Still Dancing

 

Aztec God of Dance – The Old Coyote

When I started this multi-faceted blog back in early 2014, I wrote the first couple posts about my life-long OCD (obsessive-compulsive dancing). First was the one explaining my personal motto: There’s dance in the old dame yet. The second was about nightlife and my history of dancing in dives and jive-joints.  Then I got distracted by subjects in history, politics, and art.  Now it’s high time to catch up on public dancing in Santa Fe (NM—not CA, FL, TX, or elsewhere).

I last wrote on the subject four years ago when we actually had two dance clubs in town: the gay bar Blue Rooster (successor to the Rouge Cat) and a new straight nightclub called the Skylight.  To my dismay, within a few months the Blue Rooster closed down (cold-cocked?), and I had no choice but to dance among the straight young things at the Skylight to considerably less danceable music.  Any port in a storm.

Happily, the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage soon caused a sea-change in social attitudes about gays, and we became much more accepted in straight venues like the Skylight. It wasn’t uncommon to see guys and gals dancing with each other, respectively—or even sharing PDAs (public displays of affection).  In this newly comfortable environment, I’d go out to dance almost weekly (whenever the old man has the energy) for many wonderful carouses.

The only fly in the ointment at the Skylight was the music. In my adolescence I’d been an avid American Bandstand rock’n’roll-er and then switched to Latin wildness for a few years in college.  Only much later, I got hooked on disco, and that was my main style for some decades.  However, disco music at the Skylight was only painfully occasional.

The more frequent music there was hip-hop, rap, and metal, which didn’t particularly ring my bell. Fortunately, at times they played Latin (called Hispanic here), which took me back to my debauched youth in frenetic cumbias and exuberant merengues.  And with an effort of sheer will, I tried to get into the new EDM (electronic dance music), which only sometimes was danceable.  Like the little girl with the curl, when it was good, it was excellent, but when it was bad, it was perfectly horrid—and way too loud.

All my life dancing has been a philosophical thing (I dance, therefore I am!)  Or maybe better, a spiritual practice (To dance is to live!).  Spiritually speaking, I’m a dervish.  As I’ve explained in my second memoir (in process), “…unlike ball-room and folk dancing, both Apollonian in their structure, synchronization, and impeccability of movement, my dance is free-form and unrestrained, responding on a visceral level to rhythms and melodies and surrendering to the divine frenzy of Dionysius.”  Call me a maenad!

Then came that Saturday night in early December last when I ambled down Don Gaspar happily anticipating another divine frenzy. Only to find the Skylight’s big iron gates closed up with a huge chain and padlock!  Stunned, I staggered up San Francisco Street to the Plaza (with its outrageous holiday lights), and ran into Brandi, Santa Fe’s prima donna drag celebrity, who confirmed that our nightclub was indeed closed down totally.  Nowhere to go but home, bereft.

After a few weeks of complaining to all and sundry about the loss of the Skylight and dancing at home in solitary splendor to reggae and Salsa Sabrosa (on KUNM), a dear friend mentioned a group called Embody Dance that meets weekly on Thursdays at the Railyard Performance Space. Their website sounded very like a group I’d visited back last spring for a splendid ecstatic experience.  Though I’d put myself on their mailing list, I never heard from them again.

The last Thursday of 2017 I showed up for a session of Embody Dance and was thrilled to find the perfect venue for my OCD: shoeless, unspeaking, and idiosyncratically undisciplined, with adventurous and dance-inspiring music.  In the delightfully diverse company of some sixty folks, for two non-stop hours I surrendered to the divine frenzy and left feeling perfectly fulfilled.

The next Thursday, the first in 2018, I went back to Embody Dance and jubilated again with an even larger crowd, some of whom were maybe even as old as I! After sixty years of dancing, I finally feel like I’ve come home.  Tonight I’ll be doing the mad maenad thing again.

#

My Jubilee

Recently having turned 75, I think that respectable age qualifies for a jubilee celebration. At least I’m jubilant.  To celebrate this auspicious occasion, I had a portrait taken by the talented local photographer Carolyn Wright of the Photography Studio.  For the first time ever, I must say that this picture does me justice, and I’ve already featured it on my homepage.

Richard Balthazar, Writer and Artist

I jubilate in celebration of my many blessings:

First, having grown up, had a family, and gotten old in this country (USA)—where I’ve been ostensibly free, in spite of spending most of my life as an outlaw (gay), and could make a reasonable living doing what I like (arts, education, horticulture…). That covers many bases.

Next, having been in extraordinarily good health all my life. There have been a few medical emergencies and curable conditions, but especially in these later years I seem to have crafted a very healthful diet and regimen of physical activity (gym and dancing).  I try not to be too proud of my deceptively youthful (and handsome) appearance above and am more than happy to tell anyone my anti-aging secret (Kombucha).

Also, having had such exciting experiences, like trips all over around this country and into Canada and Mexico, fascinating festivals (esp. Mardi Gras and lots of Gay Pride celebrations), and wonderful performances by fantastic artists. I’ve lived a culturally rich life style.

On this my jubilee, I also jubilate big time over the exceptional things I’ve accomplished, though they may not have made me rich or famous. My jubilee is the perfect time to toot my own horn—since nobody else is going to.  So here goes:  Toot!

