Believe It or Not

I picked up a copy of Sarah Schulman’s Let the Record Show: A Political History of New York 1987-1993, this week at the Latter Library. I imagine it’s going to be a rather painful read, and probably difficult at times, but I also feel that it’s important for me to read it. I am pleased that she, one of our community’s best writers and brightest thinkers, has written it. Sarah, whom I have known now for over twenty years plus, has written extensively about HIV/AIDS, both in her fiction and non-fiction; her non-fiction work is always thought-provoking, incredibly well thought out, and written beautifully. Her fiction is always fascinating; she always tackles enormous and important themes in her work–and often plays with form and style, in innovative and creative ways that would never occur to me, let alone attempt (Empathy is one of the most creative novels I’ve ever read; she reminds me of Faulkner in her willingness to experiment with styles and narrative form). She’s always incredibly fun to talk to–I have greatly enjoyed every conversation we’ve had; she is fiercely intelligent and yet has the remarkable ability to not make you feel stupid, or incapable of understanding what she is saying. (As someone whose intellect has always been somewhat less than, or been made to feel less than, I’ve always appreciated her speaking to me as an equal and peer; even though I am inevitably humbled and awed by how her mind works.)

Lately, I have found myself worrying that the truth and actual history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the societal neglect and systemic homophobia that made it so much worse than it could have, should have, been would be erased from history and forgotten. I am reminded of this every day at work, really; as I’ve aged in my job, the people I test and see regularly become younger and younger. At first, I was always a little taken aback by clients born in the 1980’s; now those people are nearing forty. As we move into the third decade of the twenty-first century, I am now starting to see people born after the turn of the century; 2000 babies are turning twenty-one this year, which is stunning to me. Those born in the 1990’s don’t remember a time when infection was a death sentence; and slowly but surely the horrors of the height of the plague seem as distant as the Spanish flu epidemic of the World War I era, or the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages.

This month was the fortieth anniversary of the New York Times article announcing the discovery of the first cases of what was soon to be called the “gay cancer”, eventually renamed GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) before it was finally labeled as HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome)–this is a vast over-simplification of the history of the disease and its naming; you can find an excellent timeline for it here:

https://www.avert.org/professionals/history-hiv-aids/overview

1981 was the year I turned twenty; it was also the year I moved to California, putting Kansas in my rearview mirror once and for all (I’ve never returned); and I can remember the feeling, the excitement, of moving to a more progressive state (or so I saw it at the time) from one that was deeply mired in conservative values and Christianity. I already knew I was a gay boy before we moved to Kansas when I was fourteen, but that short period of time spent there (short in the overall scheme of my life; at this point as I stare down sixty rapidly approaching on the road ahead, I spent about a twelfth of my life there) was warping. (Then again, what part of my life wasn’t warping?)

It’s also very weird to think HIV/AIDS has now shadowed two-thirds of my life.

I tend not to look back at the plague years before 1994 very much; it’s all a part of my “never look back” mentality. I made some great friends in college–the ones who didn’t give a shit when I finally came out to them; I relish and love those memories made with them during the 1980’s, but the shadow always falls over that part of my life too; I was, as I said on the San Francisco Public Library panel the other night, trying everything I could think of to make myself straight (or able to push my true self so deeply into the closet that it would never ever see daylight) and yet there was still the other part of my life my straight friends knew nothing about; the sneaking out at night to gay cruising areas where other closeted types like myself met up; the furtive visits to gay bars and hoping no one from my other life saw me coming or going or saw my car parked nearby; the trips to hospitals to visit the always held at arm’s length gay friends who tried so hard to help me be myself, even when they were dying alone and unvisited in their quarantined hospital beds. The specter of HIV hung over me at all times; the shame of what would happen if I got infected, and the certainty that my family and straight friends would turn away and leave me, too, to die alone and unmourned, getting what I deserved.

And even when I moved to Florida, getting away from Texas and California and trying to get my life and act together, trying to be who I was, to live openly and honestly for once on my life, the phantom was always there, just out of my line of sight: the death sentence we were all sentenced to by fate, by timing, and by the callous indifference of the mainstream American community.

By some strange twist of fate I survived the plague years, never got infected, never got the bad news I expected was my inevitability.

I merely served witness, and even then, I was never anywhere that saw the worst of the decimation: New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and even New Orleans; this small Southern city’s community was ravaged and decimated; that shadow was over this city too. I can remember coming to New Orleans every month after I discovered its magic, and seeing the evidence of the plague here in the disappearances of people from previous visits; a waiter at the Clover Grill, a bartender here or a bar back there–service people who made me feel welcomed, made me feel like a part of the family, helped convince me that my gut feeling New Orleans was the right place for me, helped me believe that gut instinct was correct. Now, years later, I don’t remember their names and maybe, if I try hard enough and come up with other memories, I can also summon up their faces but the names are gone–just like those I lost in the 1980’s, names I never recorded in my journals for fear someone might find and read them, experiences and joy and laughter gone forever because I was too afraid of leaving a record behind if and when the plague came for me.

Never look back was the theme of my life from 1994 on; a maxim or motto that should have been cross-stitched onto a sampler for me; the only words I ever thought about having tattooed on my body: NEVER LOOK BACK. There was only pain in the past, and I wanted to move beyond that pain, forget the scars, and try to live in the now and for the future–whatever it might hold, if I was even fated to have one.

I always thought, even as a child, that I was destined to die young. When I became aware of HIV/AIDS, I assumed that was the ticket to the hereafter I would eventually punch. And yet here I am, nearing sixty, and the last twenty-seven years of my life have held more joy than I ever dared to dream were possible for me, and the dreams I held wrapped so tightly to my chest, those dreams that got me through even the most difficult of times, eventually did come to pass, and came true for me.

Watching It’s a Sin earlier this year brought it all back to me; as I have mentioned to friends, it hit me much harder than any other HIV/AIDS film or series; primarily because in films like Longtime Companion and in the fiction that has come to be known as “witness” or “survivor” fiction inevitably the story began in the pre-HIV hedonism of the 1970’s before the change; and while the lives were always cut dramatically short, they were somewhat older. It’s a Sin was the first time I saw it all through the eyes of characters who were the same age I was when it all started; and while their experiences and what they went through was so different than my own, it was impossible not to watch and remember and think my God, we were all so young when it hit. Watching the show allowed me, for the first time, to grieve; I know at some point back then I simply went numb. I know where my aversion to funerals comes from; I’ve always known, really, just never faced up to it before.

I’ve never wanted to write about the plague years, never wanted to write about what I witnessed and what I saw, the unbearable sadness I lived with for so many years. Others had it so much worse than I did, and so I never really felt like it was my story to tell; there was always a sense, a feeling, a fear, that I would make it all about me when it wasn’t, and sometimes I do wonder–since watching the show–if the work I do at my day job is, in some ways, an atonement for still being alive when so many are not. Survivor’s guilt is very real, and something I think about on those days when the pendulum of my moods swings too far in the wrong direction, when despite my best efforts not to look back, I do. I also think I don’t ever want to write about that time because my memories are so untrustworthy; and I am not entirely certain that I can tell those stories without centering myself…because it’s not my story but theirs.

So, I am both looking forward to and dreading reading this book, but no matter what, I am very grateful that it exists and that the record of the times, the anger, and the way the community rose up to challenge authority and thus changed the world will not be lost to the passage of time.

