World Premiere

It has been over a year since I posted an announcement of plans by the New Orleans Opera to produce my English translation of Tchaikovsky’s opera “Joan of Arc” (“Maid of Orleans”). Coincidentally, Joan is the patron saint of New Orleans.  Those plans have now been finalized, and it’s in production for performances at the Mahalia Jackson Center for the Performing Arts on the evening of Friday, February 7, 2020 and as a matinee on Sunday, February 9.

In my earlier posting I’d remarked on plans to clean up the old translation (performed by the Canadian Opera Company in 1978) by September of 2018, but the work actually lasted through November of that year. The revisions were so complex that I now in all good conscience can claim that the New Orleans Opera production will technically be a World Premiere!

Here’s why. This past September I was invited by the Krewe of Joan of Arc (a Mardi Gras organization with their parade scheduled for January 6—Joan’s birthday) to give a talk about the opera at their annual Salon de Jeanne d’Arc.  Significantly, 2020 will be the 100th anniversary of her canonization.  In my talk I discussed a serious “literary” problem in the libretto (written by Tchaikovsky himself), specifically the Love Duet in Act IV.

In my first translation, I’d been a slavish Slavic literalist, translating what Tchaikovsky wrote verbatim, if that means anything in a translation. Though I hadn’t been at all pleased with the duet, what could a mere translator do?  I explained to the Krewe:

“You’re probably aware that historically the saintly Joan actually never fell in love with anybody. But to follow the operatic convention and satisfy his intensely romantic nature, Tchaikovsky hauled in a love theme with the Burgundian knight Lionel—which runs head on into Joan’s vow of chastity.  I do believe that detail was also Tchaikovsky’s invention to turn the inspired peasant girl into a terrible sinner.  That way he could project his own angst and guilt over being a homosexual onto the poor maiden’s head, pun intended.

“Joan’s enormously conflicted feelings—and those of Petr Ilyich himself—led into a love duet that just plain didn’t work. Joan had to sing about how miserable she was and agonize about breaking her holy vow, abandoning all hope of heaven, by loving Lionel.  A real downer…

“While indisputably Tchaikovsky was a giant among composers, I’m afraid as a struggling poet he fell flat on his face in this obligatory love duet. Maybe you’ll think I’m betraying the role of translator—my sincere apologies—but I’ve almost totally rewritten the love duet.  So sue me!

“There was a brief phrase in it, ‘marvelous gift of love.’ Tchaikovsky apparently wrote those words recalling a charming but depressing chorus of minstrels in Act Two. They sang that love’s a gift from God, a flower sent from heaven, a magic talisman that enchants us and enthralls the soul with rapture, etc., etc.

“Since turnabout is supposedly fair play, I took the romantic sentiments of that early chorus and turned them into an ecstatic love duet. It may not be Shakespeare, but now it works, by golly.”

I suppose simply rewriting a love duet isn’t alone enough to make a world premiere. What I didn’t tell the Krewe was that to make the new duet work I had to adjust a number of lines in Acts III and IV to redeem Joan from Tchaikovsky’s casting her as a terrible sinner, to provide her with spiritual enlightenment, and to re-frame her execution at the stake as not an ignoble punishment for moral failure but as an apotheosis, a virgin martyr’s crown and the rapture of God’s divine embrace awaiting her in heaven.

Therein lies the rationale for calling the New Orleans Opera production of my new translation a world premiere. Nobody has ever seen this now truly grand opera before.

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Stone Age Gay History

It’s always bittersweet to gaze down the deep well of the past and spy ancient moments still fresh and vivid after many decades. That happened just now as I started reading a book by Jim Downs called “STAND BY ME, The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation,” Basic Books, 2016.

So far I’ve read only up to page 7 of the Introduction. In those first pages I was touched that a guy probably born around 1980 found it important in 2005 to research gay history from the 70’s—and amused how the author considered that decade “ancient” gay history.  Taking that view, I guess I came out in the Stone Age (1961).

