And then there were none: A Different Light, A Remembrance

It sat in a little white building nestled on a small block squeezed by Santa Monica and Sunset. I always had problems finding it exactly, and then there was the parking which was challenging even for a motorcycle.  I didn’t drive cars in those days.  It was small and crammed, the way all independent, hippy-ish bookstores should be.  The staff always smiled.

That’s my recollection of visiting A Different Light Bookstore in its original location in Silver Lake.  Someone was about to do a reading that evening, I believe, but I didn’t hang out for it.  Don’t know why, really.  Freshly minted out of the closet, maybe I was just shy.  But I do remember the friendly, welcoming vibe at the store and I remember visiting once or twice more before hanging out regularly at the closer and bigger store in West Hollywood.

Boys Town largely meant attitude for this black queer.  But A Different Light was still a safe haven.  It could get pretty cruisy on weekend nights — searching eyes slyly drifted off the pages of skin mags to the bodies nearby — but I largely concentrated on the books.  Anthologies were the in thing at the time.  In them I read about women in the life, Latinos in the life, blue collar workers in the life, South Asians in the life, and black folks in the life.  I have two copies of Joseph Beam’s In the Life, one which I bought myself and one which was given to me by a friend as a coming out present.

The store hosted readings frequently and always had a full calendar of coming events posted near the door.  Little did I know that I would read there myself.  “Get anthologized!” many writer friends recommended when I attended the first OutWrite conference in 1990.  And in time I did.  To help publicize the anthology, I read at ADL West Hollywood and SF.  By that point, I had been living the Bay Area for a few years, so reading in the West Hollywood store was a wonderful homecoming.  Friends I hadn’t seen in a while attended.  Siblings attended.  It was very cool.  We were well received, those of us who read.

I’ve only been to New York once in 1998 (yeah, I know, I’m a loser that way), but I did get a chance to see the NY ADL.  What a wonderful space it was.  Huge.  And it had a large community space for readings and other events.  How sad it was when it disappeared.  It was the first.  Then came the West Hollywood store (the Silver Lake store had been closed long ago, having been supplanted by the WeHo store).  I was quite shaken when the West Hollywood store closed.  All the memories of hanging there in my short-shorts and reading books flooded over me.  Cinders stood at the gates of my eyes.  It had been such an important part of my coming out.

And now the San Francisco store, the very last one, is closing.  Truth be told, it was a long time coming.  The readings and cultural events had long since faded.  The book stock grew scarcer as did the number of bookshelves.  It used to be that navigating SF ADL was a challenge.  There were shelves and bins everywhere and bodies filled the all the gaps in between.  And the magazine rack was just as cruisy as in the West Hollywood store.  But it all faded away.  The last time I visited, just a few weeks ago, there was so much free space, you could practically do a tango in the middle of the store and not run into anything or anyone.  The staff, still friendly, were tinged with melancholy.

I often wonder why some bookstores make it and others don’t.  Take Cody’s Books, for instance.  A Berkeley staple that dated back to the McCarthy Era, it shut its doors for good in 2008 in a pathetic store-front location far removed from its original, grand, taylor-designed space on Telegraph and Haste.  But then there’s Moe’s Books right next door, still surviving.  Why?  In the Castro, Books Inc. opened a store on Market Street many years ago.  It continues to thrive in a way the ADL used to in its heyday.  Why?  Bad economy, bad decisions, bad luck, bad landlords, the Internet.  Take your pick.  But I find the end of this quote, attributed to current ADL owner Bill Barker, puzzling.

“We have been challenging ourselves — what does it take to stay open?” he said, noting that the SF location had six employees who he did not want to put out of work. He also cited cultural shifts in identity as a reason for flagging business: not as many queer authors (or their publicists) booked tours in gay and lesbian bookstores and he thought literature had moved away from overtly gay themes. “[I] think that you can only tell the gay and lesbian story so many times,” he said.

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/12d1t)

Running out of stories is not one of the reasons for losing queer bookstores.  If anything more of us our finding our voices and telling our many, varied stories now than ever before.  And we have more options for telling our stories.  Though as wonderful as the internet is in this regard, it cannot supplant the face-to-face interaction offered by places like ADL.  What spaces we have we must cherish and keep.

Brother Huey Got His Back

{Editors Note:  The dialog between Jameel and Alfonso was taken from my unpublished novel Sin Against the Race.}

He knew Hegel.  He knew Marx.  He knew Lenin.  He knew Trotsky.  He knew Mao.  He knew Ché.  He knew Cleaver.  He knew a whole bunch of others that none of the rest of the group knew.  And he knew Brother Huey got his back.

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Dame Elizabeth Taylor

Today I’ve had one word going through my head:  GEORGE!  GEOOOOORRGE! It’s impossible to represent with letter and words and punctuation the raw emotion evoked when Elizabeth Taylor belched it from her gut in scene after scene of her Oscar winning performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.  She was only 34 at the time, but she became a bitter, middle-aged alcoholic wife.  She owned that movie.  I’ve only seen it once, but the line still gives me chills.  She delivered many fine performances, but that one sticks out in my mind.