There is still, to this date, no vaccine for HIV–and yet, one was developed in less than a year for COVID-19.

Rather telling.

Love on the Rocks

Yesterday was kind of lovely, actually.

I got up early because of that weird stress-inducing dream I’d had, and then spent the morning doing things–organizing the kitchen, doing some laundry, taking out trash, vacuuming (God, what a difference a good vacuum cleaner can make; I am so glad I bit the bullet and spent the money on a good one Saturday–and I am reading the manual AND will be taking care of this one, to make it last), and yes–I actually spent some time writing “Festival of the Redeemer,” which was lovely. I am actually enjoying writing this novella or whatever it is going to be–I can’t get it out of my head, so I keep writing on it, even though I should be working on other things, but there’s no deadline for anything and so why not while I wait for my edits on the two manuscripts I turned in? I am trying for a Daphne du Maurier Gothic style, but am trying very hard not to reread “Don’t Look Now” or “Ganymede”–her two Venice stories, much as I desperately want to because I don’t want it to be derivative; I really like the voice, and I like my untrustworthy narrator a lot. (oops, shouldn’t have said that, I suppose) It’s also interesting writing about a dysfunctional couple, one where there is an enormous power differential as well as an undefined relationship; which helps keep my main character off-balance–he wants to know but then he’s afraid to have that conversation because he is afraid of the answer–and while I know how I want this story to end, I am finding my way there slowly; I am just writing in free form without any real sense of what I am writing and where it is going and you know, just seeing where it is going to wind up as I keep writing. I’m not writing at the pace I generally do–but I am writing, which is kind of nice, and there is an element where I kind of want to get this finished instead of putting it aside; I kind of want to finish something since I’ve had so many false starts since turning in the Kansas book. (I’ve also had a few more ideas while working on this, but am just writing notes and coming back to this.)

We had quite a marvelous thunderstorm last night–which was undoubtedly why it was so oppressively humid yesterday; I think I must have sweated out ten pounds of water walking to and from the gym. Oh yes, I made it to the gym again yesterday and the stretching and weight lifting felt absolutely marvelous. I was actually a little surprised that my flexibility gains hadn’t been lost during the fallow weeks of not going, and as the summer continues to get hotter and more humid daily, there will undoubtedly be days when I won’t want to go. But I also need to remember how good I feel during and after–especially the next morning. I also took a lot of pictures on the walk home for Instagram, which I am really starting to enjoy doing. I don’t know why I never really got into Instagram before, but since I love to take pictures and I live in one of the most beautiful–if not the most beautiful–cities in North America…it seems like it’s only natural that I bring them all together into one user app. I’ve talked about how I’ve felt sort of disconnected from New Orleans for a while now–several years at least; I feel like I’m no longer as familiar with the city as I used to be; the changes and gentrification plus all the working I’ve been doing in the years since Katrina have somehow weakened or lost my connection to the city. Yesterday, walking home and detouring a bit around Coliseum Square, I felt connected to the city again in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I also took and posted a picture of the house where Paul and I first lived when we moved here in 1996; the house, in fact, where Chanse MacLeod lives and runs his business from…we were living there when I wrote Murder in the Rue Dauphine, in fact…and I started remembering things from when we lived there and were new to the city. This is a good thing, making me feel anchored and tethered to the city again, and if I am going to write another Scotty book–well, the strength of my books set in New Orleans is that sense of love for the city I always feel and try to get across in the work.

I also had weird dreams last night. I rested well, but drifted in and out of sleep most of the night. I’m not sure what the deal is with the dreams; I dreamt that someone I went to high school with in the Chicago suburbs came to New Orleans with some of her friends from her current life and wanted to connect again; and I did so, primarily out of curiosity other than anything else. (Maybe it was all the tourists I saw out and about yesterday?) But it was very strange–going to the casino and watching them drink the insane tourist-targeted colored drinks; meeting them at their hotel on the West Bank, listening to them talk about New Orleans to me in the insane and often offensive ways tourists will speak to locals about the place where we live, not even realizing they are being insulting and offensive. I don’t know; I cannot say for certain what is the deal with the weird dreams lately, but I’ve been having them.

We rewatched Victor/Victoria last night–we’ve been talking about rewatching it for a while now, and it recently was added to HBO MAX. I don’t remember what brought it up, or what made us think about it–I know it was Paul who did; I had already added it to my watchlist when it dropped and when he said he wanted to watch it again, I replied, “Its on the HBO app so we can, whenever we want to” and so last night we did–primarily to see if it still worked, if it was still funny, and watching it–a relatively tame movie, really–last night I remembered (rather, we remembered) how incredibly subversive it was at the time it was released in 1982; it depicted homosexuality and drag in a nonjudgmental way years before being gay was less offensive to society at large, as well as bringing drag into the mainstream years before RuPaul’s Drag Race. The performances are stellar–especially Robert Preston and Lesley Anne Warren in supporting roles–and the humor is kind of farcical and slapstick, which never really ages; as Paul said, “that kind of humor is kind of timeless.” It also struck me that it was very Pink Panther-like; the film, not the cartoon–which makes sense since Blake Edwards wrote, directed and produced both. Some of it wouldn’t play today, of course, and the movie probably couldn’t be made today–some of the sex humor was misogynistic, not to mention men trying to spy on “Victor” to find out if he was really a man or a woman, which is incredibly invasive and horrible, plus it was very binary about gender and gender roles. 1982 was also the year of Tootsie, which I also kind of want to rewatch now to see how it holds up as well. It would seem that both films–which were both critical and box office hits , rewarded with scores of Oscar nominations–seemed to signal a new direction for Hollywood when it came to queerness and gender; it was also around this time that the soapy Making Love was released as well. but HIV/AIDS was breaking around this time as well, and soon the repressive politics of the 1980’s would change everything.

Tonight after work I am going to run some errands and then I am going to be guesting on Eric Beetner’s podcast, along with Dharma Kelleher, to talk about three queer writers everyone should be reading year-round, not just during Pride Month. That should be interesting; I am also appearing on a panel for the San Francisco Public Library tomorrow night being moderated by Michael Nava–one of my heroes–which should also be interesting and fun.

And on that note, it is time to go back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

Chosen Time

Monday, Monday–can’t trust that day.

It was seventy one degrees yesterday morning when I started writing this post–I just deleted an entire paragraph about how lovely the weather has been lately; needless to say, the weather yesterday has turned on me; it wasn’t cold or anything, but rather chilly-damp and overcast, and the wind had a cold bite to it. The highs apparently for the next few days are in the low 60’s, dipping into the 40’s at night. Yay. But it will, I suppose, give us an opportunity to try out the new HVAC system’s heat. The air conditioning has dramatically improved quality of life in the Lost Apartment–the downstairs gets actually cold with the air on now–so we shall see how the heating works–if it becomes necessary. If it’s not going to drop other than when I am actually sleeping–who cares? I sleep better in the cold anyway. I certainly didn’t want to get out of my blanket cocoon this morning.