In the next couple pages Downs immediately placed the libertine gay lifestyle of the 70’s in the context of the ensuing plague of the 80’s. My memories of the 70’s aren’t distorted by knowing what was to come.  I saw a future promising ever more joyful liberation.

My experience of that decade was hardly as wild—or sordid—as what the author read about, largely in New York. In DC where I lived, things were more civilized:  We lived exactly the kind of gay culture and community that Downs will probably describe in pages to come.  He wrote, “I wanted to show how the 1970s was more than a night in a bathhouse.” So I look forward to reading his view of the history I lived.

He included New Orleans in his research, which pleased me much, and after another paragraph hit me over the head with “the fire in New Orleans that killed 32 people on June 24, 1973.” I then noted that the Up Stairs Lounge is to be the subject of Chapter I:  The Largest Massacre of Gay People in American History.  Tragically, scarcely a year after his book came out, that was no longer true.  There was that horrific slaughter at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

I haven’t yet read beyond that mention of the Up Stairs Lounge because I’ve found myself once again staring down that well. Living in New Orleans in 1972, I hung out in the Up Stairs Lounge, but a year before the atrocity, I moved to DC…  I’m almost afraid to read Chapter I.

Already on page two, Downs had remarked that “…gay people across the country had a responsibility to document the past and to tell our own history.” For more than 30 years I’ve taken that responsibility quite seriously in two novels.  First drafted in 1985, one was rewritten a number of times and eventually became “Bat in a Whirlwind.”  About an unconsciously gay teenager in the backwoods in the 50’s, you might say it was set in the Jurassic era of gay history.

My second novel, “Divine Debauch,” is about the gay Stone Age, that decade before Stonewall, in the fairyland of the French Quarter. There was definitely some gay history going on even then.  I’m a veteran victim of the infamous raid on the Quorum Club in June, 1964.  Just like the episode in my recent post “Got Laid,” I marginally fictionalized that raid in the novel.

Briefly, my Quorum experience happened like this: A female friend Linda and I shared a horoscope, and that day in the newspaper we were stringently warned to stay at home.  We usually went out dancing in La Casa de los Marinos but decided to do as we were told and sat around my apartment listening to records and reading.

Getting rather bored later that evening, Linda convinced me to walk her over to the Quorum Club on Esplanade to look for our friend Gia. The club was a small, low-key coffee-house which scandalously also served black folks.  As a matter of fact, that evening a black musician named Babe Stovall was playing on his guitar.

Because of defying our horoscope, Linda and I walked in a bit apprehensively and looked around for Gia. She wasn’t there, but a (black) friend of mine mentioned that she might be upstairs at George’s party.  So we trudged up the stairs and mingled our way through those also racially mixed festivities without finding our friend.

We were standing out on the rear balcony when folks in the front room started yelling, “Police!” I made to escape by climbing down into the neighbor’s patio, but Linda was too scared.  So I gallantly stayed with her, and we nervously awaited our fate.

The cops herded us all out of the apartment (past poor George lying on the carpet with blood all over his face) and downstairs to the Club, where they separated the men and women and loaded about 75 of us into various paddy-wagons. At the jail they put the sexes and races into separate cells, whites on one side of the aisle and blacks on the other.

In my white guys’ cell I got into a bridge game with some others, including a drug dealer who was awaiting transfer to Leavenworth. Meanwhile, the girls started singing “We Shall Overcome!” and the black guys all stripped butt-naked and started swinging on the bars.

The cops kept yelling at us to shut up, to no avail, and then with a fire hose they washed us up against the bars. That ruined our bridge game and swept away most of the black guys’ clothes.  The pile of glistening black bodies was better than a wet dream.

Finally they let us each make our one phone call. I called my apartment and asked my lover Eric to get my stash of money and come bail us out.  When he got there, he said, “I can’t believe you hide your money in your bedpost!”

