Walking on Broken Glass

Sometimes I try to remember the first time I saw or heard or watched or read something, anything, that made me feel less weird, less like an outsider…often to no avail. I can never remember if it was That Certain Summer (a very SPECIAL ABC Movie of the Week), or reading Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, or discovering The Front Runner on the paperback racks at the News Depot on Commercial Street in Emporia; and then I will remember something else, some vague memory of something–hints about Richard the Lion-Hearted in Norah Lofts’ The Lute Player, or subtle hints here and there throughout history (Edward II and Piers Gaveston; Louis XIV’s brother Phillippe Duc D’Orleans; James I and Robert Carr; Achilles and Patroclus)…Mary Renault’s Alexander the Great series…I can never remember precisely the first time I was exposed to who and what I am in popular culture, nor can I remember if it was positive or negative. I do know that in my own life, it was made very clear to me when I was very young that what I am was not normal, was unacceptable, wasn’t what I was supposed to be. My earliest memories are of me not being like other boys, and it took me a while to realize that the others were just playing at being boys (something I was never very good at) and were actually like that; that they weren’t, underneath, just like me, just better at pretending than I was.

This is why we have emphasized, as a community, the importance of representation in popular culture; kids needs to see themselves reflected in the culture they consume so they don’t feel like they don’t belong. Queer kids aren’t raised queer; we don’t learn how to be queer by interacting with our peers (who are mostly straight when we are kids), nor do we learn anything about being queer while we are inside the educational system in this country. I’ve always firmly believed that queers take longer–at least in the olden days–to form lasting romantic relationships because we don’t have “trial runs” when we are kids; we don’t get to date, we don’t get to “go steady”, etc. We don’t get to play House with other kids of the same gender, we don’t learn societal and cultural expectations about relationships and how they work when we are actually kids. Our queer adolescence doesn’t actually start until we come out–admit it to ourselves without shame, and then start telling our family and our friends and our co-workers that we aren’t wired the same way they are. It’s very tricky, and very complicated and sometimes very messy.

Representation absolutely matters.

And we cling to that representation when it shows up. When a prime time show like SOAP introduces the first long-running gay character to the world in Jody Dallas (does anyone even remember this was Billy Crystal’s big break, playing gay on a sitcom in the 1970’s/early 80’s?), we watch–even if the depiction is problematic to the extreme (you also learn very early that your hunger for representation will also force you to turn a blind eye to some things). Steven Carrington on Dynasty, the terrible film Making Love from the early 1980’s, as well as some other problematic depictions and films along the way–we took what we got, and always had to remember that these characters and stories also had to be palatable to straight people…that, in fact, these characters and stories were created with straight people in mind.

As they used to say, “but will it play in Peoria?”

As i stare down sixty this month, I am very happy to see that representation becoming common-place. It’s lovely to see gay books–THRILLERS, even–being published by major presses with queer characters in them. It’s lovely seeing straight writers including sensitive depictions of queer characters and their stories in their books.

And over the year, yes, problematic tropes that can make you very, very tired have also developed–which makes me wary every time I approach a book by a non-queer person that takes on a trope without hesitation, as S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears does, and that trope is one of the biggest and most hated by the queer community: bury your gays.

Ike tried to remember a time when men with badges coming to his door early in the morning brought anything other than heartache and misery, but try as he might, nothing came to mind.

The two men stood side by side on the small concrete landing of his front step with their hands on their belts near their badges and guns. The morning sun made the badges glimmer like gold nuggets. The two cops were a study in contrast. One was a tall but wiry Asian man. He was all sharp angles and hard edges. The other, a florid-faces white man, was built like a powerlifter with a massive head sitting atop a wide neck. They both wore white dress shirts with clip-on ties. The powerlifter had sweat stains spreading down from his armpits that vaguely resembled maps of England and Ireland respectively.

Ike’s queasy stomach began to do somersaults. He was fifteen years removed from Coldwater State Penitentiary. He has bucked the recidivism statistics ever since he’d walked out of that festering wound. Not so much as a speeding ticket in all those years. Yet here he was with his tongue dry and the back of his throat burning as the two cops stared down at him. It was bad enough being a Black man in the goo ol US of A and talking to the cops. You always felt like you were on the edge of some imaginary precipice during any interaction with an officer of the law. If you were an ex-con, it felt like the precipice was covered in bacon grease.

“Yes?” Ike said.

My faulty memory doesn’t remember how and when I first became aware of S. A. Cosby. What I do remember is that I bought and read one of his earlier works (perhaps his debut?) My Darkest Prayer, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hard-boiled with a healthy dose of noir, I had a great time reading it–and was thrilled when his Blacktop Wasteland debuted to raves and attention and lots of recognition. Cosby can write like a house afire; and while he keeps up a rat-a-tat pace of story, he also manages to construct sentences and paragraphs beautifully, with a poet’s gift for language–spare and tight, yet poetic and beautiful at the same time (Megan Abbott is the Galactic Empress of this).

So, when I heard the “elevator pitch” for Razorblade Tears, I inwardly winced a bit, even as I had to admit Shawn’s guts; taking on bury your gays is a ballsy move–and also a bit of a dangerous one. If you don’t stick the landing…you’re fucked.

For those of you who don’t know what bury your gays means, it’s very simple: a show, or a book, or a movie, will introduce gay characters (lesbians, queers, whatever initial in the all encompassing umbrella those characters might choose for their identity), get the audience (and especially the queer viewers) deeply vested in them–and then kill them off suddenly and unexpectedly, all so the other queer characters (but usually the straight ones) will experience some kind of personal growth…in other words, you introduce a gay man into your narrative simply to later use him as a plot device, so the other characters can mourn and experience personal growth.

That’s probably explained badly, but you get the gist: gays will inevitably die. A good example of this is the so-called groundbreaking AIDS movie, Philadelphia–but the Tom Hanks character in that movie existed so that Denzel Washington’s character could grow and develop and move on from his own homophobic beliefs and fears about HIV/AIDS; as Sarah Schulman, one of our community’s finest minds, once said, “the entire point of Philadelphia is to make straight people feel better about HIV/AIDS and the gay men dying from it.” (Sections of her book Stagestruck: Theatre, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America are absolutely brilliant; it should be required reading for any Queer Studies course.)

The plot of Razorblade Tears is so deeply steeped in “bury your gays” that the gays are already dead when the book opens. The gays in question–Derek and Isiah–were brutally murdered, and the police don’t seem to care too much about looking into who killed them. Their homophobic fathers–both ex-cons–decide to look for their son’s killers. Both Ike and Bobby Lee feel a lot of guilt about their sons and how they rejected them both–their relationship, their eventual marriage, their child–while they were alive; finding their killers isn’t just about revenge but also a matter of atonement. In some ways, it’s like this book is borne from the anger every queer child rejected by their parents feels–you’ll be sorry when I’m dead.*

Ike and Bobby Lee are, indeed, sorry now that their sons are dead.

This also falls into another long-existent fictional trope: don’t fuck with a father. How many films (I’m looking at you, Liam Neeson), books or television shows are about a father’s rage, a father’s revenge, what a father will do to save or avenge their children?