I’ve been watching Allen v. Farrow on HBO Max, and it’s harrowing. I didn’t really follow the case at the time–it was the early 90’s, and while we had 24/7 cable news channels already, our primary source of “going viral” was stories on those news channels and the tabloids in the supermarket checkout line. I knew one of Mia Farrow’s younger children had accused him of molestation; I also knew he had become involved with one of her adopted children who was in high school at the time the relationship started. I also knew that Woody Allen dismissed everything as “the rantings of a jealous and vindictive woman”, and continued to have a career in Hollywood. I was never a big fan of his in the first place–my favorite Allen film was Bullets over Broadway, which is one of the few films in which he himself didn’t appear–and so it wasn’t really a sacrifice to stop watching. But watching this documentary is…much more horrifying. This week’s episode, in which Farrow admits she didn’t have an agent during the period in which she starred in every movie he made, “I didn’t need an agent…I was working with Woody and he said, just use mine….I didn’t think I could get an agent, who’d want to represent me? I was in my thirties”–that was jarring. Ageism in Hollywood right there–and I also do remember that people did say things like “she’s only in his movies because she’s sleeping with him”–despite the fact she was actually a very gifted actress–she was convinced that because she was in her thirties, she’d have no career except for the opportunities Woody Allen was giving her…and he undermined her, gaslit her, to keep her under his control. The show is quite disturbing on every level–and we’re only two episodes in. (I also kept thinking, as I watched, “I bet every minute of this documentary has been viewed, scrutinized, and vetted by HBO’s lawyers.”)

Just chilling.

Although I have to admit in watching the clips from his films in the documentary, I started actually thinking, maybe I should watch some of these older films…and then backed away from that thought very quickly.

My education in American film project doesn’t need to include Woody Allen’s canon.

As I sit here looking out into the gray of the morning, I can see that it’s windy outside. The sky is concealed behind a layer of gray clouds, so I don’t think there will be any sun today; it’s going to be gloomy and unpleasant, methinks, for most of the day. I need to go to the gym this evening after work–getting back into the swing of the routine after the cold spell interrupted me for about a week–and I do enjoy going to the gym; I am hoping that as long as I keep up my thrice-weekly visits, I will eventually get to the point where I am doing a more intense workout focusing on body parts, which means, of course, a return of Leg Day, which isn’t something I am looking forward to doing again, frankly. I do find the gym therapeutic in some ways, and I also like the rush of the endorphins that comes afterwards, as I walk back home through the neighborhood. And yet I always have to make myself go–just like I always have to force myself to sit down and write. Why do I have to make myself do things I enjoy thoroughly? I may never know the answer to that, I fear.

I’ve become very contemplative lately, and I think it’s a combination of many things, not the least of which is turning sixty this year. My previous “landmark” birthdays were inevitably not a big deal; I never make a big deal of my birthday and reaching various ages–thirty, forty, fifty–weren’t traumatic or upsetting or anything like that for me; it was more like a “oh, well I’m thirty/forty/fifty now” and that was the end of it. But this sixty thing has taken root in my brain, and I’m not really certain why sixty seems like more of a landmark to me than the earlier ones. It isn’t that I am getting depressed or anything like that, or like I’m facing gym own mortality for the first time–that happened a long fucking time ago, thank you, HIV/AIDS pandemic–but this time is different. I’ve always–well, since I turned thirty-three–been of the mindset that nostalgia is pointless and wasted emotion, and regret is even more useless; you can’t change anything, after all, no matter how much you regret a choice or a behavior. But dissecting the past is an entirely different story; examining behaviors and decisions and actions. A long time ago I stopped trying to figure out why other people behave the way they do as a waste of time–I will never know why, so why waste my time trying to figure out motivations when I can simply take their behavior at face value? But my motivations–why I am the way I am–that is something I can deconstruct and decipher; and the assumption that my pre-33 past no longer has any impact on my life is short-sighted, to say the least.

Sigh. I don’t know.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I promise not to skip tomorrow.

Restless

And now it is Friday, the end of a week that was a bit of a slog, but ultimately I am glad it’s Friday. Paul got his vaccination yesterday (I am expecting the side effects for him today), I recorded a panel for Saints and Sinners–“Crimes of the Heart”, with me moderating Carsen Taite, J. M. Redmann, Carrie Smith, and Cheryl Head, and then came home to work-at-home for the rest of the day. (I also did that in the morning; I was very drained by the time my work-at-home hours were finished.) We also got our new HVAC system yesterday–rather, the electrical guys my landlady has used since time immemorial finished installing it; and much to my surprise, it made an enormous difference. The downstairs floor vents, which barely ever had a trickle of air coming out of them on the best of times, were blowing enough air to make paper held to the refrigerator with magnets fly up, restrained only by their magnets. It was about 78 outside yesterday, and the guys had set it to about 72 downstairs, and it was cold in here, and get cold quickly. The downstairs never cools as much as the upstairs…and now we have different temperature controls upstairs and down.

Game changer, for sure.

While I was working yesterday I watched the premiere of Superman and Lois, the take on Superman from Greg Berlanti, the CW, and what they call the Arrowverse. And while I gradually tired of Arrow and stopped watching about five seasons in (The Flash didn’t last as long; I just got fed up with “Okay, I am going to go back in time and change the time-line despite the fact that I’ve already done this before twice and fucked up my life completely, but this time will be different”) and never really got into any of the other shows–I really should; until Arrow began retreading plots and all the third time of fucking with the timeline on The Flash I greatly enjoyed both shows, so I am sure there others are terrific as well, at least for a while….but this was Superman, and Superman has always been my favorite of all (Batman and Spider-Man running a close race for second favorite), and I wanted to give it a shot. Tyler Hoechlin is an actor I enjoyed on Teen Wolf, and I liked the concept behind Clark and Lois having teenaged sons. When I first started watching, it took me a minute to get used to this new Lois, and I wasn’t sure she was the right actress for the part, but Elizabeth Tulloch definitely proved me wrong during the course of the show. I highly recommend it; the CW has captured the right spirit of Superman–which the film, much as I love the cast and Henry Cavill, who is also perfect for the part, did not. Superman is about hope, and has always been; a human-like alien from another planet with extraordinary powers who rather than taking over the world and making everyone bow to him, chooses to use his powers to protect and save, for the common good. Superman is aspirational–an alien raised in the United States by good people who taught him right and wrong, and who is, at heart, a decent human being who applies that morality, that sense of “I have these gifts and I need to use them for the betterment of mankind”, to his life, both in his Clark Kent secret identity and as the most powerful being on earth. Hope is what was missing from the DCUniverse Superman films–Superman always puts everyone else ahead of his own issues, his own pain, his own suffering–because it’s the right thing to do. There is serious chemistry between the characters, the actress who plays Lois is perfect, and so are the kids playing their fraternal twin sons, Jonathan and Jordan. The first episode really focuses on the family in crisis: Clark loses his job at the Daily Planet (kudos to the show for addressing the ongoing crisis in journalism); Jordan has social anxiety disorder; Martha Kent dies; and there’s some super villain going around trying to get nuclear power plants to melt down. Clark and Lois have never told the boys their father is Superman; they find out in this episode and one of the boys begins to exhibit powers, which leads to not only a crisis within the family but between the brothers as well.

Seriously, Tyler Hoechlin is possibly the best Superman since Christopher Reeve, which is high praise indeed.

The weather in New Orleans has turned back into something more like normal; it was in the high seventies yesterday, with bright sunshine and a gorgeous clear blue sky. This morning appears to be somewhat similar, and of course, the Lost Apartment is a disaster area and I have at least four hundred new emails to read through, deleting trash but reading the ones that aren’t trash and deciding which ones need responding to. I slept extremely well last night, and am hopeful the malaise of the last few weeks might be on the way out–or at least I am getting a temporary respite from it, at any rate.