The next day the story was on the front page of the newspaper. It began:  “Last night the New Orleans Police raided a noted center of communist, homosexual, integrationist activity…” and reported that we were ridiculously charged with “being loud and boisterous.”  Ironically, at the time I was a student (and teacher) of Russian at Tulane, and so the cops figured me for the translator for the local communist cell.

For the next couple weeks till our hearing I lived under police surveillance as a suspected commie. They apparently didn’t care that I was a flaming faggot.  Cop cars tailed me down the streets of the Quarter, but I’d walk on the wrong-way streets to evade them.  And they didn’t dare follow me into my sailor dives on the “Wild Side” of Decatur Street.

Just before our hearing, miraculously, the Civil Rights Act passed, and the DA Jim Garrison (remember him?), quickly got the charges against us dropped. Apropos of Jim Garrison, in the summer of 1963 when my then lover Alphonse got thrown in jail, I had to call up his father’s friend Clay Shaw to spring him from the clink.  That was only about three months before the Kennedy assassination, another of my close brushes with fame, or infamy as the case may be.

While maybe not strictly gay history, this tale was definitely the historical experience of a gay boy in the Stone Age. You’ll find another, the story of my getting finessed back into the closet, in my first memoir “There Was a Ship.”  The second, set in the fabled 70’s, will be the story of my second coming-out into that newly liberated world.

I guess I’m now ready to read on in Jim Downs’ history book.

Got Laid

My new online friend Walter recently posted about his basically traumatic “coming out” experience and made me realize that I had sunken that piece of my history in my novel and memoir, which so few folks will ever read. So I’m going to follow his suit and give you the following brief narrative of my deflowering.

GOT LAID

            In the upside down year of 1961, there I was:  19 years young and a student at wonderful Tulane University in incredible New Orleans, but—to my immense regret—with my cherry still intact.  In fact, my cherry was not only intact but immaculate and overly ripe.  I was getting sick and tired of the whole boring condition.

During my freshman year I’d gotten to know a guy down the hall in my dorm.  David was a good-looking blond kid from Houston, who let me in on the secret that he was “gay” and introduced me to his lover Paul, a florist.  Once they invited me to dinner at Paul’s apartment in the Garden District along with some other gay guys.  They all seemed so normal except for calling each other ‘dear’ and ‘sweetheart’ a lot.

The concept of two guys loving each other was utterly new to me, though not particularly disturbing.  Telling myself to be open-minded about it, I recalled the confusing love I’d felt for my best friend in high school.  After the party, reasoning it through as logically as I could, I came to the inescapable conclusion that I too must be gay.  Suddenly I appreciated all the cute guys around campus with different eyes.

After some months of waiting impatiently for true love to find me, my newly awakened longings soon became torments. Soon, I told myself, soon I will meet a beautiful boy, fall in love, and kiss him. The fantasy played like a rock and roll romance.  Many were the imagined scenarios I spun around naked guys in the showers and infatuations with angelic classmates, but all spring semester and into summer school, no beautiful boy ever showed up to love me.

One Wednesday evening late in sweltering June, I went with my roommate Roger and a couple other dorm guys to see Ingmar Bergman’s movie “Virgin Spring.”  It was traumatic for a sensitive college student like me, and the brutal images of the rape of that young girl haunted me on the sidewalk back to our dorm.  My friends were all quiet too.  Riding up in the elevator with them, I finally decided emphatically that I didn’t want to be a virgin anymore.

Once back in our double dorm room, Roger immediately went about his mathematical studies, which consisted of playing solitaire.  I showered, shaved, and put on my green corduroy jeans and fancy blue nylon shirt.  This was as fashionable as a country boy could manage.  Without looking up from his cards, Roger asked, “Got a date?”

“Maybe,” I replied mysteriously and left.

