Cool Change

Saturday morning and I slept late, which felt positively marvelous. I feel rested and ready to kick some ass and take some names–at least for now, at any rate. Paul is going to be out of the house most of the day–appointments and going to the office–and therefore I have the Lost Apartment to myself for most of the day and no excuse not to get a lot of things done. I am still planning on walking over to the AT&T store to replace my phone–who knows how that is going to go?–but other than that, my day is pretty much set for cleaning, revising, and reading.

Last night, we started watching the new Netflix show The Umbrella Academy, based on the Dark Horse comic series–and while I didn’t madly love it, I am curious enough to continue watching. For one thing, it has both Ellen Page and Tom Hopper (who I’ve been crushing madly on since his days as Billy Bones on Black Sails), and it has an interesting premise. We will be continuing with it tonight, I think. I had just started reading Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long when Paul got home last night, and then was distracted by getting caught up on How to Get Away with Murder and then The Umbrella Academy.

And I’ve been dealing with yet another Apple upgrade issue that has fucked with my desktop, laptop, phone and iPad since last night. Now the cloud drive is missing from both my desktop and my laptop (I managed to resolve the handheld device issues last night) and so am trying to get that resolved this morning. Seriously, Apple–when you update/upgrade your systems, is it absolutely necessary to fuck up everything for your customers? 

Seriously, Apple. Do better.

So I am trying to resolve all this before scheduling a call from Apple Support…which I also don’t understand; you used to be able to do this in an on-line chat, but now of course they make you take a phone call. Why, precisely? And how able-ist is this? What about those of us who are hard of hearing, or those who are deaf? Seriously, fuck you in the ass without lubrication, Apple. HARD.

Thank you for allowing me to vent about these issues, Constant Reader. It’s helping me reduce the future body count.

This week I got a copy of Kyle Onstott’s bestselling Mandingo from the 1950’s. As Constant Reader is aware, I’ve been trying to diversify not only my fiction reading but to learn more about the horrible history of race in North America. Part of this has taking an amorphous shape in my head around a lengthy essay, tracing revisionism of slavery and the Old South and civil rights from such novels as The Clansman (which was filmed as Birth of a Nation) to Gone with the Wind to To Kill a Mockingbird and The Klansman, which I recently reread. As I was scrolling through Amazon Prime looking for something to watch the other night, I came across the late 1970’s film Mandingo, and remembered that it was also a novel. I bought a copy from eBay which arrived this week (I wasn’t able to get far in the movie because it was just incredibly bad; not even campy bad, like Showgirls, just bad.) The book arrived this week and….just looking at the note from the publisher in the beginning was horrifying. Yet Mandingo might just be the only novel about slavery and the Old South that actually tears the veneer of respectability and gentility away and exposes the true horror of what the “peculiar institution” was actually like. (Even John Jakes’ dreadful North and South series never delved deeply into the actual horrors; Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad was one of the first novels to truly explore this that I’ve read.) Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, set in New Orleans before the Civil War, also does a terrific job of exploring how deeply entrenched and horrible racism/slavery were.

This essay I am thinking about would probably wind up, should I ever have the time to read the books and write it (it would, for example, require a reread of Gone with the Wind and it’s over eleven hundred pages, as well as some in depth reading of actual history) would probably be a part of Gay Porn Writer: The Fictions of My Life…which is a project I really do want to work on someday.  Mandingo takes on an aspect of slavery and the South that is rarely, if ever, touched on in fictions: the sexual abuse of the female slaves by their masters (come on, like it never happened. Really?) as well as the breeding of actual slaves for better, more valuable stock, as well as raising them for fighting–kind of a human version of cock-fighting or dog-fighting. Is it more likely that never happened, or that it did? Slavery, as Harriet Beecher Stowe repeatedly explained in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, debases both slave and master; are we really supposed to believe that slave-owners didn’t abuse their ‘property’?

Given how people of color–theoretically free and equal in the eyes of the law in the twenty-first century–are treated in the present day, I’m not buying the notion of the kind, gracious slave owner.

Take, for example, this passage from the Publisher’s Note to the movie tie-in paperback edition which I just received in the mail:

From today’s vantage point,, almost a hundred years after the cataclysm, the developing situation may be viewed objectively. Actually, the finger of blame should be pointed at no one geographical group of people. Although the factions that promoted the abolition of slavery were ethically in the right (emphasis: mine), Southern planters in general are shown to have been victims of circumstance rather than diabolical tyrants as they have sometimes been painted. (again, emphasis mine.)

Doesn’t get more apologetic than that, does it? Those poor planters. (massive eye roll)

And is it any wonder that we still have so many societal problems of racial injustice today?

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Devil with a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly

I decided that for 2019 I was going not only to continue, regarding my reading, with the Short Story Project but was also to create and dedicate myself to a new reading project: The Diversity Project, which entailed reading books and stories by marginalized authors. Marginalized authors, of course, can mean anything from authors of color to queer ones to women, for that matter; pretty much anyone other than a straight white cisgender man. I’ve been reading mostly  women authors for the last few years, with the occasional straight man thrown into the mix, and my reading has primarily focused on crime novels, with the occasional horror novel thrown in. Over the years, I’ve been supportive of marginalized writers; I’ve been buying their books and helping to publicize them on social media…but I’ve not been actually reading the books, despite hearing wonderful things about the writers and seeing them win awards. I came to realize this was white privilege in a nutshell and kind of a subconscious bow to white supremacy; whether it was intentional or not I would buy the books but when it came time to select something to read…I always reached for a book by a white writer and justified it with the rationale well, women writers are also marginalized; this is why Sisters in Crime exists in the first place.