It’s been very difficult for me to get It’s a Sin out of my head, and I suspect I am going to have to watch again. My initial reaction to it was so visceral and deeply felt (the power of seeing yourself represented on a show cannot ever be underestimated) that I want to view it again–knowing what’s coming might lessen the emotional impact on me, or so I hope–so that I can evaluate it more critically and objectively. Ever since watching the first episode I have been going through these weird flashbacks to the past, MY past, and how things were for me back then…and I also think I’ve never given myself the time to properly grieve, ever, if that makes sense. Whenever I am going through something terrible I don’t allow myself to react. I tend to turn inward and go completely numb, thinking okay this is the hand I’ve been dealt so now I need to handle this and get through it–essentially, “I’ll cry tomorrow.” But tomorrow never comes, and I move on and try not to ever think about the something terrible I experienced or even look back. This mentality or ability or skill or whatever you want to call it has served me sort of well throughout my life; I have been told I am very good in a crisis…but is that good for me and my mental and emotional stability, to never stop and look back, to not sit down and have a good cry? Writing Murder in the Rue Chartres and the essay “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” proved to be, while incredibly difficult and painful to write, cathartic. And if that was cathartic, maybe I should have written from my experiences in the 1980’s and early 1990’s years ago rather than locking it all away in a deep recessed corner of my brain. I don’t know. I will never know, really; by the time I started writing and publishing gay fiction was already moving away from HIV/AIDS narratives; I distinctly remember wanting to write about Scotty because I wanted to write joyful stories where his sexuality was absolutely not a factor in his life; he had never had any issues about being gay and always had the love and support of parents and siblings, even if it took a little longer for him to realize his grandparents were also supportive. It’s one of the reasons, I suppose, why I continue to write about him all these years later…because I love him and have so much fun writing about him because when I write about him I get to pretend to be him.

And it’s fun being him for a little while.

And on that note, it is time to begin my work day. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Run Wild

And here we are on Monday morning again: lather, rinse, repeat.

I ran out of steam yesterday while I was organizing (instead of writing, of course) so there’s still a mess around my workspace this morning, but I did get a new file box sorted and organized for all my New Orleans/Louisiana research and ideas–mostly based on true things or legends, really–so that was a major accomplishment. I also went to the gym yesterday, which felt marvelous and I am glad I got back on that horse again (during the cold spell I didn’t go at all; it was too cold for me to be walking five blocks in sweats, and the hassle of changing there is too daunting for me). It was also kind of lovely out yesterday; I was a bit suspicious of the cold so wore tights under my sweatpants and a T-shirt beneath my sweatshirt, and walking there made me a trifle warm….as did walking home after the workout. I could sense that it was one of those days when forcing myself to write wouldn’t take, and the work I might force myself to do would have to be redone, so I just kicked back and went to work on the organizing and so forth. I had also made groceries yesterday before going to the gym, so that was part of it–groceries and the gym wears me out; I simply don’t have the energy and stamina I once did (which is about the only thing I really miss about being younger–that and not feeling the cold so much). I will also need to empty the dishwasher when I get home this evening and reload it with everything piled up in the sink; it wasn’t a very productive day, quite frankly, but I think sometimes you need to have a “down” day to recharge and recuperate…I never used to need such a day, but I also didn’t used to be on the cusp of sixty, either.

I continued watching Sons of Liberty while Paul worked yesterday; it’s actually very well done (although I did comment, rather cynically, to myself that the the founding fathers weren’t young and hot when all this was going on) and I also like that it’s not being all flag-waving; it’s pretty clear that John Hancock’s revolutionary fervor was all about business and making money, while the Adams cousins are a bit more about rights and the law (I also kept thinking it would be interesting to write a murder mystery set in pre-revolutionary Boston, sometime between 1770 and 1775, with perhaps John Adams as the attorney/investigator–a British officer is murdered, etc etc etc). Then when Paul was finished working we watched the first three episodes of It’s A Sin, which I was both looking forward to and dreading at the same time. It’s wonderful, done beautifully and written so well and the acting is stellar—but it’s also heartbreaking; I braced myself as the first episode began, realizing it’s the 1980’s and a show about gay men so most of the characters are probably going to die so be prepared. I cried a lot during the first three episodes, the first death was precisely who I expected, to be honest….but the second one was like a throat punch; just like it would have been back then–unexpected, the last person I expected, and the dying was so awful and so undeserved. My heart broke all over again, like it used to fairly regularly back then until I became inured to it, numbed; each new sickness meant death, meant another light going out, meant that with another one gone my own clock was ticking. Maybe when it’s finished, when we’re done watching, I’ll be able to process the experience more and perhaps it will prove to be cathartic; maybe it won’t. I’ve done a really good job of sealing off that part of my history and my past in my brain…even though I’ve never forgotten what I–we–went through back then and I’ve never forgotten their names or the good times…

I guess we’ll see how it turns out.

Although every time I see someone lamenting what the current pandemic is doing–to young people, to children, etc. and how their lives are being changed–I kind of exhale and think you’ll be very surprised at how well they adjust and adapt and move on–we did. And you don’t have a choice.

I think the most heartbreaking part of it was, now, seeing how young they are in the show, remembering how young we were back then, so young and hopeful and excited about the future. This was why Pose was hard for me to watch; all those beautiful young people, so talented and gifted and smart and energetic, ready to make their mark on the world, and knowing what’s coming. This, along with Pose, is the first time I’ve ever seen the pandemic from the point of view that I most associate with; the generation of gays who came out and begin living their gay lives so young. Usually, like with Longtime Companion and the execrable Philadelphia, the point of view was older–these were the gays who came out in the 1970’s or even as early as the 1960’s, as opposed to those who were so young and coming into the community and world, having to deal with something so impossible to understand. There’s one awful scene where the friends all go in to get tested for the first time….and one of them doesn’t get up and go get his results when his name is called…he waits and once the nurse leaves the waiting room, he gets up and walks out because he doesn’t want to know. It was like having my heart ripped out all over again; because that was me with my very first test. I didn’t stay for the result, I checked in, they called my number–it was done by number–and I just sat there before finally leaving because I wasn’t strong enough, emotionally, to handle a positive result. (I remember that every time I have to give a positive result to a client at the day job, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen a scene from my actual life in a television show or a movie..it was a real gut punch.)

It’s going to take me a while to get over this show, I think, and we have two more episodes to go.

And on that somber note, I am heading into the spice mines. Wish me luck.

Broken Promise

And here we are on Friday yet again. The nights this weekend are a return to the frigid climes of earlier this week, but the days promise highs in the 50s, at least, and it’s supposed to get back up into the 70’s next week…or so it said the last time I checked. I generally tend not to look at weather forecasts more than a few days out, primarily because New Orleans weather is completely unpredictable and defies expectations all the time. It feels chilly this morning–I’ve not checked the temperature yet–but the space heater is on, as always, and I am shivering a bit under my layers and considering going to get a blanket. The HVAC guys were here yesterday, but there’s still no heat and there’s also no sign of them outside this morning. Which is fine; I can huddle under blankets as I do my work-from-home duties this morning. Okay, I checked, and it’s thirty-five with a high of 48 predicted. Yikes! Sometimes, methinks, it’s better not to know some things.