  1. Won an essay contest in high school (1958) and represented Arkansas representative at the First National Youth Conference on the Atom in Atlantic City. I still have my essay on atomic energy, and its blue-ink penmanship still reads intelligently, if archaically.
  2. Sailed gaily through college at Tulane in the early 1960’s with a double major in Russian and French Quarter debauchery and made Phi Beta Kappa.
  3. Wrote a Master’s thesis and a few doctoral dissertations in the later 60’s, contributing exactly nothing to world knowledge, but they got me a job teaching at a university.
  4. Appeared in theatrical productions: ballet (peasant in Coppelia, 1970), play (sailor in The Tempest, 1971), and operas (extra in Prokofiev’s War and Peace at Wolftrap, 1975, and supernumerary cardinal in Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys, 1980, on Broadway, no less).
  5. Coached the Paul Hill Chorale to sing Kabalevsky’s Requiem in Russian at the Kennedy Center In 1975 and translated for the composer in interviews and social occasions.
  6. Was a stage interpreter with the Bolshoi Opera in Lincoln and Kennedy Centers In 1976 and got to watch their repertoire many times over (from down-stage left).
  7. Translated Tchaikovsky’s opera Maid of Orleans into English for productions by the Canadian Opera Company, 1978, and Detroit Opera Theatre, 1979. This was my first truly artistic achievement, a triumph of rhymed triplets in iambic pentameter. Toot-toot!  I’ve included a poetical excerpt in my Public Library for your enjoyment.
  8. Wrote the play The Special Case, a detective drama drawn from Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, which was produced by the Santa Fe Community Theatre in 1990 and ran for two weeks to no reviews. An actor praised it as “a Russian Colombo.” Yes.  It can be read (and is available free for production) in my Public Library.
  9. Discovered the suppressed subject of the Indian Mounds, spent about 15 years researching them, and finally published Remember Native America, a mound travelogue, in 1992. It has since been superseded by much more research and revision of timelines, but all the same, it’s available here for free download.
  10. Discovered the neglected subject of the Aztec calendar, spent some five years drawing, and published Celebrate Native America, a new book of days, in 1993 with my artwork and an abortive attempt to proclaim a Sixth Sun, also available here for free download.
  11. Created a unique and exciting profession in 1997, spending 15 years as the Used Plant Man  (or the Iris Man in summer), a plant recycler at the Farmers Market, maybe not an artistic achievement, but I spread beautiful iris all over town. Good enough.
  12. Built an innovative greenhouse in 2000, a semi-subterranean, ecologically efficient structure for raising cacti, succulents, and ornamentals for market. Again maybe not artistic, but it was definitely an architectural achievement .
  13. Wrote the novella Bat in a Whirlwind (over about 30 years), an autobiographical story of almost coming out in the backwoods, published electronically on this website, 2015. Click here for free download.
  14. Wrote the novel Divine Debauch (over maybe 25 years), fictionalizing my dissolute years in the French Quarter, published by AuthorHouse.com , 2005. It really needs a rewrite, but I haven’t the energy or time. Meanwhile, it’s still a great gay read.
  15. Wrote the handbook Getting Get, a glossary of the English verb, (after 40 years of linguistic research), published by AuthorHouse.com , 2006, but also available electronically for free by clicking here.  Frankly, it’s my work of genius.
  16. Wrote the memoir There Was a Ship covering my time in in Seattle (1965-66), published electronically on this website, 2016. Click here for free download. It’s the story of a gay man going (kicking and screaming) back into the closet.
  17. Wrote the biography Ms. Yvonne, the secret life of my mother, published electronically on this website, 2016. Click here for free download. It was fascinating detective work and much photo restoration to uncover the life of a survivor of Hurricane Katrina.
  18. Wrote the unique reference on the Aztecs, YE GODS! an illustrated encyclopedia of deities, an essay on the surviving Pre-Conquest codices, and a coloring book of thirteen of my icon drawings based on images in the codices, published electronically on this website, 2017. Click here for free download of the separate sections.

Goodness! That was almost a whole horn concerto of jubilee toots.

 

I won’t be able toot about anything else for a while. I’ve only just begun a second memoir, this one about gay life in the carefree 1970’s, and there are still 13 more icons to draw for YE GODS!  You’ll be the first to hear about any new achievements.

Gay Memoir Redux

New edition of the memoir THERE WAS A SHIP

adapted from illustration by Gustave Dore

adapted from illustration by Gustave Dore

For anyone who may have accidentally read the 2015 version (which apparently no one has done), my sincerest apologies. I’ve recently reformatted the text and made important revisions.  Now it really is good to go—or better be, because I’ve got other fish to fry.

THERE WAS A SHIP is a memoir of a mere two years in the middle 1960’s, two of the most transformative years in my life.  Like the Ancient Mariner, the Old Me of nowadays tells friends the strange tale of the Young Me’s gay experience.  In short, a faerie slut in the debauched French Quarter of New Orleans sails off to straight Seattle, naively intending to stay out as a gay boy.  However, half a century ago Seattle was as homophobic as the rest of the country.

Encountering that conflict, I did what many, many thousands of gay men were constrained by straight society to do in those oppressive years: I climbed into the closet.  So THERE WAS A SHIP belongs to a genre of gay literature you might call the “going in” story.  Not that I’m very widely read, but I know of nothing else quite like it.  Why don’t you see what you think?

For free download as a .pdf file, just right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As”. Of course, you can simply open it to read online with a left click.

 

Free Play – Book for Musical Theater

Thank goodness I’m a somewhat organized person. In the aftermath of finishing my eleventh Aztec icon, Ocelotl, for the coloring book YE GODS!, I switched back to my current writing project, a biography entitled “Ms. Yvonne, The Secret Life of My Mother,” which I then proceeded to bring up to the last chapter.