She played another great role later in her life, one which I’m happy to see many obituaries acknowledging.  She was one of the first public figures to give a voice to that terrible new disease that killed everyone who contracted it, that seemed to target gay men above all others, thus making it an unmentionable.  Her friend Rock Hudson contracted the disease and she saw the film idol slowly fade away.  Politicians, including President Ronald Reagan, said nothing.  Other celebrities said nothing.  But Dame Elizabeth said something, and said it loudly.  Embodying the ACT UP rallying cry that silence equals death, she used her celebrity to bring attention AIDS and helped to create organizations, amFAR and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, to fight the disease and help those with it.  The US and the world could ignore it no longer.

We can continue to enjoy her performances on DVD and streaming video.  amFAR and ETAF will continue their work.  Her legacy is secure.  But Hollywood will never see the likes of her again.  Rest in peace, Dame Elizabeth.

Clarknt67 on Daily Kos has a nice write up about her AIDS work and its importance in the history of the disease.  Highly recommended.

Bashing Big Bird

Big Bird and I have grown grey together.  If you look at him closely, you’ll see a tuft of white feathers on top of his head.  It’s been there for a while, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t born that way.  Maybe he was, and I just don’t remember.  But in any case, it pleases me to think that my old friend, whom I grew up with, is aging and surviving just as I have managed to do.

So the Republicans want to defund public broadcasting again.  Yawn.  As Rachel Maddow pointed out on tonight’s show, they pull this stunt every time they get in power.  And the Democrats respond with “they’re trying to kill Big Bird.”  Though I guess the aging bird couldn’t make the rally but Arthur the Aardvark did.

Rachel rightly stated that the attack against public broadcasting isn’t fiscally driven, even if that’s what some Republicans might say.  The Corporation for Public Broadcasting isn’t exactly rolling in the dough.  Its 2010 budget saw a federal contribution of $420,000,000.  Defunding CPB won’t exactly rid the country of its multi-billion dollar deficit.

No, the move to defund, either partly or entirely, public broadcasting is strictly ideological.  Beyond the usual conservative talking point about wanting smaller government, public broadcasting, and Sesame Street in particular, represent what they hate the most about the 60s.  CPB is the child of progressive thinking and an optimistic view that said things are possible.  At a time of racial strife, the Sesame Street had white folks and black folks and Latino folks and Asian folks, and a bunch of furry monsters and feathered birds, getting along peaceably.  Other shows born during this period include The Electric Company and Villa Alegre, both also impressively integrated for its era.  I think, I fear, that the bi-lingual Villa Alegre, which portrayed Spanish-speaking people in a positive light as intelligent, three-dimensional human beings, could never get produced today, in this age of SB 1070.  Some folks, I fear, don’t seem to mind that.

Public broadcasting is all about opening doors.  This crop of Republicans seem to be all about closing them.  Culture be damned.  Children be damned.  Well, how we fund our culture, how we fund institutions for our children is the very measure of who we are as a society.  We can cut funding to CPB and get rid of Big Bird and Grover (my personal favorite).  We can cut funding to National Public Radio and get rid of Piano Jazz and Jazz at Lincoln Center.  But is that what we really want?  I give generously to KCSM, Jazz 91, and have for the past 14 years.  Keep jazz alive.  But I’d like some of my tax money to pay for it, too, and to pay for public stations which I may never hear in parts of the country I may never visit.  Because a cultured society, an educated society, a society which fosters these higher ideals in its children is the society I want to live in.

Ideological vapidity be damned.

Re: Vision

I was hoping to put up more short stories.  Some need revisions before I’m willing to put them out there on the internets.  However, I’ve still working on revisions to my novel.  I find that every time I think I’m done, I realize that no, in fact, I’m not.  This is a good thing.  Chapter 1, for instance, has already changed quite a bit since the version I put up here a few months ago.  Stuff has been edited down.  Stuff has been streamlined.  I’m happy with it.  We’ll see what happens.

I’m reminded of a chapter on revision in a textbook on composition I had for a writing class at UCLA.  The chapter was just one page long and consisted of an excerpt from an interview Ernest Hemingway gave the Paris Review.  He said he revised the ending to Farewell to Arms 39 times before he felt OK with it.  The interviewer asked if something had stumped him, but Hemingway simply said he was just trying to get the words right.  Yep.

Back to work.

He made me laugh

I wanted to wait a few days before putting something down about the sudden resignation (termination?) of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC.  My thoughts are influx about what really went down — and we may never fully know the answer.  But I still don’t think he was necessarily pushed, even if Keith himself used language suggestive of that outcome during his sign off speech.  Rachel Maddow, during her tribute to Keith on Monday’s Rachel Maddow Show, stated that there is no corporate influence over the editorial control of her show, and that there never would be.  So she’s not going anywhere.  That seemed to jibe with my initial instinct that if Comcast, the soon-to-be-owners of the NBC networks, really wanted to get rid of the lefty evening programming on MSNBC they would just do it.  They wouldn’t nickel and dime it to death.  Clean sweeps occur on network TV all the time.  So call me naive, but I don’t think there is a grand conspiracy here.  I think this article’s title summed it up pretty well:  MSNBC and Olbermann:  A Failing Relationship.