The forecast for next week looks much better. It’s simply a matter of getting through this last blast over this weekend.

We finished watching season two of Mr. Mercedes last night, and it was…well, it was a bit disappointing. The season wound up diverging significantly from the book it was based on (End of Watch, the concluding book of Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy), and while the middle of the season was compelling and impossible to turn away from, the last two episodes, for me and Paul at least, significantly went off the rails. The third season starts airing on March 4, based on the second book of the trilogy, and we’ll watch because we really like the characters–and I think Book 2 was my favorite of the trilogy–but now It’s a Sin has dropped and so has something else we wanted to watch as well, but right now I can’t think of what that other show might be. Oh, yes, The Luminaries with Eva Green.

I also watched, while making condom packs yesterday, the original film version of The Amityville Horror, which fits into both the Cynical 70’s Film Festival as well as the Halloween Horror Film Festival. I actually saw this movie in the theater when it was released all those years ago, and just like then, I found it unimpressive, not particularly scary, and farfetched. I had read the book, of course–I think I bought it off the wire racks at the Safeway in Emporia on 6th Street–but the book wasn’t very well written and the story–theoretically something that actually happened–wasn’t convincing and, I thought, pretty poorly written (and I wasn’t a particularly discerning reader back then, either). It was, however, a phenomenon; a huge bestseller and the movie also made a ton of money, spawning numerous cheesy sequels (none of which I watched). Horror made a big comeback as a genre in the 1970’s; it could even be seen as a “golden age”–there was a glut of films and movies in that decade, and the demand didn’t taper off until the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Amityville was a big part of that–following The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby and Carrie; it was the decade when both Stephen King and Peter Straub’s careers are writers took off, and there were a lot of books published….a LOT. (I do highly recommend Grady Hendrix definitive Paperbacks from Hell–it will trigger a lot of memories for you if this was a period when you were actually alive…it certainly did for me.) But the movie is still bad, after all these years–James Brolin was certainly handsome, coming off his years on Marcus Welby and before he spent the 80’s managing Arthur Hailey’s Hotel on ABC. (Although I couldn’t help thinking, “wow, of someone would have told me back then Brolin would marry Barbra Streisand and live happily ever after and his son Josh would become a major star, I would have laughed and laughed and laughed.”) Margot Kidder plays his wife, Kathy, and this is the best, I think, she’s ever looked on film–they are a handsome couple and have some chemistry together, even though both performances eventually descend into one note, repeated over and over again. Rod Steiger also has a supporting role to which he brings all his Method bombast in a role that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, nor does what happens to him. The movie’s end, like the book’s, explains nothing other than the family abandoned the house and never returned. (Of course, the house has changed hands with people living in it for decades and none of them have experienced anything the Lutzes claim to have. Even cynical teenager me, when reading the book, thought, oh, you bought a house you couldn’t afford and dreamed up a crazy story to try to get out of the mortgage..the movie only convinced me further that I was correct in my theory. I looked it up on line, and the lawyer for the kid who murdered his family in the house later admitted he and the Lutzes, “over many bottles of wine”, came up with the story…to not only get them out of the mortgage but to try to get his client a new trial. The Lutzes still claim it all really happened. *insert ‘sure Jan’ GIF here*)

I think I bought another copy of the book several years ago–still in print all these years later!–to reread and see if it was as bad, if not worse, than I remembered. I have yet to get around to it…but watching the movie made me think I need to reconsider that urge to reread it.

But the 1970’s were, as I have said before, a weird decade of transition and change. Conspiracy theories were running rampant everywhere about everything–the JFK assassination in particular was talked about and theorized about a lot–but this was also the decade of the Bermuda Triangle, when UFO’s really became a topic of discussion, when The Late Great Planet Earth truly began shifting certain sects of Christianity into doomsday prophecy and end-times philosophy, and of course, we cannot forget the existential threat of Communism that had some people seeing Russian agents everywhere and there was the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation.

Although there are times, too, when I think about the 1970’s as the last gasp of American naiveté and innocence. The one-two punch of Vietnam and Watergate made everyone start distrusting the government…and HIV/AIDS was just around the corner.

Hmmm. Some pretty heavy thoughts on a shiveringly cold Friday morning in New Orleans.

And now back to the spice mines. Stay warm, everyone, and stay safe.

Stray Dog

Well, top of the morning to you, Constant Reader! It’s a gray Saturday morning here in New Orleans and so far, so good–my arm still hurts like a son of a bitch, but the debilitating fatigue from yesterday (I took a nap in the early afternoon, another in the early evening AND went to be around ten) seems to be past–at least so far, at any rate. I don’t remember being exhausted yesterday morning, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t. I do recall thinking at several points during yesterday that if this was how people with chronic fatigue syndrome felt, ye gods! But today is another day, the enormous amount of work I have to do has not magically disappeared–it’s just a little more dusty this morning. As I glance around the kitchen/office this morning there’s a lot of clean-up to be done around here–not the least of which is filing and organizing, chores I always dread and put off, yet am alway find satisfying to do once I actually get started on it.

Go figure.

I tried out the air fryer yesterday on chicken nuggets in the afternoon for lunch (then again for dinner; I wasn’t hungry but made nuggets for Paul) and it works just fine, frankly. The nuggets were good if different–and I realized the difference was the lack of greasiness and if they were a little drier than usual, that was the lack of grease. It’ll take a while for me to get used to the lack of grease in things like nuggets and so forth, but I deeply approve of this new healthier alternative to deep-frying, and I am going to see about using it for other things, like Brussels sprouts and asparagus and other healthier things. I may eventually have to get a bigger sized air fryer, but the one I have will certainly work for now. As one of the goals for the year was to work on being healthier over all, this is an excellent first step.

We did watch Uncle Frank on Prime last night, and while it was enjoyable on some levels, it was painfully difficult to watch in others. Perhaps it hit a little too close to home for me in some ways, but at the same time, while it was about the main character’s relationship with her gay uncle and his partner–and his estrangement from his family because of his father’s homophobia–there were some horrific scenes of familial homophobia and the emotional/psychological abuse that comes with it. I thought it was going to be more of a comedy–at least that was how the trailer made it seem–but it most definitely was not a comedy, although there was some humor. I’m not certain that the audience for the film was really gay men–it seemed, particularly towards the end, to be like Philadelphia–a movie about gay issues that was really for straight people, and that really can make a difference in how the story is told and how the characters are presented. I do recommend it–it really recaptures that early 1970’s feel, both in South Carolina and New York City; some of the homes and settings in South Carolina (as well as the performances of the actors) made me feel like I was a kid visiting relatives again; and since some of the in-progress works (short stories and novellas) I have are set in the 1970’s South…it was interesting to see and triggered some memories for me. But one thing that was delightful about the movie was it sort of had a happy ending–sure, the two gay characters had a lot of suffering to get through to get there–but neither one of them died, so that was lovely, and the 1970’s setting meant the specter of HIV/AIDS was long in the future. I also couldn’t help wondering, though, as I watched, if either of them would make it through the 1980’s alive, and just having to wonder that about fictional characters is rather sad.