Planning to finish that in a while for posting on this website, and not yet ready (for technical reasons) to start the twelfth icon, Ometeotl, I dropped back to some other planned work: to revise my play first written some 35 years ago under the title “Octoroon,” a gay-themed historical drama set in Civil-War New Orleans.

Now entitled “Soldier-Boys,” the play was initially designed as the possible book for an operatic libretto, but now I (more realistically and pragmatically?) consider it a possible book for musical theater. It has now been posted for free under Public Library/Plays.  All it needs now is a composer and lyricist to pick it up and run with it.  Hopefully, anyone would work with the two musical numbers I’ve indicated with my supposedly poetic lyrics:  a parade march for the (now-extinct) Krewe of Comus, and a soldier song.  Anybody interested?  Come on, guys—it’s up for un-copyrighted grabs!  Go for it!

For free download of “Soldier-Boys” as a .pdf file, just right click here  and select “Save As.”  To read it online, left click here.

Meanwhile, here’s a fore-taste:

CAST OF CHARACTERS (in order of appearance)

GUY-PHILIPPE GAUTIER: 19, natural son of Charles Thissaud, returning from France

ACHILLES, Marquis de Marigny:  20, French nobleman and Guy’s university friend

AMALIE: slave woman in late 30’s, Phoebe’s personal maid

UNCLUTHA (actually Uncle Luther): aged slave, manservant of Charles Thissaud

CHARLES THISSAUD: early 50’s, Creole gentleman and Colonel of the Confederacy

PHOEBE THISSAUD: 22, Charles’ wife of 3 years, a Protestant from Savannah

JEANNIE: slave girl, daughter of Aunt Millie

AUNT MILLIE: mature slave woman, wet-nurse to Thissaud children

Also: Sailors, slaves (workers & domestics), 2-year old boy, infant, masquers, revellers, ball guests, Confederate soldiers

 And an excerpt, part of the opening scene:

###

(Afternoon on riverfront at Place d’Armes, Cathedral, Cabildo, etc. in background. A ship is at the wharf where a large CROWD mingles and passes.  GUY and ACHILLES walk down the gangplank and await their luggage.)

GUY (gesturing expansively):  Well, here it is, Achilles, mon ami!  My New Orlins!  Not much compared to Paree, mais we do have our own Champs Elysée!

ACHILLES: At last I discover Amérique-a!  C’est magnifique!

(In the CROWD, a group of costumed REVELERS passes by.)

GUY: Well, look at that, cher—our fine ship done got here for Mardi Gras!

ACHILLES: Alors, mon âme, we must drink for your return to the homeland.

GUY: Yes, indeed!  Somethin’ to fortify myself for the comin’ ordeal.

ACHILLES: Cher Guy-Philippe, do not fear.  Your homecoming is to be happy!

GUY: But it’s so bitter comin’ home to this war!

ACHILLES: The Yankee is the barbarian of the north!  The war is our chance à gloire!

GUY: I s’pose so.  But Achilles, I dread so meetin’ this Savannah lady my Papá done married.

ACHILLES: Ah!  Mais les femmes…  Pas de problème pour toi, ma fleur noire!

GUY (throwing his arm round ACHILLES’ shoulder):  You an’ me, cher—les deux soldats!  Now let’s go find us a big bottle o’ wine.

###

 

 

Offensive Defense

(I am blown away by finding out that I got faulty news (from the radio):  They said McCrory had vetoed the NC hate bill–and now I find out that he did not.  He simply spun the story it seems to go along with the idiots.  So I am deleting all the good words I had for that bigot a week ago.  My points remain, and now in spades.)

Realizing that folks only listen to flattery and fantasy concerning and confirming themselves, I only rarely spout off about my perceptions of the inanities and insanities of modern life. But on occasion, I hear someone say something so surreally irrational that I can’t let it pass without comment, though my little squeaks will probably fall on deaf ears.

Regarding the bald-faced act by the North Carolina legislature to subvert the law of the land (and Governor Pat McCrory’s craven approval), a week ago a radio news announcer apparently quoted one of the benighted legislators as saying that they were just trying to find “a way to protect faith-based communities from gay marriage.”  Say what?  Why?  Actually, a number of whys:

1) Why should a legislature look for a way to do anything to the sole benefit of a specific group?  Especially a religious group which is by definition legally irrelevant.  Even more especially when that benefit is to the patent detriment of another constituency, and triply especially when that benefit would be a gross exemption from the law.

2) Why do they plead freedom of religion as their constitutional motivation when others have the same freedom?  That freedom doesn’t allow you to compel anyone else to conform to your personal beliefs—or you to theirs—or to punish each other for not doing so.

3) Why should a faith-based community feel it needs protection from another belief system?  The threat of temptation?  Any faith has to deal with that fact of life.  If it can’t resist temptation, the faith has no strength beyond dogma.  Or is the community’s faith so weak that it requires mass confirmation?  No dissent, no differing opinions.  Welcome back to the Inquisition.  Hello, ISIS.

4) Why should another belief system be seen as an affront to or offense against one’s own religion?  And so what if it is?  You’re perfectly free to be offended by whatever you want.  Deal with it.  Sulk and pout.  But you’re not free to intentionally offend or injure anyone else in supposed defense (or support) of your personal scruples.  Or to be exempt from the law.

