, so my mom and I ended up watching the CBS shows–from The Young and the Restless through Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, and The Edge of Night. After cable, we watched General Hospital–it was the late 1970’s by then, and everyone was watching General Hospital by that point.

It’s interesting, in some ways, that our moves–my moves–gradually went west. The suburb we moved to when we left the south side of Chicago was west; from there to Kansas, and from there to California. I started heading more and more east from California, to Houston and then to Tampa, before going north to Minneapolis and coming back south to New Orleans. I never thought about it too much, really; but it’s interesting how I’ve moved around the country and the strange pattern to it. Of course, we’ve been in New Orleans since 1996 (barring that year in Washington), and since I’ve lived here longer than I have anywhere else, I tend to think of New Orleans as home more than I’ve ever thought of the places I’ve lived previously. Granted, had we never left Chicago, I probably would think of Chicago as home, but I’ve literally only been back to Chicago maybe twice, possibly three times, since departing the area in 1975. I’ve never been back to Kansas, and I’ve been to Houston many times since I moved to Tampa–but only twice to Tampa since leaving there (I’ve actually been to Orlando quite a bit; I’d say I’ve visited Orlando more than anywhere other than Houston over the last twenty-odd years).

I tend to not write about Florida, for the most part; while I’ve written about a fictional city in California based on Fresno in the Frat Boy books (the third was set in a different fictional California city, San Felice, based on Santa Barbara), and I’ve written about the panhandle of Florida, I’ve never really based anything on, or written about, the real Tampa or a city based on it (I do have ideas for some stories set in “Bay City”); I’ve not really written about Houston, either. My fiction has always primarily been set in New Orleans, with a few books scattered about other places (Alabama, Kansas, a mountain town in California called Woodbridge) but it’s almost inevitably New Orleans I write about; which makes sense. I live here, I love it here, and I will probably die in New Orleans.

And I’m fine with that, frankly.

“Go West” is also a song I associate with New Orleans, actually. I know it was originally a Village People recording–which I actually never heard before the Pet Shop Boys covered it–but I always associate it with 1994 and when I first started coming to New Orleans; it, along with Erasure’s “Always” were the big hits of the moment that were always being played in gay bars, and I heard them both for the first time on the dance floor at the Parade on my thirty-third birthday; which was also the first time I ever did Ecstasy. So, whenever I hear “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys, I always think back to that birthday and that trip to New Orleans (“Always” has the same affect, but not as intensely; I’ve never been able to find the proper dance remix the Parade used to play–and in fact, a lyric of the song, “Hold On To The Night”, became a short story I’ve never published anywhere–and haven’t even tried to revise in almost thirty years. It wasn’t a crime story; I was writing gay short stories then, about gay life in New Orleans–and no, I never published the vast majority of them (with the sole exception of “Stigmata”, which was published in an anthology that came and went very quickly), although I did adapt some of them into erotica stories and some could easily be adapted into crime stories…I know a fragment of one, I think, morphed into “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which was published in Jerry Wheeler’s The Dirty Diner anthology, and was probably reprinted in Promises in Every Star.

I should probably pull those stories out again and see if there’s anything I can do with them,

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines.

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Angie Baby

Agnes Nixon died yesterday. For those of you who don’t know who she was, she created the long-running soaps One Life to Live and All My Children, among others, and worked on numerous others as well. She created two of the greatest female characters in television history–Victoria Lord on One Life to Live and Erica Kane on All My Children, both of whom made daytime legends of the actresses who played them, Erika Slezak and Susan Lucci.

I loved soaps, and it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that I stopped watching them because i needed the time to write. When I was a kid, both of my parents worked so during the summers a lady down the street watched my sister and I during the day–and she was an avid fan of General Hospital, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows. My grandmother also worked the evening shift at American Can Company back then, and so she also watched the shows, so on days when she watched us we watched them all together. It was hard sometimes catching up, since we weren’t able to watch them during the school year (other than Dark Shadows, which we could run home from school to catch the last twenty minutes or so of), but watch them we did…and when All My Children debuted, we started watching that one because it was new–we could know everything from the very beginning. The thing that was amazing about All My Children as well, was that it had young characters featured front and center; the romantic lives of teenagers was just as important as that of its older characters. Tara, Phil, Chuck and Erica were all high school students when the show started, and there was something else odd about the adults in Pine Valley, as well. They didn’t just sit around and talk about what was going on with their lives, they also talked about the Vietnam War, protests, and opposing it. The show was actually relevant; while other soaps were insular, where nothing mattered except what was going on in the town as though the rest of the world didn’t exist, the people in Pine Valley were very aware. And both Phil and Chuck–and their families–worried they’d be drafted when they got out of high school.