I already knew where to meet somebody.  David and Paul had once taken me into the wicked French Quarter to a dark little bar on St. Peter St. called the Gaslight Inn.  (One of the most marvelous things about New Orleans back then was that the legal drinking age was 18!)  So I hopped on the Freret bus to Canal Street, intent on finding a guy to cure my acute virginity problem.  Walking into the Quarter down noisy Bourbon Street through the jostling crowds and ignoring brief glimpses of bare, gyrating dancers in the strip joints, I felt my whole world turning upside down.  I was stepping off into the unknown, and it was exhilarating.

The Gaslight Inn was nestled right next door to the bustling collegiate bar Pat O’Brien’s.  When there before with David and Paul, I was nervous at first, but it turned out to be not at all intimidating.  The strangest thing had been a Hawaiian boy called Pineapple, who looked and talked just like a girl.  After a moment’s trepidation, I walked alone into the bar.

It was dark and full of smoke with men milling about.  No Pineapple.  How very dashing I felt walking right up to the bar and ordering a vodka and tonic.  Without looking directly at anyone, I took my drink over to a stool along the wall under the window—with no idea of what to do next.  Even though I was a nice looking kid with a good build and big blue eyes, no one seemed to be paying any attention to me.

Maybe I should just watch for someone attractive, I reasoned, and go up and introduce myself. No, that’s too forward—and too embarrassing.  It’s not very easy to see anyone in the dimness anyway.  By the time I’d finished my drink, my courage was definitely flagging, and I thought sadly of heading on back home to the dorm.

“Need another drink?” a voice asked from my blind side.  I turned to find a young man in the shadows, smiling at me.  “What was it?” the fellow asked, taking my glass.

“Vodka and tonic,” I managed to remember.  He went off to the bar before I could really make out what he looked like. Probably just a waiter pushing drinks, I figured.

Soon he returned with a drink in each hand.  Apparently he wasn’t a waiter.  Now I could see that he was pleasantly good looking, with dark hair in a crew cut.  After a polite thanks for the drink, I hadn’t a clue what to say.

In my silence, he said, “My name is Harry.”

Actually, I hadn’t thought about having to identify myself.  Not to give out my name in a gay bar, I lied, “I’m Roger.”  Meanwhile, I looked Harry over some more:  fairly tall, grey-green eyes, older—at least in his mid-20’s.  My next lie was that I was visiting my aunt here in New Orleans and lived out in the woods in Mississippi.  With that basic adjustment, I told him about things from back when I was a kid in Arkansas.  Harry told me he worked in an insurance office and used to live in Pensacola on the beach.

At his insistence, we each had another drink.  I was already feeling a buzz.  We engaged in further pleasant conversation, but it didn’t look to me like Harry was interested in me romantically.  And while I liked his company, there wasn’t that crazy kind of desire I’d felt for certain gorgeous guys at school.  I started to feel a little put out.  All this talking had kept me from watching out for a pretty boy.  I began to have more disconsolate thoughts about going home. Can’t catch a fish every time you go fishing.

Then Harry asked, “Can I take you home with me, Roger?”

Taken aback by the strange name and surprised to have come so suddenly upon this Rubicon, I forced back the fear and said, “Yeah, that would be nice.”

“Then let’s go!” Harry left his half-finished drink on the windowsill and pulled me by the hand.  I followed him out the door onto crowded St. Peter, not even checking if anybody at Pat O’Brien’s might have seen me coming out of that shady little place.

#

            Amidst the slumber of the late-night city, all was quiet, candlelit amber and cool in Harry’s apartment at the Claiborne Towers.  The room was full of plants with only a low light in one corner.  I lay naked on the sheets beside Harry, by no means asleep.  He was definitely dozing, draped over my arm.  I couldn’t fall asleep because I felt I really had to go home to the dorm—it must have been 3 or 4 o’clock, but I had no desire to move.  The warmth of Harry touching my shoulder and thigh was so new and delicious.  Finally, I’d tasted a man’s body, smelled his cinnamon fragrance, and it was far better than I could ever have imagined.