Just look at Mississippi  too!  So now garbage men can refuse to pick up the trash from someone they don’t approve of on religious grounds?   A doctor can refuse to treat?  Restaurant refuse to serve?  This is hateful idiocracy!

I’m proud of our Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales for speaking out against the idiots.

 

Two Decades Ago

It’s always fun, or at least interesting, to look back over the decades of our lives and see where we were when and what we were experiencing in those bygone days. Not long ago I took a look back a mere decade to a thriving and exciting situation.

Now I want to step back yet another decade and talk about that fascinating time capsule. From September, 1996 to September, 1997, when I was in my mid-fifties, was a year of remarkable transition, though perhaps a stereotypical mid-life crisis. Two decades ago brought the end of my sixth personal era (the Mature Gay Gentleman) and heralded the birth of my seventh persona (the Grandfatherly Gay Character).

That mid-September morn, standing on the sidewalk on Montezuma Avenue outside the La Casa Building (note the poetic persistence of the Aztec and La Casa themes in my life), I watched a huge U-Haul truck drive away with its institutional load. It was hauling the whole of the Western States Arts Federation off to Denver, leaving me and twenty more professional administrators unemployed. Thank you, Newt Gingrich, and your Contract on America. You don’t want to know the gory budgetary details.

As Director of Administration, I’d dutifully organized this planned exodus but also looked around for a commensurate position. I even went to San Francisco to interview with the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies. But shortly before that interview, after considering the whole San Francisco city/California thing, I decided I didn’t want to leave Santa Fe. Back home that summer, I applied and made the finals for the heads of the McCune Foundation and SITE Santa Fe but lost both bouts.

So that September I went on unemployment and ground out the requisite applications for a certain number of jobs each week, knowing all the while that nobody wanted an overly mature, upper-level, nonprofit arts administrator—with reasonable salary expectations—nor were there any such openings in the first place. As I said before, stereotypical. However, rather than agonize, I decided to go on vacation. After 15 years of hard work, I could take a sabbatical.

At the time, I was driving a silver 1985 Plymouth Horizon and headed west. First stop was the Grand Canyon. In the 70’s I’d hiked down from the North Rim, and in the 80’s from the South Rim. This time I camped on the South Rim and just stayed up there. Still I managed to waste as much film as almost anybody on the unimaginable spectacle. I love this shot from the rim (inner gorge in foreground). Look, 20 years ago you could still see through the pollution to the far North Rim.  Imagine  that.96 grand canyon

Grand Canyon, 1996

Westward-ho, this middle-aged man went on to see the boggling Hoover Dam and then went for a hike at Lake Mead at a spot reputed to be a nudist area. Feeling liberated from work and societal stuffiness, I tromped nude though the scrub willows along the lake. I saw only one odd naked fellow with a tent, whose kind invitation to tea I politely declined. From there I climbed to the top of a low hill to a giant tamarisk tree which served obviously and odorously as rookery for several unkindnesses of ravens. A malevolence of ravens?

Next stop was San Diego. I pitched my tent at the Campground on the Bay in view of Sea World across the water but didn’t go there till a couple days later. Instead, I spent my days at Black’s Beach near La Jolla and Torrey Pines State Park. An honest-to-John nude beach, you get down to it from the high bluff (at least back then) via a fragmented and dubious wooden staircase. Safely down, I shucked clothes and explored the lovely but sparsely populated (late-season) beach, my first time to the actual Pacific. (Puget Sound doesn’t count.) I noted the waves were understated, more like the Gulf than the Atlantic, eponymously pacific surf.

Spreading my towel back near the cliff out of the constant up-draft wind from the sea, I lay there in my splendid nakedness watching the hang-gliders take off from the bluff top and float around in the rising columns of wind like so many colorful seagulls. In skinny strolls along the beach I encountered only a few other bathers enjoying their own private leisure. I’d been advised that gay shenanigans went on back among the occasional dunes, but sandy sex wasn’t and still isn’t my bag. On one of my walks along the water I encountered a guy who was impressed by my cock-a-doodle, even though it wasn’t a Prince Albert.

While in San Diego, I did indeed visit the wonderful Sea World and go to the Zoo, which was almost more than I could handle. Most sentimental was my walk in Balboa Park where some years before my dear old friend Charles ended his troubled days on one of the park benches. Wandering around the city, I found a Kwan Yin to add to my collection, a beautifully brocaded figure riding on a fish-dragon, a good omen for my unemployed future. On the way home, I went by Joshua Tree National Park and took an illegal buff hike among rocks and Joshua trees. Isn’t it odd that only people care about clothes?

Well vacated, I returned to Santa Fe and got back into the swing of making futile job applications to get my meagre unemployment checks. That fall, with the luxury of not working, I started pulling together a draft of my book on ‘get’. (It would take another decade to reach its final form.) By December when public assistance ended, I really had to do something for an income. So I went to work part-time helping my daughter’s young man Rich in his woodworking shop. A totally new experience for me, the complicated job of making cabinets and doors was actually rather relaxing. The sanding and finish work was less fulfilling and far more tedious.

With the New Year and the unaccustomed leisure, I took a trip to Carlsbad Caverns—where I’d once gone with family in like 1953. I think it was an early Monday morning, January 7, when I got there and found the parking lot empty. As a matter of fact, beyond a couple workers at the food service, no one was there. I mean no one. I did a totally private tour through the caverns. It was almost mystical. You could even hear the distant drip of water from stalactites. Around noon, just as I was leaving, another car pulled into the parking lot. Afterwards I took long drives along the eastern and northern escarpments of the Guadalupe Mountains around to Dog Canyon on the west. How marvelous to think of that vast coral reef now thrust up as mountains.