Ike and Buddy Lee aren’t supermen, though. Cosby’s strength (besides his ability with words and images) is how well he creates characters and makes them human through their faults and frailties. Ike and Buddy Lee don’t much like each other as the story begins to move along–I kept thinking of the old Sidney Poitier/Tony Curtis movie, The Defiant Ones–but their ability to look past their own internal prejudices to see the commonalities between them as they unite in this foolhardy crusade to avenge their murdered sons is the real strength of the book here. (As well as the language.) You eventually start to understand them, care about them, want them to get their vengeance…even as you know it will bring them no peace.

I have to admit, I was hesitant to start reading this. I really was concerned I wasn’t going to be able to read it with the empathy necessary for Ike and Buddy Lee and their suffering–that I would think, yeah, well, maybe you should have thought about that when he was alive–but the book ultimately isn’t about their redemption, either; which is a genius move by Cosby. He makes their pain all too real–I cannot imagine the pain any parent should feel when their child dies–but he makes it clear there’s no easy answers here for Ike and Buddy Lee, and that pain will go on even if they get justice for their sons.

Shawn is also a master of writing about the Southern working class–about the poverty, the lack of opportunity, the societal neglect and how those factors all combine to keep those already mired in it trapped with little chance of escape; he clearly loves the rural South but not so much that he can’t expose the tragedy and ugliness that exists there.

It’s a powerful book, and I do recommend it….although the people who probably should read it inevitably won’t. I can recommend it, and do, enthusiastically; it’s a very powerful book, and it made me think–and what more can you want from art?

*sadly, I have seen all too often that a lot of those parents aren’t sorry when their rejected child dies; far too regularly they will say something along the lines of “So-and-so died for me years ago.”

Gloria

Friday with a tooth extraction looming. Not really a yay, but at the same time I’ll be delighted to get that pesky tooth problem finally taken care of–and yes, I am at that age, and of that heritage, where I am counting the teeth I have left (the real “heritage, not hate” of rural Southern people).

I spent most of yesterday making condom packs–the boxes are starting to take over the living room, so I am going to have to take them all into the office relatively soon–and getting caught up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (#lockherup) and Superman and Lois (which I love; more on that to come), and then doing laundry and straightening things up around the house. There’s still a lot to do, as always, and I was reflecting this morning (as I lazed in bed until nearly eight) that I haven’t matched last week’s writing production at all this week. Part of it is depleted creative batteries–I really drained them writing nearly twenty thousand words in a week–and said depletion inevitably brings self-doubt and imposter syndrome in its wake. I’m getting better about the imposter syndrome (about time, really) and feel a lot more confident about writing in general lately; I am feeling more like my normal, balanced self again. I’d love to get “The Sound of Snow Falling” finished this weekend, as well as the revision of chapter one of Chlorine–as well as deciding which novella to try to get finished by the July 4th weekend (I am torn between “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu”); but that’s also going to be dependent on how the tooth thing goes and what kind of pain killers I am on for the weekend. I am hoping that I’ll be able to focus and get shit done regardless of what pain killers I am taking–but I also suspect that they aren’t going to be as free and easy with them as they were the last time I had teeth pulled, which was eleven years ago (thanks greedy trash Sackler family for creating the opioid crisis! May you all burn in hell for eternity!). My email inbox also needs attention, and I really need to sit down and write out who all I owe emails to as well as answer the significant amount of them that have piled up in the meantime.

And in a worst case scenario in which I am completely leveled by the painkillers, hopefully I can at least read, or watch movies or something. I really do want to finally watch The Godfather films–yes, I know–along with any number of classic American and foreign films I’ve never seen. One of the lovely things about working at home and doing the condom packs has been getting to watch films I’ve never seen and have always wanted to, as well as the occasional rewatch of something classic, like Cabaret or The Last Picture Show. I’ve been enjoying my education in film history, great performances, and terrific film making, even if some are flawed and don’t live up to the hype (I understand the importance of The French Connection in film history, but the plot is terribly flawed, and while it doesn’t really make Popeye Doyle into a hero…it depicts him realistically as a very flawed cop…its stark realistic approach to police brutality, civil rights abuse, and systemic racism embodied in Doyle is almost painful to watch; but Hackman earned his Oscar).

I also have some other blog entries I want to get finished and posted over the weekend–an in-depth discussion of Superman and Lois, as well as something deeply personal I may never post (that old ‘bleeding in public’ thing which I still struggle with from time to time) but I am trying to embrace my past more rather than simply moving on from it; which I also recognize is kind of strange. “You’re going to talk about things in your blog that you’ve never talked about with friends over the decades?” Yes, I get that it’s strange, but I also know in writing about things from my past–the way my mind remembers them, even if they aren’t precisely accurate–will help me come to terms with some things. My methodology of never looking back and just living in the present while planning for the future may have helped me get to where I am today, but it may not have been the most emotionally healthy way for me to grow and develop, and most of all, heal. Things I thought were scarred over have not actually healed beyond a scab, which comes off rather easily once I remember it’s there–and that isn’t healthy. Freeing myself from some of these burdens from the past could certainly not hurt in any way, shape or form.

It’s getting cloudy, which might mean a thunderstorm is arriving at any moment; not sure how I feel about that. We’ve been having a lot of rain lately–and while I do love a thunderstorm (there’s something comforting about being safely warm and dry inside while it pours down outside), we’ve certainly been having an excess of them lately. The ground is already saturated, so it’s harder for the rain to be absorbed into the ground so the streets flood more easily–and as the payoff on my car draws nearer and nearer, I worry about it being ruined more than I have…

And on that bright note, I am heading into the data-entry spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone!

Video 5 8 6

Last night wasn’t perhaps the best night of sleep I could have had, but it wasn’t too bad. I think I may have gone into a deep sleep for a while, but spent some time in the dreaded, dreadful half-sleep I’ve come to know and despise. I am working at home today–the apartment is definitely in need of some straightening, organizing, and cleaning–and I have some phone calls I need to make. I also have to swing by the office at some point, because I ran out of lube for the condom packs yesterday, and thus need another case of it.

I love that I have a job where I can casually say, welp, ran out of lube again so I have to run by the office.

Pretty cool.

We finished watching season 1 of Who Killed Sara? last night, and then began watching a Freeform show–a teen crime drama I’d made note of when seeing previews a while back–called Cruel Summer. It’s an interesting show–not even based on a novel, which I thought it must have been–in that it has three different timelines; three consecutive summers, in which we see dramatic changes in the main character, Jeannette: the first summer, where she was nerdy with frizzy hair and glasses and braces (the typical way show business always depicts nerdy); the second summer, where she has transformed into a beauty whose is popular and beloved; and the third summer, where she has no friends, is hated, and has been accused of something–in the first episode we aren’t sure what happened; another pretty, popular girl is missing in the second summer timeline, and we don’t find out exactly what happened to her until the second episode. We watched the first two episodes–became completely absorbed into the story by the second, and there are two more to stream, after which we will have to wait every week for a new episode. A lot of new seasons of shows we already are into start dropping in mid-May; including Who Killed Sara?, so we should have plenty of things to watch in the upcoming months.

I started writing a short story in my journal last night; the idea has been niggling at the back of my brain for the last few days, and finally last night I started scribbling in my journal. The working title for the story is “The Glory in Damnation,” which is a great title but doesn’t really fit what I am writing, so I’ll have to come up with another. Don’t get me wrong, I like that title–will probably use it again at some point, but right now I don’t have a better one for this story so will leave it as is. (I won’t start typing into Word until I have the right title for it; I use the titles for the file names and changing file names is one of those things that I dislike doing, while being full aware it doesn’t make any sense.) I want to spend some time this weekend with my short stories, while getting ready to do revisions of #shedeservedit, and of course I need to outline the first act of Chlorine.