But it isn’t enough and it’s definitely the mentality of the limousine liberal–who is all about marginalized people and their rights, but never has anyone from a marginalized community in their home.

If I am going to talk the talk I need to walk the walk.

My adult life has been an education on race, an education that continues as I grow older. As I was saying to one of my younger co-workers the other day, who was telling me about visiting a Civil Rights museum…I remember the Civil Rights Movement. It happened during my lifetime, and I saw it all on television, on the news. The recent blackface scandal in Virginia? I was about the same age as the  governor of Virginia when he did his blackface. I can honestly say I don’t remember anyone in college when I was there doing blackface, but I remember horribly racist “South of the Border” theme parties and “Pimps and Hos” parties which were equally bad. The history of race in America is complex and hideous and horrible; if you haven’t read Howard Zinn, I highly recommend him to you. My elementary school education was an indoctrination into white supremacy and American exceptionalism; it’s taken me years to understand that Columbus wasn’t a hero and that Andrew Jackson committed genocide, among other historical lessons that were not accurate. Gone with the Wind used to be one of my favorite books and favorite films; now I can see how problematic they are, and I question my embrace of both. (At some point, I am going to sit down and reread Gone with the Wind, which, at over a thousand pages, is a gargantuan task. But I think reading it as a more aware adult in my late fifties, with my eyes more open to the barbarities of slavery and plantation life, would be an interesting thing to do; particularly since it, along with Birth of a Nation, did more than anything else to perpetuate the mythology of the genteel Southern plantation way of life. I tried watching Mandingo on Amazon Prime the other day–it was a much more, I think, realistic look at the barbarity of slavery than Gone with the Wind but it was hindered by being a terrible movie.)

So I selected Walter Mosley to kick off the Diversity Project (the actual first book I read for this was William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, but after reading it decided it didn’t count). And Devil in a Blue Dress, the first Easy Rawlins novel, is quite a gem of private eye fiction.

I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar. It’s not just that he was white but he wore an off-white linen suit and shirt with a Panama straw hat and bone shoes over flashing white silk socks. His skin was smooth and pale with just a few freckles. One lick of strawberry-blond hair escaped the band of his hat. He stopped in the doorway, filling it with his large frame, and surveyed the room with pale eyes; not a color I’d ever seen in a man’s eyes. When he looked at me I felt a thrill of fear, but that went away quickly because I was used to white people by 1948.

I had spent five years with white men and women, from Africa to Italy, through Paris, and into the Fatherland itself. I ate with them and slept with them, and I killed enough blue-eyed young men to know that they were just as afraid to die as I was.

The white man smiled at me, then he walked to the bar where Joppy was running a filthy rag over the marble top. They shook hands and exchanged greetings like old friends.

Easy is a World War II vet originally from Houston who’s moved to Los Angeles to work in a factory–following in the footsteps of any number of people of color who fled the South to the factories of the West Coast and the Midwest in the post-war years, not only to escape Jim Crow but to improve their lives (poor Southern whites also did the same; my parents among them). Easy owns a house, of which he is justifiably proud, but also recently lost his factory job and is worried about losing said house…which makes him more susceptible to an offer of work from DeWitt Albright, the white man in Joppy’s Bar. Basically the job pays a hundred dollars and all Easy has to do is locate a white woman named Daphne Monet…but as ever in a hardboiled/noir novel, there is a lot more going on than that, and this simple task involves Easy in a dangerous world of corrupt racist cops, politics, and gangsters. The hardboiled sensibility of crime fiction is given a brilliant overhaul by Mosley in this novel; invigorating the genre in much the same way Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, and Sue Grafton did when they gave a tired genre a shot of adrenalin in the early 1980’s, bringing the genre back from the almost-dead.

Devil in a Blue Dress does much the same, and really, is there anything more noir or hard-boiled than the life of people of color in American society? As I watched the movie last night (after finishing the book I found the film on Amazon Prime, and it’s also quite good), the scenes where Easy is basically the victim of police brutality and has zero recourse come across much more vividly on the screen than on the page–and the scenes in the book were pretty fucking powerful. How do people exist in a society where justice is regularly denied them by the people who are supposed to provide it for them?

And that, I think, is the key. As a gay man, I constantly struggle with the idea that justice and fairness, the two things I was raised to believe are the cornerstones of American society and government, aren’t available to everyone. We are raised to believe as white Americans that the criminal justice system works for everyone, and it is our recourse whenever we are victims of crime. We want to–need to–believe that the police and the system enforce the law equally and fairly for everyone, and realizing, and recognizing, that isn’t true shakes our foundation of belief in everything, so we tend to look the other way and pretend that isn’t true.

But denying there’s a problem means the problem never gets fixed.

And injustice for one means there’s no justice for all.

I highly recommend this book, and can’t wait to read more of Mosley’s work.

devil in a blue dress