Regardless of the reason, I still have a heavy heart about the end of Countdown with Keith Olbermann.  He made me laugh, often.  In addition to saying things that virtually no one says on TV, he said them eloquently and, when the occasion merited, with a good deal of humor.  He is a damn good writer, and I hope he continues to put up posts on Daily Kos from time to time.  And needless to say, he is a stalwart friend of the queer community, coming out with a very moving editorial in defense of gay marriage during the height of the Prop. 8 mess.  But he was a voice of all those who are considered underdogs in the mainstream of society.  He has always been an interesting voice — I am hardly a sports dude, but truth be told, he was the most interesting thing on ESPN and I did catch him during his gig there from time to time.  Though in my mind, his best work to date has been on MSNBC.  Not just his own work, but he used his position to help Rachel and later Lawrence O’Donnell get their own shows.  Not bad.

Sure, he could get carried away.  Some might call him a blowhard.  Fortunately, he usually knew when to dial it back a bit when called on the excesses.  But he did something which is becoming an increasing rarity in our cynical world:  he wore his heart on his sleeve.  I’m an old romantic, so I admire someone able to do that consistently.  I hope it won’t be too long before we hear his voice again, whether it be online or on TV.  We need the voice.  And I always need a good laugh.

Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things

My voyage on the shortwaves, mentioned a couple of posts ago, long ago took me to the peculiar country of North Korea — or more formally the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  DPRK is sort of a bizarre anachronism, a microcosm of old school Stalinism living into the present day.  So its shortwave station, Voice of Korea (formerly and more famously known as Radio Pyongyang) is equally bizarre and anachronistic.  The programs, when you can pick up the station, are usually a hodgepodge of rants and bombast touting the glories of North Korea and condemning the evil West and their “puppet” government in South Korea.  This is old-school Radio Moscow or Radio Peking shit!  And neither of those stations have existed in either name or spirit in about 20 years.  But Voice of Korea is holding it down and keeping it real with their special brand of insular, isolated, the-rest-of-the-world-don’t-exist programming.

The programming is just a reflection of the country as a whole.  North Korea is built upon an extreme, even by Stalinist standards, form of cult of personality.  The personalities are supplied by the family Kim, first Founding Father Kim Il-Sung (aka Great Leader) and after he died his son, Kim Jong-Il (aka Dear Leader).  Dear Leader’s son, Kim Jong-Un, has been tapped to be the next Leader, though I think his title is still influx.  In any case, a great deal of the programs from Voice of Korea, and Radio Pyongyang before it, focus on the activities of the countries leader, visiting places, meeting troops, etc.  Now, in the age of the internet, photos of such events are easier to come by.  And some clever soul has made them into a website perfect for those of us obsessed with this odd place.  Enter Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things.  Now we can see photos of Dear Leader doing what he does best, visiting places in his country and looking at things.  It’s bloody brilliant.  I think nothing better encapsulates this country’s peculiarities than this very simple site.

Short Story: The Swing Shift

This story could be called a love letter to the Duke Ellington Orchestra.  I wrote it around the time I fell head over heels for all things Ellington and started listening to his music 23 out of 24 hours in the day — a practice I continue to the present time.  I immersed myself in all things Ellington to learn as much about what Mahalia Jackson once called a “sacred institution.”  And that’s when I learned about Billy Strayhorn.  Mr. Strayhorn was the Maestro’s composition partner from about 1939 to 1967, when Billy died of cancer at the age of 51.  But I was moved and awed when I learned that Billy was gay and that he was, for his era, fairly open about it.  That is to say, he didn’t go to great lengths to hide it.  He wore no beards.

So this got me to thinking about being black and gay in the 30s and 40s, and that was the inspiration for The Swing Shift.  This story was originally published in the magazine Mobius  in 1999.

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Ptolemaic Takeover

With the Republicans taking control of the House, there will be ample examples of ptolemaic logic in the coming days and months.  Chief among them will be items pertaining to the budget.  They will cut, cut, cut the budget until the cows come home and scrutinize any new expenditures to the hilt.  But they will lower taxes without nearly as much scrutiny.  Both add to the deficit, which they profess to care deeply about, but still, tax cuts get a pass.  Why?  Because it makes their base — rich people — happy.

It’s going to be an interesting year.

Homo Sum

I am not a Christian, but I will gladly say Merry Christmas.

I am not a Muslim, but I will gladly say Ramadan Mubarak.

I am not a Hindu or a Jain or a Sikh, but I will gladly say Happy Diwali.

I am not a Jew, but I will gladly say Happy Hanukkah.

I am human

Homo Sum

I am human

Homo Sum

I am human

Homo Sum

And the sum of humanity will always interest and fulfill me.

Let’s get some peace in 2011.

✌ ♥