After that special getaway, I returned to Santa Fe and my lot as a part-time carpenter’s helper. It was actually sort of fun work, the only pressure being to do it right, and I enjoyed long talks with the young fellow who had already been Aimée’s main squeeze for ten years. While warm and friendly, he was seriously amused by his girlfriend’s father being a gay man. Life rolled on smoothly for a few months with no other professional prospects, but I must admit that I found the physical labor tiring. So I got the idea of finding someone to share the work with me.

I mentioned my search for relief to an old friend, Peter Igo, a great silk-screen artist, and he suggested a young fellow who’d done some handyman chores for his place in Eldorado. (Peter’s remarkable “grow-hole,” a six-foot deep ditch covered with plastic, is what inspired my digging the “greenhole” several years later, and when he passed from cancer, I salvaged his many plants through Babylon Gardens.)

marc portrait

A posed portrait of Marcelo.  He spoke spectacular English.

When I met in early May with Peter’s handyman, a tall, attractive Brazilian named Marcelo, he seemed interested in the work. The next day, May 10, I took Marc to my special spot on the Santa Cruz River in the Caja de Cundiyo, where we splashed and played in the rushing stream.

97 water games

This is moi in the Cundiyo waterfall. 

Back at home that afternoon, I didn’t decline Marc’s intimate proposition. After all, it had been at least five years since I’d gotten physical with anyone. Well, it turned out that Marc didn’t relieve me of any woodworking duties, but against my better judgment, we entered into an amorous liaison. As liaisons go, this one lasted longer than necessary—enough said. Marcelo is now back in Rio de Janeiro, and I’ve got good reason to think that he regularly checks in on this website. I hope he appreciates this fond mention.

Meanwhile, on May 16 Aimée and Rich got married—after ten years together.

97 Rich and Aimee

 Aimée and Rich, May 16, 1997

The affair was in the garden of our local posh hotel, La Posada de Santa Fe (to whom long before I’d sold a huge Eastlake walnut over-mantle mirror which I’d brought from DC and painstakingly restored). The whole family from both sides showed up for the festivities, and I met Rich’s father Harvey for the first and only time. He looked exactly like Ernest Hemingway. I was resplendent in my tuxedo (not as much as Rich), and still have the rose (like his) that I wore in my lapel. Safely cushioned in a little jar, its pale pink has turned all golden brown after these 20 years. 

Actually I didn’t need any help with the woodworking after all. In June, some old professional friends offered me a job as Business Manager for their cultural nonprofit, Recursos de Santa Fe.  After only a week or so on that job, with great chagrin (for the first time in my life!), I told my friends that I was unable to do the job. What they really needed was an accountant.

No matter—the next week I snatched up another job as assistant to the Dean of the College at the College of Santa Fe. (Both he and the institution are now defunct.) No sooner did I report for work than the Dean took off for the summer to care for his ailing mother. With absolutely no job description and even less orientation, I had to figure out what I was supposed to do to run the academic show. It was fun, not to mention a snap, dealing with the closed universe of students and faculty, and rather pleasant having great clout. Big fish in tiny pond.

So the summer of 1997 turned out to be exceptional. I’d weathered my mid-life crisis and for that matter come out on the other side with a new professional niche—and what’s more, a young boyfriend. (Marc was only 32.)

As soon as the Dean got back, before the fall term was to start, I took my guy from Brazil on a grand tour of our western parks and landmarks. We hit Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Hopi-land, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Hovenweep, Mesa Verde, and Aztec Ruins. Talk about a lot of film! I wish I could post a whole travelogue of photos of me and my Brazilian, but there simply isn’t space or time to do so.

Of particular note was the morning Marc and I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, making the descent by 10:30. Shortly after a kindly hiker took this shot of us crossing the bridge over the Colorado River, when we were at Phantom Ranch wading in the creek cooling off our tired dogs, I remarked that we were just about as far from civilization as one could get. Not a minute later from over by the restroom shed a hiker, who had ironically been using the emergency telephone, hollered to his nearby friends: “Hey, guys, Princess Diana was just killed in a car crash!” So much for escaping from civilization. Within mere hours of its occurrence, that earth-shattering news had reached down to us at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon.

bridge over Colorado

Marcelo and me in the Grand Canyon, 1997

When we’d recovered from that culture shock and appropriately mourned the royal passing, Marc and I set off on the ascent. On the climb from Indian Gardens, we stopped frequently to breathe, etc., and made it up to the rim by early evening. We marveled at the 16 miles, the uphill half of which had felt more like 20. Marc said I was in terrific shape for such an old man. (Note the minimal middle-aged spread. I’m proud to have an even smaller paunch now—and to be in even better shape.)

When we got back to Santa Fe, it was high autumn, and my rocky mountain asters were in full spate. In this sweet photo of Marc and me you can also see the golden maximilian sunflowers. Eventually, I’d make hunks of money at the Farmers Market selling them. Also eventually, I’d turn the hillside behind us into a bunch of terraces to display my found-object assemblages which I cleverly call Yard Art. However, I have not yet discovered another boyfriend.

97 asters Marc and me hip-deep in asters

 

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND – Free Gay Novella

HOT OFF THE DIGITAL PRESS! 