Hopefully, I won’t be a lazy slug this weekend and can get this all done–plus the cleaning.

While I was making condom packs yesterday, I rewatched a film I haven’t seen in a while, The Last Picture Show. The book (by Larry McMurtry) and film both had an impact on me when I was a teen; both remain on the list of my favorites. I tried to reread the book a few years ago, but stopped when I got to the part about the teen boys having sex with heifers; the book had such a weirdly nonchalant attitude toward bestiality, like it was a normal part of rural Texas boys’ growing up, that I was a bit repulsed and put the book down. I also loved the movie, and had been wanting to watch it again, to see if it would actually hold up as well as fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. It does, on both levels; and I kind of want to dive back into the book again. Peter Bogdonavich, who directed and co-wrote the movie, did an inspired job with it; this was the start of his hot streak, which included the superb What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon. The film was shot in black-and-white (as was Paper Moon), and every time I’ve watched it I marveled at the genius behind this choice. The cinematography gives the film an almost dreamy, slightly out of focus quality, which really works and makes an impact; Bogdanovich made a 1950’s style movie with an 1970’s sensibility. The acting was superb; Timothy Bottoms was fantastic as Sonny, as was Jeff Bridges as Duane, and of course, Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman won Oscars for their pitch-perfect performances as Sam the Lion and Ruth Popper–that final scene with Leachman is staggering in its impact and she earned that Oscar. Ellen Burstyn is stunning and beautiful as Lois Farrow, and Eileen Brennan’s Genevieve didn’t get nearly the accolades she deserved. Cybill Shepherd made her first appearance on film as beautiful, selfish, narcissist Jacy Farrow, and she was absolutely the right choice for that part as well. Randy Quaid also has a small role as Lester Barlow, who is instrumental to Jacy’s story; he is painfully young in this, and years away from his break with reality. When he grins, you can actually see a resemblance to his brother Dennis–which he grew out of as he got older. The film opens with a panning shot of the main street of the town of Anarene (Thalia in the book), with the only sound the howling of the wind as dust blows, and Bogdonavich ends the film with a similar panning shot, which centers firmly the dying small town as the anchor to the story. (In the book, Sonny is the emotional heart of the story.) It’s nostalgic, but not seen through rose-colored glasses; both book and movie focus on how the town and the times warped the lives of the characters; how they endure the body blows of a hard life and yet somehow continue enduring. I’m glad I watched it again–because it does indeed hold up and is a classic that doesn’t get neat the attention it should.

And on that note, I need to get back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Plastic

Sunday and a gray morning here in New Orleans. We’re supposed to have thunderstorms (some severe) throughout the day; of course I have to make groceries and go to the gym at some point–which means watching the weather to see when I can make a break for it. But other than that, I have the entire day relatively free; I finished the revisions of Bury Me in Shadows and turned them in yesterday to my editor. I think I caught everything; it’s a tricky manuscript. But as I revised and edited yesterday, I was pretty pleased with it, overall; which is a switch from the usual. I also realized one of my problems with reading my work once it’s finished is that I am rarely, if ever, able to turn off editor-mode; because I generally read my work with an eye to editing and fixing and making it stronger–and I use that mindset when I go back and read things after they’ve been published. I don’t know if there’s a switch in my head I can flip to make that change, but here’s hoping.

Paul went to a party last night–I could have gone, but was a little worn down from finishing the edits, so I stayed home and watched a documentary series on the Smithsonian Channel called Apocalypse: The Second World War, which was quite interesting to watch. Almost all of the footage used in the series was shot either by professional documentarians or journalists covering the war, or amateurs…I never cease to be amazed when I see how young the American military were during this conflict. World War II is endlessly fascinating to me, because it was such an enormous turning point for the world and civilization; the world was a vastly different place after the Axis surrender than it was before the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. It’s been a while since I read any fiction about the war–when I was a teenager I read a lot of it, as well as a lot of post-war fiction–and I realized I’d rarely read any fiction from the point of view of soldiers actually fighting on the ground or in the air (other than The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw, for the most part I read things like Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War/War and Remembrance, etc.). I’ve never read Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, for example, or any of the post-war novels that sort of glutted the market in the decades following. I got down James Jones’ From Here to Eternity–I bought a copy of the unabridged version, which was released by the estate sometime in the last decade, with all the parts the publisher originally removed restored–and I think I am going to take that with me to read when I go visit my parents later this month. It’s one of my father’s favorite books and movies–it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve seen the movie–and since my main character in Chlorine served, it’s probably not a bad idea for me to read it. I read the first couple of pages yesterday evening before I went to bed, and it’s actually quite good…so I am looking forward to reading it. After I finish the things I need to get done today, I am going to curl up and read The Butcher’s Boy with an eye to finishing it today, so I can dive into A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King.

One of the more interesting things about having all these streaming services and apps is the ability to find treasures like the Smithsonian Channel buried inside of them. As Constant Reader has undoubtedly noticed, I love documentaries, and now that we have such a glut of streaming services we pay for, I am now searching through them for documentary channels and so forth, and have been enormously pleased with what I have found thus far. (I also took advantage of a special deal for Shudder yesterday–two months at 99 cents each, before reversion to regular pricing, so am going to up my horror game for a while) There’s really never a reason to be bored, is there, with the wealth of streaming services out there? I can certainly always find something, no matter how obscure–which is also why I refuse to “rent” something to stream–although I am thinking about biting the bullet and paying to stream The Last Picture Show, which I really do want to see again.

I cleaned and organized and filed yesterday as well, which has left the kitchen looking–well, if not tidy, certainly in much better shape than it had been in–and I also started another donation box of books. I also want to start clearing out the storage attic here in the Lost Apartment, which isn’t going to be easy, and will certainly make a mess in the living room–which still looks like a storm struck it–but I really do want to start getting rid of things we don’t really need anymore, and there are a shit ton of boxes up there of unnecessary things. Progress may be incremental, but progress is progress.

And I should probably, at some point, start revising and editing the Kansas book, but I think I am going to take this week off from novels.

I started writing a short story this past week–really, just the opening sentence and a second paragraph–which also came from a novel idea. The book idea arose from a joke with some writer friends about noir fiction and noir covers, with their scantily clad sex bomb femme fatales; I joked that someone should write a noir about a strip club in the French Quarter and call it Girls! Girls! Girls! so the cover could have poll dancers and so forth on it; which then of course started the wheels in my creative brain turning and meshing the gears. A character I introduced in the later Chanse books–who eventually got her private eye license and he took her on as a partner–had worked as a stripper in the Quarter to put herself through UNO; I liked her a lot (even though her name is escaping me at the moment) and had even thought about making her the main character in a series, with Chanse as part of her supporting cast. But this was different, and called for a different character–for a while, when thinking about this, I toyed with the notion of an undercover cop or FBI agent; but then thought, in this time, could a woman be assigned to go undercover as a stripper? Maybe, but it could prove problematic. And then I remembered an intern from years ago, when I worked at the Community Center, who worked part time at the Hustler Club as a “shot girl”–her job was walking around with a tray with shots in test tubes. When someone bought one, she’d place the test tube in her cleavage and have to lean forward to dump the shot in his mouth. She hated it–she was a lesbian–but the money was so damned good she only had to work two nights a week and made enough to pay the rent and the bills and so forth. Someone could easily go undercover a shot girl–which, while still demeaning, wasn’t as demeaning as stripping. But the other day for some reason I was thinking about this again, and the thing that made the most sense was that one of the shot girls gets picked up by Vice and is forced to become an informer….which would make her walk the line between the cops and her crooked, organized crime employers, as well as with her co-workers. So, when the opening occurred to me the other day, I wrote it down and saved the file as a short story called “Shot Girl” (thereby adding yet another file to the “unfinished short story” list). I think maybe this week I’ll work on one of the unfinished stories in the drawer.