I’m also looking forward to seeing the new Russell Davies series, It’s a Sin, when it drops on HBO MAX next month. (I much preferred the original Queer as Folk to the American version, quite frankly. I’m curious to see if they do an American version of this one, as well…but since it’s airing on HBO MAX I tend to rather doubt it; but I don’t remember how Americans watched the original Queer as Folk either.)

Paul is off to the office later today so I will have the house to myself for the most part until this evening, which is nice but also going to be a bit weird. I keep forgetting that the festivals are looming, so of course he is late getting home every evening and will disappear on Saturdays; it is the time of year when I become a Festival widow. I of course should use this time productively, and am actually planning to go read for a bit once I finish this, spend some time straightening up in here, and will sit down with the manuscript later on today to see what needs to be done and get organized with it as well so I can plan out my writing and editing needs for the rest of February. Hmmm…thinking about organizing and getting stuff done hasn’t fatigued me–we’ll see how that goes once I start actually moving around and trying to do things, shall we?

And on that note, I am off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday wherever you are, Constant Reader!

Cardigan

Yes, it’s cardigan/sweater/light jacket weather in New Orleans again; autumn has fallen. And yes, I recognize our weather undoubtedly would feel like spring/early summer to some people–lows in the sixties, highs in the seventies–but this is a thirty degree drop from the dreadful days of August/September, and this year it lasted into October. There’s always been something unsettling to me about the fall season–as things wither and die, as the sun recedes and is only around for about nine hours per day, and the season of rest for the earth approaches–which is undoubtedly why All Hallows’ Eve was dated around that time of change; and why the ancients undoubtedly believed the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was so thin at this time of year.

It’s also lovely because now it’s crockpot cooking weather, which I love–soups and chilis and meatballs with gravy! Yum!

I went to bed early last night, unable to continue watching the election results. I didn’t want to check this morning when I woke up, frankly, but one cannot live in denial forever. Obviously, there are no final results and it isn’t over, as I discovered as I woke up, but my pessimism remains firmly in place. I don’t like being proven right in these instances, but I deep down believed this was going to be close, with the possibility of the results not going the way I wanted and going the way I feared. It’s not quite as shocking to me as it might be to other white people; as a gay man, I’m quite used to being hated abstractly by a majority of Americans and having my rights considered, at best, unimportant and at worst not worth thinking about. I have seen the face of American white hatred and have, in fact, been dealing with it for most of my adult life–and it’s not just white Americans, either. There’s enough homophobia and transphobia out there for white Americans to share with people of color–it’s the one thing white Americans are willing to share with people of color.

But we survived the Reagan administration, when they were letting HIV/AIDS kill us–and not-so-secretly hoping it would kill all of us–and we survived the second Bush presidency, so if the worst comes to worst yet again, I am sure somehow we can survive another four years of this. Am I tired of it all? Yes, I am. Will I go on fighting? I have to, because what other choice do I have?

It’s very easy to give in to despair, which of course is what they want us to do. They want us to go quietly into that good night, disappear from public view, get swept back under the rug or securely locked back into our closets. But I do know I am not going to listen to any analysis; I am not interested in “understanding” the other side any more than they are interested in “understanding” me and my values and my beliefs. All I am interested in is the final results, and getting on with my life for as long as I can.

I worked on “A Dirge in the Dark” last night some, in bits and pieces here and there, because I couldn’t truly focus on anything for very long. I think the story is going to turn out really well, actually, which pleases me. I’ll try to spend some more time with it today and tonight, see if I can get that draft finished, and I also need to start working with Bury Me in Shadows again. I need to rouse myself from this stupor and start getting things taken care of again. That’s pretty much all I can do, and all of the negativity of the last year or so needs to be ignored, put away, shunted aside and locked up in a dark corner of my mind. I need to focus on me, and my career, and the things I have to get done; and not worry about things that are beyond my control.

I had also intended to go to the gym last night, but I was tired and got home late from the office. I decided to take the night off from working out and just go tonight when I get home from work; at least tomorrow I don’t have to get up at six in the morning, and then I can go on Friday and Sunday quite happily. There’s not an LSU game this weekend I don’t think, so I can spend all day Saturday cleaning and writing and reading–as I mentioned after the disappointment of last weekend’s LSU game, I no longer am vested in either the conference or national races, so I only have to watch LSU games and can ignore the rest of them quite happily while getting things done that I need to get done.

I want to finish reading The Hot Rock, and I also want to get back to both the Short Story Project as well as the Diversity Project. I feel like a lot of things have slid this year, and I need to snap out of this pandemic stupor and get back to being on top of things. There’s no telling when any of this might end, and I need to stop pinning thoughts on my mental bulletin board with post-its attached reading for when the pandemic is over. We’re going into month seven, with no end in sight, and I can’t keep pushing things back on my lists–no matter how much I want to.

I feel like this morning, in some ways, I’ve woken up, shaken off the malaise and stupor of the last year, and am seeing everything with a cold, dispassionate, clear eye. We shall see how long it lasts, of course–I know I’ll get tired again this afternoon, and run out of steam at some point, and of course going to the gym tonight will be exhausting–but might as well make some hay while I can.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

Vampires

And now we found ourselves at the dawn of a Saturday, the first day of a new weekend, which are always, inevitably, far too short.

I have requested a book from the library which is the beginning of my research into Chlorine; and I will be picking that up today as I run a couple of errands in the heat of the day. My goals for the weekend are to finish reading Blacktop Wasteland and get Chapters 1-10 of Bury Me in Shadows completed; which of course is preparatory to getting the next ten chapters revised and redone and rewritten over the next week. It is a rather ambitious program, to be sure–and I am also certain at some point I’ll get tired and stop, then berate myself all week that I’m not further along with it than I am. You know, second verse, same as the first.

Yesterday–hell, this entire past week–was not a particularly pleasant one, and my usual go-to when I am not having a good week–being kind to people and trying to help them–also blew up in my face, which, while incredibly unpleasant, is actually fine. Usually, when there’s not a pandemic, I get to be kind and caring and helpful to my clients pretty much every day of the week, and that, inevitably, always makes me feel better about the world (and people) in general. I miss having that daily release of kindness and caring, of being sympathetic to people and listening to their concerns and helping them to feel better about things, but…I also need to recognize that outside of my job, in the real world other people don’t necessarily give a shit about my help, or need it, or particularly want it, and that the people I help at work are actually my clients, and they want help, they’re worried and need someone to be empathetic and kind and ease their fears. I also need to remember that people in my every-day-not-coming-in-for-an-appointment life might actually see my offers of help and caring as something else entirely, and not receive it well. I also need to remember that people I only know through pleasant enough internet interactions actually aren’t people I know, and I should save my empathy, caring, and kindness for people who actually are my friends–of whom there are, in fact, a lot.

It was, all in all, a stressful week, an up and down rollercoaster of emotions and triggers and psychological distress. As I tell my clients at the office, it’s normal to feel stress and worry and fear about getting any kind of diagnostic medical test, even when you’re absolutely mostly certain there’s nothing to worry about–there’s always that gnawing fear that this will be the time the news is bad, and being who I am, I inevitably try to prepare myself for the news to be bad. This is no doubt the psychological residue of years of getting HIV tests and nervously waiting the two or more weeks to get the results back while people I knew were going into the hospital and not coming back out; of going in and having the blood drawn and going through the entire session of data gathering and demographics and behavioral risks that always –while not the intent of the counseling, of course–left me feeling like an irresponsible drunken whore who deserved to die. One of the reasons I went into this line of work was to make sure that everyone who comes in to get tested knows that the person testing them cares about them, doesn’t judge them, and is doing everything in their power to make them more comfortable and relaxed. I treat all my clients with dignity and respect and empathy, and I have found that actually works, for the most part, in the world outside of my testing office as well.