After some thirty years in the writing and re-writing, I’m inordinately proud, not to mention vastly relieved, to announce the electronic publication of my (autobiographically based) gay novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND.

For FREE download as a pdf file, right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  I hope in the near future to figure out how to offer it to you in Kindle format.

This little book is probably of most interest to the gay and/or literary reader, but the themes are appropriate for wide general interest:  life in the rural South in the Rock’n’roll Fifties, sexuality of adolescent boys, child abuse, religious oppression, race relations, and nature.  For the squeamish, I should advise that it involves a good deal of fantasy (innocent) and dreams (Freudian).

The novella is not so much a coming-of-age or coming-out story as the intimate personal account of a confused country boy who discovers love and himself.  Covering the senior year of two best buddies in high school at the end of the 1950’s, this all happens in backwoods Arkansas, mostly at a remote truck stop café called Piney Hill, where young Ben is virtually a prisoner.  The boy is swept up in an emotional whirlwind, besotted by a quixotic passion for the TV star Annette Funicello and at the same time bewildered by confusing feelings for his best buddy Danny.

Give it a read and get a laugh or two. After all it’s a no-risk, free gift. Go for it!

 

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 15. Stomped-on Toad-frog

In this last chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben has a chance to say goodbye to everyone he knows and loves and then, excited about leaving for New Orleans in the morning, goes to bed on his nest of pine-straw in the back yard.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 15.  STOMPED-ON TOAD-FROG, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 14 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 15. – Stomped-on Toad-frog

Maybe it was the moonlight, or the hard work of the day, but I had a long complicated dream—

It’s golden evening, and I go to the river.  Trees in straight rows, but they’re huge tall oaks that make me think Tudor.  The sunset turns amber, rays slanting through the columns.  Standing on the high bank, I say to myself, “It’s too late to swim.”  Below, there are jagged rocks in the bank.  A chorus of voices sings sweetly, “Here are the crawdad towers of shrimp-gulls, here the polyp tubes of ash-clay, and chandelier coral.”

Swift water in front of me, a wide river, and I follow its sinuous channel fast to the sea, which draws back, baring sand dunes and fields of sharp stones.  A rain of powdery shells falls and shatters to blue dust.  I don’t want to stay here, so I fly high, high overhead and away, across the land, a desert-crosser returning, outrunning the river.  Beneath blur rows of honey-green orchards to a blue lake.

Now I’m on the ground behind a big house among dark cedars.  A familiar voice, Danny’s, calls “Annie Over!”  We’re playing that stupid game.  Again I feel desperate to see him.  I run in the back door through an empty kitchen and down a hall past rooms of furniture draped with sheets.  And I know it’s our house, Danny’s and mine, the one he dreamed of.

I open the big front door to let Danny in, but he isn’t there.  So I step out onto the porch of that beautiful plantation house with white columns looking out over the lake.  Suddenly I see him running across the field, waving, and I find myself breathing hard as though I’ve just been running too.  Danny is beautiful in the golden evening, laughing.  I motion him in the door.

Evening sun streams through the windows, swirling around us.  In the parlor, the sheets are strangely gone from the furniture.  Little green turtles sit and crawl all over the sofa, chairs, and tables.  Danny stands in front of me, a blush on his smooth cheeks and a glitter in his eye.  Amber light burns like honey on his shoulders, and my own arm is also gilded.  But my skin grows dark, dark like molasses, like Zaya’s.  Danny’s arms encircle me, and there’s a blinding joy of flowing into one another.

And we slide down, down, like down a boat slide, down a mossy channel into the lake among the reed pools.  The water is thick and soft around us, the warm blood of the ancient living Earth.  Part of it, Danny and I, I and he, we drift slowly around among waving seaweed.  And I know that we, and everything else, are just cells in the body of the giant animal Earth.

Above, the sun glimmers down from a high shimmering circle on the surface, flashing through undulating sea-grasses.  Fish dart about, brightly colored, splashes on the green.  These are the glossons, the threrches, emerald black and leaf-brown birds, and we are they, in plumes and veils of rainbow-feathered fins, floating forever together and one.

###

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 14. Hotter Than the Dickens

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben is working for the very last time in the café before he leaves for Tulane on Monday.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 14.  HOTTER THAN THE DICKENS, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 13 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 14. – Hotter Than the Dickens

I was washing a tray of cups and glasses, saying goodbye to the loathsome dishwasher, when Daddy came back and with a strange, broad smile said, “Mr. Stein thinks it all looks so neat and kept up.  He’s going to buy the place!”

“Fantastic!” I exclaimed and truly happy for him, gave him a congratulatory clap on the shoulder.  Daddy looked at me with a fishing buddy smile and left me standing there amazed.

Several more parties came in, and while working on automatic, I realized that I actually did feel awful sad about leaving the Hill now.  Before, it had just been me leaving, but now the folks would be going away too.  There’d be no Piney Hill for me to come back to on visits.  My familiar café with all its furniture and dishes and silverware would be swept up and away in this whirlwind that was whisking me off to New Orleans, like Dorothy to the Land of Oz.

#

In a while without customers, when I was hanging out by the register with Melvin, old Jim from the filling station, and Melba, Daddy and Mom came in.  She was smiling to beat the band.  Daddy said he’d talked Mr. Stein into hiring Melvin full time and assured Melba she didn’t have to worry none about staying on as morning cook.  He said Mr. Stein wouldn’t be making any changes at the service station either, at least right now.