And on that note, it’s time to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Evil Dust

The sun is actually out today and there aren’t many–if any–clouds in our beautiful blue sky this morning, which is lovely. It’s rained pretty constantly ever since Tuesday afternoon, and everything outside is still wet from nearly a week of rain. I love rain–especially thunderstorms–but even I thought five straight days of them was a bit extreme. I wound up running my errands in the rain yesterday–I dropped off another five boxes of books to the Ladder Library sale yesterday (you actually can tell now that I’ve gotten rid of books)–and made groceries and got the mail. It was pouring while I did all of this, so my plans to go to the gym yesterday were finally scrapped. I also wound up taking the day off from almost everything yesterday–I think I needed a brain-free day, frankly–and so we watched a lot of television–we binged all the way through a delightful comedy called The Other Two, watched the Tom Holland movie Cherry on Apple Plus, and then switched over to Acorn for a riveting crime show called The Cry.

Yes, I was a slug all day and I am not a bit ashamed of it.

Oh, sure, I had my journal with me and scribbled notes freeform all day–my favorite is that I came up with a short story title I now HAVE to use, “To Live and Die in La.”, while having absolutely no idea what the story would actually be, but I laughed at the title and now want to. use it–so I did do something. But today I have to start revising/copy editing/making notes on Bury Me in Shadows–due to be returned to my editor no later than the first of May–and so, if I do go to the gym today (leaning towards it, since it’s sunny out) I can curl up in my easy chair to do it, so that’s a start. I really need to work on my story–the deadline for that submission call is May 15, I believe–and so I need to kick everything up a notch this week. I am getting caught up on a lot of other things as well–it’s never-ending, and have also accepted that I only have so much bandwidth for things. The emails, for example…I’ll never get caught up on those, ever…so I need to prioritize and so forth in order to get through everything that absolutely needs to be responded to immediately.

I also need to spend some time getting organized and cleaning a bit this morning. There’s filing to be done, of course–always–and somehow the kitchen looks like a tornado ripped through here (not completely an exaggeration, to be honest) and I need to get that taken care of this morning. I have a load of laundry to do, and there’s always dishes–always. I also want to organize the refrigerator a bit more this morning. Since the sun is out, I’ll probably grill hamburgers later on this afternoon, which is always an absolute treat (I really prefer all meat to be cooked over hot charcoal, frankly–or at least, most). I am also a bit excited that the next step of book decluttering (and yes, I am aware I am completely Marie Kondo-ing my apartment) is to go up into the storage attic and start clearing the boxes up there. This will, of course, be more complicated than the bookcases and the hidden boxes in the living room, since I’ll have to bring them down and go through them, combining the ones to keep (I can’t imagine there will be many of those) while putting aside the ones to donate. The goal is to clear out enough space in the storage attic so I can clean out my storage rental and close that account; most of the books in the storage are copies of my own books (and my kids’ series collection) along with some other things–mostly papers–and it would be nice to either no longer have that bill every month, or to use that space for other things…but at the moment I can’t think of anything that we’d need to keep it for.

But it would be great to lose that bill by the end of the summer.

Not as great as paying off the car, but still pretty good.

I think I’m going to add Semi-Tough to the donate pile. The first three pages are nothing but racial slurs as well as justifications for using them, and how the main character–it’s a first person narrative–isn’t really racist and the slurs are just words that don’t mean offense and so on–and yeah, I really don’t feel like spending any of my time with that kind of character. I certainly wouldn’t in real life–imagine being at dinner or a cocktail party and the person you are talking to says, and this is a direct quote from page one: Just because I may happen to say (the n-word) doesn’t mean I’m a racist.

Um, actually it does. It says a lot about you, who you are, and how you were raised, as well as how you see people and the world.

And I really have no desire to read a book filled with racial slurs…because you KNOW its also full of gay slurs, too–and most likely without the caveat justifying the racial slurs: Now listen, just because I say “faggot” doesn’t mean I’m homophobic.

Sure, Jan.

There are so many other good books to read, why reread something I originally read as a teen that plays on racism and homophobia and misogyny for humor? I stopped rereading The Last Picture Show, a book I absolutely loved, a few years ago when it got to the part about bestiality, and how it was perfectly normal for the teen boys to fuck animals…I closed the book and put it away. I may go back and reread the entire thing at some point–the reason I was rereading it in the first place was to examine how it handles homosexuality–which I distinctly remembered it doing–but I don’t think I was able to get far enough into it to get to that part. I know that Coach Popper–long-suffering Ruth’s awful husband–was a deeply repressed one, who favored one of the more athletic boys primarily because of his attraction to him; that the preacher’s son Billy Bob Blanton was often mocked and teased and bullied and humiliated for being a “four-eyed queer” (before he molests a little girl, after which he’s taken away as a pervert); and that the heterosexual English teacher, who was cultured and sensitive and kind, was accused by the coach of impure thoughts and fired (everyone, of course, would never suspect the manly football coach of anything, or question him); and I remembered a particular poignant scene between the fired English teacher–who’s been fired, whose wife has left him and taken their daughters and filed for divorce–and Ruth, where he’s just so beaten down and defeated that it’s heartbreaking. But yeah–that whole “boys will be boys” attitude towards bestiality was too much for me to get through again.

The Last Two is a terrific show, and quite funny. Paul and I really enjoyed it; the premise of the show is the two older children are in their late twenties–one is a struggling actor whose most recent audition was for a commercial in which he would play “Party-goer who smells a fart”; the daughter had wanted to become a dancer until she broke her ankle and dropped out of dance school and cannot figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life–when suddenly, their thirteen year old brother puts up a video of him singing a ridiculous song (“Marry Me at Recess”) and becomes an overnight viral sensation with a record deal and a manager under the name “Chase Dreams”; which makes them feel even more like losers. The older brother, Cary, is also gay and in a weird relationship with his straight roommate; the daughter has broken up with her boyfriend and is now homeless at the beginning of the show. I thought it was terrific, frankly, and look forward to season two.