It had been nothing at all like the struggle and violence in that disturbing movie.  Funny how easy everything was when I’d worried so much about what to do.  Like a bumpkin at a banquet, I’d simply done whatever Harry did—which meant a lot of incredible caresses on tender, secret places I’d never touched before.  All that symmetry naturally led to the infamous sixty-nine position.  I must have done it right because we came together, and I didn’t even choke.  Stunning, the sheer reality of sucking on a guy’s cock.

I was glad, too, that there hadn’t been any kissing. Kissing is something for being in love, I figured, and all this with Harry was simply sex.  Still, he’d been tender, and so I was too.  Now I felt so amazingly happy having this wonderful connection with another guy and holding him close.  After a bit, Harry awoke, and I said, “I’ve got to go home.  My aunt expects me back.”

Harry didn’t protest, probably used to strange boys leaving in the night.  I got up on the window side of the bed.  The man still lay there, lithe in the shadows and amber light, the plants vague, soft masses of light and dark around him.  There was a tiny glint in his eye as I stood there naked—oddly without shyness.  “Roger, you sure are hot!” he sighed.

Embarrassed by his compliment, I dressed while Harry watched me from the bed with appreciative smiles.  I wondered about telling him that this was my very first time.  Tying my second shoe, I decided not to. Better just a pleasant goodbye, I decided, and drift out into the night like all the other boys who must have been hot in his bed before me.

While Harry still lay there naked, I gave him a friendly handshake and let myself out the door.  Out in the hallway, I chortled to myself, Well, that was that—another virginity nicely disposed of in the Claiborne Towers.

After Harry’s great air-conditioning, outside on the street the New Orleans night startled me with its sultriness.  On the empty early-morning bus I dozed contentedly in the heat until my stop at school.  Only when stumbling down McAlister Drive did the full import of it strike me right between the eyes with a blow of wonder and happiness. No longer a virgin! I rejoiced.  That painful, troublesome barrier is now behind me!”

As I tiptoed into our dorm room, the real Roger rolled over on his side in his narrow bed, waking enough to mumble, “What you been doing?”

Walking out of my clothes on the way from the door, I answered, “Got laid.”  Then I crawled into the sack, and there wasn’t another peep from the miserable virgin.

I never saw Harry again, nor did I ever go back to the Gaslight Inn—largely because it closed down soon after.  Instead I went out to Dixie’s Bar of Music on the opposite corner of Bourbon and St. Peter or hung out in the Latin and Greek sailor dives on Decatur Street, where my carousing was a depraved combination of Fellini’s movie “La Dolce Vita” and the novels of Jean Genet.

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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:

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(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.

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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.

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THERE WAS A SHIP – A Free Gay Memoir

from Gustave Dore

THERE WAS A SHIP, my memoir of being an out gay man half a century ago, is almost done (again).  A draft of the first half was written about four years ago, closely edited by a friend and fellow writer, and then largely rewritten.  Afterwards, I saw that it needed a second half and wrote that.  Just as I finished, my computer crashed, and that second part disappeared into the ether.

Regrouping, I wrote it again, to much better effect in my opinion, but then I saw that my artistic approach to the whole narrative was simply wrong.  Nothing loathe, in the course of the past eight months I wrote the whole thing all over again.  I figured then that three times was enough and posted it here on this website in 2015.

A year later I discovered great format problems and proceeded to rework it–which naturally led to revisions, and now the posted version is from October, 2016.  It is again available for free download by right-clicking here.  Recently I found a way to convert the pdf file of this and my other books into true eBook format and will pursue that route too.

I’d love to tell you more about the memoir, but I won’t.  All I’ll say is that it covers coming out in the debauched French Quarter of New Orleans and then trying to be a faerie in Seattle, which in the middle 1960’s was as straight a city as any in homophobic America of that time.

The title, by the way, comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER,” and the title-page quote literally sets the stage:   It is an ancient Mariner,/ And he stoppeth one of three./ ‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,/ Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?’