The real surprise was that Mr. Stein was in a big hurry to move in on Monday, so we needed to move out right away.  To my amazement, Daddy’d already made arrangements to put up our furniture in Mr. Bledsoe’s barn.  Melvin said he had him a strong boy with a truck that did chores for his mama.  He went over to Humpersneck to fetch him.

All of a sudden I got real concerned remembering our zoo and asked Daddy what about the animals.  To my relief, he’d already made good plans there too:  Clark would take his birddog and hounds, and we’d put Duchess and Lobo with Mr. Jack down at Paraclifta where they’d live at his pretty house.  And he’d also stable Lady till the family could get settled in a new place.  Clark would also take Fauntleroy Fox down to the real zoo in Texarkana, and Martha Hooper would adopt the cats.  The hogs would go to Mr. Stein with the place.

“And when Mom gets our stuff packed up,” Daddy announced, “we’ll just all of us head off to New Orleans.”  In horror, I staggered back against a stool.  “So when Melvin’s boy gets here,” he went on to me, “y’all can move the furniture up to Bledsoe’s barn.”  He handed me a ten-dollar bill and instructed, “When you’re done, give this to the nigger—and anything we’re throwing out.  I got to go with Mr. Stein down to the bank in Texarkana to finish up this deal.”  And with that, he left us standing there.

A truck driver down the counter was looking up like wanting something, so I took the coffeepot.  Back again with Mom, I leaned up on the register and said, not without irony, “Well, looks like you’re going to a city after all.”

“Thank God!” Mom said with a big smile and dried her cheeks with a napkin.  “I’m so glad.  We’ll get us a place, and you can live with us.”

Horrified again, I said flatly, “No, I’ll live at the dorm like we planned.”  Not waiting for an argument, I took Melvin’s cup back to the dishwasher.  There was no way I was going to miss out on living in that Robert Sharp dormitory as a Tulane greenie-wienie.  I figured it didn’t actually matter if the family came to New Orleans too, because I was still going to be gone off to college.  When I came back out front, Mom was leaving to pack.  No trouble about my stuff.  It was packed already for Monday.  Then I had a horrible thought:  Leaving tomorrow, I couldn’t take my last ramble in the woods.  I’d never see my grotto again!

#

In about 15 minutes Melvin pulled up by the mailbox in his red Plymouth, a big rattle-trap green truck following behind.  As I crossed the road, a Negro boy got out of the truck, about my age in old overalls and clodhopper shoes.  But you couldn’t tell much about him the way he looked at the ground.  “This here’s Zaya,” Melvin said with a pat on the fellow’s back.  “He’s a good boy and works hard.  Zaya, this here’s Mr. Ben.  He tell you what to do.”

The black boy looked up at me for a moment and muttered politely, “Mr. Ben.”

Melvin went to take over for me in the café, and I had Zaya hang on while I checked on things in the house.  Mom was real busy with the living room full of boxes, and Janie was out in the backyard folding up the bedclothes.  I quick changed into my old Bermuda shorts because I knew it was going to be some hot work.  As I was about to go out, Janie handed me her folded up cot from under the weeping willow with, “You gotta get the bed yourself, big brother.”  So the folks’ mattress off the storm cellar was our first item to lug to the truck.

Then we loaded up the living room, all the chairs, sofa, TV, rugs, bookcase and some heavy boxes Mom had ready.  Zaya’s truck had a bunch of boards for sides around the flat bed, and we roped things down too.  He was sure enough strong with amazing muscles under his overall straps, reminding me of that banana guy on the dock.  The smell of his sweat was like a horse or maybe a deer, very animal.  Zaya acted surprised to see me working right alongside him, which I suppose probably didn’t happen much with white folks.  Mostly he’d just wait for me to tell him what to do next and say, “Yessir” a lot.

On the first trip to Mr. Bledsoe’s barn, Zaya explained that his name was really Isaiah like the Bible prophet.  “When I was little,” he chuckled, “Folks think I was saying, ‘I Zaya.’”  Suddenly he said, “I hear tell, Mr. Ben, your family is papists.”  I confirmed that, not wanting to argue fine points.  “Well,” he said, “our preacher say y’all believe whatever the Pope say.”

“Not just anything,” I objected, by now definitely not a believer in papal infallibility.  I was secretly amused at the thought of this cluster of three houses we were just now passing being called DePope.  I explained, “He’s sort of like the President of the Church, you know, like the President of the United States.”

Clearly Zaya didn’t understand.  “Well, we Baptists and follow the scripture of Jesus.”

“I know,” I said, but I really didn’t.  Catholics supposedly followed the teachings of Jesus too, but Father Jordan told me it wasn’t good for folks to read the Bible because there were lots of things in it needing explained by Holy Mother Church.  At the time I didn’t wonder about that, but now I certainly did.  With my new belief in the God in everything, the Bible didn’t mean much to me anymore, if it ever did.  I looked at this strange Zaya with his gleaming black skin and could clearly feel the inconceivable God in him too.

###

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 13. Push Comes to Shove

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben has his first day off from working in the café in well over a month, and on a long relaxing walk in the woods he achieves enlightenment.  Then he spends the afternoon painting the fence and mowing the lawns.

To read the whole BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 13.  PUSH COMES TO SHOVE, left click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, right click and select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 12 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 13. – Push Comes to Shove

I ambled over to the café for some supper, and Margie fixed me a chickenfry.  Then over at the house again, I turned my radio on to WNOE and wrote to Betsy.  I told her right off about how after three years I’d at last fallen out of love with Annette.  While I was describing the old plowshare, the door from the living room into my room opened, and Daddy came in.  Surprised, I turned from my desk and said hi.  I couldn’t remember him ever coming in my room before.