My primary takeaway from Cherry is that Tom Holland is an amazingly talented actor–he really gives a stunning performance as a poor young man who falls in love, gets his heart broken and joins the military, serves as a medic in Iraq and comes home to nothing but PTSD and drug addiction, which leads him to a life of crime. It’s a very dark story–but also weirdly a love story at the same time–and I don’t think the film, worked overall; the Russo Brothers, who directed, turned it into this big grand opera style thing in the way they shot it; to the point where the beautiful imagery is almost intrusive. It’s a very real story–based on a true story–and it highlights, very powerfully, how we abandon our troops completely after their service is over (since they’re no longer the troops….”support the troops” makes me angry because it is used primarily as a political prop and the actual soldiers themselves suffer in silence and neglect while we give billionaires and corporations every break in the world), but it’s worth watching for Tom Holland’s performance–he was also fantastic in The Devil All The Time–and it’s really nice to see him pushing himself in his non-superhero roles (he’s also the best, in my opinion, Spider-Man).

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

White Christmas

Well good morning, Constant Reader, and I hope your Saturday is off to a lovely start. I actually missed blogging yesterday–I had started the entry, but wasn’t able to finish before I had to start my work-at-home start time, and by the time I was finished for the day, it was time for the gym, and somehow I never got back here to finish. Deepest apologies, Constant Reader.

It’s chilly this morning in the Lost Apartment, but the sun is bright and shining and it looks absolutely beautiful outside this morning, which is kind of cool. I don’t have to leave the house all weekend other than the gym tomorrow, which is lovely, and I’m hoping to get some good work on the book done today. The last two days I was low energy and unable to think about getting much done, let alone do anything, so today I really need to press my nose to the grindstone and push myself to get back on track. Chapter Eighteen is proving a very tough nut to crack, but I am very pleased with the book (for a change) and am looking very forward to getting back into the groove with it.

LSU’s final game of the football season is today, against Mississippi (I refuse to call them ole miss anymore) and this can go either one of two ways: the Tigers can show up ready to play, for each other, Coach O, and the fanbase; or they can be cocky and overconfident after the Florida win, and get punched in the mouth. I’ll be watching, laptop in my lap, under my electric blanket (honestly, last night I honestly felt that human evolution, progress and civilization all culminated in the invention of the electric blanket), and hoping for the best. It’s a rivalry game called the Magnolia Bowl, and Mississippi hasn’t beaten LSU since 2015, so you know they’re hungry under their new coach, Lane Kiffin. LSU loses and they have their first losing season since 1999; win and they finish 5-5 in a crazy season.

But whatever happens, nothing can take away that win over Florida and ruining their season last weekend, which I am just petty enough to really enjoy.

We finished watching The Flight Attendant Thursday night, and the final episode was perhaps the best one of the entire run; as I have mentioned before, Kaley Cuoco is quite charismatic and likable, like Jennifer Aniston, and even though her character is primarily not very likable, she always is, and that’s an important quality for an actress…although I am rather curious about their flight schedules, because unless things have changed, I don’t think flight crews would work Rome flights as well as Bangkok. There was also a really convoluted secondary subplot that apparently only existed as a reason for one of the other flight attendants to have a gun which he needed to have, in the season finale (it was an incredible length to go to avoid the appearance of contrivance, actually; one almost has to respect the authorial commitment to it), but all the main story was properly wrapped up by the end of the finale, and there was even an opening left for a continuation of the show–also not probable, but it was kind of a nice bow tied up on the final package.

And of course, last night was the conclusion of The Mandalorian. No spoilers, but it was a pretty epic way to end the series, and I am really looking forward to The Book of Boba Fett. I think the series is now officially over–they certainly tied everything up neatly and concluded the story of the Child and Mando–and that pleases me if it is the case; the show was absolutely perfect, and as someone said on Twitter last night, “The best Star Wars movie is The Mandalorian” and I cannot disagree with that sentiment.

It’s hard to believe Christmas, frankly is next week; but this entire year has been a weird one, time has seemed to drag more than any other time, while at the same time it’s almost a relief to have made it this far. 2020 was a deeply unpleasant year, but there were some bright spots. I see everyone doing their “best of 2020” lists and I frankly can’t remember what I’ve watched and what I’ve read, other than I enjoyed almost every bit of it. I had long dry spells where I didn’t write anything, and long spells where all I wrote was the first 500 to 1000 or so words of short story before being stopped dead in my tracks. I still need to get this book revision finished so I can finish my story for the MWA anthology submissions deadline. This final part of the book is the hard part, so I suppose it’s not a surprise that it’s kind of kicking my ass.

This week was a double-feature for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, beginning with The French Connection, an Oscar winning film (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Gene Hackman) which doesn’t, I’m afraid, play well through a modern lens. I can see why the film was so impactful and impressive back in 1971, but now it plays like a lesser episode of NYPD Blue or Hill Street Blues. It was a gritty, dirty, almost documentary-like movie about a drug investigation, based on a book about a real drug bust–with the cops’ names changed to protect them. Gene Hackman is terrific as Popeye Doyle; Roy Schieder is equally good as his partner..but all I could think as I watched was, “well, that’s a violation of their civil rights” or “ah, nothing like glorifying police brutality” or “well, that entire scene was a fairly accurate depiction of racial profiling.” Popeye is an unashamed racist; the n-word pops up every now and then, and of course ethnic slurs abound–Little Italy is referred to as “Dagotown”, there’s some anti-Semitism, and of course, the French are referred to as “frogs”–but it does also have some great moments: the chase scene involving Popeye trying to catch a fugitive on an elevated train was pretty impressively shot and edited. Hackman is terrific in the role, even if Popeye is the kind of cop who would think nothing of killing a suspect in his custody….The French Connection ultimately is a pro-police violence film that tries to justify the behavior of cops who violate civil rights and are violent and abusive as necessary, and that, to me, is problematic. As far as awards go, among the films it beat out for the Oscar are The Last Picture Show (which is one of my favorite movies of all time), Fiddler on the Roof (the kind of big-budget, lavish musical that would have won the Oscar a few years earlier), Nicholas and Alexandra (another big budget extravaganza I started watching but quickly got bored with–and would have been a shoe-in for Best Picture in the 1980’s) and of course, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Second up was the 1974 film version of Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die, which was the eighth Bond film and the second novel in the series. It’s also one of the few Bond films I ever saw in the theater, and was my first Bond film. It was Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond, and it was also when the tone and tenor of the Bond films switched, IMHO–I’d have go back and watch the Connery ones again to be certain. But while Connery occasional got off the clever quip or one-liner, the films were very serious and almost grim; Moore had more of a comic sense of the character and with him in the role, the character became more cartoonish and the films more outlandish (Moonraker was completely absurd) and there are many moments in Live and Let Die where, if you think about them too long, don’t make sense: how did he know to bring a deck of tarot cards with him in which all the cards were “The Lovers,” and where did he get that deck in the first fucking place? (And this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that he basically manipulated Solitaire’s belief in the cards to get her into bed–which is rape because she was deceived into giving consent, PROBLEMATIC) There are any number of these contrivances in the plot of the film; but at the same time Live and Let Die also gave cinema it’s first Black Bond Girl, Rosie Carver (played by Gloria Hendry) and Bond’s first interracial romance, as well as the series’ first Black villains. The movie isn’t nearly as racist as the book–but it’s not exactly an achievement the Bond series should be proud of, either. But it gave the under-appreciated Yaphet Kotto a good role as Prime Minister Kananga, and introduced Jane Seymour to the world. I think I may need to read the book again–I should revisit the original Bond series, really–but one thing about Live and Let Die I do appreciate is that parts of it were filmed in New Orleans and along Bayou Des Allemandes; Louisiana looks beautiful, as does the Quarter–and this is one of those early influences on my youthful mind where I first felt the pull of New Orleans and Louisiana.