I really miss doing my job every day.

And yesterday, of course, I had to take Paul out to Metairie to get his eye cleaned, and while it’s been sixteen years, being reminded by something as innocuous as an eye cleaning appointment inevitably still weighs heavily on me emotionally. Some years I make it through the anniversary without thinking about it; most days it doesn’t cross my mind, and sometimes can go for great stretches of time without thinking about or being reminded of it; it’s now mostly a part of the distant past. Yet it still lives on in my memories, even if they are pushed to the back most of the time, they are still there, and when something like yesterday’s appointment rolls around those memories will crowd their way up to the front of my mind, and even though I try not to allow them to affect (for fuck’s sake, it’s been sixteen years) me emotionally, they still somehow weigh heavily on me and drag me down. All the way to Metairie yesterday I was snapping and cursing out other drivers–okay, I do that every time I drive because New Orleans seriously has the worst and stupidest and most careless drivers of anywhere I’ve ever lived–but yesterday I felt particularly angry with them all for putting our lives at risk with their carelessness and stupidity.

Which is why I never understand how people are amazed about the anti-vaxxers and the anti-maskers; all you ever have to do to see how little most people care about anyone else’s lives or safety is go for a drive. I saw a meme months ago about the “shopping cart test” being an excellent way of determining what kind of person someone is; do you leave the cart abandoned in the middle of the parking lot, blocking a parking space, or do you return it to the front of the store or to a cart corral which is a short walk, at most, from wherever you are parked? (It should come as no surprise to anyone that most people just abandon the carts where they are once they’ve finished using them–which means a low wage employee has to walk around the entire parking lot retrieving the carts, sometimes in the broiling sun. I always either put the cart in the corral or walk it back to the front of the store–but with the caveat being that in college I worked at Toys R Us and sometimes, in the broiling heat of 115 degree summer days, had to go on cart duty. I know firsthand how shitty of a job that is, and so I try to do my little part to make it easier for the unfortunate soul whose job it is. On the rare occasions when I eat fast food I always throw my trash away and leave the tray on the space provided in every fast food place for them, usually on top of the actual trash bin. I honestly don’t think it’s mean-spirited; I think it’s thoughtlessness for the most part–someone else will take care of this for me. And sure, it is someone’s job–but there’s no rule that says we can’t make things easier for someone doing their job by doing something as simple and easy as dumping your trash or returning a shopping cart to a corral–just like I don’t understand why people don’t drive with a concern for the safety of themselves, let alone others.

We finished the second season of Babylon Berlin last night with a massive binge of almost the entire season in one sitting, beginning at seven pm and finishing just after eleven–I hesitate to think we actually watched as many as seven episodes, but I really think we must have, because I seem to recall finishing Season One and watching the first episode of Season 2 on Thursday night. I cannot praise the show nearly enough–Paul and I are getting to the point where we have very little interest in watching American television programs anymore, because the foreign ones are so much better. There are about, on a quick check, three or four books in the series; I do have the first one on hand, and I may move on to it when I finished Blacktop Wasteland, hopefully this weekend.

So, my plan is to shake off yet another shitty week and get my head cleared and back on straight and dive back into my work. I am treating myself to making cappuccinos this morning rather than having my usual coffee; grinding beans and frothing milk and making espresso–it’s really not a lot of trouble, honestly; it’s more about the mess it makes more than the process–a lot of moving parts that need to be cleaned afterwards more than anything else. (I love the smell of beans being ground!) The kitchen/office is, as always on a Saturday morning, messy and in need of being put in order; the ongoing battle to get organized rages on.

Yesterday, after making my phone calls and while making my daily quota of condom packs, I discovered that the old ABC Movie of the Week The Night Stalker was available on Youtube –a lot of those old made for television movies from the early 1970’s/late 1960’s are on Youtube–. but not particularly good copies; whenever I try to watch one I am inevitably disappointed by the poor quality of the film. It seems like someone used their VCR to record them as a general rule, and then uploaded them–with all the usual glitches and scratchiness and poor reproduction one would expect from an old VCR tape (this was the case with some I have watched, like Go Ask Alice and The House That Would Not Die, which was based on Barbara Michaels’ brilliant novel Ammie Come Home); I was delighted to see that this was not the case with The Night Stalker–it was almost like the film had been digitized before uploading. The picture was very clear, the colors bright, and absolutely no fuzziness. The sound quality was also very high. The Night Stalker, and its sequel, The Night Slasher, were two of the more popular ABC Movies of the Week, and wound being the basis for a series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was kind of a mid-to-late 1970’s version of The X Files. The series didn’t do very well, was pretty roundly mocked for cheesiness and poor quality, and didn’t last more than a season, but surprisingly enough, The Night Stalker holds up pretty well, despite being obviously dated and produced on a shoestring budget (the producer was Dan Curtis, of Dark Shadows fame); but the heart of the movie is Darren McGavin’s brilliant portrayal of Carl Kolchak, a world-weary, down on his luck investigative journalist who has been fired from many major newspapers in his career and had wound up working at a paper in Las Vegas, which at the time was kind of a backwater casino town (its still a casino town, but a much bigger city now; I don’t know if one would consider it a backwater or a comedown from Boston or Chicago or Washington anymore; maybe). The premise of the film is young women are being murdered, and their bodies drained of most of their blood; the second body is found in a dried out gulley with no footprints around it; which means it must have been thrown quite a distance to get where it was. Kolchak begins to slowly believe that there’s a vampire in Vegas (Vampire in Vegas is actually a great title), despite resistance from both the higher-ups at the paper and the police, and he begins to gather the evidence. He tracks down the vampire finally, and kills it by driving a stake through it’s heart just as the police arrive–and of course, his story is spiked and he is threatened with prosecution for murder if he doesn’t leave town. The girl he is seeing, who works in a casino, is played by Carol Lynley; she is also forced to leave town without even getting a chance to say goodbye to him. The story holds up pretty well–and it is interesting seeing Las Vegas as it was in the early 1970’s, which is vastly different than it is now; and watching it made me a little sad–the death of print journalism for the most part over the last twenty years has forced that kind of character, once so integral to the crime genre–the crusading, world-weary journalist–into retirement. Journalists and journalism was also a popular genre of television and film, too–remember Lou Grant? I had always wanted to write a book about a newspaper and how it operates, a kind of Arthur Hailey type thing, with characters at every level, from the publisher down to the copy clerks. Maybe it could still be done today; I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea, but one that has languished in my files for decades and will probably continue to do so.

I also think a study of the evolution of the vampire story would be an interesting read, going back to pre-Dracula writings and then tracing its evolution through modern times; how Dark Shadows and Chelsea Yarbro Quinn changed the face of the vampire tale and made Anne Rice’s novels possible; and all the other vampire stories, like ‘salem’s Lot and Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls. Maybe someone already has? I know Stephen King covered some of this material in Danse Macabre, but that is nearly forty years (!) out of date, and I doubt he will be doing an updated version anytime soon.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

The Survivors

So, let’s talk about 13 Reasons Why, shall we? Especially now that I’ve discovered the amazing treasure Netflix had waiting for me that is the Spanish show Elite. (There will be much, more more on its magnificence to come, rest assured.)