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Phil eventually did wind up going to Vietnam, and was reported dead there.

The show was incredibly popular with young people–all of my friends watched it, and as the years passed, the show continued its commitment to young love. Pine Valley also had something else that most other soaps didn’t have–people of color. In the early 1980’s, there were two parallel star-crossed love stories featuring teens–Greg and Jenny, who were white, and Jesse and Angie, who were black. Both stories got equal air time, were equally important, and the young actors were incredibly compelling. There was also a teen villainess, Liza Colby, played by Marcy Walker, who was also fantastic.

Greg and Jenny:
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Angie and Jesse:

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The despicable Liza:

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Kim Delaney, who would go on to prime time success, left the show shortly after she and Greg were finally, after years of heartbreak, obstacles, and separation, married; the show decided not to recast but to kill her off.

It was devastating.

In college, everyone would gather around television sets in the lounges to watch All My Children ; when Jenny flatlined I remember everyone in the lounge gasped in disbelief; some people actually started crying. Years later, I mentioned to a friend “if someone ever tells you they used to watch All My Children , and you ask them when they stopped watching, they will tell you they stopped watching when Jenny died.”

The show did eventually recover from killing off Jenny, but it took a while.

Over the years, the show created incredible characters played by exceptional actors; Sarah Michelle Gellar’s big break came as Kendall on the show; a young actress who not only could hold her own against Susan Lucci but was a villainess you also felt compassion for. She played Kendall, the daughter no one knew Erica had; the product of a rape when she was thirteen that she gave away, and Kendall turned up as a teenager. The scenes between Erica and Kendall, when Erica tried to explain why she could never love her because she would always see Kendall and remember the rape, were incredibly powerful; Sarah Michelle Gellar would win an Emmy for those scenes, and I never understood why Lucci did not. (Lucci, of course, was nominated a billion times and only won once; it became a running joke for Lucci–the irony being she became much more famous for not winning than any of the women who won did; and when she did finally win, it was national news and she was on every magazine cover on the newsstands.)

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Kelly Ripa also got her big break on All My Children , as Adam Chandler’s illegitimate daughter Haley.

One of the other things that made the show special was it wasn’t afraid to be funny; it was more than just unrelenting melodrama and sobbing. One moment your heart would be breaking over Donna’s grief over her child dying in a fire and the next you’d be laughing at the antics of Opal Gardner. All My Children never was afraid to be funny. (One of the greatest characters on the show was villainess Janet–“Janet from another planet”–who did horrible things but at the same time was incredibly funny.)

And of course, there was Erica Kane. You can’t talk about All My Children without talking about Erica. When asked once if she would ever leave the show, Susan Lucci replied, “Why would I? Where else would I get to play Scarlett O’Hara every day?” Erica started out as a bitch on the show–a young teen villainess– but in the skillful hands of the perfect actress for the part and a talented writer who showed the character in all of her confusing complexity, Erica became the center of the show, and was always the star. Erica wanted to be loved, but she also wanted to be rich and famous and successful–and didn’t want to get all of those things by marrying a rich man; she wanted to get them herself. And that drive, Erica’s drive, I think, was what made her such a beloved character. She did things the wrong way, she lied and manipulated, but the disaster that was her personal life never stopped her from getting all the things out of life that she wanted–and when her deceptions once again destroyed her personal life, she always wiped away the tears and repeated her mantra: “I can do anything. I’m Erica Kane.”

And of course, Erica had daytime’s first (and one of the few) abortions.

The show always dealt, like it did with abortion and Vietnam, social issues. It had daytime’s first lesbian character, dealt with HIV/AIDS, had a gay character and addressed homophobia, and of course, Erica’s daughter Bianca became daytime’s first main character to be a lesbian…and to have as troubled, dramatic, and fascinating love life as any of the straight characters.

I could probably write an entire book about All My Children . I learned a lot from the show, about writing, how to plot a murder mystery (the show had some of the best murder mysteries on daytime), and how to create a complicated character.

RIP, Ms. Nixon. I’ll talk about One Life to Live tomorrow.