But it also boasts one of the best Bond theme songs, by Paul McCartney (or rather, Wings); it was the first time a pop band was selected to do the theme song, and it was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

Yesterday I got my copy of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson by Robert Hofler in the mail yesterday, which is the final piece (or one of the final pieces) of Chlorine background research I need to get started on the outline/plotting. My main character is a pretty boy with not much discernible talent who has a Henry Willson-like agent, whom he shares with the murder victim; I have to say the entire story of Willson, his pretty boy clients and their sexuality, endlessly fascinates me, and I am really excited to be writing a period piece gay Hollywood noir–well, eventually, at any rate. I started dipping into the book some last night and am enjoying it thoroughly. I also got a copy of Lawrence Block’s anthology From Sea to Shining Sea, which is crime stories inspired by ‘great American paintings’, and am really looking forward to digging into that. I also got a copy of Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson, because you can never have enough ghost stories around to read.

And on that note, I have some laundry to fold, a dishwasher to unload, and writing to do–so if you will excuse me for a moment, Constant Reader, I am going to head back into the spice mines.

I Know Places

This has really been a most unsettling year.

Remember as 2019 was coming to a close and we were all looking forward to that hellish year ending and a brand new start in 2020? Yeah, that’s why I am pointedly not looking forward to this year ending and a different year beginning for 2021. I’ve certainly learned my lesson.

And at least in 2019 we had the greatest LSU football season of all time to enjoy from September through January. (And yes, I still go back sometimes, when I am feeling down, blue, or depressed, and rewatch games from that wonderful season. And I won’t feel bad about it, no matter how much you try to shame me, primarily because I’m not ashamed of it.)

Today is a strange day, in which I am either working at home or taking a personal day of some sort; I haven’t really yet decided what I am actually going to do today; I have condom packing supplies and as long as I have Internet access I can do work-related things. I wasn’t quite sure what precisely I was going to wake up to this morning; the dreaded Cone of Uncertainty kept shifting gradually more and more to the east as yesterday progressed, until when I checked before going to bed New Orleans, and in fact all of southeastern Louisiana, was no longer in that dread Cone anymore. That bullseye was squarely on the panhandles of Mississippi and Alabama, and the storm had also slowed; landfall moved from the wee hours of tonight/tomorrow morning to tomorrow evening, possibly Wednesday morning. My heart breaks for that stretch of the Gulf Coast, and my friends in harm’s way–and of course, we still don’t know what to expect here. Ah, the lovely, unbearably bearable stress and suspense of hurricane season–and there’re even more systems out there in the Atlantic basin.

Hurray!

But now that I’ve checked, I see that we are going to be missed; it continues to creep forward with now landfall projected to be sometime tomorrow night, and we’re back down to merely a tropical storm warning. It’s a relief, of course, but horrible for where it’s coming ashore, as I mentioned earlier. The weather here is weird and hazy, yet still sunny; the sun is behind some haze, making it seem grayish-yellow outside my windows this morning, but there you have it.

We started watching a most delightful Mexican dramedy last night on Netflix: The House of Flowers, or La Casa de las Flores, and it is absolutely wonderful. We probably would have stayed up all night watching; fortunately, Paul had the strength and fortitude to stop the binge in its tracks.

As I was making condom packs yesterday afternoon, I continued with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, watching American Graffiti and Marathon Man. That might seem like an odd pairing, and one might not think American Graffiti actually fits into the Festival, but I remembered the one time I saw the film, decades ago, and remembered it being rather a dark film. It’s debut brought on a wave of nostalgia for the 1950’s in the 1970’s–the music, the clothes, the things the teens did in the movie–but the movie was actually set in 1962, not the 1950’s, but most of the music was from the 1950’s. American Graffiti‘s success led to another revival, for example, of the Beach Boys; eventually led to the series Happy Days (which also starred Ron Howard–although in the movie he was billed as Ronnie Howard, a holdover from The Andy Griffith Show); and sparked that 50’s nostalgia trend I mentioned earlier. The movie really doesn’t have much of a plot, other than it’s the last night in town for Steve and Curt, who are leaving the next morning for college in the east somewhere. Steve is dating Curt’s sister Laurie, who is head cheerleader and will be a senior when school starts, Curt is having second thoughts about leaving for college; Steve cannot wait to get away from the unnamed town, which was director/writer George Lucas’ hometown of Modesto. These three are played by Thomas, a very young Richard Dreyfuss, and Cindy Williams. Basically, the movie follows them and a few of their friends throughout this last night, as Steve and Curt decide about their futures. It’s really about growing up and making decisions about who you are and what your life is going to be, and while rather light-hearted in tone for the most part, there are dark elements to the movie as well–and the end, with Curt flying east, and as the plane is silhouetted against the clouds, a scroll lets us know what happens to the four male characters: Steve is an insurance salesman, Curt is a writer living in Canada, Terry is missing in action in Vietnam, and John was killed by a drunk driver. There’s a definitely 50’s feel to the movie, even though it’s set in 1962–some say the 50’s didn’t really end until the JFK assassination–but it’s not as “feel-good” as one might think. There’s sadness and poignancy in the movie, as well. And of course, it’s the film that launched numerous careers, including Lucas’; the afore-mentioned stars, Mackenzie Phillips, Suzanne Somers, Harrison Ford, and Kathleen Quinlan, among others. It wasn’t as heavy drama as The Last Picture Show, which was another dark film about teenagers in the 1950’s, but it’s still darker than most people think of it.

Marathon Man definitely belongs in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. William Goldman adapted his novel for the screen–I read the book, never saw the movie (although the sadistic dentist scene is legendary; it was much worse in the book)–and now that I’ve seen the film, there’s no question about it. The film opens with an old man going to a ban and checking his safe deposit box; his car stalls, which starts a road rage incident with another old man, with the two men swearing at each other in German and the second man realizing the first man is anti-Semitic, if not an actual Nazi, and so begins a car duel between the two that ends with both of them crashing into a fuel truck and being killed. The film then cuts to Dustin Hoffman, who is training to run a marathon. He is also working on his PhD in history, trying to clear his father’s name–his father was smeared during McCarthyism in the 1950’s and ruined, finally killing himself. Because his brother, played by Roy Scheider, works for a mysterious secret agency for the government (doing the things in that gray area between the FBI and CIA), is somehow involved with actual Nazis who escaped from Germany at the end of the war (we never really learn why our government helped those Nazis escape–although that’s actually true; in most cases it was scientists we set to work on the space program), Hoffman actually becomes involved peripherally with this case through no fault of his own, and people are now trying to not only kill him but torture him as well, trying to find out “if it’s safe”, and he has no idea what they are talking about. This is the ultimate paranoia/conspiracy movie: an innocent person being stalked and his life threatened and he has no idea why, and all he can do is try to stay alive and figure it all out (this is also the underlying story of some of Hitchcock’s best films, and many Robert Ludlum novels), and there is quite literally no one he can trust: not the woman he is seeing, not his brother’s fellow agent, and certainly not any of the Nazi henchmen. It’s a good thriller, but I don’t think it would make it today because of the pacing and the slow developing plot, but once it starts rolling it really goes quickly.