“Hi,” Daddy said back.  “You know, I been thinking on that problem in the magazine.”

Pleased that he’d found it interesting, I said, “Oh yeh, I worked that out this afternoon mowing the lawn.”  The words were barely out of my mouth when Daddy’s face screwed up in the familiar rage.  Instinctively I ducked, but he still managed to smack me hard upside the head, knocking me and the chair over backwards onto the floor.

He stood over me shouting down, “Just see if I try and help you again, you smart-ass son of a bitch!”  With a kick in my thigh, he stomped out, slamming the door so hard the curtain rod fell off, the white lace crumpling up on the floor.  Stunned, I lay there not even feeling the hit or kick, nor the least bit like crying.  What had happened to wake up that monster in Daddy again?

I stood up slowly, furious about the injustice and determined not to put up with it anymore.  It quickly grew into a cold, hard anger.  Whatever spark of love I might have felt for Daddy this morning had just been knocked right out of me.  Clearly push had just come to shove.  Standing there with the chair on its back and the letter on the desk, I decided what to do.

From under the bed I took out my suitcase and started pulling stuff out of dresser drawers.  First things I packed were my Frankie Avalon sweater with its floppy collar, and Danny’s striped shirt that I’d never given back.  While I was choosing some other shirts, Mom looked into the room and saw me packing.  “What are you doing?” she asked quietly, pushing the crumpled curtain back with the door, but of course she knew.

“I’m going,” I said simply.  “I’m 18 and I’m going.”  Gathering up shirts and pants, my arms were full.  Mom stood by the chair lying there and cried.  Janie looked in the doorway, all scared.  For an instant I kind of faltered but went on anyway, “I’ll catch the Greyhound tomorrow and go on to New Orleans now.”  Like Fats Domino, I was ready to walk there.

Mom sniffed hard and asked, “Why do you have to go right now, Benny?”

Her tears made it hard for me not to cry.  “He hates me, and I’m going.”

“No,” Mom sobbed, “Daddy loves you.  He just doesn’t know how…”  As far as I was concerned, I had no feelings left whatsoever.  Mom stood there by the overturned chair crying while I packed the shirts.  Janie disappeared.  “Please, honey,” she said softly and stroked my shoulder, “try and understand how worried Daddy is.  He didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“What else does a fist mean?” I asked and wadded some pants into the suitcase.  “I’m not staying here and getting beat up on anymore.”  For a moment Mom stood there crying silently and then left.  I heard the front screen door close.

#

In the King Edward cigar box on my dresser I found $380 after having paid my fees and buying some clothes from the catalog.  It would just have to be enough, I reckoned.  Take the Greyhound straight to New Orleans, and until I could get into the dorm, I’d camp out down in those willow woods along the river.  A guy could do okay there for a couple weeks with all those big boats on the river and a grocery store probably not too far away.

That meant fetching my sleeping bag from the back room.  Then I started packing my journal and old novels into a cardboard box.  Maybe I should just have Mom send them to me, but I didn’t want anyone seeing all that stuff about Annette.  Then there was all my huge record collection, the books on the shelves…  I started to get really confused because I couldn’t take all that much with me now.

In a daze I picked up random things on my desk and then scribbled on the letter to Betsy, “Change of plans.  Will write from New Orleans.”  While I was addressing the envelope, Daddy appeared in the doorway again.  I stepped away behind the overturned chair.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a choke, his eyes pained.  “I don’t want you to go.”

“I’m going,” I insisted and wary of more blows, put some pens into the suitcase.

Daddy very slowly bent and picked up the chair.  “But for your Mom, just stay till you have to go, like we planned, please.”  His face turned very pale, and he looked away toward the door.  “She’s all torn up about this.”  When he turned back to me, Daddy’s eyes were wet.  His next words came in a rush, “I really am sorry.  I just wanted to do something with you, for you, I mean, because I…”  I stared, and when he took a step toward me, I backed away.  Covering his eyes, he mumbled, “Don’t go yet.  Please.  I… I do love you, Benny.”

If he wanted me to say I loved him too, I couldn’t lie.  Inside, I didn’t love anybody anymore.  My heart was empty without Annette or Danny or anyone.  As Daddy wiped his face, our eyes met, and I saw despair there, more than just the grief of this moment.  “When you sell this place,” I said, hoping sincerely, “things will get better.”  And even better without me.

Daddy’s pale eyes looked real sincere when he said, “Look, Benny, I really do appreciate all the work you done, the fence and all.”  Again he moved toward me, but I was near the bed and couldn’t back away, so he managed to get his arms around me, squeezing hard.

I stood there thinking we were really the same size now, and there was that distinctive smell he had.  I hadn’t felt his arms around me since I was a tiny kid, and that lost look in his eyes.  And he was actually asking me instead of ordering.  So what were a couple more weeks?  It would be a lot easier just to stay on, and it didn’t really matter now I knew how I truly felt.  “Okay,” I conceded.  Besides, the money from two more weeks’ work would come in real handy when I’d at last be on my own in New Orleans.

Daddy squeezed me again and much to my relief, let go.  Surely my smile was as weak as his.  “I’ll go tell your Mom,” he said.  “She’ll be happy.”  With that, he turned and left.

###