If you’ve not watched the show–its final season or any of its previous, or still might want to read the book–you should move away at this instant because there are spoilers a-plenty a-coming. You’ve been warned.

I got sucked into this show in its initial season, and even then, it was problematic to me on several levels. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed watching–even as I rolled my eyes from time to time and hated myself for not switching it off (Really? A box of cassette tapes the kids passed around between each other without anyone outside the group finding out? I also read the book after I watched the first season–and the cassettes were archaic and a jarring note in it, and it was old by the time the show aired). But the young actors were all appealing, it was pretty well written if a bit contrived at times (see box of cassette tapes–oh, and a thirty year old Walkman that still works. Please. I was lucky if one of mine lasted a year), and there were some surprises that caught me off guard, and its sentimentality was actually earned. The show began going off the rails in the second season, sort of redeemed itself (while still off the rails) in its third, and in its fourth–well, let’s just say it was time for the show, its cast, and its viewers to be put out of our collective misery.

Ani, the annoying and insufferable new character they inexplicably wove into the third season to humanize their monstrous rapist/serial assaulter, Bryce, for some unknowable reason, was left out of a lot of the fourth season, and wasn’t a major player at all; so what was the whole point of her character in the first place? Oh, yes, she served as a plot device; the incredibly smart stranger who came into this messy high school, got to know everyone, and somehow got all of them–keeping deep, dark, criminal secrets–to not only confide in her but allowed her to use her intelligence to help them cover up everything and frame a dead kid. To add insult to injury, they bring in yet another almost complete stranger in the fourth season to essentially to play the same role of plot device. This is Winston, the pretty, artistic, dreamy-looking gay boy from Hillcrest–the school Bryce transferred to after his rape trial. If you will recall, Winston hooked up with one of Bryce’s asshole football buddies at a Hillcrest party–this would be Monty, who came to the party looking for Bryce–and then, after the hook-up, beat the shit out of Winston in front of the entire party. Winston and Monty somehow after that became a thing–because yes, I agree; the closet is a terrible place but to self-loathingly beat the shit out of a kid you just hooked up with–and then the kid doesn’t hate and loathe his basher but sleeps with you again?

How is this different from the romance novels where a rape victim falls in love with her rapist?

And falls in love with him, to the point that he decides to give up his education at elite Hillcrest and transfer to Liberty-a much shittier school–to find out who actually did kill Bryce–the murder pinned on Monty, WHO WAS JAILED FOR SEXUALLY ASSAULTING ANOTHER MALE STUDENT WITH A BROOM–since he knows Monty’s innocent. Because he was with Monty when Bryce was murdered.

Sorry, I get that Monty’s situation was terrible. But apparently, in season 4, no one at Liberty has an issue with gay students anymore.

Charlie, Bryce’s nice football player friend, who eventually sees and understand what monsters Bryce and Monty are, is apparently bisexual–although we never saw this before, but apparently everyone knows. Alex, whose story arc of being so in love with Jessica that the thought of everything that happened to her in Season One drove him to try to take his own life? Also is now apparently bisexual–kissing first Zack (but Zack is so gay-friendly it doesn’t affect their friendship at all), then getting involved with Winston, and finally, Charlie woos him against his will and they become a couple–and not only that, they are elected Prom Royalty because nobody at Liberty is a nasty homophobe.

So why the fuck was Monty so deep in the closet and hate himself, and his own desires, so much that he would sexually assault one boy and then physically assault another? IT MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE. Yes, his dad is an abusive asshole and probably homophobic, but truly if no one at Liberty has a problem with it…even Diego, the new football star who came out of nowhere but was also supposedly so close to Monty that he’s willing to try to “date” Jessica to get her to tell him the truth, IS FINE WITH IT WHEN WINSTON EXPLAINS HOW HE KNOWS MONTY DID’T KILL BRYCE. He just shrugs it off as nothing.

And remember–the peeping tom photo of Hannah kissing another girl which was one of the reasons why in season one? If it was not a big deal to anyone, why was Hannah so humiliated? She was mocked; it was yet another major “Hannah is a slut” moment. I guess we’re all supposed to believe that after Hannah killed herself, all these kids at Liberty grew? The ones who never heard the tapes and didn’t know any of the truth about what was happening, or what had happened?

Contrived, contrived, contrived.

Even writing out these brief sketches of things that have happened over the years on this show makes me realize just how ridiculous any of this. But that was part of the problem. The show was this insane, improbable storyline that just kept getting more and more melodramatic and tragic, trying to outdo previous seasons, but with a slightly moralistic tone to it; always pulling back, become a “very special show” like when sitcoms in the 1980’s would try to tackle a current issue and teach a valuable lesson, that inevitably included some inane guest star in an insane attempt to boost ratings and win Emmy nominations. (They rarely, if ever, did.)

And Winston falling in love with his gay-basher wasn’t even the craziest, most contrived part of season four (nor was Alex’s out of nowhere bisexuality; and let me be clear here: I don’t have a problem with bisexuality. But bisexual representation deserves better than what they got here). That would be the sudden discovery that Justin–poor old hard luck, heroin addicted Justin, who had finally gotten his shit together, gotten adopted into a family that loves and accepts him (the Jensen), and even got accepted into Berkeley–has HIV/AIDS after he collapses at the prom, and is dead within a few days.

Yes, as a sex worker and drug addict he was at high risk. Yes, drug abuse can weaken the immune system and the disease can progress even faster as a result. He could have gotten infected from one of his sex-work clients, or from sharing a needle–although it seemed whenever he was using he did it by himself–but even so, in this day and age, a young white teenager with access to health care, even if he was undiagnosed and his HIV had progressed to an AIDS diagnosis, will most likely not die, nor would the hospital and the doctors just shrugged and given him up for dead so quickly. (And don’t think I didn’t notice the lesions that started showing up on his neck and hands and so forth several episodes before; living through the 1980s’s fucking trained me to notice that shit, so I kept thinking, as we went through the last few episodes they better not be giving him AIDS, they better not be giving him AIDS…and guess what? They not only gave him AIDS, but they let him die from it.

And that kind of pissed me off.

Rather than go with a good message for the mostly young audience of the show (get tested! It’s important! Use condoms!) they chose to use this storyline as a scare tactic instead, and further stigmatize HIV/AIDS and those who live with it. They didn’t even emphasize the need for testing to catch it early. Nope, just “you can’t get tested without giving consent” (it’s true still in most of the country),and nothing else.

It just felt…contrived. Let’s kill off one of the main cast as a tearjerker to close out the show and somehow let everyone heal! Bitch, please.

And of course, when Jessica–who may have been exposed–and Diego–whom she slept with and might have put at risk, get tested…they talk about how she and Justin “always used protection.” WHY is so fucking hard to say condoms? It is fucking 2020, call it what it is. CONDOMS. It sounds so forced, so unrealistic, so jarringly wrong to hear a teenager–anyone, really–say “we used protection” when they would say “We used condoms.”

And for the record, condoms aren’t 100% at blocking HIV infection, either.

We deserved better than what we got with this show, and yes, I should have stopped watching. But come on.

Watch Elite instead.