It also reminded me that another element of the 1970’s was actual Nazis; Israelis were still hunting down and exterminating war criminals, and the war and the Holocaust were still in recent enough memory that it was still very much in the public consciousness. War novels still proliferated (this was the decade Herman Wouk published both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance), it also brought forth William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and Ira Levin’s brilliant The Boys from Brazil. Ludlum’s career also got rolling in the 1970’s, and one of his first novels dealt with Nazis–as I always say, you can never go wrong with Nazis as villains, with the Vatican a close second; one of my favorite Ludlums, The Gemini Contenders, used both.

And now back to the spice mines.

Little Willy

Today’s title song always kind of amused when it was a hit; I was a tween at the time and since willy is also a euphemism for…well, you can see where this is going.

I found it highly (if more than a little bit juvenile) amusing that someone wrote a song about a small penis.

Hello, Monday morning of my sort-of-vacation! The vacation starts Tuesday evening when I get off work, actually, but it’s also kind of lovely to know I only have to work my two long days at the office this week before I can lounge around the house and do what I want when I want to do it. How lovely, right?

I did manage to squeeze out about thirteen hundred words or so on the WIP, and I also printed out the pages of the manuscript i am suppose to be dedicating myself to finishing in July. (I’ve already redone the first four chapters of it before I had to push it to the side for Royal Street Reveillon, whose time had come.) I did look at the first few pages again, and liked what I was reading. So, I’m still undecided about what to do. Should I push through on the WIP, getting that first draft finished, or should I get back to work on what I scheduled myself to do for the month of July? Truth be told, I am actually thinking that what with the five day vacation looming, I could theoretically go back and forth between the two; but the voices are so terribly different, I’m not sure how well that would work.

Yet another example of why writers drink.

I started reading Mickey Spillane’s I the Jury yesterday as well. It’s a short novel, really, and I can’t imagine it taking a long time for me to finish. I’ve never read Spillane, but of course I know all about him, his writing, his character Mike Hammer, and everything he kind of stood for. Spillane was one of the last writers who kind of became a folk hero/celebrity of sorts; it was a lot more common back in the 1950’s and 1960’s; Hemingway, Spillane, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer all were celebrities of sorts; I believe Spillane even played his own character in one of the film versions of his work. He also used to regularly appear in commercials and advertisements as Mike Hammer in the 1970’s, which is kind of hard to imagine now. It would be sort of like Stephen King being hired to do commercials and print ads for, I don’t know, Jim Beam? The author as celebrity is something I’m not sorry we’ve gotten away from as a society and a culture, quite frankly. The idea behind reading I the Jury as part of the Diversity Experiment is precisely because it’s the kind of book I’d never really read; Sarah Weinman asked the other day on Twitter if Spillane counted as camp (I personally think it does; my responses was something along the lines of “Imagine Leslie Nielsen playing him”) and then realized I needed to read at least one of the books, as part of the Diversity Project.

But Gregalicious, you might be wondering, why are you reading a straight white male novelist writing about what basically is the epitome of toxic masculinity in his character Mike Hammer?

Well, first of all, the name of the character itself: Mike Hammer. It almost sounds like a parody of the private eye novel, doesn’t it, something dreamed up by the guys who wrote Airplane! and not an actual novel/character to be taken seriously. We also have to take into consideration that Spillane’s books were also, for whatever reason, enormously popular; the books practically flew off the shelves. (Mike Hammer is actually one of the best gay porn star names of all time; alas, it was never used in that capacity.)

But it’s also difficult to understand our genre, where it came from, and how far it has come, without reading Spillane; Spillane, more so than Hammett or Chandler, developed the classic trope of the hard-boiled male private eye and took it to the farthest extreme of toxic masculinity. Plus, there’s the camp aesthetic I was talking about before to look for as well.

Chanse was intended to be the gay version of the hardboiled private eye; I patterned him more after John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee than anything or anyone else. But reading a macho, tough guy heterosexual male character from a toxic masculine male author is also completely out of my wheelhouse; and therefore, it sort of fits into the Diversity Project along the lines of well, the idea is to read things you don’t ordinarily read; not just writers of color or different gender identities or sexualities than your own.

And there’s also an entire essay in Ayn Rand’s nonfiction collection of essays on art devoted to Mickey Spillane; it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever read any of Rand’s fiction that she was a huge fan of Spillane. Given what a shitty writer Rand was, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement–but it also gives me something else to look out for as I read Spillane’s short novel.

There’s also a reference to Spillane in one of my favorite novels, Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show–in which some of the  boys are wondering if blondes have blonde pubic hair, and “the panty-dropping scene in I the Jury” is referenced.

Interesting.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Twist of Fate

It snowed yesterday in New Orleans, and it is still cold today–albeit sunny. I am sitting at my desk this morning wearing fingerless gloves so I can type, a  knit LSU cap on my head, and a blanket wrapped around my legs. I also have to go to Costco at some point today, and I also have to get some things done. Needless to say, a temperature around fifty at my computer doesn’t make that more likely. I may check into space heaters at Costco today–although I may check the attic. There should be another one around here somewhere.

When I got home last night I turned on the heat and cleaned the upstairs, then grabbed a blanket and headed for my easy chair.I stopped reading The Last Picture Show when I got to the bestiality part (which I’d completely forgotten about) and even though there’s an even more important part of the story after the cow-rape (seriously), I just couldn’t pick the book up again. I know I can skip over that part, but honestly. I didn’t remember it, or the relatively nonchalant way McMurtry talked about it in the book–like it’s very common place amongst farm boys (literally, “every farm boy has done it”)–and I don’t know…I still have fond memories of the book, but despite the fact that it’s still really well written, I don’t know if I’m going to keep reading it; although I suppose if I continue reading it as an example of toxic masculinity…and the homophobia in it–what would toxic masculinity be without some good old homophobia?–is also not easy to read; because it’s so casual. 

Then again, that was the thing about the culture back then (it’s set in the 1950’s); the hate was so casual and matter-of-fact. It’s a short book, I may go back to it later today. (And interestingly enough, Larry McMurtry also co-wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, so there’s that.)

Speaking of homophobia, I was scrolling through HBO Now last night looking for something to watch, and noticed they had American Gigolo available. I had watched that movie only once, years ago on videotape, when a female friend had rented it. I didn’t remember much about it, other than Richard Gere was so incredibly beautiful and at the end Lauren Hutton came through for him at the end, and Blondie’s “Call Me” played over the opening credits and it was criminal that the didn’t at least get an Oscar nomination for Best Song. It should have WON, damn it. It’s a great song and it still holds up today.

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I also remembered that it wasn’t very good.

That memory was correct, but watching it again…so much wasted potential in this movie. It could have been a noir classic.

Gere plays Julian, or Jules, who basically is a gigolo, and not cheap. He works for several different pimps–one a blonde woman with a great beach house, the other a black gay man–but Jules is so in demand and so good at what he does-and let’s face it, Gere smolders. You can see why he catches everyone’s eye when he walks into a room, and no one wears an expensive suit like he does–but he’s also become incredibly arrogant because he is so good. Both of his pimps argue with him about the split on jobs they get for him–but he’s so good he always gets his way, but both warn him that his attitude and ingratitude to them is going to bite him in the ass one day. The gay pimp sets him up with a kinky job in Palm Springs–he has to be abusive to the woman while the husband watches–which makes him incredibly uncomfortable but he does the job well because the pimp tells him they want him back. Jules throws the word ‘fag’ around a lot–“I don’t do fags” etc., which, as someone who is paid for sex, I can certainly see why he would want to be clear on what he does and what he doesn’t, but again–casual homophobia. He meets and falls for Lauren Hutton in a restaurant at a posh hotel, who turns out to be an unhappy politician’s wife. They embark on a secret affair, but she turns out to be his alibi for the night the Palm Springs wife is murdered…and he can’t tell the police about her. This is also kind of where the movie goes off the rails. The crime itself is treated as an afterthought, and Jules being suspected and investigated–and he is being framed–are all secondary to his development as a character; all of this is just a moral lesson for him about being humble and how you shouldn’t treat people badly because they won’t stand by you when you need him, all the while he’s making this incredible noble sacrifice for the woman he loves.

A woman is brutally murdered as a plot point and pivot so Jules can learn humility.

Whoa. And wow.

And even the resolution doesn’t make sense. Turns out the gay pimp pulled off this elaborate ruse and frame just to teach Jules a lesson in humility? I wasn’t really clear on this at the end; it didn’t make sense to  me the first time I watched and it still didn’t make sense this time. The confrontation with the pimp ends with him accidentally knocking him off the balcony, but Jules tries to save him, but he can’t hold him. He falls to his death with Jules literally left holding his boots. He is taken in by the police and arrested, refuses to speak to his lawyer, but then Lauren Hutton comes forward and alibis him for the original murder, because she loves him…and they speak to each other through glass in the prison’s visiting room when she tells him she’s cleared him because she loves him. The end. And my first thought was, well, your alibi isn’t going to do him any good NOW that he’s killed the pimp, even if it was an accident. So you just blew up your own life for no reason because he’s still going to jail.

None of that was resolved. It’s really a shame, because it could have been a great noir classic. And it many ways it is actually a good film, and highly original: it was one of the first movies to ever focus so heavily on male beauty, and Gere is often in underwear or naked (full frontal, at that) or shirtless; the camera lingers over him lovingly the way it previously only did for women; the soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder was excellent and also the first time electronica music was used for a film score; and the entire film is beautifully shot. But the writer/director didn’t see it as a film noir or a crime film; he saw it as a character study with a redemptive arc, and that was where the film fell flat.

Pity.

And now back to the spice mines.

Drive

It is cold, gray and wet again this morning in New Orleans; the high is predicted to be 42. 42! Honestly. I turned the heat on yesterday and honestly, forgot to turn it off before i left for the day–and usually this makes the upstairs an inferno. Nope, it was merely comfortable up there when I got home from work last night. So, I turned it off when I went to bed, and turned it back on again this morning as I shiver at my computer. Heavy sigh.

But Paul comes home tonight, hurray! And it’s also Friday, so I have a short day today to usher in the weekend. I got an unexpected royalty check yesterday–it’s so lovely that the Frat Boy books from Kensington are still selling, all these years later–and that altered my weekend errand plans somewhat. There’s also no Saints game on Sunday, nor any college football, so I have absolutely no excuse to not clean and edit and write this weekend. I do hate that college football season is over almost entirely, but hey–what can you do? LSU did far better than I could have hoped after a rocky start, and the Saints did a lot better than I thought they would have, especially after that 0-2 start.

Last night, I finished reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, and started rereading Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, which is my favorite novel of his. I read it the first time when I was about twelve, I think; and have reread it several times since; but I haven’t read it again in over twenty years, and I found a copy when I was cleaning out the storage unit and dragged it out. It’s not the first book people think of when they think of McMurtry–that would most likely be his Pulitzer Prize winning Lonesome Dove–and I’ve read a lot of McMurtry–not all of it, certainly–but I’ve always had a special regard for this novel. But I’ll talk more about that when I’ve finished the reread.

Meanwhile, The Blunderer by Highsmith was quite an interesting read.

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The man in dark-blue slacks and a forest-green sport-shirt waited impatiently in the line.

The girl in the ticket booth was stupid, he thought, never had been able to make change fast. He tilted his fat bald head up at the inside of the lighted marquee, read NOW PLAYING! Marked Woman,  looked without interest at the poster of a half-naked woman displaying a thigh, and looked behind him in the line to see if there was anyone in it he knew. There wasn’t. But he couldn’t have timed it better, he thought. Just in time for the eight o’clock show. He shoved his dollar bill through the scallop in the glass.

“Hello,” he said to the blonde girl, smiling.

“Hello.” Her empty blue eyes brightened. “How’re you tonight?”

It wasn’t a question she expected to be answered. It wasn’t.

And so begins Patricia Highsmith’s third novel. The thing that is so terrific about Highsmith is you really never know what you’re going to get with her; her plots are fiendishly original and clever, and so deliciously dark and relatable in some way. The Blunderer opens with Melchior Kimmel establishing an alibi for himself by going to see a film and being seen…and once seen and recognized, he keeps going and exits, heads for his car and then follows a bus north. At a designated rest stop he parks out of sight, finds his wife, who has gotten off the bus, convinces her to follow him to go and chat, and once they are out of sight he brutally murders her.

He gets away with it, too–he was seen at the movie theater, remember, and no one saw him at the rest stop. His wife’s murder remains unsolved.

Until lawyer Walter Stackhouse sees a notice in the paper about the murder. It intrigues him. He writes essays, or wants to write essays, about what he calls ‘unequal friendships,’ where one friend is lesser than the other and yet the better friend seems to get dragged along by the other. This murder fascinates him, and he starts trying to think how the husband could have done it and gotten away with it…and actually figures it out. Walter is also unhappily married; his wife, Clara, is frankly awful and is trying to ruin his friendships with other people and isolate him; yet she also makes him terribly unhappy. He tried to leave her once before and she threatened to kill herself, so they patched things up. But he is now introduced to another young woman whom he’s attracted to…and somehow Clara has figured this out and continues to make him miserable.

His idle fascination with the Kimmel murder eventually leads him to visit the bookstore Kimmel owns and operates, orders a book, and decides, after having seen Kimmel, that he must be innocent. His own life, meantime, gets worse. He tells Clara he wants a divorce and she attempts suicide. She gets out of the hospital and is just as awful as ever…and then her mother dies and she has to go back to her hometown in Pennsylvania to attend to things. She takes the bus. Obsessed with the Kimmel case, and wondering if he could, in fact, kill his own awful wife…he follows her bus in his car. When they reach a rest stop, he gets out of his car and looks for Clara…and cannot find her. But he’s seen…and later, Clara’s body is found at the bottom of a cliff. Suicide or murder? The police think it’s suicide at first…but the similarity to the Kimmel case is there….and his own fascination with that case now comes back to bite him in the ass.

I greatly enjoyed this book, as I have all of Highsmith’s that I’ve read thus far, and I love how she deftly changes directions in ways the reader cannot see coming. You can’t help but feel for Walter in his horrible dilemma, and the way his life starts to slowly spiral out of control all because he happened to read about an interesting murder in the newspaper. As the weird connections between the two cases slowly come to light, no one believes Walter is innocent–not the police, his friends, his co-workers, his maid, nor even his new love. It’s an extraordinary story, and the way Highsmith heightens the tension until it’s almost unbearable, the two parallel stories crossing and recrossing, is quite exceptional.

Highly recommended.